When I get out into the sunshine, the others are already in place. They’re like lions watching the savannah with everyone else potential prey as they mill about the huge yard behind the main block.
Dorinda, Maggie and Shae are leaning against the back of the best bench, which pretty much sucks for me, since the last one in line usually plays scratching post so the biggest cat can sharpen her claws.
Maggie sees me coming and nods in greeting, then says something to the lion I can’t see. That’s the most dangerous one–at least according to every documentary I’ve ever seen.
“Hey,” I say as I arrive, and get three heys in return from the gang. I walk around the side of the bench, preparing myself, and add, “Hi, Raine.”
Raine reclines along the best bench like she’s Cleopatra waiting for Anthony. I get in the way of her sun, my shadow passing over her face for about a split second. She scowls and sits up on her elbows. I brace for some kind of low-grade needling but she smiles instead, which is somewhat unsettling. Smiles on lions are hard to distinguish from imminent death.
“Hi, Juliana,” Raine purrs. “Did you get held up at the toilets or something?”
“No, I was–”
“You should keep out of there, unless you want the boys to get the wrong idea.”
That’s more like it. Dorinda and Shae giggle.
Raine looks pleased with herself, so I smiled. She can be pretty funny, although it’s easier to laugh along when she’s being funny about someone else.
Then Maggie says, “That’s her.”
We all look over to where she’s pointing, where a girl and boy are walking down the steps from the main block way off to our left.
I ask, “Who is it?”
If I had any guts, I’d have added this time. But I don’t.
“Allison Corbin.” Raine sounds like the name tastes bad. “Who’s she with?”
“Marc Harpley,” Maggie says after a second. She has sharp eyes. That’s why Raine keeps her around: look-out duty.
And because she rarely cuts into Raine’s valuable talking time.
“Oh my God! You’re lying!” Raine looks outraged and maybe a little bit happy. “I bet they’re holding hands. Or she’s trying to lick his mouth open or something.”
“I don’t think so,” says Maggie, which is as good as saying they aren’t.
Raine makes a dismissive noise and looks away in disgust. “His hand is probably the least thing she’s holding between classes,” Raine says.
Dorinda and Shae laugh and Maggie has the sense not to say otherwise. She just smiles and keeps her mouth shut. I do the same.
“So, who again?” I ask. Okay, fine, I only have enough sense to smile, not to shut up.
Dorinda rolls her eyes like there was an official bulletin and I missed it, but there’d need to be one to keep track of everyone in a school this size.
Dorinda says, “Allison Corbin. Raine says she’s a major skank. She’s totally clinging to every other guy in her classes, one by one. I think she’s ticking them off a list.”
Raine smirks approvingly.
“Assuming it is one at a time,” Shae puts in, blushing when Raine laughs, really loud.
“Go Shae!” she says. “But it’s probably more like three or four. If she attaches herself to anyone else, they may as well put her face on the school badge.”
We all laugh at that, even quiet Maggie. Like I said, Raine can be funny, and it’s funnier when it’s happening to someone else.
The two figures move through the crowds, then Marc splits off in another direction. Allison waves a hand and heads for an empty bench.
“Allison Corbin,” I say, like I’m remembering. I’m pretty sure I don’t know this girl. She’s still so far away I can’t really tell what she looks like. All I know about her is that she was walking near some boy and–maybe–has walked near several others previously.
“Allison Bree Corbin,” Raine says, as if she’s correcting a mistake on my part. But how was I to know? Still, I’m the only one who hasn’t said anything funny about her now (apart from eagle-eyed Maggie) and Raine doesn’t show much mercy to hangers-on who don’t contribute, one way or another.
“ABC,” I say, the first thing that comes into my head. “Like the song.”
The others look at Raine to see what she’s going to say. I’m sure Raine is about to rip on me for having prehistoric taste in music or something, but then her eyes grow wide. With delight.
“Juliana!” She squeals, “That’s… totally… perfect!”
I smile, more from relief than pleasure. The others do, too, but I can tell they aren’t sure why. Honestly, neither am I.
Raine looks at them with a look that says don’t-you-get-it?
She says, “Allison Bree Corbin. ABC. She really is easy! As easy as…”
Dorinda and Shae join with “…one-two-three!” and fall about laughing.
Raine jumps off her bench and starts doing a cheesy little shuffle-dance, simple enough that the other two can pick up the steps and join in, all three of them singing the first line of the chorus like a skipping CD.
I smile, but it feels fake on my face. It’s not very nice, really, what they’re saying. What I came up with. Maggie just watches, even less animated than usual. She should try and look more with it if she doesn’t want Raine to take offense and start picking on her. Again.
“No-one’s as easy as ABC!” Raine says, like it’s a new idea. “I’m telling that one to everyone!”
It took that long for her to forget I had anything to do with it, but I’m fine with her taking the credit. I don’t know anything about this girl. The last thing I want is Raine telling everyone I’m the brains behind the bitchy new nickname circulating the school.
I wish I hadn’t said anything, to be honest. I don’t mind someone joking at my expense, I guess, if I know it’s a friend and it isn’t done to be mean. But that is exactly what Raine is doing: being mean for the sake of it. With my help. Even if I didn’t intend to. I guess that’s better than her targeting me, but I’m not feeling too proud right now.
Raine cuts out the dancing and drops onto her throne, waving the rest of us around like courtiers to the queen.
“This afternoon in classes, tell everyone about how Allison Bree Corbin is going with all those boys, and then you go Y’know, it’s like that song, no-one’s as easy as ABC, it’ll be hilarious! And then, after school, when–”
“I don’t want to do that,” Maggie says.
Shae and Dorinda are wide-eyed, probably me too, but Maggie simply looks at us all, frowning a little.
Raine puts on a smile about as convincing as a Lance Armstrong apology. “Er, what?”
Maggie shrugs. “I don’t want to say those things.”
Raine looks her up and down, then scoffs. “Do as you’re told!” she says, like she can’t believe anyone would dare say no to her, let alone interrupt while she was talking. I know I can’t.
Maggie looks around at us all, and then she picks up her bag. In a quiet voice she says, “See you.”
And walks off.
Raine looks as if her head is about to explode.
“Okay,” she says, more than loud enough for Maggie to hear, “I guess we know which bitch is next.”
Shae and Dorinda giggle, but it sounds nervous and strained.
Maggie doesn’t turn around or anything; she just keeps walking. We all stare after her like – actually, I don’t know what like. When she talked back, I couldn’t have been more surprised if she’d roared like a lion.
Straight away, Raine starts dishing petty dirt on Maggie. She must have known that was going to happen, that Raine would take revenge. The others are all ears, but I’m not hearing it. Who knows if what she’s saying is true, or if she’s making stuff up? What difference does it make?
I guess Maggie’s got guts, but I’ve never felt less powerful.
Allison Bree Corbin looks up at me and sees just some chick in the yard: normal tall, normal wide, face like this, hair so long. Wearing the same blue-and-grey uniform as everyone else.
Allison says, “Yeah?”
“I’m Juliana,” I say.
She squints, because the sun is behind me, making me hard to see. Like this is an ambush or something.
“Sorry,” I say, and move around so I’m not being a source of pain. Which is sort of the point really. “Juliana.”
“How you doing,” she says, and looks back at the pile of paper she was reading.
“I’m okay. Thanks.” It’s probably dumb for me to ask her the same thing. She must have heard about it by now. How much fun can that be?
“What are you reading?” I ask instead, and she looks up again.
My granddad told my older brother a story about being a soldier once, but I was listening too; it was about guys who saw so many horrors of war that they developed a thousand yard stare, a blank look that went straight through anything nearer than that like it wasn’t even there. Allison’s stare could probably pass through solid rock.
I’m a monster.
Raine was at the heart of it, sure, but I helped. I could have walked away any time, the way Maggie did. But I didn’t. And this is the effect: a girl with a thousand mile stare.
Then she focuses on me properly, and it might be she was only thinking of what to say.
“It’s about a city of talking mice,” Allison says, “whose king is stealing all the cheese. Then a masked mouse steals it all back and shares it with the poor, Robin-Hood-Zorro-style. It’s better than it sounds.”
I should probably say something normal. “It sounds alright.”
She smiles. “My aunt wrote it. It’s for kids, really, but, you know. Family.”
“Yeah.” I don’t know what I know. Or what I’m trying to do here, really. I blurt out, “I hang around with Raine.”
Her smile changes a little. “Right.”
“They’ve been… We’ve…” I trail off. This is too difficult! She watches me squirming. “I wanted to say sorry.”
I want to turn and run, but I fight the urge. “Raine’s been saying some pretty bad stuff about you. For a while, I guess. But I didn’t try to stop her. So… I’m sorry.”
She looks at me for a second, then purses her lips. “Well, thanks for saying that. But don’t worry about it. I stopped listening to what she spreads about me.”
“Oh.” I don’t know what else to say. She didn’t care? I’d have been crushed.
“Besides,” she continues, “Raine might not be aware of it, but she has a reputation of her own.”
Now I do smile, just a little, but a real one. “Yeah?”
She nods emphatically. “Ohh yeah.”
“I’d like to know what that is.”
Allison opens her bag and carefully slots her aunt’s book inside. “Honestly, I don’t think that stuff is very interesting.”
I look around at the clusters of kids, chatting as they leave for the day. She’s probably right. How would sharing it help? It might get back to Raine that other people think as badly of her as she does of Allison and however many others, but that’s hardly a good thing. Better to forget it and talk about something else.
“I’m heading off,” Allison says, slinging her bag over one shoulder.
That’s when I see Raine, staring at us from across the yard. Dorinda and Shae are leaning against the best bench, their backs to us. Raine has an expression on her face that says I’m responsible for the worst betrayal in human history, and that she expected it from me all along. I see her mouth a word, but I don’t have to read lips to know what it is.
Nah, I don’t need to hear about Raine’s rep. But I’m okay with smiling and flipping her the bird. It’s worth it for the new expression I see on her face as I turn away. I guess that puts me in the line of fire, but I feel pretty good, actually. Burning that bridge wasn’t as hard as I imagined.
I need to thank Maggie for the example. I wonder how she’s feeling, what she’s doing right now. I had seen her around school since that day, hanging with the art crowd some but on her own a lot.
“Hey, you busy?” I say, as Allison makes to leave.
She turns, stares through a thousand miles of nothing, then shakes her head. “Nope.”
“A friend of mine could probably use some company. You’ll two will get on. Raine isn’t her favourite either.”
Allison looks up at the clear blue sky, then grins. “Sure. But no more talk about bad weather, okay?”