I will not panic! I won’t. I refuse. Okay. So maybe I’m panicking just a little.
So, yeah, I have this teacher. Mr. Marco. He’s above and beyond a jerk. Like, really, just a terrible person. He used to take great pleasure standing me in front of the class making fun of me, not just for being bad at science, but as if my existence on earth had done him some personal insult. Yeah. Total D-bag, as Tai once said.
So, anyway, I had this assignment due and, like, I’ve been so much better since Tai and I got back. Partially because he helps me with my studying and explains the stuff Mr. Marco wouldn’t, not even if I asked. I know, I sound like a regular kid, oh my teacher is sooo mean. Whatever. This guy is the guy that everyone realizes too late was, like, using his phone to film the girl’s bathroom or something. He is the complete package of horrible and ick wrapped up in what looks like a normal human being.
Anyway, since Eris, Tai has been helping me and, before he finally lost his tough guy status in school (even the teachers were afraid of him) he said something to Mr. Marco. He wouldn’t tell me what, but it must have been good enough to keep the guy in place. I mean, he was still pretty harsh, but not like he used to be. He stopped parading me in front of the class so he could comment on my hippo status, anyway. But, I don’t know, lately he seemed to be getting worse again, like he noticed I was losing weight and commented a couple times and not in a good way. Yes, of course I should have turned him in forever ago because that is just so easy, right? Maybe when you’re a grown up. Not so much when you’re just trying to survive high school with as few scars as possible.
I just always figured he was one of those people that was totally prejudiced against girls that don’t look like a rail and thanks to Tai, he’s been a lot more tolerable. But today he must have sensed I wasn’t exactly in a happy place and was full on his old charm. He started by suggesting I was too stupid to measure properly because I read the line wrong and thought it said grams instead of milligrams. He went on to make a nasty little example using my original weight against my old to create the formula and explain my mistake in great detail, suggesting that the giant cow I once was compared to my current state was a good comparison of grams to milligrams. Yes. That is word for word. Which, once upon a time, would have made me cry. Yeah. Not so much, now. Now it just made me angry enough to forget I have to be trapped with this guy for 50 minutes every single day.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad, but my mouth has this tendency to just pop open lately. And, well, it was really stupid because I haven’t lost any weight. It’s one of those weird things about getting in shape. Like, I have a shape now, a real shape, but the scale doesn’t care. After a long talk with Lucky, who explained why that number hasn’t changed and why it doesn’t mean anything, I don’t care either. In fact, he’s been encouraging me to understand there was nothing really wrong with me to begin with, that it is my happiness that counts. Which made me stop looking back and being embarrassed about who I used to be. When it comes to teachers, I’ll take Lucky over Mr. Marco any day of the week, even if I am starting to suspect half the guys that train with him are mobsters or something.
Self acceptance isn’t something I ever worried about before. I didn’t like myself and didn’t think it mattered. It wasn’t until Lucky started training me that I realized that other people not liking how I looked did way less damage than what I thought of myself. He’ll go into all this enemy within stuff that I’m not sure I really understand, but the gist of it is, I’ve learned to start being nicer to myself and I’m okay okay with who I was, which was way hard, but worth it. I really am starting to like who I am now. I’m not a supermodel, and never will be, but I like who I am now. And I love the muscles.
Sometimes I feel like that warrior princess from the nineties. Just total bad ass, right? Which, if I have to be a princess (nobody gave me a buy out option), seems like a pretty decent choice. But my weight on the scale has only dropped about two pounds. And I pointed it out when Mr. Marco made his little joke. Okay, maybe I was a little bit of a smart Aleck about it. In my defense, Tai is something of a bad influence in this area. Not that I’m complaining or blaming.
“Actually, I haven’t really changed my weight too much. Maybe if we could use your IQ as the grams and my weight, 160, for anyone that cares, as the milligrams. Seems like that would be the right ratio.” Like, yeah, okay, it got a big laugh. Some of the other kids actually turned and gave me grins and thumbs up. But I knew it was wrong. It is totally something I would say to Tai, but I can’t pretend I was just being funny. So of course he asked me to stay after class. Duh.
“I don’t like this new attitude of yours,” he said when we were alone. A few kids had given me high fives as they left and this had not, by the looks of things, sweetened his mood.
“You didn’t like anything about me a few months ago, so it looks like we’re making an improvement,” I said. At that point, I’m telling you, I actually wondered if I should consider having myself checked out. Sure, I’m like that with Tai all the time, but we are just playing around and I’ve never been disrespectful to anyone if I could help it. Mom would have totally been ashamed of me right then. Or maybe not. I’ve got a feeling, considering what came next, she would forgive me. Not that I’d ever tell her.
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Looks like the company you keep is starting to rub off on you.”
“So?” I said, managing to swallow the next biting and vicious remark that wanted to pop out. I could blame this desire to be so belligerent to him on Meg and the fact that Tai is currently avoiding me, sure. But let me tell you something about Mr. Marco. He’s one of those teachers that doesn’t become a teacher for the joy of teaching. No, I’m pretty sure he’s one of those guys that, like, goes looking for the career with the most possibility to be a sadist without being arrested and becomes a teacher because there are plenty of kids with low self esteem to use to make himself feel better. If someone told me that Mr. Marco had been a huge bully in high school, I’d totally buy it because that is what he is now. Before you judge me for being less than pleasant to him, you should know that he once stood in front of me going on and on about how fat I was and how fat girls should never wear anything but shapeless sacks because I was a disgusting glutton. He did it in front of an entire lunchroom full of kids. I should have turned him in; people like that have something wrong in their head. But these sort of people always know who to go after, the kid least likely to say something because they believe they deserve it. But I am not really that kid anymore. Tai has rubbed off on me and I’m glad. In fact, when I figure out what to do about the current mess, I am going to go apologize to both him and Meg. Because I was out of line with Tai. She shouldn’t have taken the picture. And she definitely shouldn’t have posted it. But I’ve decided to forgive her. Mostly because I need some good karma right now and I’m doing a fantastic job of sinking my own boats.
“You know, you are failing this class,” Mr. Marco said, reaching over to close the door. Which made my heartbeat triple and alarm bells go off in my head. Sure, I watched Tai kill another werewolf and have been watching the news, waiting for them to announce an animal attack in Washington Park, so I’m already pretty worked up anyway, but something about him closing us in together felt wrong. “Your current ability to pass my tests is impressive considering that three months ago I’d have said you have oatmeal for a brain.” I felt a hot flush begin to crawl up the back of my neck, the old me warring with the new. One side wanted to cry and the other wanted to kick his ass and neither one was the right reaction, so I stood there, twisting my fingers together and feeling sick. “I would suggest, Skylar, that you really ask yourself if you think a few laughs is worth the consequence. The chance of you passing this year is zero.” I knew that wasn’t true because Tai had worked it out and knew what I needed to get on every single paper and test for the rest of the semester to do it. I would only get a c-, but I would still pass. I could see by Mr. Marco’s darkly amused expression that I was not going to get those grades, though, not even if I started channeling Einstein. “Sarcasm and rudeness is only going to make it worse next year.” He rounded his desk and came to stand in front of me. I could see he was enjoying my discomfort and the whole new, tough part of me was tensing up. I don’t know if it was something about the way he was looking at me or the way he was subtly blocking my escape, but I was preparing to hit him; I felt like, whatever had set the inner alarms off, it meant I needed to protect myself. Oh boy, do I wish I’d just hit him and gotten suspended or expelled. Yeah, totally wish that. Might even try it later; if magic is going to be breaking some rules, it could at least help me out a little. It certainly can’t make things any worse.
Anyway, I didn’t hit him or push past him. I just stood there, head down, feeling even lower than I had when I’d gotten up this morning and realized Tai already left to hang out with Meg before school. “I’ll try to do better, Mr. Marco.” I don’t figure that would have worked, even if I’d managed to sound like I meant it. Three months ago, that would just have been the start because somebody like him needs to actually torture you a little before they let you off the hook. Three months ago, he would have made me repeat all the horrible things he was always saying about me. But. That, apparently, wasn’t what he wanted this time because he came closer, close enough that I could smell the aftershave he uses and pick out the pale flecks on his tie, which looked like lint. Then he actually told me what he wanted from me. I won’t repeat his suggestions. They are too vile and too gross and, well, that is what sparked the whole disaster. I’ll just say that he offered a trade. And something in me went full on white hot furious. I wouldn’t have known how to react before, when I was willing to be a dumping ground for people like Mr. Marco. But I can tell you what happened this time. I went to shove past him, already, in my head in Mr. Pratchet’s office because my mother wasn’t there to turn into a dragon and eat him. Long story, there, but let’s just say he wouldn’t have been the first of my teachers to disappear if she had been around and the rumor about the dragon is still floating around my old elementary school. Anyway, he grabbed me. And not by the arm. And the magic was back in a big way.
I’d heard a few things about Woodrich High before, though not about Mr. Marco specifically. A couple of girls he used to torture in my class had stopped coming to school and one of them had started at Jo-Anne’s school a few months later. Jo-Anne says she never managed to confirm it, but the gossips all said that some teacher had been trying to coerce her into doing certain things, but she wouldn’t tell who. So her parents put her in private school. Well. Now I can make a pretty good guess who the teacher was. If he was still a man, he’d be pretty much done for good because I am not the girl I used to be. I’d have put him in prison if I could have and you better believe he wouldn’t be a teacher anymore. The very thought of the girl I was and what this would have done to me makes me pissed all over again, not just for me, but for every girl who ever let someone tell her that she wasn’t okay to just be herself. Sometimes people just suck.
I’m not sorry. I’m going to say that right up front. Nope. He had it coming. Am I sorry for the inevitable trouble this is going to cause me? Oh wow, yeah, definitely. Am I a little frantic? Sure. Okay, honestly, I am panicking. Of course I am. I mean, I’m going to have to talk to someone about this because it is damn dangerous and I am really worried because, I mean, what happens next time I get angry with Meg? Or Tai? What if, like before, it just starts doing what it wants when it wants? I am really freaked. This is a dead world. I am supposed to be safe here, you know? People are supposed to be safe from me. But Mr. Marco? He should have kept his hands to himself.
Okay, okay. So, here’s the deal. Don’t, like, turn me in to the cops or anything – although, really, what are they going to do? Arrest me for misuse of magic? Yeah, sure. It’s not like they can get me for breaking any real laws. Except maybe unlicensed possession of wildlife. I mean, is there even any jail time for that? Or is it just a fine? It isn’t like he’s hurt or anything. Although that box he’s in can’t be all that comfortable. Oh wow, I just need a second, hold on.
Okay, I’ve gotten some sort of hold on myself. I think.
So, maybe you have already guessed, given my history, but, um, when Mr. Marco grabbed me, I turned around and pushed him. And, when I did, that hot thing from the other night went right through me and… well.