The sudden absence of noise rang louder than the shrieks and shouts that normally filled the hall at this hour. The crowd to produce the sound was there, students that swarmed out of the classrooms to get to their next class in five minutes, pushing, pressing, talking, giggling, running. Only they weren't. No one was talking, some people were shuffling but absolutely everyone was crowded into one section of the hall. The only sound that anyone produced was a muffled scrambling and grunts. It came from the middle of the group.
The split second it took me to see that was all I needed to get horribly scared. I wasted more time than I wanted in dumping my bag with my coat by a pillar and darting around the students that formed the fringes of the group. As I got closer to the middle, I had more trouble sliding inbetween the students. They started to glance, glare, grumble at my elbows in their stomachs. They let me through, though. When I was almost to the front, I was almost squashed between a couple of seniors, muscled, but a muttered "she's his girlfriend" suddenly cleared the way for me. The words enhanced the feeling of foreboding churning in my stomach. Now I was pushed, propelled to the front. "She's his girlfriend," went through the crowd. A whisper that spread like a ripple through the onlookers.
I stumbled out of the mass that went from bodies to faces to eyes. Eyes that were suddenly not just directed at the spectacle in the middle of the clearing, but also at me. I looked. I understood. I was not part of the audience, I was part of the drama. I was supposed to be in the middle so the eyes could look at me as well. My reaction was vital, the juciest part of the gossip that would run over tongues through the school, for I was the Girlfriend. More precisely, I was the Girlfriend of the Boy That Was Beating the Other One to Pulp. The audience had had the action, the fight. They now wanted the aftermath, the unwinding. The satisfying ending that would make this into proper News.
Fights were uncommon in school, but ever so often a shouting match or a teasing shove would get out of hand, and the people involved, boys most of the time, would end up rolling on the floor, bragging, barking, bellowing, beating, bludgeoning. A crowd would form around them, not cheering or interfering, but watching, waiting. Fascinated. The end was inevitably an interruption of some kind. Most of the time it would be a teacher. Those were unsatisfying to the audience, a quick defusing of the action. Now, in the rush hour between classes teachers were too busy preparing for their next classes, waiting for the students to come in while they fidgeted, fumbled, flew about taking care of the last details.
The more satisfying endings were rarer and therefore all the more precious. Most of those were a friend, or several friends of the brawlers. They would join in or stop them, usually with a lot of shouting, swearing, satisfying the crowd's desire for a spectacle that made a proper story to whisper behind the hand in class to neighbours or tell loudly with lots of gestures during the break to friends.
I, well, I was one of the girlfriend interruptions. It added a romantic flavour to the mix that would no doubt prove to enhance the story. There were two types of Girlfriend in a fight like this. The Girlfriend of the Victim, whoever was losing the fight when it was interrupted - the crowd was always in favour of the underdog - and the Girlfriend of the Attacker. The role of the former was simple. She simply had to come to the aid of her love, whether it was my stamping her feet on the floor and screeching until they stopped fighting and then bending over her wounded precious with a wobbling lip and a tear sliding down her cheek or, for the more active ones, give the Attacker a stomp on the head so he stopped and drag her boyfriend off to clean him up. The Girlfriend of the Attacker was a more difficult one. She, I, had several options.
As they finally came to a standstill for a moment, the not-so-poor sod with a bleeding lip that was on his back on the floor scowling, sneering, snarling at the messy blond on top of him. In a second, all the options made a fast-forwarded parade through my head. I could run off to get a teacher. That was not the smart thing to do. One, it would be a lot harder getting through the crowd and to the nearest classroom than it had been to get into the circle. Two, by that time they'd probably beaten each other to smithereens. Three, it was the coward's way out, running off, away from the fight like a tattle-tale to tell on my fellow students. I could join in, and fight. But I was loath to do so, I wasn't stong and I would probably not be able to pull my boyfriend off the other guy. I could throw a temper tantrum. Heather had done that a few months ago, when it was her boyfriend, one of the muscled seniors, that was the Attacker. She'd pulled at her hair and screamed bloody murder at him and said she never wanted to see him again. She'd been really popular after that, people had been very kind to her after such a horrible break up with the utter barbarian she'd mistaken for a nice guy to date. Right. That was the myth she liked to spread anyway. It did earn her another date, and a short affair that had ended as dramatically as the first, with a fight between her and another girlfriend of the boyfriend this time. Heather had not taken kindly to being juggled. I was not the drama queen she was, however, so I didn't feel like a tantrum. The last option was a lecture. That was considered almost as bad as a teacher's interruption, but I was not about to do anything with Martin until I had the full story and a nice, quiet spot to talk everything over. Preferably far, far away from the looking, leering eyes of the crowd.
So I lectured. At the top of my voice, I exclaimed about the silliness of it all and that they should stop immediately. The crowd drew away from me in disgust, so that I was not standing in a circle any more but in an egg, with me at the centre of the wider end. I stopped talking when I noticed that I was not having any other effect than that. The crowd was still looking, the boys were still fighting.
For the first time, I looked, really looked at the guy on the floor. The churning in my gut that had started when I saw the crowd and worsened when I saw the fight and was made a part of the scene, tripled now that I recognised the face of Joshua. Three things shot through my mind at the same time. One, Martin had a very good reason for fighting with this guy, two, the crowd was probably not on the side of the victim in this particular fight and three, it was a miracle that it was Martin on top. Joshua, or Josh for friends (and enemies), was one hell of a bully and one hell of a fighter. Most of the students younger than him, and some of the older ones as well, had been at the wrong end of his cruel tongue and highly flammable temper at one point or another. He'd once given a freshman a bloody nose for stepping on his toe. I did not know by what turn of luck Martin had managed to be triumphant, but by the look of Joshua it was not going to last long. Veins were standing out in his neck and his mouth was opened into a permanent snarl now. I needed to get Martin out of here.
The decision gave me the strength needed to curl my hand into a fist and bang it against the side of Joshua's head. It didn't quite connect, it almost slid off his head, shaved bald and slick with sweat, but it was enough to make his eyes cloud over for a moment. The sudden interruption also surprised Martin, he looked around with eyes wild with aggression. A blink, and they cleared. The tension in the crowd was rising now. Finally, they got what they were waiting for. The fight was over and the aftermath began. That wasn't true of course, not by a long shot. If I didn't get Martin out of here soon, he'd be bruised and scratched all over for a week. Joshua was already preparing his next move, drawing his fist back, twisting around so Martin fell off him, against me. I stumbled, but got a grip on Martin's arm. Before he had time to say more than a startled "hey," I dragged him off through the hall. The crowd opened up before us, very willing to let us get away. This was one Attacker they sympathised with. I heard Joshua scrambling behind us. I ran, dragging my boyfriend behind me. Where to take him, I wondered.
Eventually, we ended up in the girls' loo. I closed the door and locked it behind me. Amost immediately, Joshua started banging on the other side of the door. Martin was running his hand through his hair. "Are you alright?" I asked him anxiously. He didn't sport any cuts or bruises in his face, but I couldn't see the rest of his body.
He looked at me, disbelieving. "I was." The words were short, sharp, snapped. "Until you decided to interfere and make me run away." A hollow laugh. "Into a girls' loo of all places." Despite his words, he threw a curious glance around the place. Probably expecting perfume bottles of some kind. Guys, I though irritably, not a little bit stung by his words.
"How can you say that?" I said back, cool, cold, composed. I was so not going to get angry with him. He would only think he was right. "He'd have made you into heap of blood and bones had this gone on any longer. I got you out of there just in time, mister."
He gave me a glare, for a few moments. Then he slumped back against the wall, his face in his hands. He grunted. That was all the confirmation and apology he was going to give me, I knew. "Still," he said, sounding a bit sulky now. "The girl's loo?"
"I didn't know where else to go," I ground out. I saved his guts and he wasn't even going to thank me? Talk about gratitude. I really would let him learn his lesson the hard way next time. "What happened, anyway? You usually avoid him, not fight with him. This isn't like you." Traitorous voice, betraying my concern. He was not supposed to hear that, he would take it as forgiveness. And he did. A weak smile crossed his lips, before disappearing again.
"He was calling you names, girl," he said softly, soothingly. "I couldn't let that go." He pushed himself off the wall and made the step it took to get over to my side of the the small room. He leaned against the door next to me, even though it was still rattling with the bangs of Joshua slamming his fists against it. Muffled swear words accompanied every blow. We ignored it in our small hide out.
Martin's words filled me with dismay. I was hardly a damsel in distress, and Joshua always called people names. If Martin let himself be provoked by that this kind of situation could become very frequent. And the violence wouldn't solve anything, it'd only make it worse. "Sticks and stones, Martin," I rebuked him. I tried to make the words stern, but they came out gentle. The relief of having a door between us and that guy eclipsed any hard feelings I had towards my boyfriend. I'd always been way too soft on him anyway. I couldn't help it.
"I know," he said, "but it was just..." His mouth worked, trying to find the words. He simply shurgged when he couldn't articulate what had transpired prior to the fight. I knew he and Joshua had both had a free period before the rush hour between classes started. They'd already been fighting when I came into the hall. It didn't matter so much now, I would just have to look out for him, so that it didn't happen again. The resolution sounded like an impossible one even in my own head, but I couldn't do anything else.
"Alright," I said, not pleased with it. Martin's eyes lit up at that. I'd given in, so the topic was closed to him. When his smile turned sly and he uncrossed his arms, I got an inkling of what his plans were.
"Now we're in a small space by ourselves, anyway..." He trailed off. I filled in the rest for myself. This was not the proper time, I told myself. But could I stop him, the question came. Did I even want to? Evidently not, for I let him uncross his arms and flatten his palms on either side of my head. I opened my mouth when his lips touched mine and my hands came up to cradle his head. It was the strangest snog I'd ever had, against the door of the girls' loo with a no doubt furious Joshua on the other side, and a crowd waiting. The Victim waiting for the Attacker, the roles reversed. And the audience waiting for another fight, another bit of gossip.
I didn't care. I revelled in the warmth that disappated the fear coiled in my stomach, and in the body pressed against mine. My head was just pleasantly clouding over when a bell rang shrilly in the hallway. It startled me. It brang reality back to me, and what had happened in the past five minutes. Was it only five minutes?
The noise on the other side of the door rose. The banging stopped. The authoritive voice of a teacher berating everyone sounded over the babble of students disappating, running off to their classes, hoping to get in before the door closed. I started to move as well when Martin's hands pinned me firmly to the door. "Ignore it," he murmurred against my lips. From where I was standing, that was a very convincing argument.
"Yes" I sighed, and let the clouds take over my brain. No doubt this would provide a very nice bit of gossip for the school. Not only had the Girlfriend run off with the Attacker, the Victim had been waiting ineffectively for a closed door behind which... well, nobody knew, but they could certainly guess. Guess they did, by the time Martin and I left the bathroom, flushed, flirting, feigning casualness, the tale had gone round the school several times. The audience was satisfied, and the Girlfriend had her boyfriend back intact. A happy ending, for now.