Trigger Warning: Talks about Bullying
Int. Counsellor’s Office — Day
Orianne Brunet glanced around Mr. Riley’s office. She was here again. Surrounded by the figurines of superheroes that lay in a row on the windowsill. Orianne always felt as if they were the counsel of Riley, who secretly judged her from their place on high. Her eyes flew around the cramped corners of the office filled with filing cabinets and folders stuffed on top of each other. It was dusty and disorganized. It was a pile of ‘I’ll get to it later,’ meaning Mr. Riley would never get to it.
Orianne scratched her wrist. She glanced down to see the horizontal scars on her arm exposed just slightly. She tugged her sleeve down, hiding them. Orianne glanced up to Mr. Riley, who was staring at her before he quickly jotted down some notes. He had been doing this for the last five minutes, silently observing Orianne while taking notes. Every so often, he glanced over to his watch and then sometimes to the ticking clock that hung over the door.
“Mr. Riley — ,”
“Mrs. Brunet, you’re quite the regular in my office. If I didn’t know any better, I would think you had a crush on me,” said Mr. Riley. Orianne shot him a glare. He didn’t see it. Too busy chuckling to his own joke. “So, what’s bothering you today.”
Orianne curled her fingers, gripping her pants legs. Here was Mr. Riley again, too busy to worry about his patients. Too busy checking the time and praying to God that his shift would be over. So Orianne kept her mouth shut. Why tell him anything when he won’t do anything to help? She didn’t want to talk about her problems because all of her problems were external, but since the teachers never saw it happen, they just assumed she was a problem child and forced her to see Toby Riley, the counsellor.
“Where did you get that black eye?”
Orianne kept quiet.
“If you don’t want to talk, you can leave,” said Mr. Riley putting down his pen and pad for the first time since she came into the office. “I don’t have a lot of time.”
“You never have a lot of time. Too busy staring at the clock waiting for your shift to end,” said Orianne. Mr. Riley quickly jotted down another note.
“I can safely say Orianne, that I care. You might think I don’t, but I do. I have a lot of students to meet today, and if you don’t tell me what’s going on, you can return to class.”
The idea of returning to class made Orianne flinch. He was sending her back to the wolves, back to the fiery pits of hell. A swelling discomfort of nausea started to originate in her stomach.
“Orianne. If you’re getting bullied, you need to tell me. I can’t help you if you don’t say anything,” said Mr. Riley.
“And if I tell you that I’m getting bullied? What are you going to do about it?”
“I would go to the staff and take the proper steps to stop it,” reassured Mr. Riley.
“Like how you guys went through the proper steps when I attacked Alicia.”
“Violence doesn’t solve anything, Orianne.”
“Then how else am I supposed to stop the bullying?” Asked Orianne raising her voice. “You guys didn’t believe me when I told you what they did to me.”
“Just get thicker skin and stop complaining,” said Mr. Riley. It took him a whole second to realize what he had just said. He tore his eyes from his pad to see Orianne scowling at him. Tears started to swell in her eyes. “Ignore what I just said.”
“Do you even know why I attacked her?” Asked Orianne.
“I…I have heard what your teacher told me. I assume that it has to do with the abuse at home.”
“I’m not getting abused at home. My father told me to punch her. That’s how he stood up to his bullies.”
“So, you just go around blindly listening to whatever your father says.”
“Aren’t you supposed to listen to adults?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Riley. “But you shouldn’t do things that harm others.”
“So, I should just take the hits then? Let them continue beating me.”
“Are they…beating you?”
Orianne grew quiet.
“Taking the hits is one way to deal with the bullying, but remember, bullying doesn’t last forever,” finished Mr. Riley. He leaned back in his seat, feeling a bit proud that he was able to take control of the conversation. He was right after all; bullying doesn’t last forever. As an older adult, this was a fact he learned in the years of being alive. Bullying stops after college and becomes abuse. Maybe I shouldn’t tell her that, thought Mr. Riley.
Orianne chuckled before giggling and then laughing hysterically. Her voice rose in pitch to an almost screech as the laughter turned to cries of pain. Mr. Riley felt a chill in the room as he found his hands gripping his pad.
“Do you remember the first time I showed up to his office?” Asked Orianne, wiping her eyes with the Kleenex from the coffee table.
“It was the…the start of the school year,” said Mr. Riley, composing himself.
“You probably didn’t think much of the little fourteen-year-old that didn’t say much.”
“You made my job a little difficult.” Mr. Riley chuckled and then sighed. “Orianne. Are you being bullied? Is that why you punched Alicia?” His voice was stern. His eyes darted to the clock before returning to Orianne.
“I don’t like you, Mr. Riley. You flip flop between caring and being cruel.”
“I don’t need you to like me. I just want to — ,”
“Get me out of your office,” interrupted Orianne.
“I’m sorry. You have my full attention. What’s wrong?”
“Snitches get beatings. Every time I tell someone, the bullying just gets worse.”
“So, you are getting bullied,” said Mr. Riley jotting down another note on his pad. It didn’t take him long to finish. Once done, he looked up to Orianne and smiled. “What did they do?”
Orianne closed her eyes. Even though she was in Riley’s Office, she could still hear their voices. Their taunts. There was no safe place at school. Every room was a torture chamber, and the torturers followed her from behind haunting her like ghosts. As much as she didn’t like Mr. Riley, there could be a chance that he would do something. “They call me names,” said Orianne pushing her fingers through her short hair. “Like boy…ugly…smelly, fat.”
“What’s wrong with being called a boy. Aren’t you gender fluid?”
“I’m only gender fluid because I was hoping that it would stop the bullying,” growled Orianne. “But it didn’t. It just made them get creative with the rumours.”
“It’s a severe thing to lie about being gender fluid.”
“I had no choice. They kept calling me a boy because my hair was short.”
“Then grow it out.”
“But I like it short. Do you change your shirt every time someone tells you they don’t like it?”
“No,” said Mr. Riley.
“Then I shouldn’t have to change my hair just because they don’t like it. It’s not fair.”
“Orianne, life is — ,”
“Not fair, I know.”
“If name calling is all the bullying you are dealing with. I can simply make an announcement.”
“No!” Yelled Orianne, fear in her voice. Mr. Riley took a minute, a bit stunned by Orianne’s outburst. He took a deep breath.
“I understand that you’re afraid, but you need to stand up to these bullies.”
“Me punching them was how I stood up and look where that got me. I’m stuck with them eight hours a day. I dread coming to school. I cut…I cut myself because I’m hoping that if I punish myself that maybe they’d understand to leave me alone. Maybe I’m just playing around with the idea that I’ll cut vertically one day.”
Mr. Riley finally sat back into his seat. His student was on the line between life and death. Her mental state was fragile; she couldn’t handle the abuse anymore. She tried fighting back, and it only made things worse. She tried telling teachers, but they brushed it aside since they never saw the bullying happening. Snitches get beatings, he thought to himself. Every time she told someone the bullying got worse. A guilty feeling started to rumble in his gut. He was too busy trying to get his students out of the office so he could go back to lazing around that he didn’t see how bad the situation had become.
“What else did they do,” said Mr. Riley putting down his pad and pen. He leaned forward. “I want to know.”
“When the name calling got boring, they became physical. Pushing me around. At first, it was during P.E. with tackling me to the floor and calling in an accident. I ended up with bruises. Then it was tripping in the cafeteria, then shoving me down stairs. When the teachers started to notice. I was too scared to say anything. I was the problem child, so they listened to the bullies. They called me clumsy and that they should take care of me.”
“They fed you back to the wolves,” said Mr. Riley, and she nodded.
“I was their pet. They made me dress up as a boy and made fun of me. Made me dress up as a girl and made fun of me. Called me an it and said I don’t deserve to even be born. They took pictures and started posting them all over the forum.”
“The forums? The school forums?”
“That’s impossible. Mr. Gardner is in charge of the school forums. He regulates it,” said Mr. Riley surprised. “He and I set the whole thing up. There’s no way they could post those things on there. It would be taken down. Orianne, are you telling me there is this big bullying ring at school, and no teacher has noticed it? I find that a bit hard to swallow. Now listen. I can see from that you are going through something traumatic, and I am on your side. Tell me honestly, are you being abused at home? Maybe all of this is a delusional you conjured up to make sense of what your father is doing to you at home. You’re an only child to a single parent. That makes more sense to me.”
“I can show you,” said Orianne as her legs began to shake. “Check the forums.”
“If there is nothing, then I’m wasting your time. But I know there is proof.
Mr. Riley grabbed his laptop and flipped it open. It took a minute for the computer to fully come alive, leaving a silent pause between the student and the counsellor. Mr. Riley could feel himself pushing back against it. He wanted to say something to fill up the space. “Alright, I’m opening up the browser. I’ll type it in, and we’ll see.” He shut his eyes and felt his eyelids tense against them. Shut up Toby, just shut up.
He scrolled down through the school forum; it was designed poorly in the similar vein of 4chan. Neither Mr. Gardner nor Mr. Riley was proficient at web design. They were lucky enough to grab the design free on the internet. The only problem the men had with the website was maintaining the security.
“All I see are posts asking for study groups. I’m not seeing anything out of the ordinary,” said Mr. Riley.
“Look for Ryker’s biology project,” said Orianne, her voice quivering on her words.
He found the project just below with the caption ‘ongoing.’ Once inside, Mr. Riley found an introduction post about how the next project will be done by Macy. Scrolling down, he found nothing but comments praising the first, some trolls in between. Mr. Riley didn’t find anything strange about the forum other than that he felt self-conscious looking through the students’ words. He glanced over to Orianne. She looked like a cold, wet cat with her body shivering and the strength in her legs gone.
“I don’t see anything,” said Mr. Riley.
“It should be there.”
“I’ll keep scrolling down, but I don’t think….” His voice trailed off as he caught sight of a comment that read, ‘Save the pictures while you can, they will be gone by tomorrow.’ He scrolled down a bit more and found a jpeg link. The post’s title read ‘About to do my first experiment.’ He clicked the link, and a new tab opened, revealing a collection of images, with the first one being of Orianne getting dressed in the locker room. “What is this?” Mr. Riley clicked through the collection as the photographs got closer to the subject. There were about four other girls in the room with Orianne before the next image made Mr. Riley slam his computer shut. The sound made Orianne flinch.
“What? What’s wrong?” She asked.
Mr. Riley was breathing heavily now; he was starting to feel a little lightheaded. He stumbled upon a bramble patch with the thorns covered in disgust. With the rabbits injured and brutalized by the brambles. Whatever innocence was left was snuffed out with cruelty.
Mr. Riley slowly reopened his laptop. The image of Orianne with three bleeding welts on her shoulder blade, was still there. He could see other bruises on her body, her skin black and purple. Mr. Riley returned to the forum. There had to be more than just this collection. There were. Collections of Orianne and other students filled the forum. Comments of cruel words spreading like wildfire underneath the posts. Slut, gross, bitch, gay, turd, and other forms of insults and degrading terms scattered the forum.
“The projects don’t last long. Being deleted in a month or less. So, none of the teachers ever see them,” said Orianne.
“H-how long has this been going on?”
“A couple years.”
“Why didn’t you…why didn’t anyone say anything.”
“I don’t know. Maybe because the teachers and adults don’t care. It’s too much work to investigate. It’s much easier to claim that it’s a delusion or just a troubled child.”
Mr. Riley’s gut started to sink as guilt filled the corners of his stomach weighing him down. Quickly, pushing himself forward, he started taking screenshots of the posts and comments. Saving the collection to his computer, labelling them as evidence. He was rushing through as if he was running out of time.
“Mr. Riley?” Asked Orianne, but he didn’t hear her. “Mr. Riley?”
“How do I…where do I go from here?”
Mr. Riley’s hands stropped, and he glanced up to the fragile girl sitting before him. He shifted himself in his seat and drew his eyes from Orianne to the computer and then back to her. “I don’t know. Bullying or abuse is hard for the victim to come back from. I don’t have the right to say anything since my…actions have only worsened things for you and the others. But the building of self-esteem is always a good start. For example, telling yourself in the mirror over and over that you love yourself.”
“But what if I don’t? What if I don’t love myself?”
“You keep saying it. Until you believe it.”