They jumped me. It was crazy. I’d never had a personal problem with any of the girls involved, yet because of a rumor they jumped me like I was their number one enemy. We were between lunch periods – they were part of a group that ate first lunch and because of my course schedule I ate second lunch with most of the upper classmen. They should have been returning to their classes and I should have been heading to the cafeteria but I’d had to stop at my locker to get my bag o’ food and that’s where they’d cornered me.
I was reaching in when the locker door was slammed shut on my arm. I shrieked from the shocking pain. “Ow! What … ?!” Those were the only words I got out before I was fighting for my life and losing fast. I’d never been in a real fight before. I’d wrestled with my cousin – usually just a friendly cat fight – and gone to that self-defense class because Uncle Carmichael had made me after he started working nights on security down at the twenty-four hour clinic; but if there had been a school wide vote my year book pictured would have been titled least-likely-to-ever-get-in-a-fight-because-the-girl-is-a-total-whimp.
“You the rat that got the brotha busted. He didn’t do nuthin’ wrong and now he dead!” Yeah only those girls didn’t say rat but a lot of other nasty names for certain types of females. How they had the breath to be so creative I don’t know because they were sure using a lot of energy to beat on me. I was surrounded by almost a dozen girls who all seemed to want a piece of me … preferably a big, bloody piece.
All I kept telling myself was that I couldn’t go down. If I went down I knew they’d start kicking and if that happened I’d never get up again. There were too many of them and all I could think to do was stay on my feet and put my hands up defensively. Then I felt fire across my forearm and across my back and I stopped thinking and started really fighting for my survival for the first time in my life.
Still it wasn’t enough, I could feel myself losing. But suddenly there were guys as well as girls fighting and it was an all-out school riot. Screaming and yelling came from every place from both students and teachers. Coaches blew their whistles. Teachers were yelling orders. Then the fire alarm was tripped and the loud sirens and flashing lights only added to the confusing chaos. Right as I got so scared I could barely breathe someone grabbed me and started dragging me away and out of the mass of bodies. I still occasionally got hit but whoever had me put their self between me and most of what was aimed at me. Then I heard gunfire.
There was a vulgar curse right in my ear and I was jerked down and then through a door that I vaguely realized led to the school gymnasium. Only the emergency lights were on making everything look a funky, washed-out gray color. Sports equipment littered the floor making for tripping hazards where the class that had been using the space had left in a hurry. I guess I was already going into shock as I barely registered the sensation of being sat down and leaned against the bleachers that were folded up against the wall. “Hold on Gypsy.”
Ugh. I hate that stupid nickname. I’d made the mistake of sorta dressing up as Cher and singing a couple of her songs for a talent contest in third grade. The adults had thought it was cute but I became a laughingstock to almost all the kids in our school … and not a few in other schools as word spread during extracurricular activities like scouts and little league. In an age of rappers and pop starlets I couldn’t have made a more obvious social blunder. It was one of the adults who started it – thinking they were paying me a compliment – but when the kids picked it up it became a cruel taunt. I wanted to cut my hair then and there but my father – a man with a weird puritanical progressive streak – refused to allow it and my headful of black, straight locks continued to brush the back of my knees when it wasn’t woven and wrapped around my head in a Heidi braid.
“What do you mean put my jacket on her? It’ll get all bloody!”
I turned my head to find Cliff Montgomery yelling into his phone. “Oh no. Not you,” I moaned before hanging my head in shame and misery.
“Hey! In case you haven’t noticed, I’m trying to help you,” he snapped in response.
“Yeah. And what’s THAT gonna cost me? I still haven’t lived down the last time you tried to help me. Some people still think I was doing the nasty with half the football team.” And they did too despite not even the skuzziest guy on the team being willing to lie about bedding me just to bump up his cred and say he had added a notch to the team scoreboard. I’d needed money to be able to go with my Math and Science Club mates and compete at regionals. Several of the football players needed some serious tutoring so they could pass the new standardized test and continue participating in extracurricular sports. Cliff had said it was a perfect match and I’d thought so too … until someone’s girlfriend got jealous for absolutely no reason and started the rumor.
Some shouting was coming from the general vicinity of Cliff’s phone and I finally deciphered that it must be Carl, Cliff’s oldest brother who just also happened to be a cop. Carl was the oldest at twenty-three. Then came Connor who was twenty and trying to work and save money so he could go back to university to get his graduate degree in molecular engineering. Chris was a senior at our school and had been dating the same girl since sixth grade. The girl in question was my cousin Christine. The two of them were so sweet on each other that you didn’t need sugar for your tea … just let one of them stir it with their finger. Ugh. Cliff was next and was Chris’ fraternal twin and nearly polar opposite, younger only by a few minutes. The youngest brother was Cevin.
Cevin is … different. He was born with a heart defect and he had a couple of heart attacks before he was even one year old. Because his brain had gone without oxygen a couple of times it did something to short circuit his development. His classes are in a special wing of the school where he gets lots of occupational and physical therapy and where his motorized wheelchair doesn’t get hung up on every corner he tries to turn.
I like all of the Montgomery family; well mostly. Mrs. Montgomery teaches trig and calc and can be a real … er … piece of work when she is on a tear about grades and stuff but she’s mostly ok though a little cold in my opinion. The rest of the kids in the Math and Science Club adore her and call her The Goddess because she’s tall and blonde and doesn’t look like most nerdaholic math teachers. Mr. Montgomery and my Uncle Carmichael have been friends since their own highschool days and by mutual agreement have kind of decided that Chris and Christine’s relationship is actually something they created and encourage. Christine is Uncle Carmichael’s only kid and Chris is the one that Mr. Montgomery is grooming to take over his plumbing business. Cliff is the only one that I have problems with. He seems to go out of his way to be different from his brothers and dad.
All of that was just rolling around in my head for I don’t know how long until all of a sudden it felt like a horse was kicking me in the chest.
“Is she going to be all right?!”
“Cliff you need to back up and let them do their job.”
“But I did everything you told me to. Laid her down, tried to keep her warm … she … she just stopped breathing! What are they doing to her?!”
“Cliff! Back … up!! They need to get the gurney in the ambulance.”
“Wait … I gotta go with her … I …”
Then I heard a roar of noise and Cliff said, “Oh my God … the school … Carl look … the school is on fire!”
I could hear screaming and lots of other noise but soon everything faded to black and I was left floating around in a sea of apathy.