30. Self Defense

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30. Self Defense
Two days ago

When I arrived at school, Steven stood outside, perched a few feet off the ground on the cement banister of the stairs leading into the building. His hair was freshly tipped, blond spikes turning to peroxide-points, sound waves cresting far too loud. Little rectangular glasses, diamond-stud earring in one ear.

I take back any nice thing I ever said about him, if that indeed happened.

“Tag me,” he said. “Tag me, and I won’t do what I have planned today.”

“You quit,” I reminded him. “Why would I tag you?”

He smirked and looked to the side before staring at me again. “You weren’t listening. You quit, I am just starting a new group. And what more satisfying way to say goodbye to David, than to take the tag away from him?”

“You don’t know any other people, Steven.”

“I’ll meet them,” he said, arms folded across his chest.

“You put weed in Kent’s locker,” I accused.

“I know. Interesting, right? How you can just put something in someone’s possession – easy enough to do – and it becomes a part of their identity. They are responsible for it, and it defines them. Even if they have no idea it’s there.”

“It’s not happening,” I said. “Even if I was going to tag someone, it wouldn’t be the person threatening me. I don’t really give a shit what you have planned.” I lurched forward, feigning as though I was going to punch him. Steven flinched back then lost his balance, waving his arms futilely to regain it, barely catching himself before tumbling backward over the edge of the staircase.

I walked into the high school. Steven's warning set paranoia loose on my mind. He could’ve done anything. The sensation was maddening, like every leaf and every cloud was plotting against me, and I wanted to abandon school altogether. The whole place could be one giant trap, for all I knew.

I was scared of Steven’s devotion. He clearly had no concept of appropriate response; from the first time he called the cops on Mr. Gimble, I should have known. I think Steven took pride in going overboard.

The first two classes of the day passed without incident, which only heightened my tension. I went to my locker between every class, checking for some hidden paraphernalia. Nothing.

Then, third period. Cameron was gone, for one thing.

“What’s wrong?” Nora asked, as I sat down and was frozen there with my hands clutching the desk, staring at Cameron’s empty chair.

“I…I just don’t feel good,” I lied. It was strange for Cameron to miss school, and I had to wonder if it was tied to Steven somehow.

“Go see the nurse,” she said. “And I hope you feel good enough to come by tonight.”

“What?” I asked, having forgotten.

“You’ve gotta listen to me rehearse my speech,” she said. “You promised, remember?”

“Huh?”

“My valedictorian speech, asshole. Come on. If you go home early, give me a call and I’ll pick you up after school.”

“Right, right,” I said. “No, I’m fine. I just need a second.”

I felt flushed and frail. I wanted to explain things to Nora, but there was no way she’d understand. If she knew Eureka was involved, she’d be pissed—even if I’d quit.

“All right, class,” the teacher said. “Today is the big day. Today, I want a picture with all my favorite graduating seniors.”

The teacher was like this. Constantly reliving high school rather than teaching it, experiencing her wonder years vicariously through the young minds she was supposed to be sculpting for the future.

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