Part I: The Accident
The sun was shining down on St Joseph’s catholic school in Greenville. I blinked against the bright glare of it as I walked through the courtyard to my last class of the day. Friends waved at me as I passed. I wasn’t popular but I didn’t get bullied either. Life was simple and I liked it that way here. My mum and I had moved to this part of South Carolina when she had re-married my current step-dad. Daniel wasn’t a bad guy, although we didn’t always see eye to eye.
“Allen, did you remember to do the homework for Mrs Carter’s class?” Harry suddenly appeared at my side. Harry was definitely popular, he was that guy. The one with good looks, sporting ability and brains. He was on his way to becoming an all star athlete or lawyer or model, he had his pick of the grain. Recently I’d felt a bit awkward and clumsy around him, I tried not to think about it too much.
“Yeah, why, did you forget?” I asked, forcing my tone into mock surprise.
“No,” he replied, pulling out the word and pushing his black curls aside. “I merely wanted to double check your answer to question 4. The equation confused me,” he admitted, his lightly tanned cheeks burning a little. I looked away, gulping.
“Sure, I’ll lend it to you at the end of the day,” I promised.
“Thanks man, you’re a lifesaver!” He patted me on the back once before running off down a different corridor to me. The rest of my way to class was quiet, aside from the usual shoving in the school’s main hallway. Mr Peterfields was already writing notes on the board when I walked in. His drywipe marker hovered briefly as he glanced at me.
“Late as usual I see, not that I should expect much else from your sort,” the teacher muttered the last part to himself. Mr Peterfields was notoriously known for being racist but no one had managed to derail his career so far. I ignored the comment and sat down in my usual seat next to my new best friend Zoe.
“Yo,” she said, looking up from her phone. She quickly shoved it into her jacket before the teacher saw her. Mr Peterfields never needed much of an excuse to tell off anyone. I had a pretty strong suspicion he disliked mixed students as much as black ones.
“Hey, how was choir yesterday?” I asked. That was where I had first met Zoe and became friends. Except I had only been able to attend two sessions before my step-dad put down his foot. Apparently choir wasn’t something a guy should be doing. I wasn’t too fussed, my voice sucked so I was probably doing everyone’s hearing a favour.
“Great, shame your step-dad is too insecure in his masculinity to let you go though,” she shrugged. I scoffed a laugh. We’d had this debate before and I was tired of trying to defend Daniel. Zoe cocked an perfectly manicured eyebrow at the response but switched the subject.
“You going to the party on Friday?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I still barely know anyone here,” I sighed.
“Well, the funny thing about parties is, you get to meet new people, make friends, all that cool stuff,” she replied with a knowing smirk.
“Cute,” I muttered, rolling my eyes.
“Cute does not cover me. I am smoking and you know it,” she said, doing a silly gesture with her shoulders that might’ve been some kind of dance move once upon a time. Either way I couldn’t help silently laughing at her silliness.
“Does Miss Vequlas have something she would like to share with the rest of the class?” Mr Peterfields said, watching both of us with steely eyes. Zoe shook her head quickly, mumbling an apology.
“No, I insist, please do share,” Mr Peterfields pushed, visibly enjoying how much Zoe was squirming.
“She said she’s sorry, back off,” I said without thinking. My jaw snapped shut instantly and I wished I could rewind time. Mr Peterfiels grey eyes swivelled onto me and I knew the next word would begin with the letter D. If it weren’t for the glaring, I may have even made a joke out of that fact.
“Get to the principal’s office now Mr Elster,” he demanded, a note already half scribbled. He shoved it in my hand and the door back into the classroom was slammed in my face before I could blink twice. I glanced at the note with the word ‘detention’ blaring on it and considered tearing it to shreds, but that would just make things worse. I started walking down the quiet hallway towards the main entrance where reception and the principal’s office were. I couldn’t help itching my upper arms a little as I walked. Summer was ending so why was I feeling so warm? It was probably in my mind.
I reached the cafeteria and spotted Harry skipping class with two known delinquents. I sighed at the sight, he could do better than those types. One was an out and, for some reason, proud lesbian. The other girl was a mutant. The only one who attended our school. My mum had taught me all the wrongness that was associated with both these kinds of sins. Thankfully South Carolina didn’t have many freaks like these two.
“Allen! What happened?” Harry called, running over. His fringe flopping into his field of vision.
“Mr Peterfields,” I said by way of explanation.
“Ah man, that sucks,” Harry mumbled. The two were observing our conversation with open curiosity, it made me feel extremely uncomfortable.
“I better go before I get in more trouble,” I said. It wasn’t my place to tell Harry how to live his life afterall. The trouble being my mum learning I’d spent time in the same space as the other two of course.
“Homophobe,” the girl muttered before I could take a step. I hesitated, I didn’t want to start a conflict but I deserved the right to defend my beliefs, right?
“Yes, I’m against your lifestyle. I won’t stop you though,” I shrugged.
“Afraid it’s contagious?” She half-growled, the venom clear in her voice. The parahuman’s clawed hands were flexing instinctively.
“I’m not interested in starting trouble,” I said, holding up both palms. Harry was watching me with a new expression I hadn’t expected. Had I said something to upset him? The lesbian huffed a laugh at me and took the other girl’s hand.
“It’s okay,” she murmured. “Prick ain’t worth it.” I felt a grimace stretch my features. It was bad enough being a mutant but she was gay as well? Apparently I hadn’t done a good enough job hiding my face because the mutants glare grew more intense.
“You should go before this gets ugly,” Harry said. His voice decidedly more distant than the other times I spoke to him. “I don’t need help with homework either,” he added. I blinked at him, confused. Was he seriously ditching our friendship because of this pair of dykes? I shook my head and left. Or I would’ve been except suddenly the mutant was in front of me. I hadn’t even registered she was swinging at me with her claws, just felt sudden pain on my cheek and a wetness dripping down my chin.
“Steph!” Harry and the gay girl yelled in unison. I looked up to see she had raised her claws for a second swipe. I held out my hands in defense and felt heat erupt throughout my body. There was a strangled cry of pain and no blow. I peeked open one eyelid and saw the mutant was leaning against the wall, her breathing laboured. Her skin was raw, peeling away.