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Authors: Daisy Whitney

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BOOK: The Rivals
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Specialized.
That’s such a PC way of putting it,” he says, then turns the lock on the door. It clicks shut. He reaches for me, wrapping his arms around my waist.

“Decontaminate me, please. I was just in Ms. Merritt’s office,” I say, and Martin obliges by pressing his lips softly against my neck and his hands firmly against my hips.

I relax into the feeling of him, something I didn’t get nearly enough of when school was out for the summer. I saw him yesterday when I returned to school, and last night, and this morning, but we’re still making up for lost time.

As his lips make their way up my neck, I let his hair fall through my fingers, remembering the first time we kissed, the first time I wanted to touch his soft brown hair, and how I still love the way his hair feels on my hands. As I watch the strands fall gently through my fingers, he pulls me to him, my chest against his, his mouth nearing mine, closing the space between us. Then his lips are on mine and all I can think is, how did I go a whole summer with hardly any of this? This kissing, this closeness, this boy.

And that’s how the next hour goes by in about ten seconds, it seems. When we finally come up for breath, tucking in shirts and adjusting shorts that didn’t quite come all the way off, because we haven’t gone all the way yet, I tell him everything about my meeting with the dean. I don’t leave out a single detail. Martin cringes, cursing her as I repeat the words
shared culpability
.

“But the thing is, I still have moments when I think I could have done something different. Like I could have shouted louder or pushed him off me,” I say, and then tuck my face into his shoulder.

I feel Martin’s hand on my hair, his whisper in my ear. “It wasn’t your fault. It’ll never be your fault. It was one hundred percent his, and I don’t care what Ms. Merritt or anyone says to the contrary.”

I breathe him in, the familiarity of him, this boy I know, comforting me. “And this is how people see me now. As the girl who was…” I stop because no matter how many months have passed, I feel like I’ve been marked with an
R
. “How do you see me? Is that all you see when you look at me?”

He laughs, but it’s a reassuring one; he’s not laughing at me. “It’s the thing I never see. Because I see you, only you.”

I can’t help smiling, but inside I want to be where he is. I want to see me the way he does—without seeing
what happened
first. Sure, I can be all tough and
how dare you say it was my fault?
to Ms. Merritt, but she touched a nerve inside me that’s still tender. Because as much as I don’t have any lingering questions whatsoever, I know some students probably do, and the thought sickens me.

“And then I also see a totally hot piano player, because there is no way I can look at you and say
pianist
. Sorry, but too weird a word for a guy to say. And then I see this girl who still likes me and still listens to my science stories after six months. Which is pretty awesome. And I also see the head of the Mockingbirds, and then I remember,
Oh crap, Alex is in charge of me. I’d better be a good helper Mockingbird
.”

Then it’s my turn to laugh, only I am definitely laughing at him and the way he’s making fun of himself, since he’s on the board of the Mockingbirds too—which means he helps decide which cases we take on. He’s been a Mockingbird since he was a sophomore, working his way up to membership on the board. He’s in the Mockingbirds because he believes in them, because he wants to help others.

But I’m brand-spanking-new to the group. And I’m the leader for one and only one reason—because I was raped. I didn’t earn the post by putting in my time. I didn’t work my way up or campaign. It was handed to me because the leader is always someone who brought a case and won it. And while
that night
when Carter Hutchinson took my virginity while I was passed out was many months ago, the memory of it can all come roaring back in an instant.

After Carter was found guilty by the Mockingbirds, I was sure I’d survived the hardest part. But then I went home for the summer and found that being away from school made me think about that night even more. I no longer had the buffer of classes, the daily regimen of a schedule. It was summer, lazy time, just the piano and me, and in that empty space the memories started surging again, like the sound of a fire engine that starts one town over, then grows steadily nearer, until it’s blaring in your ear.

I thought I had moved on from victim to survivor, but there I was feeling victimized all over again—this time by my mind, which betrayed me by replaying
that night
whenever it wanted, the memories turning on and off with a vengeance, like flashing neon lights. My sister, Casey, who’s four years older, took me to a counselor, someone she found back home in New Haven. The counselor helped, told me it wasn’t unusual for
survivors
—she always called me a survivor—to go through a period of time when the assault feels closer, fresher. It’s like right before the wound can close, it has to be reopened one last time and flushed out.

With salt water, it seemed.

That’s how it
still
feels at times, because randomly, out of nowhere, I’ll see flashes of Carter’s white-blond hair, his lips I didn’t want on me, his naked chest I never wanted to be near. The worst part is when those awful images collide with Martin. Because here in Martin’s room, where we’ve returned to kissing, I flinch as Carter’s hands flicker in front of me, as I recall how they pressed down into the mattress on either side of my naked body.

I squeeze my eyes shut and try to push the unwelcome visitor away with more of Martin, like I can expel the memories through more contact with the boy I
want
to be with. But as my lips on his achieve a new urgency, he sees through me. He knows what I’m doing, so he extricates himself from my kiss to ask, “You okay?”

“Of course,” I say quickly. Too quickly.

“Hey,” he says softly. “We can slow down.”

I shake my head and lean in to press my lips against his again. He responds but then pulls back once more. “Alex,” he whispers, “are you thinking of that night?”

“No,” I say, closing my eyes and shaking my head, but soon, very soon, I’m nodding, managing a yes. Then more words. “I don’t want to picture him when I’m with you. I hate it.”

Martin props himself on one elbow. “I don’t want you to either, but it takes time, right?” he says, reminding me of what the therapist said this summer. Time, time, time. Be patient with yourself. Be gentle with yourself.

Enough patience.

I want to be
healed
, not
healing
. Especially here with Martin. I hate that I cannot completely erase Carter from my mind. I want to own this space with Martin. I want it to be mine; I want it to be pure.

But I am not always in charge.

“But I want to…,” I start, then trail off. I try again, saying the words out loud this time. “I want to be with you. All the way.”

His eyes sparkle. I look into them, deep brown, with these crazy green flecks twinkling, flashing. He pulls me closer, pressing his body against me to let me know he wants what I want. But he’s more than just a
guy
. He’s a
good
guy. “I’ll wait for you. However long it takes. You’re worth waiting for,” he says, twirling a strand of my brown hair around his finger.

And with those words it’s like one more of the dark shadows peels off the wall and leaves the room.

Another kiss, and there’s only Martin and me here for this one. Then I whisper, “We’d better go.”

A LINK TO THE PAST

We leave together for D-Day, and the quad is bustling. We pass the bulletin board in front of McGregor Hall. It’s stuffed with flyers for groups, clubs, and teams, including ones I posted this morning before the sun even rose. I posted them early because we’re not supposed to be in-your-face, all swagger and bravado. The Mockingbirds are here to help, but the less we’re seen doing our work, the better off we all are.

Obviously.

Running just as fast as you can, you’ll find your way to the New Nine. Can you hit the right notes for the Mockingbirds? Let’s hear your best song.…

It’s a recruitment poster; we’re looking for new runners for the Mockingbirds. They’re our on-the-ground members, and they’re also the only ones who can move up to form our council, the New Nine. We pick the jury for student trials from the council, so we like to remind potential runners of the path up in the Mockingbirds.

Of course, the question really should be this: can
we
hit the right notes for Ms. Merritt in her Faculty Club show? And if we don’t, will she see through us? And if she sees through us, then what? Will she just clap and cheer and keep looking the other way?

“Ironic, isn’t it?” I say to Martin.

“Or a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he quips.

Then I hear someone behind me.

“If it isn’t Alexandra Nicole Patrick. The girl who just couldn’t say no.”

I grit my teeth, take a deep breath, and then turn around. It’s Natalie Moretti. She testified against me last year in the Mockingbirds courtroom, painted me as some animal in heat.
She was kind of rubbing up against him
, she told the council. Her eyes are every bit as cold as they were that day. Her brown hair is pulled tight at her neck, and she’s wearing a sleeveless shirt, showing every smooth, toned muscle in her arms. Natalie is the überathlete here. Lacrosse superstar in the fall, track goddess in the spring. I don’t think her lean muscles would even permit an ounce of fat to reside on her body. They’d attack any fat molecule that dared appear, eating it up and spitting it out like a victorious cannibal.

“Hello, Natalie,” I say coolly, determined to be the picture of poise, even though I’m burning up inside because her name, her face, her voice dredge up the worst memories of the trial. She is the face of judgment and, worse, the judgment of another girl. She is more living, breathing proof that there are people who think I asked for it. She is the reminder that I wasn’t raped in an alley at gunpoint, that I was drunk, that I flirted with Carter, that I kissed him.

Before
I said no.
Before
he went too far.

She is the face of all my shame.

I bet she’s the one who tipped off Ms. Merritt.

“How was your summer? Plenty of time to think about all the stories you told, or were you too busy entertaining more young men?”

“You can shut the hell up, Natalie,” Martin says, staring hard at her as he clenches his fists.

“Oh, so cute. Your boyfriend defends you,” she says to me in a sickly sweet voice. Then she turns to Martin. “If I were you, I’d be careful, though. She might turn around and prosecute you next.”

It’s my turn to get a word in, so I say to her, “You don’t have a clue about us or me or anything, Natalie. And you never will.”

“Are you allowed to talk to me that way, Alex? Isn’t that bullying? Should I file charges with the Mockingbirds?”

I want to slug her. I picture a fat red welt appearing across her cheek courtesy of my fist. I’ve never hit anyone, and have no clue how to land a punch, but it’s a nice image. Somehow I rein in the overwhelming urge to practice a right hook for the first time. “Feel free,” I mutter.

“Maybe I will, then,” Natalie says, leaning closer to me, her breath now inches from my face. “Maybe I’ll be your case this year, and I’ll accuse you. How would that feel, Alexandra Nicole Patrick? How would it feel for you to be the accused?” Then she lowers her voice, her mouth coming closer to me, and more words slither out in a low hiss. “You’re only leading the group because you couldn’t keep your legs closed.”

My entire body coils, every muscle and nerve ending tightening and then snapping as I start to raise my right hand to slap her, to whack her across the face for real this time.

But before I can even lift my hand, there’s another voice.

“Who’s excited for D-Day!”

I turn around and see McKenna Foster. I stuff my hand into my pocket. I brush my other hand against my shirt, like I’m wiping Natalie off, getting rid of the coat of filth she breathed onto me. Even though neither Martin nor McKenna could hear the last thing Natalie said, I can’t help but wonder if other students will blame me for what happened last year. If they’ll think I asked for it, if they’ll think I don’t deserve to lead the Mockingbirds.

If they all believe in
shared culpability
.

I wonder if McKenna knows why I’m a Mockingbird and if she has an opinion on it too. But for now I’m just glad she’s here, defusing Natalie. McKenna and I have had a few classes together, including government in our sophomore year, which she killed in. She’s a senior and on the student council, maybe VP or treasurer, I’m not sure. She has wild, curly black hair, and she’s always pulling it back, putting it up, wearing sunglasses on her head to keep her hair off her face. Today she’s twisted the crazy strands with a pencil, though a few errant ones have come loose. She’s standing next to a younger version of herself.

“C’mon, guys! It’s not as if
your
parents are going to embarrass you by making a dumb speech,” she says, and rolls her eyes, cutting through the tension. Her parents are world-renowned research doctors—behavioral psychologists, I think—who get big bucks to travel and lecture around the world. McKenna’s mom is a Themis alum, and our D-Day is on their lecture circuit, though I’m pretty sure it’s the one pro bono stop.

The girl next to her clears her throat.

“Sorry,” McKenna adds, with a nod to her companion. “Alex, this is my sister, Jamie, but you’ll probably get to know her soon enough because she’s in the orchestra too. She plays flute,” McKenna says, and there’s a touch of pride in her voice.

“I’m a freshman. I just started here,” Jamie says, and she has an eerie confidence for a fourteen-year-old. She looks like McKenna except her hair is straight, the follicular opposite.

“And Alex here is the kick-ass leader of the Mockingbirds,” McKenna adds, and somehow I manage a combination of “thanks” and “hi” before McKenna keeps going. “C’mon, enough gabbing. We’ve got to go see Mommy and Daddy. Oh, and don’t forget to check out my awesome signs for student council,” she adds, this time to me, as she points a thumb at a poster positioned right next to my Mockingbirds one—on hers is a drawing of a gavel with a smiling cartoonish face on it.

BOOK: The Rivals
9.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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