Isla strolled through the quadrangle at the tail end of Natasha’s elite squad. She watched the tall, tanned blonde heads bobbing in front of her and flicked her own ponytail, smiling. It felt like a promotion, an espresso shot of self-esteem. Thank God for Katy, her key in. She’d been sliding up to her with faux kindness and hot gossip, and finally Katy had made the offer. Here she was, top of the school pecking order.
The squad rolled past the table where Isla used to sit. Her old group were chatting over a table of Tupperware, drink bottles and paper plates from the day’s canteen special. As Isla’s shadow skimmed over the table, conversation halted. Georgia Andrews raised her eyes to glare at her.
“Traitor,” she growled under her breath.
Isla didn’t have to answer to her anymore. Traitor? Like I care.
“She looks salty,” Katy smirked, walking just before Isla.
“Tell me about it.” Isla rolled her eyes. Georgia features in Nat’s list of online victims. “She’s still not over those little jokes from last year.”
Katy scoffed and shot a look at Georgia. “Uptight much!”
Georgia shrunk in her seat. Isla pursed her lips and raised her freshly waxed eyebrows, trying to keep her cool while proud delight ballooned in her stomach.
The clique approached their table like a catwalk of models. Isla hovered while they sat down on the benches, wondering if they had reserved bench spots. She sat down quietly next to Katy.
Nat’s voice cut through the girls’ chatter. “So why’s Isla here?”
Isla’s heart dropped like a chandelier from a ceiling. The group was silent for an eternal second, ten pairs of mascaraed eyes trained on her.
“I invited her,” Katy smiled, looking around.
Nat maintained her unblinkingly gaze at Isla, head tilted slightly.
“Okay,” she smiled, briefly, then turned to Monique beside her. “Mon, can you braid my hair, hun?”
“Sure!” Mon leapt up and stood behind Nat’s seat, pulling out her hair elastic.
Isla exhaled. She fumbled to open her lunch box. It’s cool, keep it calm. She blended into the background as gossip resumed.
“I ordered my formal dress last night,” Nat announced, the girls cooing in response.
Mon paused finger-combing Nat’s hair. “The white one?”
“Yep,” Nat nibbled at a muesli bar.
“Girl, you’re gonna look flawless in that!” Mon verbalised the murmurs of approval.
“Who are you taking to formz, Isla?” Katy asked.
“Uh, I’m taking Jack Anderson.” Isla bit her lip — was it a mistake to say his name?
“Nice choice,” Nat nodded.
Isla smiled shyly.
“Oh my god, look who’s here,” Mon sneered over Isla’s head, and she turned to see Kitty Matthews walking to the canteen. Like she needs more food, Isla thought.
“What a fat lard,” Nat sighed, smirking.
“So what’s our next move for the Tubby Cat?” Mon tilted her head around, her hands continue to weave the hair by themselves.
Katy leaned over to Isla, grinning. “We’ve been working on Kitty. Ever since we posted the Tubby Cat joke on the year page, her group has basically exiled her.”
“Impressive,” Isla said. Everyone knew Nat’s group derived pleasure from their cyberbullying plights. Jokes, that’s all it is.
Nat was tapping a French nail on Tupperware. “We started the Tubby Cat thing — that was pretty effective, credits to Mon for that one.”
“We need to step it up.” Nat’s long nail was tapping faster on the plastic box. Isla couldn’t stop her leg from shaking — it does that sometimes.
“Are you thinking –“ Mon raised an eyebrow, then chuckled.
“I think I am. Let’s use the anonymous Facebook account.”
“Yeah!” Katy cried. The other minions purred their support. “What about a meme with her face on a fat cat’s body?”
Nat grinned. “Perfect.”
Her gaze shifted to Isla. “You’re posting it. From the anonymous account.”
Isla’s nervous leg froze. “Oh. I wouldn’t know — I’m sure someone else could -“
Nat flapped her words away with a delicate hand. “Think of it as…” her eyes wandered to the heavens, then swiftly returned to Isla. Hard, brown eyes.
“… An initiation.”
Isla shuddered. The trees swayed and the dappled light shifted. For a fleeting moment, darkness fell and Nat’s eyes were black as night. Then light returned and Nat winked.
Ding ding ding. Alarm bells were ringing in Isla’s head. No — it was just the bell for the end of lunch. Nat stood up straight and smoothed her blue skirt. She made a beeline to Isla, wrapping an arm around he shoulders.
“I’ll send you the account details tonight, and tell you what to post. If you get caught, no snitching on us, k?”
Isla opened her mouth to speak, then closed it and nodded dumbly. She’s trusting me!
Nat smiled. “Perfect. Hey, this Saturday night — party at mine, want to come?”
Isla’s mind was exploding with all this drama. She’s personally invited me to her party! Keep it cool, Isla.
“Sure, sounds good.”
What am I doing? Should I — shut up Isla. It’s for a good cause. Think of being Nat’s best friend. She was so nice.
Isla had logged in to the fake Facebook profile under Felicity Mackie on her phone. She uploaded the picture to Kitty’s wall, her finger hovering on the ‘Post’ button. She stared at the face in the photo, cut from a school photo of Kitty at her fattest, in Year 8. So embarrassing. Poor thing.
Ding. A text from Nat popped up on the screen. Hey Isla, have you posted it yet? When you’re done, gotta discuss party outfits, the theme’s Gatsby.
Isla froze and watched the text bubble fade away. Do it. Now or never. She clicked “Post”. As the loading icon appeared, she looked again at the photo. She laughed.
Her fingers frantically typed a response to Nat. “Done it. Nice theme — got any ideas?”
“Skype me? I’ll show you the options.” Nat replied.
Me, Skyping Natasha Ward. Things are changing. She smiled.
“How do you think I looked?” Nat asked at lunch the following Monday. The orange tinge of her fake tan from the party still lingered on her face.
“Gorgeous. 10/10,” Isla nodded quickly. The party had been amazing. Isla smiled, remembering how Georgia had gaped when she and Nat hit the dance floor together. Nat didn’t even talk to Mon, and Isla received a few scowls through the night. Who cares? Nat and I are tight!
“You know, you’re really cool, Isla!” Nat had yelled at her while music blared. Her words slurred with alcohol, but Isla beamed nonetheless.
Isla was worried that by Monday the best-friend spell might have worn off, but Nat was just as nice, inviting her to the seat next to her at the lunch table. Isla glanced at Mon, whose nostrils flared.
“Isla, could you please braid my hair? I heard you’re really good.” Nat shrugged, smiling sweetly.
Isla nodded. Nat swivelled in her seat so Isla could reach her. Nat’s hair was silky in her hands and she began weaving strands, one over the other.
Nat cleared her throat. “Hey everyone, did you hear that the Tubby Cat’s in hospital?”
Gasps rippled through the group. “Why?” came a collective response.
“She attempted an overdose!”
Isla’s hands froze mid-braid, her brain zoning out to another realm. The girls’ chatter and laughter died.
Kitty. Her hands were shaking now.
Hospital. She dropped the strands of hair.
She looked up over the heads of the group and saw Ms Chamber, the year coordinator, walking in slow motion towards them.
Oh no. She shook her head. She’s come for Nat.
“Isla!” Nat turned around to her, breathing heavily. Her face looked sympathetic but her eyes weren’t in it.
“Remember,” she paused. A sliver of a smile on her lips. “No snitching.”
Then she turned her back. No. Isla’s leg began shaking.
“Isla Norman,” Ms Chamber’s voice sliced through the air. She beckoned her with a sharp hand motion, and Isla followed. She was drifting though a void, as if the world was on fast-forward around her. Girls’ faces were blurred — was she crying? All that was in focus were the eyes, chasing her.
Isla focused at the pattern on Ms Chamber’s long skirt as they moved across the quadrangle. She stared too long and eyes morphed out of shapes and colours. Ms Chamber’s high heels — click-clack — on the concrete. She met Georgia Andrews’ gaze and her eyes burned the most. They were razors carving guilt onto Isla’s body — you did this to Kitty.
What have I done?
Ms Chamber looked at Isla over her glasses. “Cyberbullying is a major offence, Isla, and we’re taking this incident with Kitty very seriously.”
Isla stared blankly. Why? What do I say?
“How did you -?” She stammered.
Ms Chambers pursed her lips. “A girl reported that you were bullying Kitty via a fake account.”
Isla’s heart rate was unnaturally fast. The quadrangle was spinning, her cheeks flushed. “Who?”
The teacher sighed.
Nat. She scrunched her eyes shut. Words jumbled in her mind too fast to control. Natasha. Ahsatan. What an evil bitch. How could she?
Isla looked over her shoulder at the table she had sat peacefully at a few minutes ago. Nat was staring at her. Unblinking, without shame or pity. I hate her. From here, Isla thought, her eyes looked as black as her soul.