“Let’s talk on our way to lunch,” Joni said as the locker room door closed behind her. Joni and Robin were smiling, awkward, and almost giddy. “You asked how tall I was after we kissed. I’m just under six feet-one in my shoes. I’m taller than most girls, but you should see the girls on the basketball team. They’ve got a girl who plays post, she’s six-feet-four. Another girl, a forward named Kim, she’s six-feet-two. There are some big girls on that team.”
“I don’t know anything about sports. How many sports do you play?” Robin asked looking up, smiling at her new big blond friend. Robin’s husky voice suddenly echoed in the hollow gym amid sounds of shouting and basketballs dribbling. Joni’s wild and frizzy, blond braided hair was in a long and tight pony tail, now damp from the shower.
“Well, right now I’m playing softball, soccer, and volleyball, but I’m thinking of dropping volleyball. Coach Granger wants me to try out for the basketball team next year because I can sit back and stick three pointers all day. She says I have a knack for creating my own space,” Joni said smiling. Her big brown eyes smiled under her pale-yellow brow.
“No idea what that is,” Robin said shaking her head. Robin was small and petite with short brown hair, all messy. She had big brown eyes, too. And she had talents. She was an accomplished pianist and she could sing.
“Mr. Halloway, the gymnast coach wants me to start training for USA Boxing, which I’m seriously considering.”
Robin looked up Joni’s deep brown eyes and nodded slowly.
“Yeah, it is. And it is also some of the most intense training a person could go through. But he says I’m a natural,” she said. “He says that if I’m good enough, and I train hard enough, I could try out for the 2020 Olympic team. To go to the Olympics my second year in college? That would be awesome. You know what else is awesome?”
Robin grinned, “No.”
“You said I can be your girlfriend,” Joni said. Her eyes were wide orbs. Robin took her hand.
“You’re brand new. You shine,” Robin said. “I’m nothing but dirt around here. People say things about me.” She paused, then added, “We’re late let’s go.”
“I don’t understand that.”
“We’ll talk later.”
They went left toward the cafeteria. Joni had forgotten they would pass the trophy cases in the main lobby. She took them for granted. It was so common passing them without looking every day. Robin stopped when she saw Joni’s face all over the walls, and a trophy case full of her victories.
There was Joni hitting another home run, shoulders square, bat circled around. There was Joni scoring another soccer goal, leg out, her blond ponytail flying. There were the trophies and the lists of Washington State Records as a freshman, more as a sophomore.
“You’re not an athlete, you’re a hero.” Robin said still gawking at the case.
“I play first base for the softball team, and I bat like a wild woman. You should come. We have a home game tomorrow afternoon after school.”
“Boy, are we from different worlds,” Robin muttered.
The cafeteria line was short. Joni and Robin caught it at the end of the rush. They got to the register and Joni paid for hers and then Robin slid her tray to the register and dug in her jeans pocket and produced a crumpled ticket. She carefully straightened it and gave it to the cashier.
“I can’t read the date on this,” the woman said.
“It rained the other day and it got wet. I dried it out best I could,” Robin said.
“You should have put it under your jacket or something,” she said. Robin lowered her eyes. She didn’t say, but she had no jacket.
“It’s good. It just got wet. I think you have a list for free lunches. I’m sure my name is on it,” Robin said.
“If the date is not legible, then the ticket is invalid. That’s the rule. Look, I can give you the lunch today at reduced rate, but you must go to the office and have them issue you a new ticket. The reduced rate is three-fifty,” the lady said and waited for Robin to pay her.
Robin shook her head and started to walk away.
“Wait.” Joni dug a five-dollar bill out of her jeans and gave it to her. “Robin, get your tray,” Joni said. “She’s my best friend. This is what best friends do. She would do it for me.”
Robin quickly circled around Joni with her head down and got her tray. She followed her out into the dining area. They stood side-by-side for a minute trying to figure out where to sit when dark-haired, dark-eyed Tanya George suddenly confronted them.
Tanya didn’t say anything. She just reached out and slapped Robin’s food tray out of her hands.
It flipped out of Robin’s hands spilling green peas, her milk carton, her piece of fried chicken, it all went tumbling to the floor noisily.
Tanya laughed loudly, too loudly. She thought that others laughed with her, but they did not. Tanya’s mouth was wide open, laughing loud.
Joni watched Robin’s food spill in horrified shock. Then her shock turned to something else, something Tanya was not going to enjoy. She squared her shoulders to Tanya, lowered her chin, came up on the balls of her feet, and put her left fist high, her right fist clenched hard near her chin. Joni sent her left jab into Tanya’s mouth fast and hard.
The force of the blow put Tanya’s chin to her chest and her feet left the floor. Her arms flew out in front of her. She landed among her friends.
Tanya’s boyfriend, Mike Roy, got up from the table behind Tanya, but his friends grabbed his arms and shoulders as Joni pivoted to him. They knew what Joni’s right hand was ready for, and skinny Mike was not ready for that.
“Freeze!” a man shouted. It was Coach Halloway. Cell phone cameras clicked.
“Freeze, Ducky!” a woman shouted. “Don’t move a muscle!” That was the guidance counselor, Ms. Constance. Joni had a nickname. It had to do with the way she swung a softball bat. More cameras clicked.
“Everyone freeze in place!” That was the Vice Principal, Mr. Kaljowalski. Many of the faculty monitored lunch. Freezing’s the way faculty tried to handle incidences at Lake Washington High. It was in the student handbook. They try to get the perpetrators to freeze like the police do. They must freeze like stone statues. It worked, most of the time.
The Lake Washington detachment of city police came running in to the scene.
Everyone was frozen. Cameras clicked.
Mike Roy and his buddies were frozen holding him. Taya was on the floor frozen with her hand over her mouth. Joni looked back to see about Robin.
She was on her knees stuffing food in her mouth off the floor.
Joni dropped from her freeze position and fell to her knees. She slid over and hugged Robin, rocking her.
“Help me get out of here,” Robin said into Joni’s chest. Joni pulled Robin up, wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Everyone raced to aid Tanya. After she got Robin to her feet she hurried her out of the cafeteria via the double doors on the opposite side of the dining area. The police saw them and ran after.
Joni ran Robin into the main lobby and turned right toward the administration wing. “Where are you taking me?” Robin asked.
“We’re going to the school nurse and the counselor,” Joni said.
“No. I can’t go to the nurse,” Robin said and wiggled to get free of Joni’s arm. Joni let her go. “They’ll put me in the foster system, my love,” she said and opened one of the double glass doors of the main entrance. “That’s what you called me when you held me and comforted me – my love,” Robin said as she let the door close behind her.
Joni watched her run across the street and away in her thin ragged sleeveless sweatshirt and empty stomach. Joni began to cry.
The police ran up to Joni and grabbed her elbows. She shrugged them off and followed them back into the cafeteria. Everything was swirling in Joni’s head, the lunch ticket, Tanya George, and smacking Tanya’s mouth, and worst of all Robin looking back at the door as she left. She had to sit down at the nearest cafeteria table and put her head down and cry. The police grabbed her arms.
But Ms. Constance, the Guidance Counselor, walked toward them as they brought her back into the cafeteria and she waved off the police. They took a stance nearby with their hands folded in front of them. Since Joni was the only one that hit anyone, she was their focus. Joni cried hard into her arm. Ms. Constance got her some napkins from the dispenser.
Ms. Constance gently touched Joni’s arm when she heard her bawls had slowed to sobs. She had experience soothing Joni’s tears. There had been other incidences when Joni had cried in her office. Her very dark-skinned hand against Joni’s pale skin was quite a contrast. “Ducky? It’s Ms. Constance. Do you want to talk?”
“Are they going to arrest me?” she asked with her face in her arm. Ms. Constance sighed. After all her accomplishments, all her physical prowess, her good grades, she’s still a fifteen-year-old girl. Ms. Constance looked at the police officers. They shrugged.
“They don’t know,” she said, “Do you want to go to my office?”
“Yes. Is anyone looking for her?”
“Looking for her? Who are you talking about?” Ms. Constance asked. Then Joni knew. It all came clear. They couldn’t see Robin. They couldn’t see her. They looked right through her. What Robin said was the truth, she was dirt to all them. Joni’s face contorted.
“Calm down, Joni. We’ll try to find whoever it is that you want.”
She started bawling again, “I can’t breathe!” she shouted between cries.
Joni’s chest heaved. Ms. Constance waved the cops over. “Help me get her to the nurse’s office.”
After she was lying on the cot, Ms. Constance called Joni’s mother at work. She was a defense attorney for the one of the most prominent firms in Seattle. Clarisse Donald’s office’s walls and counter tops was a testament to Joni’s achievements. Trophies and ribbons littered them.
“Hi, Mrs. Donald, this is Joan Constance from Lake Washington High.”
“Hi Joan, how’s the kids?” Joan Constance was single and didn’t have any kids. Clarisse was asking about the students. It was a joke between the two of them.
“Well, we’ve had quite a dust-up here at lunch and I’ve got one of the kids on the cot in the nurse’s station crying her eyes out.”
There was a long pause. “Can I talk to her?”
“I’m sitting beside her right now. I’m going to put you on speaker.”
“Ducky honey? It’s Mom.”
“Hi, Mom.” Joni replied snuffing.
“What happened today?”
“So much happened today I can’t talk about it all, it’s too much!” She said and started crying hard again.
“Okay, let’s start with the most important. What hurts the worse?”
“Nobody’s doing anything! Nobody’s looking for her! I need to go look for her, but I need someone to take me.”
“Joan? Take me off speaker, please.”
Joan pushed the icon button then put her phone to her ear. “We’re private now.” Joan got up and went into her adjacent office and closed the door. She told Clarise about Joni’s friend Robin Randall and the fight in the cafeteria. There was still no clear motive for Tanya’s actions.
“I assume Robin has left the school grounds.”
Joan told Clarisse that they have started to search the school grounds with no results. They tried to contact Robin’s grandmother once in November, but Robin gave a bogus address. They spoke briefly about the injured party and whether they intended to press charges. That was unclear now.
“Go ahead and give Joni one of her Diazepam’s. I’m going to come get her in an hour. I’ll take her to look for Robin then. Let me tell her.”
After Joni got off the phone with her mother she calmed down some. Ms. Constance gave her a Diazepam and waited for her mother to come pick her up. Joni studied a Seattle city map to figure out Robin’s whereabouts. She remembered Tanya had taken a picture of her sitting at that old piano with Robin earlier. She opened her phone and went to Tanya’s Facebook page. There was the picture. She saved it to her gallery.
She went and sat back down in the counselor’s office. “Ms. Constance?”
“Can I get Robin’s address? I need a place to start looking for her.”
“We don’t give out that information to third parties, Joni, I’m sorry,” Ms. Constance told her.
“What’s a third party?”
“A third-party person would be someone who’s not family and is not on Robin’s safe list.”
“I’m not an outside person. I’m…you wouldn’t understand.”
“Can we wait for Mom to get here?”
A brief time later, Clarisse Donald and her husband Brett arrived. She wasn’t as tall as Joni, but her husband, Brett, was an inch taller. They went into Joan’s office and closed the door.
Clarisse hugged her strong daughter. It always surprised Clarisse how solid Joni’s body was. Her nearly inhuman strength and agility was in direct contrast to her very tender heart. She saw her teary face. “Talk to me, Ducky. What hurts so badly?”
“I have to find her,” Joni said and tears fell once more. Clarisse had Kleenex ready. She knew her daughter.
Clarisse lifted Joni’s face, “Tell me what happened today. Not the fight. Something happened.”
“I love her,” Joni said softly. She blew breath out of her lips, tears rolled. The pain swelled in her chest.
Clarisse leaned back. “You fell in love today.”
“YES!” Joni cried. “We kissed in the locker room.”
“Now it all makes sense,” Joan said.
Brett put his arm around her. “It was your first kiss.”
She nodded. “Yes. Are you guys mad that I’m a…that I kissed a girl?”
He smiled. “You have a poster of Amber Heard in cut-off jeans above your bed. We’ve known for a long time…who…you are.”
They hugged. Brett said, “Let’s go try to find your Robin…”
There was a knock. The door opened and two police officers entered, one male, one female. “The George’s are pressing charges against Joni Donald. She’ll have to come with us to Juvey until arraignment,” the female officer said. “Joni Donald, you’re under arrest for assault. Please turn around.”
“Mom, I did this?” Joni asked. The female police officer read her rights to her and cuffed her.