Authors: S. Walden
“We can go back out,” he offered, knowing she’d refuse.
She fumbled with the strap of her messenger bag, avoiding his eyes.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I wanna know if you plan on running your mouth,” he said. Maybe not the best way to approach the subject, but he was too agitated to care.
She looked up at him. “Run my mouth about what?”
Don’t play games with me
, he thought. He had to force his hands to remain by his sides. He wanted to shake her.
“My journal,” he said through his teeth.
“What about it?”
“The shit I wrote about. Stop acting like you don’t know what I’m referring to.”
She paused. “I told you I believed you. You think that changed overnight?”
“How should I know?” he asked, running a hand through his hair.
She got an up-close view of his scar. Her hand moved before her brain registered, “Stop!” She touched it. He flinched but didn’t move away. She hesitated until she sensed it was okay to continue. He watched her carefully—the way her brows furrowed in concentration as she moved her finger along the scar, studying its texture the way she did in sixth grade. Her finger paused on top of his piercing.
“You took my suggestion,” she noted.
He said nothing. The side of her mouth quirked up, and she moved her finger below the metal rod. She pressed in.
“Hmm,” she said.
He stared at her, trying hard to push down the memory. It was messing with his head.
“Do you ever try to press it in?”
he could hear her say.
“See if it’ll stay that way?”
“Do you ever try to press it in?” she asked. And then she smiled, and he lost it.
“No matter. It’s a hard one—”
He shook his head and pushed her hand away, making her flinch.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.
“What are you doing?!”
“Trying to show you that I meant what I said!” she shot back. “I believe you!”
“You’ll tell your friends. I’m not a fucking idiot! I know girls talk!”
“I don’t believe you!”
“What are you so worried about?! You said it was just a fantasy!”
“It is!” he lied.
“Then why do you care?”
His hands shook by his sides. Why did he care? Why did he care? Oh yes, now he remembered. An issue of ethics.
“You had no right to read my journal! You had no right to learn those things! You barged into my brain like it was your privilege! Your right to take whatever the hell you wanted!”
“Bullshit! You’re not sorry! You wanted to do it! You planned to do it the second you found my journal!”
She blushed profusely. She’d never been so shamelessly called out for her actions.
“How about I barge into your brain, huh?”
“Tell me all your secrets, Regan! I have a right to know!” He loomed over her, and she shrank back.
“But you have mine! Seems only fair. Tell me! I have a right to know!”
She was mortified, swallowing the words that almost spilled over: “I’m in love with you, you fucking jackass!”
“Tell me!” he roared, and then the door swung open.
They fell silent, waiting for the students to ascend the stairs. Waiting for the second door on the top landing to open and close and give them back their privacy.
“Fuck off, Brandon.”
It was Hannah. He could tell. Regan turned to leave, and he grabbed her arm again. She resisted, but he wouldn’t let go. He placed his finger over his mouth: Don’t say a word.
“I just wanna know what you’d wear,” Brandon teased. “Would you be in the tux or the dress? Would you be the guy or the girl? I’m looking at your hair and thinking guy.”
“You’re an idiot,” Hannah spat.
“And you’re a little cunt dyke,” he hissed. No more teasing.
Jeremy listened intently. It sounded like Brandon had her trapped in the corner of the stairs. He’d have to make a move soon. But he wanted to wait a little longer, so Regan could get a good taste of her boyfriend’s words—let her mull them over all day until she felt like shit by the end of it.
“You want my girlfriend?” Brandon taunted.
“You dream about her?” He laughed. “I bet you decorate your notebooks with her name. Draw hearts around it.” He paused. “Hmm, but that’s more of a girl thing than guy thing.”
Regan pulled on her arm. Jeremy held her still.
“Leave me alone,” Hannah whispered.
“I can’t figure you out,” Brandon went on. “You a girl or a guy?”
“Stop,” Hannah said.
“Well, give me just one look. You have tits under that shirt?”
Jeremy shot out from under the stairs.
“Leave her alone,” he called up to Brandon.
Brandon whirled around, eyes wide at Jeremy’s command.
“Someone grew a pair over the summer,” he said.
“Just leave her alone.”
“I wasn’t doing anything,” Brandon said. “We were just talking.”
“Yeah, except that Hannah doesn’t talk to you. Ever,” Jeremy replied.
Brandon sneered. “You certainly have a mouth on you. Where’d this guy come from? I remember you cowering on the ground last year after I beat the shit out of you.”
Jeremy balled his hands into fists. “Leave. Her. Alone.”
The tardy bell rang.
Silence in the stairwell until Brandon finally spoke.
“Saved by the bell,” he sneered, patting Hannah’s cheek.
Jeremy said nothing.
Brandon climbed the stairs, and Hannah sighed relief.
“You okay?” Jeremy asked.
“Yeah,” she replied. There was an edge to her voice.
“I didn’t need your help,” she snapped.
Jeremy nodded. He understood. No one wants to feel weak, helpless, unable to defend herself. He felt the same way last year after Brandon attacked him at the bus stop. He still couldn’t figure out why Brandon’s BMW-driving ass was even at the bus stop. Whatever. He beat Jeremy to a pulp, and Hannah walked up to him afterwards to offer a hand. He resisted, yelled at her to leave, and she did without any hurt feelings. It was understood between victims that you don’t offer assistance. You pretend it didn’t happen.
Jeremy watched her leave. He had almost forgotten about Regan, who still hid below the stairs.
“You can come out now,” he called.
She emerged, a slew of emotions battling it out on her face.
He knew not to say it. But he was gonna fucking say it.
She was silent.
“You’ve got yourself a winner right there.”
“Hope the sex is worth it.”
He only said it for the reaction. He hoped as the words shot out of his mouth that she’d give him a good one. A fierce blush, hurled insult, maybe even a shove. He wanted to hurt her as she’d hurt him. He needed to see it on her face—those precious seconds of ripe, raw pain—before she hid it under a mask of composure.
Her face screwed up in confusion. The corners of her eyebrows drew closer together the longer she stood considering his words, like a seamstress was working on her slowly and carefully to make the stitch line up just so. He watched those brows, and then his eyes moved to hers. They were too dark, and he couldn’t read the message. Until she gave it to him.
“You’re supposed to be the good guy,” she said softly.
The words punctured his heart instantly, and he turned his face, unable to look at the girl awaiting an answer. He tried to conjure his anger once more to justify his comment. She deserved it. She deserved anything ugly he’d ever say to her. But he couldn’t make himself believe it, and so the anger remained hidden somewhere deep, letting embarrassment fill his heart to the brim instead.
He listened as she pushed through the door, and only turned in her direction when he knew she was safely out of view. He couldn’t let her see his face. He knew it betrayed his shame, and he wasn’t ready to apologize.
“She deserved it,” he muttered, waiting for the vigilante to agree.
You’re an asshole
, it replied, and he was confused by the response.
“What?” Brandon asked, staring into his girlfriend’s eyes from across the lunch table.
“What?” Regan snapped back.
He paused, confused. “Uh, that’s what I asked you. You’re looking at me like you hate me. What the hell did I do?”
“I’m not looking at you like anything,” Regan replied curtly. She speared a carrot on her tray and shoved it in her mouth.
“Sooo,” Casey interjected. She shifted uncomfortably in the seat next to her best friend. “Did you guys see the new Brad Pitt movie?”
Brandon ignored her. “Wanna try again?” he asked Regan.
“What do you mean?” she replied between crunches.
“I don’t know, Regan. You put sparkles on your face, and suddenly you have an attitude with me all the time. I don’t get it.”
Regan delicately touched the side of her left eye that sported a few pink and purple jewels. Body jewelry. Eye art. Something she always loved but never wore because she knew Brandon would have something to say about it.
“You look ridiculous,” Brandon muttered, tearing open a small package of Saltines.
“I like them,” she replied, sitting up straight. The words were the perfect mixture of girl power and petulance.
“I know you do. I just don’t understand why. And I don’t understand why you’re wearing all these silly outfits lately. What are you trying to prove? What are you trying to tell me?”
“They’re not silly,” Regan replied coolly.
“You look like something out of a Japanese anime cartoon.”
saw the movie,” Casey said loudly. “And he was totally hot. Old, but whatever. Guys have a way of aging gracefully, don’t you think?”
a cartoon,” Regan spat. “I’m a person.”
“You look like you’re five years old, and your mom let you dress yourself for school,” Brandon shot back.
“Brandon . . .” Casey whispered. Even she knew he went too far.
Regan drew in her breath. “I like the way I dress. I like it so much better than how I used to dress when you basically told me what to wear. And I don’t plan on changing how I dress, so you can either deal with it or kiss my ass.”
Brandon’s mouth dropped open. And then his lips curled into a grin.
“I’d love to kiss your ass, Regan. I was hoping for an invitation, but lately you haven’t given me one.”
“O. M. G,” Casey whispered.
Ethan snickered beside her, and she smacked his leg under the table.
“Do people need to know our business?” Regan cried.
She wished she’d said nothing. She knew Brandon’s motivation—to embarrass her in front of their friends. Well, no,
friends. And he didn’t just want her to feel embarrassed but to voice it, too. He got exactly that.
She realized as she stared at him that they’d been playing their own version of a color war since the beginning of the school year. The louder and more colorful her outfits became, the more his true colors showed through. And his weren’t like hers—bright and cheery. His were dark and dangerous.
“Oh, like you don’t share everything we do with Casey anyway,” Brandon said dismissively.
“So not the point!” Regan replied.
Brandon propped his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands.
“What do you want from me, Regan?” he whined.
“I want you to stop being a jerk!”
“How am I being a jerk?” His face remained hidden behind long, slender hands. Desk job hands, she thought a long time ago. He was no working man.
And then her courage showed up. Just like that.
“I heard the way you talked to Hannah this morning,” she said.
Brandon raised his face slowly, eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Huh?”
“In the stairwell,” Regan explained. “This morning. I heard the things you said to her. Don’t try to deny it.”
Brandon thought a moment. “I didn’t see you there.”
Regan shifted uncomfortably. “Well, I was there.”
“What, like hiding under the stairs or something?”
“That’s not the point. The point is that I heard all those awful things you said. Don’t deny it!”
“Okay, I won’t.”
She wasn’t exactly prepared for that. It took her a moment to compose herself—to figure out how to proceed with the interrogation when she realized he wasn’t flustered. At all. But he should already be sweating under the light, shouldn’t he?