The prophecy is written in silver sharpie on the girls’ bathroom wall, “Jamey Jenson Class Whore ’94”. Jamey’s stomach lurches as the words sink in. She wants to puke. Instead, she pulls down her pants and sits on the toilet, wishing she could flush herself down the sewer, too. It’s March, two months before graduation and freedom. Only two more months.
She’d cut class if she wasn’t already grounded for ditching. The memory of her father throwing the cordless phone against the wall, of it smashing to pieces, of him screaming that it was her fault he broke it, keeps her from hiding in the nearby woods the rest of the day. The bell rings. She scrambles to pull up her pants. Washing her hands quickly, she hurries out of the bathroom and keeps her eyes on the red, gray, and black linoleum tiles of the hallway.
She doesn’t look at the other students. She doesn’t give them an excuse to find something to tease her about; it’s better to move as if she weren’t there at all. She’d learned that years ago in grade school. It’s oddly quiet as she walks through them, keeping to the walls and moving around them when she can. She chances a cautious glance up and sees most of them staring at her.
Girls sneer and whisper to each other. Some of the guys look at her in a way that makes her feel oddly ashamed. There are no remarks about her cheap clothes — no references to her current address in an RV park. Being poor is what had always made her their target. Something else is wrong this time. What had she done to inspire that dreadful prophecy? She can think of nothing. Her unpopularity must be motive enough.
She slides into class as the bell rings. Her classmates continue gawking. Her chin lifts as she sits, and she keeps her eyes straight ahead at Mr. Snowden. She’s confident she’s innocent of whatever they’ve convicted her of, fear of her father’s temper keeps her chaste. Mr. Snowden begins the chemistry lesson. She takes careful notes as usual, but her eyes can’t help darting around. Only a few of the guys in the class are looking at her. One makes a lewd gesture by putting his hand to his mouth. She looks away and buttons the top button of her shirt.
The bell rings, cutting off Mr. Snowden mid-sentence and signaling the end of class. She puts her things away slowly and lets the others get a head start to lunch. She takes the back stairwell to the cafeteria. Her gaze is trained on the floor, as always. Her shoulders are curled inward to be as invisible as possible.
But it’s not enough. She feels a rough shove, that forces her to fall back to the wall. She looks up. It’s a boy she’s known since third grade. They were friends once. He grabs her between the legs and clenches hard.
“I heard about the party. I’m next in line,” he whispers, leaning in close to her ear.
His grip hurts, and she yelps, but she doesn’t move. Her legs are frozen, every inch of her unable to run or scream. He smirks and lets go, then continues up the stairs. It’s several minutes before time means something again. The next bell rings, and she forces her feet to take steps. They feel unstable like she is walking over a sand dune. They carry her past her next class and take her to the Counselor’s office. It’s his job to help her, isn’t it?
Mr. Robinette looks unsurprised when she appears in his office. She sits in the chair opposite his desk.
“I was about to come to pull you from class, Jamey.” His eyes take her in but don’t see her. “I’ve heard something alarming about you.”
She gasps, thinking he already knows what just happened in the stairwell. How can he know so quickly? Her fingertips bounce nervously against the armrests of her chair.
“I was told that you,” he begins, frowning, “that you were sexually active over the weekend.” He clears his throat. “At a party?”
Understanding falls over her faster than one of her father’s blows. This is the origin of the prophecy.
“I wasn’t at any parties this weekend.”
“Are you sure? Were you drinking?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I wasn’t at any parties. I was home with my Dad.”
His expression turns thoughtful. “I’m calling your father. If I were him, I’d want to know what’s being said about my daughter.”
“Please don’t,” she begs. “I told you, I was grounded at home. My Dad was with me.” She wants to scream but knows hysterics won’t help. Mr. Robinette’s eyes tell her he isn’t swayed.
He is quiet for a long moment. “Why would someone spread such a rumor about you?”
“I don’t know.” She wishes she did know.
Mr. Robinette looks unconvinced. “Why did you come to see me today, Jamey?”
The pain between her legs still lingers. She can’t meet Mr. Robinette’s stare. “A boy grabbed me in the stairwell at lunch.” Her voice is a ghost of a murmur hardly above a whisper.
“Where did he grab you?”
The words are thick in her throat. Frozen. Unable to budge. She tries to tell him, but she can only manage a weak gesture to her pelvic area.
He raises an eyebrow. “I’m sorry that happened, but it’s not surprising considering this rumor, even if it is untrue.”
She falls back into the chair. Her mouth a small “o” of disbelief. He isn’t going to do anything about it.
They will never do anything about it, a small but furious voice whispers, reminding her of something she’d known innately but forgotten. She clenches her mouth shut and sinks further in the chair. It’s best to remain unseen.