The fight, when it started, was vicious. Without provocation, the four girls attacked their classmate Abbey Latham in the far corner of the tennis court. Abbey fought back but crashed to her knees only to receive a kick in the ribs. Tears rolled down her cheeks but she did not make a sound, not until one attacker dragged her half a dozen metres by the hair. Her yell was stifled.
"The fuzz is coming," a sixth girl warned as a duty teacher rushed across the court.
"Breathe a word, Flabby, and we'll be back," the ringleader hissed. She pinched Abbey's cheeks and stared into her eyes. "Understand?"
Abbey nodded. By the time the teacher arrived, she had pulled herself into a sitting position.
"Barbara Scammell was responsible wasn't she, Abbey?" the teacher asked in a sympathetic voice.
Abbey sniffed back tears and stood up. Both her knees were bleeding and her blouse was ripped. She brushed hair from her eyes but stared at the ground, "Can't say, Mrs. Kilmorton."
The teacher frowned. "It was a planned attack wasn't it, Abbey?"
The girl shrugged.
"And it's happened before hasn't it?"
For the first time Abbey glanced up. "You saw her I 'pose."
"No, but I know all about her. Would you like to file a complaint?"
"What good will that do?" Abbey whispered. "She'll go on report and become even more of a hero."
Anne Kilmorton sighed, "Well come along to the medical room and we'll get you patched up. Your knees are bleeding."
Abbey shook her head. "Period 4 bell will go in a few moments, Mrs. Kilmorton. I'll be fine."
"But why did they pick on you, Abbey?" the teacher persisted. "You can at least tell me that much."
"They call me Abbey the Flabby because...oh, hell, it's obvious isn't it?"
Abbey knew she was a little overweight as she brushed back her blonde hair and stared at her teacher.
"It's not that, though is it?"
Abbey shook her head. "They think I have the hots for Doug Williams just because he came up and congratulated me on being selected for the inter-house swimming team."
Across the playground, two Year 12 boys watched the five girls who attacked Abbey disappear behind B Block and Mrs. Kilmorton talking to her.
"Lucky I stopped you making a fool of yourself, Cooper," one said to the tall straggly youth beside him. "You could have been nursing scratch marks from Flat's fingernails by now."
"And if Mrs. Kilmorton hadn't been on the tennis court, Jack?"
"I'm sure Flabby can look after herself."
"Her name's Abbey," Cooper retorted. "And I tell you she's worth more than a dozen of Barbara Scammell's cronies."
"Okay," Jack laughed. "She can swim and gets high grades but would you really like to take her to the disco?"
"She's not cool, Cooper, just cold. Lay a hand on her arm and she'd freeze you with one glance. Even brush against her thighs and she'd yell bloody rape. At least Flats and her friends know how to enjoy themselves."
"Yeah, with Doug Williams and anybody in the First XIII, not us nerds."
Jack shrugged. "Have it your own way. But you just like gazing at Abbey Latham."
"So? I like her."
"Then ask her to the disco next Friday. Bet you ten bucks she'll tell you to go get stuffed."
"Probably," Cooper whispered philosophically.
Abbey walked into the toilet block and wet a paper towel to clean the blood off her knees. She wiped her eyes and stared glumly at her image. Was she looking into a mirror? It was all wrong; everything was wrong and the last thing she needed now was the innuendoes and now physical violence from that group. She sniffed back more tears, tucked her blouse in and turned.
Barbara Scammell and a redheaded girl whose name Abbey couldn't recall stood there. Couldn't she see them in the mirror?
"You were talking to Killjoy for a long time, Flabby. Real chummy weren't you?"
Abbey swallowed. "What I say is none of your goddamn business, Flats."
The other girl's face darkened. "What did you call me?" she hissed.
"Perhaps if you were a little more mature your boobs might grow and the boys would have something to hold onto...Flats." Abbey repeated the taunt, clenched her fists and watched the two girls in front of her. Every sense was on full alert."...Or are the rumours that you're a lesbian true?"
"Why you..." Scammell nodded at her companion and the pair launched themselves at Abbey.
It wasn't the one-sided attack of the fight on the tennis court, though. Abbey stepped sideways and swung an arm out. Redhead went sprawling through a cubical door. At the same time, Abbey kicked. Her foot connected with incoming fingernails and propelled them aside. She stepped forward, grabbed the wrist and twisted.
Swimming had made both girls strong in the upper body and shoulders but Abbey's dozen or so extra kilograms became an advantage. She flicked her adversary around and had the girl's arm up her back.
"Get her!" Barbara yelled but the redhead looked reluctant.
"You're jealous, Flats. Jealous I got in the flying squad and jealous that the school captain recognised my efforts." She tugged the arm up and avoided the kicking legs. "For your information Doug Williams was merely being polite. He's no more interested in me than in you."
"Get her, Helen!" Scammell howled and squinted back tears.
Abbey turned to the redhead. "I wouldn't."
Helen Gistamo bit on her lip and retreated back into the cubical.
Three things happened simultaneously: the 4th Period bell rang, a teacher walked in and Abbey flung her opponent forward. The momentum sent Barbara into a sink with an almighty crunch and her head hit the edge of a mirror. Cut lips are inclined to bleed and this one did. By the time she managed to look up blood poured down onto her polo shirt.
"I saw that!" The teacher, a young woman not that much older than the Year 12 girls, turned to Abbey, "You are on report, young lady. What is your name?"
"It was all her fault, Miss Purdy," Helen found her tongue. "Abbey just up and attacked Barbara."
Abbey stood back, white and heaving but managed to shake her head. The teacher glanced at her, then the other two girls. "You are all on report. You can sort out your differences with Mr. Costello."
Barbara glanced at Helen but avoided Abbey's eyes. The deputy principal at Arthur Street was fifty-five if he was a day, had a reputation of being one of the old school, and was a strict disciplinarian.
"May I see your student identity cards, please?" Miss Purdy asked.
It was three thirty before Mr. Costello called Abbey from the waiting room into his office. Barbara and Helen had both came out with sour expressions on their faces.
The deputy principal glanced up when she walked in and waved his hand towards a chair. Abbey sat down and stared straight ahead. She'd never been in the office before and in all her years at the school had never been on report.
Mr. Costello stopped writing on a document he had on his desk and turned his eyes up at her.
"Miss Purdy quite rightly placed you on report but I have three conflicting reports about the incidents you were involved in, Miss Latham..." he began.
This was bad. Nobody ever called her that.
"I cannot condone unprovoked attacks at this school and, coming from senior girls who should be leaders, makes it even more serious. The oral reports from Miss Scammell and Miss Morgan were somewhat damning."
"But Mr. Costello..." Abbey said
The deputy principal held his hand up. "Their stories were convincing and well rehearsed... too well rehearsed." He glanced up and the thin lips almost twisted into a smile. "I prefer to recognize the third report I received, the one from Mrs. Kilmorton about the earlier playground incident. In her opinion..." His voice rambled on but Abbey only half listened while her mind raced, until Mr. Costello coughed and Abbey looked up. "...Did you hear what I said, Abbey?"
Abbey! He called her Abbey.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Costello."
"Next time, don't take matters in your own hands. We cannot stop what we don't know about, now can we?"
"I guess not."
"Remember that then. You may go."
"Go," Abbey gasped. "Is that all?"
"I believe so, unless you have anything to add."
"No demerits or restrictions?"
"A warning will suffice this time. I don't want to see you on report again, though. Understand?"
"I do, Mr. Costello. Thank you."
"Not me, Miss Latham. You can thank Mrs. Kilmorton. Good afternoon to you."
The deputy principal stood and Abbey walked out in almost a dream. The old guy wasn't as bad as his reputation after all.
"It's about time you got home. You knew I needed you here before four to mind Jason."Megan Parker stood by the kitchen table with a toddler on her hips and stared at Abbey.
"I got held up at school." Abbey pouted. It was bad enough that her father had a live in girlfriend but one with someone else's baby! When Dad was around, Megan was pleasant and accommodating but as soon as he went off anywhere she turned into a Frankenstein.
"And look at you," Megan muttered. "Your hair is a mess, there's dirt all over your uniform and that's the second ripped blouse you've had in as many days. If you think I'm going to sew it up for you..."
"I don't expect you to," Abbey said. "Dad left me three complete sets to last the week he's away at the conference."
"And you've ruined two already." Megan glanced at Abbey's raw knees but made no comment. "Anyway, here's Jason. I'll be late for my appointment because of you."
"So what?" Abbey snapped. "It's only with the hairdresser."
"I suppose," Megan relented and glanced up "I know it can be hard, Abbey. Who was it this time?"
Abbey shrugged. "Same ones," she admitted.
"Well, just walk away. That's what I did at high school."
"Oh, forget about it." Abbey reached out for Jason. "Would you like me to give him his bath?"
Megan relaxed a little. "He's had it but has filled his pants again. Poor wee fellow has the trots."
"I'll change him," Abbey said. "Come on, Jason. Let's get you cleaned up, shall we?"
The little boy tucked his arms around Abbey's neck and gurgled happily.
"By the way, your father sent us an email. Thanks for helping with Jason."
"Bye." Abbey watched as the older woman disappeared out the door.
After changing the baby and placing him in his playpen Abbey went across to the computer and brought up the emails. Except for the usual spam there was only the one message, the one from her father. Vic Latham had gone to Melbourne to help establish a new branch office of the firm he worked for. His email stated that he'd settled in okay but would be there longer than the week originally planned. Now he probably wouldn't return to Sydney until the end of the month. There was a mushy paragraph for Megan and one sentence for herself.
"Sure, I'm doing my assignments, Dad," Abbey snorted and turned the computer off.
She turned the television on but the soaps hadn't started yet so she went and sat on the floor beside Jason. "And do you want to know what happened to my sore knees, Jason?" she asked in an almost serious voice.
The little boy glanced into her eyes and held his hands up.
"Oh, Jason," Abbey whispered. She picked him back up into her arms and hugged him close. "How can someone so little be so understanding."
She kissed him on the cheek and wiped a tear from her eye.
Six blocks away from the Latham household that evening the television was tuned into a rugby league match at Aussie Stadium. The Sydney Roosters were three points down, it was half way through the second half, and the five middle-aged men in the room screamed at their team to get going.
A frail looking woman walked in with a tray of sandwiches and placed them on a table. "Do you want anything else?" she asked.
One of the men took a swig from his beer can, burped and switched his eyes from the screen for a couple of seconds. "No, Love," he muttered. "We're fine." He switched his eyes back. "Get the bloody ball out, you drongos," he screamed and crushed the beer can between his fingers.
In the next room, Cooper Hayes ignored the noise as he tried to concentrate on his computer program. His assignment was due in three days and had proved to be harder than he had anticipated. Sure he had gained all the information off the Internet but now he had to condense the information into a thousand words. He was strong at math and chemistry but English was a necessary evil for the end of year HSC exam.
Cooper glanced up when he heard the door open and the same frail woman appeared with another plate of sandwiches and a mug of steaming coffee. "Gee, thanks, Mum. That's just what I needed."
"That's fine, dear. How's the homework going?"
Cooper shrugged. "Okay, I guess." He glanced at his mother's face and frowned. Her right cheek and eye was swollen and red. "He hit you again, didn't he, Mum?"
Diane Hayes bit on her lip. "It was my fault..."
Cooper stood and anger flashed across his brow. "It is not, Mum. You do everything for the filthy bugger, and I'm going to tell him!"
Diane placed the supper on a table and grabbed her son's arms. "Leave it, Cooper," she said. "Just let him and his friends watch the match. It's over now."
"Until next time. Why do you stick with him, Mum?"
"David is your father, Cooper. He works hard but everything is getting a little on top of him at the moment."
"If he spent less time at the pub and with his boozy mates he just might get on better."
"It's not his fault."
"Then whose is it? Even I can see he's driving customers away from the garage. My God, he can't even communicate with us, his own family."
"Leave it, please, Cooper. David's just going through a rough patch now. We'll get through it."
"Sure, Mum but next time..." He took his mother's shoulders and kissed her on the forehead.
A cheer roared through the house. The Roosters had just scored a try.