When she was about a stone throw’s distance away from the canteen, Tina’s thoughts were interrupted by an aggressive male voice.
“Tina!” the voice boomed, “You filthy, backstabbing, butt-ugly slut!”
What was it with booming voices today? Tina turned towards the source of the voice, as did practically everyone else nearby.
The owner of the voice was a boy somewhere around fifteen-sixteen that Tina didn't immediately recognize. Not too strange, really, she could barely remember the faces of people from her own classes. From what she could tell, the school had between a hundred and two hundred students. Not a huge amount, but enough that she wasn't easily able to recognize everyone.
Taking a closer look at the boy, she realized she might have seen him before. At least his peers, guys with extremely bloated muscles and self-confidence. Martin had intentionally stayed clear of similar types. Not only were they potentially trouble, they were also unbelievably boring to talk to unless you were heavily into drinking and sports.
Tina caught a glimpse of his thoughts: he was very angry. More like furious. And he hated Tina with a zeal.
What was she supposed to say in response to his name-calling? ‘Thank you for sharing your thoughts with everyone listening?’ Apart from sarcasm, she didn't have a lot of available retorts at her disposal. The guy was too angry to be convinced by mere words. Perhaps better to ignore him altogether.
She turned her head again and made two steps closer to the canteen before she heard thunderous steps rapidly coming closer. A feeling of fear crept up her back: what if he was not above pummeling her in public? Her right arm gripped the knife inside her jacket, but she did not take it out. It was her trump card, and would only work once.
She knew she wouldn't be able to run away, so she turned back to the boy and steeled herself. Her actions seemed to make no difference to the guy: he ran right up to her and gripped her collar, nearly lifting her off the ground. His other hand was clenched into a fist, threatening to crash into her face. He was a full head taller than her, and at this distance, it was hard not to feel intimidated.
In the weeks Tina had been here, she had yet to see anyone get really roughed up, particularly in public. The boy wasn’t exactly subtle when he called for her attention; they had a sizable audience watching what was happening. Not that that seemed to stop him. No one seemed eager to stop him, either, despite the fact that he was a big guy physically threatening a girl. So much for chivalry.
“You're not getting away, whore!” he exclaimed, showering Tina with droplets of spit.
“What do you want of me?” she asked as calmly as she could. It was important not to show any fear, as that would instantly give him the upper hand. Admittedly, he already had the upper hand physically, but she had yet to submit to his will. On the other hand, defying him too much might force him to turn his threat into reality, which was not really a scenario she was too interested in experiencing. Still, it was a risk she had to take.
The bully hesitated. Tina could tell he ran here with no clear goal in mind, except a general idea of ‘she must pay’ or something like that.
No, that wasn't it. She caught a signal: he was fumbling with words because he didn't want to implicate Haley. The pieces connected beautifully: Haley was the obvious source for his information, yet her name had to be kept out of these allegations, otherwise the credibility of the story would suffer. Then again, there was always the possibility he was just so infatuated with Haley that he didn’t want to drag her name into the mud or something along those lines.
“Shut your fucking mouth,” the bully finally managed. “Stop spreading your lies, fucking slut, or I’ll break all of your fucking teeth.”
Exactly as elegant as you’d expect from a muscle-head: she wasn’t prejudiced about them for nothing. Not to mention his lack of any adjectives except for ‘fucking’.
Tina's knew she had a choice to make now. One option was to plead with the bully, beg for forgiveness and seek the principal's protection. The other was to defy him, show him and everyone else that she was not so easy to suppress.
She was almost entirely sure Haley was watching them, hidden among the people observing from the sidelines. This whole spectacle was surely instigated by her, a test to see how the school would enforce the restraining order. If she relented now, Haley would interpret Tina as all bark and no bite. While the principal would offer some incentive, it was quite clear that Mrs. Dowsley was incapable of completely controlling Haley.
There wasn't really much of a choice: Tina had to stand up for herself, or she would succumb to Haley again. The question was how. An idea formed in her mind. The bully was obviously vulnerable to anger…
“Lies?” she feigned surprise, “You mean, like the pictures on my phone?”
“Pictures?” the boy bellowed, “What pictures?”
The bully's anger was mixed with confusion. Tina could tell that Haley had shown him some pictures already and that his mind was racing to figure out exactly what kind of pictures Tina was referring to. The only reason she wasn't eating a knuckle sandwich already was that he was put off balance by Tina's question.
“You know, pictures,” Tina smiled, conspiratorially. Her hand reached into her jacket. “It'll only take a moment to share them online.”
The bully looked confusedly at her. She could practically hear the gears in his head start turning with a creak, only to speed up to max speed immediately. Her hints had given him practically nothing to work with, so he had to fill in the blanks himself. And whatever he filled in worked as she hoped: he looked like he had just come to a horrifying realization.
“Give me that,” he struck out his free hand to grab what he thought was the cell phone from the hand in her jacket. Tina didn’t hesitate, and pulled out the knife she had grabbed, sending the edge straight into the bully’s palm.
The combined effort of the two opposing movements gave the knife enough force to push deep into his palm. The knife was sharp, so sharp, in fact, that the bully seemed to feel no pain at first. He looked completely dumbfounded at his palm as if he couldn’t understand what the strange object was. The entire area was almost entirely silent while everyone tried to figure out what exactly was happening.
Utilizing the moment of confusion, Tina gripped the handle and tried to draw out the knife. Her effort failed; the bully did not offer the necessary counterforce with his arm. But it had another effect: he finally reacted. The boy screamed out in anger, fear, pain or a mix of them. His other hand was still gripping Tina’s collar. Seeing the sudden need for both hands, he shoved Tina away. She was not prepared for it and fell on her back. Fortunately, her head avoided a potentially dangerous collision with the ground.
While she hurriedly got back to her feet, the bully finished her efforts at removing the knife. He succeeded, only to be rewarded with a gush of blood. Without the knife, there was nothing stopping the blood from pouring out. He tried to grip his hand tight, but it did not seem to have the intended effect.
This was potentially very dangerous. Not for him: he’d survive. But if he went berserk now, Tina might not be so lucky. He focused on her, wild rage written in his eyes.
“I'll fucking kill you, bitch!” he sneered at her and stepped angrily towards her.
This was not good. She quickly realized there was no way she could run away from him. She'd just have to minimize the damage as much as possible. That in itself was a challenge, considering he now was suddenly armed with a knife.
Fortunately for her, with his dominant hand wounded, he was forced to use his off-hand, which made his movements somewhat awkward. Unfortunately for her, she was already within his range and desperately needed to avoid him.
In her desperation, she caught a signal. It hinted where he would stab: at the body part closest to him, her arm. Reacting as soon as she could, she tried to dodge to the side. But despite both the warning and his awkward movements, she couldn’t completely dodge his attack. She felt something touch her upper arm as she tried to get out of the way.
The hasty dodge left her completely unbalanced, and she found herself almost hitting the ground. Catching herself with her hands, she tried to turn around in time, only to feel a burst of pain as something hit her hard in the side of her ribcage, possibly a boot. She had no way to resist and found herself lying on the ground, curled up like a fetus. The pain was unbearable, to the point where she wished she could pass out.
She was vaguely aware that the bully stood towering over her, smirking in a satisfied manner. There were screaming voices in the background. The bully crouched down, bringing the knife closer and closer. Whatever he was intending, there was just no way she could defend herself.
Before he could inflict any more bodily harm to Tina, a loud bang tore through all other noise.
“Freeze!” a voice called out. Whoever it was, the speaker was convincing enough that the bully stopped in his tracks.
“This bitch tried to kill me,” he complained, pointing accusingly at Tina.
She turned her head and saw one of the security guards working at the campus. He had a gun in his hand, pointing it at the guy on top of her. Behind him, another guard was making his way through the spectators.
“If it’s true, she will receive her punishment according to the rules,” the guard argued back, “Now, throw the knife away and step away from her. We’ll get you medical attention shortly.”
The bully turned to face Tina again, glaring angrily at her. It looked like he was seriously considering whether it was worth it to defy the guards or not. The guard noticed that he didn’t immediately follow orders, and called a warning to him.
“Bitch,” he muttered, before throwing the knife away. Tina breathed a sigh of relief.
The ground under her body was painfully cold, but she could not muster the strength to stand up right away. One of the guards walked up to her and started to examine her. Only now did she become aware that she had a bleeding cut on her upper arm. Her jacket was distinctly red from the leaking blood.
The guard gave her first aid, stopping the bleeding. She didn’t watch: while she could feel some pain from her arm, it was nothing compared to the agony in her side where she was brutally kicked. There was a good chance something was broken.
The other guard was busy halting the bully’s bleeding. Now that he was no longer fuelled by mad anger, he looked significantly worse for the wear -- more than a bit pale.
More security personnel soon arrived with a stretcher. Tina was gently lifted on top of it and carefully fastened. As she was carried away, she heard a voice call out her name: “Tina!” She turned her head to see Tabitha emerging from the crowd of spectators.
“How are you feeling?” Tabitha asked, calmer than Tina had expected her to be.
Just as she was about to answer, Tina spotted someone over Tabitha’s shoulder. Behind the crowd, half-way behind the corner of a building stood Haley. She looked bitter. Their eyes met, and Tina could clearly feel the enmity being transmitted by her glare.
She was already reasonably sure Haley was directly responsible for the spectacle, now she was completely certain. Rather than try to outdo Haley’s glare, Tina decided to raise the stakes further. She lifted the corners of her lips up, creating a self-satisfied grin. Despite being carried out, Tina hadn’t given an inch even when threatened; Haley’s plot had only resulted in Tina getting sympathy and her henchman being wounded in addition to any further punishment the principal would heap on him.
Tabitha noticed Tina’s grin, but also seemed to notice that her roommate was not looking directly at her, but someone behind her. She turned her head around to spot whatever Tina was looking at, but saw only a lot of spectators. She turned back to Tina, obviously curious.
“Not too bad,” Tina replied, “everything considered.”
Any further elaboration could wait until later. Her side was still beating with pain. She closed her eyes. Right now, she desired nothing more than some peace and quiet.