She had prepared herself for the rest of the week. Leila avoided Johnny. What had happened last Monday had been much too unnerving and weird for her. She couldn't deal with it. Johnny's character was too confusing for her to grasp, so Leila simply did not put up with it. When next Monday came around, she would not go. She didn't tell Marcy any of this, however, and despite her dislike for the woman, Leila continued seeing her.
"How have the past few weeks been for you?" Marcy asked, clasping her hands together.
Leila shrugged, studying the intertwining colors of the carpet beneath her sneakers. Dark green, grey and brown. Her lips pursed in distaste.
"Do you find Johnny to your liking?" Marcy pressed. "He is a wonderful person, isn't he?"
Leila's dark head bobbed up and down.
"I hope, soon, we'll all be seeing a rise in your studies. That would be so nice, wouldn't it, Leila? Your teachers will be so happy, and not to mention your parents." Marcy smiled in satisfaction. "I hope you're working hard. Because I really do care that you succeed. Remember, Leila, I'm your friend. How was yesterday's lesson?"
Yesterday? Leila shrugged. She didn't go yesterday. "It's was okay. Same as usual." She mumbled, running her tongue along her teeth. The toothache had returned.
The answer did not satisfy the counselor. "Well. I'll be checking with Johnny, soon, and—"
Suddenly, a tall girl walked through the door which was left open, into the counselor's office. "Marcy? Hey, can I talk to you for—"
Johnny's friend, Sarah, fell silent at the sight of the duo. Leila felt the muscles in her shoulders tense which was odd because there was something eerily comforting about the other girl's presence.
"Sarah!" Marcy beamed. "Come right in! This is one of my freshmen. New blood, eh?" she laughed heartily.
Sarah flashed an easy smile in the counselor's direction. "I hope she'll give back to the school as much as the school gives to her!"
"This is Johnny's charge," Marcy introduced. "Did he tell you? Her name's Leila."
"Oh, we've met actually." An easy laugh followed her easy smile. "How are you Leila?"
There was something truly discerning about the girl. The energy Sarah gave off was just too… too perfect. It unsettled Leila. Everything about Johnny's friend was strange. Her entire pretense was calm, soothing, and friendly. But at the same time, something false seemed to slither behind the façade. But it was so small, it could have been nonexistent but somehow Leila really didn't think so.
"I'm okay." She mumbled, dropping her gaze back down to the carpeted floor. "You?"
"I'm great! Thanks!" Sarah smiled, a bit too sweetly. "I really do hope I'm not interrupting anything, because I can come back later."
"Of course not." Marcy exclaimed. "Leila and I were simply discussing her past tutor sessions. She likes them so far, don't you, Leila?"
"Yeah, Johnny was telling me what a great person she was. He says she's brilliant," Sarah chirped.
Leila turned her head to stare at the girl sitting a few feet away from her. She was lying, Leila thought and when her eyes locked gazes with the queer girl, she became certain that Sarah was.
Something different stirred behind Sarah's gray-blue eyes. They spoke to Leila so clearly, as if Sarah herself was telling Leila this.
She knows I know she's lying, Leila thought. The realization made her teeth hurt even more. She gritted them together to mute the pain.
A small smile quirked the corners of Sarah's lips. Her left eyebrow rose, as if in question. Leila felt as if she was being mocked. She threw the older girl her most immature, hateful glare and turned away, slouching in her seat, accurately taking in the appearance of an angst driven adolescent.
"I'm not brilliant." Leila said loudly, once she was aware of Marcy watching the exchange between Sarah and her. "He's lying."
"Leila!" Marcy admonished. "What a thing to say about such a nice boy. Perhaps you are brilliant. You just have no inspiration, nothing drives you to succeed." The counselor clucked her tongue. "Now see, Sarah here is as smart and brilliant as Johnny. But you know what, she was just like you. Remember, Sarah?"
"I was," Sarah agreed, smiling.
Leila tried not to feel surprise. The smile on her face was genuine.
Sarah laughed. "I was so messed up. I was so lazy! You remember, Marcy?"
"Of course I do. Back then you were one of those cult kids, or something."
"Cult," Sarah giggled.
Leila felt apprehensive. An intruder amongst friends engaged in reminiscence.
"All that stopped by the end of sophomore year," Marcy continued. "You were a new person. It was absolutely wonderful. Something changed you, and I don't know what."
"Maybe I just decided to be optimistic." Sarah suggested, looking relaxed.
"Exactly," Marcy looked at Leila. "You just gotta be optimistic, hon. That's all there is to it. You have to believe you can do it. And I know you can, Leila. You're a brilliant student. Johnny wasn't lying."
Leila suddenly stood up. "I have to go."
Marcy blinked. "Well—"
"Really, I—I need to get to class. I—I need—" Leila didn't continue. She couldn't. Something had suddenly possessed her and all she knew, was that she needed to get away from there as soon as possible or something terrible would happen to her. It was farfetched, and possibly overdramatic, but Leila didn't care.
She took long strides towards the door, walking past Sarah but making sure never to look at the girl. Reaching the hallway, Leila broke into a run, not caring that Marcy and Sarah could still see her.
Marcy would be speaking to Johnny, and soon, she would know that Leila was not turning up for her lessons. What would happen then? Could Leila be forced into attending, or could she simply refuse and cancel the entire thing? Leila hoped so. She didn't want anything to do with Johnny, or any of his weird friends, again.
Leila almost laughed. Weird! She was calling his friends weird when she was the one who…. She sighed, shaking her head, quickly heading down the hall for her class. Her hands wrung themselves, feeling sweaty and clammy. God she hated this place. She hated being here. She hated it.
"Samra?" the teacher for U.S History, Mr. Parson, sounded cool. "You're late. You are aware that your grades have been dismal for the past semester, aren't you? Being tardy simply shows that you obviously, do not care for your studies." He was getting mad.
"I was with the counselor." Leila said stonily, aware of everyone watching this. She wanted to glare at them, tell them to mind their own business, but she kept her gaze on Mr. Parson's face.
"You spend more time in that office than you do in class," Mr. Parson snapped. "Go sit down. Don't let this happen again."
Leila turned and tried not to storm down the aisle like an angry child. She slumped into her seat, feeling short tempered, hungry, and sick. The toothache wasn't exactly helping, either. It sounded so miniscule, but in truth, it actually hurt a lot more. She refrained from putting her fingers into her mouth.
She felt the kid sitting besides her staring at her, and looked up to stare back at him. The white kid with blonde hair halfway down his face grinned.
He obviously thought she was an idiot. The grin widened.
"Leave me alone." Leila said coldly.
He shrugged. "Whatever, amigo."
"Paterson!" Mr. Parson barked. "Shut up!"
The class giggled.
Leila dropped her head into her arms, wishing she was anywhere else except for here at school. Her eyes drifted close, but she knew she had very little time to rest before Mr. Parson was on her case again. She sighed and sat up, trying to pay attention.
"Only one and a half week left before we never see each other again," Mr. Parson was saying. She could tell he was feeling rather satisfied about the little fact. "Second semester is coming up, which means new classes, and new teachers. Which is good news for you, and great news for me." His dark eyes scanned the classroom. "You with me, Paterson? Samra? You listening?"
Leila felt annoyance kick in and opened her mouth to say something back, but the minute her lips parted, pain suddenly shot through her gums. She clapped a hand over her lips to smother the gasp.
Her mouth smarted. It was no longer a simple toothache. It was pain. Pain so intense it made her eyes sting.
Leila stood up suddenly, knowing Mr. Parson was staring at her. He wasn't the only one. The rest of the class turned to see what was going on. The kid, Paterson whistled.
"Whoa, you gonna stand up to the man, or what, amigo?"
Leila ignored them all. Panic was filling her. Something strange was happening, something she didn't know, and what was worse; it was happening during class. Leila stumbled out of her seat and headed for the door, struggling not to gag, cry or scream in the presence of her classmates. The pain in her teeth was killing her.
"Ms. Samra? Ms. Samra!" Mr. Parson was trying to sound concerned, but Leila knew he was more angry than worried. "Ms. Samra, can you please—"
"Nurse," she managed to choke, before claming her mouth shut as she went right past him.
"B-but—you can't just—"
Leila pulled the classroom door open and left without another word or explanation. Her heart was beating in her throat, racing so fast Leila was afraid. Something icy was pumping through her bloodstream, and she knew whatever was happening wasn't normal… wasn't…ordinary. She had to get out fast.
Leila hurtled for the girls bathroom, not knowing where else to go.
Two girls were at the sinks, washing their hands and chattering. They didn't take one look at Leila, who found this a good thing as she ran for the last stall and locked herself inside.
It hurt. Her mouth hurt so much it made her eyes burn and film with tears. She didn't know what was happening.
A sharp sound suddenly emitted itself from her mouth. A sound so strange, so awful, that horror gripped her, sending her to her knees as she leaned against the toilet for support. She could feel the unknown disturbance lingering, alive, somewhere inside the cavern of her mouth.
"Did you hear something?" one of the two girl's voice floated over to her.
The other giggled. "I think someone's constipated."
The whisper was high, reaching Leila, who paid no attention.
Terror pounded a tattoo inside her chest. Tears ran unchecked down her cheeks.
Her mouth ached; Leila could suddenly feel her gums pulsing. A hand clapped over her mouth automatically as a small, terrified whimper escaped
This was not happening…. It could not be happening. WHY was it happening? And why now? Why her? What had she down? Why did it hurt so much?
And then she felt it.
The pain escalated, searing within the chambers of her mouth. Her gums split, and Leila knew only pain. Her teeth were on fire, something blazing so agonizingly she was sure she'd pass out.
And then they thrust free.
Shooting up, smothering her cries, and accidentally slicing her lower lip on their way out. A scream ripped itself from her throat. It sounded so inhuman, even to her own ears. The cry was animalistic; punctured and tortured it rang in her ears.
Another scream sounded, but it did not come from Leila.
"Oh my god!"
"What the hell was that?"
Leila could hear nothing except for her own screams, ringing in her ears. Her new teeth were growing, lengthening, sharpening. A terrified cry escaped mid-scream as she caught sight of her reflection against the metal trash bin, backing away, horrified.
Somewhere in the background the two girls had run from the bathroom, crying something about getting help. Leila heard none of it. The screams surrounding her, the pain blistering inside her mouth… it hurt so much, too much, she couldn't even think. Her vision swam red; the pounding inside her head was enough to make her weep for death, for relief.
And then she snapped. Leila suddenly threw herself against the stall, trying to somehow mute the ongoing escalating pain. The entire row of stalls shuddered just from the impact, but no matter what it had done to the stall, no matter how hard she threw herself against the stall walls, the pain inside Leila's mouth would not be silenced.
Shortly after, with no more strength left, she sank to the floor, body feeling tired and bruised. She tried not to think of what she had seen. Of what had grown out of her mouth, but it was difficult.
She looked like a monster. Tears streamed down Leila's face as she shook her head a fraction. No, she was a monster.
And for the first time that day, something remarkable happened; just as the pain had begun, it suddenly stopped. And so did her screams. Muffled sobs escaped her lips, but other than that… the bathroom was silent.
Her cheek lay flat against the cold, hard, dirty tiles. Ragged breaths escaped through chapped, parted lips. Her lungs ached, feeling constricted and weak because of the screams that had racked through her body for a good ten, fifteen minutes. She did not know how much time had passed as she lay unmoving, eyes staring lifelessly at what lay before her. She could see right through the other three stall to the row of sinks.
She felt so tired. Everything seemed to hurt. Now that her mouth no longer seemed as if it were expanding, the pain allover her body came alive. Her lip was throbbing in pain, and Leila couldn't even remember why. Her badly bruised shoulder hurt from where she had thrown herself against the walls repeatedly.
Leila squeezed her eyes shut. She had seriously lost it at that second. She went completely out of her mind. Leila had felt so helpless… so hopeless, she just couldn't take it anymore. It had hurt so much, she wanted to bang her head on the ground just to get out. To break free from the pain she had been forced to endure.
But it was over now. She was okay again.
Slowly, painfully, Leila pushed herself up into a sitting position. Her arms and shoulder blades screamed in protest, but Leila pushed on. Her hands found the seat of the toilet to steady herself and Leila used its support to bring her to her knees.
She suddenly caught sight of blood spotting the bathroom ground and knew it was her own.
Her fingers reached tentatively towards her mouth where her lower lip throbbed, only to jerk her hand away with a gasp. Blood ran down her fingers, onto the floor. Two fresh and rather deep cuts were sliced along her fingers.
Panic grew in her chest.
Leila whirled around the toilet seat, trying to find something reflective just so she could see what exactly had happened to her. The metal trash bin blinked almost happily at her and she leaned forward to get a better look.
Rows of sharp, jagged teeth had sprouted, protruding into monstrous shapes. There were two fangs hanging from the top row of teeth, and they were easily the largest and sharpest of the lot.
The horror came back, rapidly building inside, constricting her chest. Her mouth opened.
And a piercing scream sounded.
The ride home was quiet. Stephen had tried talking, but Leila didn't feel like saying anything. She sat staring out the window, feeling miserable lost and so alone. She didn't want to be her anymore. She was so tired of being her. She wanted to be someone else.
They had found her huddled in the stall, shaking, unable to say anything. They stared, perplexed and wary at the small, pale, ill looking girl edged all the way into the far corner of the handicapped stall, watching them with wide fearful eyes as if they were the ones to be afraid of.
The teeth had gone just as they had come. Leila knew she looked slightly crazy, but there was nothing she could do about it. The principal himself was summoned but he was too afraid to come any close to her.
Later, she had somehow been hauled off to the Nurse's office, where the nurse had bandaged her bleeding fingers and gave her an ice pack to press over her lip.
"Her lower lip is going to need some stitching," the nurse had informed the principal. "It's been split right down the middle. Pretty nasty. How'd you cut yourself there, hon?" she asked Leila.
Leila had not responded.
"What happened?" the nurse turned back to the principal.
"I have no idea." The principal rubbed his bald head, looking slightly bewildered. "Two students just ran into the teachers lounge earlier, yelling about someone being in trouble and Mrs. Timmons summoned for me. We found her in the girls bathroom on the second floor. She wouldn't move or speak, but according to the students she had been screaming. When she found her however, she was quiet."
They both looked at her. Leila stared at her knees, unmoving.
"A freshman?" the nurse observed.
"Yes, Leila Samra. I'm going to be speaking with her counselor in a few minutes."
"She looks awfully young. Even for a freshman," the nurse mused. "She almost looks eleven."
"Er, yes." The principal glanced at his watch. "Well, her parents should be along any minute. Send them to my office, Jane."
Stephen had been spoken to, of course after the general shock wore off.
"Her parents couldn't make it?" the nurse asked, staring.
"She doesn't have parents," Stephen replied swiftly. "I'm her guardian."
The nurse didn't move, as if she didn't believe or trust what he said. Leila had to get up and move to hug Stephan before the nurse relaxed. Leila did not know why, but seeing Stephen made her want to cry. He was her anchor, always there for her when she needed him. The second his arms wrapped themselves around her, Leila felt comforted, safe. She wanted to cry, to soak his shirt with her sobs, but somehow she managed to hold it in.
"Are you all right?" his voice asked urgently in her ear. "What happened"?"
"Mr.… er..." the nurse shifted her weight, fingering her clipboard.
"McGuire." Stephen looked up, holding Leila still close. She buried her face into his upper abdomen. Leila stood skinny and small at 4'11 next to his broad build of 6'4, but then again she was considered small next to a lot of people.
The event at the hospital passed without much to go on about. Leila had wanted to cling to Stephan, but she knew she could not. She was 14. It was time to grow up forgodsake. She actually sat through the stitching without wincing.
"I have to get back to work, Leila." Stephan's eyes studied her. "But if you're scared or—or if you need me, I'll be more than happy to stay. I can just call in and tell them that something came up and that—"
"No." Leila forced a quick smile. "Don't do that. I'm fine, Stephan. I promise. I just… just accidentally split my lip and … freaked out a bit…"
"You were screaming your head off." He stated.
Leila laughed, trying to make it sound genuine as she tried going for humor. "That is a part of freaking out, you know."
Stephan's shoulders relaxed considerably. "if you ever need me…if you want to talk, don't be afraid to, all right? I'm always here."
Leila tried smiling again, but it hurt too much just to try. The stitches made her lip feel awkward and sore.
"I know, Stephan. I love you for it."
He leaned over and hugged her, a smile breaking over his face. But Leila could still see the worry in his eyes. "Be strong, kid." He had her tucked unnecessarily on the couch, turning the TV on for her on low and placing cans of soda beside her.
"Fluids only," he announced. "Anything else might cause the stitches to dissolve earlier than it's supposed to. "When I come back, I'll bring pudding and Jell-O!" now he really did look delighted. "When was the last time you had pudding and hello?"
"A long time." Leila answered truthfully.
Stephen's smile faded. "Yeah… well… I have to get going. Take care of yourself, Leila." He left her with a kiss on the forehead and then silence. Except for the droning and high laughter coming from the TV, nothing else sounded.
The doorbell woke her; startling Leila out of her slumber. For a second she remained where she was, unsure of what to do. The TV was still on, playing something that sounded oddly like Everybody Loves Raymond, its low drone confusing her for a second. Leila looked around for the time. It should be around five-thirty. She rubbed her eyes tiredly. She'd been asleep for three hours straight, as hard as it was to believe since she had fallen asleep in the middle of the day. And she was still tired.
The doorbell rang a second time, followed by hesitant, almost cautious knocks on the door.
Leila kicked the blanket down and rolled herself off of the couch before slowly climbing to her feet. Who could be at the door? Nobody ever came to their home and Stephan wasn't due home from work until 9:30.
She made her way towards the front door, fighting down a yawn, wishing she was still wrapped under the blanket folded into its' warmth. Everything suddenly felt much colder.
The doorbell rang again, and Leila hurried to unlock the front door and prepared to tell whoever it was, that they had the wrong house.
"Hold on," Leila muttered, feeling the stitches on her lower lip scratch across her upper lip. She pulled the door open, peering out. The sight which met her outside the door rendered Leila speechless. She gawked, mouth dropping as she almost immediately forgot about the stitched lip.
She couldn't believe what she was seeing. Johnny Blythe stood on her doorstep, a white bear in his hands. Forget the bear, Leila was much more unnerved by the concern etched so deeply into his face.
"Jeez, Leila—are you okay?" he didn't wait for her to answer. Johnny took a step into the house towards her, his hand reaching out to hold her face, turning it this way and that as he inspected her.
Leila was too stunned to do anything. She had not been expecting Johnny to come, to actually care. Heck, she hadn't been expecting anybody. Because no one had ever cared enough to come see her before, she had not been expecting anything less different this time.
Leila felt strange.
"I heard you had some sort of accident at school and was rushed to the hospital!" That was an exaggeration, Leila thought dazedly. "Cripes, Leila, I was so worried. I thought maybe S—I mean, I thought someone… someone might have done something to you, or-or something."
Everything felt so surreal for a second. Johnny was scrutinizing her worryingly. She wasn't aware of herself slowly reaching up to take his hand and pull it away, where it lay cupping the side of her face. And she didn't release it either, but quite the contrary. Her fingers, so small compared to his long, slender ones suddenly curled themselves around his large hand.
The warmth from his grip was suddenly comforting.
Johnny however, took notice of Leila's peculiar actions and was surprised.
"I…I brought you something," he said hesitantly. "It's just to say that I hope you feel better and—and that I'm sorry. Sorry for whatever I did to you," Johnny added hurriedly. "That it's making you avoid me and stuff." He held out the bear. It was white.
Leila stared at it, as if unsure of what to do. This was her very first stuffed animal she had ever had. She slowly reached out and took the bear with the hand that wasn't holding Johnny's hand.
A few heartbeats passed, and nothing was said. Leila was studying the bear; large, round black glass eyes and a tremulous smile looked back up at her. It had a green bow around its neck, too. Leila pressed her lips together, feeling the corners of her mouth slightly quirk. Green was her favorite color.
And at that moment Leila suddenly knew. She looked up at Johnny, who was watching her anxiously and for the very first time, Leila accepted somebody.
Her small hand tugged at his own large one, and Leila led him into the house.
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