A Trestle and Two Choices
My brain is muddled, fogged by the handful of Valium I took before coming. I've been here many times before, but never alone. Usually my friends have to drag me here when they want to sit under the tracks and wait for the trains to go by or jump into the muddy waters below. This doesn't interest me, but since they're the only friends I have, if I want to hang out, I only get one vote and it's usually the minority.
One of the main reasons this place doesn't amuse me is I don't like walking across the trestle's rotting expanse, not trusting my clumsy feet on the widely gapped pieces of timber not intended for pedestrians. Usually Emmett finally gets tired of me slowly tiptoeing across each wooden plank at a snail's pace and throws me across his back and races to the center of the bridge where the cement supports have room for us to sit beneath the rusting metal structure. The old bridge is still used occasionally when a coal train chugs across, trying to move its cargo from one part of the state to another.
Emmett loves to come here, to feel the rumble of the cars as they clickity-clack across each and every tie. He's the daredevil of our group, always taking things to the limit to see how close he can risk his own life for a little adrenaline rush.
I'm the exact opposite. I sit as far away from the edge as possible, tucking my legs underneath me while my hands cling to the grimy girders for dear life. They tease me about what a 'fraidy cat I am, but what scares me the most is actually why I find myself sitting on the edge, legs dangling back and forth while the wind blows my hair around my face, flyaway wisps sticking to my Chapstick coated lips.
My heart is strangely calm for sitting on the precipice, most likely from over-medicating before coming here. I found the pills in my mom's bathroom drawer, dated back a little over a year ago right when she and dad were splitting up. The main reason we moved to this cold and gray city by Lake Ontario was because Strong Hospital offered her a nursing job. I hadn't realized how similar this place was going to be to Forks. The only exception really is that in the winter it snows a ton instead of raining. But I think they equal each other in gray days, and that really helps keep the population as a whole depressed for at least seven or eight months of the year.
Today it's eerily clear and warm. Even still, I can feel the autumn creeping away, being whisked into the winter doldrums faster than anyone really wants it to be. I never thought three weeks into school I would be sitting here pondering a life-changing decision that would affect not only me, but my family and possibly the entire school at large. I never thought I'd be so selfish to contemplate what I'm contemplating, but while the stinging lies are being forwarded around the World Wide Web, my decision seems less selfish, and more like self-defense.
A gust of wind blows across my back, making my hair swirl in front of my face and masking the water below from view. Pulling it back, I secure it with the rubber band that's a permanent fixture on my wrist. The scent of French fries wafts from the McDonalds down the street, but I can still make out the distinct smell of rusted metal and timber surrounding me. It is almost comforting, as if I was sitting here a month ago, in the heat of the summer watching Emmett swing off the top girder into the water below while Jasper and Edward cheered him on. How I wish I could turn back the hands of time, maybe even as far back as my parents' divorce. Wishing I could have stayed in Washington, perhaps keeping me safe from The Pack, as everyone in the school calls them.
The Pack are the popular kids who everyone wants to be associated with. They're the pretty, the thin, the athletic, the rich and the most influential in our school.
I'm not a pretty girl.
I'm not athletic, I'm not skinny, and I'm certainly not rich or influential.
As a midyear transfer I was an outcast right from the start. I was lucky to have had Alice sit next to me in English last winter, taking me under her wing and introducing me to her small group of friends. They weren't popular, but they weren't on the extreme periphery either. They'd managed a happy medium that at the time I thought would shield me from that clique. I knew their reputation for being ruthless towards the outcasts within our school and could only pray to remain anonymous among them.
I should have known something was up the moment I walked into school that first Tuesday after Labor Day. I felt as if all eyes were on me, peeling me layer by layer until nothing was left but the brittle shell. I didn't see the eyes or even hear the whispers for most of the morning, but when the hairs on the back of your neck go up? I tend to listen to them, and they were telling me something bad was going to go down today.
And did it ever.
Walking over to our lunch table and seeing both Alice and Rose glance up at me over their phones, a look of horror written plainly across their faces, was my first clue that all was not well in Bella-land.
"Oh my God, Bella, I honestly didn't know until just now. We should have never taken you to that party. I'm so sorry…"
"Fuck, Bella, we'll fix this. We know that's not how it went down…"
Rose and Alice both started talking over one another, the hysteria in their voices making it hard for me to follow until finally Alice thrust her phone at me, showing what was on the screen.
A photo of me with my head planted right in Mike Newton's crotch. From the angle of the shot, it appeared as if I was in mid blowjob. Behind me stood Eric Yorkie, his hands nowhere to be seen, but it could be inferred he was ready to yank my pants to my ankles and have his way with me.
My jaw dropped. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. The room started spinning and I was lucky Rose grabbed my arm, tugging me down onto the bench beside her before I passed out.
I had let my friends talk me into going to one end of summer party, and now, I was the laughing stock of the school. With a photo I couldn't remember being taken. Hell, I had drunk so much I didn't even remember sitting anywhere near Newton. The one indelible image I did remember was yacking my guts out all over Jessica Stanley's backyard while the cheer team laughed at my misery, calling me a light weight among other choice derisions.
The acute sting of embarrassment could be felt from my fist tightly clenched by my side to the flaming red color gracing my cheeks. I could barely hear Alice and Rose over the swoosh of my blood rushing through my ears.
"Bella, we'll fix this. We know you weren't doing what this picture makes it look like you're doing." Alice, ever so tactful, was trying to reassure me through my mortification.
I could feel my classmate's stares as the bell rang and the stragglers came filing into the cafeteria. From behind me, I heard Edward mumble, "Um, hey Bella." But before I could even look up into his gorgeous face I heard Emmett boom, "Shit Bella, I didn't take you for a tag teamer!" He patted my back as if I'd just won the lottery before plopping down next to Rose. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her face turn puce at Emmett's comment, but my shame got the best of me. Dropping Alice's phone on the table with a thud, I tore out of the café, hearing the laughter of the crowd along with Rose's resounding slap across Emmett's face.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, but I didn't dare look at it. I just kept running and running until I found a dark corner of the library where no one ever went. Now that I knew what was being said about me, I didn't need to see or hear any more.
I hid out in the reference section of the library instead of hanging with my friends the entire first week. Alice tried to get me to fight back, but without a solid memory of what did happen I didn't know how to retaliate. Instead I wanted to bury my head in the sand and wait for it all to blow over. But by hiding out I'd ended up just making it worse.
By the second week of school there were lots of pictures being sent around, obvious manipulations, but no one seemed to care. I was tagged in more photos on Facebook than I could untag myself from. Peeking at Twitter, there were various speculations about why I left my old school. One was that I'd been forced out when I was caught fucking both the quarterback and the coach at the same time. Another one was that I went through gender reassignment and came to Rochester for a fresh start. This one made me almost laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, but after the twentieth tweet about it, the humor was lost on me.
I eventually was forced to close down all of my social media accounts due to the crazy amounts of creepy men tweeting and wanting to follow me, not to mention the masses of people commenting on every aspect of my life, even going as far as tweeting my address and mobile number out into cyberspace. I started looking over my shoulder when I came home from school to see if anyone strange was lurking about or sitting in their cars. Mom worked nights and I was terrified someone was going to break in while I was alone in the house.
My life was now filled with harassing phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook pages completely dedicated to my ultimate humiliation. I was jumpy and paranoid all of the time. It had completely taken over my life.
I wasn't sleeping and I wasn't eating. My mom was putting in so much overtime; she was hardly ever home except to sleep. I'd never felt more alone. My friends tried reaching out to me, but I had curled into my own little world and didn't know who was a friend and who was a foe any more.
I started wearing headphones whenever I wasn't in class, blasting music above the din of whatever was being said about me at that moment. I'd even started skipping classes to avoid certain people who I knew would pull some kind of stunt to embarrass me further. In French class it was Lauren who left a broken pen on my chair, the blue ink staining everything I touched. In Math, it was Mike Newton, spilling his energy drink into my lap 'accidentally' as he tripped walking past my desk. I was a pariah.
Tears slowly streak down my face as I remember in startling detail how awful my classmates have been for the last couple of weeks.
When I closed my eyes at night, certain scenes kept replaying behind my lids, making it so even if I did manage to fall asleep, I would awaken, startled, my heart beating out of my chest with fear.
The nightmares really kicked up a notch this past week when Paul pushed me up against the wall in the darkened second floor study area of the library. He whispered things he was going to do to me, that because I was so easy, he knew I'd enjoy. All the while his hands roamed over my body, pinning me to the wall with his hips, his erection poking into my stomach. I could still feel his lips as they moved so close to my ear they brushed across my cheek. Mrs. Cope happened to come by and shooed us out, saying the library was not the place for making out. Not even the librarian had noticed my distress, so why would anyone else?
By now I had people calling me whore to my face, guys propositioning me in the corners of the hallways, pushing into me, touching me, wanting to know if I wanted some DP action. Or if I liked the Shocker, giving rim jobs or was into gang bangs. Some of the terms people used were ones I'd never heard of, let alone had actually done.
I'd barely made it to third base with my one and only boyfriend back in Forks. But here the entire school thought I was the resident expert on sex. A whore for the taking. I felt like a hunted animal stuck in a marsh of quicksand. It was only a matter of time before I was caught. And I was terrified of what the next level of torture would be.
Today has been the kicker.
My fragile heart shattered when I saw Edward chatting with a group of guys from The Pack while Emmett, Rose and Alice all stood nearby. Although I knew I had pulled away from my friends I never thought they would reject me so completely to side with The Pack. The fact that Alice and Rose were there felt like a slap in the face, but seeing Edward, the guy I'd crushed on since the first time he opened his mouth to welcome me to the school, betray me like that hurt the worst. To think he believed the lies and thought of me as a ten dollar whore standing on the corner was the final knife into my already delicate soul. I knew it wasn't going to get any better and I just didn't think I could take another seven months of ridicule without any friends.
So here I sit all alone on the bridge contemplating my future on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to decide between taking the express train to hell or the one down below, leaving me as a rotting corpse underneath ten feet of water in the canal.
I can tell the Valium's beginning to wear off a little since my mind is beginning to clear, the fear once again penetrating the recesses of my mind while my limbs are still heavy and lethargic. Even though I know the fog is clearing, I'm still tired. So tired.
I'm tired of being the butt of everyone's joke.
I'm tired of being an outcast.
I'm tired of pretending to be strong.
I'm tired of being all alone, the only one who even cares if I live or die.
Tired. So goddamn tired.
Lying back against the tracks, my eyes watch the clouds lazily drift past. Eventually the exhaustion gets the better of me and I allow them to flutter shut, fully realizing if I don't wake up in time I'd likely be road kill from the five o'clock special. But my heart and head are at odds. My head knows I don't really want to check out, to leave this world. My heart though is a whole other story. It's so drained from being trod on, kicked, pushed, and broken by everyone that I just don't give a damn any more. I don't care if I live or die. I don't care if my mother would cry over my casket. I just don't give a fuck about anything other than silencing the voices. Every single voice that's haunted my waking and dreaming life. I can't escape the hate-filled speech and I just want it all to end.
I'm not sure how long I lay there before I hear Emmett's booming voice calling out to me.
Rolling onto my side, I shield my eyes from the setting sun to see his hulking silhouette lumbering towards me from the far side of the bridge.
"Bella! What are you doing out here?" His voice is breathy from the short run across the planks.
I shrug noncommittally, unable to look at him as he gets closer for fear he'd know of my true intentions.
"We've been trying to reach you for days. Alice has been frantic, trying to tell you all about her investigation. Why haven't you been answering our calls or texts?"
Averting my eyes to his feet I reply, "My phone reached its text limit last week and I just keep deleting the voicemails without listening to them." Letting out a frustrated sigh, I sit up and continue, "Come on, Emmett, you have to know what's going around."
Sitting down beside me, he tugs me into his shoulder, "Bella, do you have any idea what went down this afternoon? Edward's been suspended, most of The Pack have been expelled. Shit, I think you're the most popular girl at school right about now."
My eyes shoot up to his profile, not believing what he just said, drug addled brain still slow on the uptake.
"Now tell me the reason you're sitting out here, the one place I know you hate coming to."
His expression is as serious as I'd ever seen him, yet I don't have a good answer for him. Having been discovered so suddenly, I haven't come up with a viable excuse and shrug again, trying to change the subject. "Edward? The Pack?"
Pulling back from me, I can tell he's sizing me up. The wheels of thought are churning in his mind and I just pray he'd allow the matter drop and tell me what occurred at school after I left.
"God Bella, you look like shit. When the hell was the last time you slept? No offense."
"Emmett, it's been a while. " I smile slightly at his assessment before rubbing my hands over my weary eyes; I feel the all-encompassing exhaustion deep into my bones. "Just tell me what happened. How did Edward get suspended? What do you mean The Pack got expelled?"
Emmett's enthusiasm can't be contained as he begins to tell me how Edward confronted Mike Newton about the photo and the rest of The Pack's behavior towards me. A few moments after I fled the scene to come here he had taken a mighty swing and broken Mike's cheek bone and probably his nose. When Vice Principal Cullen came to break up the fight, Alice, Rose and Emmett all came to my defense.
It seems Pittsford Mendon high school has a strict no bullying stance. It isn't easy to make your case, but if you do, the consequences are immediate expulsion. Alice and Rose had spent every night since the first photos surfaced tracking down the various sources. They managed to tie the initial photo to Lauren and the various manipulations that followed to Mike, Jessica, Eric and Brady's Facebook and Twitter accounts. They had all of the evidence with them when the fight broke out and after seeing the damming proof, she had no other option than to expel The Pack. Granted, their parents can still hire a lawyer to appeal, but really, the damage to their reputations had been done. Just like mine.
"Bella, we always had your back. You were the one that fled us, not the other way around," he whispers, pulling me tighter into his embrace.
"So Edward got suspended for defending my honor?" I giggle, thinking how much the sentence sounds like it should be in a historical bodice ripper paperback.
"Fuck, Bella, that guy's been hard up for you since you got here. I swear you're both blind, deaf and dumb when it comes to each other," he jokes. "Dr. Cullen felt bad, but she had to suspend him. Of course, she did only suspend him for a day and a half, enabling him to play in Friday's soccer match." With a wink and a grin, he pushes off the girder to stand up, tugging me up after him. "We should get out of here before the five o'clock rolls in."
"Yeah, I guess we should."
While my bullies have been taken care of, I still don't know what I'm going to do about all the shit that was now floating around cyberspace about me. Deleting your account only masks the problem. How am I going to remove it all? Anyone doing a Google search could find a photo of my face Photoshopped onto a hard working pornstar's body. How do you recover from that?
"How am I going to get in to college now, Em? I mean, all those lies…" I let my voice float off into silence while the dread still lingers in my mind.
"Oh shit! Alice has been trying to reach you about that too," he replies, smacking his head with his palm dramatically. "I nearly forgot to tell you. Alice's mom has someone she works with that cleans up people's online identities. Alice got the woman to do yours pro bono." Emmett's grin is one of those things you can't help but be affected by. Its radiance can only be mirrored by my own.
"So, you wanna hop on?" he asks, gesturing to his massive back. "I was just headed to McDonalds for a snack before dinner. My treat." Grabbing my arms, he lifts me up onto his back and I've never felt safer than I do hanging on to my good friend.
"Jeez, Bells, I'm buying you anything you want. You feel like you lost ten pounds since we did this over the summer."
"Thanks, Em." Gratitude filled tears slip down my cheeks and well up my throat, claiming any other words I wish to say. Snuggling my head into the back of Emmett's neck, I can't help but realize how close I came to death. How close I came to inflicting the kind of pain that's been dumped on me for weeks onto these people who had just saved my life. Sobs are now wracking my body as shame overtakes my gratitude.
"It's okay, Bells. We'll help make it okay," Emmett repeatedly whispers into my ear, never letting me go until we are off the bridge and back on solid ground. But even though he gently takes me from his back, he opens his arms and allows me to feel all the love and friendship I've been missing since this all started.
I know things aren't going be all springtime and roses, but at least I have a group of friends, who as I've come to find out, had my back all along. And for now, that's enough.