I rushed past them, back down the stairs again to the adjoining bathroom. I threw myself against the wall. I bit my fist to keep the sobs from alerting anyone and prayed no one would need the first floor restroom until I could pull myself together.
Then I flashed back to getting cornered the day everything went wrong, and I felt dizzy. My secret place turned into a prison. The walls blurred, and I wanted to cry out for help. But what would that do? Just give them all something to laugh about later.
But I remembered the phone. And Chaz’s promise to answer no matter what.
I pulled the phone from my bag, and so no one would hear me talking, texted him instead.
“He hates me,” I wrote. Then erased it.
“They hate me,” I sent.
“I hate myself,” I followed with.
The answers were almost instantaneous.
“Jane.” … “What happened?”
“Jenny told everyone I pushed her,” I sent. “They said they wished it had been me instead.”
“God… I’m so sorry.” … “Where are you? In class?”
“Sobbing in the bathroom,” I admitted in text.
“Do you want me to come get you?”
I did. More than anything. But then, my Mom would find out. And she’d get involved.
“Jane?” Chaz prompted.
“No,” I typed back.
But before I could send it, he started calling. The phone was silenced, but it buzzed in my hand. I couldn’t stop myself from answering.
“Chaz,” I whispered into the phone, desperately.
“I’m coming to get you,” he said.
I heard a door close behind him.
“No!” I told him. “Don’t – I’ll… get in trouble.”
“You wouldn’t get in trouble,” Chaz assured me.
“No, I’m… okay. Really, I am. I just – I just needed to hear your voice.”
And it was so true. My body was no longer trembling. My tears were lessening. It was like he was right here with me. In the dark fortress of school.
“Jane.” He said my name like his heart was breaking. And I almost started sobbing again. Then he sighed, giving into my insistence. “Listen to me, Jane. You are the most amazingly kind, and brave, and beautiful person I know.”
I blushed at the word beautiful.
“They don’t know what they’re doing. What they’re missing by alienating you. Kids are cold, and cruel. But it’s really just fear. They’re afraid of anything ‘different’, so they attack anyone who doesn’t fit in. And I know what you’re feeling.”
Like I want to die, I thought. But didn’t dare say it.
“You think you’re broken. You think you have no place. But what’s waiting for you is more than they can imagine. You think you’re weak, because you feel everything they say like a stab in the heart. But that heart – it can also feel love more deeply than they can. And someday…” He hesitated. “Someday, you’ll find someone who understands that. Who feels it, too.”
But I had. It was him.
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