Christine stared up at the top of the rope, defiant. She would beat this thing. Reaching out, she grasped the thick cord and pulled. She felt her feet lift off the ground. Wrapping her legs around the rope, she closed her eyes and pulled again. She could feel every eye on her as she painfully inched her way up. Someone snickered, she had no doubt it was Mallory. That bitch had been a pain in her ass all school year. Thin, blond and a cheerleader, she had made it her mission to make Christine miserable.
“Come on, Christine, you can do it.” Coach Bennington cheered her on. She knew he was only doing his job, making her climb the rope, but she couldn’t help but hate him, just a little. She was the last one to complete the physical requirement. If she didn’t pass, she wouldn’t graduate.
Mallory’s voice carried up the rope. “I’m surprised she managed to get her fat ass off the ground.” Christine shot a glance her way and then wished she hadn’t as the ground was farther down than she’d expected. She looked up towards the ceiling. Holy shit, she was halfway there.
“Don’t pay any attention to her, Christine. Keep going and DON’T LOOK DOWN.”
Who said that, Christine wondered. It sounded like George Hayes, but he was the Captain of the football team and Mallory’s boyfriend. There had to be a trick somewhere.
“Yeah, keep going, Christine. I think George must like your granny undies.”
“You don’t need to be such a bitch, Mallory. What did she ever do to you?”
Christine risked another glance down. Were George and Mallory really arguing about her? Coach Bennington had Mallory by the arm and was guiding her towards the door.
“Keep going, Christine.” This time it was Marcus Jackson, George’s best friend. Before long she heard other voices chiming in, encouraging her to complete the challenge. There seemed to be an underlying excitement to their chant. She looked back up. She was almost there.
“What’s she doing?”
“I think she’s praying.”
“No, she’s scared. I wouldn’t be surprised if she pissed herself.” This time it was Gina Monroe, Mallory’s best friend.
“Come on, Christine. You can do it.” George began to chant then, “Christine, Christine, Christine…”
The rest of the class chimed in, except probably for Gina and Mallory, if she was still in the gym. She heard Coach’s voice. “Two more pulls and you’re there.”
The chant changed, “Two more, two more, two more…”
I can do this, she thought. Her hands were sore as she gripped the rope tighter and pulled up. The inside of her thighs rubbed against the rope. Opening her eyes, she looked up. One more pull and she would be there. Slowly, agonizingly, she tugged one last time. She heard loud whoops as the class cheered.
“That’s it Christine, you’re there,” Coach called up. “You only need to ring the bell.”
The bell? Seriously? She’d forgotten about that part of the strength test. She had to let go of the rope with one hand and ring a bell that hung at the top of the rope.
“Does she really have to?” George asked. “She made it to the top, we can all see that.”
“It’s part of the test,” Gina said. “We all had to do it, so she has to do it, right, Coach Bennington?”
Good grief, Gina must think it’s her duty to take over for Mallory. Those two would make her pay every last bit of blood and sweat she had.
“She’s right,” Coach said, “it’s part of the test. She has to ring the bell.”
“Don’t worry,” Christine said through gritted teeth, “I’ve got this bitch.”
The gym grew silent as all eyes watched. Christine focused on the bell, willing the fingers on her right hand to open. Inside, a voice screamed at her to not let go. This is insane, you’ll fall.
“Come on Christine.” George again. Why was he being so nice to her?”
“Why are you being so nice to her?” Gina asked.
Well, at least I’m not the only one wondering that. Christine’s fingers loosened. She opened her hand and reached for the bell. It was right there. She didn’t need to stretch, like Mallory did, who had stopped short of the top, but had managed to ring the bell anyway, thanks to her long arms. She tapped the bell and nearly shouted with joy as it chimed her victory. Then the hand that was still holding the rope slipped.
Below her she heard the screams of her classmates. Everything seemed to slow as she fell and their voices reached her. It was almost surreal.
Mallory’s voice was the last one she heard before she hit the ground. “I told you she’d crack the floor.”
A loud ringing sound greeted Christine and she opened her eyes. The room was dark and it took a moment for her to make out her surroundings. She was in her room. She reached up and touched her head. It hurt, but not from any damage to her skull. Everything felt intact.
Her mom opened the door. “Christine, shut off the alarm and get up.”
Christine pulled the pillow over her head. “I don’t want to go today. I’m sick.”
“Christine, I know you’re nervous, but you can do this. Now get up and get dressed. I’ve made you a champion’s breakfast.”
“Great,” she mumbled. “Something to sit in my belly and weigh me down.”
She grabbed her clothes and headed for the shower. She winced. Her hands hurt. She glanced at them, confused. Why were there blisters? The phone was ringing downstairs.
“Christine, it’s for you.”
Christine picked up the receiver in the bathroom. “Hello?”
It was her best friend, Jane. “Did you hear the news? Mallory Hayes was found in the gym. She hung herself.”
Christine looked at her hands. Now she remembered why they were blistered. She smiled. “That’s so sad.”
Word Count: 999