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Leah kicked in the door of the last stall, sending the metal bolt that locked it ricocheting off the dividing walls, and to her immense surprise, her flying fist was caught by . . . air. Startled and confused, she almost fell forward onto a stricken Maicey.
“Oh my God, Leah, what are you doing?! You broke the lock right off the—!” The rest of Maicey’s shocked sentence was muffled by Leah’s shirt as the other girl suddenly bear-hugged her.
“Mai, tell me where Avery went so I can beat—” Leah faltered as Maicey suddenly pushed her away.
“I haven’t seen Avery since yesterday! What’s going on? What did I miss?”
“But I thought . . .” Leah trailed off in bewilderment.
Both girls stared at each other, alarmed, neither having the faintest idea what exactly had just transpired.
“If you weren’t talking to Avery,” Leah choked out, “then who were you just talking to right now?”
Maicey’s cheeks turned a deep shade of crimson. “I, uh. . . .” She held up the dripping radioactive device in one hand.
“You dropped your cell phone in the toilet?”
“I know. My mom is going to kill me . . .”
“But who were you calling?”
Maicey pocketed the useless phone and rubbed the back of her neck. “I got kind of curious about . . .”—she gestured to the number under the formidable eyes on the stall divider—“. . . and I decided to try calling the number while I waited for you,” she said sheepishly.
“Maybe you won’t die young after all, Virginia!” Leah grinned.
Maicey rolled her eyes and groaned. “I really hate that song.”
“Well, what did he say to you that had you so fucking freaked out? I thought someone was going to die or something.”
“Don’t drop the F-bomb so casually!” Maicey scolded in repugnance. “You said it so many times when you called me this morning I almost hung up on you in case my parents were in earshot.”
Leah rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s 11:30, and you’re here, aren’t you? Dude, everyone swears, quit being such a sissy.”
“Never! I can deal with your usual cussing, but can you at least try to not say the F-word around me? That word is like acid in my ears.”
“Oh, come on, there’s plenty worse than that.” Leah rattled off a couple from the top of her head.
Smirking, Leah conceded. “Fine, fine, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Now are you gonna tell me what the guy on the other end of the line was saying to you, or are you going to lecture me on being prim and proper?”
Maicey started to open her mouth to retaliate, but she thought better of it and recalled her previous conversation instead. “He said that he was seriously considering calling my parents and the police. He told me to get rid of the number on the wall and that if he ever received another prank call again, he would charge me with obstruction of justice and harassment, even if I wasn’t the caller. Had I known that was some FBI agent’s phone number, I would have never hit the ‘Call’ button.”
After hearing this, Leah was cracking up, leaving Maicey frowning, ears burning with indignation.
“Stop laughing, it’s not funny! I might be in some serious trouble now! It’s bad enough my phone is fried; although at least they probably can’t trace it now . . .” Maicey waited for Leah to calm down to a few lingering snickers. “Can you explain to me what’s so hilarious?”
“Oh, Girl, Connor got you good.”
“You’re on a first name basis with this guy?”
“No, Connor’s his last name. He’s a teacher that left the school back before we were freshman. I heard about him from the older girls. Apparently he’s been getting prank-called for years now, ever since someone put his number on the stall. I’ve called him plenty of times myself.” Leah chuckled inwardly while Maicey folded her arms disdainfully. “His latest thing is answering the phone under a false guise and trying to reverse the joke on the credulous. Sometimes he even dials back when you least expect it. Doesn’t work on me, though, I’ve got his number in my contacts now. We have some spirited conversations every so often. It’s fun, like having a pen-pal or something.”
Leah said all this with a certain measure of pride. Maicey put her hand to her face and shook her head. “You are unbelievable.”
“Why, because I have Connor in my contacts?”
“No, because you actually just used the word ‘credulous’ in a sentence.”
“Oh, shut up,” said Leah, playfully cuffing Maicey on the shoulder. Maicey shrugged it off and gingerly took a seat on the edge of the toilet seat while her companion casually leaned back against the stall door. “Well, it’s good to see you’re in position, even if you did stray a little from the mission,” Leah went on, arms folded across her chest.
Maicey rolled her eyes. “And why do your text messages always sound like that?”
“Like they’re communications between secret agents or something.”
“Because it sounds cool, duh. ‘Hello Maicey, are you in the women’s lavatory yet?’ would just sound so dull.”
Maicey shook her head. “Anyway, the reason you told me to meet you here this morning . . .” she started. She blinked and saw the other girl’s face harden, an expression of dark hatred overtaking the one of lightheartedness.
“If that bitch makes one more—”
“Would you please stop cursing?” Maicey interrupted.
“If you can’t handle my word choice, then why did you even come here?”
“Because I’d rather you throw your F-bombs at me than at Avery and Don. I knew if I didn’t come and try to defuse you, then you would have probably exploded on those two, maybe even going so far as to physically hurt them.”
“Believe me, I’m ready to do way more than just—”
“Which is exactly why I’m here,” Maicey cut her off again. “I’m not going to have you beating up innocent people, not to mention getting suspended for it.”
Leah looked at her incredulously. “Innocent? Do you hear yourself right now, Mai? Those two are hardly innocent! Avery Morrigan is the Evil-fucking-Queen, and your boyfriend is too stupid to realize he’s being used as a pawn to put you in checkmate. Have you seen the way she acts around him? She’s accidentally bumping into him on a regular basis, and she’s always acting all flirty whenever she’s around him. She’s trying to seduce him, trying to steal him from you. That bitch doesn’t even like him; she’s just using him to tie your heartstrings up in knots until you finally break down. And once she’s got him wrapped around her finger and you’re crushed, she’ll toss him aside like yesterday’s news.”
Maicey’s eyes watered at her best friend’s savage words. Then, slowly, shakily, she rose to her feet, fists clenched tight, and looked Leah dead straight in the eye. She spoke in a quavering whisper. “Don’t you dare talk about Don that way. Don loves me and he would never fall under Avery’s spell. You are so cynical of boys, but what do you really know about them? You’ve never dated one, or even kissed one. You act like they are all lesser beings of some sort, but what could you know about them when you seem to avoid even just socializing with them at every turn? Don’s heart belongs to me alone and he’ll never do anything to cause me pain. So don’t you slander my boyfriend.”
Leah leaned forward and met Maicey’s gaze contentiously. “Maybe he doesn’t mean you any harm, and maybe he does love you, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a dumbshit, just like every other human male on the planet, and that he’s completely clueless about a girl’s inner emotions. You know what’s going on, and if you think you can pretend nothing’s happening, then you’re just as dumb as he is,” she spat. She lifted her index finger and began to repeatedly stab Maicey in the chest with each stinging remark, pushing her back a small step every time.
“You are too soft,” she said accusingly. “You won’t stand up for yourself. You are too nice. Avery wants to make your life misery, and I can’t stop that from happening if you won’t let me talk some sense into Don or smack some sense into the Evil Queen. If you don’t drop your good-little-naïve-catholic-girl act, then you might as well just kiss Don goodbye, because she’s going to win this game of hers. And when you’re the loser, it’s going to be because you didn’t do anything.”
The final stab sent Maicey careening back into a sitting position on the toilet seat, cheeks stained cerise and streaked with tears. Exuding asperity, Leah loomed over Maicey with her mind clouded by contempt for Avery Morrigan.
“I was going to take care of this myself, but now I see this is something you need to do yourself. So here’s your ultimatum, Mai: stand up for yourself and fight back against Avery, or stay under your rock waiting for her to come step on it and crush you,” Leah finished with finality.
Maicey sniveled and said something inaudible.
“I didn’t catch that; come again?” Leah requested in a pseudo-sweet voice. She crouched down in front of Maicey to listen more closely—
—and snapped violently backward with a definitive impression of Maicey’s hand across her face.
“I said, FUCK OFF!” Maicey exploded.
The bond’s decay was rapid. Leah touched the angry red skin, astonished, silent, even fearful. Then she looked down at her hand and felt a hollow pit opened up in the base of her stomach. Her fingertips were tinged with blood—and it wasn’t her own. She watched it drip onto the floor under Maicey, who had punctured the skin of her palm with her own fingernails. Sick with horror, she took a stumbling step backward. Then she fled, unconsciously carrying the shockwaves throughout the student body on her percussive footfalls and primed fists. She was a rogue particle on a collision course with the elements surrounding her; the chain reaction had been ignited.
And hovering there on the plastic partition, the narrowed, disembodied eyes saw it all.
Wheezing from her hysteria, Maicey glared at the unblinking, steely irises through her own misty eyes. In a fit of fury, she picked up the lock to the stall and raked it across the insolent image. The eyes laughed at her in supercilious retort. Again and again, she made vicious scores over the vile things, desperately trying to silence them, to blind them forevermore. And still, even when nothing was left but coarse, crosshatched gouges and plastic shavings on the floor, she heard the muted cackling echo in her ears.
Collapsing onto the toilet seat for the third and final time, Maicey hung her head in her bloody hands and sobbed.
All around her, the fallout descended.