Authors: Sara Wolf
Jack’s blue eyes are shocked, or maybe I’m just really drunk.
“But you’re so –” He starts.
“Loud? Annoying? Bitter? Smartmouthed? Yeah, I know. Guys have called me that before.”
“I was going to say,” Jack says sharply. “Confident. Charismatic. And cheerful. You’re like – it just seems like a lot of guys would’ve gravitated to – I don’t know.”
“There you go again with the really gross flattery. I’m not a client, okay? So you don’t have to flatter me when you don’t mean it.”
“I mean it. I don’t say things I don’t mean.”
“Except when you’re working.”
“But I’m not working now. There is no girl I’m being paid to woo here, so what I’m saying is honest and true.”
“Well, apparently you haven’t quite flipped the correct switches from work back to your normal life, so. It’s okay. The compliments are nice, even if you don’t mean them.”
“I mean them, alright? Stop questioning my sincerity!”
“Stop saying lies,” I sigh. “I’m none of those nice things you just said. But it’s okay. I can pretend.”
He rubs his forehead. “God, you’re infuriating.”
“Ooh, that’s another good adjective to add to my list!”
“If I had known –” He runs his hand through his hair, but it flops back down to shade his eyes. “If I had known I wouldn’t have done it. A first kiss…that’s something a girl should cherish. It’s something you should share with someone you really love. You shouldn’t lose it in a petty high school battle of wills to someone you hate.”
“Yeah, well. Never gonna love someone again, so. It’s okay. I’m glad I lost it, at least! It’s sort of nice to have gotten it over with.”
“You’re so sure of that, aren’t you?”
“Sure of what?” I blink.
“That you’re never going to love anyone again. You said it with such…conviction. Like it’s set in stone.”
“Oh! But it is!” I smile.
“So you won’t, in any one of the endless millions and trillions of possibilities that are your future selves, ever fall in love with someone again?”
“Yup! That’s right. It’s been three years, twelve weeks, and four days since I fell in love. And I’m never going to do it ever again. I learned my lesson.”
I get up and stretch to break the awkward quiet between us.
“I’m gonna get some more booze. You want any?”
“I don’t drink.”
“Oh ho! Is that so? You and Wren, both terrible goody-two shoes! Whodathunk it.”
“We used to be friends, in middle school,” Jack says softly. “Him and I.”
“And then what happened?”
Jack looks up at me, icy eyes glowing with an unholy fire in the faint light from the house. The shadows hug his face, making him look savagely handsome and savagely terrifying all at the same time.
“I did something very bad.”
His tone sends shivers down my spine, but I keep my face light and unaffected.
“Oh. Like, uh, put snow down his pants? Kissed his girlfriend? Or does it have something to do with Sophia?”
Jack laughs. He really laughs, this time, the sound clear like when he was with Madison. But nothing about it is pleasant, or amused. It’s bitter, old, full of guilt. Jack gets up and leaves, my curiosity roars through me and darts my hand out to grab his shirt and pull him back and make him explain, I trip on the lip of the fountain, and all at once there’s a horrible jolting down my spine, a heavy weight falling next to me, and water in my nose, my ears, my mouth. The cold shock whisks my booze-haze away and leaves me sputtering and struggling to get out of the fountain. Jack is likewise wet from his pants-down, and glowering at me. The entire party inside is mashed up against the windows, looking at us and laughing, and the garden crowd is practically rolling with laughter.
“How do you fall in there? It’s like two feet wide.”
“Carl peed in there, too!”
Jack and I drip in solidarity.
“You did that on purpose.” Jack mutters, and I swear I see his eyebrow twitch with controlled rage.
“N-No! I tripped and – oh god there’s something green on your crotch. Not that I was looking there. It just happened to be very green! Right there!”
He picks a wad of algae off his crotch and throws it onto the face of a laughing guy nearby. It makes a wet splat, and Jack is gone before I have the chance to apologize properly. Not that I was going to at all since I’m at war with him and what am I thinking,
! And thanking him for kissing me? What the hell am I on other than ethanol-based depressants? I have to work this accident for all it’s worth! I hold up my hands and pump my fist, shouting.
“Take that, Jackass Hunter!”
The party laughs, some people shake their heads. I go back inside, squishing over to a shocked Kayla.
“Sorry about your floor. I love you. Have I mentioned that lately? I really love you and please don’t be mad I shoved your crush into a fountain, please, it was an accident but I’m making it look like it wasn’t because that’s how smooth I am.”
There’s an anxious span of quiet in which I reconsider all my life choices up until this moment. She wrinkles her nose, and smiles.
“You smell like pee.”
I exhale in relief, inhale, and immediately regret it.
Jack Hunter’s level of menace is steadily increasing.
For a while back at the party I thought our pretty-damn-secluded moment of secluded-feelings-sharing was going to diffuse the tension between us, but alas. It appears, by the pictures plastered all over the walls and lockers of East Summit High, that I was wrong.
The pictures are of me. Fat. Coming out of my old high school building in Good Falls, Florida. My butt crack is showing, and I’m practically swimming in the old baggy clothes I used to wear.
People look at the pictures, then point at me and laugh.
I immediately weigh the pros and cons of throwing a tantrum.
Kayla sidles up to me, a nervous look on her face. She walks with me to class. People really are huge meanies. Just really big fat meanies. This has to be Jack’s doing, since we are at war and all, but this is the cruelest thing he’s done yet. I’ve been pretty cruel too, but I didn’t dig around in his past or anything. Okay. Maybe I did. A little. I talked to Wren and he told me about Sophia and I mentioned Sophia at the party. So I guess this is Jack’s way of telling me to butt out. I ticked him off. Super ticked. A very large tick that has drank a lot of blood and been stuck in an armpit for so long it became a Godziltick. That’s how ticked off he is. As if I care! He’s brought out the big guns, the guns of me being fat, and I still look fabulous even fat but how dare he reach his shitty little fingers into my past and air it out for everyone to see, and if I ever see him again I’ll tear his esophagus up out of his mouth and use it as a ceremonial headdress –
“Isis,” Kayla pats me on the back. “You’re thinking out loud again.”
“I am upset,” I sniff. “With certain persons in the immediate vicinity.”
“Not me,” Kayla clarifies.
“To be fair, it’s a very pretty butt crack,” Kayla offers.
“Thank you. What’s Jack’s first period?”
“Trigonometry with Mr. Bernard –”
I storm over to J-Building and casually kick Mr. Bernard’s door open. Jack’s in the back. I stride over to the whiteboard, pick up the eraser, and chuck it at his head. It dings off with considerable force and Jack looks stunned.
“You’re a horrible little boy, Jackoff Hunter McShittington!” I shout. “I bet you have potted cactuses - ”
“Cacti,” Mr. Bernard offers timidly.
“ – CACTI, and you smell horrible and you’re the stupidest asshole I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting and if you could just go jump off a building and die alone I would be very grateful!”
I slam the door behind me and lean against it, breathing deep. With all the angst out, I can smile again, think straight again. I skip to class. Kayla quirks a brow.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m currently devising terribly fiendish torture scenarios in which Jack doesn’t get out alive with his penis intact.”
“He is getting crossed off the decent human list,” I assure her. “With red ink! And a million exclamation points!”
“Do you think he really did it? He taped all those pictures up by himself? Where did he even get them?”
“There’s only one person who has access to my past like that,” I murmur. As I make my way to Wren’s typical hideout at recess, I realize I haven’t cried. Not a single tear. And why should I? I’m not proud of who I used to be, but it’s not who I am anymore. I’m different. I have four streaks of purple in my hair, and I haven’t fallen in love in three years, twelve weeks, and five days. I’m doing good. I’m doing so much better than that person in the pictures was. I hold my hand out and run down a line of lockers, tearing off the pictures as I go. I slam the wad into the trash triumphantly. My fat butt decorates the floor, ripped and shredded and made dirty by the thousands of footprints that’ve walked on it. Some people have scribbled FAT and HUGE BITCH. The janitor is sweeping pictures up by the dozens, his usual death-glare turning a little soft when he sees me.
The student council room is clean and tiny and smells like pencils and stale doughnut holes. Wren is instructing a Freshmen guy with glasses and two Freshmen girls with mousy hair on the merits of not running in the halls and getting good grades or some drivel. I come up behind him and slam my hands on the desk.
“Yes, hello, good evening everyone. It is I, butt crack girl. Please evacuate the immediate vicinity before I show you my new and updated butt crack.”
“Isis, what the hell –” Wren starts. The freshmen shoot him nervous looks, and he motions for them to go. When they’ve closed the door, I sit on Wren’s desk and cross my legs over one another like a dainty lady.
“You gave my picture to Jack, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You talked to Nameless, and he gave you my picture.”
“No! I swear to you, Isis, I haven’t talked to Will –”
I flinch, and he clears his throat.
“ – uh, Nameless, for a whole year! We’re not all that close!”
“How else would Jack get that picture?”
“Look, I’m not saying I know who did it, but didn’t you notice there was no comment from the faculty? Principal Evans didn’t get on the PA system to comment on the pictures at all. He usually reprimands defacing school property like crazy. But this time? Nothing.”
“Are you saying Evans did this?”
“I’m not saying anything,” he lowers his voice. “I’m just saying it’s odd, is all, and that if you talk to Evans, you might get some more information.”
He stares at me with his round, unblinking hazel eyes. I finally relent. There’s no way someone as cute as him could have done something as evil as supply my enemy with prime blackmail photos, even if they were friends once.
“Alright. I’ll talk to Evans. But –” I point in his face. “I’m not done with you. Not by a long shot. Jack told me at Kayla’s party he did something bad. And you got scared. And I’m gonna find out what it was.”
Wren’s face goes so pale for a second I think he’s had a heart attack. His lips get thin and he glowers. It’s all the proof I need that what Jack said was true. He really did something bad. Something that’s making Wren tremble under his polo shirt and horn-rimmed glasses. But I can’t pry it out of him now. I have a principal to confront. I stride out and leave Wren behind. Evans’ secretary is a pretty dark-haired woman and a spotty birthmark over her forehead that makes her look half Dalmatian and half awesome.
“Can I see Evans, ma’am? It’s urgent.”
“Sure, sweetie.” She smiles. “He’s free. I’ll buzz you in right now.”
I take a deep breath right before the door and compose myself. I can’t kick this door down. I have to be sociable, I have to get the truth from him, and that means pretending I’m nice and pretending I’m easy to fool. So I smile my brightest smile ever and push through the door.
Evans is at his desk, typing away at the computer. Glass figurines of penguins litter his bookshelves, and an ostentatious, tacky gold bust of his own head sits on his desk next to his nametag; PRINCIPAL GOODWORTH M. EVANS. I swallow a snort. Goodworth. What kind of name is that?
Evans looks up, his bald patch more noticeable than ever. He grins.
“Ah, Isis. I figured you’d come in to see me today. Please, sit.”
He figured, huh? That’s not promising. I sit in the plushy chair across from him.
“My picture is everywhere,” I start.
“I know. I saw. I’m terribly sorry – kids these days are just so cruel. I had Marcus clean them up as soon as I saw them.”
“He’s still working on that.”
“I know. Poor man.”
Nothing about Evans’ voice sounds sincere – it’s all half-sweet, meaninglessly airy words. He doesn’t care at all. He just keeps typing at the computer, with no time for me. Either that, or he doesn’t want to confront me. He can’t look me in the eye, and it’s not a good sign. Guilt does that to people.
“I wanted to ask you about Jack,” I say. Evans chuckles.
“No, I won’t give you his home address, his schedule, his phone number, or his social security number.”
“That’s what the other girls ask for.”
“I’m not other girls, Mr. Evans.”
“So I can see.” He smiles, typing on the computer even more rapidly. “You were expelled from your last high school because of – what did the police call it? Intent to harm? According to your permanent record here, you fought everyone you could get your hands on, anyone who looked at you a strange way. What made you so touchy, I wonder?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe years of vicious bullying for being fat.”
“But that teasing inspired you, didn’t it? That’s why you lost so much weight. So really, you should be thankful for it, and to the people who antagonized you.”
I laugh incredulously. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Language, Isis,” he says smoothly. “We wouldn’t want another mark on your permanent record now, would we? It’s already so scuffed up.”
I underestimated this guy. He plays the game well. Of course he does. He’s had years of adulthood – where everyone smiles when they hate someone and bottles up their emotions – to practice in. He’s a master of passive-aggressive-bullshit-taekwondo. And I’m more a master of the aggressive style. We’re basically dancing around each other in two incompatible styles, so neither of us is getting anywhere. I change my stance.
“I heard Jack’s super smart,” I add a simpering tone to my voice. “That must be because this school is so good at teaching, huh?”
Evans looks up, his chest puffing. “Of course. Our faculty are top-notch, you’ll learn that soon enough. Jack is the brightest student I’ve seen in years – he got a perfect score on his SATs”
I smirk on the inside, but smile on the outside. “So that means he’ll probably go to a really good college, right?”
“Oh, the best. He just started applying to Yale today, as a matter of fact.”
Today? That’s an odd coincidence. When I overheard Jack and Evans, Jack seemed to hate the idea of applying to an ivy just a few weeks ago. So what changed? I narrow my eyes, but keep smiling.
“Wooow. Yale is an ivy league, right? That’s pretty impressive.”
“He’ll apply to Princeton, too, or so he said. It would be a huge waste if someone like him stayed here.”
“Right. Definitely. Is he the first person from this school to go to an ivy league?”
Evans’ eyes glint. “Well, not the first. There have been three people before him. But he’ll be the first in about twenty years, yes.”
“That must make you so proud.”
“Indeed. Extremely proud.”
“Everybody’s gonna think it’s because of your management, probably!”
“Oh,” he laughs in a fake-modest way. “I wouldn’t say that.”
And that’s when it hits me.
“You have access to everybody’s permanent record, huh Mr. Evans?”
Ever eager to show off his power, he preens, smoothing hair ineffectually over his bald spot.
“Hm? Oh, yes. Yes I do.”
“So you have everyone’s past schools on record, too.”
“Yes, that’s how I know you were expelled.”
“And I bet that record has some old pictures of me, huh?”
Evans freezes, his fingers hovering over the keyboard. Gotcha, motherfucker.
“Let me guess,” I say slowly. “Jack called you. Probably on Sunday. He asked you to find old pictures of the fat me, and post them up where people could see them. And in exchange, he would apply to the Ivy League schools you’ve been harassing him about.”
Evans scoffs. “That’s nonsense –”
“Is it? Because that picture of me was taken by my old school’s yearbook club, and they put it in the section titled ‘STUDENT FAILSAUCES! XD’.”
“What’s an XD?”
“A sideways laughing face of horrendous proportions. Don’t change the subject.”
“Isis, look, I really wish I could catch whoever did this horrible thing to you. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t have a very good camera system. And Marcus said he saw no signs of a break-in –”
“Because no one broke in. You just unlocked the gate and doors with your master key. A student would’ve had to have broken a window or a vent grating or something to get inside.”
“I’ve had enough of this,” Evans snaps. “Get out of my office, right now.”
“What if I tell campus security? Huh? What’s gonna happen then? Oh, wait, they’re on your payroll. Maybe I’ll just go to the police with this.”
“You have no evidence. Get out!”
I sarcastically salute him, slamming the door so hard behind me I hear one of his stupid glass penguin statuettes fall and shatter. He grumbles and yells at his secretary for a broom, and I walk away with a smirk. His outrage confirms everything. I won, and we both know it. Principal Goodworth M Evans is small fry, and never posed a real challenge at all.
I’m almost disappointed, but then I remember Jack.