“Thinking about dating any other guys?” Lorie asked me as we walked down the corridor full of students. “I can’t believe you’re still single.”
Our first period had finished and Tiffany and I found ourselves walking with the rest of our friends; the eight of us followed Ashley to her locker, our daily routine. We had a couple of minutes before homeroom started and we’d often congregate around Ashley’s locker to socialize before going to our separate classes.
“I told you, I’m taking a break from dating.”
“But come on, you’ve been so down in the dumps ever since—” Lorie stopped herself as if she needed to rethink her words, “—since you and Timothy didn’t work out.”
I rolled my eyes, a faint feeling of anger rising in my body. “Thanks for bringing it up again, Lorie. Is dating another guy right after one broke my heart supposed to fix me?”
“I’m just saying though, taking the plunge and putting yourself back out there is what you need. Derrick wants to go out with you, you know that right? Why don’t you get him to spoil you a little?”
“We don’t all date new boys every month like you do, Lorie,” I said. Derrick was a jerk anyway.
“Emmy, that is so untrue.”
“Is that why you’re currently talking to three guys?” Tiffany asked, causing the others to laugh.
Lorie scowled. “I don’t want to her that from our school’s resident flirter. You’d probably sleep with any guy in our group.”
“Terra was my first and he’ll be my last,” Tiffany said with a sharp smile, remaining calm as she turned to look forward. “We’re going to get married, have five kids, and live happily ever after.”
“Did she just say, five kids?”
“That’s crazy. Way too many.”
“It’ll be perfect,” Tiffany said. “Right Ems?”
I snorted in disbelief causing Tiffany to glare at me.
Brittany, who was closet to Lorie, giggled. “It’ll be okay Ems, You’ll find your prince charming one day. We’ll pray for you.”
Tiffany turned in my direction. “Don’t worry, Ems, at least you’re not dating Dillion.”
Brittany scoffed, as Tiffany mentioned her boyfriend. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Tiffany gave her a smile that I could only describe as sickeningly sweet. “I’m just saying he wouldn’t be right for Mercy.”
“That’s not what you’re saying.”
“It’s not? Please, enlighten me.”
“Okay, Grace Theophania Gaunt,” Brittany said, causing Tiffany to cringe, “I will. You’re still jealous that he wanted to go out with me, instead of you.”
“Don’t freaking call me that!” Tiffany snapped. “I fucking hate it when you do that. And I’m more than happy with my boyfriend, thank you very much. Eighth grade was a century ago.”
“That’s right you’re into girly guys now.”
“Terra’s actual classification is pretty boy, there is a difference.”
Brittany rolled her eyes.
“I don’t see why you hate your name so much,” Rika said to Tiffany. She had to turn her head to face us since she was walking side-by-side with Ashley. “I like it. It goes together with Mercy’s.”
“Mercy and Grace has a nice ring to it,” Ashley agreed.
For as long as I could remember, Tiffany refused to answer to her first name. My parents never understood why but it never bothered me. Intuitively, I knew how she felt about it. She would always be my inseparable twin, no matter what name she went by.
“It doesn’t fit me.”
“And Theophania does?” Nicole asked, breaking away from her conversation with Diana.
“The variation does,” Tiffany said. “I don’t know what my parents were thinking, giving me that middle name.” She cowered behind me with her head down, pretending to shield herself from the judging gazes of our friends. “So embarrassing.”
I remembered when my sister started to go by the name of Tiffany, it was some time after an asshole made fun of her in middle school. A teacher had come up with the nickname and Tiffany fell in love with it.
“There, there, ” I said patting my sister gently. “It’ll be okay.”
“Alright. Back to cute boys,” Diana said, her voice uncharacteristically chirpy as she attempted to change the topic. “What do you guys think about Eric?”
“You think Eric is cute?” Lorie asked. “You’re so scandalous!”
“What? He is.”
“I can’t,” Lorie said. “I just can’t.”
“Actually, I kinda agree with Diana. He has a cute face, but… that still leaves a lot to be desired, ” Tonya said. “But Michael though, he’s hot.”
Tonya’s statement about the athletic upperclassman drew some murmured agreements from the group.
“Michael is already dating Allison,” Lorie said.
“Screw Allison. I can’t stand her,” Tonya said.
I frowned. Is that why you’re always seen acting chummy with her before fourth period?
“She’s always blabbing about her daddy issues,” Tonya said. “Complaining about her parents all the time and all the nasty shit her brother does. It’s like I don’t need to know all that, TMI.”
“Well, I’m glad Tyler is perfect,” Lorie said. “You don’t know what it’s like to be a guy that actually acts right.”
“You’re not even dating him,” Tiffany said.
“It’s called taking a break, have you heard of it?”
“If you want to call it that.”
“Enough,” Ashley said before Lorie could respond, looking exasperated. We had reached her locker. As she started to remove books from the compartment, the others resumed their own private conversations.
“Sooooo…” Lorie stood next to Tiffany and faced me. “Who else do you like?”
I sighed. “Oh my god, Lorie.”
“Nathan?” Diana offered, entering our conversation.
Lorie’s face lit up with giddiness as if she learned one of my most personal deep and dark secrets. “Oh? I didn’t know you like black guys. I couldn’t date one.”
“What—Nathan is just a friend!”
Nathan was a good guy and I liked him, but I didn’t ‘like him’ like him.
“He does walk you to class every day,” Rika said.
Rika, how could you? I glanced at Rika, betrayed. She shrugged.
“Aww…” Brittany teased. “So cute. Don’t you just love it? I bet you wanna run your hands through his hair, touch his waves. Feel his dark chocolate skin…”
My eyes sealed shut and I could feel the blood rushing to my face.
“Brittany, really?” Tiffany asked.
“She’s not denying it.”
Before I could refute Brittany, Katherine approached us. Ashley had noticed first as she was already facing the middle of the hallway, ready to move after finishing with her locker. Naturally, our gazes followed as she inspected the raven-haired girl in silence. I thought about Katherine eavesdropping on our conversation in English class. How much did she hear? Would she reveal anything?
“Katherine,” Ashley said. “Can I help you?”
“…back,” Katherine muttered, looking down.
Katherine visibly struggled with herself then walked a bit closer, standing in front of Rika. “Give it back.”
Rika gave Katherine a bland look of indifference. “Give what back? What the fuck are you talking about Yanagi?”
“You took something from her?” Ashley asked.
“No. She’s fucking losing it.”
“Lair!” Katherine gaze was downcast again, but not before I caught sight of the tears starting to run down her face. My heart started to ache.
“Oh my god,” Lorie said, with a giggle. “I think you broke her, Rika.”
“She was born broken,” Rika said, sneering. “What’s the wrong Yanagi? Don’t you know that it’s rude to accuse people of shit they didn’t do?”
Katherine remained mute, unable to look up.
“Such a weirdo,” Brittany hissed while looking at Katherine, disgusted.
When Katherine didn’t respond, Rika stepped forward, towering over her. “I think you should apologize.”
Katherine glanced up with her tearful face, confused. “What…?”
“Yeah, I agree,” Diana said, with a faint smile. “Coming at Rika like that.”
“She should apologize for being a freaking creep,” Tonya said.
“Don’t be so mean, guys, she probably wants to say she’s sorry for causing all that drama from before,” Nicole said, referring to the time we kicked her out of our group. “I mean just look at her… Kathy just can’t help being a loser.”
Most of our friends chuckled in agreement but my sister wasn’t amused and I felt horrible. Ashley met the eyes of me and my sister and then she gave Katherine a searching look.
“That’s enough,” she ordered in a forceful voice, cutting through the laughter. I noticed Lorie and the others hesitant to say anything as Ashley emitted a slither of energy from her invisible yet still majestic aura. Ashley turned away from Katherine to face the group. “Come on, it’s time for us to go to class.”
We did as Ashley ordered, some girls whispering and talking in hushed voices as we passed Katherine while sneaking glances at her—entertained by her distress. I couldn’t bear to look her direction; the guilt was tying my stomach in knots. Our group went our separate ways, Diana following me and my sister back to Ms. Frazzle’s class.
As we entered homeroom, I notice Nathan and Terra were sitting at their desks chatting. The boys glanced up and Nathan waved to greet us. I gave them a hesitant smile, waiting in the doorway as my sister stepped further inside. I peered back into the hall, my thoughts still on Katherine.
“What’s wrong?” Tiffany asked.
“I… I need to check on Katherine,” I said. “I need to see if she’s okay.”
I had left Katherine all alone to deal with the bullying of our bitch squad… too afraid to speak up and do anything about it for fear of being ostracized myself. But this couldn’t go on. It was almost like Katherine’s suffering was hurting me. I had to do something.
Tiffany frowned at me but didn’t argue. “Okay. I’m going with you.”
We left the classroom a second letter without giving the boys a chance to ask what was going on. The both of us scampered toward Ashley’s locker, part of me wondering if Katherine would still be standing there. She wasn’t, of course, but we found out from a few classmates in the hall that she went the bathroom.
“So you’ve finally decided you want to talk to her again,” Tiffany said as we walked closer to the bathroom entrance. “Why the change of heart?”
I shook my head, thinking about the small girl that looked like Katherine in my dreams. “I don’t know. I’m not sure what we can do about the girls being mean. But maybe… If I talk to her, we can figure something out. At least I can help her with whatever she was upset about. It’s the least I could do.”
Tiffany seemed doubtful. “She’ll be angry,” she warned.
I didn’t care. “And I accept that. She has every right to be.” I paused before pushing on the bathroom door.
“Worried?” Tiffany asked.
“A little. But not just of Katherine.”
“You worried about what Rika and the other girls will think? So what?”
“It’s just—I feel like if we try to become friends with Katherine again, it will cause a lot of drama and I don’t want to deal with it. It would be us versus everyone else and it will tear our group apart. Everyone will blame us. I bet that’s why Ashely turns a blind eye to them picking on her. Because she knows that’s how it will turn out. “
Tiffany stopped me from entering the restroom, her arm baring me as she looked me dead in the eye. “So fucking what? You think Ashley actually gives a damn about what they do or don’t do? She’s a god, Mercy. If you wanna do this seriously, then we do this seriously. No half-assing. We’re going to stop Katherine from being messed with because it’s the right to do, with or without Ashley’s help—regardless of the consequences. If the girls have a problem, they can fuck off.”
Unable think of anything to say, I nodded. Katherine’s shrill scream sounded from a stall as we entered the restroom, causing us to pause. Katherine started to sob.
“Kill them! Hate you!” she cried, her words not making any sense. “I’m going to kill them all.”
My sister and I shared a cautious glance. Katherine calmed down, her painful sobs reduced to light sniffles. She exited the furthermost stall, drifting toward the sink like a zombie. Katherine was looking at herself in the dirty mirror when I called out to her.
“Katherine,” I said, in a soft voice. “Are you okay?”
Katherine’s head snapped in our direction, her mouth opened in shock. Long strands of hair covered her face making her expression hard to see, but I could tell her eyes and cheeks were red from crying. She backed away from us, looking like a wounded animal.
“S-stay away, stay away from me!” she shouted.
That familiar feeling of guilt throbbed inside me.
“Hey, calm down,” Tiffany said, hands out in a placating manner. “We’re not gonna do anything.”
“And you expect me to believe that? After everything you’ve done to me?”
“Be more specific, I don’t recall me or Mercy ever doing or saying something mean to you.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Katherine said, her sharp voice laced with resentment. “I know you’ve been talking about me behind my back, you agree with them.”
Where did she hear that from? Lorie? I tugged on the sleeve to Tiffany’s coat, stopping her from responding back. She gave me a questioning look but she let me step forward.
“I know you’re angry, Katherine,” I said. “We just want to help you.”
“Help me?” she asked, bitterly. “Like when you ignored me every time I tried to talk to you after Rika started picking on me?”
I sighed. “Did Rika take something from you? What was it? Maybe we can get it back.”
“Why the hell should I trust you?”
“You don’t have to,” Tiffany said. “But do you really have a choice?”
“Tiffany,” I said, her tone making me feel a bit cross.
“My diary.” Katherine was quiet as she refused to look at me. “She took it.”
That didn’t sound good. Rika was probably planning to announce it to the girls before or during our lunch period. Reading Katherine’s diary out loud to humiliate her was something Rika would jump at the chance of doing.
“Shit,” I muttered. “When did it happen?”
Katherine shook her head. “Earlier, before first period. Don’t you remember?”
I didn’t. When I was at my locker then, I saw Rika and some of the boys in the hallway, but I didn’t stay long enough watch them pounce on Katherine. I didn’t want to get involved. She still must have noticed.
“They stole my book bag. It fell out when I tripped and Rika stole it before I could do anything.”
“They took everything?” Tiffany asked.
“Not my book bag. They let me have it after they got bored, but Rika left.”
I frowned. They must have toyed with her for minutes. I bet it felt like an eternity to her. Pity welled up in my chest.
“We’ll get your diary from Rika,” I promised.
Katherine faced me, resigned. Like she had no choice but to accept our help.
“Why?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked confused.
“Why do want to help me now?!”
I steeled myself, ready to take on the brunt of her blame and anger. “Because it’s the right thing to do,” I said. “Tiff and I, we never wanted to see you like this. And I… never meant to hurt you. I was afraid.”
Katherine seemed mystified. “Afraid?”
“Yeah. I didn’t want them to turn on me for being friends with you after Rika got angry at you. I didn’t want to ruin the rest of our clique. But… even though I want to deny it, part of me… didn’t want to hang out with you anymore.”
Katherine swallowed, hard.
“Ems…” I could feel Tiffany’s hand on my shoulder.
“It’s hard to explain. I don’t hate you, Katherine. It’s… I know I’m being irrational but, deep down, for some reason, I blamed you for causing the small rift between us and our friends. For being such an easy target for Rika, letting her mess with you. I blamed you for not putting in the effort to fit in with us more.” I shook my head. “I was stupid and… I’m sorry.”
Tears started to run down her face. “I’ll never forgive you.”
“That’s okay. If you will allow me to be your friend again, I can accept that.”
I could hear two girls getting closer to the bathroom, their voices getting louder as they approached. A familiar laugh. Katherine froze, she was going to say something but her mouth clamped shut.
“I thought I saw couple familiar faces coming in here…” Brittany said as she entered the bathroom with Rika by her side, trailing off when she noticed Katherine.
Rika sneered, realizing what caught Brittany off guard. “Well, well, well, what the fuck do we have here?”
“Rika,” I said, getting her attention. “Stop it.”
Both Rika and Brittany were surprised. “Don’t tell me your feeling sorry for this twerp,” Rika said.
“Her diary,” Tiffany said. “Are you going to give it back?”
Rika tried to hide her annoyance, but it was still visible on her face. “Sure. After homeroom. My teacher doesn’t let us out of class more than once.”
I couldn’t tell with Britanny was thinking, but she went along with Rika as she left the restroom. I guess Rika was too offended by us defending Katherine. She would have to deal with it.
“…Thanks,” Katherine muttered before leaving, soon after.
“Well that didn’t go too bad,” I said, glancing at my sister.
“Yeah, we’ll see.”
Homeroom went by in a blur. I couldn’t really get into the conversation Nathan was having with Terra and Tiffany, about Ms. Frazzle’s and Ashley’s powers. About how they practically live with him—visiting his home every day without his parents knowing. I would be normally be intrigued by such juicy convo material, but I was focused on Katherine. Would Rika give up her diary just like that? She was always stubborn.
I walked back to my locker with Nathan and my sister, not only to get my stuff for Algebra II but to keep an eye out for Katherine. She walked by in hurry to get to her locker, but she wasn’t fast enough. Though it wouldn’t seem like it someone else, I could tell most of our posse—Rika, Tonya, Brittany, and Lorie were hot on her tail, strolling behind her while talking. Pretending like they weren’t focused on Katherine at all.
“Oh shit,” Nathan said, as he zeroed in on the girls enclosing her. Katherine was trapped within a nest of snakes. I saw Rika with a book a hand. It was brown with a golden design. Elegant. It was similar to a grimoire. That had to be Katherine’s diary.
“Check out this book I found,” Rika said, addressing the girls like Katherine wasn’t even there.
“Looks like a diary,” Lorie said. “But since it was laying on the floor in the hallway, whoever owned it doesn’t seem to want it anymore.”
“Really?” Tonya asked. “Then why don’t we take look.”
Rika opened the book and started to flip through the first few pages. Katherine started to shake, unable to face them. I hurried over, moving faster than Nathan who followed to help.
“Let’s see,” Rika said. “September Eighteenth, twenty thirteen,” Rika adjusted her voice to sound more girly. “I hate school, I hate everyone there, the only thing I can stand is physics.”
“Such a nerd,” Lorie called out.
“Mr. Thompson is nice. Sometimes.” Amused, Rika paused looking around at the other girls for effect. “I used to think he was a jerk, he was mean and everyone was making a big deal about him. But at least he was kind enough to give me private lessons.” Rika raised her raised her eyebrows. “Well now, would you look at that.”
“Oooh, looks like somebody’s getting it on with the new physics teacher!”
“Wow, and I expected Mr. Thompson to actually have standards.”
I heard enough. Pushing my way past Brittany I tried to snatch the diary away from Rika. She raised it over my head as I practically tried to climb her like a tree to get it.
“Mercy, what the fuc—“
Rika was caught off guard as Nathan took it from her grip.
“What are you doing?” Rika looked like she couldn’t believe what just happened.
“Making things right,” I said. “When you said you would give her diary back this isn’t what I had in mind.”
“You’ve always been a buzzkill, Mercy. I don’t know how Tiffany deals with it. Probably why Tim dumped your ass.”
Ah. My mouth dropped; I was taken aback. Verbally, Rika punched me straight in the gut. I couldn’t believe she would go that far.
“Hey!” Tiffany exclaimed, standing beside me. “You better watch yourself Rika. I’ve had about enough of your attitude.”
“And I had about enough of your bullshit.”
Things were getting heated; Tiffany and Rika were moments away from getting into a catfight. This was what I was afraid of.
“Why are you guys defending this loser?” Brittany asked.
“She’s not a loser, she’s my friend,” I said, resolute. I stepped to Rika. “Your bullying of Katherine stops. Now.”