Everyone knew. I could feel their adolescent judgment burning through me, leaving scars in places that would never heal.
I lowered my head and kept walking. Today my locker seemed incredibly far away, but I pushed on, forcing my feet to keep moving, trying to ignore the stares and the whispers.
“It’s only six more weeks,” my mother had said when she dropped me off, “then we’ll go east for the summer and you can start somewhere fresh in September.”
But she didn’t understand.
I felt myself losing momentum, like a wind up train approaching a steep hill. Don’t stop Cassie, I barked at myself inside my head, you have to keep moving.
And so I did, rounding the corner at the end of the hall, finally just steps away from my locker. The students were gathered thickly here, a herd waiting to be entertained by my reaction to all the hateful words scrawled on my locker door: slut, whore, tramp. Without a word, I opened my locker, hung up my jacket, retrieved my books for period one, then closed the door and clicked the lock back into place.
I turned and looked at my fellow students. Silently, I made eye contact with anyone that would actually meet my gaze. They must have seen it in my eyes – the despair, the failure – because the hallway cleared quickly as they all turned and made their way to class.
They didn’t understand either.
There wasn’t a name they could call me that could match the names I was calling myself.
Worthless, pathetic and weak, the voice in my head taunted. Deserter, it jeered, twisting the knife. Involuntarily, my hand went to my stomach, cradling the place he had been for so long.
With a bitter smile, I remembered holding him after the birth, amazed by his perfect little toes and his soft little body. Enthralled when I looked into his eyes and saw my own eyes staring back at me. Mother and son for a heartbeat. A moment of bliss before my own mother gave him to the nurse to take away.
Coward, the voice was screaming now. I put my hands over my ears.
“He’s better off,” I whispered in protest, over and over again, wishing I could say the same for myself. Gradually, the screaming voice subsided and I realized I was standing in the middle of the hallway, alone, my hands still covering my ears.
I took a deep breath and willed my feet to start moving again. I had to find my momentum, had to keep going. I had to be here when he came looking for me.
This is my submission for this week’s Speakeasy challenge #98. Submissions must be under 1000 words and must begin with the following line: Everyone knew.
In addition, submissions must reference the photo prompt, which is the following image: