Chapter from Morium.

The hallway was alive with voices as students made their way to their lockers in order to start the day. As Lexi made her way through the crowd, she overheard commentary pertaining to the previous weekend about how cute a certain boy was or how someone’s parents bought them the wrong materialistic bauble. Not that any of this mattered to her, she simply found it interesting how small these problems lessened compared with the ones she faced every day.
She moved forward with her head down, as she always did, to avoid making eye contact with anyone. She only looked up every once in a while to see where she was going and brush her hair out of her face. Her own personal walk of shame, though she’d never done anything to deserve the treatment she received. The hallway cortege seemed to go on forever–at least for Lexi.
From a distance, she noticed something stuck to her locker. She looked to her right and made eye contact with a tall girl sporting a fake tan and ponytail. Maddie was the girl the boys fell over themselves for--and she knew it.
Standing next to her, blond, straight-haired Tiffany was giggling, peeking towards Lexi’s locker. Both girls worked in tandem against her, never attacking on their own, as if one needed to feed off the other.
“Hi, Alexandria,” Maddie said with a smirk. Lexi kept walking, paying no attention to her. “Have a great day!” she added facetiously.
As Lexi approached her locker, she raised her eyes, brushed her hair from her face, and stared at the object taped to it. It was a lone piece of paper which read:


 The smothered giggles coming from Maddie and Tiffany turned into full-fledged laughter, digging at Lexi’s consciousness. She glanced at them, and both greeted her with a seemingly innocent wave. She reached up to rip the note from her locker, staring at it as that one cruel word was burned deeply into her soul.
“Lexi!” A girl’s voice called out from nearby. Garnering no response from her, the girl added a friendly, “What’s up?”
“You know, Stacy; I wonder if they are right,” Lexi commented, still fixated on the note, wishing she could erase the word from its surface.
After moving to Westview over a year ago, when her dad transferred to the big city, Stacy Bishop stood out in a crowd as much as Lexi did. She stood slightly taller than her friend, her blond hair cut short. Her wrists were adorned with rubber bracelets of varying colors. At this school, any differences left you wide open for a verbal assault.
Stacy’s parents kept her on a tight leash. She always had to introduce any new friends and obtain her parent`s approval before going anywhere with them. Neither Lexi nor Nathan had come across as potential troublemakers, so both friends were granted their blessing. Still, anytime they made plans to go out, there’d be the obligatory meeting at Stacy’s home, so her mom and dad could jot down the hour-by-hour schedule of the kids’ night.
Besides Nathan, Stacy was the only other person her age Lexi felt comfortable talking to, the only one who understood the emotional lows to which she often sunk. Stacy was more outgoing, and even though she suffered a high volume of verbal abuse, she always fired back a retort.
“What are you talking about?” Stacy asked. “This?” she asked shaking the paper at Lexi. “Why should you care what they think, anyway?”
“After a while, you can’t help but care what they think. It gets burned into your brain, so that you wonder if it might be true,” Lexi said softly as she opened her locker.
Stacy crumbled the note and threw it to the ground. “If I took to heart all the things I’ve been called, I would’ve undergone a sex change years ago. This is who I am, and I wouldn’t change it for anyone, and I think you need to consider the same approach.”
Lexi finished shoving her books in the locker and slammed it shut. “That’s easy for you to say,” she muttered over the clang of the school bell.
Stacy reached over to put her arms on Lexi’s shoulders, as she did every time she became serious. “I know I keep telling you this, but stay strong.”
“I’ll try,” Lexi said, glancing back over at Maddie and Tiffany.
“Hey,” Stacy said, turning Lexi’s head with her hand. “Forget about those bitches. You’re better than they are. You know why?” Stacy raised her voice. “You don’t need to spread your legs to get attention.”
“Screw you, lesbo,” Maddie shot back.
The corner of Lexi’s mouth lifted in a vain attempt at a smile.
“Sure, anytime,” Stacy commented with a grin. “See you in Science.”
As Stacy passed by Maddie, she blew her kiss, causing Lexi to chuckle under her breath. She wished she could be as strong as Stacy, so she could stop dealing with her pain in the twisted manner in which she did…

    The History classroom was large for a school of its size; yet, Tyler and Ethan always found a way to sit next to or behind Nathan. Tyler made it his life’s ambition to make Nathan’s a living nightmare.
More muscle-bound than Nathan, blessed with the typical jock’s body, Tyler never failed to push his chest out, visibly, when confronting him. Perhaps, he believed it made him appear tougher, but when one compared the pair’s physiques, it became painfully necessary. As a bonus, Tyler’s friend, Ethan, always came along for the ride. Built similarly to Tyler, these two were the biggest linemen on the team. To make things worse, the town worshipped the ground these players walked on.
When the two approached Nathan, students stopped to watch what might happen. These two didn’t need the extra attention, they craved it.
Nathan had a tendency to bounce his leg when he became nervous, and now his leg was bouncing uncontrollably. He found himself unable to concentrate on what the teacher was saying. The only words he internalized were: Germans, cold, and surrender.
They’re going to do something, he thought. It’s only a matter of time. His leg bounced even faster, and his hand shook ever so slightly. Sometimes, the anticipation was worse than the actual event. Maybe this was their way of mentally torturing him further.
Nathan felt something hit the back of his head. He was afraid to look over at Ethan, and he dared not turn towards Tyler.
He lifted his hand to the spot he’d felt the impact, and gently squeezed the hair where the sticky object had landed. To his left, Ethan giggled softly. Tyler had thrown a wad of gum into his hair, and now he’d made it worse by squashing it further in. Both his legs bounced at a rapid pace. There was nothing he could do except continue to try to pay attention to the teacher. That was all he could do.

Lexi sat at her desk in the last row in science class, rolling her pencil between her fingers. She usually stayed focused in class, but today her thoughts drifted somewhere else, or rather to someone else.
She gazed at the slim boy one seat up from her on the right. His name was Trevor, and her mind wandered every time she caught sight of him. She gazed at him as discreetly as she could with the eye uncovered by hair. In the background, she could hear the teacher mumbling some reference to atoms, but it didn’t register with her. For as long as she could remember, she’d had a crush on Trevor. But she knew she’d never be able to look at him directly, let alone talk to him.
Seated behind Trevor, Stacy looked over at Lexi with a grin on her face, aware of the subject matter of the thoughts formulating inside her friend’s mind. She tore a piece of paper from the corner of her notebook and wrote on it. Folding it up as small as she could, Stacy tossed it at Lexi’s head. Lexi took a quick glance around before picking it up, and reading it.
You want to stick your tongue down his throat, don’t you?
 Lexi stared daggers at her friend while she mouthed Stacy’s name with warning. Stacy smirked and made a flipping motion with her tongue.
“Excuse me, Ms. Bishop. Is there a problem?” the teacher asked, startling her.
The thing Lexi hated most was happening; the entire class was looking back at her. Stacy quickly turned to face the front.
 “Everything’s just fine,” she replied. “Sorry!”
Lexi glanced over at Trevor, who chose that exact moment to look her in the eye. To her, time froze. Then, just as fast, he turned away.
When everyone’s focus returned to the teacher, Lexi turned to face Stacy who waggled her tongue a few more times behind Trevor’s head. That made her smile, and for those few moments, she felt like a normal senior in high school.  Her worries and anxiety faded away. But then, the bell rang.

The cafeteria was abuzz with chatter and laughter, the stench of prefab food lingering in the air. Sitting at a corner table, Stacy and Lexi were lost inside their own world.
“Thank God we don’t have to eat this crap much longer,” Stacy grumbled as she stared down at her plate. It boasted a lukewarm hot dog, a pile of mushy corn, and something which resembled pudding--but she couldn’t be sure. It never failed to amuse Lexi when Stacy complained, and at lunch her complaints were reserved for the same topic—the damned cafeteria food. She did have a legitimate point, because Lexi’s lunch did taste like rubber and was just as chewy.
Even though Stacy was bullied nearly as much as Lexi, her torment centered around her sexuality. She’d been called every vulgar name her tormenters could think of, regarding her appearance. But if it fazed Stacy, she had never shown it. That was one of the qualities Lexi loved most about her. Either the hurtful words cut her deeply and she buried it, or she truly found the resolve not to care.
Stacy glanced towards the table where Maddie and Tiffany were sitting. “Look at them, Lex,” she said thickly, chewing a bite of hot dog. “With their noses so far in the air, I’m surprised they don’t drown when it rains.”
Lexi played with her corn, cracking a slight smile.
“Looks will fade, but stupid lasts forever,” Stacy stated, leaning forward and tilting her head towards Lexi as if waiting for a response. That called forth a grin and even a chuckle from Lexi. “There it is. I knew you were born with the ability to laugh.”
Lexi continued to play with her corn, flipping it back and forth with the tines of her plastic fork. Not once did she peek up as Stacy talked to her. Years of verbal abuse had taught Lexi to keep her head lowered for her own emotional safety. She feared with the retribution that always came in reference to her looks and the manner in which she carried herself. In her mind, she believed everyone around her was silently laughing at all times.
She hadn’t always felt this way. At one time in her life, Lexi had been an outgoing girl. She was as talkative as any of the other students, and, at times, it had even been hard to shut her up. Then, it happened. Maddie had been the culprit who’d initiated her downward spiral with yet another cruel note during the course of their second year in junior high.
“How do you stay calm, Stacy?” she asked, finally raising her eyes. “I mean, you get it just as bad as I do, and it doesn’t seem to bother you.”
“It may seem like it doesn’t, but I’ll let you in on a secret.” She leaned over to Lexi and whispered in her ear. “It bugs the hell outta me.”
“Yeah, but you never show it,” Lexi said, brushing her hair away from her eye.
“Why give the bitches the satisfaction?” Stacy asked. She took another bite from her hot dog. “By the way, how’s your dad doing?”
“He’s under so much stress. He still can’t find a job, and it’s the anniversary of Mom’s death. So, he’s got a lot to cope with.”
“I feel sorry for him, Lex,” she mumbled through the mouthful of food.
“That’s why I don’t bring up what’s going on at school to him. I don’t want to lay too much on him, you know?”
Stacy glanced at the corn Lexi was playing with. “Are you going to eat that, or just play with it?” she inquired, finally swallowing.
Lexi gave Stacy a mystified gaze, while once again pushing away the hair which had fallen over her face. “You want it?”
“If you don’t. It’s the only thing that tastes the way it’s supposed to.”
Lexi pushed her plate over to her friend. Stacy dug in, scooping the corn onto her own plate. “You know, you should put your hair up. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about pushing it out of your face.” In one swift motion, Stacy filled her fork with corn, holding it delicately with her fingers. “I can’t imagine what your dad is going through,” she said again, her thoughts switching swiftly as she proceeded to shove the corn into her mouth.
Lexi was fascinated by Stacy’s appetite, as usual. When Stacy looked up from her food, she stopped chewing, and grinned. “What? I’m hungry,” she stated revealing the partially-chewed food as she spoke. “By the way, where’s Nathan?”
“I don’t know,” Lexi replied, elegantly picking her hot dog bun apart. “I didn’t see him in the lunch line.”
Lexi continued to watch Stacy eat in wonder. All that food she shoved in, never gaining a pound. “Are you going with us to the movie this weekend? Nathan has a couple of free passes.”
“I wish I could. I promised my parents we’d have a family night Friday. I guess I’ll have to miss the second installment of Dragon Wars.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“You two will just have to fill me in,” she said.  “On everything,” she concluded with a wink, catching a glimpse of Nathan as he entered the cafeteria. “Speak of the devil.”
Nathan walked briskly to their table and sat next to Lexi.
“Where have you been?” Lexi asked.
“Occupied,” he shot back in a frustrated tone.
Lexi suddenly noticed the pink wad embedded in his hair. “What is that in your hair?”
“What do you think? It’s the freshman torture brigade again,” Nathan moaned.
Lexi pulled his hand away. “Don’t mess with it…you’ll just make it worse.”
Stacy glanced over her shoulder at the table where Tyler and Ethan were sitting. They had been joined by another of their cohorts, Ryan. Tyler was looking directly towards them, while the other two laughed. She noticed Maddie and Tiffany no longer sat at their table while unzipping the front of her backpack and reaching inside. “Hold on; I have fingernail clippers. That should work,” she told him. “It may not be as easy as it would be with scissors, but I think we can get it out.”
Stacy moved around to sit next to Nathan. He felt uncomfortable having Stacy so close to him, let alone touching him. He was at only ease around her when Lexi was close by.  Butterflies were released into his stomach as Stacy’s fingers touched his head. Fingernail clippers in hand, she began to slowly trim the gum out of his hair.
“Ouch!” Nathan exclaimed, lurching forward.
“Well, if you’d hold still, it wouldn’t hurt so much.”
Just as she finished speaking, a flutter of rainbow-colored paper fell over Lexi.  She looked at her lap, realizing it was play money. She didn’t have to guess who’d thrown it. She could hear Tiffany chuckling behind her.
“I’m doing my good deed for the day, Alexandria. Since your deadbeat dad can't get a job, I thought he could use this worthless money for his worthless daughter,” Maddie said, smugly.
Stacy stopped trimming, her hand still against the back of Nathan’s head. The spiteful girls turned their narrowed eyes in her direction. “Getting your hair done, Nathan? Great idea! Though, I can’t see why you’d trust a dyke.” Maddie smirked.
Stacy pointed the clippers at Maddie. “Why don’t you —”
“Don’t speak to me, you…boy, girl, or maybe some type of crossover? And you, Lexi; I always suspected you liked girls,” Maddie said, leaning over Lexi’s shoulder.
Stacy sprung to her feet, within a foot of Maddie’s body. “Want to find out?” She made a quick peace sign with her fingers, placed it to her lips, wiggling her tongue between the fingers.
“Ew! Gross…” Tiffany exclaimed, disgusted.
“Save it for your girlfriend, Alexandria, since she can’t seem to interest any of the boys,” Maddie spat, spitefully, still bending close to Lexi’s ear, her hands resting on her knees. “Nathan,” she continued, “You’re a zero in the looks department, but I’d think you could do better than this worthless piece of crap. I mean, who wears a sweater in seventy-degree weather?”
Lexi kept her eyes focused on her lap during the entire ordeal, lowering her head further as Tiffany bent to whisper into her other ear.
“What’s the matter? Nothing to say?” asked Maddie.
Tiffany continued. “Are you going to cry?”
“Just like we thought,” Maddie added, “too stupid to even respond.”
“You stupid bitches, leave her alone,” Stacy hissed, interrupting the girl’s verbal assault..
“It must suck to be you,” Tiffany said, ignoring Stacy. “Needing your lover to stick up for you.”
Maddie’s whispering grew louder. “You worthless piece of shit...”
Tiffany’s volume increased too. “…Who shouldn’t even be alive.”
They finally began to walk away, but Maddie tossed one last jab at the already-deflated Lexi. “Nice clothes, bitch.” The two of them erupted in full-blown laughter.
Though their voices had silenced, their words continued to slice through Lexi’s scant reserve of self-esteem. They continued to chip away at her as they made their exit.
“Did you see her face?” Tiffany chortled.                                 
Maddie responded, “It’s days like this that make it worthwhile to show up at school.”
Stacy and Nathan looked over at Lexi, who was still staring into her lap, dazed, the word “useless” echoing inside her head. Perhaps, they are right, she thought. Maybe I am worthless. If I didn’t have my two friends sitting next to me, I’d have nobody. She let out a withered sigh as a lone tear trickled a path down her left cheek.
Nathan reached over and put his hand gently on her shoulder. “Lexi?”
She stood abruptly, grabbed her books, and sprinted out of the cafeteria. Nathan spun his chair around and called out again, “Lexi!”
“Leave her alone. Give her some space,” Stacy said quietly. “Come on, let’s finish clipping this out of your hair.”
Stacy snipped away, cutting the gum out piece-by-piece. “Sorry, I can’t go with you guys to the movie,” she told him. “Having overprotective parents is a bitch.”
Nathan stared soundlessly into the hallway where Lexi had disappeared. Goosebumps ran over his arm with each of Stacy’s touches.
“Are you going to say anything, or do you prefer to let me blabber away?” she quipped. “I can go on forever.”
“I think we should go see if she’s alright,” he responded.
With a final yank the last of the gum pulled free. “You spoke,” Stacy teased, tossing the wad onto the table before tossing the clippers into her backpack. She rubbed his head, sending chills throughout his body. “You can hardly see the bald spot,” she joked.
He snapped around to look at her in shock. “I’m kidding,” she said, with a wide grin. “You can’t tell anything even mildly devastating happened.” She flung her backpack over her shoulder, stuffed the remaining hot dog into her mouth, and mumbled, “I’ll go find her.”

Lexi darted into the girls’ washroom. Pushing open a stall door, she ducked inside and slammed it shut.
 As she sunk onto the toilet, her books fell from her hands, but she didn’t notice as they crashed against the floor. Unable to hold back anymore, she buried her face in her sweaty hands and cried uncontrollably. She wondered how she could possibly make it through the last five months of school. Her fist slammed against the stall as the tears flowed freely, splashing against her books and the tiled floor.
   “I hate them,” she mumbled to herself. “I hate them. I hate them. I hate them.”
   She slid up her sleeve, revealing several rows of scars and scraping her fingernails over the scabs. Every swipe felt like a knife slicing into her, causing the warm blood to trickle from the wounds. Her breathing slowed from a rapid pant to a normal rhythm as the pain settled over her, filling her with calm. In that moment, the physical hurting became a temporary relief from the emotional agony which swelled inside her. She sat there for a few minutes, taking in deep breaths.
“Lexi?” the soft voice rang out, bouncing off the walls of the vacant room.
Lexi yanked her sleeve down to hide her secret and pulled her hair back in her hands. “Yeah, Stace?” she sobbed out.
“You okay?”
Lexi gathered her books from the floor, attempting to regain what little composure she could. As she reached to open the stall door, her red-stained fingers caught her attention. She vigorously wiped the blood onto the inside of her sweater. With a final breath, she emerged to find Stacy standing by the door.
“I’m sorry, Lex,” Stacy told her, wrapping her arms around Lexi.
“Just another day in hell,” Lexi replied.
The bell echoed from down the hallway, startling them. They strolled out as students began to fill the hall. Only half a day left, she thought as they made their way to the next class.

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