Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
(This one's a bit long, I know, and I'm sorry but it wasn't worth splitting at any descent spot to do so, so I just left it)
Jackson was back at school.
Jackson was back at school with friends.
Jackson was back at school, and sitting at a new table.
Briar sat at her table, listening to the pity in the voices of the kids who didn’t know Jackson existed before he got hurt. Before he got hurt because of her. Because she missed something. A phone. A phone.
She wasn’t paying much attention as she sketched. When her eyes truly focused on the page, she saw the same face, over and over, twisted in pain. In fear. In fear of her.
She put the book away, wiping phantom blood off her hands.
The bell rang.
Jackson sat down in his desk. He wouldn’t look at her.
Does he know?
No, he didn’t. He couldn’t.
She took out a piece of paper and wrote out a note.
I gave the sketch to the police. She signed it and slipped it into his bag. He didn’t notice.
Class ended quickly. Suddenly, Briar was in the hall with her bag on her shoulder, and then she wasn’t.
The person who had pulled her into the girl's bathroom, predictably Queenie, was looking rather unpredictable distressed.
“Yes?” Briar asked, at a loss for what else to say to the unfamiliar person before her.
“Because I know you’re the only person on this planet who can actually keep a secret, I need to ask you something. Just, pretend you have emotions for a minute.”
Queenie hadn’t shifted that stray curl from her face.
“What do you want?”
Queenie groaned in frustration, “Again with the monotone! Would you just be normal for, like, one minute so I can have this damn conversation-”
“What do you need?” Briar revised, interrupting.
Queenie huffed, “Fine. I’ve got gym next, and I’m definitely skipping that, so you’re gonna have to skip home-ec-”
Briar put her bag down on the counter next to the sinks, “What do you need?” she repeated once more.
Queenie hesitated, looking Briar up and down. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, she finally stopped stalling.
Like a dam breaking, her words came in a rush, “So I was thinking and I realized that I never had a crush on a guy before and I thought that was weird because all the girls I hang out with all have crushes on someone or other, you know? But then I was at the manor with Rory and she was really close and I was thinking about how she smells kinda nice and I started wishing that she might try to kiss me or whatever and then I was like, what? And I guess I couldn’t really tell any of my friends, and there was no way I was going to tell Rory about this, but I couldn’t just tell nobody so…” she gestured vaguely at Briar, perhaps for the first time at a loss for what to say.
Briar, meanwhile, suffered the same ailment. Her mouth opened and closed. There were words, and then there wasn’t.
“I...Is there a question?” she said, finally.
It was the wrong thing to say.
Queenie’s fist hit the counter with a bang! “Dammit Briar!” she let out a shaky huff through clenched teeth, “Why did I think this would work? Why did I think you would be at all helpful-”
She looked up to see Briar had backed up a step, her hand in her backpack where they both knew a gun was concealed in a hidden pocket.
“Oh, so now you think I’m gonna attack you,” she stepped toward Briar, who stood her ground, her grip on the gun tightening.
“No,” Briar wasn’t sure if she was lying, “Lower your voice.”
“Oh, sure,” Queenie mock-whispered, “Boss me around.”
Then she lunged.
Briar’s head hit the counter, but she managed to keep it from hitting the floor. If the safety hadn’t been on, the gun would have fired as well.
On the ground now with one on Queenie’s hands on her neck, the other reaching for the gun. Ignoring the pain in her gut from Queenie’s knee, Briar used her free hand to wrench Queenie’s off her neck and flip them over so now it was her knee on Queenie’s chest, her hand restraining hers, and her gun under her chin.
“You know what father says about-”
“Screw what father says!” Queenie spat.
Briar blinked, then got up. She calmly returned her gun to its place and turned back to Queenie.
She was still on the ground.
“Get up,” Briar said softly, slinging her bag on her shoulder.
“Giving order doesn’t suit you, you know,” Queenie stated as she got up.
Briar stayed silent.
“Come on? A normal person would have something to say about what just happened.”
“You said yourself that I am not normal.”
Briar didn’t stick around to hear the response. Her teacher hardly noticed her tardiness.
Carlson was waiting when the girls arrived home.
“Eleanor,” Queenie stepped out of the line of fire, going to lean against the wall next to a stand holding a probably-ancient crown, “Would you like to explain where you went on Friday night?”
She stared up at him.
“Would you like to answer my questions?”
“Not this again, Eleanor-”
“Answer mine, I’ll answer yours.”
“ELEANOR!” Both girls flinched.
Carlson sighed, “I am your father, I suggest you treat me as such. Now, if you won’t tell me where you went, you will go downstairs and practice your drills.
“You can complete your homework later. I told you to go downstairs.”
With clenched fists, she nodded her head respectfully, “Yes, father.”
He gave a curt nod, turned on his heel, and strode off into the manor.
Once he was out of sight, Queenie snickered. With Briar’s glare burning into her, the queen took the crown from its stand and placed it on her head. She then turned with a flourish and walked away identically to her father.
Briar watched her leave. She stood alone in the foyer, silently fighting the anger that blurred her vision and whitened her knuckles. She lost the fight. She turned to the last direction that had not been traversed and walked briskly down the winding halls. She stopped suddenly before a bookcase in a dark corner of the east wing. The old tomes were protected by a pristine glass door. The case hadn’t a fingerprint or speck of dust on it.
Briar adjusted the straps of her backpack, then pressed her thumb against the corner of the glass. There was a click and the bookcase swung away from the wall. The now-visible space behind it was no bigger than a small broom closet, with no floor to be seen.
Working quickly, Briar reached up to the ceiling of the small space, having to stretch up to the tips of her toes to do so, and pulled a near-invisible latch. Immediately, she stepped back just in time to avoid being smacked in the head by the falling chain that unfurled into the dark. She then re-checked the straps of her bag, got a grip on the chain and climbed down.
The lights clicked on as soon as her feet hit the ground. Her movements were quick and sharp, even as her energy drained. Bullets tore through targets and knives slashed up dummies until the sun had traced its course back to the east side of the sky.
The next day, her English teacher became the first to write an “F” on Briar’s work.