Secrets 2.8

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Bae, Ask About Me

At my words, Rika’s frown twisted into a defiant scowl.

“You-”

“What’s going on here?” Ashley’s voice called out, cutting Rika off. It felt ominous as she sauntered toward us with Terra in tow. The crowded hallway became quiet, the loud chattering of our classmates turned into quiet whispers as Ashley passed by them, only the clap of her boots against the ground could be heard. “What are you guys doing, making a scene out here like this?”

I shivered a little, a hint of fear rising within me. Ashley’s aura, when turned on me, made me feel tense—even though I could tell she was constricting most of it to her body. Making a scene were we? If anything, Ashley’s appearance now would exacerbate the conflict. No one was really paying attention until she shouted from across the hall.

Tentative, Rika was the first to speak. “We were just—”

“Finishing something that should have been handled a while back,” Terra cut in.

“What?” Ashley gave Terra a questioning glance.

“We’re tired of you guys picking on Katherine,” Tiffany explained. “This has gone on long enough.”

Ashley frowned. “If you had a problem you should have come to me, privately,” she said. “We don’t air out everything in front of the entire school. You know that.”

Entire school? People were watching, but it’s not like the everyone would know of our group’s infighting. Well, not yet. That would change by the start of the next class period.

Tiffany gave a dry laugh. “Yeah, too late for that. If you handled shit like promised, we wouldn’t be here.”

“What’s your problem?” Lorie asked, stopping when Ashley raised a hand.

Ashley evaluated Tiffany for a minute before her gaze shifted to me. “Are you sure you’re talking about Katherine?”

I bit my lip. I knew what she was getting at. Pain started to bubble up inside me, as I thought about my ex.

Tiffany glared at her. “Who knows? After how many times you’ve given us your word, I’ve lost count.”

“We were getting Katherine’s diary back from Rika,” I said, speaking up—more than happy to move on to something else. I didn’t want them to bring up Timothy. Not here. Besides, there was no telling what Ashley would do if Tiffany pissed her off enough.

Ashley gave Rika a look. I could tell she was angry but she kept her emotions tightly under control, her expression mostly blank—the only thing revealing her dissatisfaction was her deepening frown and thin lips.

“She stole it from me,” Katherine spat, her voice filled with resentment.

“It was a joke, we were messing around,” Rika said, annoyed. “She dropped it with her book bag earlier. We were going to give it back.”

Ashley’s gaze slowly changed from annoyance to disappointment. “You lied to me, Rika.”

Rika wanted to say something else, but before she could defend herself, Ms. Frazzle made her way toward us.

“Shouldn’t you all be headed to class?” Ms. Frazzle asked, impassively glancing at each of us. Observing the hallway, she gave a stern look at some of the other students that were eavesdropping and hanging around nearby. She shooed them away. “That goes for all you, go to class!”

“Now,” returning her attention to our group, she asked, “What’s all the commotion about?”

Everyone was quiet, most of the girls sneaking worried glances at each other before turning to Ashley, hoping she would come to our rescue.

“Don’t tell me you girls were harming a student again,” Ms. Frazzle said. “After I explicitly warned you.”

Ashley sighed, moving from away Terra to stand in front of us and the rest of the girls—shielding us from Ms. Frazzle’s growing wrath. “We… were in the process of returning Katherine her diary.”

Ms. Frazzle seemed mildly surprised. “Oh really? I wonder about that, Ashley. Considering how I’ve seen you and your friends treat Katherine before, I’m hard-pressed to believe it.”

“Believe what you want.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re always sticking your nose in student affairs. I’m handling it.”

“Sounds like you wouldn’t mind handling a detention, either.”

“It’s true, professor,” I said, getting their attention. I didn’t want Ashley and Ms. Frazzle to start arguing in the middle of the hallway, where everyone could see. “We were just handing it back.”

Ms. Frazzle paused at my admission, briefly looking me, Tiffany, and Nathan over. She noticed the book in Nathan’s hand. “Alright… Fine. Give Katherine her diary and get to class.” She evaluated the others. “That goes for all of you. No lollygagging.”

“Aye aye, teach,” Terra said with a smirk, as Lorie, Brittany, Diana, and the other girls scampered away—getting out of dodge. Ashley remained in place though, giving Ms. Frazzle a calculated look.

Rika shoved me as she elbowed past, bashing into my arm. She didn’t do it hard enough to knock me over, mind you, but it still hurt. “This isn’t over,” she whispered.

“Wanna bet?” Tiffany whispered back with a snarl. Before she could chase Rika down, I grabbed her wrist, holding her in place. Though she looked back with a frown, I simply shook my head.

Nathan took the time to give Katherine here diary back, being gentle with the book as he handed it to her. “Sorry about that. Here you go.”

Katherine accepted it from him, holding it close to her chest. “Thank you… Thank you.”

Ms. Frazzle eyed her, carefully. “Are you alright?”

“I am… now I am.”

“Good.” Ms. Frazzle gave us all one last look before she left, telling off Ashley about her attitude and urging her to go to class. She warned the rest of us that we better be seated in her class within the next five minutes.

“Thanks.” Katherine faced us, sniffling. “For sticking up for me.”

“No problem,” Nathan said.

I put a hand on Katherine’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I wanna give you a hug. Can I do that?”

Katherine huffed with the hint of a smile and then nodded in acceptance.

“C’mere.” I wrapped my arms around her in a tight embrace. Katherine let out a choked sob. Tiffany stood by my side, rubbing Katherine’s back in support. After a moment, I let go, Katherine removing herself from my grasp. I could see tears welling up in her eyes.

She wiped them away, giving me a broken yet happy smile. I smiled back.

Tiffany smiled as well. “Well, I’m glad that’s been dealt with.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Nathan said. “This is probably gonna cause a huge shitstorm during lunch.”

Terra chuckled. “It’s nothing Ashley can’t handle.”

Ashley seemed amused. “What makes you think I’ll do anything at all?”

Nathan snorted. “If Rika and the others start some bullshit, it’s going to cause hell for you. Trust me. And I know you wouldn’t allow anything to ruin your ‘perfect and pristine’ social image.” Nathan smirked. “What would you do without your group of followers?”

Ashley waved him off. “Please. I was getting tired of the little status games we play here anyway. Most of the people that associate with us are absolutely boring.” She sighed. “It might be fun to watch as our little clique implodes on itself.”

Tiffany made a sound annoyance and folded her arms. “You know, that’s just like you. To have such a shitty personality.”

Ashley gave her a nasty smile. “I could say the same for you.”

Ashley didn’t wait for a response. Instead, she left us, walking to her homeroom. I frowned as she strode off, all of us looking at her back in silence.

oOo​

Done with math class, I found myself in the girl’s restroom washing my hands as I prepared for lunch. We agreed on doing something a little different today; we were inviting Katherine to eat with us at our secret spot on the school roof. Okay, it wasn’t a secret, but we really weren’t supposed to be there and the forbidden element of it added a little excitement. Nathan wanted to walk there together, but I told him to go on ahead. Hopefully, he along with Terra and my sister would nab some food from the cafe before I met with them. I dried my hands, the soft paper from the dispenser feeling pleasant against my skin as I rubbed them dry. With a flick of the wrists, I removed the access water from my hands and made my way out.

“Mercy,” Ashely called out, spotting me exit the bathroom as I entered the hallway filled with students heading to the cafe. She was alone, our other friends nowhere to be seen. “Walk with me.”

Was she waiting for me? I didn’t see her around before I entered the bathroom. “I was planning on eating with Tiffany and the guys, on the rooftop.”

“You know we’re not allowed up there.”

“Yeah… but we wanted to eat with Katherine and she doesn’t feel comfortable eating in the cafeteria yet.”

“That’s understandable…” Ashley trailed off. “I think I’ll join you then.”

I hummed, thinking of the reactions of the rest of the girls. “What about everyone else?”

“They can live without me for a day.”

We walked together at a slow pace, with me leading the way slightly.

“Say, Mercy, what do you think of me?”

“Hm?”

“What do you think of me? You can be honest.”

“You mean personality wise?”

I wondered if she was thinking about what Tiffany said.

Ashley nodded. “Do you think of me as a sociopathic tyrant, one that doesn’t care for those that she presides over?”

“Not really.” I frowned as we continued to walk, glancing up and away in an aimless manner to buy some time as I thought of the best way to answer her. “I mean… you can be kinda arrogant at times. I get it, with you being a ruler of a nation and a Valterian dragon god of the world and all, but…”

“I’m not the god of this world. Here, I’m only a simple girl.” Ashley chuckled. “But I understand what you mean. My older sister would often say the same.”

“Is that the same one you were talking about before, the one that learned from Kazuya with you?”

“Yes.”

“What’s she like?”

Ashley took in a deep breath while looking up in thought, away from me. It was hard for me to guess what she was feeling. “Arden is… courageous, dutiful, a being with the strongest will I have ever seen. The current king of Valteria.”

“Wait a minute. King?”

“Yes, king.”

“Shouldn’t she be the queen?”

“It’s a traditional title, bestowed upon her by father because he acknowledges her strength. Her power. She is only the second person to ever receive it. She holds that title out of respect, regardless of its masculine nature.”

I gave Ashley a thoughtful glance, warmth budding in my chest. I’d never seen her talk about someone in such a heartfelt way before. “You sound pretty fond of her, you must love her a lot.”

Ashley scoffed. “Don’t speak of something you know nothing about. Do I love her? Love… hate… those words are too simple to describe the relationship we have. It’s not like yours with Tiffany.”

We talked for a little while longer, the hallways and stairwells now empty making the school seem like a ghost town. We reached the roof, our friends sitting down near the fence at the edge. Both Tiffany and Nathan both held a lunch tray in their lap, Terra had his sandwich in hand. Someone important was missing.

“Where is Katherine?” Ashley asked as we moved closer to the trio.

Nathan shrugged. “I told her where we were going to have lunch here, but I guess she didn’t want to come. I couldn’ t find her anywhere after class.”

“Really? Shame.”

Tiffany glanced up from where she was sitting, next to Terra. “Ems!” She handed me an extra turkey sandwich from her tray along with a bottle of water. “I can’t believe you managed to drag our perfect queen all the way up here.”

I sat down next to her Indian style before digging in.

“I was in the mood for a different kind of atmosphere,” Ashley said, curling the end of a strand of hair with a finger. “Besides, now I can talk to Terra seriously.”

Terra took a bite of his sandwich. “What up?”

“Let’s talk Avalon matters. The witch told me about your cousin, that he had a Fallen Star and used its power to go to Avalon during the battle between the Guardian and Duskan forces in New York. Are you still in contact with him?”

Irritation flickered in my the chest at the way Ashley referred to our teacher. Supposedly, Ms. Frazzle was a witch, but I didn’t like the venom I heard in Ashley’s voice.

Terra paused from eating, unassuming. “All know is that he made it out of the battle, okay and that he’s safe and sound with Guardian.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “How about you?” he asked, his mouth full. He swallowed. “How’s Artisans?”

“My country is fine. Doesn’t that woman keep you up to date?”

“Trinity isn’t really focused on your country at the moment.”

“Hmm, that’s debatable.”

“Seriously, you have bigger problems down south. BRIM is making moves, they might make a big one soon.”

“I’m well aware.”

“I’d expect you to be. Just saying.” Terra’s lips cured into a smirk. “I have another cousin on Avalon, you know.”

“From BRIM, I presume?”

“How perceptive. His name is Roman. Roman Hatchell.”

Ashley’s eyes widened. “BRIM’s third strongest Elite Guard?”

“And he happens to the brother of Davis.”

Ashley took a moment to parse the info Terra dropped on her.

“Mind sharing with the rest of the class?” Nathan asked, glancing between both of them.

“Yeah,” Tiffany agreed, giving Terra and Ashley an odd look. “What the hell is BRIM?”

Ashley walked over to fence at the edge of the rooftop and she leaned on it, close to where Terra was sitting by Tiffany. She examined the school grounds below like she was looking for someone before facing us. “BRIM is a human country on Avalon, close to Artisans. It was formed sometime after the first great war. Or the first Human-Monster war as they like to call it.”

“Human-Monster war?” I asked.

“It was a different time, thousands of years ago. The humans on Avalon were at constant war with rest of the Avalonians. War threatened to destroy the planet until, we—the Valterians intervened.” Ashley laughed. “The Elder Gods wouldn’t let their finest work go to waste.”

“Nope,” Terra said, nodding. “The leaders of both sides eventually decided that it would be better if the human were separated from the rest. Most of the humans were moved to Earth.”

What?

Nathan and Tiffany looked as stunned as I was.

“Are you saying that everyone from Earth was from Avalon first?” Nathan asked.

“No.” Ashley moved past Terra and Tiffany and kneeled next to Nathan so she could sit by him. “Earth was already populated by that time. The number of humans on Avalon had dwindled, most escaping here. But not all of them made it. The unlucky ones were left behind, to become slaves of the other Avalonian races.”

“It was brutal,” Terra said. “Humans were almost driven to extinction. But they survived, increasing their numbers slowly after generations. They created BRIM a military group made for hunting ‘monsters’ and whatnot. They conquered a patch of land near the Duskanian empire and eventually turned it to their own country. They’re quite successful nowadays.” Terra smiled at Ashley. “Successful enough to constantly pick fights with Artisans and the other Gaurdianite allies and Duskanian nations.”

Ashley rolled her eyes, her cheek resting on her fist with her elbow leaning on her thigh. “I wouldn’t put it past those idiots to start the third great war.”

Terra laughed. “If they were going to do it, they would have done so already. They’ve always had a rocky relationship with other Avalonian powers,” Terra finished his sandwich and balled up the wrapping paper. “I think that’s enough for today’s history lesson.” Terra gave Ashley a knowing look. “So, how’s the Nathan experiment going?”

Nathan narrowed his eyes at Terra, affronted. “The hell you mean?”

Ashley smiled. “We’ll get to that. But first,” Ashley faced me, her gaze steady. “There’s something I want to talk to Mercy about—and by extension, everyone else here.” She paused, allowing us to take her words in, her eyes still on me. “You’ve been a bit reckless with your online searches.”

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Secrets 2.7

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Venom II

“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.

“Excuse me?”

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 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 filling 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.”

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Prologue II

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Ashley Hawke lounged in the back of her seat as she waited for the history teacher to finish speaking. Her mind in a daze, she almost fell asleep.

That blissful state soon ended as she was disturbed by the sound of the class packing their books. Ashley turned to her left and looked up at the clock under the ceiling. Only a few minutes were left in class. Soon they would be free from the boring prison known as school.

Ashley quickly packed her books even as the teacher complained about students packing up early. She didn’t care really; Mr. Tate never had the backbone to enforce his rules.

Only two more minutes left in class. Ashley could hear the excited whispers of her fellow classmates as they began to talk about what they had planned for the weekend. The group of girls next to her talked quietly, smiling and making glances toward her.

Ashley rolled her eyes in annoyance. The girls, six in all, were part of a popular clique of underclassmen. One that Ashley herself was the leader of. They were her so-called “friends” and were probably going to bug her about her weekend plans.

As the bell rang and class was dismissed, Ashley retrieved her book bag from the floor next to her desk. As Ashley stood up and readied herself to leave, she was approached by two of her friends, smiling at her.

“Ashley! Wait up!” Lorie said. The small blonde girl positioned herself between Ashley and the door. “We’re going out with the boys, remember?”

Ashley narrowed her eyes but had a hint of a smile on her face. “Ah. Yeah. To the movies right?” Everyone was always trying to drag her around. No doubt Timothy would be there. He was known as a good-looking boy in her grade who made no intention of hiding his crush on her. Ashley shook her head a little. She liked having people that desired to be around her, but if they were annoying she would get irritated.

It was only natural, though, that everyone would want to bask in the presence of a smart and beautiful girl like herself. But she was much more than that. Much more.

She was a sophomore at Franklin High School, yet in some ways it felt like she ran the place. Ashley was a starter on the school volleyball and soccer team. The upperclassmen boys adored her while the girls secretly hated her. She was one of the most popular girls in school and almost always had the favor of the teachers. It was Ashley’s very being that drew others to her, and she knew it. It could be considered a blessing and a curse.

That is what it means to be a god.

Ashley walked outside of the class with her friends Lorie and Tonya. Heading toward her locker she could see the rest of her clique congregated around it. The girls were busy flirting with a group of boys nearby. Ashley could see Timothy with them. She caught him glancing at her with a smile.

“Hmph!” Ashley huffed, grinning. Tonya took her smile as a reason to voice her opinion.

“He’s pretty hot. And he likes you. I think he’s gonna ask you out,” Tonya said.

“Not interested.”

“What?”

Tonya turned around and attempted to question Ashley about why she wouldn’t want a date with the perfect looking boy. Ashley waved her off. As Ashley put her books inside her locker compartment, she was swarmed with attention from the students around her area. She conversed with them a little until she found herself face to face with Timothy.

Ashley had to look up to see the tall boy’s face. Tim’s grin became wider as she did.

“Hey,” he said. “We’re going to the movies tonight, coming with?”

There was a little tension in the air between them as he dropped those words. He was attractive. Ashley observed him for a moment unfazed. She looked over his well-kept brown hair and then looked straight into his piercing gray eyes.

“I’ll be there,” she said.

“I’ll pick you up,” Timothy replied.

She wasn’t fond of the idea of being in a car with Tim, but she agreed to it anyway. Maybe she would get some amusement out of rejecting him tonight. He asked if she needed a ride home as well but she said no. Heading toward the school entrance she made her way toward the buses taking students home with her friends.

Before making it to the door she almost found herself running into someone. It was another student. He apologized, embarrassed after almost crashing into her. Ashley frowned; how could someone be so absent-minded? The kinky haired boy glanced away as she viewed his face. He seemed nervous. Without even saying anything she continued walking on with the rest of her group. After a few steps, she turned her head back to look at the brown-skinned boy, who was rushing the opposite direction to his locker. He must have forgotten something.

“So that’s my master, huh?” she asked quietly before turning back around.

oOo

Shaun Thompson stood in front of Franklin High School looking up at the name plastered on top of the three-story building. So this is where he would be teaching from now on, he thought. He began to walk up the wide flight of steps toward the school entrance with his briefcase in hand. As he opened the doors his shaggy black hair blew forward as a current of cold air from outside rushed into the school.

As he entered the school building, he wondered what being a teacher at this school would be like. It wouldn’t be his first time teaching; he started as a substitute and teacher’s assistant for many years. However, this would be the first time he had a class all to himself.

On top of that, the school was huge. There were a couple thousand students. Most were decent enough but in his opinion, there were a couple of bad apples.

Shaun remembered yesterday when he was putting most of his items and teaching material the in his classroom. He could remember a student, a young girl getting harassed by a group of other girls. It was close by his classroom but Shaun opted to stay out of it. He wasn’t officially known as a teacher at the time and he had no problem with avoiding the issues of some teenage brats.

Shaun was jolted out of his thoughts as he could hear the sound of clacking heels headed toward him. He stood up straight to face the brunette haired woman. She walked until she was a few feet in front of him.

The woman gave him a warm smile and put out her hand.

“You must be the new physics teacher!” she said. “I’m Selena Frazzle.”

Shaun smiled slightly shaking her hand. “Hi, I’m Shaun Thompson.”

“Oh! So you’re the young physics genius everyone was talking about,” Ms. Frazzle said. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Mr. Hardy. How old are you?”

“Twenty-two ma’am,” he replied.

“Wow, so you just graduated college?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Just call me Selena.”

Ms. Frazzle’s sparkling eyes were boring into Shaun almost as if they could see through him. Ms. Frazzle continued to ask questions. She then talked about the various teachers and departments of the school.

“Well it was nice meeting you,” Ms. Frazzle finished.

“Likewise,” Mr. Thompson said while looking around the hallway for the principal’s office.

“Looking for principal’s office?” Ms. Frazzle asked. “I can take you there if you’d like.”

Shaun agreed and walked with her through the expansive hallway. Ms. Frazzle began to talk absentmindedly about her favorite students and why she loved teaching English. Shaun observed her quietly.

Something about her was bugging him. Ms. Frazzle was not his type, but even he could see that she was a beautiful woman. As his eyes traced over her form he noticed she was probably in her late twenties.

None of that was really important, though. There was something else he could sense from her. A feeling of a certain energy but he couldn’t quite place it. Unhuman? He wasn’t able to confirm his suspicions, however.

A loud crash was heard from around the hall stopping their conversation immediately.

“What was that?” Shaun asked.

“I have no idea,” Ms. Frazzle replied.

She started to move faster, heading toward the disturbance.

“It was one of the lockers. Come on, it sounded like a student fell.”

Shaun sighed to himself and let Selena lead the way. Turning the corner he saw Ms. Frazzle frozen in place looking at the scene before her. A group of six girls and their blonde leader were bullying the same young girl he saw from before. It seemed as if they were trying to take books from her backpack. Shaun resisted the urge to shake his head. He really didn’t want to get involved, at least not this soon.

“What are you doing!?” Ms. Frazzle asked.

The girls remained silent, They were caught red-handed. Shaun was curious to see what excuses they would have. The blonde girl, the leader of the posse began to stalk off.

Ms. Frazzle nearly grabbed her but stopped as the blonde girl turned around to look at her.

“You’re not going anywhere, young lady, you have explaining to do along with your friends. Why were you hurting that girl?”

“Me?” Ashley scowled. “I had nothing do with this. I wasn’t even next to her like them.”

Ashley pointed her index finger at the other girls. “They mess with Katherine here to please me since she doesn’t talk with us anymore. But I can care less. It’s not like I tell them to do it.”

“Hey!” Nicole said.

“Ashley!?” Lorie exclaimed.

The girls moaned in protest as Ashley threw them under the bus. She ignored them.

“No. You’re just here to encourage your little entourage, is that it?” Ms. Frazzle said.

“If you have a problem give me a write-up slip and send me the Principal. I should take full responsibility for those that are mine, no?”

Ashley stalked off without saying another word.

Shaun glanced at Ms. Frazzle with the side of his eyes. She frowned, her face flushing with anger, and yet it seemed as if she had let Ashley walk away. Was that fear he saw in Ms. Frazzle’s expression? Shaun turned his face to look back at where the blonde girl had been.

Ashley had looked familiar… Like a certain being from that place…

After a moment Shaun and Ms. Frazzle resumed walking through the hallway, both of them quiet.

They had finally reached the principal’s office. As they entered the room they were greeted by Principal Hardy, who was just getting off the phone.

“Ah, thank you Ms. Frazzle. I see you’ve acquainted yourself with Mr. Thompson. That’s good.” The Principal said. He turned to face Shaun. “And how are you finding everything? Ready for Monday?”

“Yes Sir,” Shaun replied.

Ms. Frazzle quietly excused herself as he continued his conversation with Mr. Hardy. Shaun glanced at Ms. Frazzle as she left, her eyes catching his own. She simply smiled at him as she left the room.

oOo

Selena Frazzle looked across the long stairway window viewing the campus grounds with a smile. She was watching the new physics teacher, Mr. Thompson, make his way back to the parking lot. He must have been done unpacking for the evening. They had just come from a meeting with the school principal after they witnessed the event earlier.

Selena didn’t bring up the situation with Ashley to principal Hardy, knowing that it would cause more problems than it was worth. However, she made sure to threaten the other bullies with suspension if they continued to harass that girl. She noted that Shaun also refrained from telling Mr. Hardy about what he witnessed.

Selena really had no reason to stay at school. She was unnecessarily waiting for an acquaintance, but she didn’t mind. Selena turned her head to the side as she was approached by her coworker.

“What are you doing standing here?” Mrs. Armstrong asked.

Selena smiled raising her hands up in defense. “Nothing really.”

Mrs. Armstrong looked over her shoulder out the window. She had seen who Selena was looking at.

“Right. So what do you think of him?”

“He seems pretty cute,” Selena said. She couldn’t hide anything from Mrs. Armstrong, but of course she never really cared to. “I don’t think he’s my type, though.”

“You seemed content staring at him for an hour.”

“Please, it wasn’t an hour, ” Selena said. She tilted her head, thinking. “Maybe I should try to seduce him?”

“Really, shitting where you eat?”

“Nah, only kidding,” Selena said with a laugh. “Speaking of which, aren’t you treating me out to dinner?”

“If you’re paying.”

“Oh come on.”

Selena walked down the stairs while finalizing her dinner plans with Mrs. Armstrong. She quickly took a glance at the school parking lot. Mr. Thompson’s car was finally gone. Selena smiled again to herself.

It looks like things are starting to get interesting.

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