Instead of going to maths, I head straight for the toilets - they're becoming my new haunt already. Adding to my ordinary, everyday look of general confusion and nerdiness, there is now a scarlet letter 'L' on my cheek, gushing what seems like an entire ocean of blood down my once pristine white school blouse.
I wrap my arms around my body, urging myself to pull together. I'm being melodramatic, I'm being ridiculous, I'm making a mountain out of a molehill.
A single tear drips down my cheek.
It plops into my lap and I gaze at it forlornly, before it disappears, my skirt absorbing it up.
I'm only trying to be me.
I don't know what I've done, or why anyone would hurt me so much. I've barley been a month at this new high school and already I'm praying to go back - back to my friends, my house, my old life.
My fingers find their way to my cheek, and I rub on my newly acquired wound. It stings, a sort of red hot pain, yet I ignore it, rubbing and rubbing in the futile hope it will disappear, go away for ever and ever. I'll open my eyes and I'll be sitting in my maths classroom, idly picking at my pencil while my teacher drones away in his deeply boring monotone.
I'm sitting in the sink, my tears beginning to fall faster, my racking sobs getting louder, when I hear a noise. Not loud, from the inside of the toilet.
"Hello?" I whisper tentatively, edging closer. A small moan answers, like an injured baby animal. I wipe away my tears with the back of my hand, quickly splashing water over my face as a finishing touch. Maybe I'm upset, but the girl inside the toilet, whoever she is, is probably wanting comfort just as desperately as I do - probably more. Whoever she is, everyone needs a shoulder to lean on sometimes.
I feel a sort of 'De ja vu' as I more towards the cubicles, away from the sink and hand dryers. This is what it must have felt like for Ashlin, I realise, discovering me weeping inside the cramped little cubicle. There's something oddly pathetic about the entire situation. I wonder if she felt the same way about me, as I reach out and knock on the door with my right hand. "Answer me, please?"
"I can help you!"
A pause, then, "Who's that?" Another sniff and: "If it's Ashlin, you can bog off. I don't want to see you. I - I hope you choke on your own spit!"
I frown, confused. "It's not Ashlin."
I know she recognises my voice now, in the same way that I'm sure I recognise hers. Keira, it's Keira, I'm sure of it. I hear her sigh heavily. Maybe she didn't want Ashlin, but she certainly doesn't want me either. "Keira, I know it's you."
The voice drifts out again. "What are you talking about? I don't even want to speak to you Ethel."
"Do I have to spell it out? Go away!"
"I just want to help! You can tell me what's happened!"
"Like you'd even care. I'm popular Ethel, and you're new. Even if you wanted to you could never understand!"
"...Just give me a chance Keira. Maybe I will understand. Maybe I will."
"What are you talking about calling me Keira? And you won't, honestly. Because..."
The lock on the door flicks open, a bedraggled figure stepping out.
It's not Keira after all. She was telling the truth.
It's not Arianna either.
She joins me on the sink, swinging her long slim legs. "Just there when you were asking if I was okay and I told you not to come near if you were Ashlin. I pretended not to be me. I wanted to throw you... Off my scent, I guess. I pretended because, just think what would happen if anyone saw me crying. Me, Ashlin, crying. The words don't even go in the same sentence. Reputation? Ruined. Ashlin doesn't cry. Ashlin is happy. Ashlin is pretty. Ashlin is - popular... Ashlin never.. Cuts her wrists and Ashlin doesn't... Show herself...." She speaks about herself in the third person, her voice railing off and growing thick with tears. Then she stops completely, realising what she's said.
"What?" My mouth hangs open, my eyes are wild with this new knowledge. The Ashlin everyone thinks they know isn't Ashlin at all.
"Don't listen to me Ethel. I'm blabbering, blabbering, I'm saying things I shouldn't say." She looks at me and smiles weakly, before her eyes dart to my cheek. Dart to the streaming red 'L' sign. 'L' for Lysander. Her eyes widen, horrified, her lips part in both shock and disgust. "What - what happened to you?"
I shrug it off. "Oh, you know... Nothing much...And really, I think you should tell me why you were... Crying..." I say this to be helpful, but she ignores it, brushing it off with a flick of her hand.
"No, no really Ethel! Tell me what happened.." She winces. "Ouch. That looks quite nasty you know...Who was it?"
"Who did it to you? The 'L' I mean. Whoever it was is going to get whatever's coming to them when I find them.." she asserts, balling her hands into fists.
I grin, imagining the picture of delicate Ashlin giving "whatever's coming" to the tall, brutal Lysander. I don't tell her who it was though - not because I don't want her to get hurt (which I don't), but because she doesn't give me a chance to before continuing onto her next round of questions.
"Have you cleaned it up? If you went to the office I'm sure they'd send you home... I mean half your cheek has basically been hacked off!" she gesticulates, over embellishing my cut dramatically. "Wait... What will your mum say?"
I stop myself before I answer her, my voice catching in my throat. What will my mum say? Will she be cross, say I should have defended myself? Or comfort me with hugs filled with pity for her only daughter? Whichever, I'll definitely be leaving the school for a long while...
I bite my lip.
Ashlin's eyes light up with sudden recognition. "Oh..."
I stare at her for a second in silence before confronting her. "Do you... Could I come to yours?"
She smiles, her teeth white pearls set into her mouth. "Sure... And - I have something that I think would stop this," she points at my cheek, "From happening again." She stands up, leans forwards to air kiss my cheek. "Meet you at reception tonight then."
My new friend leaves me then, starts walking away, blonde locks billowing behind her in a way I thought only happened in the adverts.
It's only when she disappears from view that I realise she never actually told me why she was crying.