Someone had written ‘slut’ on Magda’s locker again. I watched her try to scrape it off with the zipper of her makeup bag.
Last time she’d cried, but there weren’t any tears in her dark eyes this time, and instead of being flushed, her cheeks were actually pale. They were getting to her, I realized. Wearing her down.
I pulled a sharpie from my bag, walked up beside her and changed the ‘u’ to an ‘a’ and added an ‘e’ at the end.
“Slate?” She asked.
“Sure,” I said, my mind frantically reaching for an explanation that might please her. “As in clean.”
Her face darkened. “I’m not the one who got a clean slate. They did.” But she didn’t go back to scraping.
I didn’t know what to do. It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right lately. I hadn’t since the night my best friend was raped and images of it uploaded to the internet. Besides me, and Magda’s family, no one really seemed to believe she’d been raped at all. In fact, the boys who did it said she’d wanted to have sex with all four of them, and the entire school believed them, even though Magda hadn’t so much as gone out on a date with a guy before that night. It was easier to believe a teenage girl would want her first time to be with multiple partners than it was to believe four popular boys were capable of rape.
The fact that Magda didn’t look too upset was good, right? At least, I thought it was. I’d never say anything to her, but I’d been starting to get impatient with her. I knew what happened to her had been terrible -- but they hadn’t hurt her so badly that she hadn’t healed properly. She’d survived what they’d done. No, it wasn’t fair that they got to walk around free while people called her a slut, but when was she going to start getting over it? I kept waiting for her to get mad -- maybe punch somebody. Tell them off. But she didn’t -- she just took what they said and tucked it away inside herself. She hardly smiled anymore, and I was so tired of it. I just wanted my friend back -- and I had no idea how to make that happen.
We walked home together, like we always did. It was a gorgeous spring day -- sunny and warm. A block from Magda’s house, a car pulled up beside us. In it were three boys from the senior class.
“Hey, Magda,” one said, leaning out the passenger window. “We’re having a party this weekend. Want to come? We need entertainment.”
Her face turned scarlet, but she didn’t say anything. Why didn’t she tell them off?
“Fuck off,” I said to them, putting myself between her and them. “Just fuck off.”
He grinned at me. “You can come too, baby. No need to get jealous. There’s enough of us to go around.”
I had a can of grape soda in my hand, and before I could think about it, I’d dumped what was left over his stupid head, it ran down his surprised face in purple rivers, staining his white shirt. His friends stared at me, mouths hanging open.
“You stupid bitch!” He cried. He started to open his door, but I kicked it shut, and held it like that with the strength of my leg. I didn’t know what I was going to do if the other two decided to get involved.
“Cops!” The one in the back shouted. I turned my head and saw the cruiser approaching. The car took off so fast I fell on my ass. Shit. It hurt.
By the time the police car pulled up, Magda had already helped me to my feet. I recognized the woman behind the wheel as Diane Davies. She’d worked Magda’s case before it became a joke.
“You girls okay?” She asked, but she was looking at Magda.
“Yeah,” my friend said. “We’re fine, Detective Davies. Thanks.”
The cop didn’t look like she believed us. “You want a lift home?”
Magda shook her head.
“Okay, then. Be careful.” She didn’t look happy about leaving us, but short of forcing Magda into the car, what could she do?
We watched her drive away before we started walking again.
“You don’t always have to defend me,” Magda sounded pissed. “They would have driven away. You didn’t need to start a fight.”
“Yes, I did. Those pricks deserved it. You shouldn’t have to keep paying for a stupid mistake.”
Magda stopped suddenly, under the shade of a huge tree. “What mistake?”
I stared at her. Was she medicated? “Going off with Drew Carson at that party.”
“You’ve never gone off with a guy before?”
She knew I had. “You know what I mean. You just picked the wrong guy.”
“Was I supposed to know that?” Her voice had gotten louder, and her eyes were wide as she looked at me.
“And I didn’t pick him, he picked me, but that doesn’t matter, because I thought he liked me. I never thought his friends would be waiting for us. I never wanted that, Hadley. And that wasn’t my fault!”
“Calm down.” I’d never seen her like this before. “I didn’t mean it was your fault.”
“Yeah, you did. Just like everyone else in this shit-hole town. I haven’t heard anyone ask Drew, Brody, Jason or Adam why they raped me, but everyone has questions for me. Why did you wear that skirt? Why did you go with Drew? Why didn’t you scream louder? What did you expect to happen? Here’s a question for you, Had -- why don’t you just fuck off?”
She ran away from me then, leaving me standing on the sidewalk like an asshole, staring after her in openmouthed shock. What the hell? I hadn’t meant to upset her. I was on her side for crying out loud!
I continued walking home. I could have gone to her house, but I didn’t want to fight, and she needed time to cool off. And so did I. After all I’d done, all the times I defended her, this was what I got in return? If she thought I appreciated being lumped in with the rest of the people who blamed her, she was stupid and wrong. I’d believed her when no one else would.
Yes, it had been stupid of her to go off with Drew. Most of us knew he was a dog, but he and his friends had never done anything like that before. They were all from fairly decent families, and were good-looking. They didn’t need to rape in order to get sex. But Magda wouldn’t lie. I’d seen her afterward, and I knew something horrible had happened. I wished I had been able to stop it.
My parents weren’t home when I got there. Mom was still at work, and Dad was away on business. I heard them fight once in a while. They didn’t know I knew, but our house wasn’t that big.
I did my homework and helped Mom with dinner when she came home. Then, I walked over to Magda’s to apologize and talk. Her older brother Gabriel answered the door. He smiled when he saw me, and my heart did this little flip in my chest. When had he gotten so hot?
Those dark eyes of his and long dark hair killed me -- made me feel like I couldn’t think straight.
“Hi, Had. Mags is in her room. She’s been listening to some sad-bastard music. Maybe you can cheer her up.”
I smiled, my insides still dancing around like lunatics. “I’ll try.”
His gaze narrowed. “Everything okay with you two?”
“We had a bit of a fight earlier. I said something stupid.” I looked him in the eye. “Sometimes I don’t know the right thing to say to her.”
He nodded, his expression somber. “None of us do.” Then he hugged me, and I let myself enjoy it a little longer than I should.
When I knocked on Magda’s door, she didn’t say anything. She probably couldn’t hear me over the music. I turned the knob and pushed the door open. She was going to scream when she saw me -- she scared so freaking easy.
She was on her bed. For a moment I thought she was sleeping -- and then I saw the pill bottle, and I realized she wasn’t breathing.
Magda and I were supposed to go into senior year together, but on the first day of school, I was alone and Mags was dead.
I arrived 10 minutes before the bell for homeroom. It was a nice day, warm and sunny, and there were kids all over the front lawn of Carter High School. A year ago, Magda and I had been among them, excited to be back, but dreading the daily grind.
I walked up the concrete path to the main doors and walked inside. The halls teamed with kids -- tall, short, fat, skinny, nervous or bored. There was every hair and skin colour imaginable represented. I saw a girl with pink hair, a guy with a mohawk, and a kid with a septum piercing clustered together, talking animatedly by a classroom. The three of them would probably get hassled at some point during that day. Would anyone stand up for them?
No one had stood up for Magda. No one but Magda’s brother, Gabriel and me. I hadn’t always been the friend I should have been to her. I hadn’t understood what she was going through. I had to live with that -- and without my best friend.
There was a shadow box on the wall by the principal’s office that had photos of kids who had been killed during the school year. They’d started it back in the 80s. There were a lot of pictures in it. Magda’s wasn’t there. They justified her exclusion by calling it a suicide. But Magda’s life had been over months before she took those pills. She’d been murdered, and her killers had been allowed to walk free. We were all going to be under the same roof that day, the four of them and me. It seemed more ominous after a summer of missing Magda, like her absence had intensified the gravity of what they’d done.
I looked for them as I roamed the halls, but I didn’t see them. They traveled as a pack, usually followed by sycophants and foolish girls who believed that cute boys couldn’t possibly be monsters. I hoped none of those girls discovered how wrong they were.
Gabriel had graduated last year, and would be starting classes at a local college in a couple of days. I missed having him with me. After Magda died the two of us had become each other’s support - it was the only way we could get through the day at school. We kept each other from falling apart, and when the charges against Magda’s rapists were dropped, we raged and cried together.
I turned at the sound of the familiar voice. Standing beside a row of lockers was Zoe Kotler, who I’d known since first grade. We weren’t close friends, but we hung out a bit over the years. I remember she cried at Magda’s funeral, something I hadn’t been able to do.
“Hey, Zoe.” A guy wearing a huge backpack practically hip checked me into the wall. “Watch it,” I snarled.
He shot me a dirty look. “Fuck you.”
There were meaner things he could’ve said. By the time you get to senior year the ‘F word’ has lost much of its gravity and ability to offend. It’s almost a regular part of the lexicon of teenage language, like texting, or soda.
I watched him walk away. Normally I would’ve had a good come back, but I couldn’t summon one. What I wanted to do was kick him in the back of his stupid head. I could do it.
Zoe scowled after him. “Douche,” she said to his retreating back.
I shrugged. “The school’s full of them.”
She laughed. “You’ve got that right.” When I met her gaze, I saw concern and wariness in her brown eyes, like I was a wounded animal she wanted to pet but was afraid would take her hand off if she did.
“I know this might sound weird, but a few of us have started a petition.” She pulled a stapled stack of paper from her binder and handed them to me. I looked at the pages; the petition was to have Magda’s picture added to the shadow box.
I stared at all the signatures. There had to be at least 40 there already.
“It’s not fair that she’s not there,” Zoe said. “Three other people whose pictures are there died the same way.”
I looked at her, tempted to ask if these people had been raped, but I knew that wasn’t what she meant. She meant they’d killed themselves. “Do you have a pen?” I asked.
She smiled and handed me the pen she had clipped to her binder. I signed my name.
“I miss her, you know?”
I handed the petition and pen back to her. I wanted to tell her that she knew nothing. That she was a stupid cow who had no idea what it was like to lose your best friend, someone you knew so well they felt like a part of you. Wanted to tell her she should be glad that she had never seen someone she loved suffer like Magda had. I wanted to tell her that I hoped she never walked into a friend’s room and found them on their bed after they’d taken a handful of sleeping pills -- enough to kill them, but not enough to do it quickly.
I remembered holding Magda in my arms, screaming for help. My brain latched on to that memory of her, so pale and unresponsive, and rolled it around in my head until my lungs felt as though they were being squeezed by a giant hand, each breath more strangled and difficult than last.
Mostly, I hoped Zoe never knew what it was like to feel responsible, to know that the last thing you’d said to your best friend had broken her heart and her spirit. I’d let Magda feel alone, and she’d killed herself.
“Yeah,” I rasped. “I know. I have to go.” I pivoted on my heel and walked away as fast as I could without running. I dove into the nearest girls bathroom and ducked into a stall. I closed the door and locked it before pressing my forehead against the cool metal.
I breathed in through my nose, out through my mouth until the panic faded. My mother thought I had PTSD. Maybe I did, but calling it that felt like I was trying to excuse my grief. It felt like a lie. Because, what I had was not a disorder, but a sadness that ran so deep I could feel it in my bones. Sometimes I felt like Magda had taken my own life with her that day.
I tried to push thoughts of her away. My parents and my therapist had been concerned about how returning to school would affect me. I thought they were the crazy ones, but it seemed they understood me better than I did. I should have taken a Xanax before I left the house. At least that would have taken the edge off.
The bell rang. I made my way to the auditorium with the rest of the throng. Magda and I always sat as far back as we could. I couldn’t bring myself to climb the stairs to the back of the room, so I set four rows back from the front. The seat to my right remained empty as the auditorium filled up. I could almost pretend my friend was there beside me.
They divided freshmen into their classes first, calling out names and then telling them where their classroom was located. Next with the sophomores, then the juniors, and finally seniors.
I sat there, numb and disinterested, until four familiar names were called: Jason Bentley, Drew Carson, Brody Henry and Adam Weeks. People actually cheered them. Those raised voices set my teeth on edge. Then, the universe decided to be cruel.
No one cheered for me or applauded. I doubted many of them even knew who I was. It didn’t make me feel any better though. Because I had been Magda’s best friend and those four boys had destroyed her. They should know who I was, but they didn’t. I could probably walk right up to all four of them and spit in their faces and they would have no idea why I had done it. My name was the last one called for that class. I stood up with the others and filed out of the auditorium. Like all the other sheep, I followed the four of them to our homeroom class. I was the only one who didn’t seem to want their attention.
I was probably also the only one who wanted to kill them all.
“I don’t understand what you see in him,” I said as Magda and I walked to our lockers. It was only the second week of school and she couldn’t stop staring at Drew Carson.
“He creeps me out.”
She frowned at me. She looked like an angry deer, her dark eyes were so big. “I think he’s cute. He grinned at me in class this morning.”
“That’s not a grin, it’s a leer.” We stopped at my locker and I turned the dial on the combination lock. “Seriously, I’ve heard stories about him, Mags. He’s not a good guy.”
“Take a pill. It’s not like I want to marry him.” Her eyes sparkled now. “I just want to see if he’s as good a kisser as I think he is.”
I grimaced. Gross. There was only one way to stop this conversation. “You know who I think would be a great kisser?”
She leaned forward, eagerly, as though I was about to tell her the secrets of the universe. “Who?”
“Ugh!” She looked like she’d bit into something rotten.
“Don’t even go there!”
I laughed as I grabbed my books. “But he’s so pretty, and his lips look like they’d be really soft, y’know? But firm.” I’d never admit that I wasn’t joking with her. My crush on Gabriel was my little secret.
“Stop it! Okay, fine, you win. Let’s talk about something else. Are you still sleeping over Saturday night?”
“Sure.” I shut the locker door and we walked the short distance to hers. “Are you going to cancel on me if you get a better offer? Cause I can always just hang out with Gabe if you have other plans.”
She rolled her wide, dark eyes. She was so pretty.
“Please. Like I’d ever choose a guy over my best friend.”
I grinned. “Nothing will ever come between us. Ever.”
I was wrong.
I only had one class that none of them were in. AP English Literature and Composition would be my refuge. I was tempted to see if I could transfer out of some of the other classes, but then someone might want to know why.
If Mags hadn’t died she would be right there with me. She’d spent months in the same classroom with those assholes after they hurt and humiliated her. She suffered through it until she couldn’t anymore. Changing classes would seem like an insult to her memory. Besides, there was part of me that liked sitting a few seats behind Drew Carson, staring at his back as rage bubbled inside me. Maybe it was the fact that I felt something that made me like it, or maybe I was just broken.
Jason Bentley sat next to me. I started to shake so bad I could barely hold my pen. I picked up my stuff and moved two rows over. There was no way I could spend the rest of the year next to him.
After last class I went to my locker, gathered up what I needed and left. How was I going to do this for the next eight months? One day had felt like a year.
Halfway home I heard someone shout, “Hey!” behind me. When they did it again, I realized they were talking to me. I stopped and turned around.
It was Jason.
I wanted to run -- away from him and at him. Every instinct I had screamed for me to escape while my heart urged me to pick up a rock and throw it at his face. Instead, I just stood there, unable to tell if it was defiance or stupidity that kept me still.
He approached me with a confused and wary look on
his face, sort of like the one Zoe had worn that morning.
“Hey,” he said. “You’re Hadley, right?”
I just stared, unable to speak for fear that all that would come out of my mouth was a scream, not of fear, but something primal and filled with rage. God, was I having a heart attack? My chest was so tight.
At one time -- before he and his friends ruined mine -- I’d found him cute. He was smart too and out of the four he was the only one that ever paid any attention to me. Whenever Magda was around I was always surprised when a boy looked at me. I wasn’t ugly -- in fact I’ve always thought of myself as passably pretty, but Magda was gorgeous and she’d had no idea just how beautiful she was.
“Can I ask you something?” He asked.
I continued to stare.
“Why did you move when I sat next to you in class today?”
I stared at him. Did he really have to ask? Yes, apparently he did, because there didn’t seem to be any malice in his tone or expression at all. He truly had no idea why I despised him.
“Magda Torres was my best friend,” I whispered, staring into those blue eyes. Disgust rolled in my stomach, rose in the back of my throat until I thought I might puke. Hate was a vile tasting thing I wanted to spit onto his expensive sneakers.
Jason’s eyes widened as the colour drained from his face.
He took a step backward. “Oh.”
I took a step toward him unwilling to allow him to escape so quickly. My chest wasn’t so tight now. Instead, it burned with rage. “Is that all you have to say?” I smiled, but it felt more like a twisting of my lips. I mean, he followed me all this way. It wasn’t just to ask me why I moved, was it?
What was I doing? He was bigger than me, and even though I’d been taking martial arts ever since I was a kid, I’d never actually fought someone outside of the dojo.
He held up his hands. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“No, and you didn’t get any either did you?” I glared at him, took another step forward. “You didn’t even go to trial. How does it feel to have gotten away with it? Did you and your buddies celebrate when she killed herself?”
Jason looked horrified. Good. He just stared at me, shaking his head.
A car pulled up beside us. Drew Carson was driving and Brody was in the passenger seat. Adam was in the back. For a second I was terrified that they were going to throw me in the car, take me somewhere secluded, and do to me what they’d done to my friend.
Brody’s window came down. “Dude, we’ve been looking for you. Get in.”
I didn’t look at them. I couldn’t. I was already shaking so badly my teeth chattered. If I looked at them, they’d see my fear. They’d see my rage. And I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
Jason glanced at me before opening the car door and jumping into the backseat. I stared at the ground and heard them laugh as they drove away.
When I finally felt like I could walk without falling down, I didn’t head straight home. My legs shook for most of the walk, but eventually they became strong again and they carried me up the hill to the local cemetery. I didn’t have to look at the headstones to find the one I was looking for. I knew exactly where it was. It was the newer one at the end of the row with so many roses on it. Magda had loved roses. It didn’t matter what colour so long as they smelled like they should. Usually I brought her one when I came to visit, but I hadn’t planned on visiting her until Friday.
I set my book bag on the grass left of her headstone and sat down right on top of the mound that covered the hole where she’d been buried. I pulled a weed from the base of the heart-shaped stone her mother had erected that simply had her name, her birthday, and the date she died engraved upon it.
Usually when I visited, I talked to her, and told her what was going on in my life. I would tell her about our favourite TV shows, the books I’d read, local gossip, but today I didn’t feel much like talking. I just wanted to be near her, so I sat there, on the grass and let the sun warm me.
A little while later, I heard footsteps behind me. I didn’t have to turn around to see who it was. I already knew.
“I thought you weren’t coming until Friday,” He said.
I didn’t look up, but moved a little to the left so he could sit down beside me. We always shared the mound, and never made the other sit on the flat grass.
Gabriel and I came here a lot. We never planned to be here at the same time, and sometimes we weren’t, but when we were it was okay. Once you cried on someone, it wasn’t such a big deal if they saw your grief again.
Magda’s older brother was tall and lean with long dark hair and even darker eyes. Like his sister he was gorgeous, and seemed naïvely unaware of it. He was more cynical, though. Magda had seen good in everybody; Gabe knew it wasn’t true.
“Rough day?” He asked.
I’d known Gabriel since I was five years old, so when he put his arm around my shoulders I leaned into him, my cheek resting on his chest. I could hear his heartbeat, and for some reason that made me incredibly sad and happy at the same time.
That’s when the tears finally came, because I hadn’t felt happy since before my best friend had her rape smeared across the Internet. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be happy now, when I should have been the one to save her, and failed.
Vigilante by Kady Cross is coming May 2017!
Click here to find out more.