A ray of hope.
I woke up suddenly, wrenched from my nightmare with sweat sticking my hair to my forehead and my heart thrumming. Whatever I was dreaming about slipped out of my memory as I tried to reach for it, as most dreams do. I slumped back onto my damp pillow and glanced at the clock, which proclaimed it was 6:57am.
Groaning, I pulled my ass out of bed and had a quick shower to wake me up, and shake the feeling of dread about another day at school. It didn’t work of course, each moment leading up to the school gates made me dizzier with fear. Each step took a century and only the comfort of music blasting in my ears stopped me from screaming out and running back to Jersey.
I passed through school in a coma, blocking out the insults hurled at me and the teacher’s threats of punishment that they never carried out. My disgustingly greasy cafeteria food was quickly dumped in the nearest bin and I hurried out onto the school field, avoiding a group of jocks near the quad. I settled underneath a gnarled tree with my back to the school as it began to rain, and doodled in the back of my chemistry book and humming tunes, imagining what they would sound like on pansy. My thoughts – as they inevitably do- turned to Mikey and all I left behind. I submersed myself in the pain until I heard the fumbling of footsteps behind me.
My head snapped up and I brushed away the hot tears streaking down my face, snapping shut my chemistry book and sniffing hard. The footsteps were heavy, and it sounded like there was more than one person heading towards me. I prickled in fear and got to my feet, taking care not to trip over my converse’s trailing laces. It was a small group of jocks, like four or five. They looked menacing and my heartbeat started to quicken as they neared closer, each wearing the same stupid smile which revealed the white of teeth, God I hated them, their stupid jeans-with-tucked-in-white-tee-and-varsity-jacket combination, total clones but define themselves on their individuality.
“Alright faggot?” The larger one snorted, leaving the others guffawing in the background. Anger sent my blood boiling at his obnoxious tone, God I didn’t even know his name, but it was probably something dumb like Dylan or Josh. How fucking dare he? Faggot’s not even an insult. Eugh. Homophobia’s so gay. I didn’t reply but glared at him murderously, daring him to say more. He moved closer towards me, his stubbled chin towering above my head and his foul smelling deodorant overpowering in my nostrils, as well as a faint smell of sweat. Ugh.
I noticed the other guys circling closer too, suppressing laughter as their eyes twinkled with malice. I tried not to show my mounting intimidation, sucking on my lip ring. A memory of Mikey murmuring that I look cute when I do it sent a harsh pang through my core, leaving a bitter aftertaste. I was sick of the stench rolling off the group of jocks and unspoken threats. I shouldered my bag and turned to leave.
“Where fuck do you think you’re going?” they shouted after me, I could hear their footsteps pounding to keep up with me. A loud crunch sounded in my ears and a bolt of pain soon followed making my ears ring and the ground rise up to meet my face with another crunch. The threat of unconsciousness reared making my eyelids droop, but I batted it away and struggled to get up, fighting stinging tears from the pain swirling around my head. I managed to crouch, but a weight flattened me again and raspy breathing was all I could hear.
“You know what you are, faggot? You’re scum, you’re dirt. You’re a worthless pain in the ass to all the lives you infect by breathing.” He yanked a handful of hair and mashed my face into the dirt, making me taste the disgusting woody earth. With my nose bleeding and filth clogging my eyes, he left me sprawling with a large goodbye kick to the face and my books emptied out in a puddle nearby. Spitting out the mixture of blood and mud from my mouth, I whimpered at the approaching footsteps, fearing it was the jocks back for more. Yet as the footsteps neared, they sounded too light for the bumbling assholes, and weren’t accompanied by laboured breathing.
They stopped right in front of me and I heard a whispered ‘oh God’ as they surveyed my broken state. Determining the voice as female, I opened my eyes to slits as could see battered vans a few inches from my sodden school books. She bent to pick them up, allowing her blue and black tiger print skinnies to come into view, and a studded belt looped through them. I heard my bag open as she placed the books inside and then knelt beside me, helping me to an upright position. I met her large eyes and worried grimace with unease, I wasn’t used to people helping me.
“Are you alright to walk?” she asked, I nodded dumbly, ignoring the pain in my neck as I did.
We stumbled to the nearest bathrooms with her skinny arms looped around my bruised waist, and she promptly began to wet tissue paper and clean the dirt from my face. During the several minutes of silence, I drank in her features. Long blonde hair daringly streaked with red and blue, bracelets covering both her wrists and two piercings glinting under her bottom lip. She was pretty for sure, but that was not why I found myself smiling at her.
“There we go, you’re all scrubbed up but you’re hair’s still a bit dir- what are you smiling at, stranger?” She asked pointedly, raising an eyebrow
“Nothing, urm-” I mumbled, wincing at the pain of speaking through a busted lip “It’s just, you’re the first person since I’ve moved here that’s helped me or... acted like I exist.” I looked down at my scuffed shoes in embarrassment, waiting for a harsh reply or for her to leave, but to my surprise she laughed quietly and slowly replied, “Well you’re the first person that hasn’t rejected my attempts to help or acted like I don’t exist either. I think we’ve got more in common than you think.”
“Frank” I said, feeling remotely happy for the first time since the lunch bell had rung.
“I’m Bryony, and from now on I think we should help each other out when we get knocked flat on our asses, deal?” she extended a hand confidently, and I shook it gratefully.
“Well as much as I pains me to say it, I’ve gotta go before a guy walks in here and wonders what the hell I’m doing in the boy's toilets,” she stepped closer to me and softly brushed my cheek with her lips, leaving behind the smell of her shampoo as she sauntered out the door, leaving me alone with my battered reflection, a stupid smile pinned to my lips.
This was definitely the best consequence of an ass kicking ever.