Courtney Spencer's head throbbed with a dull ache as she watched the girls' debate on the other end of the room.
Kidney looked a bit put off by the whole thing. She kept glancing back from Lizzie to Veronica to Lizzie and back to Veronica. She didn't seem to know what to say or if she did, how to say it.
Courtney's eyes blurred slightly and she blinked hard to bring them back into focus.
Lizzie looked pissed. Or maybe that was just her normal face, Courtney didn't know. She seemed to be disagreeing with Veronica, her head was shaking vigorously. Maybe that was just Courtney's eyes again. She blinked.
Veronica pursed her lips, Courtney noticed she did that a lot when she was anxious, scared, or deep in thought. Veronica stiffened at something Lizzie said but held her ground. She crossed her arms and spoke.
Courtney couldn't make out a word of what she said, but it seemed to upset Lizzie, who squared her shoulders slightly.
Courtney's head ached and she had to close her eyes for a moment. Her brain felt like it had a sack of wet potatoes lodged inside. And don't even get her started on her leg.
She hadn't acknowledged the pain when she had first woken up. In her state of panic, her adrenaline overcame her pain. But now that she had calmed down, it roared with such ferocity Courtney wondered if it would explode. Her leg jerked unexpectedly and Courtney had to bite her lip to keep from crying out.
It really fucking hurt.
Not that she'd tell them. She opened her eyes to Veronica, Lizzie, and Kidney who were now making their way over to her. She straightened her back and tried to appear like she was fine. Because she was fine.
Kidney spoke first. "Good news, Blondie!"
Courtney didn't like that nickname.
"We're on bored with your crazy ass plan!"
It wasn't crazy, but Courtney smiled anyway. It was going to be okay! They'd help her and she'd be safe! Her smile paused when she felt a bruise on her cheek. She lifted her hand to it and asked, "Why does my face hurt?"
"Oh, that. We tried to wake you up but you wouldn't so I slapped you," Kidney had the nerve to say.
"What?" Courtney screeched but that only caused her head to explode with pain. She winced.
"Are you okay?" Veronica asked.
Courtney opened her eyes (when did she close them?) and sluggishly nodded, biting the inside of her cheek. She was fine. "Yes," she whispered.
"You don't look so good."
Courtney's eyes landed on Kidney's and she narrowed her blurring eyes. "I am perfectly f-"
She was cut off by another wave of pain from her head and leg. She bent over as her blood pounded in her ears. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Veronica leaning closer to her. She was saying something but Courtney couldn't hear her.
Kidney was making hand gestures and her mouth was flapping open and closed at a speed Courtney didn't know was possible. Kidney must have said something because Lizzie slapped her on the head and Veronica's expression appeared aghast.
Courtney's attention focused back to Veronica, who had wrapped her arm around the blonds shoulder. She was speaking slowly to Courtney, or maybe Courtney's mind was just comprehending events in slow motion. Courtney directed all of her awareness to Veronica. She tried to match her breathing with Veronica's, like she had done earlier.
In, out. In, out. She repeated until the blood stopped banging in her ears and the pain faded away to a more bearable throb.
"Are you okay?" Even though Veronica whispered, her voice still felt like it was shattering her eardrums.
Not trusting herself to speak yet, Courtney nodded.
Something behind Courtney moved and she turned her head slowly to see Kidney hold a damp cloth toward her. "For your head," Kidney offered. Courtney tried not to wince at the noise.
She mouthed a thank you and attempted to reach her hand out to grab it but for some reason, she couldn't lift her hand more than a few inches. It felt too heavy. When she tried the other hand she got the same result. Her cheeks flared red with embarrassment as Veronica grabbed the cloth and held it gently to her forehead. It felt cool and relieving and Courtney sighed into it.
"What was that all about?" Kidney said, though it felt as if she were shouting.
"I don't know," Veronica bit her lip. Her gaze landed on Courtney's. "Should we take you to the hospital?"
Anger rose in Courtney's veins. "Of course not," she seethed. Her head panged at the volume she spoke in, but she ignored it. "I told you before that I can't go to a freaking hospital because-"
"Because the bad guys will find you. We know," Lizzie cut in. "But you don't have to be such a bitch about it. We are trying to help you."
"I don't need your fucking help!"
"Says the girl who just had a panic attack and almost keeled over!" Lizzie growled.
"You guys, stop. This isn't helping." Veronica ground in.
"Oh? We put ourselves on the line for this bitch and she didn't even say thank you!"
Courtney winced. It was too loud.
Veronica and Lizzie stared at each other in silence, seeming to talk to each other through their eyes. Courtney guessed that it was probably a thing friends could do. Veronica opened her mouth but didn't get to say anything because Kidney opened her own flap.
"What?" Lizzie asked.
"Obliteration Organization!" Kidney answered, as if it cleared everything up. "It's what we'll call the bad guys."
"Why do we need a name for them? Why can't we just call them 'bad guys'?" Veronica inquired.
"Because that's lame! We need a cool name for them!"
"No, we don't. We have bigger problems to worry about than supervillain names," Lizzie declared.
Kidney's face fell but rose again in an instant. "What about… the Corrupt Correlation?"
"The Scary Society?"
Kidney clammed up, but didn't look to happy about it.
Lizzie sighed. "Look, we can't waste time by standing around talking. We need to do something."
"Like go to the bad guy's clubhouse?" Veronica's voice quivered.
"Yes." She took a deep breath. "Sid and I will go take a peek at them, you two stay here."
"What? Why?" Veronica stood up.
"Just in case we need back up."
Veronica hollowly laughed. "Really? That's the best you got? Why not tell us the real reason?"
"Fine. I don't want Courtney to come because she can't even lift herself up and you're too much of a coward. There, happy?"
Veronica sucked in a breath. "I am not a coward."
"Really?" Lizzie sneered. "Is that why you always shriek and let someone else take the lead?"
"Guys…" Kidney trailed off.
Veronica's eyes were blazing with fury. "You really think that highly of yourself? That you can just boss us around?"
"Someone has to do it."
"Bullshit." Veronica snapped.
Kidney gasped. Courtney guessed Veronica wasn't one to swear.
"You need us as well as you need Sid or yourself. We are coming along."
"No, you're not." Lizzie crossed her arms. "I want you to be safe."
"What about Sid, huh? You don't want to keep her safe?" she paused, but didn't let Lizzie say anything. "Oh, I get it. You want to be the 'hero' of this story. You want to single handedly defeat the bad guys and take all the glory for it." Veronica scowled at her friends. "And Sid wouldn't interject because she has no spine."
"Hey," Kidney yelled.
"What? It's true. You always choose the safer side or none at all! You didn't side with Lee in the car and you didn't side with me either. You just kept your sorry mouth shut."
"That's not fair!" Kidney stepped forward.
"Is it?" Veronica huffed. "But it is fair to call me a coward?"
"No… I… I don't know, okay?" Kidney paced around the room.
Courtney's headache began to feel worse. She gritted her teeth.
"Oh, shut up, Veronica!" Lizzie yelled at her friend. "The only reason we're in this predicament is because you couldn't have run to my truck like I told you!"
"This argument again? Really? One would have thought we went over this." Veronica seethed. "But I guess that's just in your nature? Right, Lee? You don't forgive and forget, you just hold a grudge until it kills you. You hold a grudge against me, for getting us into this mess. You hold a grudge against Sid, for being a spineless bitch. And you hold a grudge against yourself. For having to repeat a grade."
Courtney's eyes widened in shock.
Veronica must have hit a sore spot because Lizzie looked like she was about to spit venom. She opened her mouth, but someone else said something before she could.
"Stop it! Just stop it!"
Everyone turned to Courtney, who was surprised she had spoken. "What are you guys even fighting about?" Courtney didn't know where this was going. She found herself speaking again. "What are you guys so mad about?" she found herself starting to stand up, the pain screaming at her to stop, but she didn't heed it any attention. "You're supposed to be friends, not enemies!" She bit her lip to stop herself from crying out as she stood on her own two feet. "The real enemy are the ones out there!" she gestured outside.
"And whose fault is that?" Lizzie glared at Veronica.
"I don't care whose fucking fault it is!" Courtney yelled. "What I care about is how you guys are treating each other. I may not know a lot about friendship, but I know that you're not supposed to tear each other's throat out! You're friends." she repeated. "Isn't being friends more important than being right? Or finding or whose fault is whose. Or winning an argument?"
The girls glanced guiltily at the floor as Courtney's words sunk in. They didn't meet each other's gaze. Minutes ticked by.
Kidney spoke first. "I'm sorry I don't have a spine." Her words held no sarcasm, only sadness and embarrassment. "I should've been honest about my thoughts. I'm sorry."
Veronica was next. "I'm sorry I'm a coward."
"You aren't!" Lizzie cut in.
"No, I am." Veronica went on. "I did get us into this mess. I didn't run because I wanted to help the one who screamed, though that was part of it. I didn't run because I was scared. I was scared and I couldn't move. I should have listened to you, Lee. But I didn't. I'm sorry."
Lizzie said nothing for a few seconds, and Courtney was afraid she wound leave.
But she did. "I'm sorry I called you a coward." She looked at Veronica. "I'm sorry I don't let you speak your opinion, Sid." She looked at Kidney. "I'm sorry I hold grudges I shouldn't even resent about. I'm sorry for calling you a coward." She paused. I was wrong. I was wrong about trying to leave the alley without looking for the person who screamed. I was wrong about trying to leave her behind. I was wrong about starting a fight I had no right to do. And I was wrong about telling you to stay behind. We need you. I need you, more than I realize. I was wrong, and I'm sorry." Tears were streaking down her face and she sniffled.
Veronica smiled and walked over to her friend. "I forgive you," she said. "I forgive you, Sid."
Kidney padded over to her friends. "Thank you. I forgive you." She spoke to both of them.
Lizzie talked next. "I forgive you."
They all smiled.
"We need each other," Kidney whispered.
They all nodded.
"Because without us," Veronica went on.
They all finished. "We'd be lost without each other."