“Fight, fight, fight, fight!”
I swallowed hard and clenched my fist. In the corner of my eye I could see Becky, her hands clutched together in a silent prayer. Fiona was beside her, arms crossed and shaking her head. Ynez had already gone home.
I took a deep breath and studied my opponent. He obviously didn’t intend to take this fight seriously – he was still joking to his friends, not even facing me properly.
The chanting of the crowd reached its crescendo and I lunged forward with my fists raised.
Four hours earlier.
Fiona, Ynez and I selected tennis rackets from the motley box of equipment that looked like it’d been purchased decades earlier. The tennis balls were the only new things our PE department seemed to own – aside from footballs – and even they were worn or splitting.
Finding a properly fluorescent yellow ball was a rare treat. I dug through the bucket and managed to score four, which I tossed to my friends.
“Groups of four to a court please,” called Mrs Norris as the two classes began to spread out.
This was a rare opportunity to have PE with the boys’ class; usually we were separated by gender, which made things awkward for my non-binary friend Ynez. Mrs Norris wasn’t a great help in that department either. She just shrugged and said ‘you’re assigned to my class, so you’ll stay in my class. Get changed in the disabled toilet if you need to.’
Since Ynez had no other option, that’s what they did, with Fiona and I standing outside like bouncers for protection. But on days like today, Ynez seemed at ease. They were no longer the androgenous tomboy; they blended in.
We corralled a quiet friend of ours, Nathan, to turn our trie into a quartet and I gave him one of our precious fluoro balls.
I was just about to serve when Ynez hissed to me.
“Hey Dani. Isn’t that Becky with Davis’s group?”
I almost dropped my ball. Two courts down from us was Mark Davis, one of the most popular guys in school. He was rich, good-looking, captain of the football team for year 11, and he had even been in the top class in our year – the only reason music geeks like us knew anything about him. We had been in the same class as him and his best friends Elena and Garrett for the past three years. Now that we were able to take whichever classes we wanted, I only had English, Biology and Media Studies with him, plus PE whenever we mixed.
“Becky’s a bit of a loner though, isn’t it good she found a group? She hasn’t got any friends in this class,” I replied. I liked Becky, but there was a good reason why I didn’t invite her to join us. With her terrible coordination, she’d miss every hit and we’d never get a game started. She also had a tendency to cling, which was super awkward when you had to explain inside jokes to her every three seconds.
“Yeah, but those guys? I catch the bus with Elena and her sister in the morning, all they do is sit up the back and make snide comments about everyone…including me. I’m used to it, but Becky…”
I chewed my lip. “Elena’s harmless. She was fine in primary school anyway, we were actually pretty close. I don’t know much about Garrett, but surely Davis wouldn’t do anything to tarnish his golden boy image.”
“What’s going on over there?” Fiona called, still poised to accept my serve. “Hit the ball, Stone!”
“Sorry!” I shrugged to Ynez, who pursed their lips glumly, then threw my tennis ball into the air and swung hard. I’d learnt tennis for a year or two when I was younger, but nothing had stuck except the serve. My forehand shot was weak because of my double-joints and my backhand was always inaccurate. But when I was serving, I felt like a powerhouse.
Now that Ynez had mentioned Davis, I couldn’t help but glance at their group every now and then. I had had a crush on Mark Davis since year 8 – I’m pretty sure everyone in our class had at some point, even some of the guys. He had a great smile and he would always slip naturally into leadership roles, leading discussions and guiding others.
But from the look of it, he was having one of his asshole days. These had become more and more frequent this year – a toxic combination of ego and testosterone that poisoned his personality. The now-familiar jovial sneer on his face seemed to spread to his companions.
One after another, they served lobs so high that they went over the fence and into the staff parking lot. Each time, they politely asked Becky to fetch the ball, the roared with laughter – and one or two dog barks – when she was out of earshot, even continuing to play without her.
A tennis ball struck me hard in the shoulder and I jolted.
“Sorry!” Nathan said in his usual monotone, waving a remorseful hand.
“No worries, I should’ve been paying attention,” I replied, jogging away to retrieve the ball as I stretched out my shoulder.
I turned to serve again, then saw Davis with the bucket of tennis balls. Becky was already out there retrieving one, so Davis started serving. Up and over the fence went about seven balls before Mrs Norris told him to knock it off. I gritted my teeth.
“Man, I wish I could teach those guys a lesson,” I growled as Ynez came to my side.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything,” they said, tucking their cropped black curls behind their ear.
“It’s not your fault, it’s his for being a jerk and a bully.”
Fiona and Nathan had come to the net to hear what was going on. We all watched as Becky waddled back, cradling all eight balls with the assistance of her shirt, which revealed her chubby belly and only made the others laugh harder. Davis and his pals moved to meet her at the gate, their expressions malicious, so I started walking.
“Dani, what are you even gonna do?” asked Fiona.
I didn’t reply, so she and Ynez began following at a distance. Nathan hissed to some other guys to check it out. Soon I’d have an audience. But truthfully, I had no idea what I was going to do. I just knew I was pissed and I wasn’t going to let them get away with bullying a sweet, defenceless girl. Just because they were popular, it didn’t mean they could do whatever they wanted to whoever they wanted.
To be continued…
Author’s note: this is the first chapter and first draft of a YA novel I’m writing for fun. Some of you may recognise the setting! But the characters are all new. It’s a long chapter so I’ve cut it in half for readability. I may post all of this one up here as I have no plans to publish it at the moment.