I was now.
Mason, Logan and Mark were all doing homework at the dinner table. An instant hush came over them, and they stopped what they were doing. Malinda was in the kitchen, experimenting on more recipes. She loved sneaking tofu into dinner. She loved sneaking tofu into dinner. We were having chicken enchiladas that night. The tofu was going to be covered in cheese, but she paused as well.
David wasn’t there. He had an evening meeting for school.
Everyone looked at Mason. He asked, “You want the truth?”
The truth. That felt like a kick in the gut. The truth was that everyone had been pretending. This week was a haven for me. I was allowed to hide from the rest of the world, but the truth was that I had been attacked. I had two fractured ribs. It still hurt to talk and eat because of my jaw. The truth was that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to look in a mirror because I knew I looked like an assault victim, but I was one. It was time I started to deal with it.
I never flinched. “Yes.”
Mason narrowed his eyes, searching inside of me. He always did that when he was checking to see if I was being honest. When he saw that I was ready, he nodded. “The truth is that Kate thinks she won.”
I held my breath.
He kept going, “She thinks we’re friends again.”
It hurt to breathe.
“She thinks she’s at the top again.”
An intense pressure was on my chest now; it felt as if someone was pushing down on it.
“She thinks I’m going to dump you.”
I flinched as I felt someone kick me again. I heard the crack in my ribs from that night. I felt the crack in my ribs from that night.
He looked like a cold stranger to me as he finished, “And she thinks she’s going to be my girlfriend.”
I couldn’t talk. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to do anything except sit there and let his words sink in. All the pain that my medication had been holding at bay flooded me. It all came back in one wave, all at the same time, and I was paralyzed in my chair. I couldn’t fight any of it. “Why would she think that?”
Logan looked away. Mark’s head went down, but Mason didn’t turn away. He stared right back at me as he said, “Because I’m letting her think that.”
I hadn’t let myself think about Kate. I couldn’t, not the first week. I needed to heal and get through it. Everyone had been so supportive, but now I remembered that I was going back into the lions’ den. Fallen Crest Academy had different problems, but no one got assaulted there. I was tired, I was in pain, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what Mason said. He was letting Kate think she had won.
It didn’t matter what he said after that: he was setting her up; he had a plan; he didn’t want me involved because he knew I wouldn’t approve; I needed to trust him because he was going to make her pay.
He tried reassuring me over and over that night.
He failed. I wasn’t reassured.
I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to pound my fists on his chest. I wanted to throw things. Everyone else had gone to bed by then, but I wanted them awake. No one deserved to sleep. No one deserved to go about their daily routines, not when mine had been destroyed by her, but I couldn’t enact my revenge on those in the household. Except Mason. He stayed awake with me during the night. I couldn’t sleep. The need to make Kate pay had my heart pumping. I wanted to be the one to set her up, to watch her suffer. I wanted to find her in a bathroom, but there wouldn’t be three other friends with me. It would be her and me, and I’d beat her senseless. When she’d crawl to the door, I’d start again.
The rage never simmered. It kept my blood boiling, and my heart pumping the entire night. Mason drifted to sleep around three in the morning, but I was still seething at six. When he woke and glanced over, he saw I was still awake. He leaned over to kiss me, but I moved my head aside. There’d be no kisses. No words were shared as he got ready for school. When Logan came to the door, they had a quiet conversation. Logan was advised to leave me alone, and he did. They both left at the same time. Mark left for his school twenty minutes later. He sprinted through the house, and I heard Malinda yell, “It won’t matter that you’re late if you’re dead. Slow down, Marcus.”
He yelled back, “Yeah, okay.”
Peeking out my window, I watched as he sprinted for his car and then gunned the engine. I pretended that Kate had been in front of his car. She would be on the street now, laying in her blood and writhing in pain.
“He’s going to get in an accident one of these days. Sleeps too late, pushes it so that he’s not late for school, and I just know it’s a bad recipe in the making,” Malinda mused from behind me. The bottom of her white nightgown was underneath her blue robe. She retied the knot in the front before yawning. “You want some pancakes? David told me that Analise never made you breakfast before.”
“She didn’t, but she had their chef make me sandwiches.” I missed Mousteff.
Malinda grunted, a crooked grin on her face. “Some rich folk are like that. They stop doing the little things, think it’s beneath them. The only thing beneath them is not doing a damn thing.”
She said more, but I wasn’t listening to her. I was in my own head.
Analise. David. Jessica. Lydia. Jeff.
A stabbing pain seared through me. Each one of them had betrayed me. Each was someone I once loved. The pain kept coming. It wasn’t going to stop.
“Right, Sam?” Malinda laughed.