Christian and Crystal made it seem like an escapade of heroism. Like they were Robin Hoods or something like that. False. False, false, false, and false again. I sound like a politician, but it’s true. They were no Robin Hoods. I knew by now: they were out to kill me.
The entire thing was torture. The two of them pinned me down to the ground, Christian doing most of the work (of course). Crystal commanded. She was a born commander. A born dictator. She lived to kill. Not necessarily physically, but mentally. As the pinning continued, I silenced myself. It was no use to scream; I was already dead. There was nothing that anyone could do to stop their progress. I had been dead for a long time, ever since Crystal sabotaged my everything. Yes, it was a friendship, but sometimes it felt like a breakup. I was never romantically attracted to her; we were very close, though. She had the exclusive right (and the very difficult to obtain right) as Avril’s Best Friend. And now, she was Avril’s Worst Enemy. Maybe it would be better if it all just ended. I might’ve had a better friend in the Devil. And I say the Devil because I surely wasn’t going to Heaven. The truth is that some people make the Devil look like God. And Crystal was now one of them. I just couldn’t see anything about her in a positive light anymore. I hated her—I’ll be blunt.
But there was nothing I could do anymore. For years I was ruled by her hand. And now, I would die by her hand. I closed my eyes, feeling the pressure on my chest, and then, the horrible feeling of hands curling around my neck.
The grueling sensation lasted for only a few seconds before I was plotting where I would go when I was in Hell. Maybe there would be some sort of wild party with DJs and everything. I would ignore that promptly. Maybe there would be drugs. I would ignore that promptly. Maybe there would be a library. I would go there and read the books and maybe smell the books. I don’t know. I just like how books smell.
But then, all of a sudden, the hands felt like they were ripped off of my neck. I thought I felt a laceration from Crystal’s manicured nail. And I heard a squeal. Definitely Crystal’s.
And then the hands were off my chest, too. I heard a yelp. Christian’s yelp.
I heard the shouts all of a sudden.
“You can’t do anything to us!” Christian shouted, “We’re leaving the country this afternoon!”
“T-T-That’s right! We’re going to Sweden! My dad got an eight-figure job there and we decided to take Christian with us so we can marry when we’re eighteen!” Crystal sounded panicked, but honest. And slightly excited.
“And my family!” Christian sounded as annoying as a terrified person can sound.
I heard incoherent jabber from an unfamiliar voice. At this, I opened my eyes.
An unfamiliar person was threatening the couple with a sharp No. 2 pencil. A very sharp pencil. I’d never seen one so sharp. Both Crystal and Christian were up against the wall, their backs glued to it, their eyes wide. In the unfamiliar guy’s hand, the pencil trembled with anger, perhaps a bit of fear as well.
The guy said something very quietly that made both Crystal and Christian freak out.
“No!” shouted Christian, “NO!”
A crowd was beginning to gather. This strange kid who I’d never seen before was drawing passerbys’ attention. And why shouldn’t he? He was doing something violent at a supposedly “Zero Tolerance” school. Which, I mean, sure, there were rarely any physical fights, but people were still grossly offensive towards each other in words.
But that meant that what this kid was doing was seriously dangerous. People had their phones out, presumably to post pictures of the standoff to Snappychat and/or Instascam. The teachers and the school board would know sooner than later. The guy would be expelled. And I really didn’t want that to happen, especially after he’d taken on the real offenders.
After about five minutes of holding them up, the guy lowered his pencil. And this time, his remark was audible.
“Fine. I’ll let you go. Go on to Sweden now. I hear they’re pretty nice, happy people. Maybe they’ll teach you a lesson.”
A chorus of “OOHHH!! OOOHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! ROOOOOASTED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” followed the guy’s remark. “wRECKED!” “OOOOOOOOH!” “BURRRRRN!” The crowd went wild. I stayed on the ground, paralyzed by the stupidity. It seemed that nobody had noticed the girl lying on the ground with a cut on her neck from a long fingernail.
The crowd dissipated. Christian and Crystal were bombarded with questions from the Snapscat paparazzi, all of which they were too embarrassed to answer. The guy went off into a hallway, in the opposite direction that the crowd was headed, still holding the pencil.
As soon as the crowd was gone, though, and there was no one left in the hallways, Ms. Xiao burst out of the classroom and over to where I lay.
“Are you okay?” she asked, in an unusual bout of English (our class policy is to speak in Chinese as often as possible; Ms. Xiao is very fluent in both English and Chinese and will not hesitate to be a smart-aleck in either language).
She noticed the cut on my neck.
“Oh! Should I get you a Band-Aid?”
I replied with my most unintentionally profound statement of the entire day.
“No. Band-Aids can’t fix this.”
But she had already made up her mind and came back with a Band-Aid.
“It’ll at least keep it from being infected. Or keep it from becoming more infected, if it already is.”
Everything was already infected.
She put on the Band-Aid for me.
The rest of the day, I tried to keep it together. I was both angry and ecstatic. Crystal and Christian were leaving the country! Both the Roaches and the Wakefields, gone. I was sick of those two. I doubted that their families were really any better. But at the same time, they really had to do this to me. Sickening. Evil.
As I was leaving Chinese class (and school—I had a free seventh period), I noticed that that guy’s pencil was still on the ground. Without really thinking about it, I picked it up. And in my anger, I threw my bag down and took out my purple Sharpie and wrote “BAND-AID” on it in all caps. I’m not sure why I wrote “Band-Aid” in particular; it was just the first word to come to mind. I took it down the stairs in my hand, and then, when I saw Crystal pass, I dropped the pencil in her hood. To my immense relief, she didn’t notice.
I watched them go to the office as I walked and meet their parents at the front. They went in together to turn in their official check-out forms.
I noticed their parents’ cars in the drop-off area. Jerks. They could’ve just parked. Nobody seemed to do that but them. It was slightly infuriating.
I waited in the drop-off area, also known as the bus circle. There was a massive holdup because of the Roach and Wakefield rental cars. I pretended I was waiting for my dad.
Just as the bell rang, I saw the two families come out of the office. They got in their cars, all laughs and smiles. Sick people.
And then they drove away for the last time.
And then a crisp breeze on a cool day. Chilling, but it somehow felt warm. There was a special kind of warm that filled my body as I walked home, a burden finally lifted off my shoulders.
▒ ▒ ▒
The cut was indeed infected, although there wasn’t much I could do. It would surely leave a scar, but I wasn’t fazed. No, I wasn’t worried at all. The cause of the scar was gone. I’d never see her again. I made a mental note to never go to Sweden, despite the fact that I did have a slight desire to go. I’m nearly 25% Swedish, so that’s part of it. But I’ve also heard there’s lots to do there. Then again, when I’d overheard those guys talking, they said that they were moving to a small town, a place where I probably wouldn’t be going anyways. So hopefully I was safe.
Things began to go relatively smoothly after that. The threat of Crystal Roach and Christian Wakefield was gone, so I devoted myself to fighting the threat of lowering grades. Aside from talking to Ms. Xiao about the incident, I also told my physics teacher, Ms. Puente, the teacher I probably trusted most, about the whole thing. She replied by saying that she’d seen the Instaspam posts about the incident, but didn’t know the unfamiliar guy. But she had seen me in the background. I relayed to her the entire story.
I was now sort of interested in knowing who had saved my life. I mean, I just sort of think that you can’t really go without knowing. Who extended my life? Who prevented me from dying in that hallway? I didn’t know. And now, I really wanted to know. I wanted to thank him for saving my life. And not only that, but he had also given me my will to live back from the abyss. I had sort of started to lose my grip on it in those darker times. Now I knew: I wasn’t meant to die now. I was meant to be alive. I still had something left to do on this Earth before I passed. My real fate awaited. Or at least, that’s how I saw it. That’s how my mom and my grandparents explained it. They said someone knew I wasn’t supposed to die. I assumed they meant my ancestors. Yes, Zheng Mei knew. And Zheng Zhelan. Those were my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother, Zheng Mei, had passed just last year. She was 98. I had hoped to live that long. Perhaps she wanted me to. Or perhaps she wanted me to live even longer. I still remember her very last words to me: “You are destined to find success.” Perhaps she was watching over me, keeping me safe, not letting murderers get to me. After that, I kept a picture of her in my bedroom, above my dresser, where there used to be a clock (which had been replaced years ago by a digital clock that now sat on my nightstand).
But that guy. Who was he? I’d never seen him before, and I’d never seen him again. I probably shouldn’t assume gender, but just because of his voice, and because of the way he looked, I assumed that he was a guy. I guess that’s discriminatory, though. Who knows what gender that person was? They could’ve been anyone. Okay, I’ve got my grip now. Reset!…
But that kid. Who were they? I’d never seen them before, and I’d never seen them again. Not since that day when they saved my life and threatened Crystal and Christian with a No. 2 pencil and a roast.
I was so curious. So curious, to the point just short of literally asking around. It’s not like I had any friends to ask—Crystal had been sure to prevent that from happening. Classmates were useless in basically any discussion. Only Jeoffrey Henry (otherwise known as “Rip” for seemingly no reason at all) seemed to be interested at all in what I was saying. He was in my math class, and the second-best student in the class, with only Ramonita Banuelos in front of him. Which, I mean, she was a nice kid, but she was always far too busy to be interested in the whole incident. I assumed that. She never seemed to be interested in anything but her grades. Which, to be fair, I’m kind of obsessed with my grades, too.
So I talked to Jeoffrey. Who refused to be called anything but “Rip.” Sure. Whatever you prefer, sir.
“I’ve seen the social media posts,” he said when we first talked, “They’re all nuts. It’s insane. I’ve seen people call you a…well, something-or-other for not doing anything. I mean, it’s pretty obvious you were the original victim. Someone put a caption of, like, ‘lmaooooo i think that girl just died’ or something like that.”
“I don’t care,” I said, “Who’s gonna believe that? They’re just trying to make themselves sound tough. Well, I’ll tell you. There’s a heavy rock weighing their head down so they’re always staring at their phones. That’s what’s in their heads instead of brains.”
“Well, I’m interested in knowing who that guy is,” Rip continued, “It’s just…you know, people don’t seem to be made like that anymore. Not that I’ve ever seen. Someone who’s willing to stand up, even if it means they’re breaking the rules?” He chuckled. “Then again, maybe the guy just went all impulsive-sex-brain when he saw you and figured, ‘oh, I think she’s a hot girl, I should rescue her and maybe she’ll reward me,’ if you know what I mean.”
“Maybe, but whoever they were, they saved my life,” I said, “I’d like to thank them.”
“I’m hoping it’s the first thing I said, and not the second thing.”
“Well, you’re not alone, Rip.”
“Only one way to find out.”
And so Rip and I started hanging out. He was sort of an outcast as well, so we were bound to talk once it was clear that neither of us were really in the social circles. We started discussing how we were to find this person. Then it escalated to taking “walks” around the school at lunch to see if we could find them. But we were never successful.
“Maybe they go off-campus for lunch,” I said.
Which meant we needed a new plan.
By now, though, some people were starting to realize what had actually happened that day when Crystal and Christian tried to kill me. The crowds hadn’t really gathered until after that random kid had started the standoff. The hordes of social media kids at school were beginning to understand what exactly they had witnessed on Snapsplat and Instaphlegm and Tick-Tock and whatever. It wasn’t a joke—it was real. And so they took to the comments section. Of course. Better write a comment than actually talk to me and ask if I was okay. I didn’t have any social media. I tried to get a Faceblech once, but my account was disabled, and nothing I could do saved it. I probably share a name/last name with some sort of horrible person, and so they think I’m one of those creep-honorers who burns books and waves signs with offensive words on them (note: I’m not). The account was for school. So I had to email my group member back and say I couldn’t do the whole Disgracebook thing and to just use a group chat on iMessage instead (everyone in the group had an iPhone). Luckily, though, Rip had an Insta(photoshopped)glam account, and so he kept track of comments that people left on the videos on the site.
And then, one day, a bombshell.
“Look at this!” he said one lunchtime, toting a printout with him. It was an enlarged screenshot of a comment from Instaspam with some kid with the username “notalliepjohnson” written at the top.
I knew Allie Johnson. She was in my English class, and we sat near each other. She was relatively active on social media, something I was slightly annoyed by, but this time, it might actually be helpful. And I knew her username. The name on the page and the username I knew she had were one and the same.
The comment was short, but creepy.
“weird! i’ve seen that black haired kid walking around @ night near my house before…” plus a few skull emojis.
“Wow,” I said, “That’s…not creepy at all.”
Rip laughed. “I know. But we’ve got a lead. A very small, potentially dangerous, maybe incorrect lead. But it’s better than nothing.”
I was starting to get a very, very bad feeling about his wording.
“We’re…not going to…”
Rip grinned widely. “Oh, yes. We are.”