She showered every night before going to bed. It was where she found hidden relief; where blood flowed from cuts that no one could see. The steaming water poured over Randi and washed away the hurt.
It was 6:45 Wednesday morning when Randi’s fist fell like a hammer on the snooze button. There, that should shut the stupid thing up, she thought. Rolling over in bed she blearily returned to nine more minutes of sleep.
Snatches of dreams came and went. The rumble of the downtown subway train kept her from falling asleep completely, so she drifted in between asleep and awake. Hazy thoughts gathered form and broke apart like clouds in a summer sky.
What day was it again? Oh right, Wednesday. That meant she had gym and earth science and… She hated gym because it meant… Why had she stayed up so late watching reruns? Freshman year was such a pain, but at least she’d turned 15 sooner than the other girls… Maybe she would run into that cute sophomore boy again, what’s-his-name… Bryan? Brandon? Or was it Brad—
Blang! Blang! Blang! Randi’s eyes opened as the siren on her desktop screamed its wakeup call. She sighed, reaching out to turn it off.
Suddenly a meaty hand clamped around her wrist. With a cry she was jerked from her bed and fell to the floor. “The hell are you doin’ girl?” a rough voice bellowed, “I told ya, if you’re late for school one more time I’ll beat the sh—“
“Stop it!” Randi said as tears bit into her eyes, “Just stop it Derrick! I was already up. I won’t be late again, I swear.” His hand was still tight about her wrist as he looked down on her. Disheveled red hair framed a small face that belonged to an equally small body. She wore an old Rolling Stones t-shirt and Invader Zim pajamas. Right now her eyes welled with fear as they looked up at him. “I swear,” she said again, “Now please let go of my wrist. You’re hurting me.” Derrick flung her hand away in disgust and left the room.
A little shakily, Randi got to her feet and started dressing. Her mom’s newest boyfriend had only been living with them for two weeks. He shouted a lot, but he’d never hurt her physically before. At least, he had never intended to.
A lot of people did things they did not intend to.
Randi finished dressing and slipped on her Chucks. They matched the black jeans and Evanescence hoodie she wore. Still rubbing life back into her wrist, she glanced at the clock. 7:09. School didn’t start till 7:30, so she still had twenty minutes. It only took her fifteen if she used the subway. Maybe she wouldn’t be late after all.
As Randi passed the bathroom she ducked in to wrestle with her hair. The wire brush was unable to tame it. The person in the mirror wasn’t having any luck either. With a frustrated sigh she dropped her brush into the sink. Snapping off the light she hurried out, but not before turning to glance back at the shower.
By way of breakfast she grabbed a banana while heading through the kitchen. Derrick was standing by the apartment’s front door. Ignoring him, she brushed past. He grabbed Randi and spun her round. “Hey little princess, how ‘bout a kiss?” His heavy body leaned into her and she could smell the alcohol on his breath. Panicked, Randi did the only thing she could think of. Derrick staggered back in genuine amazement when the banana broke open against the side of his head. For a moment she thought he might laugh. Then his eyes narrowed. “Why you damned little shit…”
Oh no, please not yet, Randi thought, not now. But it was too late. Before she could flee Derrick grabbed her by the shoulders and began shaking her, screaming at her. He unleashed a string of obscenities that struck Randi in the face with the force of a whip. She flinched in pain at the onslaught. When he finished, Derrick shoved her out the door and slammed it shut. Randi stumbled backwards onto the sidewalk. Then, for the second time that morning, she staggered to her feet. Sobbing, she made her way to school.
When Randi got to home room the bell sounded as soon as she found her seat. Close, but she had made it. Take that, Derrick Kimmel. As Randi huffed to catch her breath her friend Ashley leaned across the aisle. “That was a close one Randi! Did you know that today our— Hey, what’s wrong with your face?” Randi stared straight ahead as she felt herself go numb. “My face? What do you mean?” she said.
“It’s that jerk Derrick isn’t it?” Ashley said, growing angry. “I swear, if he hurts you again I’ll call the cops! He’s such a jackass. Your mom should know better Randi.” The intercom crackled to life, stifling further threats from Ashley.
As the morning announcements played, Randi’s classmates busied themselves with anything but listening. Justin Struebel, a glum fat kid, had slumped forward asleep on his desk, his sleeve wet with drool. Chris Potter, a born clown, busied himself with tossing little balls of paper into Justin’s hair. Merissa Wig tapped out a beat on her desk to the headphones in her ears.
Randi sighed. Folding her arms across the desk she put her head down, as much to hide her face as from fatigue. Was Ashley right? Had Derrick really struck her? Maybe she had been hit when he threw her out. I hope so, she thought. Oh God, I hope that’s what it was this time. Randi needed to find a bathroom.
She excused herself from her first hour economics class and rushed to the women’s room. Randi looked into the mirror. A livid welt stretched across her cheek from mid-ear to the corner of her mouth. She brought her hand up slowly. Fingers gently traced along the swollen weal. Derrick had done this to her. Maybe he hadn’t even meant to, but it was his fault. The fingers closed into a trembling fist. He would pay for this. Somehow, she would make him pay.
Voices filled the bathroom as the door swung open. Startled and ashamed, Randi leaped back. It was Jen and Cassia, two soccer players who belonged to the in-crowd. The high school’s bathrooms were large. Randi realized that they hadn’t seen her yet. She quickly slipped into a stall, sat down, and drew her knees up to her chin. If she stayed here long enough they would leave. Then they drew nearer, and she heard what they were saying.
“…So ugly. Did you see it?”
“Yeah, on the way to first class. I passed her in the hall. Her face had this red welt on it, like someone had whipped her. I bet it was one of the customers.”
“Yeah, Zach says that Randi’s mom is a whore.”
“Like, for real?” one girl giggled, “Or you mean she acts like one?”
“Could be both, I don’t know. Anyway, Randi probably deserved to get hit.”
The words rocked her like a blow to the chest. A whore? Her mom may have poor taste in boyfriends, but she wasn’t a whore! She earned a meager salary working at a downtown grocery store. Didn’t both girls already know that? They shopped there sometimes for parties. They must have seen her mom at work there.
Suddenly a new voice entered the conversation. It was Ashley.
“But aren’t you like, friends with her or something?” One of the first two girls asked.
“No, not really. She just sits next to me in homeroom and we are lab partners in earth science. That’s all. I just feel kinda bad for her sometimes.”
“Do you know why she has that mark on her face?” The second said.
“Um, no. I think that maybe Derrick, her mom’s new boyfriend, did it to her.
“And you’re sure that you aren’t friends or anything?”
“No, not really. Why does it matter?”
“Well, she’s just ugly, especially with that mark on her face. She is always covered from head to toe and she’s been wearing that same hoodie all week!”
The voices faded as the three girls left the bathroom. Ten minutes later Randi still sat in the stall, knees drawn into her chest, weeping. Not Ashley too. She had thought Ashley was a friend, but Ashley’s words had been like a knife in the back. She was just like all the rest.
Anger burned inside of Randi. She would make them pay. Derrick and Ashley, Jen and Cassia, and everyone else. Everyone who had hurt her. Then the chilly wave of despair doused the fires of anger. Randi had promised herself these things countless times. She had sworn to repay her enemies. But deep inside she knew that she was powerless to stop them. Randi could do nothing but escape the same way she always did. It had become an addiction, her secret, silent relief.
When she was ready, Randi left her hiding place, washed her hands, and headed back to class. The door to the now vacant stall stood open. On the floor was a crimson puddle of blood. It bore mute testimony to the horrors Randi endured.
“This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Back in September I saw Randi without a hoodie on, and she had these scars all over her arms. Sarah has gym with her, and she’s seen things too, in the locker rooms. And just three weeks ago Randi came into class with a black eye. But…”
Chris Potter’s voice trailed off. The lunch room was abuzz with activity. His gang of friends had gathered around Sloppy Joes to hear the latest gossip. Impatiently, everyone clamored for him to finish. “Well, it’s just… weird. You can call me crazy, but the next day, she was fine. Like nothing had ever happened.”
A solemn silence settled over the table as they considered Chris Potter’s words. With a huff, one of the girls stood up. “Oh, so now she’s a witch? Christopher, you are a worse liar than the devil. I don’t believe a word of it.” She picked up her tray and left. Nobody else moved.
“So who do you think did it to her?” Justin Struebel asked, his jowls trembling a little. “The thing today I mean.” Chris replied, “Well, people have been saying that Randi is abused by her mom’s… clients.” He paused and looked meaningfully around the table. They were hanging on his every word, and he loved it. “But I know somethin’ different. When Randi got that black eye, there wasn’t nobody livin’ with them at the time. Her mom sure as hell wouldn’t beat her. Probably couldn’t anyway.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Guys, I think she’s doing this to herself.”
Randi was self conscious about her wound the rest of the day. It stung. It throbbed. Randi didn’t care about that though. She hardly noticed the pain anymore. What bothered her was that this time there was no way to hide it. Her outfit camouflaged her body. Makeup had concealed the black eye last month. It usually worked on bruises too. But it couldn’t hide this swollen weal, only mask the color. Now one half of her face was disfigured, an ugly scar stretching from mouth to ear.
While hiding in the bathroom she had done her best with a pocket mirror and foundation. It was a routine procedure by now. Yet Randi was afraid that she was slipping. One day she would make a mistake, forget something, and someone would find out. She could never let that happen; did not want to think about what that would mean.
Had she remembered to clean up the blood this time? That was always the hardest part, stopping the bleeding. To make matters worse, her back had started to hurt. It was an acute pain near her spine, just opposite the heart. And then there was something wrong with her chest. She couldn’t breathe properly now. Randi felt like she was dying. If only that were true.
By lunch time most of her classes were over. She had made it through economics, literature, and gym. Now there was only earth science and algebra to survive.
Taking her tray she proceeded to an empty corner of the lunch room. On the way she passed Potter’s posse, as she liked to think of it. They all gave her furtive glances as she walked by. Hah, like she couldn’t tell. Chris Potter was no good. She was sure they had been talking about her. The way Justin had cowardly glanced down, he was an open book.
She sat down. People were dangerous. It’s why she avoided them. Randi brought her Sloppy Joe up to her mouth. Then she stared for a second at the small red dot in the center of the bun. It was blood. She was still bleeding? Taking out her pocket mirror she checked her face. A small cut on her chin let fall another drop. Damn it. Where had that one come from? She dabbed at the cut with a napkin till it dried. Out came the makeup. For good measure she reapplied some to the welt. As she was putting the kit away she heard a voice.
“Mind if I sit here?” It was Bradley. Her heart stopped for moment. Then she found her voice. “Um, sure. I mean, no. No, I don’t mind if you sit here. Go ahead.” He gave that adorable half-grin and seated himself. “Okay then… it was Randi, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” She said simply.
“Alright then. I’m Bradley, we have literature together, remember?”
“Yeah, I know. You sit behind Jenifer Simmons.”
“Oh, do you know her?” Bradley asked.
“No, I just know who she is, that’s all. She’s in a lot of my other classes.”
The boy grinned in relief. “That’s good! I’m afraid we couldn’t be friends if you were on her side.” Had he just said friends? Bradley went on, “She’s got to be the biggest snot I’ve ever seen!” Randi bit her lip and looked down. Seeing this, he jumped in to apologize. “Oh! I’m sorry if I shouldn’t have said friends. I mean, I know we just met and everything…”
“It’s not that,” Randi said, “I’d just rather not talk about Jen.”
“Oh, I see. Well anyway, the reason I came over was to ask if you could help me out.” Immediately, spring loaded walls flew up around Randi’s heart. He needed something. Of course that’s what it was. She was stupid to have thought he cared about her. She said, “What do you want?” He continued nervously, “Well, I want to… I’m trying to write a story. I noticed that you are one of the sharpest girls in lit class. I was hoping that maybe you could help me out with it? Constructive criticism and stuff?”
Against her better judgment, Randi agreed. The boy thanked her, promising to get the story to her on Friday. Then he left, flustered, his sandwich only half eaten. Randi let a small smile touch her lips as she watched his departing back. Maybe some people weren’t that bad after all.
Then a hand flew to her cheek. Her face! Bradley hadn’t mentioned it, hadn’t even looked at her funny. Did he notice the wound? It was still there, but the swelling seemed to have gone down a bit. She could breathe a little easier too, though her chest still ached. Her thoughts returned to Bradley. He had called her a friend, even recognized her love for books. Randi wasn’t sure if she could trust him. Regardless, she knew that she wanted to.
Randi’s heart might have danced on the clouds all day, but even the prettiest clouds turn to rain.
In earth science she was paired with Ashley for a lab. Unsure of how to interact with the girl, Randi chose not to say anything. It was always the safest bet. If you did not talk to people they would not speak with you. Silence was safety, life, power.
Despite her best effort in the lab, Randi fumbled with a beaker and dropped it. It smashed on the floor. Caustic acid spattered Ashley’s shoes and she snarled. “Oh my God! Randi, you are such a klutz! Can’t you get anything right? Look at my shoes, you’ve ruined them!” Ashley’s words bit into Randi. They hurt even more because she felt they were true. Why, oh why, was her life such a disaster? Her throat ached as she sobbed, “I’m sorry Ashley! I didn’t mean to!” Then the teacher came over to clean up the mess. Randi and Ashley were excused.
There was only one more class. Desperate, Randi prayed that she would escape any further humiliation. No such luck. The teacher wrote out equations on the blackboard, half completed. One by one, students were called up to finish them. When Randi stood before the board, she froze. Was the value of X negative or positive? Brain pulsing with doubt, she bit her lip and silently cursed herself.
“Randi, you can stand there all day, but that equation isn’t going to solve itself.” The teacher’s voice taunted from the back of the room. Some of the students snickered. Randi’s face burned with shame. The chalk trembled in her fingers. It fell to the ground. She’d had enough today. Striding back to her seat she picked up her books and left the room. Then Randi walked out of the school building and headed down the street. She did not look back.
Randi couldn’t get home fast enough. The apartment was empty when she walked up. Moldering brown, two halves of a banana lay just inside the door. The house was silent. Good.
There could be no one around to see what came next.
The girl made her way to the bathroom, stumbling as if both legs had been broken. Just outside the door she leaned against the wall. Air sucked between clenched teeth. Each ragged, wet breath threatened to choke her. She could do this; had done so for as long as she remembered. She lifted her head, stumbled in, shut the door. The lock clicked.
Slowly, she peeled off her clothes. As she did so she dropped them in a heap beside the toilet. Then, completely naked, she turned to face the full length mirror on the door. From out of the glass a monster looked back at her. Blood stained its teeth. A scarlet trickle ran from one corner of the mouth. The monster’s eyes stormed with a mixture of fury and fear. Then, sluggishly, it raised one arm towards the girl who stood trembling before it.
She was not afraid. The creature met her here each night, and its face was as familiar as a friend. It was the only face she trusted. Her arm rose. Her hand stretched out to meet its own. And then her fingers, hot with anticipation, touched the cold glass of the mirror. She knew the monster’s name: Randi Lockhart.
Her hand rested on the surface of the mirror for a moment. Then she pulled it away to wipe the blood from her lip. Randi looked at her reflection, eyes traveling up and down her body. Her left cheek bore an angry red welt, like the blow of a whip. The skin on her right cheek was blistered as if it had been burned. Her chest was mottled purple and black. The cut on her chin had reopened, along with countless others crisscrossing her arms and legs. Her throat bore several small punctures, curved in the shape of a crescent moon. Tenderly, Randi put one hand behind her body; touched the spot opposite her heart. It came back sticky, covered in blood.
Wincing with pain, Randi began to touch each and every wound. As she did so, she spoke a name. “Derrick Kimmel.” Her fingers brushed the welt. “Jennifer Simmons. Cassia Lebraun.” A hand went to the bruises on her chest. “Christopher Potter…” This continued until only one remained unchristened. She again touched the gash near her spine, biting back a cry as she did so. “Ash- Ashley Grey!” She gasped, nearly fainting with pain.
Then, utterly exhausted, Randi stepped into the shower and closed the curtain.
The water that swirled down the drain was streaked with red. Flowing from secret wounds, blood coursed down her body to the shower floor. There it ran in small scarlet rivers that turned pink in the water. And then it disappeared.
She showered every night before going to bed. It was where she found hidden relief; where blood flowed from cuts that no one could see. The steaming water poured over Randi and brought healing. She watched as it carried her pain away.