What irritated me even more was that when I walked into my class, ten minutes late, I found him in there, sitting three rows back on the right. He sat alone, with an irritatingly nonchalant look on his face. I also found Alice and Bridget nearby, sharing a desk. Alice smiled encouragingly, and Bridget was slumped in her chair, arms folded, making an effort to look anywhere except in my direction.
“Sorry I’m late.” I said, giving the boy I walked into a look. It was the meanest look I’d ever given anyone, and it was probably pretty scary. He paid no attention.
“Don’t worry.” The teacher began, standing up and straightening his suit. I hovered hesitantly at the front of the room. “Everyone, this is our new student. Her name is Jet Hawthorne. I hope you will all make her feel welcome and offer her any help she needs.”
The boy I ran into seemed to flinch. From where he has been leaning over his desk, he suddenly sat up straight. His eyes widened and shot up to where I was stood. He scanned my face as if he was searching for something. What was his problem now? My name? Had the teacher’s mention of 'Jet Hawthorne' really made me interesting all of a sudden?
“Before I pick a desk at random, is there anyone with an empty seat who would like to sit next to Jet?”
Probably not, I thought to myself. An awkward silence filled the room. "Don't worry Sir, I'll just-" Then, to my complete surprise, someone raised their hand. The teacher seemed as shocked as I was, and the entire class turned their heads towards the right hand side of the classroom.
“Brendan?” He asked, almost speechless.
Brendan was the person I ran into. The one who wanted nothing to do with me a few seconds ago. “Well, that’s settled then. You can sit next to Brendan.”
I stood motionless for a while.
“Jet? You can take a seat…” The teacher encouraged me. I didn’t have much other choice. I perched cautiously on the chair next to Brendan.
If I didn’t understand him before, I really didn’t know where this left me. Did he just have a personality transplant? Was he acting? Why were the people at this school so completely unreadable?
I sat in silence for a few minutes, reluctant to say anything to him. When he offered me a worksheet, I accepted it nervously, half-expecting it to be some sort of practical joke that would explode in my face.
“Hey, I’m sorry about earlier. I don’t mix well with strangers.” That was the second time I’d heard someone say that. I turned around, to find Bridget staring at us with intense disapproval.
“Apology accepted…” I broke off, turning back to Brendan. Now that he wasn’t glaring down at me, I could see that his eyes were a soft hazel brown – a much nicer tone than my own. His hair was dyed to an off-black colour that would suit few people, but somehow he pulled it off. It was mostly straight, except for a small flick around his ears and in his fringe, which kept it from falling over his eyes. “Could you tell me one thing?” I asked.
“Sure.” He was trying to smile, but I got the impression that he hadn’t had much practice at looking happy.
“Why did you jump six inches out of your chair the moment you heard my name?”
Brendan began to laugh to himself, under his breath. I wondered what he found so funny. “I promise you that was a coincidence.” He muttered. “I just put my hand up because I thought I should make up for being rude to you earlier.”
“Right.” I found it difficult to believe him, but decided not to pursue the matter.
“What brings you to Genesis Heart?” He asked, slouching heavily over his work and starting to write. His defined shoulder blades were just visible through his white t-shirt. The way he sat and clutched his pen looked really uncomfortable.
“Long story.” I muttered after a moment, laughing dryly.
He nodded. “It usually is. Is there a short version? I take it you’re not from around these parts?”
I leant over the table, spinning my pen between my fingers and staring absent-mindedly at the worksheet in front of me. “Uhm... I was sort of… excluded from my last school.” My pen fell from my hand and landed with a clatter. “I live somewhere far away from here. I’m told my parents lived not far from Bellona, but we had to move not long after I was born.”
“Why’s that?” He pressed, and I wondered why he was asking so many questions.
“My parents gave me up. They sent me to live with my grandma, the only other close relative we had. Then, that night, they disappeared and no one saw either of them ever again.” I commented, apathetic. Anyone I told about my parents usually expected me to be upset about it, but I wasn’t. I could hardly grieve for people I’d never known. I couldn’t deny that it was lonely sometimes. I wished that I knew what it felt like to have a parent. I wished I knew what kind of people they were- and deep inside I could hardly ignore the desperate yearning to know what really happened to them. But, not once did I grieve their deaths- if they were actually dead, that is. I fingered my necklace thoughtfully.
Brendan, on the other hand, didn’t seem in the slightest bit surprised. “I see…” He murmured. It was almost as if this wasn’t news to him. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t pry. It isn’t any of my business.” He apologised.
From behind us, a chair slid violently backwards, scraping across the floor. Someone swooped down onto our table, slamming their hands down. I jumped back, as Bridget’s snarling face loomed over me.
Brendan simply raised his eyebrows, not looking in the slightest bit intimidated. “Can I help you, Bridget?” He asked, sarcastically.
“May I suggest that we both step outside for a second, Brendan?” Her sing-song voice was laced with resentment. I shrank in my seat. Everything about Bridget made me want to run away, curl up into the nearest comfy-looking corner and hide for about a month.
Reluctantly, Brendan stood up, but the look on his face told me it was only because of the class staring. He clenched his fists. Bridget stormed out of the classroom, holding the door open for Brendan in mock courtesy. He stepped through, and the door slammed shut behind them.
Jeez, those two really are peas in a pod.
Why had they gone for each other’s throats so suddenly? The way Bridget asked what Brendan was doing... was she referring to our seating arrangements? It made me think she didn’t want me sitting next to him. I wondered why she cared.
The teacher stood at the front of the room, at a complete loss. I didn’t blame him. I didn’t think I would know how to react if two students left my class without even acknowledging me.
“Excuse me for one second, everyone. Please carry on with your work.” With that, he darted outside to where Bridget and Brendan stood. Alice, looking a little ruffled, stood up and went to join them.
Ripping a blank page out of my workbook, I scrunched it up into a ball and stood up. Slowly, so as not to draw attention to myself, I walked up to the front of the room, to where the waste paper bin was situated conveniently to the side of the door. I dropped the paper into the basket and hovered at the front of the class. Sure enough, their voices were raised high enough for me to hear. “…be stupid, Brendan.” I heard Bridget, her voice thick with anger. “Socialising with Normals? Really? Since when was that one of your hobbies?!” She questioned, as if Brendan had committed some sort of crime.
Brendan only laughed – but even I could hear that his laugh was nothing more than mock bravado. “You can’t exactly talk, she’s your roommate. I know at least one of you talks to her.” He cast a knowing glance towards Alice.
Me, I thought. They're talking about me. What is it about me that bothers them so much?
“It’s true. I may not like it, but I trust Alice. I don’t trust you.”
Trying to stay by the exit for a little longer without drawing attention to myself, I reached into my jacket pockets and found some convenient tissues to throw away. Turning to my right, I caught glimpses of the four of them through the small window in the door.
“Why does it matter? I’m not doing anything wrong. The laws aren’t governed by your opinions, Bridget. You can’t put me in a holding cell because you don’t think I’m trustworthy.” He said, shrugging his shoulders. “There’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Isn’t there?” Brendan cowered away from Bridget as she seized the lapels of his shirt in her hands. Without a second of hesitation, she lifted him fully from the ground and slammed him into the wall. I jolted backwards. The impact sent vibrations through the whole classroom.
Everyone stopped writing for a moment and looked up to stare at the door. I heard Brendan gasp as the wind was knocked out of him. Bridget pinned him to the wall by his collar, refusing to let go.
“Bridget!” Alice shouted. “Let him down!”
Our teacher stepped forward. “I many not have authority over you in these circumstances Bridget,” He began, “but this is a matter that should be taken up with your superiors; not settled by a petty scrap-up in the corridor of a school which is supposed to be a symbol of the truce!”
Bridget didn’t react. She held eye contact with Brendan, and continued like no one had spoken. “The second you step out of line, I will be down on you like a pack of dogs. Understand?” Her narrowed eyes smouldered, her lip curled.
“In case you hadn’t noticed…” Brendan’s voice wavered. “You’re the only one breaking any rules right now.”
“Pfft.” Knowing she had lost the argument, Bridget released Brendan. He collapsed onto the floor in a heap. I rushed back to my desk, just in time for Bridget to burst through the door and throw herself heavily back down into her seat. Alice followed. Brendan re-entered shortly after, dusting himself off. He looked unhurt, if a little shaken up. The teacher came back in last and the lesson carried on as if it hadn’t been interrupted.
I glanced at Brendan warily as he sat back down beside me. When my teacher said this school was a symbol of the truce, what truce was he talking about? Perhaps Brendan and my roommates had some kind of authority over everyone that I didn’t know about, which made them special and everyone else ‘Normal’? Maybe I was over-thinking it. Perhaps ‘Normal’ was just some sort of odd colloquial term.
Whatever it was, Bridget had some sort of power that clearly extended to the teachers. I didn’t know what kind of strange business this school was involved in, but it sounded suspicious and dangerous. I was beginning to wonder why my grandmother had decided to send me here.
Naturally, I wanted to find out everything I could. Brendan rested his chin on his hand, a pensive expression across his face. “What was all that about?” I asked.
“It was nothing.”
“Come on.” I pressed. “I’ve answered your questions- it’s only fair that you answer a few of mine.”
“Don’t worry about it. Bridget has a tendency to get worked up over nothing sometimes, that’s all.” He smiled, but his lip was trembling. As much as I wanted to, it probably wasn’t a good idea to press him on this. He was clearly upset. Accepting that I was getting nothing more out of him today, I carried on my work in frustrated silence.
The rest of the day passed without any more odd happenings. I started to notice a few things. I realised that most of the pupils at Genesis Heart were just like the students you would get at any school. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Then, there were the few that did stand out. These were the ones that rarely spoke or interacted with others. Instead of fitting in with the rest of the pupils, they did whatever they wanted. If they felt like it, they could do crazy and unbelievable things, knowing the teachers wouldn’t even bat an eyelid. To them, Genesis Heart wasn’t a place to live and learn- it was a place they owned, and patrolled. Bridget, Brendan and Alice, the only three people I had actually talked to so far, all fitted into that category.
Just what in the hell is happening in this place? Is it only me that sees that there’s something going on behind the scenes?
My frustration and confusion threatening to boil over, I headed straight for the gym after my lessons had finished. It stayed open until six o’clock, and as long as there was someone to supervise, you were free to do as you wished, within reason.
Not bothering to check whether or not anyone was around, I peeked through the windows into a few of the rooms. Dance studios, a basketball court… I stopped when I found a small gym with a free-standing punch bag set up in the middle. That was definitely what I needed.
I fetched some gloves from the store room which were a little small, but at least they weren’t too heavily padded. I closed the door quietly behind me and threw my hoodie into the furthest corner, before strapping the gloves onto my hands.
For a moment, I stared at my adversary. I launched my hips forward and delivered a lunge punch. The bag swung back and forth from my hit. I began jumping back and forth a little to warm up my leg muscles, and practised combinations of jabs and punches. Projecting my weight forward, I slammed it with a kick. The bag flew away, before springing back towards me, almost hitting me in the face as I swerved away from it. The stand tipped dangerously.
“Careful.” Came a voice from the door, “Don’t want you breaking anything on your first day.” Alice’s smiling face appeared in the doorway, and she fluttered in, a pair of focus pads in one hand and a kick pad in the other. “I saw you giving that punch bag some grief as I walked past. I haven’t got any plans this afternoon, so I thought you might appreciate a training partner.”
For a while, I had wondered if Alice’s thoughtfulness had simply been an act, but now I was certain that wasn’t the case. Normally I preferred to train alone, but today I was grateful for the company. Maybe talking with someone would help me to wind down a bit. “Thanks. You train?” I asked, curious.
“Yeah.” Alice pulled her jumper over her head, and threw it towards the side of the room. She rolled up the sleeves of her top, before strapping the pads to her hands. “With weapons, usually. Sometimes I practise hand-to-hand with Bridget, but she’s twice as good as I am, at least.”
I thought back to the situation outside the classroom, and how easily Bridget had lifted Brendan from the floor. “I can tell Bridget’s really strong…”
Alice nodded, bracing her arms as I began to strike the pads. “Surprisingly enough, her brute strength isn’t her main asset. She has a lot of dangerous technique.”
No wonder Brendan had looked so frightened of her. I wondered if anyone could fight with her and come back in one piece. “As if she wasn’t scary enough already.” I murmured, and Alice laughed.
My breathing grew heavier as I continued to punch Alice’s hands. “She’s okay when you get to know her.” Alice added, and I gave her a look of scepticism. “I mean, she’s excessively confrontational and goes about things the wrong way, but she’s not a bad person, by any means. She does what she does for the right reasons.”
I said nothing. Alice knew Bridget much better than I did, but right now, I couldn’t see anything more than a violent monster that went around yelling at people and beating the living daylights out of them without provocation. Brendan’s attitude was a little odd, but he certainly didn’t deserve what she’d done to him.
Sensing that I disagreed, Alice changed the subject. “How about you, then? Do you train?”
“Occasionally. I was passionate about it for a time, but I’d often get tired and frustrated and lash out at people during class. I’m nothing compared to someone like Bridget.” I was never very good at technique or control- I was only ever interested in stress release.
For a moment, my mind started remembering things I didn’t want to think about. I shook my head to try and rid myself of the flashback. “I’m stronger when I’m angry. But everyone gets stronger in those kinds of situations, right?”
I was rambling, as usual. Alice smiled, tightening the pads on her hand before letting me continue punching. “Emotions can bring out parts of yourself that you never knew existed, but that’s not always a good thing.” She paused, and frowned. “It seems odd that you of all people would say that, Jet. You don’t strike me as someone that loses their temper easily.”
“I always try to focus on the positive and not let my anger get the better of me, but sometimes... when you’re pushed, and pushed, and pushed…” I broke off.
“And then, finally something happens which tips you over the edge.” She suggested, and I nodded. Alice’s eyes were filled with pity, encouraging me to talk. “What happened, Jet?”
It may have been weeks ago now, but the thought of it still hurt. What I did was horrible, truly horrible, and I knew I would never forgive myself for it. After it happened, there had been no one to go to. I was forced to endure the guilt on my own. My friends had held a few awkward conversations with me since, but we had always skirted around the topic. When I had said goodbye to them for what could easily be the last time, I could still see the fear in their eyes. I wouldn’t be missed.
My grandmother could barely look at me. Not even my closest relative would help me work through it. Instead, she sent me a hundred miles away.
I wanted to tell Alice. Could I really trust her? My first impressions of her had been good, but appearances could be deceiving.
Alice cocked her head to the side. “I won’t make you tell me, Jet. But if there’s something you want to say…” She lowered her pads, “I have no reason to tell anyone.”
I exhaled slowly, and nodded, gesturing for her to lift the pads back up again. I took a deep breath. My stress levels were rising. Clenching my fists tightly, I channelled it into my punches, unleashing it all through my hands. “You might have noticed that I’m not very good at blending into the crowd. I always stand out. I’m always noticed. I don’t know whether it’s because I dress like a guy, or because I have a boy’s name- whether it’s because my hair’s a mess or because I don’t wear make-up. It might just be my shitty personality, to be honest. Whatever the reason, I’ve always been a target for bullying and things like that.”
“I understand. It’s a shame that being different to everyone else is considered a bad thing, but it happens.” She agreed. Alice saw me tiring, my punches becoming gradually weaker. “Swap?” She suggested. I slid the gloves from my hands, and tossed them to her. Alice gestured towards the kick pad, which I picked up and slid my arm into, securing the Velcro.
“High on your left.” She said, and I braced my shoulder and nodded to show I was ready. She shook out her hands, before stepping into a short stance, open hands guarding her head and stomach. She swung to the side, throwing me a roundhouse kick at head level. The power of her kick took my surprise, and I struggled to keep my balance. “In front of your chest.” I quickly dropped the pad forward, as she landed a spinning back kick perfectly in the centre.
I stumbled backwards. “Christ.” I muttered, wondering if I’d been scared of the wrong roommate.
Alice suppressed a laugh, and eased up a little. “Tell me more about the bullying.” She encouraged.
“Well, most of the time I really couldn’t have cared less about it.” I admitted. “I’ve never really been bothered about other people’s opinions of me. Naturally, they got sick of me shrugging it off. Whatever they did, I didn’t mind, and they hated that. So instead, they physically attacked me, knowing that if they did…” I hesitated, losing concentration. “…that they would finally get some sort of reaction.
Seeing that I was upset, Alice made an unspoken decision to stop the sparring. I unfastened the kick pad, before dropping it on the floor in front of me. “A group of about ten descended on me, forcing me into a corner. I blocked the first few punches, but there were just too many of them for me to hold off. As soon as they started hitting me from behind, I was done for. Even when I was down on the floor they carried on, kicking me. I was surprised they didn’t crack my ribs. And then…” I broke off, staring down at the pads in front of me.
Alice looked intrigued. “And then…?”
I sighed. “Then I lost myself in my anger completely.”
It was hard to explain that feeling of losing myself. Like plunging into darkness, it negated any happiness, any hope. It destroyed all reason or judgement. For that brief period of time, all I felt was pure, concentrated hatred. I stopped feeling the pain as they carried on kicking me. I stopped struggling. Instead, I rose. From the brink of unconsciousness, I returned, standing slowly. My eyes were focused on the floor. My posture crooked from my bruised body.
They all stopped hurting me. It was like they had no idea how to react.
Before any of them even realised I had moved, I had manoeuvred the boy closest to me into an arm lock. I forced his elbow to the centre of his back, pushing it higher and higher. He sank to his knees, whimpering. He screamed at me to let go. I carried on twisting and twisting, forgetting about the limits.
His arm broke. Just like that.
The rest of the group stared at each other, unsure whether to run away or to fight me. Out of fear, a girl threw a stray right hook. I stopped her arm with no effort, grabbing it. I pulled her into a side kick. She crumpled to the ground, gripping a knee which I had certainly dislocated.
Within seconds, all of them were on the floor.
By this time, everyone had gathered round. They didn’t see the bullies attacking me. All they saw- all my friends saw- was one girl, standing alone, with a group of people she’d beaten up with barely any effort.
“I hospitalized four of them. The rest got off fairly lightly. Considering all the other times I’d been in trouble, my grandmother decided this was the last straw, and sent me to boarding school. She hates me, I’m sure.” I paused. “I don’t really know what happened. I guess I’ve always felt like I’ve attracted darkness, and on this occasion, I gave into it.”
Alice was contemplative. “Feeling like you attract darkness? That’s a little strange.” She observed.
Out of the whole story, I hadn't expected her to pick that part out. “Oh, that was probably an odd choice of words. My bad.”
“No, I do understand what you mean.” Alice considered briefly. “Did you tell Brendan about this?”
I shot her a look of disbelief. “Of course not! Why would I tell Brendan that?” I didn’t know what she was getting at. Why would I confide in someone who I’d barely spoken to?
“Sorry, you’re right. I don’t know why I asked.” She mused, something clearly on her mind.
There’s something about Brendan that Bridget and Alice find suspicious. I concluded, silently.