The Fallout Chapter 2

This is a freeze-out.

The scene fades out until it’s me and that word and nothing else .

I step forward and touch my fingers to one of the letters. It comes back black. I rub my sleeve across the metal. The paint is fresh enough to ruin my shirt but dry enough to keep from smearing into an unintelligible mess.

“Is it true?” Someone asks. I touch the paint again. It’s really there. “Did you really bone Chad Gilbert?”

The scene fades back in. Voices assert themselves over the sound of my heart pounding in my chest, and they’re all saying something about me.

Me. Chad Gilbert. Did I really bone Chad Gilbert.

His hand up my skirt. Mouth on my neck.

I step back and end up on someone’s foot. They swear at me. Watch it, bitch. I focus on not looking like a cornered animal and try to zero in on a face I know, someone familiar amid the slack-jawed


Taylor. My boyfriend.

He hovers just outside the mob. Our eyes meet. He turns away.

“Oh, my God, here comes Holt.” Another voice. “This is so awe- some!”

The second bell rings. Principal Holt is there before I can escape, the decrepit old janitor trailing behind him. His face purples as he surveys the damage. He paces, yells, and makes such a fuss, a new crowd is born. He orders a temporary cover for my locker until the paint can be removed, and he vows the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

And then he asks me if I know who they are.

After homeroom, I’m gone. I’m at that pay phone again and I’m calling Taylor. Again. I pick at the phone book dangling from a string, half torn away by some vandal with nothing better to do, while the sun continues its slow rise overhead. It’s hot in this booth. I turn my back to the cars rushing past me, on their way to the main street.

I finally get his voice mail.

“It’s me.” A car goes by. I swallow twice and try to figure out what to say while the silence on the other end of the line waits for me to fill it. “Look, what they’re—what they’re all saying—what I—” I can’t tell this to Taylor. Not on the phone.”…You heard it from Kara, didn’t you?”

I hang up. Kara.

Kara, Kara, Kara.

Kara Myers.


I am such a fool.

I’m used to everyone’s eyes on me; that’s nothing new. When you’re

Dakota Rae’s best friend, people look. We’re the kind of popular that parents like to pretend doesn’t exist so they can sleep at night, and we’re the kind of popular that makes our peers unable to sleep at night. Everyone hates us, but they’re afraid of us, too. Dakota thrives on it. She says the day people stop hating us is the day something is really wrong. She says I should look at it that way, but I can’t.

Everyone hates us, and it makes me a total wreck. She hated that about me.

These people are nothing. They don’t matter. None of this matters. There’s a whole world outside of this hellhole. God, Hayley. You could at least act like you don’t give a damn.

So I do it like she does it: I square my shoulders and march across the parking lot, my jaw clenched and my eyes narrowed. I try not to let the heat touch me or flinch at the blast of cold air on my skin when I step through the school doors.

I’m ushered in by whispers and stares. Half the student body relishes it; they’ve waited a long time to show me just how much they hate me. The other half doesn’t know what to make of it after spending four years fearfully revering me.

Principal Holt makes quick work of restoring my locker, but whoever repainted it doesn’t know how to color-match. My locker

has been painted red. Every other locker in this school is a bright, hideous pumpkin orange. It’s a wash of a coat, too.

I can still see the WHORE forcing its way through.

I grab my books. Two girls go by, and I hear my name but not the context surrounding it. Probably something like: Hayley Williams is a slut who slept with Dakota Rae’s boyfriend I know can you believe it pass it on.

I will kill myself before I get used to this.

Dakota catches my eye then, swaggering down the hall in the opposite direction. A dozen guys watch her as she goes; it’s the way her skirt moves with her hips when she walks. She takes a sharp turn left, and I know where she’s going. And she’s alone.

This is my chance.

I take the same left, push through the pale blue door that opens into the girls’ washroom, and there she is, admiring her reflection in the mirrors over the sinks. I don’t blame her. Dakota is beautiful, with her soft, fine auburn hair and the kind of body that brings guys to their knees. It’s cliché, but she’s a Siren.

Impossible to fight, there’s no better feeling than to hear her sing your name until she has you and eats you alive. The people at this school think it’s hard enough living beneath her, but it’s even harder being her friend. Dakota.

The door swings shut. She stiffens and turns, and the air leaves my lungs. I’m torn between wanting to be far away from her and wanting to throw myself at her feet to beg forgiveness for something I didn’t do.

As long as it means we can be friends again.

I’m sorry. I’ll never sleep with your boyfriend again, never, never, never….

Maybe I should’ve thought this out better.

She takes me in slowly, one eyebrow arched. She wants me to feel like I’m not good enough to be acknowledged, and it’s working. I’m suddenly aware of the sloppy ponytail tied at the back of my head and how dumb my outfit looks—jeans and a sweater on another sweltering day—but it doesn’t matter.

She’s always been prettier than me.

“Nice job you did on my locker,” I say.

We stare at each other, Western-movie-showdown-style. Several agonizing seconds pass, but Dakota never draws her gun, which is good, because I’m totally unarmed. She turns back to the mirror and digs through the makeup bag in front of her.

“I didn’t do it.” She pulls out some lip gloss. “I had it done.”

“I didn’t have sex with him, Dakota.”

“Wow,” she says. “You almost sound like you mean it.”

“Kara’s lying to you. She set me up—”

She snorts. “Don’t even.”

“She is. She set me up. You know she hates my guts—”

“How dumb do you think I am, Hayley? You know the part that really makes me sick?” She tilts her chin up, eyes never straying from her reflection. “I was right there. Did you get off on that?”

“Dakota, he—” The words come out of my mouth fast and stupid, because if I think about them too much, I won’t be able to say them. “Dakota, he tried to rape me—”

It doesn’t go over well. She slams the gloss down and whirls around, her face as red as her hair.

“I cannot believe you just said that.”

This is the air sucked out of my lungs, this is a punch in the stomach, this is a slap across the face, and that is not what she was supposed to say.

“I’m your best friend,” I choke out.

“You were until you fucked my boyfriend.”

“Dakota, I didn’t”

She drops the gloss back into her bag. “I’ve been saying it forever. You always acted like you hated him, and you tried every trick in the book to get me to break up with him, and when that didn’t work, you waited. Now you’re caught and you’re scared and you’re standing there telling me he tried to rape you?

That is fucked, Hayley.”

“Wait—I’ll show—I’ll show you—”

I’ll show her the bruises. I fumble with my sleeves, my hands shaking horribly, while Dakota zips up her bag. The washroom door swings open, interrupting me, and when I turn around, it’s Kara. She looks so different. Like, confident.

So this is really bad.

“Bell’s gonna go,” she says over me. “Are you coming?”

I turn back to Dakota. She smiles at me. No, not at me—through me. She’s smiling at Kara, through me, but this can’t be over because I haven’t had my say. In the movies, you get the time to make the speech that saves your life, and everyone wants to listen to you. She hasn’t even seen the bruises yet.

“Dakota, just wait—”

“Yeah,” Dakota says to Kara, over me. “Let’s go.”


“You hear something?” Kara asks Dakota, grinning.

“Dakota, please.” Dakota gives herself one last look in the mirror, grabs her makeup bag, and passes me on

her way out. The air that follows her smells berry sweet, and I beg after it. “Dakota, Dakota, Dakota—”

“Fuck off, Hayley,” she says in a singsong voice. And she leaves.

Kara doesn’t. I feel her behind me; I feel every part of her enjoying this. I take Dakota’s place in front of the mirror, trying to ignore how sick it makes me that every part of Kara is enjoying this. I try to conjure the Hayley she was afraid of. The one who put her in her place. Over and over again.

I can’t.