Six months earlier
It was the first day of my senior year of high school. It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for.
I wasn’t at my old school in Bridgeport but at a new school that held only the unknown, and I was always scared of the unknown.
The bell rang, marking the end of third period and the start of more unknown things to come. I ignored the stares of my classmates on my way out of the classroom. I just wanted them to stop staring, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen.
I was a new girl, which apparently meant I had to be christened with relentless staring, whispering, and finger-pointing, as if they had never seen a new student at this school—as if I were some alien specimen. It was rather intimidating, and I almost chickened out. I’d most definitely have given up on going to the cafeteria if it wasn’t for my growling stomach. I was starving.
Students flocked to the hall, which helped me get lost in the crowd. I sucked in my belly and straightened my spine, hoping I wasn’t looking as fat as I felt. I was fidgety as I moved, running my hands over the edges of my draped shirt to fix the non-existent creases, hoping it hid the flab above the waistband of my jeans.
It’s going to be okay. Look at the bright side. You’re starting anew here.
I stopped in front of the cafeteria doors as a dull ache spread through my chest. I didn’t want to eat alone and face more staring. It would be better to just pick up some food and go somewhere quiet.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped inside. A quick inspection of the room told me I’d managed to attract some attention, which brought a blush to my face. Okay. More creepy staring, here we go.
My insecure steps led me deeper into the lunchroom, until someone stopped a bit too close to me. I raised my head to meet the stunning yet cold gray eyes of a guy who was so tall I felt like a dwarf next to him. I choked on my saliva, confused as to why such a hot-looking guy would approach me deliberately.
I studied the chiseled features of his face, noting his high cheekbones, straight-edged nose, and heart-shaped lips that could best be described as “made for kissing.” He definitely gave other guys a run for their money, but there was something about him—an air of trouble—that I didn’t like, even more so considering I didn’t know what his deal was.
He assessed me too, and I didn’t miss the cruel calculation on his face or the sudden silence falling on the room.
“Well, you’re something new.” He spoke loudly for others to hear. A non-friendly grin formed on his face. “What’s your name?”
I lowered my head as another blush coated my cheeks. I was growing overly self-conscious, feeling like the thousands of eyes prodded at me.
Too easily, I was taken back to that incident five years earlier. I hadn’t been able to deal with that then, and I certainly couldn’t deal with this now. I just wanted to get this over with and be out of here.
“J-Jessica,” I answered in that squeaky, childish voice I hated. My stammer was followed by vicious laughter from a few students standing nearby.
“What’s that? I didn’t hear you. Jessica what?”
“You mean Jessica Fats?”
My stomach dropped at the insult that hurt the most. The insult I heard more than any other. The one that reduced me to this insecure being that could never be truly satisfied with her looks. He was so mean.
His grin grew even bigger. “Because you’re so fat, Jessie.”
All those faceless people in the room were laughing. The laughter was everywhere, just like that day.
It had been a mistake to come here. A stupid, stupid mistake.
My tears were ready to spill out. I had no idea why this asshole was targeting me, but I didn’t plan to wait to find out. I swiveled around, but he reached for me and grabbed my forearm, preventing my escape.
“Where are you going, Jessie? Do you want to miss your welcome party?”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “My welcome party?”
“Yes.” He glanced at the students around us. “What do you say, guys? Do you want to throw a welcome party for Jessica?”
My heart raced wildly against my ribs; I knew a disaster was about to happen. The guy stepped aside, and reality distorted into something utterly ugly as students started pelting me with food.
Before I could even react, various foods hit me right in the face. I raised my arms to shield my head, but the rest of my body was completely exposed, and I flinched with pain each time I was hit. I was degraded into nothing.
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