So this is where our story begins. In a classroom, in a building, with a teacher droning on and on about arithmetic. I could barely keep my eyes open. I slouched forward in my seat, face pressed into my elbows. This was my last lecture of the day, then I’d just have some group studying before catching the five O’clock bus to the cramped little apartment where I lived with my mom and older brother.
I cast my eyes around the room, I was surrounded by person after person who was staring blankly ahead, or typing notes into their computers, or texting their friends. A perfectly normal day, as far as anyone could tell. In their perusal of the classroom, my eyes made contact with those of my friend’s, who didn’t take long to notice. She flashed a polite smile and a nod in my direction, which I happily returned. Just like normal, she would approach after class, and together we would meet up with some other classmates in the library. Then just like normal we would get up and go home individually. This was ideal, normal was good, no surprises.
But, this is a story. So of course things would veer off track at some point, to my dismay. It almost started normally, at first. Emma approached after class, shouldering her backpack straps as she approached from her seat.
“Hey, Finlay. Sorry but I can’t actually meet up to study today. My sister and I had something planned for mom’s birthday that we need to prepare for and I totally forgot about it.”
“Wow, Don’t let her find out you forgot.” I laughed lightly at her antics.
“Hah, I know. I wouldn’t hear the end of it.” Her laugh sounded more tired than amused, she offered one more quick smile, “Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow! Sorry I can’t make it.”
“No big deal, have fun.”
Just like that, she turned and headed out the door, likely in a rush to meet up and catch a ride from her sister. I sighed, deciding I’d just tell the others she couldn’t make it myself. It was easy to forget how boring things were without her around. I smiled to myself, I should probably make more of an effort into finding other friends. Not that she was a bad friend, quite the opposite, I knew she’d always have my back if I needed it. It’s just that whenever she wasn’t around to fill the silence it felt like the world had returned their eyes to the back of my head. The quiet was lonely, and I could feel myself being judged even when I knew there was no one else around to notice.
Musing these thoughts as I rounded a corner, I bumped into someone, with rather inconvenient timing.
“Oh hey Finlay!” a voice feigning friendliness, Weston, or something. Some prick from highschool who he had the misfortune of getting into the same university with.
“Hi, Weston.” I didn’t sound nearly as welcoming as he.
“It’s Easton.” He lost some of the cheer in his voice.
“I knew that.” I shrugged. I didn’t know that, obviously, but I didn’t particularly care. Some of the people he was hanging out with had the audacity to chuckle, likely to Easton’s dismay.
“You still hunting for people’s garbage?”
“You still being a prick?” He was referring to my old hobby of geocaching that I ditched during my senior year when I kept getting weird looks on my searches. I was tired of it already, I had done well avoiding Easton so far, but he had never been around this side of the school before now. Almost like there were some presence making his appearance here just so.
“Hey now, isn’t that a little harsh?” He laughed, but he crossed his arms and stood taller, in an attempt to be more imposing. I didn’t care. I wasn’t about to duck my head and take it. I was normal now.
“No, not if you deserved it.” A simple answer to a simple question, but one that evidently offended Wes-Easton.
“And like you know what I do and don’t deserve, you little shit.” He grabbed the front of my shirt, yanking me around.
“You’re still acting like a 9th grade bully, I see.” I deadpanned. Honestly, most of me was expecting him to release me then, I wasn’t expecting him to laugh and tousle me around more.
“I can act like a lot of things.” He warned, and lifted up his fist as if to strike. Whether he was going to go through with it or not, I beat him to the punch. Literally. Maybe I should have thought it through more, but all that was going through my mind at that time was ‘i won’t let him do this anymore’ on loop. I had never punched anyone, and had I had more space I’m sure the following crack of knuckles against skin would have sounded much more satisfying. As it was, it had enough of the desired effect, and Easton released my shirt as he stumbled back. Without saying anything he brought a hand up to feel his jaw, as I shook my fist while taking a few steps back. His friends, surprised, still said nothing. The few who had been having side conversations quieted as everyone waited to see what he would do.
I wasn’t fast enough to bring my arms up to block the attack, but really, I should have anticipated it better. I was so caught up with thinking “ohgodicantbelieveijustdidthat” that I was late to the game with “ohshithe’smad” and suddenly I was reeling back, nearly tripping over my own feet as I felt pain blossom throughout my face. He socked me in the nose, the pressure in my head felt like it exploded behind my eyes as they began to water. The throbbing in my knuckles was nothing compared to this. Why do people even fight? This crap was stupid. When the stinging in my eyes cleared enough to see, Easton took on a satisfied look to his face. I was afraid for a moment that he’d come back for more, take revenge for striking him in public or something. He just sneered, and turned away from me with dirty comments muttered under his breath. I stood there for another moment or two, slouching against the nearby wall, a couple of his friends even looked back with concerned eyes as they walked away. My nose began to run as another throbbing wave of pain hit me, I brought my hand up to wipe it away, and was numbly shocked to see it come away smeared with blood.
“Ugh.” I turned my head away from onlookers who’s attention I’d attracted with the outburst. I’m such an idiot. Why did I think for even a millisecond it would be a good idea? I stormed into the men’s bathroom to clean myself up, ranting and raving in my head the whole time. All that effort I put into blending in and I go out punching people and getting nothing but bloodied for it. It took a good 10-15 minutes before I was able to get the bloody nose under control, and by the time I finished my face was red from irritation from being punched and the rubbing raw I’d done with the rough paper towels in the university bathroom. After glaring at my reflection a moment, I retrieved my phone from my pocket to glance at the time. I’d be late if I headed there now, and I didn’t feel like explaining away the swollen state of my face. Instead, I fished my scarf and hat from my backpack before resetting it on my back.
I walked through the halls and out into the winter air. I completely bypassed the library building for the bus stop a block away, it would be the fastest shot home if I waited a bit. Maybe I could even stop by the Cafe I liked for dinner when I had to get off for the second stop. Yeah, that sounded great, actually. Resolved, I leant against a wall nearby while I waited for a bus to come and take me away from this place.