If you had asked me a year ago what my life was like, I would have told you it was boring as hell. I was an ordinary schoolgirl. My mom was just an ordinary housemother. Houses in our neighborhood didn't just spontaneously get razed to the ground. The closest I ever could be to being in danger was with Stacey and her gang of bullies at school. Or with a lawnmower. Or stapler. Until I met The Society. But let me start the story properly. It all began with, well, Stacey.
The last day of school is something that all kids look forward to, whether it be the final day before summer break, Christmas break, or even the very brief biannual break. It was a Friday on the second week of October. The school bell had rung for the last time and everyone was already busy saying goodbye and updating each other on where they'd be going for vacation. Everyone, that is, but me.
I had been reprimanded by my gym teacher for apparently hitting Stacey on the head with a volleyball, and aside from having to collect all the balls and sports equipment scattered about in the court as punishment, I had been sent to speak to our principal about the whole situation. So there I was in the waiting room outside His Majesty's office, waiting for the faculty meeting to finish.
"Julia dela Peña," the secretary called from inside as teachers filed out one by one. "Mr. Razon will see you now."
I entered the office after all the teachers had gone out (Mr. Navales, my gym teacher, gave me a disapproving look as he was heading out) and was shown a seat by the principal's desk. "He'll be with you in a couple of seconds," said the secretary, whose name I can never quite remember.
Exactly a couple seconds afterward, Mr. Razon came out of his washroom, sat at his desk and began on a very cheerful note. "You again, you brat! I just called your mom to pick you up. She's not very happy to find out you've been in another fight." I was about to protest that what happened wasn't exactly a fight, but Mr. Razon went on. "Twice in a week now, Julia, and on the very last day before the semestral break! You couldn't just finish the semester peacefully, can you?"
I opened my mouth to speak, but decided against it. I thought about my mom and well, I didn't want to make it any worse than it already was by upsetting the principal further. I had been sent to his office too many times already—twice this week, just like Mr. Razon said—to know that speaking up would do me no good.
"Well, don't you have anything to say for yourself?" asked the principal. "You made Stacey's nose bleed. Why?"
She deserved it, I thought, but I still didn’t want to talk. I was innocent.
"I... I know you wouldn't believe me, sir, even if I told you the truth," I said.
"I doubt I will too. After all, this isn't the first time you've been sent here to explain why you had gotten into a fight. But it's the last day of school and I'm feeling good—all things considered—so try me anyway."
"I was distracted, sir."
"You were what?" Mr. Razon leaned forward.
"Distracted," I repeated, looking down at my clammy hands. "Mr. Navales said he didn't want us to have aching bodies—"
"But Stacey has it anyway."
"—when we went home for the semestral break," I continued. "So he just had us paired up to play with volleyballs. Amy and I were doing dig passes and just after I hit our ball, I caught sight of a girl cloaked in black hiding behind a tree at the far end of the field. Got me distracted. I realized too late that Amy had already returned the ball and it was coming from above. Instead of doing a dig pass, I spiked it toward Amy. Stacey was just retrieving their ball which was rolling toward Amy's feet, and well, Amy ducked because she couldn't handle spikes. So Stacey got hit. In the nose."
"A girl in black hiding behind a tree," said Mr. Razon. "That's new. Really, I've never heard that one from you before. Usually it's 'but she hit me' or 'that girl had it coming.'"
"I'm telling the truth, sir. I admit I am always getting into fights, but I'm never one to lie. And I didn't start this fight. In fact, it wasn't even a fight. That was just it! Even when Stacey had her cronies throw all the volleyballs all around when Mr. Navales had imposed field cleanup as punishment, I didn't retaliate!"
"So who's this mysterious girl? Do you know?"
"Well... No... I didn't see her face. I told you she was cloaked."
"Cloaked as in wearing a cloak?"
"Halloween's still a week away, missy, and we’re in the Philippines where it's too warm. Why would anyone be wearing a cloak outside? Or at all, for that matter!"
"I don’t know, sir, but I know what I saw and she was what distracted me. You know I can make volleyballs hit any target accurately!"
"Exactly. You're the best volleyball player we have, which makes me wonder why you're not using that talent by joining our school's volleyball team."
A segue, I thought. Finally. But Mr. Razon wasn't one to stray off topic. "Though that also begs the question, did you really intend to spike the ball toward Amy's direction but got distracted by this cloaked girl and so hit Stacey instead, or did you intentionally aim the ball at Stacey?"
"I swear, Mr. Razon. I'm not lying."
"Do you have any plans this semestral break, Julia?"
I was taken aback by the question. "My mom and I are planning on going out of town for a week."
"Well, like I said, I already talked to your mom and consulted with her my plan of action for you. She was reluctant at first but she realized disciplining you would be far more important than spending time and money vacationing."
I dreaded the next words that would come out of Mr. Razon's mouth. He paused before continuing, prolonging my agony. "So! You'll be spending some more time here at school after today. Be here tomorrow at 10 in the morning. I'll let you know what you have to do."
I was speechless. My mom and I had been planning on that trip for months. And she canceled because my principal wanted to make me an admin slave during semestral break just like that. I opened my mouth to speak but Mr. Razon had already risen from his chair to open the door.
"That is all," he said, motioning for me to step out. "Try not to get into trouble going home."
I was unable to contain my frustration. My mom. The principal. Stacey. And most of all, that mysterious cloaked girl! But I didn't want to protest anymore or I'd only be making things worse. I left the principal's office with only one thing on my mind: I need to find out who that cloaked girl is.
(...and whose Stacey character might have been borrowed by my subconscious back then from the Stacey Hinkhouse in Freaky Friday. Haha. Only now did I realize.)