Sep 26, 2021 8:01 AM
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Bella arrives to gym early, having gotten directions to it well in advance - over lunch with a helpful Jessica. Jessica is helpful in many ways, and is also able to provide what might well be an exhaustive list of people Delaney has goaded, what sports teams they are on, and how hunky each one is in Jessica's personal estimation. "The teachers never see any of it," she said. "And they'd assume Delaney was getting bullied, anyway, wouldn't they? But you saw. Something's wrong with him, but it's only the things he does that get him hurt."

Bella has a note from her old gym teacher, who let her exhaust herself on an exercise bike in the back instead of doing something hazardous any time the classroom activity would have otherwise placed Bella near a ball or another human being. Bella also has the copay receipts from all of her doctor's visits over the past year, and has written on each one what sent her to the clinic, ranging from two instances of "had to check for concussion" to one of "chipped molar" to one of "two broken toes, also carpet rash". And just because of gym teachers' reputation for not being interested in excuses, she has thrown in drugstore receipts too, each with massive purchases of disinfectants, bandaids, and other first aid items suitable in quantity for only an extremely accident-prone individual. Bella has these things because Renée is not really equipped to reliably run basic errands before they become emergencies, and Bella's had a checking account to handle such things since she was not quite fifteen.

She finds the gym, and looks around for the teacher.
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Perhaps more eye-catching is Delaney, lying stretched out along a bench near one corner of the room and bouncing a basketball off the wall repeatedly with one hand. It rebounds within his reach every time.

There is also a teacher, standing by the other end of the gym: a tall, broad, muscular woman with long curly black hair. She doesn't seem to be especially busy with anything.
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Bella notes Delaney, notes that it would be very easy for him to push her and make it look like it was her fault, and soldiers on nonetheless. "Hello, Ms. Finch," says Bella. "I'm new. Do you have a minute? I need to talk to you about accommodations. I don't have a condition name or anything - my last doctor thought inner ear but couldn't pin anything down; I haven't seen one here yet - but I'm ridiculously clumsy and someone will get hurt, probably me, if I do a majority of gym class activities." She produces her note from her prior teacher and the packet of receipts. "You probably get people trying to be excused from things all the time, so I brought these. If you need to talk to my father about it - or my mother, though that would be a long distance call - you're welcome to. I can do some things reasonably safely, like most exercise machines and situps; I'm not trying to get out of exercise in general, just injuries."

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Delaney ignores both of them. Bounce. Bounce.

Ms. Finch takes a look at the accumulated evidence, raises her eyebrows, and holds out her hand to accept it.

"You must be the Swan kid," she says. "Hi. Nice to meet you... and your medical record."

(Delaney snickers. So he is listening.)
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"It's only the receipts; you'll have to take my word on what they're for, or call my mom, but at least they substantiate that I'm in and out of the doctor's office regularly," says Bella with a tight smile. "There's probably some way to get the actual medical record if necessary. What's on the menu for today?"

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"Volleyball," says Ms. Finch, flipping through the receipts. "Good God." (She's reached the broken toes.) "I wouldn't put you in a volleyball game if you paid me," she says as she stacks everything back together and hands it back to Bella. "You can sit out. Grab a mat and do whatever you can do without breaking any bones in my gym. If I think you're slacking off, I'll let you know."

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"Thank you," says Bella warmly, putting away the papers. She goes and fetches a mat.

They're right next to where Delaney is bouncing his ball. Sigh. She doesn't look directly at him, and he seems pretty good at actually catching the projectile so she's not especially worried about getting clobbered, but she doesn't know what is up with him yet.

Maybe she'll ask Ms. Finch. Ms. Finch seems like a sensible person, and has him in one of her classes.
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Ms. Finch's last words on the subject are a wry, "You're welcome."

The rhythm of the ball is pretty even - bounce, bounce, bounce. Bounce.

When Bella approaches, it stops.

Delaney turns his head to look at her; his jaw and the side of his face are already starting to show bruises from earlier.

"Hey," he says amicably.
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Oh. Greetings. Splendid.

"Hello." She hauls a mat from where the mats are, and looks for a place that isn't going to be in harm's way when volleyball happens.

All such places, except for right in front of the door where people are going to start pouring in soon, are also near Delaney.

Grand.
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He observes her looking around.

"Do you want me to move?" he asks, drumming his fingers idly on the basketball, which is now balanced on his chest.
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"I imagine you'll have to do that when you trade your basketball for a volleyball anyway," she shrugs. "I didn't arrive that early." She spreads out her mat, sits on it, and decides she might as well start stretching. "But it's surprisingly observant of you to ask."

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"You say that like I'm gonna play volleyball," he says, grinning at some private joke.

"You're gonna play volleyball or you're gonna go away," Ms. Finch calls from her place near the other end of the room.

Delaney makes a rude gesture in her direction, still grinning; she doesn't take visible or audible offense, just snorts and goes back to fetching volleyballs from the available supply.
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"Either of those things," says Bella. "I just hope you don't throw the ball into some jujitsuka's face obviously on purpose and cause him to feed you your own feet before I can summon an ambulance."

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He laughs.

"Now who's surprisingly observant?"
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"Not really observant. Only curious. You do attract attention; people know who you are and were willing to tell me when I tried to figure out how to react."

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"Huh," he says, mulling this over.

"So why do you care?"
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"Until I made some inquiries, what I saw could have been a bunch of things, and some of those things could have hurt me," she says, switching to stretching the other leg. "Your... friend... Farber could be a murderer waiting to happen. I haven't ruled that out - he still would go to prison for a damn long time if he killed you, no matter how many times you shoved him, and you'd still be dead if he did. You could have some kind of untreated or undertreated mental illness - I haven't ruled that out either, although I don't know what kind it could be. There could be come complicated hierarchy of violence in the school, which might or might not want to include me, which I'd have to learn about to navigate or safely dismantle." She shrugs.

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"Well, it looks like you got the picture," he says serenely. "I just like getting my ass kicked. Not a problem for you unless you don't like seeing my pretty face all fucked up," with a gesture to said face that highlights the bruises and what looks like it might be a knife scar running under the corner of his jaw.

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"I'm not actually sure if masochism is still classified as a mental illness," Bella says neutrally. "Though if you're going to describe it that way I suppose it could be classified as a bizarre form of cosmetic surgery addiction. Still, operating via provocation of teenagers with bad impulse control - instead of, I don't know, awaiting the age of majority if you haven't attained it already and then paying a dominatrix - is rather risky. If you die you don't get to decide whether to press charges, and some kid who's not very bright but could easily have gone his whole life without murdering anyone spends many years in jail. Do you know how long it's been since there was a murder in Forks?"

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"Dominatrix," he says with a speculative smile, "now there's an idea. Nope, not a clue. Do you?"

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"Thirty-seven years." Charlie routinely brags about this. "And that one wasn't by or of a resident, it was some people from Port Angeles who were here for some reason."

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"Impressive," says Delaney, with apparent sincerity. "Yeah, I'm from New York. It's probably been, like, a couple hours."

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"Population density." She shrugs again. "But even if you got yourself killed in New York City, someone would go to prison. If you have a deathwish, I probably can't talk you out of that altogether because I am not a psychologist, but there are ways with less collateral damage. If you just like getting the crap beaten out of you, there are less hazardous means."

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"Mm, but what if I like getting the crap beaten out of me in front of an audience," he says, grinning at her. "What then?"

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"Become a professional wrestler?" suggests Bella. "Pay somebody to pretend they want to kill you in the hallway, and stop at some defined quantity of blood loss? Hire the dominatrix, set up a video camera, put it on the Internet."

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He laughs.

"I'll think about it."

From across the room, Ms. Finch calls, "Hammond! I want my basketball."

Delaney tosses it in roughly the right direction without looking; it sails through the air, executes a series of diminishing bounces, and finally rolls to a gentle halt against the opposite wall.

"Put it away, Hammond, I have better things to do."

He rolls his eyes, but gets up off his bench.
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