* * *
Steven drew carefree circles in his notebook. He didn’t really care what he drew, and he found that his hand pushed the pencil across the paper seemingly of its own accord. The instructor was babbling on, and Steven pointedly ignored what was being said.
He wishes you were dead.
Steven sucked in a breath and looked to where Robert sat. Robert’s face flushed, and he looked away.
He was watching me, Steven thought with a flicker of bitter contempt. What am I now, some sort of freak show?
Steven looked around the classroom and met more than one deadpan glance. It would be a flash of disgust, and then they would look away as soon as Steven made eye contact. Steven felt the bile rise in the back of his throat. Why did they look at him like that? If they had something to say, they should just say it. Steven realized his hand shook with the vice-like grip on the pencil. The wooden implement snapped audibly, and Steven felt several sets of eyes bore into him.
Steven’s shaking hands spread to his legs and feet. He seemed unable to control the shaking. David and Leonard didn’t try to hide their amusement. It was as if they were experiencing a dystopian Christmas. They elbowed each other and smirked at Steven. Everyone watched as Steven seemed to have some sort of fit, but no one moved to see if he were all right. Even the instructor seemed at a loss deciding between anger at the disruption, or the need to help a student.
Leonard punched David in the shoulder, and David rose to his feet. He sauntered to Steven’s desk and punched Steven on the shoulder. “What’s going on, murderer?” he asked loud enough for the entire class to hear.
They all hate you.
The voice, David’s punch, and the smirks of his classmates were finally all that Steven could take. The sadness and depression that Steven had felt for so long boiled away. A rage boiled inside his gut. It expanded, and the tremors in his hands, feet and legs seemed to grow with it. Everything that had happened since the day Lindsay killed herself came to a head.
He knew that no human being should have to go through what he had endured. He knew that he didn’t need their hate, and he thought that he needed their compassion. But now, he wondered if he even needed their compassion. The rage coursed through him. It seemed to fill every part of his being.
Do what you must.
With an ear-splitting scream, Steven spun in his chair and crashed his fists into David’s midsection. David staggered back, and doubled over, clutching his stomach. David’s attempts to suck in gasps of air were apparent in the silent classroom. Everyone stared, frozen in shock.
Steven jumped to his feet and stood over David daring the bully to act. David, like most bullies, wasn’t prepared for his prey to fight back. He whimpered and curled into the fetal position. Steven’s attention was so focused on David that he didn’t hear Leonard jump to his feet and charge Steven.
Leonard grabbed Steven around the waist and tried to pull him away from David crying on the floor. “You’re not going to hurt anyone else, freak,” Leonard declared.
Steven pushed himself deeper into Leonard’s grip by kicking off the floor. They two boys staggered back until they collided with a classroom wall. The impact stole Leonard’s breath, and he released Steven.
Steven lurched away from Leonard in time to see a fist collide with the side of his head. As Steven fell, he seized an empty chair and swung it at David. The chair missed, and clattered harmlessly onto the floor.
“You’re gonna pay for hurting Lindsay, freak,” Leonard bellowed from behind. The duo simultaneously lunged at Steven, and surprising himself and everyone else in the classroom, Steven was able to fend off their attacks.
No one in the classroom tried to intervene on Steven’s behalf or his combatants. More than one smartphone among his classmates followed the fracas as it unfolded. The only time anyone seemed forced into action was when the fight moved toward them. Mostly, that action was slipping out of the way.
Both boys hung on Steven’s arms when the fight reached Robert’s desk. Steven felt overwhelmed with pride as he fought for his innocence. He smiled a bloody grin at Robert, then at Ruby. Every punch he received from David or Leonard was a new purpose. They were hammering his back and kidneys. The voice screamed in his ears telling him to fight until the bitter end.
Robert’s eyes were wide and transfixed on Steven’s. Ruby appeared to be stuck between covering her eyes and wanting to break up the fight. Steven knew that this was a losing proposition. Eventually, his adrenaline would run out. He would tire, and since the instructor seemed unable or unwilling to help, Steven knew that the voice was correct: This will be the end. Lindsay and the voice would finally get what they wanted. His former friend and the new girl that disgusted him would get what they wanted. Lindsay’s parents would finally get the closure that they thought they needed.
“I’ll fucking kill you for what you did to Lindsay!” David screamed in Steven’s ear.
Steven struggled against them, but their grips on his arms were solid. Each of them dug one of their knees into the backs of Steven’s legs. After his brief show of strength, Steven was now helpless against the other two boys. He saw the floor rise to meet the bridge of his nose. The pain that erupted from his septum was the first thing he had felt since the brawl started. Steven closed his eyes and waited for David and Leonard to finish wrestling him to the floor. He knew that they intended on making good on their threats.
The feminine voice cut through the fog of war, and all three boys looked at Ruby. She stood beside her desk, hands on her hips, with Robert tugging at her elbow.
David and Leonard relaxed their grip. Steven was able to get himself upright on his knees, but the duo didn’t let go of him. The school safety officer burst through the door, drew his TASER, and shot Steven in the chest. The voice bellowed its displeasure at the fight ending in such an ignominious manner.