One of the girls giggled. I rolled my eyes, a gesture that made my “attacker” smile. “Okay, you can see that I am bigger than Hadley. I’m taller and heavier, and I have gravity on my side. All I have to do is push or press down. To move me, Hadley has to exert force upward, so not only is she fighting my body weight and my strength, but she is also fighting gravity. Her shoulder blades are flat on the floor, which makes it even more difficult for her to escape. Now, what are things she can do to get out of this hold?”
Her question was met with silence. I turned my head to the side and saw the four girls looking at each other, as though waiting for one of them to speak first.
“Hey,” I said. “I’m your best friend, and we’re at a party together. You walk into a room and you see a guy trying to get my clothes off and rape me. You can’t attack him physically, but you can tell me how to hurt him. What do I do?”
The girls had gone pale. They weren’t looking at each other anymore, they were looking at me.
“See if you can work your legs under his,” Zoe suggested. “Then he can’t rape you, and you’re in a better position to knee him in the balls.”
I did as she suggested, miming trying to knee Detective Davies between the legs. But as I did so, the woman quickly snapped her leg shut and shoved her knee between mine again. She was strong, and for a moment I was filled with an irrational fear of what she was going to do to me.
The girls must’ve seen my fear because suddenly they jumped to life.
“Bash his nose with your forehead!” Jenna yelled.
“Punch him in the solar plexus!” another shouted. Anna, that was her name.
“Gouge his eyes!” That was Zoe again.
“Push your forearm into his neck so you’re shoving his head back, and then punch him in the throat with your other fist.” This was calmly delivered by the fourth girl, whose name I didn’t know, but whose face I would never forget. It was the face of a girl who’d been in this position herself and was only now realizing that she could’ve fought.
Hers was the advice I took, pushing Detective Davies’s head back and mock punching her. She jerked backward, and I seized the opportunity to get my legs around her, lift up and flip her so that she was the one on her back and I was the one on top. Then, I pretended to punch her repeatedly in the face until she was unconscious.
I met the gaze of that girl. “Thank you. You saved me.”
I wasn’t prepared for the tears that suddenly appeared in her eyes. She nodded, blinking furiously to stop herself from crying. The other girls did a funny thing—instead of comforting her, they applauded—turning her from victim to hero. Her tears evaporated into a smile. It was a shaky smile, but it was still a smile.
I climbed to my feet and offered Detective Davies my hand to help her up. She took it and gracefully rolled up onto her feet.
“Well done,” she said. “You knew exactly what to say to them.”
“I wish I hadn’t.” Our gazes met. “Known what to say to them, I mean.”
She patted my shoulder. “Me too.” Then, she turned to the class. “I think that’s a good place to leave it for this week. We’ll meet again next Thursday at the same time. Feel free to bring a friend with you. Until then, feel free to practice what we went over. Although try not to actually hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.” She smiled.
The girls stood up. I approached the girl whose name I didn’t know. The one who had told me how to get out of Detective Davies’s hold. She had brown hair, and blue eyes that seemed to look right through me. “Hey,” I said. “I’m Hadley.”
She nodded. “I know. I’m Caitlin. Thanks for setting this up.”
I shrugged. “I didn’t really. Detective Davies did. It was her idea.”
“Well, thanks anyway.” She turned to walk away.
“Hey,” I called. She turned around. “Are you coming next week?”
“Yeah,” she said. “You?”
“Yeah, I’ll be here.” This had to be the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had. I felt so stupid. What had I expected? That we would be instant friends?
Her smile was lopsided, and I think maybe a little sarcastic. “Well, see you then.” And then she walked away.
I turned. Zoe stood there with her friend Anna. “Did you like it?” I asked.
The two of them grinned. “Yeah,” they chorused.
“We’re going over to the frozen yogurt place,” Zoe said. “Do you want to come with us?”
I meant to say no. No was what I’d said ever since Magda’s funeral. No, I didn’t want to hang out. No, I didn’t want to go to the dance. No, I didn’t want anything to eat. And no, I did not want to talk about it.
“Sure. Are you going right now?”
Zoe nodded. “Yeah. You can come with us, or you can meet us there if you have something to do.” She sounded almost as awkward and uncertain as I felt, which was strangely comforting. It struck me as odd that we seemed even more vulnerable after learning how to kick the shit out of somebody than we had before. Why was that?
“I just have to grab my jacket.”
“We’ll wait,” Anna blurted. She blushed. “If you want us to, that is.”
At this rate, by next class we wouldn’t even be able to make eye contact. I felt myself smile, and not just because I wanted to put her at ease, but because I actually wanted to smile. I felt a strange tickle in my chest, like when your foot falls asleep and gets all prickly when the blood starts to circulate again. I hadn’t hung out with another girl since Magda. Since her suicide I’d been pretty antisocial. The only person I saw on a regular basis that wasn’t family was Gabe. Which reminded me I needed to go by the cemetery tomorrow after school.
“I’ll just be a second,” I said. “We can walk over together.”
Anna actually clapped her hands. “Yay!”
I laughed as I walked away. I thought this class would just be about violence. My experience with other girls was that once you put a group of them together they got all bitchy with one another. Maybe this class was going to be different. Maybe instead of fighting with each other we’d start fighting for each other.
And God help any guy who got in our way.
CHAPTER 5 (#u76b1cd3b-6dee-58c7-b48c-e3150851238a)
Gabriel was already at Magda’s grave when I got there on Friday. Like me, he must’ve come straight from class, because there was a backpack on the grass by her tombstone.
He sat cross-legged on the grass, leaning back on his forearms as the afternoon sun shone down on his face. It was warm—even for September—and he’d taken off his jacket. His eyes were closed, so I just stood there for a moment and looked at him.
I didn’t remember when my feelings for him had become something more than just friendship, but I know it had been at least a couple of years. I’d never told Magda that I had a crush on her brother. She would’ve found it weird. I found it weird.
I don’t think there were many girls who would blame me for having a thing for him. He was gorgeous. But more than his looks, he was a good person. Strong and honorable. He could make me laugh—even after all that had happened.
Finally, I decided to approach. If he opened his eyes and saw me standing there gawking at him, he’d think I’d gone nuts.
He opened his eyes, squinting at me. “Hey. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to show.”
“School only let out twenty minutes ago,” I told him. I put my bag beside his before plopping down on the grass on the opposite side of the tombstone. We both faced the same direction as the stone. It made it easier to pretend that Magda was between us rather than beneath.
“Right.” He slipped on a pair of sunglasses that had been lying on the grass by his hip. “I forgot. How’s it going?”