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chapter twelve

Trevor hadn't told anyone about the shotgun that was underneath his bed. Sometimes he thought about telling Maureen, but so far he hadn't. He was totally pissed off that his car had broken down tonight. He'd really wanted to go out with her. It was late, but he couldn't sleep. He felt like lately, he'd been distracted. No, he'd been obsessed. Maybe he'd been right to be obsessed. After all, there was a shotgun under his bed, and Jared had put it there. But the price of this obsession was going to be Maureen if he didn't watch it. She'd been understanding after the thing with Ms. Trask, but if he kept treating her the way he had, she wouldn't be understanding anymore. He realized he'd taken Maureen for granted.

No girl had ever gone out with him before, much less had sex with him. Maureen had. She obviously liked him a lot, and he'd been treating her like an annoyance. She wasn't an annoyance. She was an awesome girlfriend. He was lucky to have her. He vowed that from that moment on, he would do a better job of appreciating her. As soon as his car was fixed, they'd go somewhere nice. Hell, maybe they'd even go to the winter formal. Girls liked school dances. Maybe Maureen didn't, though.

He needed to do a better job. He needed to listen to her more. He needed to let her know how happy he was to be with her. Because he was happy to be with her. And he really cared about her. And he wasn't sure he was communicating that.

He'd be different. And then everything would be different. It would be better. From here on out, everything would be better. Maureen hadn't done any of the screwing up. Only he had. He'd screwed up. Maureen hadn't done anything wrong.

* * *

Jared dismantled the camera tripod in the corner of the room where Maureen was sleeping. He'd already looked at the shots he'd taken. They'd turned out well. He'd been a little worried about it, because he'd had to set up everything ahead of time, and if one thing went wrong, then the whole thing could have fallen apart. But he shouldn't have worried. He shouldn't have doubted himself. He'd pulled it off quite brilliantly if he didn't say so himself.

Maureen was still passed out, and the party was thinning out. Frances would be looking for her soon. He wondered what Maureen would tell Frances. It didn't matter. He had Frances programmed like a VCR. She'd do whatever he needed, whenever he needed it. Frances didn't particularly like Maureen anymore, anyway.

It was all working! He wasn't used to doing everything so subtly. Subtle wasn't Jared's style, normally. However, he had to admit that subtle was fun.

Originally, he'd toyed with the idea of simply killing Maureen. But Jared didn't want to do it himself. He never did the actual dirty work. There were other people for that. So, he'd thought of having Frances kill Maureen. But he didn't have the time or energy to get Frances ready to do something like that, and if she had done it, she would have been pretty worthless to him afterwards.

So, this was better. Maureen was alive, but a little damaged, and she'd soon be out of Trevor's life. Jared knew he'd done it the best way possible. Plus, from the time he'd seen Maureen, he'd wanted to fuck her. So that had been a nice bonus. She made fun squealing noises. He'd liked that.

Setting the tripod in the closet, Jared went to Maureen and sat next to her on the couch. He tenderly brushed a strand of hair away from her face. How would she feel when she woke up? He hoped she'd feel very guilty. He hoped she'd feel very depressed. He sincerely hoped she'd blame herself. He leaned close, whispered softly in her ear, "This is all your fault."

She stirred, but didn't wake up. Gosh, but she was pretty while she was sleeping.

"Jared," called someone from downstairs. He left the room and went down to the kitchen.

It was Frances.

"Hey," he said. "What's up?"

"Everyone's leaving, but I can't find Maureen," she said.

"She's passed out upstairs," said Jared. "Guess she had a little too much to drink."

"Why did you want her here, anyway?" Frances asked.

"I told you before I wanted her, and I wanted you to have Trevor, didn't I?"

"Yeah, but... I don't really get the impression you actually like her," said Frances.

"I like her fine," said Jared. He smiled at her.

Frances sort of shrank from him.

"I need another favor."

"No. I already did your freaking favor."

"I told you I might need two."

"What is it?"

"I'll let you know," he said. "You'll enjoy this one, believe me."

Frances made a face. "Do I have to take Maureen home?"

Jared shrugged. "That would be the right thing to do."

Frances sighed. "Will you wake her up?"

"Sure," said Jared.

He ascended the steps and entered the room where she slept. He took a few more minutes just to look at her, peacefully sleeping. She wouldn't be peaceful for much longer.

"Maureen," he said, shaking her gently. "Maureen, wake up."

Her eyes fluttered open and she sat up. He could see confusion on her face. He could see it being replaced with knowledge as she remembered where she was and why she was there.

"Frances is ready to go," he said.

"Listen, Jared," she said, "about what happened�"

"Nothing happened," he said. "Nothing we need to talk about. I know you have a boyfriend."

* * *

This is not really happening, thought Maureen as she slumped against the passenger side window of Frances' car. She was going to wake up soon, wake up for real. She'd be in her bed at home, and all of this would be a terrible dream. She stared out the window at dark shadows of trees and shrubs streaming by. Since she'd woken up on Jared's couch, everything had had a dreamlike quality. The world didn't seem real. She felt like she was looking at it through a hazy cloud that was gathered around her head.

She felt horrible. Maureen had never been hung over before. She'd never been as drunk as she'd gotten that night either. She wondered if this was what being hung over was like. There was a tightness behind her temples and a leftover alcohol taste in her throat. Mostly, she just felt...wrong. She didn't know quite how to describe it. She just knew that she didn't usually feel this way, and the way she felt normally was preferable to the way she felt now. She closed her eyes and swallowed, trying to get the taste out of her mouth. She wanted mouthwash. She wanted to brush her teeth.

"Are you okay?" said Frances.

Maureen pulled away from the window to look at Frances. "I don't know."

"What happened?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you seem weird and I want to know why."

Maureen hesitated. "I had sex with Jared."

"What?!"

"I didn�t mean to. It just...happened."

"But what about Trevor?"

"I know, I know." Maureen buried her head in her hands. "I really didn't want to. Maybe I was raped."

"Please, Maureen. Jared would never do that."

"You don't think so? He's not a very nice guy."

"Sure he is," snapped Frances.

Maureen lifted her head. "Okay, then. He's super swell." She couldn't help but be sarcastic. She was starting to develop a headache.

"I'm just saying," said Frances, but she never finished what she was saying. "Besides, did you say no?"

Maureen considered. "I said stop."

"After it was happening?"

"Kind of."

"What did you say before?"

Maureen turned back to the window. "Don't stop," she said miserably.

"You weren't raped," Frances said with an air of finality. "Raped is when they drug you or put a knife at your throat or something."

"That's not true," said Maureen. "Rape is when you don't want to do it, and someone forces you."

"I don't think he got the message that you didn't want to."

"I guess not."

"What the hell is up with you? How could you sleep with Jared?"

"I don't know. I was really drunk."

"Well, it's kind of slutty."

"You know what, Frances? Shut up."

"Don't be a bitch."

"So now I'm a slut and a bitch? I mean it. Stop talking while you're ahead."

Maureen glared out the window. It was quiet for a few minutes. She tried not to let herself think about what Frances had just said, but she couldn't help it. It was kind of true, anyway, wasn't it? Sleeping with a guy while you already had a boyfriend was kind of slutty. But she really hadn't meant to. She really hadn't wanted to.

"I'm sorry," said Frances.

"It's okay," said Maureen.

"I guess I just... I've been kind of mad at you lately."

"I hadn't noticed," Maureen said dryly.

"But we had fun tonight. Earlier. It made me miss you."

"Yeah," said Maureen.

"Do you really think Jared raped you?"

"I guess not."

"Because you're right. He really isn't very nice."

"No," said Maureen. "He's not."

"If you really thought...you know, I'd take you to the police or whatever."

"I couldn't go to the police. Even if... My parents would find out. And it would never hold up in court. It doesn't matter, anyway. I don't want to talk about it anymore."

"Okay."

But she couldn't stop thinking about it. Jared's hands on her. At first they'd felt so good, like a whirlwind of pleasure. And then, everything had changed, and it was all fear and pain and... It made her shiver. She'd let it happen. She hadn't tried to stop it. Not very hard, anyway. So, she guessed she was getting what she deserved.

God. What was she going to say to Trevor?

The answer came to her immediately. Nothing. She didn't say anything to Trevor. If he didn't know, then it couldn't hurt him.

But what if he found out? If he found out, wouldn't it be better to find out from her?

God. What was she going to do? How had she gotten herself into this mess in the first place? If she'd just never gone to that party. If she hadn't drunk all that alcohol and gotten so fall-down drunk. If only... Well, it was too late for that now. It had happened. It was over. She just had to figure out how to be alive now.

She felt as if her entire world had been crumpled up and thrown in a wastebasket, and she was hunting through the trash for it. Everything was different and everything was ruined, and it was all her fault. No one else had messed this up for her. She couldn't blame her parents or her teachers or her friends. She'd done this to herself, all by herself, and she was going to have to live with the consequences.

So, should she tell Trevor?

She didn't know. She just didn't know.

When Frances dropped her off at her house, she still didn't know. The lights in her house were all off. It was late. She hoped she didn't wake her mom up getting into the house. As she stepped out of the car and shut the door behind her, the lights in the living room came on. Shit. She waved goodbye to Frances and trudged up the house.

Once inside, her mother greeted her with, "It's four o'clock in the morning! Where the hell have you been?"

Both her mother and Jim were sitting in the living room. Her mother's face was contorted in rage. Jim looked deeply concerned.

Shit.

"I told you I was going to a party with Frances," Maureen said in a small voice.

"Until four o'clock in the morning?!" Her mother stood up and walked over to her. "Oh my God. You're drunk. You smell like alcohol!"

"I'm sorry," said Maureen.

"I had no idea it was that kind of party," said her mother.

Maureen didn't know what to say. Her mother usually wasn't like this. She usually let Maureen do pretty much whatever she wanted. It wasn't that her mother didn't care. It was just that she trusted Maureen. At least that's what Maureen always thought.

"How could you do this?" her mother said. "I don't believe you."

"She's seventeen, Susan," said Jim.

Her mother turned to him. "So?"

"It's what seventeen-year-olds do," said Jim. "Do you remember when you were seventeen?"

"You're undermining me," said her mother. "We talked about this."

Jim threw up his hands. "Sorry."

"I'm very disappointed in you," her mother continued to Maureen. "I can't trust you anymore. Your behavior is inexcusable. You're grounded for a month."

A month?! Maureen had never been grounded before.

"Susan, don't you think that's a little extreme?" Jim asked.

"You shut up," said her mother to Jim. "She's not your daughter."

That was the wrong thing to say. Jim had been living with them since Maureen was eight. She didn't think of him as her father, but he was certainly the closest thing she had to one, and she would never have said that to him.

Maureen could see her mother's statement had really hurt Jim.

He took three deep breaths. When he spoke, his voice was low and even. "You've never laid down any ground rules for this girl. You've never disciplined her. You expect her to just psychically hone in on what you don't want her to do? You have to have rules to enforce them. She doesn't have any rules."

"I am trying to handle this, Jim," said her mother. "And you are not helping."

Jim stood up. "Go to bed, Maureen. Your mother and I will talk about your punishment, and from now on, I think it might be helpful if you had a curfew."

This just sucked.

"I don't need to be punished," she said.

"Oh yes you do," said her mother.

"Both of you stop," said Jim. "We'll talk about this in the morning." He went to Maureen and put a hand on her shoulder. "Drink some water. It'll make you feel better."

Maureen half-smiled at him. It wasn't possible for life to get much worse, was it?

* * *

Trevor hadn't heard from Maureen all weekend, so he looked for her when he got to school Monday morning. He didn't see her, but he saw Frances, and he asked her if she'd seen Maureen. Frances hadn't. Right before the bell for first period, Maureen came in the front door. He went to her immediately and tried to kiss her, but she ducked out his arms.

"What's up?" he said. "I tried to call you all weekend."

"I'm grounded," she said. "My parents took away my phone, and my mother is driving me to school and picking me up after."

"Why are you grounded?"

"I went to a party with Frances and stayed out too late."

"When did you go to a party? Where was it?"

She looked at him for a second, started to say something, then stopped. She looked away. "I have to get to class, Trevor."

And she was gone.

Trevor couldn't believe it. Why would Maureen go to a party without telling him? Actually, why would Maureen go to a party at all? She hated parties. She was always going on about how much she hated parties. This didn't make sense.

Since Ms. Trask had died, first period English was a study hall in the computer lab. Almost immediately after her death, students (mostly girls) had turned her classroom into a shrine of sorts. It was cluttered with bouquets of flowers, cards, and candles. To facilitate the grieving process, the administration had agreed to close down the classroom, and to shuffle Ms. Trask's classes into computer labs. Actually, Trevor thought maybe fifth period was in the library. Whatever the case, it was fine with Trevor. It meant he could surf the internet for the whole class period.

In order to further facilitate the grieving process, the administration hadn't instructed Ms. Trask's substitute to follow her lesson plans or teach in any kind of curriculum. They felt the students might be fragile at this juncture, and that an attempt to return their lives to a semblance of normal might be upsetting. All of this was supposed to change after Ms. Trask's funeral on Friday. Students could go if they wanted. It was considered an excused absence. Trevor had thought about signing out and saying he was going to Ms. Trask's funeral, but really going somewhere else, anywhere else, but decided against it. After all, he'd really liked Ms. Trask, and somehow it seemed wrong to use her funeral as an excuse to cut class. Besides, having first period as a virtual free period was almost as good. After the funeral, they were going to clean out her classroom, and install a new teacher in Ms. Trask's place. Then, they'd all have to get back to work.

But today, he had nothing to do at all. He settled into a chair in the lab and clicked on the Internet Explorer icon. The school had set up security to block students from getting on the computer and checking e-mail, but they hadn't done a very good job of it. Trevor had easily dismantled it by changing the security options in Internet Options. So that was the first thing he checked. His e-mail.

His inbox was crowded with junk mail. The junk mail filters sucked. They only caught things that weren't actually junk mail. Half the time, Trevor found messages in his junk e-mail folder that were perfectly good e-mail messages. Stuff from his friends or his grandma. But in his actual inbox, all he got were messages offering to cure his baldness or impotence. He clicked through the messages, marking the ones that looked suspect so he could delete them. Most of the messages were from a company or a person he'd never heard of. One was from BLANK BLANK. At least that was what it said next to the message in his inbox. The subject of the message was: "Who taught you those new tricks?"

Not promising. Probably junk mail, but Trevor clicked on it anyway.

The message read, "Dear Trevor, It's two o'clock in the morning. Do you know where your girlfriend is? Open the attachment. Sincerely, A Friend."

Trevor hovered the mouse over the attachment for a second. What the hell was this message, anyway? Then he clicked on it. A dialog box popped up, asking him if he wanted to open the attachment or save it. The school had programmed security into the computers so that you couldn't open attachments, but again, they'd done it badly, so while it was true that Trevor couldn't open the attachment, he could save it to the hard drive, and then it would open just fine. He saved the attachment, minimized the window his e-mail was open in, clicked open "My Documents" and opened the file he'd just downloaded. It was a .jpg file so he knew it was a picture, but when the pictures in the file flooded his screen, he was as shocked as if he'd opened up an mp3 file that turned out to be a Microsoft Word document.

It was Maureen. She was with Jared. She was naked, or practically naked anyway. He could see everything in the picture. And Jared was...

Trevor shut the file and right clicked on it. He selected delete from the options that popped up and clicked yes when the computer asked him he was sure he wanted to send this document to the recycle bin. Then he emptied the recycle bin. He sat staring at the computer for a few seconds, trying to keep his breathing steady. Finally, he raised his hand and asked to be excused. He thought he might throw up.

Trevor raced to the men's bathroom. He locked himself inside a stall and leaned against the wall. He did something he hadn't done in a very long time. He started to cry. He didn't sob or wail. He hadn't cried in such a long time, it was like trying to flex a weak muscle. A few tears spilled out of his eyes, and his face twisted up. The nausea he'd felt passed, replaced with a tightness in his chest caused by the tears.

Trevor shook himself, wiping at the tears. He wasn't going to cry. He hadn't cried when Rob died; he certainly wasn't going to cry about something like this. It didn't even compare. He shuddered, and the last of the tears escaped onto his cheeks. He rubbed his face and slid down the wall so he was sitting on the floor. What had he just seen? Maybe it wasn't real. People could do a lot of weird things with Photoshop nowadays. Maybe it was just a cruel joke. But he knew that wasn't true. Faking a picture that looked that real would take too much planning, and besides, he could tell that the picture of Maureen was really her body. No one had superimposed her head on another woman's naked body. So that meant the picture of Maureen was real. Someone had at the very least taken a picture of her with her clothes pushed all out of the way. That was nearly bad enough. He'd have to look at picture again, but he was fairly sure that it would have been too hard to put her picture into another picture with Jared in it. His fingers had been digging into her waist. Couldn't have faked that.

No, the picture was real. Maureen had really had sex with Jared. Probably at that party she'd been to over the weekend that she hadn't told him about. It would explain why she'd been so short with him that morning. How could she have done it, especially with Jared? She knew what he thought of Jared.

Another thought occurred to him. He thought of Jared as possibly...evil. Inhumanly evil. That was probably just because he wasn't on his meds, but he still thought it. (His mother had gone to fill his prescription earlier that week, but his prescription had expired, and his mother was working at getting him an appointment with a doctor to get another prescription. It was odd, because none of them thought the prescription was supposed to expire yet, but there it was.) If Jared really were evil, maybe he'd forced Maureen to have sex with him. Maybe he'd raped her.

But if she was getting raped, why wasn't she struggling in the picture?

It almost didn't matter, Trevor realized, as horrible as that sounded. She was ruined now, whether she'd wanted to be ruined or not. He could never look at her the same way again.

Suddenly, Trevor was angry. How could she do this to him? He hated her. All the images he'd seen while getting off swam before his eyes. Maureen bleeding. Maureen with her stomach ripped open. Maureen missing her arms and legs. Maureen with knives in her mouth and between her legs. Maureen with her breasts cut off.

All those images. They'd been warnings. He hadn't paid any attention to them, but they'd told him what kind of person Maureen was, what she deserved. He hadn't told anybody about the shotgun under his bed. Maybe that was a good thing.

He went back to the computer lab and forwarded the message to Maureen's e-mail account. He wrote two words at the top of the message: "You bitch."

chapter thirteen >>

Copyright (c) 2010 Valerie Chambers