After letting James and Mary-Anne walk by me, I began my walk to class, a little dejected.
Was I really that much of a bitch?
I mean, I was going through a tough time, but James had gotten under my skin so easily. It made me wonder if there really was something wrong with me. Was it hurting me so much because he was right?
That thought got cut short when a hand grabbed my shoulder as I walked down the corridor.
“What is your fucking problem, dude?” I turned and glared at the boy.
“Look, you don’t know me, but I have to warn you. Do not get involved with the Stepfords,” he said, both hands on my shoulders now.
“Are all the guys at this school assholes? Get your hands off me!” I said, pushing him off.
“Look, just… Listen, they’re bad news. James Stepford is bad news.”
“Look, he’s an ass, anyway. I just wanna get to class. Would say it’s been a pleasure, but it hasn’t, so like, whatever.”
“I know why you transferred.”
I stopped in my tracks. I could feel tears welling up, but I was not going to let this guy see me cry.
“Don’t you dare. Just…don’t.”
“So, what, you want a blow job for my silence or something?”
“What? No! You aren’t my type.”
“Oh, wow. Okay, whatever. Are you gonna blackmail me now?”
“Wasn’t planning on it. Just… Look, he’ll take advantage of that. Don’t let him.”
“Who the fuck even are you? Why do you care? I came to this school to get away from all that, but everyone here just makes me feel like shit, and I’m not trying to be a charity case or a target.
“I just wanna get through the year and go to college and become the girl people forgot about. Can I just do that?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to… I’ll go. Just wanted to warn you. Sorry.”
“But, like, seriously, who even are you?”
“Oh. I’m Troy.”
“Okay, Troy. I’m Liz. But I bet you already knew that. I’d ask why or how, but I’m late. Just… What you did was creepy. Don’t stalk girls like that. Bye, Troy.”
“Bye, Liz. Stay safe.”
That was my first meeting with Troy. In hindsight, I think he genuinely was trying to look out for me. But Troy wasn’t my guardian angel.
He was the gasoline that fueled the fire, and I can’t help wondering that if maybe he’d left well enough alone, none of us would have ended up in the mess we did.
But that’ll come later. First, I have to explain how I disregarded everything Troy tried to tell me.
My mom dropped me off at school the next day. I knew this whole thing was hard on her, but she could tell I hadn’t had the best first day.
“You gonna be okay, baby girl?” she asked.
“Yeah, Mom, I’ll be fine.”
“I just hoped a new start might take the weight off your shoulders, but it’s like you’re carrying heavier than ever.”
“Yeah, well, it’s just hard being the new girl. Haven’t been the new girl since…ever.”
“What can I say? Once a girl gets comfy, it’s hard to break routine.”
“Mom, I’m sorry. I hate that you left your job and your friends and your life, and it’s all my fault. I’m such a fucking disappointment.”
“No, no, baby girl. You couldn’t disappoint me if you tried.”
“You should hate me! You should hate me and be mad at me and… I dunno!”
“I mean, that sounds exhausting. Can I just give you a hug instead?”
“I just… I don’t understand.”
“Listen, I’m not thrilled about a lot of what happened. And yes, you’ve made some bad decisions, and honey, you’re going to have to own them. But you’ve also been so brave.
“Even when the walls cave in, I see the way you keep trying to rebuild and as your mother, I will always be proud of that. One day the storms will ease, and when it all blows over, you’ll know peace again.
“You just gotta hang in there.”
“I’m so sorry, Mom.”
“You don’t have to apologize so much, sweetie. It really is okay. We’re going to be okay. Just take it one day at a time.”
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, baby girl. You gonna be okay?”
“Yeah. I’m going to be okay.”
“Well then, have a good day. Make some friends! Because we are not moving by ourselves again. I’m too old to pack boxes.”
“How come I have to make friends and you don’t?”
“I can only make friends with people who are too old to pack boxes. It’s all up to you, kiddo.”
“Go. Skedaddle. Begone. I wanna listen to my jams, and you have class.”
“See you later, Mom!”
“See you, baby girl.”
I got out of the car, and a red Cadillac pulled in behind me. Who fucking else but James Stepford got out. I turned, and my mom raised an eyebrow at me, but I shook my head and continued on.
“New kid! How’s it hanging?”
“Twatford! I can’t believe anyone would trust you with a car that nice. Or maybe you’re just overcompensating.”
“I appreciate that you appreciate my taste.” He smiled smugly.
“You are the actual worst.”
“You’ll warm up to me. Must be nice to have an older sister that drives you around.”
“Oh my God, you did not just. Does that ever work? You’re unbelievable. Like, I genuinely can’t tell if you’re trying to hit on me or my mom.”
“Honest mistake, I swear.”
“There’s very little honest about you.”
“That’s very presumptuous.”
“Why are you even interested in me? Aren’t you and Mary-Anne dating?”
“Me and Mary-Anne? Oh, God no. She’s my adopted sister.”
“Then what is this? You just here to give me a shakedown? Because there isn’t anything you can do to me, James. Take your best shot.”
“Nothing of the sort. But seems there’s more life in you today. The lady in the car have anything to do with that?”
“My mom might have had something to do with it, and not even you can ruin it.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
I walked in through the doors, and a girl in a pink cardigan stepped up to me.
“Christ will forgive you if you repent.”
“I dunno, I might have a lot of repenting to do before that. Been kind of a bad girl.”
“Jesus befriended prostitutes to absolve them of their sins.”
“SLUUUUUUT,” some boy shouted as he walked past me.
My heart dropped into my stomach as I pushed past the pink cardigan and saw a group of boys crowded around a screen. I pushed them aside and, to my horror, there I was in all my glory.
Drunk and on top of my ex-best friend’s boyfriend. Probably by now he was my ex-best friend’s ex.
I wanted to run. I wanted to get out of there. I wanted to just go find somewhere to cry.
James was still following me, and he went to the boy holding the phone.
“Classless little boy. Couldn’t just jerk off in private, could you?”
“God, Stepford, go white knight somewhere else.”
“That’s a nice phone. Too bad it’s all banged up.”
“What are you talking about?”
James ripped the phone from the boy’s hand and smashed it on the ground.
The boy took a swing at James, but James stepped out of the way and shoved him. The boy crashed face-first into the lockers, and his friends stepped up to fight.
James made the first move and hit one guy so hard he went down immediately. Now there were only two left, and one grabbed James from behind.
The other came to follow up, but James kicked him square in the jaw then elbowed the last guy in the ribs, and he went down.
“If I catch anyone watching that video, I will personally break both your phone and your face. Some shit happened. It’s nobody’s business. Now get back to being the fucking losers I know each and every one of you are.”
I stood watching him for a second before managing to say a word.
“That was…actually pretty cool. Thanks, I think.”
“You’re uh… You’re welcome.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“Do I need a reason?”
“I mean, I’d like one. And I don’t know if I’d have done the same if it was the other way around.”
“I doubt you could have. You’re like, four weight classes under these guys. They’d toss you like a football.”
“God, you know how to ruin a moment. Thanks. Okay. Bye.”
“You haven’t told me your name.”
“Am I gonna call you New Kid all year?”
“Oh. I’m Liz.”
“Pleasure is all mine.”
“Don’t make me regret that,” I said.
In time I would. But at that moment, for just those few seconds, James really did seem like the coolest guy in the world.
A teacher eventually came to drag everyone involved to the principal’s office. James winked at me as he got pulled away, and somehow it didn’t make me hate him.
For a moment there, it was like it’d all turn out okay.