Bitter 524

There was a special assembly on Tuesday morning. The school only held assemblies in the main hall at the start and end of term. Most public announcements were made online and there was no reason to gather everyone together other than school spirit. Celebrating a win at the county athletics meet and the like.

The headmaster, Mr Jenkins, stood alone on stage. Usually, there’d be prefects and other teachers up there with him. The students mumbled and muttered as they sat waiting in the uncomfortable plastic chairs to find out what was going on.

“Quiet, please. Thank you, that’s enough. Don’t worry, this will be short. It’s been brought to my attention that there have been some unfortunate incidents with regard to bullying.” He paused to add weight to his words.

The kids were quiet, waiting to find out what kind of bullying he was referring to. An assembly to chastise the students was one of the reasons to call an assembly. Last time it had been because of a complaint that students in school uniform hadn’t been giving up their seats on buses when an elderly person needed it. Such things needed to be said face to face.

“As you know, we don’t tolerate any kind of physical altercation between students, under any circumstances. There’s no need for it and no justification for hurting a fellow student regardless of the provocation.”

He was stern and clear in what he expected of his students, but he still hadn’t told them what had triggered this speech.

“The current issue appears to stem around a video game.” There was a murmur from the crowd. “Apparently, there is some jealousy and resentment about who has the game and who hasn’t. I have no interest in your choice of entertainments — in my day, we used to have to play in the same room to punch each other in the face with combos — made for a more social activity.” There was some light laughter around the room. “I am not completely ancient. I understand the appeal of video games and I don’t ascribe to the notion that violence on screen translates to violence in real life. But let me be clear, anyone threatening or harming another student over such matters will be expelled immediately. And anyone retaliating, will also face severe consequences. These things can quickly get out of hand. If you are accosted, report the matter to a teacher. They will take care of it.”

This was really due to the game? At least they were stepping in early, but Britta wasn’t entirely reassured. As someone who had encountered bullying, she knew how ineffective teachers were. It was never so simple. It was hard to provide proof, or witnesses (even when there had been many). It usually came down to one person’s word against another’s.

She wondered if this was all due to the incident yesterday. It sounded like there had been additional incidents. Did that mean more people had the game, or that more people had attacked Rick? Something must have happened to require a special assembly, but it wasn’t like people were rioting in the hallways. Not enough people had the game to be bullied about it. Although, that was about to change.

The assembly was a firm wag of the finger and clear directions about what was expected. The students filed out chattering, not really showing much concern.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened during the day. Regular classes with regular chatter all around her. The game was still a major topic of conversation, but as with most trends, other trends soon took over.

Britta went home on the bus as usual. She had her French tutor coming over tonight and she was looking forward to it. Being able to hold a conversation in another language made her feel like she was getting somewhere. Growing. She wondered how many languages Lin could speak. She didn’t need to speak any, the translation glasses could do it for her, but Britta just knew that made no difference. She was bound to be fluent in several.

As she got off at her stop and headed down the road, she had the feeling she was being followed. When she stopped to check, there was no one there. It was still light out and she wasn’t scared — there were people walking ahead of her and on the other side of the road, plus all the cars passing — but she had the distinct impression that there was someone watching her.

She had never been the paranoid sort, and people were much more likely to ignore her than show her undue attention. She decided it was just a random glitch in her radar.

After another few minutes, she spun around and caught some movement behind a tree. Someone had jumped behind it to hide from view, she was sure of it.

Why? Who would want to follow her? The assembly that morning came to mind. What if someone had found out she had access to the game? Would they want to beat her up over it? No, that would be ridiculous. This wasn’t some crazy battlefield where kids fought to claim victory and then did a moronic dance to celebrate.

She started walking towards the tree. If they wanted to fight her, she wouldn’t report it to her teachers, she would call the police. She had her phone in her hand, ready.

Britta peered around the tree. A boy was standing there with big glasses and bruises on his face.

“What are you doing, Rick?”

The boy was looking away, like a child who thought if he couldn’t see you, you couldn’t see him.

“Nothing. What do you want?” He had a squeaky voice and he sounded like he could do with a drink of water.

“You’re the one following me,” she said.

“No. Not following. I was just… visiting someone near here.”

He was a terrible liar. “Behind this tree?” she asked him.

He looked up, as though he hadn’t realised it was a tree he was standing behind. Then his face changed to a more determined look. He straightened up, while still managing to seem slouched, and faced Britta.

“I know about your dad.”

Britta was taken by surprise. She hadn’t expected Dad to be part of this conversation. “Know what?”

“I know he’s got the game, and I want you to take me to him.”

He wasn’t interested in her, he was following her home so he could talk to Dad. It was getting weirder all the time.

“Who told you that?” she asked, although who could it be other than Lewis? He had wanted to make friends with Rick. She didn’t think Lewis would sell her out for no reason, but to win Rick’s confidence? That seemed like it would be reason enough.

“It doesn’t matter. I know he’s Guildford Underpass, and he makes those videos. Just let me speak to him.”

How did he know that? Lewis didn’t know Dad’s character name or that he was the one releasing videos. And what did Rick want with him?

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