The gym teacher’s name was Mrs. Hamlin. She took roll. Afterward, she informed them they were beginning a new rotation. Soccer. Venus had briefly studied the rules of the game, but wasn’t sure she remembered all of them. The teacher chose two team captains.

The process fascinated her. One of the team captains was Tawny. Because she helped Venus with gym clothes, she figured Tawny would be kind enough to pick her as a teammate. That didn’t happen. Quite the opposite, she ignored Venus.

Nancy, the other girl chosen as a team captain, appeared reluctant to choose players without getting Tawny’s ‘okay’ first. 

Tawny picked a few of the girls who’d been standing around in the locker room. Nancy chose girls who were obviously her friends. But it was clear from the looks of longing on most of the girls’ faces that they all wanted to be on Tawny’s team.

So, Tawny must be some sort of leader in the school, Venus mused as she watched.

“Carla,” Tawny yelled.

The girl ran over. She raised her hand and high-fived the red-headed leader.

Nancy went next. “Uh, Lucy,” she said, but glanced at Tawny to make sure her choice was acceptable. Tawny lifted her chin. Nancy smiled when Lucy came over and stood next to her. The choice had been approved.    

“Maddie,” Tawny called next.

Maddie sauntered over like it was obvious she should be on Tawny’s team.

Another high-five. “Yay,” Maddie cheered. Carla and Maddie clutched hands and jumped up and down as though they’d won the best prize ever.

The choosing ritual went on for a while. 

Venus watched as the girls selected for Tawny’s team acted superior to those chosen for Nancy’s team.

Nancy picked Venus as the sixth player on her team. “New girl,” Nancy hollered.

Venus walked over with a smile. At this point she was happy to be picked.

While she stood there waiting for the other girls to be chosen, she had to wonder if the girls in Alayeah felt the same when her mother chose one of them to sit next to her at a dinner, or spend time with Venus during music hour. If, no, when Venus returned to Kelari, she promised herself she’d pay more attention to those around her—to their needs.

In the past, more often than not, she’d engage them in small talk to appease her mother, but rarely enjoyed herself. The females tripped over themselves to outdo each other. In the end, Venus would only spend as much time with them as was required. By the time a special dinner at the Great Hall or music hour in the Drawing Room had been completed, she’d forgotten those silly girls and their names. Watching the girls now, she realized how wrong that had been.

When they finally started playing, she got the impression several girls, Tawny included, were after more than a friendly little game of soccer. They went after Venus with a vengeance. She’d never met the girls before today, but she sensed their loathing.

The girls on Tawny’s team kept bumping into her and saying mean things.

“You suck!”

“Watch it, bony!”

After about ten minutes, the fatal moment happened. Venus noticed the gleam in Tawny’s eyes seconds before she said, “Welcome to South High, freak.” Then she kicked Venus in the shin. If she’d had her boots on, it would’ve been Tawny who’d gone down in a pile of pain.

 She gasped and fell. Her face reddening as she listened to the girls laugh. 

Tawny bent toward her, pretending to be sorry. When her mouth was next to Venus’s ear, she said, “You don’t belong here, Venus. And I’m going to make sure you suffer.” She pressed her forearm against Venus’s neck, pushing down. Venus kicked and gagged, trying to get away. She couldn’t breathe. The idea that this scrawny human could get the upper hand frustrated the helker out of her.

First that kid and now Tawny. She was beginning to take all the hate directed at her personally—like these people weren’t happy she’d come to their planet. Well, they could join the club. She didn’t want to be here either. At least not like this. Weak. Incapable of breathing right, and unable to defend herself. 

“Get off me, Tawny or you’ll regret it,” Venus said as violently as possible. It wasn’t easy with Tawny choking her. 

A whistle blew. The teacher must’ve noticed. Tawny removed her arm from her neck, moved back and said, sweet as saccharine, “Venus, I’m sooooo sorry.”

Venus suppressed a curse. Rubbing her throat, she rolled on her side.

The teacher came over and Tawny stood, moving out of the way. “Venus is it? Can you stand?” She helped Venus to her feet. She could feel her leg swelling, the blood pulsating under the wound. She tried to put pressure on that leg, but it hurt. Venus touched the floor with a toe, trying to act like she was fine.

“All right, you’d better go see the nurse.” Mrs. Hamlin pulled a pink pad out of her back pocket, took a writing pen from behind her ear and scribbled notes onto the paper. Ripping it off, she said, “Go out those doors, make a left, head all the way down, turn right and the nurses’ station is the second door on the left. Can you remember that?”

No! Pain seared into her leg. Her lungs burned and her neck hurt. Plus, she didn’t know the school well enough to follow those directions. But Venus nodded anyway, taking the slip of paper from the teacher. Venus glared at Tawny which may have come out like a grimace.

Tawny stuck her middle finger up at Venus. “You’re a lover not a fighter, right?” she taunted when the teacher moved away.

The other girls snickered.

“That’s enough, Tawny. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say that was an accident?” Mrs. Hamlin sounded stern. She must not have heard what Tawny said. At least Venus hoped not. 

“Of course. All part of the game.”

What a completely crazy human. On her planet, Tawny would be in a cell right now, down in the kelarian dungeons of Helker, awaiting her punishment. Death. And Venus would get to decide how it happened. There were so many choices.

At the thought, a smile crossed her lips.  

Without breathing, she pushed the door opened and hobbled into the hall. Once the door clicked shut, Venus leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. Tears welled up in her eyes. Tightness constricted her chest.

Everything hurts! She willed herselfnot to cry.

“You’re making friends all over the place, aren’t you?” The words were deep, yet smooth like velvet.   

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