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INT. KING APARTMENT, EAST OAKLAND—NIGHT
Canine. Feline. Avian.
Zoologists use taxonomy to separate predators from prey. Backs to a wall, dogs bite. Felines scratch. Birds peck.
Katina King classifies herself as a mountain lion.
She might have become a tame cat in a safer world. But when she was eleven, her body changed so fast it turned her into prey. Nothing she could do to stop luring canine eyes, so she’d put on a feral mask since then to prowl the hills of Oakland.
Fangs, claws, snarl.
They should have kept wolves away, but they didn’t.
Later, she realizes she should have called the cops. But she doesn’t even tell her mother what happened until she’s caught throwing up in the middle of the night. Kat’s so tired from three nights of no sleeping that the truth comes hurtling out before she can stop it.
“He did what?” Kat’s always seen her mother as a pigeon. But if someone comes after her daughter, look out for beak and talons. “I’m calling Saundra right now. Oh, honey!”
The two of them are on the sofa sitting so close it sounds like Mom’s best friend is in Kat’s ear. “Let me talk to her,” Saundra says.
Mom hands over the phone. It’s wet with tears. Disgusting Wolf. Kat hates him even more for making Mom cry. Not me, she thinks. Never me.
“When did it happen, Filhote?” Saundra asks. She’s in Panther mode—even uses Kat’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu nickname. Kat’s been Lion Cub since she started training with “Pantera” at eleven; this is the same growl that’s coached her to victory over other aggressive jiu-jitsu opponents.
“Three days ago. In the stairwell. At school.”
“Don’t think so.” Probably why he picked the place.
“Any bruising—apart from what you got at practice? Scratches on your skin?”
“Nothing new.” Kat’s scrubbed so hard in the shower it feels like she doesn’t have much of her own DNA left on her skin.
“Still got the clothes you were wearing? Did you wash them?”
Kat hesitates. “No. I put them in the trash.”
“When’s garbage pickup?”
“Yesterday.” Stupid, stupid me. Should have known to keep the clothes. But her mind’s been a blur.
Saundra doesn’t yell like she does when Kat makes a dumb jiu-jitsu move. “Be there in ten,” she says instead.
Mom’s crying hard now. Kat puts an arm around her shoulder and pulls her close. This is exactly why she didn’t tell her mother right away. Don’t let him do this to you, Mom. Don’t give that Wolf power over us.
Saundra gets to their apartment so fast Kat wonders if she used the siren on her patrol car. “You okay?” she asks, scanning Kat’s face.
Kat has her fiercest fighting expression locked into place. “I took care of him.”
Mom sits up. “How? Saundra, he tried to—”
“He didn’t, though.” Kat turns to Saundra. “I couldn’t think at first—it didn’t seem real—but then the instincts kicked in. Used a Kimura to break his hold.”
“Good job,” says Saundra. “Any injuries for him?”
“Broken pinkie, rotator cuff sprain.” Kat takes a breath. “He’s saying it happened during a pickup basketball game.”
“We’ll report him to the police,” Mom says. “It’s not too late, is it, Saundra?”
Saundra sighs. “No hard evidence, Mary. It would be her word against his. But I’ll drive you to the station if you want. Take a moment, Kat; think hard.”
That’s what she shouts when an opponent’s got Kat trapped on the mat. Take a moment, think about your next move; think hard. And so Kat does. Cops or no cops? What would she gain if she reported him? Nothing, really. Just more time on the mat with that Wolf. I’m not wasting one more ounce of energy on him. I left him in pain. He tapped out. I’ll get over this; I know I will.
It’s second semester of junior year. ACTs are coming up. She works twenty hours a week at the zoo. Jiu-jitsu practice and matches. Chores and paying bills. Honors classes. College applications staring her in the face.
“No cops,” she says.
“He assaulted you, Kat!” Mom says.
“I stopped him.”
“Nothing happened!” Kat stands up. “I’m FINE. He’s the one who’s injured—not me!”
“Then why were you the one throwing up?” Mom asks. “We have to tell someone. The school, at least.”
Kat scowls. “Nobody’ll believe me.”
Why would they? He’s a basketball alpha. They rule the school. On top of that, he’s charming, handsome enough to be a local social media celebrity, high GPA. Grew up in the hills in one of those big houses with two lawyer parents who donate big bucks to Sanger Academy.
And Kat? She overheard a whispered conversation once in the bathroom.
“That King girl has a tiny white-trash mom.”
“Yeah. She’s ‘biracial,’ I guess, but just brown enough to win a scholarship.”
“Filhote, this isn’t just about you,” Saundra says, interrupting Kat’s thoughts, and her voice is gentler now. “What if the next girl can’t fight him off?”
She hadn’t thought about him trying that stairwell stunt again.
Saundra’s right. Kat’s going to have to speak the truth at Sanger Academy.
Copyright © 2019 by Mitali Perkins