Suicide is selfish.
It tells the world that you are weak. It tells the world your family and friends have failed. It leaves them with the guilt that they should have done more, but didn’t.
I am weak, but I am not selfish.
My suicide will not leave my loved ones with guilt and pain. It will leave them thankful that they knew me for the short time I was here. And when I reach my final goal, to meet my brother in Heaven, and we’re looking down at my victims in Hell, he will say to me, "Well done, Cosette.”
The crowd whispers as I walk through them. Their stares weigh me down, alerting me to my impending doom. Clicks of smart phones preparing to post my demise on-line echo in the hallway. It’s passing period and I just want to get to my next class with all my limbs intact. Every step away from Hilda is another step toward safety. If I can just make it to my desk, I’ll be able to breathe.
My heart pounds in my ears as the adrenaline kicks in. This fight is going to happen whether I like it or not. It’s hard to move when you know danger’s approaching. Hilda Dyson is slowly following me, snickering at me. I can hear her back there as her fingernails skim the fresh red paint of the old dinged-up lockers. She flicks each padlock making it rattle, warning me, taunting me. I hug my books, pretending they could somehow shield me from her. The bell is getting ready to ring but the students hang around to see my slaughter.
I know seven different ways to kill a person. My brother, Victor, taught me. What he didn’t teach me was the confidence I need to use them. I’m weak and I’m a coward, especially when it comes to Hilda. And Victor could never fix that for me.
A locker slams behind me and I jump. The gawking students snigger at me. Hilda's blonde, beautiful, and cruel—and everyone knows I'm scared of her. My leggings are itchy and my rain boots feel heavy. They are slowing me down enough that I'm worried. Not about the beating; I can deal with the physical. It’s the psychological torture that terrifies me. Nothing’s happening and I’m already starting to tear up. My hands are shaking but I smile as I take off my glasses. If she’s going to hit my mouth, it will be her skin that gets cut on my braces. Expressions of pity from the students warn me that I don’t have a chance in Hell of escaping, much less winning.
I resign myself to it and lean over to put my books down. Before they hit the floor, Hilda grabs my hair and slams my head into the lockers. She throws me to the ground. I grab her ankles and yank. She lets out an oomph as her legs come out from underneath her. I swing wildly and finally land one on her lip. Rolling over, she jumps back up on the offense, kicking at me.
“Fight! Fight! Fight!” the students yell as I’m getting my ass handed to me.
It isn’t a fight. It’s an attack—.a sneaky, dirty attack and I’m doing a horrible job of defending myself. My brother would be so disappointed that his military training was wasted on me.
Stumbling up, I get in a few good blows, but one knee to my stomach and I’m down again.
I'm making it too easy for her. What the Hell is wrong with me?
I try to curl up into a ball like Victor taught me, so I can roll over and pop my head up into her chin. I get into position and hold my breath. Squeezing my eyes and praying for courage, I get ready to jump but Hilda grabs my hair and rolls her hand in it, gaining complete control.
She shoves my face into the filthy carpet and laughs at me—she knows more about me than I want her to. I’m disgusted and humiliated. It has a smell, humiliation; it smells like musty sweat and old feet layered in dirty, grey Berber. I spin around and elbow her twice, then knee her in the thigh.
It hurts. I can see it in her face. Honestly, I hope it leaves a mark.
Thinking I have gained the upper hand, I hit again. The shot connects—just not with Hilda.
Shit! Ms. Lazelle.
Three teachers separate us. Mostly, they separate Hilda from me. Ms. Lazelle glares at me as she tugs. Her face is swelling. I'm going to pay for that. Locks of my long hair come out as the adults untangle me from Hilda’s arm. I’m getting better at fighting and I almost had a chance—right up until the point the teachers stopped it before I could turn the tide on Hilda, proving once again that I’m a loser.
The teachers march us single file into the front office. Hilda grins and spits blood onto the carpet. I slink hunched over, feeling the stares burning into the back of my head.
I hate my damn life!
“Thank-you for coming in Ms. Murphy.” Principal Peeler is smiling—nothing ever seems to bother him.
I hate him for it. It’s hard to respect a man that looks like Paul Bunyan in a suit.
“As I explained to you on the phone, your Cosette and Ms. Hilda Dyson have been fighting again,” Peeler says as he escorts my mom to his office.
Mom shoots me a you’re grounded glance as she passes me. I don’t care about being punished. I care about how much the icepack is burning my eyelid. My stomach aches as I glare at Hilda sitting across from me.
She hates me. I’m scared of her and she knows it.
From the corner of my good eye, I see her pull the icepack off of her lip.
At least I got one good shot in. The dried bits of blood in Hilda's silky, blonde hair make me happy. Until I realize it's probably my blood.
“I am so sorry, Mr. Peeler. Cosette knows not to fight. I’ve told her to stay away from those girls and to stop Facebooking them,” Mom says.
My fists clench and what's left of my ragged nails dig into sweaty palms.
I don’t pick the fights, they pick me. My leaving Hilda alone isn’t the problem.
“I understand, Ms. Murphy. We all can see that Cosette has changed since your divorce and the loss of her brother, Victor. Without Victor around, she needs guidance. That’s why I am putting her on a new program. Cosette is smart but she needs something to focus on.”
Oh great, why not make me more of an outcast? I just want to be like everybody else. Just let me make it through Christmas break and start over in January.
“What type of program are you suggesting?” Mom pencil-twists her long, brown hair into a bun, exactly like mine. If it wasn’t for my braces and the age gap, we could be twins. I look nothing like my dad.
“I don’t have a lot of time, Mr. Peeler. I’m always on call. Two nurses quit this week and I’m covering their shifts.”
News to me, sounds like I'm stuck making dinner again. Cooking has become my new hobby.
I glance past the icepack at Hilda. She’s straining to listen to their conversation.
I don't want her to know I’m always alone. I have no idea what she’s really capable of and it’s terrifying.
“This program is for our gifted students to help kids who are struggling. Since Cosette is a junior with straight A’s in the accelerated classes, she qualifies. She will be tutoring a freshman. The program begins in January, after school on Thursdays, so it shouldn't interfere with her cross country schedule. I assume she’ll be running again this year. I have asked Hilda’s father to give permission too. There will be a counselor there for both of them—just in case. If we could just get these two to work together, I think they could be great friends.”
Are you kidding me? I think I’m going to be sick. I really think I’m going to puke right here.
Hilda’s eyes dart up at me. I look down but not fast enough. She heard everything and she caught the blood draining from my face.
Great friends? Really? I can buy her the entire line of Red Bottom shoes or every Prada purse in the world and she would still hate me. There is no hope. This is a death trap—a slow, grinding, death trap.
“Hilda?” her dad calls out as he barges into the front office.
Wow. Her dad is huge. And angry. He should be angry, she’s horrible! I hope she gets beat for…
“Are you the one who’s picking on my daughter?” He barrels at me with his finger out, until it's in my face. “You stay away from my little girl or I’ll…”
My stomach wrenches and I dart into Principal Peeler’s office. Mrs. Hurley, the secretary, has to jump up from her desk to step in front of Hilda’s dad.
“Miss Cosette Hugo, I have not called you in yet." Peeler's voice is soft and patient. "Your mother and I are not finished here. If you will please step back out so the adults can continue.”
Peeler's gonna snap one day. No one can stay that calm all the time.
Fear takes my voice and prevents anything resembling obedience. I sit down in the nearest chair and ignore everything he just said. Peeler can deal with it.
Mrs. Hurley comes in with Hilda’s dad. I swallow hard. “Mr. Dyson is here to see you.”
“Great.” Mr. Peeler smiles like we're at a wedding instead of my funeral. “Come on in. Might as well call in Hilda too. Hilda, will you please join us?”
I am trapped. The air is being sucked out of my lungs. I’m stuck in this filthy office with these horrible people. And it isn't helping that the office is stuffy and outdated or that the navy and maroon, paisley wallpaper makes me dizzy.
Glass shelves hold dead plants and crappy gifts his students have given him. A thick layer of dust coats the certificates and plaques that line the walls that are closing in on me. They’re as dusty as Peeler.
I can’t breathe.
“Mr. Dyson, we understand you are upset, but girls will be girls.” Peeler chuckles. “And we are figuring out a way for these two to work out their differences. Do you give Hilda permission to join the tutor program I called you about? If these girls can get to know each other then there should be no more bullying.”
“Damn straight. There better not be!” Mr. Dyson is turning slightly purple. I'm still trying to figure out what the Hell is going on.
Is he talking about me? Does he think I’m the one who’s bullying Hilda? Does he not live in the same house with her?
Hilda looks at me, then turns to her dad, and bats her eyelashes. He puts his arm around her in a comforting hug.
Daddy’s little girl.
“No need for that language, Mr. Dyson.” Mom shifts in the faded leather chair. “And my Cosette’s eye tells me that she’s the one being bullied.”
Wow, my mom stood up for me.
“Yeah? Well my Hilda’s lip tells me otherwise.” Mr. Dyson sneers at Mom.
Principal Peeler stands up and smiles. “Now, now, everyone. The adults here need to set a prime example of how to work together for the benefit of these girls.”
He grabs a pile of paper-stuffed folders and plops them on the floor. A cloud of dust rises. I squint my eyes at Mom and hold my breath. As the dust settles, I force some air into my lungs. Peeler lays two forms on his cluttered desk for everyone to sign and says, “Do you give permission? Thursdays starting in January?” Hilda’s dad nods and scribbles his name, then slides the paper to Hilda. Her signature is big and bubbly and she dotted her I with a heart. My mom rolls her eyes at me as she’s signing our form. I’m shaking so bad my name has a large C and a wavy line after it. Peeler takes both papers and frowns at my illegible signature. He smiles and thanks us as if it was voluntary.
I really hate this man.
I shuffle silently to the Camry. When my seatbelt clicks into place, I bust out crying. “I didn’t do anything, Mom. I don’t know why she hates me. She and her stupid cheerleader friends are so mean. They shove me into the lockers whenever I walk by. They pull my hair and hit my books down. Please don’t make me do the tutor thing! Mom, please?”
“That’s enough! You are acting like a five-year-old on the playground.” Her voice gets deeper and more forceful with each word. “We’ve been through this before. I got called out of work to come to pick you up and now you’re acting like this? If you don’t want to be picked on, then stand up for yourself. Honestly, Cozy, do I have to send you to your dad’s?”
Yeah, like that’s gonna help. He barely remembers my name and I’ll have to babysit on top of that.
“No, Mom.” I sit back, fold my arms, then shift my body to face the frosty window. “Dad doesn’t want to see me anyway. He can’t help.”
No one can help. I’m worn out.
She sighs her frustrated, disappointed sigh. “I’m sorry, Cosette, but this has to stop. We’ve been through this before with the other girls. This is the second time this year.”
“She’s the same girl, Mom. And this is the fourth time this year.” And I lost all four of them.
My mom is clueless. She works too hard and zombies through every aspect of her life, including me. My brother was so independent. Maybe I’m so needy that she doesn’t get me. I hate feeling alone. I love her. I just wish she would open her eyes.
“There’s only so much I can do, Cozy. I have to make up for this shift so I won’t be home ‘til midnight. Do you want me to drop you off at home or Three J’s?” This is her way of passively making me feel better.
“Three J’s. I’ll get a ride home from Mattie.”