Chapter 22: Bad Reputation
"There's no fucking way I'm going to stand in that lunch line," Rachel said as she stared at the incredibly long line at the mouth of the cafeteria. We sat in the back corner like we always did. I was never intimidated by lunch time in the past, but the thought of being surrounded by so many people when it was common for fights to break out all around you, I was terrified and so was Rachel. Sometimes a fight would break out in the lines and if you weren't careful, people would plow right through the crowd and mow you down. The last thing either of us needed was to accidentally take an elbow to the stomach.
"Well, you have to eat," Mel snapped at her. I kept quiet. I had the same concern and I didn't want to be lectured today. "You've got us. Nothing is going to happen. The same goes for you, Syd," Jamie added. "We can be your shields," Candace added. She was back with us and it was beginning to seem like a rare occasion for us to see her. Things felt pretty distant and we were all falling out of touch with her. We couldn't just Mean Girls her ass and reject her from our table at lunch. The only other friends she had were junkies that didn't even go to school with us. She was being a bitch, but I didn't want her to feel isolated.
The three of them pulled us from our seats and we marched between them through the crowd of our peers. Occasionally I glanced from side to side, seeing groups of people laughing, guys sitting with each other were beat boxing, slamming their fists on the table for a laugh, and the entire area was filled with the sunlight that hung directly over the mountains. I had gone to school with these people since our sandbox days at Welch Elementary and just the thought of that calmed my nerves a little. A lot of them were the same old goofy fucks that they had always been and that was comforting. They were goofy, but they were still pretty great people.
Some of them changed for the better and for the worst. Even though Candace had changed for the worst, I was still grateful for all four of them. They never failed to show me that they would be there to help me brave whatever storms came our way. They knew how cautious I had become with being at school and around what seemed like a million people and they still had my back anyway. I hadn't mentioned it, but I was still paranoid about running into Dean and they didn't even have to say anything to let me know that they would be ready if he came my way.
My thoughts kept me from focusing on the eyes that were glued to us as we strolled effortlessly between the tables. We weaved around them together with Mel, Jamie, and Candace ready to pounce in case anyone made any stupid comments. We successfully made it to the huge line that started at the kitchen and extended down to the long hallway that led to the middle school side. We even skillfully managed to skip a handful of people. It felt like a game and it was pretty fucking fun. It felt like the rock hard chicken nuggets were our prize and they were pretty shitty, but we had survived another day without getting knocked around like crash test dummies, so I was satisfied with that.
"That was easier than I thought," I said with a sigh. It seemed like Rachel and I had scarfed down our nuggets in two seconds, not even taking the time to breathe or talk to the others in between bites. I was much more relaxed and relieved. "See and you were about to let your stomach eat your back," Mel said with a smirk. "I'm surprised that nobody broke a fucking tooth!" Candace yelled as she knocked one of the nuggets on the table. I giggled. It felt like nothing had really changed with us since the day we all set foot into the school for the very first time. The thought always made me anxious for the future.
"Well, I think we can manage walking to the trash cans," I said as I stood up and gathered up my styrofoam tray. Rachel stood up slowly, grabbing hers. "Absolutely," she said with a fake smile. I could tell she was getting tired, but none of us would let her be lazy. Reggie had her under the impression that she could just sit around and binge on ice cream and cookies for nine months. When she was with us, we made her get at least a little bit of exercise. "It's not going to kill you," I said as I playfully pushed her shoulder. "You say that now, but wait until you have someone pushing on your bladder," she said, giving me an evil look.
"I'll survive," I replied. "Seriously Syd. You're handling this well. A few weeks ago, I was the one glowing and now I feel like death," she whined. "Maybe I'm getting lucky,"I said with a shrug. We weaved through the tables once again and headed toward the large trash cans in the middle of the room. This time none of the stares or whispers got to me. I wasn't cowering in fear because of all of the eyes on me. When we finally made it, Rachel was gasping for air like she had just run a marathon. "See! We're not helpless!" I cheered.
From the corner of my eye, I spotted Kelsey Marcum and the other washed up trash she usually rolled around with. Her back was to me as she tried to huddle closer to everyone at her table, but I was within earshot. They were always the type to stir shit up and keep rumors going after twisting the stories up a few times. She was a prime example of the problem McDowell County had. Always in someone else's business.
"And he was all over me! We almost fucked after his exes party!" she said proudly. Reggie was the only person in town that religiously threw parties, so it made me curious. "Kels, were they ever officially broken up?" Cassie Stacey asked, probing for more fucked up information. "Who knows. She'll probably go running back to Dean. Danny is too good for her anyway," she said flipping her hair. By this time, I had inched closer with Rachel standing behind me. My blood was boiling. I wasn't even two feet away from Kelsey and she still hadn't realized that I was behind her. "But he's got the best dick I've ever had, that's for sure," she said proudly. That. Was. Fucking. It.
In the blink of an eye, I was standing directly over their table, slamming my hands on the table to pull her attention away from the web of lies and bullshit that she was spinning for her little friends. "Kelsey. How the hell are ya?" I said with a tight grin as I lowered my face down to hers. "Sydney Trent," she said, looking me up and down. My heart pounded in my ears, muffling the sound of people continuing to talk throughout the cafeteria. "Still heartbroken, love?" she said with a smirk. "You and I both know that my boyfriend would never fucking sleep with you. He'd let his dick fall off first. Keep your fucking mouth shut. Or I'll make you eat your fucking teeth. Don't forget who I am," I growled. She raised an eyebrow, turning her body toward me in her seat. My anger made it feel like my entire body was on vibrate. "Sydney motherfucking Trent. Is that a threat or a promise?" she said as she taunted me. I had to give it to her. No one ever had the balls to challenge me or call my bluff, when I rarely bluffed.
She continued to look me up and down, like she knew that I was hiding something. It was probably because I was doing so much talking. I never talked or handed out threats. I just started throwing punches.
I wanted to knock the smug look off of this filthy generic knock off of myself. There were so many times throughout our years in school where some people would get us mixed up. We both had the same long, jet black hair and golden honey colored skin with the same brown eyes that were almost black. I had been between skinny and curvy, a little thicker in some places, but she had always looked like a twig that had been plucked from a half dead tree. Most of my suspensions in the past had been from fighting and hers were the result of getting caught giving blowjobs to anything with a dick. She took advantage of the frequent mix up between us and that's how she decided that she could hold a candle to me when it came to the guys I talked to or dated. Even if we did hold some kind of resemblance, I didn't want to lay with anyone and no one wanted to lay with a bitch that was a frequent flyer when it came to getting antibiotic shots at the clinic because of STDs. There was never a doubt in my mind that she wanted to be in my shoes.
The Danny she was painting a picture of was a little more along the lines of being Dean. I didn't give a shit if she wanted Dean. At one point, I would have paid her ass to take him just so I wouldn't have to deal with his harassment.
"It's a fucking promise," I snapped. She stood up and our chests were nearly touching. "I don't have shit to lose," I challenged. She chuckled. "You don't?" she said, raising an eyebrow. "Nope. Try me, bitch," I added. Any second, it would be time to put up or shut up and I couldn't focus on anything else. She leaned in close, placing her lips right next to my ear. "How about another baby? Cats out of the bad, Syd," she whispered. My heart dropped and my anxiety attacked me.
She pulled back, searching for a change in my expression. I held it together, smirking like I didn't know what she was talking about when I was screaming on the inside. "Need help picking our your outfit for Maury? It really hasn't been that long since you and Dean broke up. I'd get that checked out if I were you," she said with her voice breaking from laughter. "You always thought you were better than somebody," she said, changing her tone to sound more antagonizing.
My breathing became rapid and uneven and before I had a chance to think before I acted, I pushed the tops of her shoulders, causing her to stumble back. The cafeteria was filled with gasps. "Fucking bitch!" she screamed, swinging her fist, aiming it at my face. Like a reflex, I caught her fist with an open palm, gripped her wrist, and turned her around to twist her entire arm behind her back. Her back was pressed against my chest and she was right where I wanted her. My other hand tangled in the hair on the back of her head. She was completely immobilized. She cried out in pain as I tightened my grip on both her arm and hair as she tried to wiggle out of my grasp. She was't going anywhere.
"Let me go! You cunt!" she screamed, drawing more attention to us. I tightened my grip. Soon, we'd be surrounded by faculty members and a cop or two that were usually on duty at the school and the last thing I needed was for one of those assholes to try to swing me around like a rag doll. I was able to catch my breath and calm my nerves as she continued to wiggle around. I made sure my lips were close enough to her ear so she could hear me loud and clear. "I don't know what you think you know, but next time, I'll break your fucking arm and I'll keep it," I threatened. She was in tears by the time I felt my friends pulling and tugging on me to let her go.
I finally released her and turned to see Mr. Henry coming toward us. "I'm leaving!" I barked at him, putting my hand up as I exited the cafeteria. He was a timid man, entirely too timid to be a high school principal. He was short and round, completely the opposite from the principal we had last year that always towered over us when he walked around the school.
The fresh air was exactly what I needed. I was already beating myself up. How could I have been so stupid? I was just now realizing that I could have hurt the baby even though I felt like I had the situation under control. What was even more scary was how Danny was going to react when he caught wind of it. I didn't want to call him and tell him about it, but it looked like that was going to be my only option. I wasn't going to be able to keep myself from breaking Kelsey's face if I went back inside. I just had to face the music and talk my way out of it later.
I scrolled through my contacts with shaky hands and tapped the call button. It rang once. "How's school going, baby?" he answered cheerfully. I took a deep breath before letting it all out. I was angry to the point of tears. "Not good," I replied with my voice cracking. He paused for a second and I scrambled to get my story together before he could go off on me. "I'm on my way. I love you," he said calmly. That was a huge relief. "I love you too." As upset as I was, he had proven me wrong and that was all the reassurance I needed to see that he meant what he said about changing his attitude toward me. I felt like I was the luckiest girl alive. Some girls could only dream of their significant other changing and treating them better and I was thankful that I no longer had to dream.