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Sora rubbed her left shoulder nervously as she stood before Miami Beach Senior High’s psychologist’s office. Doctor Mary Jernigan borrowed the office to meet with Sora during school days since the time suited Mary’s schedule. Taking a deep breath, Sora knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Mary responded.
Sora entered. The office was cozy, with a couch and cushioned chairs sharing space with filing cabinets and a computer desk. Different tests and games sorted by age group were organized on shelves. The normal school carpet was covered by many colorful rugs. Odd abstract paintings adorned the walls, making the room even more vibrant.
Mary sat facing the couch on one of the cushioned chairs. She was a thin lady in her mid-thirties with a kind face, a little taller than Sora. Her curled brown hair hung to her shoulders, while her makeup drew attention to her brown eyes. Colorful speckles spread across a simple v-cut navy-blue dress matched by navy-blue, two-and-a-half-inch cutout heels, with a rhinestone encrusted design. Her eyes followed Sora as she took the seat across from her.
Sora slid off her backpack, shifting as the silence continued. She bit her lower lip, stomach twisting. I hate it when she makes me start! Anxiety bubbling within her, Sora couldn’t help herself. “Kari’s a monster.” Her eyes shifted to examine Mary’s response.
Mary’s passive smile turned into a slight frown as she crossed her legs. “What happened?”
“I—did something yesterday that I probably shouldn’t have.” When Mary didn’t reply, Sora took a deep breath. “Do you remember before Summer Break when Kari shaved off all my hair—you’ve seen how fast it grows, in three months it’s already halfway down my back…” she trailed off.
“You do have pretty hair,” Mary commented, “a thick, shiny copper color. It’s your most striking feature. With your Japanese heritage, it gives you a unique beauty. Many girls would be jealous—especially with how fast it seems to grow.” Mary’s eyebrows came together with concern as Sora continued.
“Since today is the start of the school year I—I didn’t want the bullying to continue. Three years is just … last year I set up a camera where Kari normally bullied me in the girl’s locker room—and recorded her and her group shaving me … with all the nasty things she says—like how I stink all the time.” She mumbled.
Mary rubbed her hand in a nervous fashion, eyes shifting to the wall. Fingers joining together, her features turned more serious when her focus returned to Sora. “That’s dangerous, Sora.”
Biting her lip for a moment, Sora shifting uncomfortably on her seat before saying, “I—I sent it to the police station yesterday.”
Mary’s hand went to her mouth as she looked down at the floor, she seemed to be contemplating her response. Sora noticed her swallow before knotting her hands. She took a deep breath before saying, “Sora—you know this isn’t…” She cut off as the bell rang throughout the school.
Mary went silent as if thinking. “I’ve learned that Kari is connected to some very dangerous people, Sora. I don’t know who they are, but you know Kari better than most. You’ve told me about the teachers and students that suddenly change their opinions of her overnight. You’ve also expressed your suspicions that your previous psychologist, Doctor Hallmark’s, hospitalization was due to Kari’s involvement. It’s—a very brave thing you did. Have you received any calls from the department?” She hesitated, but Sora noted a hopeful tone in her voice.
Sora held her breath as she shook her head nervously. Anger, frustration, and anxiety boiled to the surface; she couldn’t hold back any longer. “The students know Kari’s a bully … teachers know … you know … everyone seems to know. Yet—yet everyone made my dad think I’m crazy! They told him I’m seeking attention because he’s always gone on business. For three years—three years, she’s bullied me—everyone, but no one stops her. The school even made me see the school psychologist, but my dad wanted someone better, so he hired Doctor Hallmark.”
She hesitated as she thought about the kind man she’d come to like. “He believed I was bullied—said he’d help … then he said he couldn’t. He got hurt, and now you’re my psychiatrist, and you want me to just deal with it.” Hands covering her face, Sora’s frame shook. “I just want it to stop.”
Mary’s features softened with her voice. “Sora, I know it’s difficult, and you’ve been through a lot.” She looked unsure for a moment. “I—I did a little digging, and like I said, Kari is involved with some dangerous people that are willing to go to great lengths to keep Kari out of trouble. All I can do right now is listen to you and try to help you release all these pent-up feelings. I know it may seem like this will last forever, but school is only a small part of your life, it will get better—is there anything on your mind you want to talk about?”
Sora sniffed back tears and took a few tissues from the box on the desk. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Sora nodded. “Okay.” She dabbed at her tears, blew her nose, and discarded the tissues in the trash before continuing. “At the start of seventh grade Kari wasn’t that bad—she was the new girl. She was nice to most people, but for some reason, she hated me from the moment she saw me—I didn’t even talk to her. Jenny came with her—they’re close, but not like sisters—and I don’t think she has any friends, just minions.”
Mary smiled. “Minions?”
Sora nodded emphatically. “Yeah, that’s what they’re like. It’s like they exist to do her bidding. Lori wasn’t always with Kari either; she joined Kari’s group a bit later. I heard she was bullied a little in sixth grade. I heard Jenny met with her once and suddenly she was a part of Kari’s group the next day—Jenny’s like the enforcer and recruiter. She’s always issuing tons of orders to the other girls, while Lori’s like the punisher—she’s sick—she gets her kicks out of watching people cry and feel pain.”
Mary rubbed her temple with her left index finger. “Sora…” A knock came at the door. Taking a deep breath, she looked at Sora, “Come in.”
The door opened to reveal Jenny with two other girls beside her. “How are you Sora? We missed you at lunch.” She wore an innocent smile.
Sora’s eyes shifted to Mary in confusion; she watched the color drain from her face as Jenny came in. “Your voice…” Mary whispered.
“You must be Doctor Jernigan,” Jenny asked, smile bright as she leaned up against the door. Mary nodded as Jenny continued. “Are you busy with Sora?”
Mary’s eyes seemed to lose focus as she looked down at the floor, deep in thought. After a few seconds, she looked back up at Jenny. “We were in the middle of a session if you…”
She cut off as Jenny interjected with a disappointed tone. “That’s too bad. I was looking forward to discussing a phone call you got yesterday.”
Sora sucked in her lower lip as she watched Mary’s face grow even paler. After a few more seconds of silence, with only the sounds of students in the hallways, Mary said, “It—it can’t be helped then.”
“Wonderful,” Jenny responded with a clap of her hand. “Kari wanted to talk to Sora about some after-school activities. The boys’ and girls’ Volleyball teams are practicing together. They’re probably setting up right now in the gym. I have Kayla and Violet with me.” She gestured to the two girls as they entered, students, moving through the halls in the background. Both girls were usually by Jenny’s side. “They can take Sora to her.”
“Is—that so?” Mary whispered hoarsely, staring at the floor.
Sora’s mind was alight with questions. Mary’s suddenly acting so scared. They must have some kind of blackmail on her, but what connections can Kari possibly have to intimidate her? Is Kari connected to the mob, like the Bratva? She did move from Russia. “What did you do to Mary?” Sora demanded.
Jenny feigned shock. “What an accusation, but I have no idea what are you talking about Sora. I just had an important phone call to discuss with Mary. Is that wrong?”
Sora was about to reply when Mary cut her off with a forced smile. “It’s alright Sora, can I have some time with Jenny?”
Sora couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Mary’s terrified.
“Sora,” Sora’s attention shifted back to Jenny’s beaming face, “Could you please follow Kayla and Violet?”
Swallowing, Sora felt her arms start to tingle. If I don’t go with them now, it will be worse later and if Kari asked for me personally … much worse. She nodded mechanically.
“That’s great. I just need to stay and have this little talk with Doctor Jernigan. It might take a while though, so don’t wait up for me!”
Sora stood and slid her backpack on. She numbly walked past Jenny as she took her seat. Looking past Sora, Jenny said, “Take care of our Sora, Kayla.”
Kayla nodded with a grin. “Got it.”
Sora noticed Mary’s clasped hands were white as she stared at Jenny. Violet shut the door after they left the office. Did I get Mary in trouble? Does Kari know about me sending in the recording? How could she though? I waited three months before turning it in. They started making their way through the hall, students sifting around them.
Kayla examined her as they turned the corner, moving toward the gym. “Your hair is back to normal, like usual.”
Violet sniffed. “I don’t understand how it grows so fast, but it’s been the same since middle school, stops once it nears the middle of your back. It’s so odd.”
Sora didn’t respond, she knew they didn’t want a response and it wasn’t like she had an answer. Her dad was Irish and mother Japanese; however, despite recessive and dominant genes, she’d gotten her dad’s copper hair and green eyes, which made her stand out.
Arriving at the gym, Sora bit her lip. How bad will it be today? Words or will it get physical? It will definitely get physical tomorrow if I try to run away today. I just need to take the risk; it’s not like she knows about the recording. The police are supposed to keep it confidential. She grabbed the straps of her backpack to stop her hands from shaking.
The many kids scattered about the massive space were setting up volleyball nets. Girls and boys, with their sports outfits on, exited the locker rooms. She noticed many of the girls were a part of Kari’s pack; girls that had joined her group soon after she moved into the area. A few boys had joined her too, but far fewer than her collection of girls. It wasn’t hard to tell why; Kari was a super athlete, excelling at anything she did.
Violet hummed beside her and Sora caught her eyeing one of the boys setting up the nets. “Tyler grew a bit over the summer. Look at his arms and chest.”
Kayla snorted. “Sure, but he’s not that handsome.”
“Speak for yourself,” Violet sniffed while observing him. Turning to Sora as they moved toward the girls’ locker room, she asked, “What do you think?”
Licking her dry lips, Sora coughed to clear her throat before answering, turning to examine Tyler. Should I take Kayla or Violet’s side? Probably Violet. “He’s got a good jawline.”
Kayla snickered. “Jawline.”
Violet, however, nodded with an appraising eye. “You’re not wrong.”
Arriving at the girls’ locker room, they met a small group. Kari sat on a bench between them, amber eyes gleaming as she appraised Sora. She wore all black New Balance sportswear; a fitted polyester t-shirt, shorts, and training shoes. Rising to her six-foot height, she looked down on Sora, a full five inches shorter.
Kari looked around at the girls surrounding her, a smirk in place. “I didn’t see you at lunch, Sora.” She scratched the back of her head, shoulder length black hair shifting. “I was hoping to catch you before the school day ended, but I got a call that pissed me off—so I had to cool down a bit.” Sora held her breath as she nervously crossed her arms under the assaulting eyes berating her, all the girls stood stock still as Kari continued. “I like to think of myself as a patient and understanding person, but there are some things that really—set me off.” Stretching, Kari cracked her neck, seemingly working off some tension. Dropping down to the bench, her eyes moved to Violet, “Show her.”
Violet took her phone from her back pocket and opened a video. Sora’s face drained of color as the video she sent to the police department played back. “I—I don’t…” Sora stammered but cut off as Kari loosely held up her hand.
Kari’s eyes closed as she took a calming breath. “I get it. Being the little vixen you are, you thought you could upset the balance of the school by sending this to the police. Surely, if anyone could help your place in life, it is the good defenders of the people. Right?”
Sora couldn’t speak. She didn’t know what else she could do; Violet and Kayla were just behind her. She couldn’t bolt. This recording was her last hope at freedom. Jenny had made the rules very clear three years ago; no transferring schools or telling anyone or very bad things would happen. All she could do now was await whatever punishment Kari had in store, and if not today then her punishment would be worse tomorrow. She trembled as images flashed through her mind.
Kari shook her head mournfully, eyes opening to stare at Sora. “Were all your previous attempts not proof enough? The teachers that got hurt, the psychologist, and all the other people you brought in to bat for you. Life is quite simple Sora. You have power, or you don’t, and all you have done is rely on everyone else. You don’t have a backbone at all, so this—shocked me a little.” Hands resting on the bench, Kari leaned back to stare up at the ceiling as the other girls watched her with bated breath. “What to do with you now…”
“Oh, it looks like I’m late to the party.”
Sora’s eyes widened as a new voice entered the conversation from behind her, making her skin crawl. Her eyes focused on Kari as the other girls appraised the person entering the locker room outside of Sora’s vision.
“Lori, how’s the setup looking and—who’s that beside you?” Kari asked, tongue picking between her teeth.
“Everything’s set up. They’re starting practice soon, and it looks like some of the boys have improved since last year,” Lori stated with a pleasant tone. “And this,” she paused as Sora heard movement behind her, “is Wendy.” Sora’s eyes widened at the name. “She’s Sora’s oldest friend. She said first grade I believe—but they had a falling out around seventh grade for some reason.”
Why did Lori bring Wendy? She didn’t want to get in Kari’s crosshairs, so we haven’t hung out or even talked in the past three years. She has enough on her plate!
“That right?” Kari asked with a raised eye.
“Yes.” Sora sucked in her lower lip and lightly bit down on it at Wendy’s frightened voice. I didn’t want to get her involved with Kari. Why now? Lori, you sick son of a…
Her thought was quenched at Lori’s next words. “So, what punishment have you decided for our cunning little fox?”
Kari sighed. “Haven’t decided yet.”
“Hmm,” Lori began, “this was a pretty big headache for you. I mean, you were foaming at the teeth when you got the call … so, just cutting off her hair would be a bit light this time around.”
“What?” Sora whispered as her eyes defocused.
“What do you have in mind?” Kari asked while crossing her legs and adopting a slight frown.
“Well, cutting her hair is a must. I mean, it’s like cutting the grass, it just has to be done.” Lori stated emphatically as Sora watched a few girls nod their agreement, her skin beginning to prickle and stomach twist with the realization of more. “Then—how about we send a real message this time, cut up all her clothes and make her walk home with towels on.”
Sora felt like choking. The silence stretched as Kari mulled the idea around.
“Please, Kari, you can’t—if the hotel tenants see me like that, security—they’ll call my dad…” Sora Pleaded.
Lori ticked her tongue. “Kari’s thinking Sora; you need to be quiet. The whole psychologist thing probably made him think you’re an attention whore anyways—not like your mom’s around either.”
Sora’s jaw locked as she looked down at the floor with trepidation, the humidity and heat of the locker room were not the reason sweat beading down her brow. Why does she bring up my mom’s dead all the time … please, please, please don’t do this Kari! Her eyes clouded as Kari spoke.
“It’s a little harsher than what I was thinking … but we’ll go with your suggestion Lori; however,” the hums and mumbled words of the surrounding girls died. Kari’s eyes turned cold as they bore into Sora’s vision. “I’m finished with this little game, Sora. After today, I want you to leave…”
Lori made a sound of disbelief. “Wait, what? But think of-” She cut off as Kari’s hard glare slid to her, all the girls shivering at Kari’s intensity.
Eyes returning to Sora, Kari continued. “I’ll give you the week to set everything up. Homeschool, transfer schools, leave the state, I don’t care. I want your foul stench of an existence out of Miami Beach Senior High by the end of the week, period.” She stood, her eyes penetrating, making Sora quake with fear as an aura of imminent danger cascaded across her skin. “If you stay…” She trailed off with a murderous look of contempt before moving to leave the locker room. “Don’t make a scene, Sora.” As she left the crushing atmosphere faded and Sora found herself choking for air, every other girl present following her action.
Lori cleared her throat before walking around Violet and Kayla to face Sora. She rubbed her neck with a short laugh close to her lips. “Guess Kari couldn’t help herself … you really did piss her off. Honestly, I’m shocked she was that civil.” Taking a deep breath, her bright smile returned as she held out a hand, “Wendy, bring me the scissors.”
A small frightened girl handed Lori a pair of scissors, whispering, “Sorry, Sora.”
Lori took the scissors and worked the blades, purring. “I love watching old friends meet up again. Wendy was your first friend, right Sora? That’s what I remember. I remembered hearing a rather funny joke she told you at lunch one time … I hated those days.” She said, smile still in place. “What a great way to end your time at Miami High! Now, remember what Kari said? Don’t make a scene, though I would have loved to hear you cry, but—I really don’t want to see Kari get violent…” Lori’s glee seemed to diminish for a moment.
Sora only partially heard as tears flowed down her cheeks. The image made Lori’s eyes light up with delight. “You do know how I love to see tears! Let’s get started, girls.” The group encircled Sora, but she didn’t resist. They cut her clothes, backpack, and books into ribbons. They took her small wallet and left Wendy behind to clean everything up. Sora, however, was too stunned to fully recognize what was happening. The only thing going through her mind was. I’m free.
Synopsis: The online game <