Warnings: Bullying, cursing, and blood.
I have never been a Casanova. I was tall, sure, but sweaty palms and sci-fi novels don’t exactly send the ladies into a tizzy and I was a chronic sufferer of both. I wasn’t particularly smooth either, but I had, in the past, been able to keep my creep level to a minimum. That wasn’t the case now.
Don’t get me wrong. I had tried on numerous occasions to gather my self-confidence and introduce myself to Cream. I would fidget from my place behind her, taking deep breaths, practicing my introduction under my breath like some kind of paranoid schizophrenic. Every time I finally got up the courage to do something simple – like ask to share her paint or borrow a brush – Royal would crush my ego with a sweeping crescendo of laughter backing him.
Today was no different. I was behind Cream working our color theory project; only, I wasn’t really making much progress – probably because I spent more time looking at the woman in front of me than the canvas that attempted to block my view. I knew it was a creeper thing to do – hide behind a canvas and stare – but I couldn’t seem to make my legs work or my lips move at the moment so it would have to do.
The professor was a middle-aged woman who either had the bladder of a child or a bad habit of chugging coffee before class began because, without fail, she had to excuse herself every morning. On cue her monotone voice carried over the student’s whispers, “I’ll be back shortly.”
Instinctively my gaze darted to Royal and Scarlett. They never missed an opportunity to harass me. It was an unpleasant ritual but a ritual nonetheless and as they headed towards my aisle it was clear that they weren’t going to break it. I ground my teeth together. Prepared for the insults. Braced for an ‘accidental’ elbow or shoulder.
It didn’t come.
He did glare at me as he passed and said something like, “Berries like you shouldn’t be here.” but that was surprisingly harmless compared to his usual behavior.
Scarlett giggled along as they made their way to the back of the room. I couldn’t help but be curious. Were they really going to use the time reserved for tormenting me for something more productive, like refilling their paints? Because that’s what they were doing.
They were only in the back of the classroom for a few moments before they started back down my row. I stiffened as they passed but all Royal did was puff out his chest and raise his fist as he walked by. A mere display of aggression. I really hoped he got what was coming to him one day.
When they stopped next to Cream, who had never diverted her attention from her piece during the teacher’s absence, my stomach turned. I willed them back to me, more than willing to endure any abuse if it meant sparing her.
“Hey Cream,” Scarlett purred, “How are you today?”
Cream nearly jumped out of her skin, white eyes wide as she looked between Royal and Scarlett warily, “I’m alright, Scarlett. How are you?”
Royal and Scarlett were in rare form today. Their normal interactions with Cream were crude at best. Today they sounded almost polite.
“We were just wondering,” Royal asked, “if you wanted to become a normal berry.”
My stomach dropped.
“What-” Cream began before a whole cup of purple paint stained her porcelain face.
“What the hell is wrong with you!” My guttural outburst melded with Cream’s cries.
I slipped between the easels, grabbing Royal’s arm and twisting until the contents of his cup splashed onto the floor.
Scarlett wedged herself between us. “Look, we’re just making her normal. You both should be thanking us!” She hollered, punctuating her sentence with a shove. Royal followed it up with a quick jab. There was a crunch, and then warmth as my mouth filled with copper.
Thankfully the professor’s voice spared me from a second blow as I hadn’t had the forethought to fend off another blow, “What is going on here?” She asked.
My head throbbed, drowning out their voices. Through blurry eyes, I could see Cream had disappeared. I hoped she hadn’t witnessed my complete lack of athleticism.
“Mr. Spring, is that right?”
“Did you walk into an easel?” She repeated the story Scarlett had spun.
If I told the truth I would only get it worse later, “Yeah. Sure.”
“Go clean yourself up.” She said, settling back into her desk.
The hallway was cold and empty; a sharp contrast to the warmth spilling from my nose. I gingerly wiped away the blood with the cuff of my hoodie, white-hot pain flooding my senses as I entered the restroom.
“Fern, I love you.”
“Stop it. You know we can’t-”
The voices came to halt as I rounded the corner, both woman looking as startled to see me as I was to see them. I recognized the smaller woman from my first day, and like before, her face contorted into annoyance when she saw me.
“I thought you locked the door!” The other girl, Fern, yelled.
“Then how did he wander in here?”
“Shit, sorry, I’ll leave.” I began backing away, but Ivy caught me by the wrist and pulled me closer.
“Did you hear anything?”
“There was nothing to hear. Okay. I told you it was a mistake.” Fern answered for me, face stoic as she pushed passed us.
Silence crept in as Ivy stared at the door, eyes glazed over in pain. Her grip on me loosened but remained. I cleared my throat, the oozing blood reminding me of my original goal despite my error.
“I’m sorry about your girlfriend, Ivy, and I’m sorry I went into the wrong restroom but-”
“You’re an idiot.” She scoffed, taking in my state for the first time, “You’ve been here for two weeks and still haven’t figured out a berry-dang thing have you?”
I didn’t know what she was talking about or how to respond. Luckily, I didn’t have to, “Go wash your face and then let me look at it.”
I did as she asked, taking the time to rinse my mouth as well. When I turned the sink off, Ivy was waiting with paper towels in hand. “For the bleeding.” She explained before shaking her head, “It doesn’t look like you have a deviated septum. Who broke your nose?”
“Berry, you are an idiot.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” I pressed the paper towels to my swollen nose.
“Because you have a lot to learn.”