I wanted to run—away from him and at him. Every instinct I had screamed for me to escape while my heart urged me to pick up a rock and throw it at his face. Instead, I just stood there, unable to tell if it was defiance or stupidity that kept me still.
He approached me with a confused and wary look on his face, sort of like the one Zoe had worn that morning. “Hey,” he said. “You’re Hadley, right?”
I just stared, unable to speak for fear that all that would come out of my mouth was a scream, not of fear, but something primal and filled with rage. God, was I having a heart attack? My chest was so tight.
At one time—before he and his friends ruined my best friend—I’d found him cute. He was smart too, and out of the four he was the only one who ever paid any attention to me. Whenever Magda was around, I was always surprised when a boy looked at me. I wasn’t ugly—in fact I’ve always thought of myself as passably pretty—but Magda was gorgeous, and she’d had no idea just how beautiful she was.
“Can I ask you something?” he asked.
I continued to stare.
“Why did you move when I sat next to you in class today?”
Did he really have to ask? Yes, apparently he did, because there didn’t seem to be any malice in his tone or expression at all. He truly had no idea why I despised him.
“Magda Torres was my best friend,” I whispered, staring into those blue eyes. Disgust rolled in my stomach, rose in the back of my throat until I thought I might puke. Hate was a vile-tasting thing I wanted to spit onto his expensive sneakers.
Jason’s eyes widened as the color drained from his face. He took a step backward. “Oh.”
I took a step toward him, unwilling to allow him to escape so quickly. My chest wasn’t so tight now. Instead, it burned with rage. “Is that all you have to say?” I smiled, but it felt more like a twisting of my lips. I mean, he’d followed me all this way. It wasn’t just to ask me why I moved, was it?
What was I doing? He was bigger than me, and even though I’d been taking martial arts ever since I was a kid, I’d never actually fought someone outside the dojo.
He held up his hands. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“No, and you didn’t get any, did you?” I glared at him, took another step forward. “You didn’t even go to trial. How does it feel to have gotten away with it? Did you and your buddies celebrate when she killed herself?”
Jason looked horrified. Good. He just stared at me, shaking his head.
A car pulled up beside us. Drew Carson was driving, and Brody was in the passenger seat. Adam was in the back. For a second I was terrified that they were going to throw me in the car, take me somewhere secluded, and do to me what they’d done to my friend.
Brody’s window came down. “Dude, we’ve been looking for you. Get in.”
I didn’t look at them. I couldn’t. I was already shaking so badly my teeth chattered. If I looked at them, they’d see my fear. They’d see my rage. And I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
Jason glanced at me before opening the car door and jumping into the backseat. I stared at the ground and heard them laugh as they drove away.
When I finally felt like I could walk without falling down, I didn’t head straight home. My legs shook for most of the walk, but eventually they became strong again and they carried me up the hill to the local cemetery. I didn’t have to look at the headstones to find the one I was looking for. I knew exactly where it was. It was the newer one at the end of the row with so many roses on it. Magda had loved roses. It didn’t matter what color so long as they smelled like they should. Usually I brought her one when I came to visit, but I hadn’t planned on visiting her until Friday.
I set my book bag on the grass left of her headstone and sat right on top of the mound that covered the hole where she’d been buried. I pulled a weed from the base of the heart-shaped stone her mother had erected that simply had her name, her birthday and the date she died engraved upon it.
Usually when I visited, I talked to her and told her what was going on in my life. I would tell her about our favorite TV shows, the books I’d read, local gossip, but today I didn’t feel much like talking. I just wanted to be near her, so I sat there, on the grass, and let the sun warm me.
A little while later, I heard footsteps behind me. I didn’t have to turn around to see who it was. I already knew.
“I thought you weren’t coming until Friday,” he said.
I didn’t look up, but moved a little to the left so he could sit down beside me. We always shared the mound and never made the other sit on the flat grass.
Gabriel and I came here a lot. We never planned to be here at the same time, and sometimes we weren’t, but when we were it was okay. Once you cried on someone, it wasn’t such a big deal if they saw your grief again.
Magda’s older brother was tall and lean with long dark hair and even darker eyes. Like his sister he was gorgeous, and seemed naively unaware of it. He was more cynical, though. Magda had seen good in everybody; Gabe knew it wasn’t true.
“Rough day?” he asked.
I’d known Gabriel since I was five years old, so when he put his arm around my shoulders I leaned into him, my cheek resting on his chest. I could hear his heartbeat, and for some reason that made me incredibly sad and happy at the same time.
That’s when the tears finally came, because I hadn’t felt happy since before my best friend had her rape smeared across the internet. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be happy now, when I should have been the one to save her, and had failed.
CHAPTER 3 (#u76b1cd3b-6dee-58c7-b48c-e3150851238a)
I had Aikido class that night, in a strip mall located on West Main Street. The instructor was a great big guy named José, who was very strong, and surprisingly light on his feet. He smiled a lot, which made him look completely unthreatening. I liked him. I’d started taking his class a couple of years ago. It was one of the few things Magda and I hadn’t done together. She tried it, but just didn’t like it. She didn’t like hurting people—or getting hurt.
“We have a special guest tonight,” José said. “Detective Diane Davies from our local police station. She’s going to talk to you all about how you can use aikido to protect yourself from an attacker.”
Detective Davies was tall. She wore a T-shirt and sweatpants, and I could see muscle definition in her arms. She’d seemed nice at the time, like she really wanted to help. But in the end, she’d let Magda down too.
“I need someone to help me demonstrate these moves,” Detective Davies said. “Would anyone like to volunteer?”
I put up my hand before I could stop myself. It wasn’t that I wanted to be helpful, but that I was hoping to have the chance to punch her in the face. Not a particularly sane thought, but I was just so angry. Angry that Magda was gone. Angry that Jason Bentley hadn’t known who I was. Angry that everybody was just going about their regular lives like nothing terrible had happened. My best friend was dead, and she had been for months. My life hadn’t been the same since she was attacked, and it never would be. I was always going to wonder what Magda could’ve been, what she could’ve achieved, and about the fact that four assholes had made certain she’d never do any of it.
So yeah, the chance to unload a little violence—with no ramifications—on one of the people who had let Magda down was too tempting to pass up.
And maybe she’d land a couple of strikes on me, and I could let the pain inside me go somewhere else. Take the punishment I deserved.
Detective Davies met my gaze as I approached the front of the dojo. When we stood face-to-face she smiled at me, and said, “I know you. It’s Hadley, right?”
So she did remember. “Yes.”
Her smile faded a little. Good. I hope she remembered Magda, and that she felt at least a little guilt standing there with me.
“First I want you to come at me,” she instructed. “I’ll defend myself against you, then we’ll break down the moves, and then you’ll use them on me.”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
She moved a few feet away from me. “Whenever you’re ready.”
I didn’t run toward her, or lunge. But I quickly closed the distance between us and aimed a kick I had learned in tae kwon do at her sternum. She was fast, way faster than I anticipated. She grabbed my leg, using my momentum to throw me off balance and facedown on the floor.
I sucked in a deep breath to replace what had been knocked out of me, and pushed myself to my feet. She was good. And I was pissed at myself for not being at least as good.
The detective addressed the class. “You all know that aikido is about displacing the energy of an attack. I didn’t have to strike out, and I avoided being hit simply by using Hadley’s momentum to my own advantage and against her. Now, Hadley, would you mind helping me break the moves down so that everyone can see before you use it against me?”
I walked back to the center of the mat with her. We went through the movements again, this time in slow motion. I paid close attention to how she grabbed my leg and twisted her own body. This time when I hit the mat it was with barely any force at all, and I was able to catch myself.
“Now,” Diane said. “I will attack you.”