Wrong Side of Town

With Me - 3


Komal Kant


~ Two years ago ~


Tears stung my eyes as I staggered into my room and flipped on the switch.

The light was blinding, and I stumbled to my desk, knocking aside books as I searched for the only thing that could save me now.

My heart was pounding so hard, I thought I was about to have a heart attack. The fear was fading now, but it was being replaced with a sick feeling that made me want to throw up.

My hands were shaking as they continued in their search, and finally my fingers landed on my prize. A black permanent marker.

Without hesitating, I tore off the cap of the marker and rolled up the left sleeve of my sweater. Disgust shot through me as my eyes landed on the marked skin of my arm.

I was tarnished. I was ruined. I was scarred.

I would never be the same again. I would never be the same person again. He had made sure of that.

Hands still shaking, I pressed the marker to the raw, red skin, and began to write over it. Once the word was etched over the disfiguration, I continued to write on my arm at a furious pace. Over and over again, I wrote the same word until it was the only thing swimming in my vision.

Then, finally, I collapsed onto the floor, repeating the word in my mind until it was tattooed onto my skull.

Forget. Forget. Forget.

Maybe, if I told myself enough, I would truly forget.

Chapter One


Even through the phone I could tell Dad was drunk again.

I could tell from the way he slurred incoherently and said the name over and over again like it was going to bring her back.


But the mantra wasn’t going to bring my mother back. Ghosts didn’t come back, even if they were living.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried to muster up some sort of courage, but that name had a crippling effect on me whenever Dad said it. He had this way of taking away all the good memories of her and replacing them with the bad.

I held the phone away from my ear and took a few deep breaths to calm myself. My eyes glided over the familiar pasty white walls of the Penthill Community Center, over the large bulletin board positioned just within the entrance, and finally to the service desk where Michelle stood staring at me.

Michelle was in her late-twenties and ran the volunteering program at the Penthill Community Center where I volunteered every Monday and Friday after school in the soup kitchen.

“Are you okay?” Michelle mouthed at me when I caught her eye.

Concern filtered through her eyes as she studied me. She was one of those people who couldn’t help but care.

Somehow, I managed to nod even though I was about as far from okay as I could get. My shift at the community center had just ended and I was about to go home to this—to my drunken dad who would probably be passed out by the time I got there.

Sometimes I wished I could just go away. Somewhere. Anywhere. I wanted to escape from the problems that continued to haunt me as I grew older. I wanted something to wrap me up and carry me away, until I felt as light and weightless as a cloud. Until my mind was floating somewhere else, lost in a blur of colors and sounds.

“That bitch…that whore…who the fuck does she think she is?”

I cringed as Dad said each word. It hurt to hear him talk about her like that. Even after all these years, it still hurt.

“Daddy, please, I’ll talk to you about this later.” There was a hint of desperation in my voice.

I hated how weak I sounded. I hated that I always let this get the better of me.

“Yeaaah, fine.” The line disconnected and I let out a quick breath.

My head was swimming, but now wasn’t the time to have a breakdown. I put my phone into my bag and feigned a smile as I walked over to Michelle who was still studying me with concern.

“Is everything okay, Estella?”

I forced my head up and down in a nod. “Yes, everything’s fine. If there isn’t anything else that needs to be done, do you mind if I leave? My brother should be here to pick me up soon.”

Truth be told, Nathan wouldn’t be here for another thirty minutes, but I needed to get outside into the fresh air and hope that Dad’s words would fade from my ears.

A frown pulled down on the corners of Michelle’s mouth, but she nodded regardless. She wanted to say more, but she didn’t know exactly what to say to me, the girl who was always so well put together and responsible.

Just like everyone else, she couldn’t quite figure out if there was really something wrong with me or not. And that was fine with me. I preferred it that way.

“Thanks for your help tonight. You’re fitting in really well around here.”

I’d started volunteering here a week ago after my brother, Nathan, had seen an ad posted on a noticeboard at his college. I’d been a volunteer at the Statlen animal shelter for a while and as much as I’d loved working there, I’d needed something more to distract me from my life.

“I’m glad you think so, it’s definitely been an experience.”

And that was the truth. Seeing the local homeless come in for a warm meal on cold nights like this one was affecting me in a way I’d never felt before. It hurt to think that they didn’t have a home or a family to take care of them.

“Well, be careful out there,” Michelle warned as I grabbed my bag from behind the counter and began heading towards the entrance. “Penthill’s never safe with that Madden gang lurking around.”

I paused and turned around, dread settling into me at the mention of the notorious motorcycle gang. “Are they really as bad as everyone says they are?”

I didn’t know much about the Madden gang—I lived in Statlen, which was a good half hour from Penthill, so they didn’t impact me as much—but the amount of stories that floated around about them more than made up for my lack of knowledge.

The gang had begun with three brothers, but had over thirty members in it now, and they were rivals with the Allbrook motorcycle gang. They were intimidating, muscular figures covered in tattoos and piercings, notorious for drinking, dealing drugs, and responsible for the violence that occurred in Penthill and the surrounding towns.

Michelle shook her head, her long red locks fanning out behind her. “No, they’re worse. They steal, they vandalize, and they beat people up to the point of being unrecognizable. If you’ve ever heard a story about the Madden gang, multiply it by ten because those boys are just about the worst thing around these parts.”

I frowned at her words. Bullies didn’t scare me; they were weak and cowardly. “If I ever run into one of them, I’d like to give them a piece of my mind.”

“If you ever run into one of them, I suggest you run in the opposite direction if you value your life.”

I sighed. Michelle was right. You didn’t poke an angry bull in the eye; you ran away from it screaming. “Why don’t the police do anything about them?”

Michelle shrugged. “Too scared, I guess. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of one of those boys. There isn’t a law or a bone they won’t break in order to get what they want.”

Her words sent a chill down my spine, and I felt cold all over. All this morbid talk about the Madden gang was bringing down my already low mood.

“I better get going, Michelle,” I said with a wave.

“I’ll see you on Friday. Be safe.” Michelle returned the wave and went back to sorting through the endless pile of paperwork she always had.

As I stepped outside, the cool air hit me like tiny bullets, and I hurried out onto the street, wrapping my arms around myself to stay warm. The weather in fall was unpredictable. We’d wake up with warm mornings that would end with freezing nights. I was dressed in baggy jeans and a sweater that seemed to absorb the cool air, and I was kicking myself for not taking a jacket with me.

“Estella Markson, you are a silly, silly girl,” I said to myself in a British accent as my teeth chattered.

Don’t ask me why I spoke to myself in a British accent. It was a strange habit I’d picked up at a young age when my mom and I had watched British comedies together. I’d loved the actors’ accents so much that I had begun imitating it and it had sort of just stuck with me. It was one of the few good memories I had left of my mom now.

“Estella Markson, do you always talk to yourself?”

The voice came out of nowhere and I jumped back, glancing from side to side. The streetlights were on the other side of the road, so this side of the street was full of shadows. From my right, a solid figure detached itself from the wall and began walking towards me.

It was a boy. Well, a man, I guess. He looked like he was a few years older than me and was dressed in fitted black jeans and a black leather jacket. My senses were on high alert and I didn’t take my eyes off him.

As he came closer, and the dim light fell on him, I noticed that he had longish brown hair that was slicked back. A strand or two fell onto his face like they’d been artfully placed that way. And, wow, that face. It was chiseled and taut with full lips and a cleft on the chin.

The guy was downright hot and he’d heard me talking to myself. Could I be any more embarrassing? Still, hot guys could be muggers or rapists and I wasn’t going to let my guard down just because he had a pretty face.