Authors: Tammara Webber
The wooden block on the desk read
Mrs Sally Ingram
– black lettering set into a polished brass plate. It sounded like a nice enough name, and she’d seemed nice from a distance during the mandatory orientation assembly last week.
was the first thing my high-school principal seemed to be and wasn’t.
I hunched into a hard vinyl-seated chair in front of her massive desk. The top was a solid slab of wood that appeared built for the specific purpose of preventing someone from lunging across it easily. I couldn’t imagine how they even got a desk that size into this office. It must have come into the room in pieces, because it sure as hell couldn’t have fitted through the door.
Mrs Ingram leafed through an open file, shifting pieces of paper like I wasn’t sitting there, waiting to find out why I’d been called to the principal’s office on my first day of high school. Her glasses sat at the end of her nose, the way Dad wore his when he was reading or updating the
books – the only concession to his previous career I’d seen since we moved here eight months ago.
At first, there’d been arguments and accusations – my father spitting out criticisms concerning Grandpa’s lack of business sense or planning or record keeping with the fishing enterprise that had supported him for decades … which was Grandpa’s line of reasoning. Finally, they’d come to some sort of agreement, and my father took over the financial aspects of the business. While entering numbers in the ledgers or transferring them to his laptop, Dad still mumbled the occasional cuss word or yanked his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose as if his frustration might trigger a nosebleed. But he’d ordered the ‘office’ – which consisted of a cupboard crammed into the hallway between the living area and kitchen (which held logbooks instead of dishes), and the built-in kitchen table … over which drooped a single lightbulb on a cord. The work space was a long way from Dad’s office in Washington or his home office in Alexandria.
Mrs Ingram cleared her throat and removed her glasses, staring at me. Her eyes were dark and close set. I would sketch her as a dragon – beady reptilian eyes sizing up her prey and fixing it to the ground, wordlessly taunting it to run. This was the first day of school. I couldn’t have done anything to piss her off already. Not that I ever tried to piss anyone off. I just wanted to be left alone, and for the most part, I’d managed to make that so.
.’ She said my last name like it was something slimy, and I couldn’t help the defiance that
forced my eyes to narrow. Maxfield was my grandfather’s name, and I didn’t like anyone insulting it. Leaning on to her elbows, she steepled her fingers. ‘I’ve heard about you, and I thought we should become acquainted, since you’re in
I blinked. She’d
me – from who? And what did they say?
‘Your inauspicious academic beginning in this exemplary school precedes you, you see.’ Her fingers tapped at the tips, like we were simply having a constructive first-day chat. ‘And I make it a habit, as the principal of this school, to take notice of all potential … deficiencies, before these defects transmit themselves to the rest of the student body. A bit of preemptive damage control, if you will. Do you understand?’ She gave me a mocking smile, lips pressed tight and barely turned at the ends.
I doubted she expected me to follow a single thing she’d just said. But her patronizing vocabulary was no match for my previous education or the well-read parents who’d raised me. I wished I hadn’t followed what she’d said. I wished I didn’t know what she thought. My heartbeat thumped in my ears, and I dug my fingernails into my palms to stop angry tears before they even gathered. Glassy eyes would make me look weak.
‘You think … I’ll contaminate the other students.’ My voice scraped its way out of my throat, betraying the emotion I’d intended to suppress, but she didn’t seem to notice. She was too startled.
Her eyes widened, but somehow, that didn’t counter the
beadiness. She was the scariest woman I’d ever met. Her hands flattened on the desktop. ‘Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m merely making certain you understand the notion of
, Mr Maxfield.’ My back teeth ground against each other. She stood, so I did, too. I didn’t want her staring down at me. ‘Simply follow my rules while you’re in my house … or you’ll be out on your butt, mister.’
My first day of high school, and I’m being threatened with expulsion
I decided not to give her any more information about what I could or couldn’t follow. She was the type who shot first and asked questions later. If ever.
I nodded once, a jerk of my head, and she dismissed me.
It had been 339 days since my mother died.
It felt like years. It felt like hours.
I stood unmoving, eyes on the back doorway, while my conscience and an obsession I couldn’t seem to bring under control began a throw-down battle in my head.
This might be my only chance to ever talk to Jackie Wallace. I’d not seen her – on campus or off – a single time since she quit coming to class.
But what the hell would I say to her?
And then there was the guy who’d followed her outside. She clearly knew him. Maybe they’d decided to meet up,
away from prying eyes. Or he’d been waiting for a chance with her, too, and unlike me, he was taking it – instead of wasting time with pointless internal arguments.
Maybe she’d just decided to leave early, and so did he, with no relation between their actions.
Or maybe I was squandering valuable seconds doing nothing.
My inner adolescent was growing enraged at my reticence.
Put that rancid cup of crap down, follow her outside and
– anything, dammit
First thought – I could tell her I was the tutor in the class, and I noticed she’d missed a number of class days, including the midterm, but hadn’t dropped.
Right after trailing her into a dark parking lot
. I’d be lucky if she didn’t knee me in the balls first and ask questions later.
The last drop date
three days away, though. I could save her from an F on her transcript, if nothing else. Propelling my ass off the wall, I abandoned the supposed conversation I was having with the whiny semi-bombed chick in the middle of her rant.
Walking straight to the back door and out, I told myself that if Jackie Wallace and the meathead vampire were getting chatty – or worse – I would arc round to the front, get on my bike, and forget she ever existed.
Sure you will
All those meticulous details you’ve spent the past nine weeks analysing and burning into your brain will just dissolve away
No big deal
For a few seconds, I was afraid I’d missed her. There was
a threat of storms overnight, and the wind blew the gathering cloud cover, deepening shadows and making illuminated areas infrequent and short-lived. I spotted her by her glowing cell phone. She was texting someone, winding through the cars and trucks at the far end of the lot. Her vampire friend was between the two of us, and he sure looked like he was shadowing her. He didn’t call out to warn her, though, the jackwad. He was going to scare the shit out of her if he just popped up out of nowhere.
I took a deep breath, shuffled down the back steps and started slowly in her direction, prepared to turn round on a dime.
Likelihood I was about to regret this entire night? Ninety-five per cent.
On the very back row, she unlocked the door of a shiny dark truck. Interesting. I wouldn’t have pictured her driving a pick-up. Maybe a little sports car or a compact hatchback. Her friend came up behind her and they both moved into the space on the other side of the open door. I couldn’t see either of them clearly, and I had
desire to witness them tonsil-checking each other.
Time to turn round. Except – the fact that he’d never called out to her bugged me. At best, he thought scaring women in deserted parking lots was funny. At worst –
She screamed. Once, cut off abruptly.
I stopped dead. And then I ran.
I’ve rarely allowed my temper free rein in the past three or four years, because I know too well the potential consequences of doing so. But when I saw his body on top
of hers across the seat of her truck and heard her sobbing, begging him to stop, I lost it. No amount of self-restraint would have prevented the outcome – assuming I’d been inclined to calm myself.
Grabbing two handfuls of his shirt, I yanked him from the truck. He was kinda drunk. The degree of drunk that makes idiots think,
I’m cool. I can drive – no problem
. Just enough to slur a word here or there. Just enough to render him ineffectual in a fight against anyone who knew what he was doing.
I knew what I was doing.
I was going to kill him and worry about the consequences later. This was not a hope or an opinion. This was a fact. He was a dead man.
My first two punches were, somehow, a total surprise to him. His head snapped back, as he stood there, baffled at how the predator had become the prey in the space of two heartbeats.
Fight me, asshole
Go ahead. Fucking fight me
He swung a fist, finally, but missed my head by a good foot, losing his balance as a result. I hit him twice more, my arms warming up from the adrenalin pounding through my bloodstream. A streak of moonlight lit the scene black and white for a split second. Blood gushed from his nose, dark and gratifyingly abundant.
He wiped at his mouth with his forearm, staring at the result. With a short roar, he ducked his head and bolted forward.
Uppercut with the right, just under his chin. Elbow to the head with the left. Open-mouthed, he crashed against the truck, bouncing off – the alcohol making him too stupid to fall down or run. He flailed towards me and I grabbed his shoulders and provided a skull-jarring knee to the jaw.
He was lucky. I could have crushed his windpipe instead. He went down, arms flung over his head, knees pulling to his chest.
Get up. Get up. Get up
. I started to lean down to jerk him back up and hit him again, but a soft sound broke through the haze of rage.
I glanced up and peered straight into the truck, where Jackie cowered against the far side door, chest rising and falling with short, shallow breaths.
She was a terrified, feral thing, recoiling from him. From me, perhaps. I knew it wasn’t possible to feel the pace of her heartbeat, to smell her panic, but I swear I did both. My fists were covered in her attacker’s blood. I wiped the back of my hands on my jeans, slowly, stepping carefully to the door – no sudden movements.
Her eyes widened, but she didn’t move a muscle otherwise.
‘You okay?’ These were the first words I ever uttered to this girl I’d watched and sketched and lusted after and dreamed about. She didn’t answer or nod. Shock – she was going into shock.
Very slowly, I drew my phone from my pocket. ‘I’m going to call nine-one-one.’ Still no response. Before
dialling, I asked if she needed medical assistance or just the police. I didn’t know what he’d done to her in the seconds it took me to cross the lot. His jeans were still up, though unzipped – but he had hands. Another red haze threatened to descend. I wanted him
, not just whining and bleeding at my feet.
‘Don’t call,’ she said. Her voice was so soft and small that I could barely hear the words.
I thought she didn’t want an ambulance. But no, she clarified that she didn’t want me to call the
Incredulous, I asked, ‘Am I wrong, or did this guy just try to
you, and you’re telling me not to call the police?’ She flinched, and I wanted to pull her out of that truck and shake her. ‘Or did I interrupt something I shouldn’t have?’
Damn my temper. Damn it to hell
WHY did I say that
Her eyes glassed with tears, and I wanted to punch myself in the mouth. I forced my breathing to slow. I had to calm down. For her.
Shaking her head, she told me she just wanted to go home. My brain ticked off a hundred reasons why I should argue with her, but I’d been on campus long enough to know how it would go. The frat would close ranks around him. Someone would swear she went willingly. She was a woman scorned, trying to hurt her ex’s frat. She was a liar, a tease, a slut. Administration wouldn’t want it to leave campus. He hadn’t succeeded, so it would be he-said-she-said. Slap on the wrist for him. Social exile for her.
I would testify … but I had a juvenile record for assault,
and I’d just beat the shit out of the guy on the ground. A smart attorney would have me arrested for assaulting
, discrediting anything I might contribute.
The piece of shit on the ground turned over and cussed, and I rolled my shoulders and took slow breaths – in, out, in, out – attempting to convince myself not to stomp his head under the heel of my very solid boot. He’d not bled enough to satisfy the monster inside me.
It was a close thing.
She breathed along with me, and I concentrated on her soft breaths. She was trembling, but she wasn’t crying, yet. If she started, I didn’t know what I would do.
‘Fine. I’ll drive you,’ I said.
Without a beat between my words and hers, she said that no, she’d drive herself.
How many shocks could I handle in one night? It appeared that I was about to find out.
Like I was going to let her drive.
. I reached down and picked her keys out of the items strewn across the floorboard. Her bag was on its side – knocked there, no doubt, when that shithead shoved her face down into her truck.
. I’ve never wanted someone to jump up and throw a punch at me so badly. I wanted an excuse – any sort of excuse – to end him.
Scooting closer, she held her hand out for her keys. I stared at her slim fingers. The fingers I’d watched from a distance for weeks. They trembled.