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Chapter Two, Prophecy of the Most Beautiful


II.Chloe

He was laughing. Why was he laughing? How was he even able to laugh with her hands wound so tight around his throat? He should have been struggling to breathe, fighting to get her off of him , but instead he had managed to find some amusement in his unfortunate predicament. 

The world was silent around her, except for his laughter. She couldn't hear the chatter or the surprised outbursts of the students nearby. Maybe a few of them had screamed even. She couldn't hear them. But that was how it always was when this happened to her. She blocked out everything else, except for the intended victim that had provoked the anger…the fear…the humiliation…whatever. They alone suffered for their actions.

The boy's incessant laughter made her tighten her grip. She just wanted him to be quiet. Maybe if she squeezed hard enough she could break his windpipe. That would silence the punk…with a good amount of pressure, forever. It would be just what he deserved for threatening her family.
But her efforts had no effect on him, and he seemed to find that even more amusing and laughed louder.

"Shut up!" She screamed, "Shut up! Stop laughing!" She punched him in the jaw as hard as she could.
His head was thrown sideways, but still he continued to laugh. The strike hadn't even seemed to phase him, and she could not understand it. Her attack had done nothing to achieve her goal of punishing him for his threats against her family and it pissed her off even more to realize it. She unwrapped her fingers from around his neck on her own accord, stunned that she had had no effect on him whatsoever. Nothing. Nothing at all. 

She cradled her arms and screeched in his face with absolute frustration and anger. She wasn't surprised when hands grabbed her shoulders and yanked backwards, dragging her off of him. He laughed harder, crying with amusement, and she fought against the hands holding her, wanting just one last chance to shut him up.

When the boy was free of her, his laughter stopped instantly. His expression grew dark again. "Your life or theirs," He said.

The school bell rang.

Her head snapped upwards towards the shrilling bell, but a moment later her attentions were diverted towards the loud chattering of the crowd of students gathering around her. 

She could see them all again, every one of them, pushing against each other, fighting to get a closer look at her. Some looked amused, some looked scared, most just couldn't believe she had done it yet again. The words "lunatic" and "psycho" floated into her ears, but she had grown used to hearing those words. It was the staring she was having a problem with. She couldn't stand their eyes all being concentrated on her at the same time.

Strong hands held onto both of her arms. She eyed their owners. Old Sergeant Mackey and Mr. Don. Retired cops turned security guards turned oversized hall monitors.

"Another one already, Miss Clever?!" Crap. Principal Camden was there, too. Why couldn't she be like most other principals and hide out in her office all day? Why did she insist on joining the hall monitoring activities every morning and afternoon?

All right. Excuse time. She needed a good one. One that explained why she had attacked the new kid. Chloe pointed downward. "He threatened to hurt my––-" but the rest of her words became mangled in her throat as she stared down at the floor in horror.

Because at her feet now lay an unconscious boy with messed blonde hair and long, lanky limbs. He was crumpled up against the wall of lockers, his clothes ripped, his lip bleeding, his jaw swollen. She noticed it was sitting at a funny angle. Then she saw the red marks in the shape of hands around his neck.

Not again, She thought. It couldn't have happened again. She couldn't breathe. It felt like she had just been punched in the stomach herself. It wasn't him––it wasn't that strange boy––and it had been. It had been. Just a few moments before.

Students and teachers had quickly gathered around the boy she’d just beaten unconscious, blocking her view of him. She frantically searched the crowds looking for the other face, a face that now seemed to her way too hard to belong to someone so young. A face that was way too evil to mean anything good. A face that would hunt her nightmares until she had proved to herself he hadn't been real.

"Escort Miss Clever to my office," Camden told Mackey and Don, "I'll finish up here and make sure Steven is taken care of and his mother is contacted." She managed to catch Chloe's wild gaze. "First day off of suspension, Miss Clever, I don't even know what to say to you. And you've really gone and done it this time. As you already know, Steven is the vice principal's son. Luckily for you, she's away at an educational conference for the week." Camden shook her head and turned away. 

Chloe gulped. Vice Principal Newark hated her, and if it had been up to the co-head of the school, Chloe would have been expelled long before this moment. But now, it was inevitable. Newark wouldn't stop until she was banned from every school (and college) in America.

The mob of students were reluctant to let Chloe and her "escorts" through. And as she kept searching for the creepy boy, she saw Smurfey break through the crowd. They didn't fight her on it. Plenty of them were as weary of Smurfey as they were of Chloe, despite her short stature. Smurfey eyed the unconscious boy, looked at Chloe, then shrugged and nodded as if this scene was exactly what she had been expecting to find. Chloe couldn't bring herself to match her friend's gaze. It was a good thing that Mr. Don and Sgt. Mackey were so big. They bulldozed the rest of the way through the throng of students and straight to Camden's office.

They plopped her down in the dreaded chair across from the principal's desk. Mr. Don just grunted and turned to leave, but Sgt. Mackey bent down until he and Chloe's faces were only centimeters apart. He'd struggled since his large potbelly hindered his bending.

"I'm going to be glad to see you go," He snarled and Chloe leaned away from his foul breath. "Now if we could just get rid of that munchkin friend of yours, we would finally have a little peace around here."

"Leave it alone, Phil," Mr. Don said with a frown. Mr. Don had always been the nicer of the two.

"Just getting a few last words in. Then I'll leave the little troublemaker in Camden's most able hands." He sneered at her. "What lie are you going to use this time to try and wiggle out of your punishment? What do you claim you saw back there, huh? A monster? A witch? A ghost? Better come up with something good, missy. You're going to need it."

"Okay, that's enough, Phil." Mr. Don was back standing beside them. "She doesn't need this from you. I'm sure she feels bad enough." He looked down at her, searching for something in her expression that might make his words ring true. He frowned a minute later, and she was sure that whatever remorse he had been looking for wasn't there.

"Ah, who cares anyway? I'm done." With an overweight grunt, Mackey straightened up. He headed towards the door with Mr. Don on his heels. "I am perfectly content knowing that she won't get to graduate with the rest of her class and will have to repeat the semester at Firestone Alternative School. Justice will be had after all." The office shook as the door slammed behind them.

That punched feeling was back in the center of her gut. Chloe hadn't thought of that––not graduating at all. It was the one thing that couldn't happen fast enough. But expulsion meant no graduation. She hadn't even put two and two together. 

She sank down in her chair. How had her life boiled down to this? It's not like she had plans or anything important to do after she ripped off her cap and gown. She wasn't going to some fancy college to learn a bunch of stuff she didn't want to know nor was she going to spend the summer on a parental-funded trip around the world to find some false sense of self.

All she wanted to do was escape Adel. She had to get away from this town. She had to get away from everything bad that had happened in her life. She had to escape the memories of the good times––before her father had decided he couldn’t cut it as a husband or father anymore and had run off. Where she would have gone, she didn't know. Maybe head west to Los Angeles and become a starving actress until she was discovered by some two-bit director. Maybe north, New York City, become a fashion designer's apprentice––the starving kind. Or overseas––in Italy. Become a painter's muse and starve right alongside the painter.

But now, none of those plans mattered. She wouldn't make it far without at least a high school diploma as her back up plan when all her other bright ideas failed. Crap. She was stuck here forever. Forever
The realization made her so sick to her stomach, she had to put her head down between her knees to keep from upchucking everything she had eaten for the past week.

He deserved it, A very cynical voice spoke inside her mind.

"No, he didn't." Chloe's voice was muffled by her jeans. "That kid didn't deserve what I did to him."

I do not mean that school leader's son. I meant the other boy. The one both you and I know was really there.

"You're wrong. There was no one there. I was hallucinating again."

Are you sure? He seemed pretty real to me. You shivered just as you went near him.

"That doesn't prove anything…besides that I was cold."

It proves you could feel his presence, his cold, dark presence. You spoke with him––

"Shut up."

He knew of your family. Even threatened to harm them––

"Shut up."

And still you do not believe.

"Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!" Chloe was gripping her head in vain, rocking back and forth in her chair, trying to block the voice out, wishing she hadn't left her medication sitting on her desk at home. "Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!"

"Who are you talking to, Miss Clever?"

Chloe jumped up to face Principal Camden who was standing idly in the doorway. A new wave of sickness washed over her. "Um…nobody," She gulped. She put one hand on the desk to stop her body from swaying; The other on her stomach to soothe its churning.

Camden didn't look convinced. "I see. You can sit back down." She motioned towards Chloe's chair as she took to her own seat on the other side of the desk.

Camden opened up the manilla file folder she had brought into the office with her. She spent several minutes pouring over the numerous papers in it, while Chloe tried with increasing difficulty to keep from blowing chunks all over Camden's desk.

The principal ran her fingers through her limp brown hair, folded her hands on top of the desk and looked Chloe square in the eye. "Fifth attack this year, Miss Clever."

Chloe swallowed. "Let me guess. It's adios puta for me."

Camden puckered her jaws, not fully understanding the phrase, and sat back in her chair. "Not necessarily."

Well, Chloe hadn't been expecting to hear that. "What do you mean?"

The principal swiveled to the right a bit and crossed her legs. "I mean, you may not have to count yourself out quite yet. But that is all contingent on whether you are willing to accept the reality of your current predicament."

Ah. The catch. "What is my current predicament exactly?"

Camden smiled at the obvious. "I think you know, Miss Clever. You should have been expelled long before now. It's a constant battle with the school board and the PTA to keep you here."

That was a surprise. Chloe had been sure Camden was just as anxious to see her gone as everyone else was. "Why is that? Why do you want to keep me here?"

"Because, Miss Clever, I am very hesitant to expel a student with your potential without serious provocation."

Chloe pointed at herself. "A student with my potential?"

"Indeed. Why do you seem so surprised? You are one of Cook High's brightest pupils. Tell me. What was your grade point average as a freshman?"

Chloe didn't see what that had to do with anything. "Oh, uh, 4.0."

"Sophomore?"

"4.0."

"Junior?"

"The same."

"And now, as a Senior?"

"It hasn't changed."

Camden clapped her hands together. "You see there, Miss Clever. You have great potential! Very few of my students have achieved that. You obviously have a brilliant mind, more brilliant than even you know."

Chloe flushed hot. Well, this wasn't going like she had expected it to at all. "I'm still not seeing what you're getting at. Are you saying you're not going to expel me?"

"Expel? No. Suspend? Definitely. You broke Newark's jaw."

Chloe cringed. "I feel terrible," She mumbled. "I hope he's going to be okay."

"He'll be fine. That boy needed a little toughing up, but that's just between you and me." Camden eyed her, and she nodded in agreement. "Good girl. And I'll be sure to mention your overwhelming remorse for your actions today to the vice principal and the school board at your hearing."

"Hearing? What hearing?" She should have known there would be a downfall to all of this. It had all been sounding way too good to be true.

Camden chuckled. "Well, you didn't think that you could beat the vice principal's son to a pulp and just get off with a couple of weeks suspension, did you?"

She didn't want to admit out loud that she had. "Okay. So what do I say at this hearing? How can I explain myself? I really didn't mean to hurt him. Or the others."

"I know, which leads me to my next point. At the hearing I will announce your transition into the special education program here at Cook High."

Chloe jerked in her chair. She wasn't sure she had heard right. "Excuse me? Did you say special education?"

"It will only be until you graduate in May. That's not too far away right? And while you're in the program, you will continue to study the same courses, just in a different setting, and you will attend daily psychotherapy sessions with a specialized therapist…"

"My mother already hired some quack to pick my brain. I don't need another one." The newest one––Dr. Metzger––made therapist number five. She didn't know how many she was going to have to drive away before her mother gave up trying to cure her with overeducated quacks.

"I'm afraid you do need one. If you're going to continue to attend this school, the board needs to be sure that you're getting help for your condition by a therapist of their choosing." Camden cocked her head to one side. Her eyes searched Chloe's face. "You don't seem to think that therapy is necessary for you."

She looked away. "You're right. I don't."

"No? Even though your delusions are causing you to hurt people? I don't even want to know who you swore you saw this time. It doesn't matter. But these hallucinations must stop. Don't you want them to stop? And what about the talking to yourself? I think there is a very serious issue here, but not one that can't be controlled in an environment where they understand your special needs."

"You mean in the retard class."

Camden frowned. "No. I mean, special needs."

"Retards," Chloe insisted. "You're putting me in the retard class. Great. By all means, give everyone more reasons to laugh at me." She could picture it now. Eating lunch at the retard table, going on retard field trips, standing in line at the water fountain and being stuck behind the one retard wearing the helmet that was getting more water on their clothes than in their mouth…all the while being stared at by the other students as they laughed and talked about her…there was no escape in sight…the image was horrifying.

"I'm afraid it's the only way you can continue to attend school here," Camden continued, "Otherwise, I'll be forced to expel you. There really is no other way."

Chloe pursed her lips. "I'll be honest. I'm considering the expulsion right about now."

Camden didn't look happy to hear that. "Don't you want to graduate with your class? And what about your mother. Do you think she would be pleased with that decision?"

Crap. Camden had managed to find the one weak spot in her defense––her mother, Beth. How would she react to her daughter being expelled five months before graduation? Chloe could think of several scenarios and not one of them was ideal. Who did everyone think she had inherited her tough demeanor from? Certainly not her pathetic father. He was weak. Weak, weak, weak, weak….

"You don't have to decide anything today," Camden said, "While you're out on suspension, you can think it over. I believe four weeks is enough time to come to a decision."

"Four weeks?!" It was her longest suspension yet. Her mother was going to be livid.

"Yes, four. Don't worry. Your school work will be delivered to your house once a week so that you don't fall behind." 

Homework? Ha. She was more worried about four weeks of Beth Clever…

Camden's desk phone buzzed. She pressed a red button and said, "Is she here?"

"She is," the female voice on the other end replied. It was Stephanie, Camden's secretary.

The first thing Chloe thought was, Uh-oh. Beth is here! But Camden wasn't wearing one of her usual shameful looks after making one of her secret phone calls to her mom. She boldly came to the conclusion that Camden had been talking about someone else, but braced herself for the repercussions of that conclusion being wrong.

"Wonderful." Camden stood up, and with reluctance, Chloe followed suit. "I hope you'll consider all of this thoroughly," She said as she ushered Chloe towards her office door. "I think you will eventually see the logic in it."

No, I won't. "I'll think about it." She had made up her mind already. There was no way she was joining the retard class. Not in this lifetime.

She was glad Camden didn't call Sgt. Mackey and Mr. Don back to escort her to her car like was the usual protocol if she wasn't being dragged out by her mom. Instead, Smurfey was waiting in the main lobby when Chloe emerged from the principal's office. She could hardly see the girl for all of Chloe's belongings piled in her lap. She only managed to find her face because Smurfey was wearing her earmuffs.

"So how long did they get you for?" Smurfey asked as she approached her. Chloe helped her move her things onto an empty chair and began to put them on.

"Four weeks," Chloe grumbled, slipping her arms into her coat and avoiding looking at her friend.

Smurfey whistled. "Camden sure stuck it to you this time. Guess that means no A.D.S. concert for you."

Chloe tried not to scream. "Guess not." She held her hand out for her earmuffs. She yanked on her hat. 
She sighed when Smurfey finally managed to catch her gaze. "Go on. I can see you're itching to tell me. What's everyone saying about me?"

"They say you were standing in the hallway talking to yourself, and then Steven Newark walked by and you just jumped on him. Any of that ring a bell?"

Chloe shook her head. "As usual, I don't remember any of that. That's not what I saw."

And she never would remember the truth. She felt terrible. She was scared. She felt like an idiot. She wanted to cry, and Chloe never cried. She just couldn't believe that her life could get any worse. 

She looked at the wall clock. She had just enough time to slip out of the building before first period let out. How horrific would that walk of shame be if she got caught out in the hallways while the students were changing classes?

"I have to go now," She said. She tossed her backpack over her shoulder. There were books in it, but she didn't care which ones they were. It didn't matter. Nothing really mattered right then.

"Okay. Well, call me…whenever. Maybe we can run lines over the phone or something. You have the number." Chloe forced a quick smile, gave Smurfey a thumbs up, then as fast as she could without running, she vacated the office.

The student parking lot was eerie with silence. She wasn't used to seeing it like this. It was usually bustling with the typical student parking lot activities: gossiping, bullying, snacking (cafeteria food was appalling), and the usual array of teenaged mayhem. Never had she seen it so dead quiet.
She took her time walking knowing she didn't have to worry about meeting anyone out there. Her little old car, Putt-Putt, sat in the far back of the parking lot, nestled between another beat-up car and a truck. It was one of those big trucks that dwarfed Putt-Putt into looking like a toy sitting beside it. It probably belonged to one of the football players. Only they drove cars big enough to hold the entire football team, airhead cheerleaders included.

She leaned up against Putt-Putt, putting her forehead against the edge of the cold roof. She dreaded getting inside. The next step would be to drive home. This was sure to be the longest ride of her life. Her mom was still at home, her nurses's shift not starting for another five hours. Camden had probably already called her, informing her of Chloe's suspension, signing her death warrant. She was probably sitting at their kitchen table with only three chairs––the fourth one, her father's chair, being stored in the attic since he had split six years before––drinking on her millionth cup of coffee. She was such an addict. Her long legs were probably crossed, her left foot shaking like it always did when she was mad. Chloe could see her mother's eyes now, brown and angry, her pink lips pressed together, irritated beyond all excuses, running her fingers through her straight, shoulder length red hair. Pissed, but lovely. Many people said Chloe was a beauty like her mother but she didn't see it. She was a peasant next to her model-esque mother. And she would slave like a peasant too, for the next four weeks. Her mom would make sure of it.

Chloe groaned and slung her backpack onto Putt-Putt’s head. She yanked the zipper open and dug around in it for her car keys. She found them lying among the crumbs and bits of paper at the very bottom and pulled them out. Then, she heaved the pack back over her shoulder.

As she reached down to unlock the door, someone slammed into the back of her, knocking the wind right out of her lungs. She heard them grunt from the impact. While she was choking on her limited oxygen, trying to get in enough to scream, their hand swung around to cover her mouth. Her eyes widened with fear. She struggled against the weight of whoever it was, but they wouldn't budge. They were strong, very strong, even though they didn't seem to be very tall. She took a few blind swings at her attacker, but like it was no trouble at all, they quickly secured her arms behind her back using their own body to keep them immobile. 

She screamed a muffled, "Help!", but of course no one heard her. There was no one to hear her. She was alone. Just her and her attacker. 

Then, something dark and swift passed overhead, eclipsing the very faint sunlight of the Winter morning. Chloe could feel the body behind her stiffen with anxiety, which transplanted itself into the pit of her own gut. They were anxious, too. It came again, the shadow overhead, like a ghost on the prowl, closer this time…much too close. Chloe felt an icy wind blast her face and knew the person behind her had felt it too. Before she could even begin to contemplate what might be flying above her, the person's hands grabbed both of her shoulders and flung her around, slamming her back up against her car. 

"Name's Summer." Chloe was astonished to find a girl in the place of the maniacal serial killer she had expected to find. "And I think it's time to run now."

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