Middle school contained some of the best years of Meagan’s life – That is, before she ran into Damien. She supposed she owed that to the fact that most of those years were spent in one town in Japan.
She had spent most of the sixth grade in Germany before having to move just before the end of the school year. While in Japan, she expected to struggle. Instead, she took a liking to the Japanese teenagers almost immediately. Like in just about every other school, there were cliques in this school. From Meagan’s first day there, she had a reputation as a fearsome fighter. During morning recess, before classes were to begin, a misunderstanding developed with a fellow student involving the student’s boyfriend. The student ended up on the ground and holding a bloodied nose, with Meagan standing over her. There wasn’t a teacher or staff member around to see it, but there were plenty of students. By lunchtime, everyone knew the name Meagan Chaney. While she sat and ate her lunch, plenty of students came up to her table to pay their respects. Meagan was baffled. One student, an older boy, asked her to join his underground fight cub. She told him she’d think about it. At the bottom of the lunch hour, a small group of girls who called themselves “Mitsugumi,” meaning triplets, and who Meagan had met that morning, came to her with a proposition: They had the same six classes with Meagan every day. They also supposedly needed protection from bullies. So in return for protection, the three girls would provide her with loyalty, friendship, and brains: If Meagan found herself struggling with homework assignments or tests, or just didn’t feel like doing them, she now had a hook-up. It was a deal. Meagan now had a tight circle of friends and belonged in a clique for the first time in her life, which the “triplet” girls renamed “Osore,” or fear. Word of the group spread through the school like a wild fire, and if anybody had ever messed with those girls before, no one ever did again.
After that first day, Meagan couldn’t wait to tell her father how it went. As soon as she got the chance, she jumped on it, leaving no details out. Ronald Chaney seemed proud of her for standing up for herself – “Don’t ever let a bully punk you,” he had always told her — yet he frowned at one point during the conversation. “Have you not opened up to your mother about this?” That took Meagan by surprise. She hadn’t even given that notion the time of day. Now she explained to her dad exactly why. “Well, dad, you know how mom gets — She’d freak out. Tell me I’ll get kicked out of school and how that will create problems trying to find another school…” She paused then, feeling she’d made her point. “Well… Yes,” Ron began. “I guess my point, though, is that she still needs to know what’s going on with your life. She tells me that you two aren’t close with one another lately.” Uh-oh. Meagan knew where her dad was going with this and she didn’t like it. “It’s breaking her heart… Start spending time with her. Maybe you could join her book club and go to meetings with her after school. Or you two could sew or bake together.” Holding back a heavy sigh, feeling the sting of her father’s sudden authoritative tone, Meagan went into the next room of their rented-out two-story house to deliver the great news to Karen Chaney. It wasn’t that she hated her mother. Meagan just couldn’t connect with the woman. Her opiates-to-alcohol ratio were working together like fire and gasoline, as she liked to take her pain meds with her vodka. Karen had gotten into a car accident with a friend years before Meagan was born. In that accident, she had broken her back and, as a result, the future mother was left out of a job. She was also left with two things to take place of a job: chronic pain, and addiction. Both of which would worsen over the years. While pregnant, Karen hadn’t taken any pills or consumed any liquor – to the best of Meagan’s knowledge. But soon after bringing her newborn home, she’d started up again. The 42-year-old wouldn’t go on benders, or anything, but she would stay at home and basically deteriorate. Moving around constantly, and hardly seeing her husband anymore – or her daughter, for that matter – drove her into depression. It was Ron who had finally encouraged her to join a book club, since she loved to do that. After doing so, Karen went when she wasn’t in unbearable pain… or reeking of alcohol. Karen had also taken up sewing and baking again to pass the time at home, when she wasn’t cleaning or organizing the place. Meagan, in the meantime, stayed out of the house as much as possible, and only enjoyed being there when her father was. Once Meagan brought up her so-called intentions of extra quality time to Karen, one could imagine the reaction: Meagan’s mother rejoiced, literally brought to tears. That was another thing about Karen Chaney that her teenaged daughter had learned to resent: her bipolar-like emotions. She could become extremely saddened, happy, or furious at the drop of a hat – sometimes for no reason. It had caused a rift between mother and daughter that mother had apparently just noticed.. “We will begin baking at once!” Karen exclaimed. “And while we wait for everything to bake, I can teach you how to sew. We’ll start small: with pillowcases!” Following that statement, Karen clapped giddily. Oh, dad, Meagan thought. What monster have you created? As the days passed, Meagan endured the grueling company of her own birth mother for about as long as she could take it, until she decided to start engaging in her own extracurricular activities – ones that would take her straight from school to wherever the-hell-outta-there was. She found out about an after-school junior martial arts program in town, just down the street from her school, and she couldn’t have felt luckier. Fighting. The honorable way. Something that was in her blood and she could do it without getting into trouble. After begging her father to get her in – which he agreed to only when she agreed on spending equal time with her mother, a deal she never upheld her end of – she began going there every Tuesday and Thursday. The rest of the week was spent either with friends and acquaintances, or practicing Jiu jitsu on her own… Mostly, it was the latter.
In the meantime, for the rest of the school year, kids continually came up to Meagan bearing money in exchange for protection from certain bullies. This continued until midway through the eighth grade. She never informed her parents of this, for she knew it was wrong and yet she liked having her own money. It was something real and tangible that she got to earn doing the thing she loved most. On her pay-days, she’d go out to sports stores and buy sparing gear, with which she stored in the garage and used when she brought friends by. The rest of the money she saved. After a while, her bodyguard duties became an annoyance for the teenaged American vigilante. She became someone who was always solving other peoples’ problems. When her operation was finally disrupted by school administrators, and the principal called her into his office to warn her that she’d be kicked out of school if she didn’t cease and desist, it came as a relief for Meagan. At the end of the eighth grade was Meagan’s finale Jiu jitsu tournament. Her father attended, very excited for his daughter and cheering her on all the way. Her mother didn’t attend, as she hadn’t known about Meagan’s involvement in fighting – as was part of the deal between father and daughter. Meagan took first place in her class at the tournament. To celebrate, her dad took her out for dinner and ice cream, showing off her trophy to strangers. It was the most wonderful night of Meagan’s life.
When she was sixteen, the worst day of her life happened. She was in her sophomore biology class, goofing off with her friends since the first midterms of the year had already ended and there was nothing left to do. An aide from the front office came in and saw her laughing with her friends. What she had to inform the young girl couldn’t have been easy for anyone. Calling her over, the aide took a deep breath. The moments it took for Meagan to get across the room were the last anyone would ever see her smile again. It would be known to most as the day the light disappeared from Meagan Chaney’s eyes. For Meagan, it was the day she died inside. “Megan,” the lady from the office said. “There’s been an accident… Your father… It’s not good.” Meagan gasped. “We’ve called your mother to come pick you up for the day. Get your things and come with me.”