Walking into school on Monday morning something felt odd.
Ezzy noticed it right away, but could not put her finger on it immediately.
Odd was that her friends weren’t waiting for her out front, like usually, but the weather wasn’t so great, so not really too much reason for worry.
Ethan had left home early for practice, most of the time when there wasn’t practice the twins would walk to school together, like they had since they were children.
While Ezzy walked over to her locker, somehow it felt like everybody was staring at her, talking about her, laughing about her.
By the time recess rolled around she knew it wasn’t just her imagination. Even in class none of her friends wanted to talk to her.
Every single one she tried to ask about it, barely answered, then walked off.
And then she saw it.
A text message, sent to all students. An unflattering, PhotoShopped picture of her head pasted on the body of what obviously was a porn model in a pose offering herself and an even more unflattering made-up caption about what supposedly happened last weekend making her sound like a promiscuous slut and homewrecker out of spite. According to this, she tried to come on to Aaron, who wasn’t interested, even though she supposedly threw herself at him to the point of nearly raping him, and in her anger and jealousy about the firm rejection Esmée made up the lie that Brylee cheated on Aaron when it had been her instead who tried to sleep with him but was firmly declined.
As utopian as it sounded, it read totally believable and plausible, and everybody seemed to eat it up, engulfed the teen drama, as she had been called everything under the sun by now, had wadded up paper tossed at her, suggestive and mean notes left in her locker.
When she tried to sit with her girlfriends for lunch, they ignored her, and she could feel their looks and hissed gossip while others around them laughed gleefully.
Her appetite abandoned her, so she went to look for Ethan, found him outside with Forrest. She didn’t even care that he was there now, went to her brother, who saw she was near tears and of course he had received the text too.
“Tried to warn ya …” she heard Forrest say quietly, Ethan shushed him.
“I am sorry, Ezzy. They’ll forget about it soon, you’ll see.” Ethan tried to comfort his sister.
“It’s all a lie, Ethan. Everything was exactly as I told you, I swear it!” she told him.
“I know sis, I know. Bry even almost confessed, but I told her no thanks. I guess I am partially to blame for this. So sorry.”
“Not your fault. I know I should have been more gentle in telling you, but I was so mad. How could she do this to us?”
“She’s jealous, that’s how. You got Aaron first, and then your bro stood by you, not her.” Forrest interjected his opinion.
“Not helping.” Ethan told him.
“I know. But still. Sorry about your girl though, man. And her, too.” Forrest pointed at Ezzy for the last part.
“I am still right here!” she protested.
“I can tell. Bet if Ethan wasn’t holding on to you, you’d have been swinging at me already.” he chuckled.
“Tempting.” she responded from against her brother’s shoulder.
“Guys, seriously.” Ethan now said.
“Is it my turn to hug you yet?” Esmée asked Ethan as she pulled away from him, who smiled faintly.
“That’s okay. Got a rep to uphold. No need to have both of us on the bully board. What do you want to do though? Tell mom and dad?” Ethan asked her.
“Oh, gawd no! Not a word, swear it. This will blow over, I’ll walk away stronger and we both will know who our friends are.”
Ezzy walked back inside to get her books for the next class.
“Tough cookie, your sister. Wish she weren’t such a psycho bitch at the same time.”
“Watch it, bud. I have no problem knocking you out of your sneakers.”
“Why?! It’s the truth. All I have to so is breathe and she wants to slap me.”
“Ever considered YOU might be the problem, not her? Ez is gold. I hope this blows over fast. She is not as tough as she seems. I hear her crying every night since the party and I don’t like it. Even less having to keep this new shit now from our parents. Just not how we roll at home.”
“Give it till the big game on Saturday. Betcha everybody is going to be all over that and that Aaron a-hole and they will forget about it.”
He would be wrong. While the game did become the talk of the school, nothing changed for Esmée.
Over the next weeks and months she was treated like a leper, shunned by her former friends to the point that she considered dropping out of cheerleading.
She could not find a place to sit for lunch, until she saw Benny wave her over to the reject table with the other oddballs, she knew she had fallen from grace.
Benny was crazy-happy she was sitting next to him, while she was poking around in her food Ezzy only partially listened to the others talking about stuff she didn’t even fully understand. While Benny had introduced the others to her, she had already forgotten their names. She had absolutely nothing in common with any of them, except the fact that they were all outcasts now.
What was she doing here?!
Ethan had worked out ferociously, his outlet for dealing with all the build up anger, disappointment and heartache.
Not just his own, but seeing his sister hurting angered him more. And nobody knew for sure where that detrimental text had originated. The obvious answer would be either Aaron or Brylee, even though neither seemed technically inclined enough to compose something like it, let alone be able to distribute it to every student.
Brylee had come to him several times now, begging for forgiveness, pleading for one more chance, explaining, even told him she supposedly had been slipped a roofie.
He really didn’t know what to believe, let alone to do.
What if it was true. Roofies were a thing all students were warned about for parties and clubbing.
What if it wasn’t and she really was a slut?
What if she was the one responsible for what had happened to Esmée?
And what if she was innocent?
She was his first big love. He was crazy about that girl.
But right now she really didn’t smell like roses to him. More like a big pile of dog crap right on top his heart.
Why could his life not be normal and boring?
Later that night he heard Ezzy crying softly in bed. Their rooms and beds shared a wall, so he knocked rhythmically against it.
Soon there was a response, making him smile.
Somehow he knew Ezzy would be okay. Eventually.
Seconds later there was a knock on the door, softly.
“Yeah?” he said in a muted tone.
The door opened and his sister entered.
“Can I come in?”
She shut the door quietly, then went to sit on the floor by Ethan’s bed, who had sat up as well, sliding off his bed next to his sister who leaned up close sniffling so he put his arms around her pulling her close, just holding her.
Neither spoke for a while, until Ezzy said quietly, her tone breaking Ethan’s heart.
“Do you still believe in love?”
“Yeah, I think so. I mean, look at mom and dad. Or grandma and grandpa. Or uncle Josh and aunt Emmi.”
“I don’t think I can ever love again. Men really are pigs!” she sniffled, sitting up straight.
“Thanks.” he said, smiling, knowing she didn’t mean him.
“Not you. You’re not a man. You are … Ethan. That’s … different. Somehow.”
“I’ll try to remember that next time I have to fill in my gender on some form.”
“You know what I mean. Just like I am not like any of those girls. I would NEVER hurt you. At least not intentionally. I feel so bad for telling you the way I did. Can you ever forgive me for that?” her eyes started welling up again.
“Nothing to forgive. I prefer the hard truth over lies. I am glad you told me. What I cannot believe is Bry.”
“Do you still love her?”
“I don’t know. I really do not know how and what I feel right now. All I know is that I am tempted to punch that Aaron’s lights out.”
“I give you my entire allowance for the next year if you do and do whatever chores mom and dad load on you for punishment.” she mumbled.
“Instigator! Trying to get me in trouble now too? I guess I don’t have to ask you how you feel about Aaron now, huh?”
“I HATE him. What an asshole! And the worst part is, the other asshole in my life, your bestie Forrest warned me, and I thought he was just being the usual arrogant idiot again. So now he is right too, which is almost as bad as all the rest. Just please don’t tell him. He would never stop laughing about me.”
“You got Forrest all wrong, Ezzy. He is not that bad. Actually a really good guy, once you get to know him. Or do you think I would be friends with him if he weren’t?”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.”
“Ready to go back to bed?”
“Yeah. Thanks, for all this. I do feel better now. I am glad you are my brother.”
“Ha ha ha – I am glad you are my sister too.”
“Night Ezzy. Oh, hey … don’t give up on us men just yet. We’re not all bad, just like I really have to believe that not all girls are Brylees.”
“You got it. Love ya, bro.”
“Luv ya too, sis.”
She left and he laid back down, listening, but no more crying from across the wall. He smiled, but his smile faded. He knew Ezzy was having a rough time in school now and with his increased training schedule, there wasn’t much he could do about it. Usually he wasn’t even there for recess and lunch. If worse came to worst, it was three more years until they’d graduate. But those could be three very long years for Esmée.
Over the next weeks things did ease up for Ezzy. Suddenly her friends started talking to her again, just out of the blue. Or tried to. This time it was Esmée who gave them the cold shoulder.
During lunch as she passed them they called her over.
“Hey Ezzy, sit with us!”
She looked at them, then looked over at the reject table, considered it for a moment, then told them
“I already got a seat over there. Have fun being bitchez, ladies.”
While she started to receive invitations to all sorts of events again, Esmée declined every last one of them. Occasionally she would join her parents to attend Ethan’s games. Aside from that she’d spend most of her time at home.
Her parents worried about her becoming too withdrawn, spending almost all of her time exclusively with family, but kinda brushed it off as a phase. If she wasn’t helping at the shop, she was over at her cousin Cole’s or at her grandparents’s home.
Ethan still had not made up his mind about Brylee. For anybody not involved it was easy to tell him to just break it off with her, but he really cared much about her and still had doubts that she was responsible for the texts making his sister’s life hell.
On her way to the kitchen at home, Ezzy was startled by a voice behind her.
“Wow, it’s alive! So how many cats do you have by now, huh?” Forrest smirked.
“What are you doing here?”
“What do you think? Broke in through the kitchen window. Mind telling me where all your valuables are? May need you to hold the door for me to carry out that big screen TV.”
“Still as lame as always.”
“So you spend all your time in your room now?”
“None of your business.”
“Look, I tried to warn you, but I feel a bit responsible too, since I kinda got you in touch with Aaron….”
“And I am sure you could hardly stop laughing for days.”
“Wrong again. I really am sorry that happened to you, Ez.”
“Don’t call me that! Only Ethan can call me Ez!”
“Okay, sorry, retract claws, kitty. I’ll call you Xena again. Better?”
“Where the heck is Ethan anyway? Shouldn’t you be annoying him?”
“He’s in the crapper and I am not going in there.”
“Wow, I was so worried I’d have to go through a day without your crudeness. All better now.”
“I aim to please.”
“Mission accomplished.” Ezzy confirmed.
“Why do you not like me, Esmée?” the sincere question slipped out of his mouth before he could stop it.
“What?!” Forrest could almost see her walls go up.
“You say it’s not because I don’t fit the mold, I admit we may have gotten off on the wrong foot, but you seem to be able to get over stuff, so why do you still hate me?”
“I wouldn’t even know where to start answering that.”
“Oh good, you are still alive, man. Thanks Ez.”
“Oh good you are back and can start supervising your annoying friend again. Next time, tie him to something so he doesn’t roam where we eat. I’ll be in my room.”
“Why don’t you hang with us, Ezzy? We are gonna watch that ‘Murder in the Mountains’ movie marathon. Supposedly super-scary flicks, but you have two men here to protect you from the evil monsters.”
“I am good. Just got to the good part in my book. I really want to know how it goes on. Have fun, Ethan and annoying sidekick.”
She ran up the stairs, Ethan watching her, worried.
“Yeah. I’ll give it till summer and then I am telling mom and dad. I don’t care what, and if they have to shut down the store for a week or two so we can all go on some family vacation or whatever. This is not healthy. I mean she is 15, most of the guys on the team would give their right arm to go out with her – you hear them, and she plays spinster all day every day. She already had to give up ballet, bad knee injury. Then from one day to the next, without even mentioning it, she drops out of cheerleading. She never goes anywhere but school and family. I am worried she is suffering depression or something. I know my sister and she is a lot of things, but fine is not one of them.”
He turned towards the living room, followed by Forrest, after he spared one last long look up the stairs.
The movie was the typical thriller, redundant and predictable after the forth death so suddenly Forrest cleared his throat and said
“What if I told you that I knew who is responsible for the viral text and photo?”
“The one of Ezzy.”
“Programming is a hobby of mine. After all that went down I got curious, so I may or may not have hacked a little into the school’s system. Took me a while but I figured it out.”
“I need you to not flip out. The reason I haven’t said anything yet is because I know how it would look.”