Despite being only early October, the air was gloomy, and the dropping temperatures bit at everyone's cold skin. The winter to come was dreaded by many, because if this was how bad AUTUMN was, who knew what winter had in store for them.
Parked in the parking lot of Carrington High, Deema sat in the driver's seat of her car with her fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel. She considered staying right there in that car forever, not wanting to face the bitter cold of the outside air. But she knew that she was there for a reason. Her son's well being was much more important.
Taking a deep breath, she moved her sunglasses from the top of her head to over her eyes, and opened the car door, stepping out into the parking lot. As soon as that door was open, she was shot with a blast of cold air. She quickly closed the door and speed-walked across the parking lot past a few school buses that sat waiting, and climbed the front steps of the building. She shivered as she clicked the buzzer button. She'd been there enough times to know that the doors were locked during the day.
After a few moments of waiting, she heard a click: the doors to get out of the cold, she pulled the doors open and marched in confidently. The sound of her heels clicking against the floors echoed through the empty halls. The students must have been in class.
She marched into the main office (which luckily was directly across from the entrance, otherwise she wouldn't have found it as easily). A woman probably in her 50's or 60's with short, dyed black hair and who probably wasn't unfamiliar with plastic surgery sat behind the main desk. The nameplate on her desk read 'Sue Rhee'. She typed away at her computer with her red finger nails.
Deema stood in front of the desk patiently and waited for assistance. When Rhee payed her no attention, she cleared her throat loudly. The woman glanced up at her through her old lady glasses.
"Can I help you?" She groaned in annoyance.
What, was Deema interrupting her oh-
"I would like to speak to the principal, please." She answered as nicely as possible, despite the fact that this lady was ALREADY ticking her off.
Not looking away from her computer, the woman sighed, "Do you have an appointment?"
Deema hesitated, "Well, no, but-"
"You may only speak with Dr. Walsh if you have an appointment. Call the attendance office and we'll try to fit you in. Have a nice day." She then proceeded to act as if Deema had never been there.
Oh. He was one of THOSE kinds of principals. One that went by 'doctor' instead of 'mister' or 'misses'. Like he thought that made him special or something.
"If you could please make an exception, that would be great. Because I really need to talk with him-", she tried to say, but was once again rudely interrupted.
"Ma'am, I already told you, you have to-"
"I know what you said!" Deema exclaimed, pulling her sunglasses off her face, "But my son is being put in danger, and if I don't talk to that principal TODAY, then YOU'RE going to be the one being put in danger, missy!"
The woman stared up at her with a bored expression, as if she dealt with crazy moms everyday, "Ma'am, you need to have an appointment in order to speak with Dr. Walsh. Please exit the premises before we are forced to call security."
Deema huffed, and glanced around the room. A paper on the wall behind the woman caught her eye: on it was the attendance office phone number.
She whipped out her cell phone from her purse, dialed the number, and held the phone against her ear patiently. The woman gave her a puzzled look as the phone on her desk began to ring. She opened her mouth to say something, but Deema cut her off.
The woman scowled at her and slowly picked up the ringing phone, "Hello?"
"Yes, I would like to make an appointment with Dr. ButtFace." Deema said, putting a hand on her hip.
The woman huffed, "Ma'am, what do you think you're doing?"
"You said to call and make an appointment, so I'm calling and making an appointment. Can you get me in, please?" Despite how irritated she was with this woman, she was at least going to use SOME manners. She didn't have all day. She wanted to get home, put on some comfortable clothes, and see her husband and kids without having to deal with any more pesky high school faculty. Hopefully she could fit a nap somewhere in there.
"Please hold." The woman said coldly, setting down the phone and turning to her computer. After tapping at the keyboard for a few moments, she turned back to Deema and forcefully hung up the phone, as if she'd grown aggravated with her, "Dr. Walsh is not available today. We can get you in on the 19th for an appointment. Name please?"
Deema's jaw dropped, "The 19th?! That's in two weeks!"
"I'm very sorry, ma'am, but that's the earliest that we can get you in. Can I have your name please so I can make your appointment?"
Aggravated, She glanced around the room once again. In the far corner of the office, she saw a door with a very clear name written across the translucent glass: Dr. Larry Walsh.
She gave her best fake sigh, and placed her cell phone back in her purse, pretending to be defeated.
"I guess I'll be going, then. I'm busy on the 19th, anyway." She turned and took a step towards the door. She stopped in her tracks and let out the best fake gasp that she could muster, "Oh my god! Look at those kids making out in the hallway!"
Sue Rhee gasped, and stood from her seat at her desk, "Oh I don't think so! Not on my watch!"
She stormed out of the office, but she looked more like a newborn baby deer with the way she struggled to walk in her heels.
Now was her chance.
She spun around and speed-walked towards Dr. Walsh's office. Grabbing the knob, she took a glance around to make sure no one was looking, then pushed the door open and slipped inside. She closed the door behind her and faced forward, only to see the last thing that she expected to see.
A lump of man laid slumped over on the desk, and the sound of obnoxiously loud snoring filled the room.
Was this guy serious?
Deema walked across the room awkwardly, and knocked on the wooden desk, "Mr- I mean Dr. Walsh?"
She knocked a little harder, "Hello?!"
Still no answer. His head remained on the desk, with a puddle of drool surrounding it.
She groaned and slammed her fist on the desk, "HEY!"
He jolted in his seat and let out a startled yelp, quickly lifting his head and looking around the room with startled eyes, "AGH paperwork!"
Deema put her hands on her hips and gave the man a stern look.
He was probably in his late thirties or early forties, about the same age as Deema, with graying hair that looked to have been bleached at some point. He had sickly blue eyes, that were probably attractive when he was younger, but now were just kind of intimidating. They had the 'I could totally kill you if I wanted to' look, and she didn't doubt that he could. Other than the eyes, he wasn't very intimidating, though. He wasn't the biggest or most buff dude, and he wasn't attractive by any means. He was mostly lanky and skinny, with long bony fingers. She also couldn't help but notice that he had no ring on his finger; the dude wasn't married. That wasn't a shocker. She most definitely wouldn't want to marry this guy.
Besides, she already had a husband that she loved very much (who was definitely A LOT more attractive by a long shot).
The principal's eyes finally landed on her, and he looked her up and down with an expression of disgust, "Who are you?"
Deema crossed her arms and sucked on her teeth, "Your worst nightmare."
A confuzzled look came across his face, before it turned into shock, "Wait! You're not the new superintendent are you?! I SWEAR I WAS ASLEEP FOR A REASON. It was protocol for, uhh... TO SEE IF MY OFFICE WAS SOUND PROOF FROM, UM, MY SNORING! YEAH, THAT! It was totally an experiment!"
He laughed nervously and gave her a forced smile.
"I'm not the superintendent, dumb ass." She said in an aggravated tone, being just about done with this dude already, "I'm a parent."
"Oh." He said blandly, slumping his shoulders, "What do you want?"
She leaned closer to him and placed a palm on his desk, "What I want is for something to be done about the fact that my son was brutally beat at YOUR football game this past Friday."
"First of all," he began, reclining in his rolly chair and propping his feet on the desk carelessly, "It's not MY football game. I don't want anything to do with those slimy children. And second of all, the football games happen outside of school time and upon the students' free will, so what happens there is none of my concern or the school's. Just tell your son to man up or something."
Deema just stared at him in awe. What was this dude's problem? Why on earth would anyone hire such a sleazeball to work in an educational environment with impressionable teenagers? More or less run the place. Like, who put this dude in charge? A monkey?
On second thought, a monkey could probably run a school better than this dirt bag.
"Listen here, LARRY." She scolded, remembering the name that she had seen on his office door. She grabbed his foot and pushed it off the desk, causing both of his feet to fall to the floor, "I don't know about you, but I care about the well-being of my children. And if you had children -which I doubt you do with THAT face- I know you would feel the same way. Now, I have the name of the hooligan who did this to my baby, and you're going to see that he receives proper punishment for what he did, kapeesh?"
"Ma'am, I told you-"
"Hold that thought." She interrupted, pulling out her phone and searching her notes app for a certain name, "Russell Carlson. He's the student that beat up my son."
Dr. Walsh leaned forward in shock, "Russell? No, it couldn't be him. He's one of my star pupils. He would never do such a thing."
"Oh really?" Deema asked angrily, "Because I know at least two other students who claim to have been assaulted by that delinquent."
She wasn't necessarily 100% positive that she had her facts straight. Rini had only claimed that her and Kyouhei were 'picked on' by Russell, so Deema didn't know whether that meant that if it had ever gotten physical or not. But, someone doesn't just randomly beat one person like the way he did to Luke. It must've been a consistent thing. She had no doubt in her mind that he had gotten physical with both Kyouhei and Rini at some point.
But what broke her heart was that Nonny and Oona didn't know for sure either. And they of all people deserved to know.
"Well, then these 'students' must be lying." Walsh said blandly, standing from his seat, "Now I apologize but there's nothing I can do to help you. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Deema scoffed. She went to argue, but he interrupted her in a hushed tone, "Unless... Unless you're willing to make a deal with me. In which case I might be able to bend a few rules.."
His eyes drifted down...
She gasped and her hand came up as her palm collided with his face. He stumbled backwards with a startled look on his face.
"You disgust me!" She shouted at him, stepping away from the desk, "You should be ashamed of yourself, sicko!"
She spun around and stormed out of the office before he got the chance to say anything else. What nerve this guy had! With what he would've tried to do, she could've gotten him fired.
SHE COULD GET HIM FIRED FOR WHAT HE DID DO.
But that was the last straw. That was strike 9 out of 3 strikes and she wasn't going to deal with that stupid school for another day.
She had made up her mind.
As she stormed out of Dr. Walsh's office, Sue Rhee stood from her desk and shouted at her angrily, "Hey! What were you doing in there?!"
Deema just ignored her as she walked briskly out the door. The halls were now flooded with students as they pushed past each other and out of the exits. She almost paid them no attention as she too made her way to the exit, but she stopped dead in her tracks when she heard a familiar scream.
In the middle of the hallway traffic, she stopped and turned to her right. Through the crowd, she could see a flash of red hair.
She gasped and darted in that direction, shoving past other students and earning a few "Hey! Watch it lady!"s from them. But she didn't care. She pushed through a few more kids before bursting into a break in the flood of students.
The scene before her made her want to vomit.
There was a group of about six or seven girls kneeling on the floor. They surrounded what seemed to be another girl, who lay on the floor on her back, flailing and kicking her legs as she screamed bloody murder. Some of the girls held her arms and shoulders and kept her pinned to the floor. Others grabbed hold of her legs as if trying to keep her still. A last girl was sitting on top of her and leaning over her face. To the right of them, was a cluster of about four or five guys. They had a boy pinned to the lockers. One boy was wailing punches while the others kicked and made sure he stayed pinned. A last one seemed to be carving something into a locker with a broken metal ruler.
The most sickening part, was the cluster of about three teachers standing about ten feet away.
The boy pinned to the lockers made eye contact with Deema. Pain and desperation filled his big brown eyes. She'd recognize those eyes anywhere.
Blood was running from his nose and the corner of his mouth. She'd never seen anyone in so much pain, yet he seemed to be sending her a message. His eyes darted to the cluster of girls on the floor, then back to Deema. She knew exactly what he was trying to say.
She respected that. She rushed over to the cluster of girls. She grabbed the girl that sat on top of her victim by the collar and yanked her backwards, pulling her off.
"Everyone get back!"
All of the girls jumped backwards in a moment of shock. Deema stood over the poor girl, who now had curled into the fetal position and grasped onto Deema's leg for dear life. Her beautiful red hair was a tangled mess and fell over her eyes. One pigtail had been pulled out, and the other still hung in a tangled clump. There was handwriting smeared it sharpie across her forehead. Deema couldn't quite make out what it said.
The boys seemed to notice the disruption and stopped what they were doing. They all stared at her in silence as if waiting for her to make a move.
"I suggest that all of you grab your things, and go home before this gets any more ugly than it already is." She spoke, standing strong and holding her ground.
"Who invited the old lady?" One of the girls asked from behind her.
One of the guys laughed and grabbed Kyouhei by the face, squishing his cheeks, "Does Ching Chang need his grandma to protect him, huh?"
They all laughed.
"This 'grandma' is about to get real angry if everyone doesn't pick their asses up right now and get out of my sight." She said sternly, making eye contact with all of them.
There was silence for a few seconds.
"Let's not waste our time with these losers." The girl with the sharpie said, standing up, "C'mon guys. Let's go."
All of the girls stood, following the other girl girl down the hall, mumbling disgusting comments that Deema wouldn't dare repeat.
The guy that had called her a grandma grabbed Kyouhei by the collar and threw him to the ground, hard.
"See ya later, grandma."
Him and his other goons turned and left, leaving Deema alone with the twins and the three teachers that still stood away and watched.
After she was sure the delinquents were gone, she knelt next to Rini, who sat up and threw her arms around Deema, letting pained sobs escape as she buried her face in her shoulder.
"It's okay, sweetie." She said softly, stroking the young girl's hair, "Everything's okay now."
She heard the sound of a painful cough from behind her. She quickly turned to see Kyouhei curled up on the ground behind her. He grasped his stomach as if he was about to throw up. He was shaking almost violently, and was breathing sharp and painful breaths. He sounded as if he was struggling to fight back sobs.
"Kyo!" Rini shrieked. She threw herself at her brother. She reached him and gently climbed over him so that she could see his face. Deema came over and knelt beside them.
Rini cupped her brother's face in her tiny hands, looking him in the eyes, "Kyouhei, you need to calm down. I'm here, I'm okay. You're okay. They're gone now. They can't hurt us anymore. Aunt Deema's here. She helped us. Everything is okay now."
She spoke slowly in simple short sentences, as if she were talking to a child. She gently rubbed his cheek with one hand, making sure she held his eye contact. He looked bad. His dark hair was a mess. The entire lower half of his face was covered in blood, and his left eye was purple and swollen. It was the else thing Deema had ever seen. Every breath he made sounded painful. He was crying. Not quite sobbing, but tears streamed from the corners of his eyes and onto his sister's hands.
Deema took a shaky breath, wiping a tear from her own cheek, "Have these kids no mercy?"
"They never have.." Rini said quietly, not breaking eye contact with Kyouhei.
That's when Deema finally got a good look at the writing on Rini's forehead. And upon seeing it, her heart shattered into a million shards like broken glass. Her hand came up and clamped over her mouth.
Across her forehead in smeared, forced handwriting, was one four lettered word in all capital letters, marked onto her skin with black ink:
Kyouhei seemed to notice at the same time. His hand came up, pushing her hair out of her face and running his thumb along her hairline.
Rini sighed, closing her eyes, "What does it say?"
Deema shook her head, "You don't want to know."
Her eyes wandered to the locker that the boy with the ruler had been carving into. Her heart dropped even further at the letters etched into the metal.
Unfinished, it read only 'Inces' with half of a vertical line after the s. Deema could only guess was it was supposed to say.
"All of this. It's so messed up." She said quietly.
The twins were silent.
"C'mon guys." She said, standing, "I'm taking you home."
She and Rini helped Kyouhei to stand, though he seemed like he was going to pass out at any second. Blood from his nose dripped into the tiled floor as he coughed painfully. Rini whispered to him, repeating things like "Everything's okay. We're going home. Aunt Deema is taking us home."
Deema looked back at the teachers who hadn't moved from their spot. All she could do was give them a dirty look. She didn't feel like dealing with those lowlifes. She was so angry she didn't even want to waste her time with such scum.
Yet, despite the anger, she couldn't help but cry.