Jesse may have put the whole Monday episode behind him, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. Every evening I'd come to his room, help him with his homework—or rather do it for him while he was on his phone—and try to figure out how could he just put something like that out of his mind.
I tried to keep my promise and stay out of his way during the day, but then I found my attention gravitating to Owen instead. Seeing him laughing with his jock friends made me want to punch him in the face. He had hurt Jesse. How dared he laugh? How dared he breath?
Perhaps I wasn't too subtle in watching him, because it on Friday morning as I was making my way through the Dining Hall, looking for a vacant table, I felt a tap on my shoulder. As I turned around, something smashed into the bottom of my tray, and my breakfast flew into my face.
"Watch where you go," said Owen, as some of his friends giggled in the background. All of them held their own trays. Among them I noticed Mathew, too, who, despite being my roommate, grinned with the rest behind his brother's back. The students sitting at the nearby tables watched us stealthily. I wiped the orange juice from my face, glowering at Owen.
"What are you looking at?" he said. "Why are you following me around?"
"I don't," I said. "It's you who attacked me."
They laughed, satisfied. I guess it was the kind of answer they expected from a weird kid.
"I'm tired of seeing you wherever I go." Owen nodded at my tray, the utensils and the food scattered on the floor. "Pick up your shit and get lost."
Breath, I told myself. Breath deeply. Imagine yourself in a safe place. He's not worth it. He's not worth the trouble you'd get into if you –
I launched forward and slammed both fists into the bottom of his tray, sending its contents up, into his face and onto his white shirt.
There was a moment of silence, and immobility, as if everything and everyone around us froze, and then the tray and its contents landed on the floor with deafening clatter.
"Watch where you go," I said.
The next moment his hands locked on my throat, and then the floor hit me on the back of my head, and he was on me, and everybody was screaming and cheering.
"You little fucker," Owen hissed, and drove his fist into the side of my face.
My vision went momentarily black. When I was able to see again, his weight wasn't on me anymore, and above me was a dense circle of curious faces. Owen was among them, looking both defiant and worried, probably by the possibility of being suspended rather than my well-being.
"You can't," I muttered, still dizzy, not quite hearing myself. "You can't go around hurting people. I won't let you."
"What?" He frowned. "What people?"
"You know who else you hurt."
He blinked, then looked away. As I followed his gaze, I realized that Jesse was there, too, standing among the students, watching me with horror. Owen was looking straight at him, but I'm not sure others noticed, their eyes fixed on me, awaiting further entertainment.
"What's he talking about?" Owen said.
Jesse shrugged, looking uncomfortable under his heavy gaze. "Why're you asking me?"
"He's your friend, isn't he? I heard he's in your room every night."
Faces started to turn; eyes began to drift from me to Jesse.
"What? No!" He looked around, clearly uncomfortable with being the center of attention. "He's just helping me with my homework."
"For free?" Owen's mouth curled into a mocking smile. "Or do you suck him off for that, you faggot?" That extracted a few giggles and shocked gasps from the crowd. All color drained from Jesse's face.
"Don't you talk to him like that!" I tried to get to my feet.
Jesse looked down at me. Then, the strain and the momentary hurt left his face, as if he was willfully wiping it off his features, until only his usual carefree expression was left.
"Who? Him?" He chuckled, nodding at me. "Sure, he wished I did. The poor creep is obsessed with me. Has he been following you, too? So pathetic." He rolled his eyes and moved away, as the crowd began to disperse, talking and giggling—this time with him, not at him.
"Come on, get up." Among the backs turned to me, Elliot's face appeared, looking uneasy, his hand outstretched. "You need to go change. You're all dirty."