Returning to her senses, Sora shivered slightly as she walked to her locker. She’d just stocked it today. She had extra clothes, shower supplies, and towels inside. Wendy was trying not to make eye contact with her as she cleaned up what remained of Sora’s clothes and school supplies. Sora opened her locker, hands hovering over her extra clothes.
If I don’t return home as Kari instructed … I can’t take that risk. She is actually letting me go; I won’t do anything to jeopardize this opportunity!
“Is this real?” Sora whispered while taking out two white towels.
Wendy hesitated before looking around to see if anyone was watching. Finding no one, she whispered, “I think Kari was serious—she sounded serious.”
A small smile lifted Sora’s features as she wrapped herself with the towels. “I never thought those words would leave Kari’s mouth … she even shut Lori up when she tried to question her.” Vision rising to meet Wendy’s light brown eyes, she asked, “Could you leave with me? I was thinking about homeschooling—I’d pay for the tutor.”
Eyes dropping, Wendy shook her head as she swept some clothes into a dustpan. “My mom wouldn’t let me … she never liked you because…”
Sora sighed with understanding. “I get it. She doesn’t like the little rich girl; it was always hard convincing her just to let you hang out at my place.”
“Yeah,” Wendy muttered as she set the broom and dustpan down. Scooting back to a wall, she hugged her knees to her chest. “You think she—is Kari letting you go because she found someone else to bully—is it me?”
Licking her lips before answering, Sora shook her head, moving to sit on a bench. “I don’t think so. Kari didn’t even know who you were. I think Lori just wanted to try and torture me more and Kari shut her down … Lori’s probably pissed.”
Folding her arms, Wendy nodded. “She was telling me how much fun she was going to have demoralizing you—sounded pretty scary. Looked like Kari wanted it to be done fast, though.”
Wendy stared at the floor as Sora asked, “What have you been doing the past three years? We haven’t spoken like this in a long time.”
Wendy shrugged. “I’ve been working part-time as a janitor for the school. I thought it would help my mom with the bills—but most of the extra money we have goes straight to her alcohol addiction.”
“Wasn’t she attending AA meetings?”
“Humph, like three times.” Wendy huffed while rubbing her neck. She rose and scratched behind an ear, eyes meeting Sora. “I need to finish cleaning this up before my shift starts. They usually give me a little time after school ends before I start work.”
Sora nodded as she rose and ruffled her hair to try and get all the loose pieces out. “How does it look?”
Wendy grimaced. “Like a drunk weed eater cut it. If Howie still works this hour then he’s going to have a cow—Ron would just straight up call your dad on the spot.”
“You’re right,” Sora murmured. “Howie and Ron both still work the private elevator … they’d never quit with how much my dad pays them to look out for me. Howie should be on duty during this hour and the staff would notice if I took the service elevators.”
“Good luck. I’ll leave the scissors behind … it’s bad.” Wendy exhaled before leaving with the trashed items.
Looking at herself in the mirror, Sora groaned. Her hair lengths were mismatched; this was their worst cut yet.
What’s my excuse? Gum? There was that girl last year that had to cut her hair because a fly strip flew into it … that could work.
Cutting the longer pieces out to make it more even, she tossed it a bit and rubbed her temples. “That’ll have to do.”
Double-checking her towels and cleaning up her teary cheeks; she left the locker room.
Kari was in the middle of a game with the Boys’ Volleyball Team, many of her gang members watching expectantly. She spiked the ball so hard it sent one of the boys off-balance as it hit him in the chest.
Shaking her head, Sora left the gym, her hand coming up to shield her eyes from the blazing sun. Swallowing a lump in her throat, she shivered from the soft sea breeze that pressed against her as the cloudless sky scorched her light skin.
Taking a deep breath, she started down Dade Boulevard toward Twenty-Fourth Street. Students avoided her by habit, but most tourists and joggers ignored her. It wasn’t uncommon to see people wearing towels in Miami Beach, but knowing it was her only covering made Sora blush with unease.
On 24th Street she crossed Pedestrian Bridge. Halfway across, she stopped heart thumping. The crowd of tourists and locals flowed around her without pause. Her eyes focused straight ahead to Lori, who leaned against a green signpost.
Why? Was she not satisfied?
Gritting her teeth, Sora continued. It was the middle of the day with tourists flocking, joggers running up and down the avenue, but that hadn’t always stopped Lori or victims of the bystander effect. Lori’s smile widened the closer Sora came. She assumed she looked like a frightened kitten and Lori relished it.
Lori played with a fruit smoothie in her hand. Taking a few sips, she waited. Sora’s throat tightened as the straw dropped from Lori’s lips and she clicked her tongue. “Well, well, well—what a bold little fox you are. Going out with only towels on—daring.”
Sora’s chest tensed as her cheeks burned, hoping no one would pay Lori any mind. A few tourists frowned as they scooted around the two girls, but carried on. Lori closed the distance, moving to whisper in Sora’s ear, “You aren’t going to transfer.”
Sora’s brow came together. “But—Kari told me I had to—you aren’t going against Kari’s words, are you?”
Lori’s smile didn’t waver as she shook her head. “No, no, no—you are going to go against Kari’s words.”
Sora shivered just thinking about Kari’s parting words as she shook her head. “I—there’s no way. If she says I need to go then I go.”
Shaking her head again, Lori licked her lower lip. “I’m telling you, you aren’t going anywhere.” Lori walked past, the wind of her movement grazing Sora’s cheek. Sora took a shuddering breath and exhaled, her tension eased, taking another breath to calm herself.
The thought was broken as Lori’s freezing smoothie poured down her head and into her towel. Lori’s words were colder than her drink. “I said: you’re not going anywhere.” The surrounding crowd backed away with surprised shouts as the remainder of the smoothie splashed across the ground.
Sora stood in silence as Lori continued across the bridge without a backward glance. Terror seized her; she couldn’t breathe.
What do I do … what can I do? I won’t let this opportunity pass me. I’m going to leave, but what is Lori going to do?
Sora’s focus snapped back as a man rushed to her from a boat booth. “Hey—you alright girl? That was horrible! Do you have her name? I’ll be a…”
She looked up at the man; he was thin but muscular. He had light scruff, thick light brown hair that curled slightly and was loosely pulled back to clear his forehead. His face was chiseled by a master sculptor, and his brown eyes were penetrating with concern.
She checked to make sure her towels were secure. Showing an embarrassed smile, Sora wiped a clump of the smoothie out of her hair. “No—no, I’m fine. Just a little school-girl fun, it’s nothing serious.”
The man appeared doubtful as he stared down at how tightly she was trying to keep the towels on. He looked past her at the gathering throng. “Hmph, she slipped into the crowd. Do you know her address and name?”
Sora put up a hand. “No—I said it’s fine.”
He rubbed the back of his neck, observing the crowd as they started to disperse. Turning back to her, he said, “I work at the little boat stand over there. We sell a few pieces of clothing; you can take a shirt and shorts.”
Sora was about to refuse but stopped at the man’s next statement. “If you don’t at least take the clothes I’ll call the police and see what they have to say about an underage girl going around with only a towel on!”
She nodded, thankful that he had at least spoken quietly so they weren’t overheard. “Thank you—it’s just a prank. Nothing serious.”
He didn’t seem convinced, but his face lit with a sympathetic smile. “Hmm—the name’s Frank and I don’t think that was a prank or school-girl fun—your hair was slaughtered for starters. There are people you can talk to…”
Sora shook her head emphatically. “Thank you again, Frank. I’ll take the clothes and pay you back later, but I’m fine, and I don’t want to talk to anyone. A friend wanted me to try a shorter haircut—was she really that bad?”
“Just know there are people that care about you that can help.”
Sora nodded and followed him back to his booth. Frank produced a red t-shirt with the word Life! written across the back with a white outlined heart and cream shorts that came just above the knee, a red heart on the left side. Sora used the stand as best she could for cover, pulling the shirt on before putting on the shorts. She exited the booth, towels in hand, wiping at her hair to remove what she could of the smoothie.
“Is there anyone I can call?”
Sora felt tears coming on. “No—I’m fine. Thank you, though—a lot.”
Frank’s lips pressed together as he scratched at his lower back. “Huh, if that’s what you want.”
Thanking him again, she walked back to the hotel, adding a light smile as she passed the barrier gates and entered the main lobby. Cynthia, a hotel tenant, frowned at her appearance; the woman’s sharp eyes were always watching to make sure she made it back to the hotel. Sora observed her light brown pigtail disappear into the office, likely to tell a senior staff member about her odd appearance.
Sora sighed as she waved to the front desk tenants and they called for the private elevator. She stared at her reflection in the metallic door. What remained of her hair was matted with blended fruit, but the clothes Frank had given her weren’t a bad fit. She bit the inside of her cheek as the doors opened. Getting in with Howie, she looked over at him with a feigned grin. “Hey, Howie!”
Howie looked mortified. “What happened?”
She rubbed her shoulder nervously. “Oh—I got a fly strip stuck in my hair—and on the way back I spilled a—my smoothie—honestly, a friend thought it would be funny to spill a smoothie on my head. It was all for fun.” She tried to chuckle. “I know what it must look like.”
Howie looked skeptical. “Your friend spilled a smoothie—on your head as … a joke? And if something like a fly strip got stuck in your hair why didn’t you go to a hairdresser, like three months ago with the gum?”
Sora stared at the corner. “That’s what happened, and I wanted a friend to cut it—she isn’t a professional, as you can see. The smoothie was a dare if you must know.” He continued to stare at her with doubt. She tried to pout. “Fine, I get it. I’ll go to a hairdresser and see what they can do.”
Howie shook his head, inputting her penthouse ID for the forty-eighth floor. “I hope you know I’m going to tell your dad about this … dare. Who would dare you to have a smoothie dumped on your head?”
Sora’s pout faltered. “You don’t have to—he’ll be here in eight days. I can tell him. It’ll probably make him laugh.”
Howie’s lips pursed as he scrutinized her again. She knew Howie would call him the moment she exited. “Humph—alright, but it’s not that big of a deal.”
The elevator dinged at her penthouse. She exited into the foyer. Her father was friends with the owner and had purchased it several years back for thirty-two million, a deal because of his connections. It was a two-story, split floor plan, twenty-thousand square foot penthouse with a contemporary design around Bubinga wood. It hosted twenty-two-foot ceilings with expansive views of the ocean and city. One of the selling perks being the car elevator and massive garage that could house eleven cars; there was also an on-premises restaurant, lobby bar, fitness center, cigar, and wine lounge, east and west pools, with many more entertainment options.
She lived there while her dad went around the world on business. Several international companies paid him very well for his services as a consultant. Sora saw him mostly on major holidays when he hosted parties at the penthouse and had grown up with a multitude of different caretakers.
Howie wouldn’t let it go so easily today. “I know that Kari girl is probably still causing you problems Sora—you know your dad has a lot of powerful friends.”
Sora’s lips tightened.
Right, and how much trouble did that cause last time? The police closed the investigation after so many wonderful testimonies of Kari.
She turned to wave. “Goodbye, Howie!”
She walked past the foyer and into the massive living-dining room. “Thanks, Howie,” she whispered. Taking a deep breath, she moved to lean against a white leather couch, trying to collect herself as she stared at the expansive ocean view.
She hated lying to everyone, but so many people had been hurt. Mary was supposed to be a safe release, but even she was in trouble now and for how long. Sora couldn’t understand Kari’s power over everyone or why she hated her. She often thought it had to do with how she lived. More than a few girls had commented about her being rich throughout her life.
The front room granite floor gleamed beneath the natural light shining through the windows. A multitude of white leather couches was spaced atop a large, white, designer wool carpet. The sizable windows showed the enormous ocean view—the large balcony and infinity edge spa visible through one of the dining room doors. A long, charcoal, black granite countertop bar with padded chairs was spaced in the center, overlooking the vast view.
Then again, maybe it had nothing to do with wealth. They commented on her father being gone and mother being dead frequently. If they really wanted to drive in a nail, they’d mention her mother died giving birth to her. Lori was usually the one to bring it up. Sora had no idea how they got that information, but it hurt.
Collecting herself, she went up the living room stairs to the second floor, passing through the flex room to the second master bedroom.
Should I call him about homeschooling tonight? She felt a wave of relief pass over her at the thought. Yes! I just need to weather Lori for the week, and then I’ll be free.
She opened her immense wardrobe to pick out a chiffon white and gray strap dress that extended to her ankles and placed it on her California King-sized bed. Picking out white undergarments, a pair of brown heels, and a gold bracelet, she took them to her bathroom.
She undressed and threw the garments in the laundry chute. Activating the tablet embedded in the wall, she opened the calendar.
Wednesday is picture day … but that doesn’t matter now. I’m out!
Turning on Spotify, she played the pop station as she washed and then put on her chosen attire.
Returning to her room in high spirits, she went to her purse on the dresser. She didn’t take her purse to school because of incidents like today. During the first month of seventh grade, she’d lost a lot of cash, a bunch of handbags, and a lot of products to Kari’s group. Without proof, it was her word against theirs, and they had numbers. After that, she decided to bring only a little bit of cash to school each day.
“Hmm.” She took out her phone and noticed a voicemail from her dad.
She activated the recording. His voice held his usual Irish accent and endearments. “A mhuirnín, how are you! Aye, I know I didn’t call much the last few days, but I have a massive gift for you this year—it’ll be great.
[i.e. A mhuirnín – Sweetheart]
“On that note—I have a massive deal this week, which will require me to go dark. It’s such a major deal that they want everyone involved to hand over their phones and hash everything out. Only the CEO and Chairman will have theirs. I love you so much, a chroí, and I will do everything in my power to get done as soon as possible. The company is sending me back on their private jet Monday, so I’ll be there Tuesday morning! Sorry, you know how long a flight it is from Seoul.” He cut out for a second. “Ahh, got to go, a chuisle. See you next Tuesday!”
[i.e. a chroí – my heart; my pulse]
“What?” Sora choked as she listened. “Why, why this week? Out of every week this year … this week.” Sora trembled. “What do I do?” A thought suddenly calmed her.
I can just skip Monday and Tuesday. It’ll be like I’m already gone.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she loosened her neck. “Nothing to worry about. Alright, what to do today. I need some money for lunch tomorrow. Just got to go down to the corner store to pick up a new wallet and some cash … everything’s fine. Just keep up appearances. Lori should have gone back to plot her next move. It’s fine,” she whispered, trying to comfort herself. Placing her cellphone back inside her purse, she looped the straps over her shoulder and made her way to the front.