The four girls moved to sit in a corner of the living room, with Alicia and Elena joining Tabitha on one couch while Clarissa anxiously took a seat on the adjacent perpendicular one. Several sophomores and juniors from Springton High had arrived that Casey bounced over to talk to, and a few pairs of the youth group boys playing in the room beneath them wandered up the stairs in search of pizza, giving the area a much more lively feel.
“Sooo, why’d you have it out for Tabitha?” Alicia questioned in a catty voice, scowling over at Clarissa. “What’d she ever do to you, huh?”
“She didn’t do anything!” Clarissa looked from Alicia to Tabitha with tension in her hunched shoulders. “She just—everyone was saying these things, and I was dumb, and I believed them. I didn’t even know you broke your arm for real until afterwards. They were saying like your cast was fake, because it doesn’t look like a regular cast. I’m so sorry.”
“Fake?!” Alicia demanded. “What, because I drew on it a bit?”
“Uh, it actually looks really pretty!” Clarissa said quickly. “I just thought—uh, we thought that it maybe wasn’t…”
“Clarissa,” Tabitha took a deep breath. “I appreciate that you’re apologizing, and I’m not mad at you. I am still feeling very hurt, though. Everything I kept in that binder was important to me—it’s a personal project I’ve been putting a lot of work into. It may seem like I... overreacted, leaving school like that all of the sudden, but I’ve been under a lot of stress. A lot has been happening, and... having my work stolen on top of everything else just made me feel like I wasn’t safe at school anymore.”
“No no, you were completely—you didn’t overreact at all,” Clarissa stammered. “You like, you got your arm broken, you—”
“Fractured her wrist,” Elena corrected.
“Right, fractured your wrist, and everyone was being so mean to you, and all the girls were saying just all of these horrible things! You like, didn’t overreact at all. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t even know you. They’re, uh, they’re going to hold me back a year. For what I did. I’m so sorry. I really wish—”
“Holding you back a year?” Alicia laughed, tapping the pilot helmet she set in her lap. “Hah, serves you right!”
“I… don’t want you to be held back, Clarissa,” Tabitha said, feeling uneasy. “But, what you did was very cruel. I need you to understand that.”
“I do, I do! What I did was totally messed up, I realize that now,” Clarissa said, sounding panicked. “If I could go back and do it all over—I never would. Wish I’d been on your side from the beginning, everyone just—”
If you could go back and do it all over… Tabitha found herself lost in thought at hearing the words and fell into a daze even as Clarissa frantically continued to apologize. No one else really ever gets to do that. No one but me, I suppose...
“—Erica Taylor, and then her friends Kaylee and Summer. And, the other sister, uh— Brittney Taylor. They were always saying that you—”
“Clarissa...” Tabitha challenged. “Do you actually think that you and I could be friends?”
The girl froze, shrinking back from Tabitha with a fearful look.
“I’m not saying that to be sarcastic,” Tabitha explained. “Or mean. I want you to really think about it. I never wanted any of this to happen. I don’t want you to be held back a year, and start to resent me for that. All I’ve ever wanted... was to have a normal high school life, a normal life with lots of friends. That’s what I want.
“If you really want to be friends with me—I’d like that. I still feel hurt by what you did, but if you’re willing and we can become friends, I’d feel a lot better about everything than them holding you back a year for what you did. Them punishing you doesn’t help me—I need, um, friends, I’m a mess, and I need all the help I can get.”
“I definitely want to be friends,” Clarissa latched onto the idea immediately. “Please, please. If we can—”
“I don’t want you to answer right away,” Tabitha cautioned, holding her remaining hand up. “I’m serious—I want you to think about this. Not just react, or make a decision because you think it’ll keep you from getting held back. I’m willing to talk to them about it, but I don’t even know if I have a say in anything they decide. If you’re just saying things and don’t actually think that you would in seriousness want to be friends with me—that would end up hurting both of us a lot.”
“I want to be friends,” Clarissa insisted. “Please—I really mean it.”
“Yeah?” Alicia scowled. “Well, there you go; I don’t trust her.”
“Alicia, shush,” Elena said carefully. “I’m... honestly not sure about this, either. But, Tabitha—that’s a really mature way to look at everything, at all of this. I do like that.”
It’s a lot more mature than I feel, Tabitha thought to herself, rising up off the sofa. Never thought I’d be so—angry. Bitter. Like, HOW DARE she want forgiveness, after what she did to me. What they all did. I know that’s not fair of me. But then, also… I feel guilty, too. Because, she DID mess up. And, she doesn’t get to go back and redo things like I do. Not unless… not unless I personally set aside my grievances, and give her that chance.
Steeling her resolve, Tabitha tossed aside her Flounder plushie and stretched her arms out for a hug.
It was hard to see Clarissa as one of the cruel high school bullies, right now. She looked like a terrified teenage girl who’d done something stupid and didn’t know what to do about it. The girl nervously stood, stepped forward and awkwardly embraced her. Even though it was a little weird, Tabitha thought she could feel a tiny bit of the hate she’d carried with her into this life wick away.
I mean, I already knew Elena was kind of one of the mean girls from Laurel, but… Tabitha thought to herself with a bitter smile. This feels… good. Better than all those fantasies about GETTING EVEN or making them pay. Feels like—almost like I’m maybe growing out of being the goblin I used to be.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Clarissa said in a small voice.
“I forgive you,” Tabitha said, giving her a comforting squeeze and then releasing her. I really DO forgive her. “It’s okay. Let’s just... put it behind us, alright?”
“...Really?” Clarissa gave her a doubtful look. “I mean…”
“On that note... I have to ask,” Elena ticked a finger towards Clarissa. “Ginger Spice?”
“Uh, yes. I am,” Clarissa shot Elena a thankful look. “For Halloween. This is the Union Jack dress like she wore at the Brit awards last year. I’m, um. I’m a huge Spice Girls fan.”
“I am, too,” Elena confided. “Actually a little jealous that I didn’t think of doing that for Halloween. My cat idea was super lame, it’s just what I had from last year.”
“No no no,” Clarissa said quickly. “You look incredible! I’m not good at creative stuff at all, I just, I already had the dress, and I’m always looking for an excuse to wear it.”
Although Alicia continued to look unimpressed, Tabitha felt a strange sort of relief in seeing Elena making an effort to put Clarissa at ease. The two girls shared Spice Girls small talk while they watched Jack Skellington lament over the denizens of Halloween town misunderstanding him, and more and more people showed up for the party. The couch across from them was eventually occupied by a Green Ranger and his girlfriend who was dressed as a traditional witch with a large pointed hat. They also all got their first glimpse of Matthew, who was wearing the iconic Space Jam basketball uniform, as more of the group downstairs dispersed in search of other activities.
Tabitha wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about the Halloween party. It was fun so far, sort of, but the enjoyment of sitting here with her friends was offset by her trepidation around all of these other people that she’d never met. While she was a bit curious to walk around and see things, she was even more reluctant to abandon the safe foothold of the living room corner they’d laid claim to. When Alicia shared an uneasy smile with her, Tabitha wanted to giggle, because it was both comforting and vexing seeing that she apparently felt the same way about the situation.
“Oh my Gosh, hey you guys! You all look so great!” Carrie exclaimed with enthusiasm, skipping over towards their couches. “Ugh, Elena! You totally stole my idea!”
Tabitha looked up with surprise to see that Carrie was dressed almost exactly like Elena had been when she’d shown up at the trailer yesterday. Black pants and a black long-sleeved shirt, with a cat-ear headband and lackluster whiskers painted on her cheeks. Carrie’s chipper smile faltered slightly at seeing that Elena’s cat costume now apparently looked a lot better than anticipated.
“Really?” Elena mused, giving Carrie a look. “Funny. I was a kitty-cat last year, too, though. Remember?”
“Yeah—oh, I guess you were, huh?” Carrie made a teasing face. “Hah, well geez—one of us has to go change, now.”
“Looks like that’ll be you, then,” Alicia remarked dryly. “Ours was a group effort—Tabs picked out her new blouse, and I spent a long time doing ‘Lena’s facepaint.”
“‘Licia helped with the kitty collar, too,” Elena added, flicking the jingly bell she wore at her throat with one finger.
“Hey, I was just kidding,” Carrie snorted. “It’s no big deal if we look the same.”
“You don’t look the same, though,” Clarissa chimed in, looking from Carrie’s costume to Elena’s and back again. “Like, at all.”
“Why are you even here?” Carrie made an ugly face at Clarissa. “Didn’t you got expelled? You got caught stealing stuff, or something?”
“She’s with us now,” Elena said, giving her former friend a chilly look.
“Oh, huh. Well, cool, I guess?” Carrie blinked. “She’ll fit right in, hah. Guess I’ll catch up with you guys in a bit—I’m gonna go say hi to Matthew, alright?”
“Yeah…” Elena frowned as Carrie strode on past them into the next room. “Alright.”
“Sooo—Carrie’s definitely not with us, right?” Alicia asked, drumming her fingertips on the pilot helmet she held in her lap.
“I guess not,” Elena sighed. “Sorry. I was really hoping she’d… I dunno, get over herself, or something.”
“She’s part of Erica Taylor’s posse,” Clarissa added. “Like, for sure.”
“There’s no… sides, to this,” Tabitha insisted. “Or posses, or cliques, factions, party lines or whatever. We’re all just teenage girls, okay? This doesn’t have to be some big dramatic thing. Some of us can be friends, we don’t all have to be friends—it doesn’t mean someone’s against us, if they don’t want to hang out. There’s no sides.”
“Oh, absolutely!” Alicia agreed, throwing Elena an exaggerated wink. “Right, ‘Lena? Definitely no one taking sides. Wouldn’t that be silly and childish?”
“Sorry, Tabitha,” Elena gave Tabitha a sheepish look. “I did try talking with Carrie before, trying to get her to come around. We used to be friends, it’s just... Carrie’s—”
“No, no—I was being completely serious,” Tabitha said in aggravation. “There’s no sides to this.”
“Yeah,” Alicia elbowed Tabitha and gave another obnoxious wink. “No one’s taking sides—right, guys?”
“Alicia…” Tabitha groaned.
“I’m on your guys’ side,” Clarissa promised. “I swear.”
“Tabitha! Honey, you’re here! I’m so glad you could make it! ” Mrs. Williams called out, stepping into the room with a glass of wine in hand and gesturing for someone to follow. “Sandy, Hannah! Look who it is!”
“I told you she was here already!” The exasperated seven-year-old Hannah dashed forward, proudly holding up a thick Crayola marker. “We found one! Can I sign?”
“Of course!” Tabitha offered up her left arm.
Hannah hopped up on the couch beside her, tucked her legs beneath her, and popped off the top of the marker so that she could write her name. The expression of intense focus the little girl made as she began to draw a small ‘H’ on Tabitha’s cast was precious, and Tabitha couldn’t help but smile.
“Tabitha?” Mrs. Macintire also rounded the corner carrying a glass of wine, and she lit up upon seeing her. “My word, it’s so good to see you! Look at you, the Little Mermaid! You look amazing! All of you girls look amazing!”
“Thank you, Mrs. Macintire,” Tabitha said politely, trying not to blush as everyone in the room seemed to look over in her direction. “It’s good to see you again. Thank you so much for inviting us!”
The plump Mrs. Williams wore a green and purple medieval gown with a collar and frills, had a dash of lipstick on only the center of her lips, and had her hair brushed up into rather silly-looking bushy piles on top of her head. Mrs. Macintire, on the other hand, wore her dark hair down and had squeezed her slender figure into a salmon-colored medieval corset dress at least a size too small, worn with a small cape. The tops of her breasts bulged out from her costume, and the woman looked more than a little tipsy.
“This girl saved my husband’s life,” Mrs. Macintire boasted, gesturing towards Tabitha with a lift of her wine glass. “She’s gonna—they’re gonna give her a medal and everything.”
“Or at least a special commendation,” Mrs. Williams spoke up with a twinkle in her eye. “Maybe not a medal, but—”
“No, they’re gonna give her a medal, or, or I’m gonna throw a fit!” Mrs. Macintire chuckled softly, taking a quick sip from her glass. “They’re gonna throw a big ceremony in her honor, soon as my hubby’s transferred back here to Springton.”
“I just did what anyone would have done,” Tabitha said with a guilty look, quickly turning to Alicia. “Alicia was there, too—she helped.”
“No no no!” Alicia held up her hands. “I mostly just stood there like an idiot.”
“You helped talk with the dispatcher!” Tabitha persisted.
“Tabitha did everything, I was just useless,” Alicia denied involvement. “I had no idea what to do—I was just standing there, bawling my eyes out.”
“Alicia Brooks—I remember you from the news clip,” Mrs. Macintire stepped in to give her a small hug with her free hand. “Thank you for being there. I didn’t know what to do either, for days. I was just, I was just in complete shock. Don’t any of you girls ever marry a policeman!”
“Don’t ever marry a policeman,” Mrs. Williams agreed, taking another generous sip of wine. “Whenever any trouble happens, that’s right where they have to be. It’s the worst!”
“It is,” Mrs. Macintire nodded. “It’s all just—they’re the worst.”
“...How much wine have you ladies had tonight?” Tabitha asked.
“Oh, would you like some?” Mrs. Williams beamed at her with rosy cheeks. “We can fetch you a glass. It’s non-alcoholic! Practically.”
“Practically!” Mrs. Macintire let out a giggle.
“I’ll... think about it,” Tabitha said with a polite smile. “Thank you.”
“So, I’ve heard through the grapevine that you’re taking a breather from school,” Mrs. Williams said. “How have things been? We’ve all been worried sick about you. Are you going to that expulsion hearing tomorrow?”
“I am,” Tabitha paused, feeling her shoulders go stiff. “I think… I’m going to request that the school board to be as lenient as possible. To everyone. I don’t like that they’d all get in such serious trouble because of me.”
The two adult women exchanged glances, and Mrs. Williams took another hearty swig of wine while Mrs. Macintire scoffed.
“That’s real sweet of you,” Mrs. Macintire said cautiously. “But, me? I hope they get the book thrown at them! Especially that quarter back boy—there’s no justifying what he did, not no way, no how.”
“Running back boy,” Mrs. Williams corrected.
“I don’t give a damn what he was, he’s a violent criminal,” Mrs. Macintire shook her head in consternation and quickly downed the rest of her wine glass. “It’s all fine and dandy if he wants to break some boy’s bones playing football, but—”
“Running back, Sandy,” Mrs. Williams rolled her eyes in exasperation. “He run run runs, he runs away from the big scary bone breaking. From what I heard, he even tried to skedaddle away after pushing poor Tabitha.”
“Rotten little fucking weasel,” Mrs. Macintire spat fiercely. “They should break his fucking—”
“Sandy!” Mrs. Williams cut in, giving her friend a gentle slap on the arm. “Sorry, girls—the situation’s just so upsetting, and the Verona has loosened her lips! We just wanted to say that we’re both gonna be at the hearing tomorrow, and we’ll make sure everyone gets just what’s coming to them!”
“And then some,” Mrs. Macintire growled.
“Yes, yes, and then some,” Mrs. Williams promised, taking another sip. “Oh, Miss Clarissa—I didn’t see you there. I hope you’re behaving yourself tonight?”
“...Yes Ma’am,” Clarissa said in a quiet voice, having gone very, very still while the two women talked.
“Good, good!” Mrs. Williams had a meaningful gleam in her eye for a moment. “Well, we’ll get out of your hair. Come along, Hannah honey. There’s all sorts of snacks and pizza and soda in the other room, you girls just help yourselves, of course. Feel free to roam around! There’s ping pong downstairs.”
“We will,” Tabitha promised. “Thank you.”
“I’m all done,” Hannah reported, wiping imaginary sweat from her brow with the back of her hand in a charming little gesture. “Phew!”
HANNAH MACINTIRE was spelled out in somewhat crooked letters, with part of her last name passing through several of the lines Alicia had drawn because it wouldn’t fit without writing over them.
“Good job, Hannah!” Tabitha praised.
“Thanks!” Hannah said with a proud grin, sliding off the couch and running back over to return the borrowed marker to Mrs. Williams.
“Oh—by any chance, did you recognize our costumes?” Mrs. William asked, striking a dainty pose.
“You’re the Sanderson sisters?” Alicia blurted out with a grin. “From Hocus Pocus?”
“Thank you,” Mrs. William laughed, stamping her foot. “Finally, someone gets it! Almost makes it worth putting up my stupid hair like this. Alright, girls. Have fun!”
“Hey, Tabby,” Carrie trotted over. “Can I see you alone for a sec?”
“What is it?” Tabitha asked.
“It’s nothing major,” Carrie smiled. “Someone just wants to talk to you, out on the porch.”
“Who?” Elena asked with a suspicious scowl, crossing her arms.
“Just someone, okay?” Carrie snorted. “Don’t be all nosy. It’ll only take a minute.”
“...Who is it?” Tabitha asked.
She exchanged glances with Elena, and Clarissa took that as her cue to hop up and step over towards the nearest window, where she could peek out at an angle to see the rest of the lakehouse’s wrap-around porch.
“Just someone,” Carrie repeated with a shrug. “It’s not a huge deal. Can you come talk to them, or not?”
“Uhhh, are you out of your fucking mind?” Clarissa called over. “Erica Taylor’s out there. With a fucking baseball bat.”
“Just someone, huh?” Elena gave Carrie an incredulous look. “What the fuck, Carrie?”
“Fucking waaah,” Carrie sneered. “Knew you’d pussy out if I told you who it was. Jesus Christ, chill. She just wants to apologize to Tabitha. Alone.”
“Apologize to her with a baseball bat?” Clarissa hissed. “Carrie, what the fu—”
“It’s not a bat, it’s Louisville Slugger. Hello? S’part of her costume, dorks,” Carrie rolled her eyes. “She’s not gonna friggin’ attack you with it. Look, see? She’s a Cardinals player for Halloween, duh. Go fucking talk to her already. God damn, all of you are such pussies.”
“Yeah, right!” Clarissa said angrily. “Look at how pissed she looks. Don’t go out there, Tabitha.”
“Of course she’s pissed,” Carrie muttered. “She’s got reason to be pissed.”
“Reason? Such as?” Elena arched an eyebrow. “What reason, Carrie?”
“All this bullshit she’s going through with Tabitha,” Carrie waved a hand dismissively and gave Tabitha a slight smirk. “Are you gonna go talk to her like a grown up, or do I go tell her you’re too much of a pussy?”
“Quit saying pussy—what are you, twelve?” Elena shook her head. “Tabitha’s just fine where she is. If someone wants to discuss anything, she can come in here where we are.”
“She wants to talk to her alone,” Carrie looked at Elena as if she was an idiot. “Like, privately.”
“Yeah, I bet she does,” Elena rebuked. “But, we don’t always get what we want, do we? She can apologize with all of us in here, or she can piss off.”
“Hah, okay,” Carrie said with a sarcastic laugh, heading back outside to tell Erica. “Whatever, pussy. Pussies. Hide out in here all you want, see what happens.”
Tabitha stood up and took a hesitant step forward, feeling her body start to go stiff with tension.
“No,” Elena said in firm refusal. “No, you’re not going out there. If Erica wants to talk, then she can—”
The french doors opened and Erica Taylor stepped inside, stalking forward with a glare locked directly on Tabitha.
She hadn’t been reacquainted with any of the Taylor girls since coming back to this life, and didn’t quite recognize the teenager, beyond feeling there was something vaguely familiar about the set of her eyes and cant of her nose. Erica had dark brown hair pulled into a ponytail beneath a Cardinals cap, worn with a matching jersey but with white jeans in lieu of baseball pants. A wooden bat was held in hand, and the only other thing anyone would glean from this first new impression was that Erica Taylor’s posture, demeanor, and expression were all extremely fucking hostile.
This... is bad, Tabitha thought, feeling her heart race. REALLY bad.
“What the fuck... is wrong with you?” Erica asked in quiet, vicious voice.
“...Excuse me?” Tabitha managed to say.
Tabitha couldn’t imagine how it was even possible, but Erica Taylor was already worked up somehow into a simmering rage, and it was visibly clear that her fury was about to boil over and spill out in a horrible way. The taller girl’s chest was quickly rising and falling, her nostrils were flaring, and her pupils were dilated, seeming to tremble with whatever scarcely-contained insanity had driven her here. The Louisville slugger wasn’t casually held at her side—it was held low and very still. Like a weapon.
“What the fuck. Ever. Gave you the right. To take things from us?” Erica bit out, speaking with gnashes of her teeth and clenches of her jaw.
“I haven’t taken anything from you,” Tabitha protested, feeling panic starting to rise up from within her. TAKE things?
“You didn’t fucking take anything from me?!” Erica bared her teeth, her face twisting with hatred.
Erica Taylor stalked forward a step, and the slugger in her hand wavered as the girl wrung the handle in a white-knuckled grip. Although Tabitha wasn’t by herself—she didn’t even want to imagine being trapped alone in a room with Erica right now—both Alicia and Elena seemed to be frozen with fear, and the other random people throughout the room seemed to be stunned into silence. Clarissa had been lingering nervously at the edge of the room, and Tabitha heard her scurry out of the room, running out and abandoning them.
Not abandoning—she’s probably getting one of the adults, Tabitha realized, fighting the urge to not simply bolt herself. She’ll be back with help. I hope.
“First, it was my makeup,” Erica hissed. “Then, Brittney’s makeup. Then, it was our shoes. My Spanish book. My favorite fucking jeans. Brittney’s new headphones. The Vera Bradley bag that I got for Christmas—how much did you get for that one? My fucking shampoo. Who the fuck steals shampoo? Peefy Poofy. We had Peefy Poofy since I was like, two fucking years old, and you took him away from me? For WHAT? WHY? He was a fucking stuffed animal, he wasn’t worth anything to anyone but me. But you took him anyways.”
What… is she TALKING about?! Tabitha found herself completely bewildered. Is she—is she bipolar? On drugs?! This is, it’s crazy, she’s... she needs to calm down, someone needs to calm her down from whatever this is. We can’t talk like this. Can we not do this?
“Ashlee always making excuses for you. Guess what? IT’S. NOT. EVER. OKAY. TO. TAKE. THINGS. FROM. US. Don’t care how fucking poor you are, or if you’re fucking starving—or if your whole fucking trailer trash family’s starving to death because you’re so fucking poor. You don’t get to just take things from us, you trailer trash fucking goblin.”
“Erica—” Elena started.
“Shut the fuck up and stay out of this,” Erica snarled with a vehement glare. “Fucking. Stay out of it!”
Oh, no, Tabitha realized in horror as she finally put it all together. Oh, Ashlee—Ashlee, what have you done?
There weren’t many things she could remember from her childhood, but what Tabitha did remember was that both her and Ashlee had been terrified of the older Taylor sisters. She remembered feeling small and helpless all too clearly.
Ashlee was terrified, Tabitha swallowed uneasily. She was so much smaller, she didn’t have any way to fight back. Not in person. But, when they’re gone, how easy would it be for Ashlee to exact every little petty revenge? To take and hide their things, or throw them out?
I was easy to blame. Of course I was—I wasn’t there for her, anymore. I abandoned her, because I was afraid. Then, she blamed me for stealing their things, because she was afraid.
What a pair of friends we are.
“And now?” Erica panted with unbridled fury, “NOW—YOU THINK YOU CAN FUCKING TAKE OUR SISTER AWAY FROM US?”
They found bruises on Ashlee, then, Tabitha flinched, feeling her throat go dry. They found bruises, and then of course they separ—
Erica exploded into violence.
The Louisville Slugger swung at Tabitha so fast that it cut a hissing arc through the air, and out of pure trembling reflex, Tabitha managed to shift into a back stance. She even attempted a Taekwondo block to prevent the wooden bat from slamming into the side of her head—all too late realizing that that actually put her already-injured hand right into harm’s way. Blinding, white-hot shards of agony jolted up her arm the instant the Louisville Slugger cracked into the blue cast.
Oh no no no stupid you don’t TRY TO BLOCK A BAT, her mind raced, but Erica Taylor was already swinging again, and all Tabitha could think to do was backpedal and attempt to keep her arms up in front of her face.
Someone behind her was screaming, shrieking, really, and Tabitha was momentarily blinded with pain as the second strike glanced off of her fingertips, again clipping her left hand with the cast. Terrified that they were broken—surely everything was broken now—Tabitha continued to stumble backwards, this time tucking her left hand, or whatever was left of it, in close against her chin. Recoiling from the assault in a panic, her back foot encountered the edge of some piece of furniture—she couldn’t recall where the couches behind her were positioned anymore, and she lost her balance, unable to retreat.
When the next swing crashed into the side of her head, Tabitha didn’t feel anything at all. She simply watched the room spin wildly in a distant, somewhat detached daze. The Green Ranger who’d been sitting across from them had apparently leapt off of his couch and rushed to intercept Erica, but it was already far, far too late to make a difference. Tabitha fell, and her face pressed into a floor. The plush carpet immediately flecked with tiny little beads of blood, and Tabitha fought to wake up enough to remember why that was a very bad thing as those spots of blood swimming into and out of focus quickly began to multiply.
There was pain.
It was hard to tell how bad it was, however, with how dizzy and disjointed everything felt, how wrong the sensation was. Tabitha let out a single choked sputter, and there was more blood now. Her eyes were watering too much now to keep them open, and she simply squeezed them shut and tried her very best not to exist. The intense, debilitating hurt manifested as a steadily growing pressure, as if her head was pinned in place there on the floor by the crushing force of some steel beam.
Her last thought, as her consciousness slipped off into darkness and she fainted was that she understood. She understood what had happened, now—why the girls had bullied her—and even though she already knew that it wasn’t fair, she wanted another try anyways. Just one more try.
Then the bleed on her brain opened up, and all Tabitha Moore could hear was that familiar annoying whirring resonation sound of the MRI.
Casey was halfway down the stairs to the rec room again with a cheap plastic cup in hand when she heard the screaming. Screaming, and then shouting—the thumps of something being struck, and then breaking glass and more screaming. The shrill pitch of some of the shrieking sounded like it was coming from Hannah, so Casey hastily turned and dashed back up the landing to see what the hell was going on up there, covering the top of her drink with one hand so soda wouldn’t slop everywhere.
It was a scene of utter mayhem.
Everyone seemed to be arriving all at once to see Officer Williams squatting over a screaming teenage girl, with a knee pinning her shoulder to the ground and one hand violently shoving the girl’s skull to the floor. Michael was standing beside them, his girlfriend Olivia fretting over a cut on his arm that had ripped his flimsy Green Ranger costume. It was clear that Michael or someone had taken Erica Taylor down in some sort of running tackle, that they’d crashed partway into a nearby entertainment center, breaking one of the glass panels that protected an expensive sound system.
Oh—oh my God. What the fuck did she DO?!
The scene should have looked silly, because Matthew’s dad had chosen to wear a cheap policeman costume for the Halloween party. It had been hilarious to see earlier, with Mr. Williams in a parody facsimile of his normal uniform—but right now, he looked like a one hundred percent deadly serious, extremely pissed off cop. Beneath him, Erica Taylor was shrieking incoherently and flailing her limbs, trying to buck the stocky and much larger police officer off of her.
What the fuck.
“—beamed her in the head, she’s completely out cold. She won’t stop bleeding, and—”
“—phone to call 911? I think she’s—”
“—Tabitha? Tabitha can you hear me?—”
“—biiithaaa, noooooo!! Taabbiithaaaa—”
“—my keys, I’ll get her to the hospital right away—”
“Shut up, everyone shut up!” Officer Williams roared, and for a brief moment everyone fell silent but the screaming Erica Taylor and the wailing little girl Hannah. “Hun, you’ve been drinking, you’re not driving anywhere. Where’s Matthew?! Sandy—dammit, take Hannah upstairs, get her out of here!”
“I’m here!” Matthew called out, only now just bounding up the stairs. “What the—”
“Get over here, now,” Officer Williams commanded. “Hold her to the fucking floor and keep her there. Tabitha’s hurt.”
Tabitha’s hurt? Oh—OH SHIT.
It was difficult to notice at first because so many people were standing around staring, but she realized in shock and horror Tabitha was sprawled and unmoving in front of one the couches, with both Elena and Alicia crouched over her. The redhead’s left arm was splayed out across the floor, and the orthopedic cast was broken along the side, with tufts of white bandage visible through a split in the fiberglass. There were drips and smears of blood all over the floor, and a smudged baseball bat rolled away as Alicia unknowingly kicked it backwards with her costume boot.
“Yeah. Uh. Where is Ta—” Matthew trailed off, following everyone’s line of sight to stare in alarm at the frail-looking unconscious girl. Clarissa brushed past him with the entire napkin-holder from the kitchen, frantically pulling out one napkin after another and passing them over to Elena.
“Do we call 911?” Mrs. Williams stammered. “Or drive her to the hospital ourselves? Rob, a goddamned ambulance’ll take half an hour just to get out here, and—”
“Let me take a look,” Her husband grunted, scowling momentarily as Matthew took over pinning Erica Taylor to the floor. The teenage girl was sobbing, but she continued to wildly scream and thrash. “You’re never supposed to move someone with head trauma.”
“Her nose is bleeding,” Alicia reported in a shaky voice. “It-it won’t stop bleeding.”
“Give me some space,” Officer Williams motioned everyone aside and knelt down over Tabitha and began to quickly examine her.
“—even happened? I thought Erica Taylor got suspended, so why is she even—”
“—raving all crazy, she starts hitting Tabitha with a bat, so Michael tackles her—”
“Are we fucking calling 911 or not?” Mrs. Williams yelled.
“No. We need to take her in now,” Officer Williams said, frowning. “Someone get a car started.”
“I’m on it,” Casey said, hurriedly planting her cup on a nearby surface and already shucking off the restrictive wedding dress.
“H-how bad is it?” Mrs. Williams demanded. “How bad is—”
“Severe head trauma—out cold, steady nosebleed,” Officer Williams swore under his breath. “She’s got one giant pupil and one tiny one—there’s a good chance she’s hemorrhaging. We need to get her to the emergency room, now. Did I see one of you park a Chevy Blazer?”
“That’s me!” Casey called over. “Well, uh, I’ve got a Jimmy. I’ll go get her started.”
“—okay to move her if she’s concussed? I mean, I heard when there’s any sort of—”
“—out of nowhere, this bitch completely flipped out, went totally ballistic—”
“—or, or maybe use the folding cot downstairs as a medevac litter? If it’s not safe to—”
“—Hannah honey, calm down, calm down. Everything’s going to be okay, sh-she’s—”
With everyone talking over each other, they all seemed too preoccupied to notice that Casey hadn’t worn a shirt or a bra beneath the bridal gown costume. Silently cursing to herself, she scrambled to the french doors, stealing Matthew’s familiar WildCats hoodie from the coats hanging there. She awkwardly shrugged it on, scrambling out the door and then taking the porch steps down two at a time. Icy terror was blossoming in her gut as she fumbled to dig her keys out of the track pants she’d been wearing as part of her outfit.
Psycho actually showed up and attacked Tabby WHILE EVERYONE WAS HERE? Casey was off the porch at a dead run, her Nikes crunching across the gravel towards her parked Jimmy. What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck. Who THE FUCK even let Erica Taylor in?
Her 1992 GMC Jimmy was a midsize SUV—garnet-red, angular, a little boxy-looking, and always altogether beautiful to her. As a sixteen-year-old Junior, she absolutely adored her Jimmy with its angel wings decal adorning the tailgate window. It was an extension of herself, the vehicle was the freedom and power to get around anywhere and everywhere she wanted to go. Right now, it would hopefully get Tabitha to some medical attention in time to make a difference. Casey frantically unlocked the door, yanked it open, and jumped inside.
“C’mon baby, c’mon—you can do it, girl,” Casey pleaded as she tried the ignition. The startup grumble sound the engine made was… not good, but probably still okay. She did take good care of her vehicle, but some persistent problem with the distributor kept the check engine light on no matter what work she had done on it. After a nervous moment or two, the engine obediently purred into a steady rumble.
“That’s my girl!” Casey whispered proudly, patting a hand on top of the dash. “C’mon baby, let’s go!”
When she pulled around to idle in front of the lakehouse, Matthew was already stepping outside onto the veranda, cradling Tabitha’s slight figure in a princess carry. Mrs. Williams, Elena, and Alicia were all following him down the steps, and Casey nervously toggled the automatic locks to make sure that they’d be able to open the Jimmy’s doors without any delays.
“—over around to the other side, help me get her in—”
“—to call her parents? Do you need me to call your—”
“—nose still won’t stop bleeding. Gimme all of those, I’ll sit with—”
“—squad car isn’t here, so there’s no safe place to lock her up—”
“Get in, get in,” Casey urged, the moment they had one of the rear doors open. “Shove everything anywhere. Hurry up.”
“I’m gonna ride with Matthew’s dad, we’ll be right behind you,” Alicia said, pushing Elena forward. “He’s gonna have Erica Taylor with him. I want to see her fucking locked up.”
“Are you sure? It’s—”
“Go, just go,” Alicia’s voice broke, and she shoved her again. “Take care of her. Fuck.”
“Is Tabitha okay?” Mrs. Macintire was climbing unsteadily down the porch stairs after them. “Is she—”
“Climb up in with Tabitha,” Mrs. Williams told Matthew, her features taut with tension and wet with tears. “Try to keep her upright while you—yeah. Hold her head. Okay. Okay, like that.”
Casey impatiently tapped the driver’s wheel, twisting in her seat to watch. The Jimmy rocked slightly as three people climbed in, managing to ease Tabitha into position on the rear bench. The girl was situated across both Matthew and Elena, with Elena holding Tabitha’s head and gently blotting the girl’s bleeding nose with a handful of napkins. Mrs. Williams opened the passengers-side door and got in, immediately turning to see how they were doing.
“We’ve got her,” Matthew said, hunched over and securing Tabitha to ensure she wasn’t jostled too severely. “We’re in—go, let’s go.”
“Be careful,” Mrs. Macintire sobbed, slapping a hand on the window. “Drive safe. Please be okay Tabitha, please—”
Casey eased her foot down on the gas pedal and the Jimmy steadily accelerated away, roaring down the hedge-lined driveway and off into the night.