“I know.” He gave me a sheepish look. “I’m sorry. I overreacted. My mom told me that your mom and dad hadn’t been divorced at the time, but they are now. Aren’t they?”
“Are they here?”
“Your mom and dad?”
“Your mom and my dad,” I shouted in his ear. The crowd had doubled, and we were pressed even closer together. I couldn’t see Adam anymore.
“Oh.” He laughed at himself. “Yeah, they’re here. They’re with the adults. Why?”
I shook my head. “No reason.”
“Oh.” His frown came back. “Was I not supposed to say that? Is that a secret or something? I never know what’s going on.”
“No, it’s fine. You’re fine.” I patted his arm for extra reassurance while a storm had started inside of me. “I’m going to go and find a seat.”
“Wait.” He tapped my shoulder again. “We heard there’s a party at Fischer’s tonight and Academites are invited. Is that true? Are you going to be there?”
“Probably.” I waved at him again before moving away. “See you later.”
“Oh. Okay.” His hand jerked up, and he waved it back and forth. “Yeah. See you.”
Before going into the packed gymnasium, I needed to go to the bathroom. The lines hadn’t lessened and then I heard a buzz inside of the gym, followed by another deafening roar from the crowd. I’d been to enough basketball games to know the teams just left their locker rooms, which meant I needed to hurry. I didn’t want to wait in line so I turned a corner and went down one of the darkened hallways. Slipping past one of the gates, I jogged all the way to the bathrooms at the opposite end of the school. No one should be in them and I wouldn’t have to wait in line. I would get back by the time they finished their warm-ups.
Everything was going according to plan.
Pushing through the door, the bathroom was empty. It didn’t take me long. I finished and washed my hands. When I turned from the hand dryer, I stopped. Everything stopped. In hindsight, I would realize that the dryer drowned out the sounds of their entrance, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t have stopped it from happening.
Kate had come inside the tiny bathroom. Parker stepped around her, Jasmine and Natalie following behind. When the door closed behind them, Natalie reached up and locked the door.
All four of them were dressed in black clothing with hooded sweatshirts. The four reached up and pushed back their hoods as one. Each had their hair tied back in a low ponytail.
My stomach dropped.
This wasn’t going to end well, but I couldn’t get past them. I couldn’t call for help. I tried to grin, failing miserably. “Payback?”
Kate’s eyes turned feral. She lifted her top lip in a snarl. “This isn’t payback. This is your punishment.”
Parker sneered at me, her hands hung loose beside her. They were ready to harm someone.
They were ready to harm me.
Then she added, “This is the first wave.”
Kate grunted, taking a step closer. “You should’ve quit school today. I gave you one last out.”
Natalie spoke from the back, “Time’s up.”
The room plunged into darkness, and I had one second. The sounds dimmed like earlier that afternoon. My breathing was now deafening in my ears. My heart started to race, but the fear threatened to paralyze me.
I pushed from the sink and darted into a stall. Someone reached for me. They grabbed my shirt, but I didn’t stop. My sleeve ripped off, and I used that to my advantage. As they fell back with my sleeve, I punched at them. Someone cried out, I assumed it was Kate. The other three were behind her, but I got into the middle stall and locked the door. Before I had time to think, I dropped to the ground and flew underneath to the next stall.
A foot stepped on me. I heard, “She’s in this one.”
The foot lifted in the air. It was going to kick me, but I thrust a hand out blindly. I caught it, but there was too much force behind it. It crushed two of my fingers, and I clamped my mouth shut. A scream wanted to burst out of me, but I swallowed it. Good god, I swallowed it. No sound. No tears. No cries. They couldn’t hear anything from me. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Pushing past that blinding pain, I threw my shoulder up and into the person. It was enough. She fell back, and I heard more cries.
“Get off me, Parker.”
“It was that bitch.”
“Let’s turn the lights on. This is stupid.”
“No, someone might see. If the door’s locked, they won’t come in here.”
“Shut up and get her,” Kate barked at them.
I heard the pain in her voice. I must’ve hit her harder than I thought, but then I heard someone fall to the ground. They were trying to crawl in like I had. Flipping around, I kicked at them instead.
I kicked them again, and again, and again. I kept kicking them. It was working, but suddenly two hands grabbed my arm, and I was yanked from underneath the last stall. The exit door was right there. I pushed to my feet and reached for it. My fingers hit it, but then I was pulled back again. I made for one last reach. I grunted from the effort, but I got to it. The lock moved down.
I was thrown back to the floor after that. I couldn’t even turn over before fists were coming down on me.
They hit my jaw.
They hit my eyes.
They pulled my hair out.