Erika told Sarah she thinks
u’ll be mad if she goes 4 Derek
Jayce Morgan stands in the hallway of Gardiner High, staring at the text on her phone. Erika has the whole school to pick from and she goes after Jayce’s ex? Of course she’s mad. She fires off a response.
She heads toward the girl’s bathroom on the second floor, in absolutely no rush to head back to class. She’s looking for any excuse to wander the halls instead of sitting in English and this message gives her one more reason to stay away. She needs a minute to cool off. No one ever really needs to go to the bathroom anyway.
The corridors are clean, empty, and quiet.
Bzzz. The phone vibrates and she pauses at the bathroom door.
It’s her bestie, Molly, in Level Three Science on the main floor, making a dumbass face. Molly always makes her smile, and Jayce snaps her own dorky pic and sends it back. Leaning against the heavy bathroom door until it opens, she goes inside.
She stops at one of the mirrors for a moment, but finds herself indifferent to her looks, neither pleased nor displeased with her complexion, the long fall of her brown hair, or the way her clothes shape her curves, so she moves on.
The corner stall is the one she always goes to, and she sets her phone on the small ledge above the toilet paper. Last time she forgot her phone was there and nearly knocked it into the toilet, fumbling for it as it clipped the edge of the seat and hit the floor.
She settles in.
The door to the bathroom swings open. Footsteps. The stall closest to the door bangs open and then locks.
Bzzz. Another photo from Molly. Mr. Fleet’s in the background pointing to a chart of a frog’s reproductive system. She stifles a silent giggle.
A toilet flushes and the other person leaves the stall. The door squeaks open and the sound of Ms. Maple’s history class across the hall spills into the silence.
The bathroom door hisses closed.
Gross—they didn’t wash their hands. Who doesn’t wash their hands? Jayce shakes her head, scrunching her face in disgust. She looks at her phone again. Time to get back before Mrs. Drake busts her.
Standing, she tugs her jeans over her hips and zips them up, then shoves her phone into her back pocket. She flushes. She steps out of the stall and moves toward the sink. She hates washing her hands with the pink soap that stinks like a hospital and leaves her skin dry and ready to crack, but the germs around here are nasty. She pumps the dispenser several times and rinses her hands thoroughly, drying off with the paper towel and wishing the school would buy some decent hand dryers. She reminds herself to stop at her locker and moisturize before getting back to class.
Leaning into the mirror, she combs her fingers through her hair, and waits until it once again flows smoothly around her face before inspecting her dark eyeliner. Carefully she drags her middle finger beneath each to clean up the edges. Jayce leans back, assessing her reflection. She’s satisfied—she’s wasted enough of this class period with her fake break. Time to head back to English.
He presses a closed fist against the bathroom door’s metal plate, making sure to swing it hard and let it bang against the wall to signal his entrance. It’s tidy. No scraps of paper towel litter the floor. But it’s early—he knows the place doesn’t look like this at the end of the day. He also knows that a clean space is a more efficient space.
He bends down. Only a single pair of trendy red Toms are visible under the stalls. He rises, moving into the stall closest to the exit. It’s cleaner than the guys’ washroom, and lacks graffiti. Smells better too.
He gets down to business, pulling off his backpack to put it down by his feet. He lifts one foot, working to avoid touching the walls, and slips off his shoe. He shifts his weight and pulls off the other one, dropping them both into the open backpack. He stands still, waiting, preparing himself for the next moment.
He listens. A slight hiccough of breath. Is she laughing? Is she texting while sitting on the toilet? His face twists in repulsion.
He reaches out and flushes the toilet, walking out of the stall and across the bathroom before the noise fades. He yanks the bathroom door open—it swings easily enough and he releases it. It closes with a slow, hissing whisper. Turning back into the room, he steps swiftly and silently toward a middle stall, gently pushing the door open with his knuckles, careful not to bang it against the partition or leave any fingerprints. Inside, he rotates on the ball of his foot, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he pulls the door shut.
A smile crosses his face.
He doesn’t lock the door and leaves it slightly ajar. He lifts the toilet seat and sets his right foot on the porcelain edge. He ignores the thought of what may have splashed against the cold rim—what his sock might soak up—and focuses on his goal. Now the left foot is up too, and he perches on the toilet, pressing his forearms gently against the walls for stability. He takes a silent breath. And waits.
Swoosh. A toilet flushes. He hears her zip up. A lock unclicks and the stall door thumps open.
He looks through the thin opening between his door and the stall partition and sees her move over to the sink.
She runs the tap and pumps the soap—a lot of soap—and washes her hands. While the water splashes in the sink, he eases himself down from the toilet seat, watching her through the crack between the door and the partition. She crosses over to the far wall and pulls paper towel out of the dispenser, then crumples it up and throws it away.
He readies himself, reaching behind to tug gently at the plastic bag in his back pocket. He slides it out silently, the black letters from the local grocery store legible in its creased folds. He tightens his fingers in its handle straps, careful to make no noise.
She pauses at the mirror again, and he watches as she checks herself one last time. Her hair spills down her back as she plays with it. He can’t fault her for her vanity. She is tall and brunette, just like the girl he hurt in Grade 8. Her faded blue jeans are tight against her ass, the way all the girls buy them now, and they look good on her. She never quits watching herself, absorbed by her reflection, and he must clear his mind. He can’t let those thoughts in—not when his moment is so close. He takes a slow, calming breath.
He opens the door and is out of the stall in one quick motion.
She doesn’t even see him coming.
He makes no sound, raising the plastic bag over her head and pulling it down quickly. Her dark hair hangs out the bottom, and he pulls back, the bag sinking deep into the folds of her neck. He can see her in the mirror, face pressed firmly against the inside of the bag, her mouth sucking plastic with every breath.
She panics, hands flailing at her face, struggling to tear it away. She’s stronger than she looks and he pushes his knee into her back for leverage. She bucks against him and he stumbles, banging his thigh hard against the porcelain sink. He grunts in pain.
He pulls the bag taut and her fingers tear at the stretched plastic… but then her knees give way and she crumples to the floor. He struggles to stay standing.
He doesn’t know it yet but girls are taught to fall in self-defense, and though he’s on top of her, she’s got the upper hand now. She kicks blindly, striking him sharply on the side of his shin. He stumbles and she kicks out again, nearly making him fall.
He’s losing. He’s got to get away.
She’s still kicking, clawing at the bag, and before she can free herself, the bathroom door opens with a bang and he’s gone.
“Can anyone tell me why Scout thought the world was ending?”
The class sits in silence.
Mrs. Drake smiles, patient. “I know you guys read this.”
A girl in the second row begins, “I think Scout—” but she stops short, staring at the door.
Jayce stands in the doorway, holding a white plastic bag loosely in her fingers. The colour is gone from her face, her hair a tangled mess. Eyeliner streams down her cheeks. She can’t seem to speak.
“Jayce?” Mrs. Drake asks.
Jayce says nothing.
All the students stare as Mrs. Drake moves to the girl at the door. She speaks louder, adamant. Worried. “Jayce, what’s wrong?”
Jayce looks up into Mrs. Drake’s eyes and shudders, her breath catching.
“You’re okay,” Mrs. Drake says. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Jayce looks at the plastic bag in her hands. She chokes, gasping in panicked moans that burst into a wailing cry.
It sends a shiver down Mrs. Drake’s spine, and she scrambles to catch the girl as Jayce collapses to the floor.
Jayce’s friend Deb, on the far side of the room, pulls her phone out.
Shits going down with J. Come quick.
Bzzz. Molly’s phone vibrates under her science notebook.
She peeks at it, expecting something about Erika going after Jayce’s ex, but instead there’s a photo of her best friend on the floor beside Mrs. Drake.
Molly doesn’t hesitate.
“Molly, where are you going? Molly!” Mr. Fleet calls out as she rushes for the door.
She doesn’t stop.
She bolts down the hall and through the indoor courtyard, rushing past a senior sitting on a bench putting on his shoes.
Mr. Coogan, the vice-principal, steps out of the office and Molly knows she’s about to catch hell.
“Sorry!” she calls over her shoulder. But she keeps running, all the way to Jayce’s period two English class.
Kids crowd in a circle and from somewhere in the middle, Mrs. Drake yells, “Owen, grab my water.”
As Owen moves to the desk, Molly slips inside and sees her friend. She’s not really prepared for how bad Jayce looks.
Owen comes back with the water bottle and Mrs. Drake gives it to Jayce. “Calm down. Breathe. You’re okay.”
Molly kneels down beside her and takes Jayce’s trembling hand. Her friend’s breath hitches as she fights to talk through the tears.
“Tell me what happened.”
He goes to the nearest stairwell. He needs distance from the upstairs bathroom. This isn’t what he’d planned. The girl fought too hard and now his leg hurts—and he hasn’t finished what he’d intended to do.
He steps into the empty indoor courtyard, breathing slowly. He can’t let the stress show. He’s a hundred feet from the exit and he needs to hold it together.
He slips his shoes out of his bag to get them on before anyone notices he’s in sock feet. When he glances up, he realizes he can see right through a large window into the administrative office. A man wearing a suit stares out at him.
He stands, his laces still dangling loose, and acts casual, wandering over to the vending machines. He tries to keep cool, digging in his pocket for change. He turns away from the man in the suit, pops in a few coins, and chooses E5. His favourite nutty chocolate bar drops down. As he reaches for
it, he looks over his shoulder.
The man is watching him.
This can’t be about the girl in the bathroom already; he’s probably just concerned about seeing a student—himself—wandering the halls during class.
He could head for the exit but that only makes him more suspicious. He needs a new plan.
Stuffing the chocolate into his backpack, he sits on the nearest bench. He’s leaning over to tie the first shoelace when a girl rushes past.
Now, that might have something to do with him.
“Slow down!” the man in the suit yells, and hurries out of
his office to chase after her.
The inner courtyard is silent, except for the quiet hum of the lights above. He ties the other shoelace and sits up. He pulls out the candy bar and unwraps it, takes a bite and closes his eyes, enjoying the crunch of chocolate and peanuts.
Next time he needs to be better prepared. To think his actions through more clearly. He has to take into account how hard the girls will fight.
He stands, slinging the backpack over his shoulder. With time, it’ll get easier. The more he does it, the more it’ll become routine. His mind will be ready and he’ll work on instinct.
The bell sounds, signaling the next class. He savours the last of the nougaty goodness and tosses the candy wrapper in the garbage. He slips out the door.
Today was his first try and, with time, he’ll get better. Practice is all he needs. What is it they say? Practice makes perfect.
The sun is warm on his face and he feels a smile form.
It’ll be a good summer.