They ripped my shirt.
They punched my stomach.
And then the kicks started.
To my side. Down on my ribs. On my head. To the side of my head. Then to my hips. They wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t keep going. My eyes were swollen shut by now. I lifted my hands, but only to ward off their attacks. I couldn’t fight anymore. The pain was too much and I couldn’t get through them. The door was less than five feet away, but it could’ve been five miles now.
Oh, thank god, I thought for a brief second. There was a pause, and they stopped.
The door burst open and someone braked. Their sneakers screeched against the floor from their sudden stop. She choked out, “Oh my god.”
“You—” Kate started, her tone menacing.
They took off.
No one moved. The door shut behind whoever it had been. Then Kate screamed, “Stop her!”
Natalie was panting. “She’s gone. We should get gone, too.”
“We’re not done.”
“She can’t move. Let’s go.”
“Kate, you can’t kill her, and that freak saw us. We need to get to her before she tells anyone it was us.”
Jasmine spoke up, a tremor in her voice, “You think she’s going to tell?”
“Yes,” Natalie snapped at her. “Idiot. She’s going to get help for this cunt. Let’s go.”
She stepped over me, but kicked me one last time before shoving through the door. The rest lingered, and she roared from the hallway, “LET’S FUCKING GO!”
Each of them kicked me one last time on their way out. I couldn’t fight them. I knew it was coming, but the pain had paralyzed me. This wasn’t a pain that I could shut off. It didn’t take me away from my reality. I was here the whole time. I could hear, and I could think, but I couldn’t do a thing to stop them. When the door shut behind them, and I lay there alone, I finally gasped for breath. Even my mouth hurt. I could taste blood, and I felt its wetness all over me.
Please don’t let them get Mason. Or Logan. That was my one prayer. Whoever they were getting, whoever would come through those doors again, I didn’t want it to be either of them. They couldn’t see me like this. They’d lose control. They’d do something horrific, and I couldn’t lose them because of this.
“In there,” I heard someone yell from farther down the hallway. Their sneakers were pounding on the floor. I could feel their approach, and then their shapes blocked the light from under the door. They were right there, on the other side.
Please not them, I prayed again to myself.
When they started to open the door, I closed my eye … and then I waited.
A woman choked out, “Oh my god.”
That wasn’t Mason or Logan. It wasn’t someone I knew. My eyelid opened, but I could only see through a small slit. They were too swollen for much more.
Gentle hands touched me as she knelt beside me. “Oh, dear. Samantha?”
The girl remained in the back, but she spoke up, “They were beating her. All four of them.”
“Who, sweetheart?” The warmth in that voice washed over me in waves. She touched the side of my face and turned it to the side. More light shined on me, and she sucked in her breath again. “Oh, dear.” She glanced up again. “Who did this to her?”
“Some other girls.”
Wait—I knew that voice. Images of Heather’s friend flooded me. It was Cory.
Then the lady asked, “Can you and your friend go find someone for me?”
“Yes, dear, but I’d also like you to find someone else.”
Gone was the goth girl from earlier, with her constant glares and venom-laced words. Cory reminded me of a little girl in that moment.
“Do you remember the gentleman that was standing next to me?”
“Yes.” Her voice dipped again with emotion.
“Go get him.”
“Who is he?”
The hand rested on her arm this time. It was strong and healing. I felt this woman’s courage through that touch, and I drew in a shuddering breath. I needed it. I needed every bit of strength this woman was giving to me.
“Try to be quiet about this. We don’t want to draw a lot of attention.”
“Who’s that guy?” Cory questioned again.
I drew in another breath. I didn’t know why she was insisting, but it felt good. Like she was looking out for me.
Then I heard the answer, “That man is Samantha’s father.”
The door closed again. I felt the small draft. It was soothing against the burns from everything else. Then the woman moved so I could see her. Dark eyes and brown curls framed her face. Malinda Decraw smiled at me, though I could see the hesitation in her. She nodded, but it was as if she were reassuring herself. She murmured, “We’re going to get you some help, Samantha. I promise, honey.” Her last word stumbled out and hitched on a sob. “Everything will be fine.”
Her hand brushed my hair back. Her fingers trailed through it, and I wondered if it was the only place she could touch me. She repeated again, speaking to herself now, “Everything will be fine …”
My dad was there.
That thought was on repeat in my mind. For some reason it helped block the pain. He came with Principal Green and both of them had been quiet since they came in. I couldn’t see them. Malinda kept patting my hand. I wasn’t even sure if Cory had returned with them.