chapter three

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[tw: f-slur]

After trudging my way through three more classes with each teacher more preposterous than the last, the lunch bell rings and I am once again awash in my sea of anxiety and dread. There is one place that can rival hell, and that is the lunchroom of a high school structured on a meaningless social hierarchy. This is where the groups are determined; this is where the less fortunate go to die.

The cafeteria is in is own separate sector of the building, barred in by walls and tall heavy doors. They are pushed open and held in place by their metal doorstoppers. I stand at the west entryway, pivoted to let others pass, and observe with a lump in my throat at the mingling student body. I see what David means by groups - you can see quite clearly the tables that house the preps, the band kids, the goths, etc. On the recesses are what I assume to be the outcasts - a ragtag collection of kids that didn't have a uniform aesthetic, but were clearly not distinct enough to be placed in any social faction. Amongst these outcasts is David himself, who is slightly raised from his seat and looking around. Searching, I realized, for me. At this, I turn away.

The tightening gyre of self-loathing spins its way into my chest. I am so utterly useless, so utterly helpless. A despondent husk of a teenage boy filled with depression and trauma and words that would never leave my lips. I was below the outcasts; I was me. And that was the worst kind of person to be.

I feel myself shaking, feel myself heating up as my mind plummets further into a jumbled mess. I look up and see the restrooms adjacent to the west cafeteria entrance and head towards them, deciding I will take a few minutes to calm my nerves down in there before trying to find the library or something. It didn't matter where I'd end up, so long as it was nowhere near that dreadful lunchroom.

However as I neared the entrance to the boys restroom, I felt a hard grip on my shoulder spin my around. Panic blinded me for a moment; I couldn't see my aggressor's face clearly. But I could hear him. "Where d'ya think you're going, faggot?"

And then I'm being roughly shoved into the dingy space, flanked by two others following the guy that grabbed me. I am backed against the grimy, weirdly sticky tile walls. The three guys seem to tower over me; even though they're not much taller than I am, I feel like I am shrinking, shrinking into a particle of dust, or maybe just some pesty bug they could easily squish with the flat of their shoe. At least that fate would be easier than whatever the brutes had planned for me.

My shaking has increased tenfold, and I have to bite my lip hard to prevent myself from letting tears slip down my cheeks. The main one, whose pale ginger hair covers an eye in a fringe, seems to notice my inward struggle and laughs cruelly - a harsh sound resonating within the restroom walls. He slams a hand onto the wall next to me, leaning in uncomfortably close. He grins a grin as crooked as his soul.

"Aw, are you scared?" he taunts, and his cronies laugh. A tear manages to escape and their jeering becomes harsher.

His gaze travels up and down me, scanning me, seeing my fatness, my awkwardness. I want to disappear, God please just let the floor open up and swallow me whole forever.

That scrutinizing look pauses and focuses on something at the left of my chest. No. My arm moves up instinctively to cover it but in one swift motion he slams my arm against the wall with an aggressive thud. I wince at the pain; more tears make their descent down my cheeks. I don't dare lift my other arm.

"What's this?" he muses, using his other hand to reach towards the heart-shaped pin on my shirt. Please, no. Please don't do anything to it.

That pin, the one I always had fastened to whatever shirt or jacket I wore that day, was my mother's. She and I had matching heart pins. When she died, I came into possession of hers, and kept it close to my heart - literally - for the next seven years. The red coloring had began to fade, jagged spots of silver peeking through where the topcoat scraped off. It was a piece of Mom I couldn't afford to lose.

critical veins || peterick au [REVISED/REWRITTEN]Where stories live. Discover now