“Avery! How long do you plan to stay in the shower!” her Mum yells from the other side of the locked bathroom door. Avery sighs, pressing her forehead to the cold hard tiles, letting the water run over her body. She didn’t want to go. She couldn’t stand it there. But she couldn’t tell her that. Her Mum had enough on her plate already.
Avery watched the rivulets run down her pale legs as she debated claiming to be sick before thinking better of it, she had already had enough “sick days” that her Mum was threatening to take her to a doctor.
With a heavy heart, Avery turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, wrapping a plush towel around herself before opening the door with a crooked smile.
“Sorry Mum, got lost in thought...” Her Mum gave a shake of her head and looked over Avery’s flushed skin with a critical eye. “Feeling better today?” she inquired, pressing the back of her hand against her daughter’s forehead, frowning at the warmth.
Avery carefully batted her hand away and nodded, “Better than ever,” she lied.
A small satisfied smile crossed her Mum’s face and she pressed a soft kiss against her forehead. “I’m glad, I was starting to worry about how far behind in your studies you were getting”. Her eyes connect with Avery’s with a gentle smile. Avery knew she meant the best, but right now studies were the least of her worries.
Closing the door Avery turned to the small circular mirror above the sink. I look sickly, she thought, staring at the paleness of her skin and reaching for the hairbrush. It had been a couple of weeks now since she had stopped caring about how she looked for school. Tugging her dirty blonde hair into a pony-tail she took the mascara from her makeup bag and contemplated applying a little before thinking better of it. Nobody will notice anyway.
Avery stared at the girl reflected in her mirror, wondering when the last time she had seen herself smile was. The girl in the mirror had deep blue eyes full of sadness and misery. The colour had washed away from her cheeks and she couldn’t help but wonder when she started looking so empty. Her fingertips carefully touch the cheek of her reflection. Who is this?
Breakfast was a small bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice. She ate as slow as she could, knowing that when she was finished, the bus to school would arrive, and she will have to leave the safety of her home.
“What’s up, loser?” Gwen, her sister grumbled as she plopped herself down in the chair opposite Avery. The two were very different. Avery being dainty and blonde, while her sister was plump and dark-haired. Avery studied her, her eyes moving from Gwen's choice of a black band tee to the heavy eyeliner and dark lipstick. After some thought, she opted not to reply.
“Avery, Hurry up! The bus will be here any moment, do you want to miss it?” Her Mum complained, hurrying into the kitchen wearing her suit jacket and pencil skirt. “Gwendolyn Hughes, what have I told you about the eyeliner! I keep getting calls from your school” She sighed, switching her attention to her punk daughter.
“I’m not changing who I am, Susan” Gwen retorts, giving her mother a scowl before pulling the half-eaten bowl of cereal that Avery had been picking at for the last twenty minutes to herself. “Don’t call me that, I am your mother” Susan admonished, hastily snatching her keys from the hook above the kitchen bench before scrambling to the door holding her purse. Avery sighed, wondering how many more times she would hear the same conversation before one of them would concede.
With the sound of a loud horn, Gwen stood up and slung her black messenger bag over her shoulder, patches and pins covering every available section of fabric. Every morning Gwen’s friends would pick her up, leaving Avery to take the bus alone.
“You better not skip today!” she warns, pointing an accusatory finger towards her younger sister, “I’m sick of being forced to go to school while you get to stay home, Ave!”. Before Avery could respond Gwen turned on her heel and headed for the door, slamming it behind her.
Avery rubbed her hands together in a poor attempt to generate warmth, wishing that she had thought to grab a jacket. The bitterly cold wind tearing through her, clawing at any exposed skin. She briefly thought about going back to get one, and possibly missing the bus to stay home. I could just say I missed it. She shook her head, not wanting to have to see that look of disappointment on her mum's face and deal with the rant from her sister.
It wasn’t long until the bus crawled around the corner of her street and came to a groaning stop beside her. The bus was never crowded when she got on. She was one of the first stops on the way to school after all. Tapping her card as she scrambled onto the bus, finding a seat somewhere in the middle. She wished she could sit closer to the front but some younger students had already taken those spots. They knew that the back was reserved for the bigger kids - the high schoolers.
As the bus continued its journey, more and more students piled on, the back seats remaining empty. They always did, but that would change at the next stop.
The bus shuddered to a stop before the doors swung open. Avery's gaze was drawn to the front of the bus as Ethan Wilson stepped on, scanning his card. Avery had known him during her early years of middle school. She fondly remembers sitting next to him in most of her classes. He disappeared at the beginning of junior high. She hadn’t seen him in four years and since then he had grown into a handsome jock. She had a crush on him then, and when she noticed him passing her in the corridor a few days after she had started at West Lakeshore, those feelings came back as though just sitting dormant all those years.
He was tall and tanned, his build muscular and toned. His dark brown hair tangled into curls on top of his head, the locks swaying in front of his bright green eyes.
As he moved through the bus Avery kept her eyes on him. It was obvious to her that he hadn’t recognized her. She had grown a lot since then too. She wondered if things would have ended up differently if he had, for better or for worse.
It wasn’t until she heard the second beep of a bus pass that her gaze was broken. The tall brunette turned her head to the blonde with an accusatory look, causing Avery to turn to look down at her feet.
Paige was a gorgeous girl. She had long pin-straight hair parted down the center and large, doll-like green eyes. Her clothing always came with an expensive price tag and seemed to be tailored to her every curve. She was an unignorable presence whenever she entered the room, a picture of angelic beauty, but underneath that was nothing but an empty shell, void of empathy.
Paige was the girl in school that nobody could stand up to without expecting to go through Hell. It was an unspoken law that Ethan was hers, the fact that they were both technically single meant nothing. He wanted to focus on basketball, and she was fine with that but stuck to him like chewing gum.
Avery kept her eyes down as the brunette strode up to where she was sitting, “What’s up, Avery? You’re finally back at school, huh? I haven’t seen you all week!” She smiled, hiding the true meaning of her words behind her ‘nice-girl’ facade.
Avery wasn’t sure how, but the day after she had first laid eyes on Ethan Wilson word had traveled back to the Queen Bee. Needless to say, Paige was not impressed to hear that someone else was apparently after her man. All Avery did was look at him, she hadn’t even considered talking to him. Avery was shy, she couldn’t even fathom a conversation with someone as popular as Ethan Wilson. Yet it was all Paige needed to blacklist her.
It started with little things. Finding cruel notes in her locker demanding her to not to talk to Ethan. People roughly bumping into her shoulder as she walked down the halls. The strange looks she was receiving from people she didn’t even recognize. Unfortunately, that was only the start of Avery’s torment.
The bullying quickly escalated. She started to hear whispers of rumors about her. About how she was a slut in freshman and sophomore year and had slept with over fifty guys before moving to the small town of Lakeshore. That she was involved in a brothel. That she stalked guys that she had a crush on and she would sleep with anyone who asked.
Then it was malicious words and taunts, ‘slut’, ‘whore’. The snide remarks from half-brained jocks and horny teenagers asking ‘You wanna fuck, Hughes?’, ‘Why are you acting like such a prude, everyone knows that you’d beg for it’”.
Words turned into actions. Boys smacking her on the arse as she walked down the halls. People assuming they had the right to touch her legs as she tried to take notes. Perhaps the worst of it came from Paige and her posse. The shoving, the hair pulling, kicking. She would find her belongings destroyed or missing if she left them unattended for longer than a second. Yet they never left any obvious marks on her, they were smarter than that.
Avery couldn’t remember the last night that she didn’t receive a horrible message from strangers on the internet. She didn’t know what she hated more; the horrible requests for her to commit suicide or the uncomfortably sexual messages from guys she couldn’t even recognize the name of. It had been a month since then.
Avery stayed silent, not wanting to respond to the brunette’s question, her eyes slowly glancing up to the brunettes face. Paige's smile was sickeningly sweet. As far as Avery had deduced, she kept her true nature away from the tanned jock. After all, he was far different than her - smart and kind. If he knew the truth, Avery doubted he would keep her around. But nobody would dare tell her secret.
Avery managed to give the brunette a faint smile, knowing that Paige wouldn’t ever do or say anything to tarnish her ‘nice girl’ persona with Ethan so close by. With this she seems pleased, “I’m glad. See you in class then!” she smiles, turning to walk to the back of the bus and take her seat next to her jock.
Avery always waited to be the last person to leave the bus. Prolonging the amount of time she had to spend inside the walls of West Lakeshore High was all she could do. Ethan walked past her seat first, followed closely by Paige. As Paige turns to exit the bus, the smile that she had held earlier was now nowhere to be seen, replaced with a disgusted scowl as she looked towards the blonde still seated next to the window. Avery simply looked down. By now you would think she would be used to seeing that expression, but that was far from the case.
Avery stared out of the bus window. She wasn’t ready to face the crowd of strangers who all looked at her with the same eyes. Disgust, pity, loathing. Each pair of eyes brought with it a heaviness that weighed in her stomach, building up over the weeks to make her feel as though she was hauling around weights on her ankles and wrists. She felt trapped when she was in those walls, surrounded by shadows that haunted her.
She was never in a hurry to get to class. She had no friends here and she wasn’t given much of a chance to make any before she became Paige’s target. Nobody was waiting for her, nobody but the silhouettes of people that were ready to make her feel worthless and alone.
The door to her locker was wide open as she reached it. Books scattered over the concrete hallway floor. Despite Avery’s best efforts, she felt tears begin to pool in her eyes again as she bent down to begin gathering her items. As she reached for her Physics book, a heeled boot came down, trapping it on the ground.
“What’s up Avie-Wavie” Paige taunted as she ground Avery’s book into the floor. Avery raised her gaze to look at Paige’s chin, not daring to meet her eyes. “Dropped your stalking notes?”. Addison; Paige’s best friend and captain of the soccer team, gave a throaty laugh as she began kicking at the pages that covered the floor, sending them flying up in a whirlwind.
Avery remained silent and began to pick up her other books, carefully avoiding Paige and Addison’s feet. A heel quickly came down on her knuckles and a small screech of pain erupted past her lips. She looked up at Paige and saw that her expression had twisted into a foul scowl.
“Are you ignoring me, you bitch?” She growled, putting all of her weight onto her toes and twisting her boot back and forth. Avery winced, trying not to let her bully get what she wants - tears and begging. “Paige, the bell’s going to go,” Addison says, nudging the brunette’s elbow. Paige huffs, “See you later, slut”. The click of their heels filled the halls as the duo quickly retreated, the sound of the first bell filling the halls after them.
The small crowd that had gathered around the scene slowly began to disperse. Avery always wondered why nobody ever tried to step in. Was she really that worthless of existence that nobody felt the need to help her? A sob escaped her lips as she dropped the books that she had collected back onto the concrete floor, her hands lifting to cover her face as she cried.
She had already regretted all of the missed opportunities to stay home. She wasn’t ready to face this again after a week of playing sick. It was too much. The small glimmer of hope that maybe things would be different fizzled out like a flame reduced to embers. A week away from this nightmare had changed nothing.