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episode five

Chapter Five

michaela666 (04:31:43): If it worked so well, what kind of results are you seeing? Does she seem different at all?

aird92 (04:32:01): shes alot more angry and paranoid. that count? idk, r u sure we did it right?

michaela666 (04:32:15): My instructions were correct. I only have your word that you followed them properly.

aird92 (04:32:30): i did follow them!! look i can't watch her every second of everyday so i don�t know what shes doing all the time

michaela666 (04:32:50): find a way to watch her every second.

aird92 (04:33:04): doing my best here, k?

I didn't have time to talk to Hallam after our meeting with Mr. Dingle, but I wanted to thank him for sticking up for me. I also realized that I wanted to talk to Hallam about the bell and Mr. Sutherland. I wasn't sure why it hadn't occurred to me before. Maybe the fact that Jason was repeatedly shooting down my ideas had kind of worn on my confidence. But Hallam was clearly the person to talk to about this. He'd worked for the Sons in an official capacity. He knew exactly what they were capable of. He would see that what I was saying was true. Plus, he'd seen the picture on the bell. So he would know why I was so paranoid. He'd definitely looked interested in the engraving on the bell. Hallam was going to help me out. I just knew it.

The rest of the day passed without much incident. I wasn't looking forward to detention, but I knew that I needed to just get it over with. I also wasn't looking forward to whatever menial task Mr. Sutherland was going to assign to us, either.

I spent the afternoon washing Mr. Sutherland's windows along with two other girls, both of whom smelled like cigarette smoke and swore a lot. I really didn't like detention. I tried to stay as clear of Mr. Sutherland as I could. I didn't want to talk to him now that I was convinced he worked for the Sons. But Mr. Sutherland seemed to hover around me, asking me about my schoolwork or showing me how to wash the windows without leaving streaks.

He was watching me. Jason could say what he wanted, but it was obvious that Mr. Sutherland was very, very interested in me. And I didn't like it. Not at all. I couldn't wait to get out of detention .Unfortunately, Jason was working, and Hallam taught a night class on Wednesdays, so I'd be alone when I got home.

I didn't have to work that night, so after detention, I walked home. I had expected Lilith to be there, so I hadn't been too worried about having an evening at home by myself. However, Lilith was apparently at work with Jason, so I had the house to myself. I didn't like that. I really, really hated being by myself.

When I'd left detention, I'd made a point of having a completely fake conversation on my phone with Jason, chatting with him about what we were going to do together when I got home. I didn't want Mr. Sutherland to think that I was going to be there by myself. If he really did work for the Sons, he'd know where I lived, and he might come in and attack me. Mr. Sutherland didn't seem to pay any attention to my conversation. I wondered if I was being paranoid. But it didn't matter. It was better for me to play it safe. I couldn't afford to take risks.

Once back in the apartment, I locked all the doors. I tried to work on some homework for about a half an hour, but I couldn't concentrate. Instead, I got out the book I'd borrowed from Mr. Sutherland. I paged to the picture of the rising sun emblem and read the copy underneath it.

"This picture," it read, "is believed to be associated with a society entitled The Rising Suns. Little is known about this society except that several of its members were executed as witches in the seventeenth century."

Hmm. Bust. I looked through the index, but there weren't any other mentions of The Rising Suns. The book offering no more information, I got on the internet. A google search for rising sun yielded pages on the Phoenix Suns, the Animals Song "House of the Rising Sun," and an obscure music video on youtube. Nothing. I searched through the search results a little longer and finally found a reference to the same book I was holding. Weird. If this book had referenced the secret society, then where were its sources? Had they made The Rising Suns up? Or was it just that the Sons had taken great pains to eradicate any trace of their existence?

Idly, I did a search for "bell secret society." I found out that there was a made-for-tv movie from 1970 called The Brotherhood of the Bell. It was about Skull and Bones. It didn't seem to have anything to do with Mr. Dingle's bell. Jason was right. It didn't really make any sense for the members of the Sons to steal this bell if it wasn't associated with them. The picture on the side of itwas it actually an old symbol for the Sons? Why had Mr. Dingle acquired it then? And why would the Sons want to let me know they were watching me? It was too confusing. The more I thought about it, the more confused I got. What was I supposed to do with this information? I'd decided that I would take care of this without Jason's help. What was I going to do?

It was starting to get dark outside. I really didn't like the dark. I walked around the apartment, checking the doors and windows, making sure they were locked and secure. I thought about my conversation with Jason earlier. I'd asked him to train me to fight the Sons. Jason had said no.

When Jason and I had first settled down in Bradenton, he'd been happy to teach me stuff. The origin of that had been back when we were on the run. In New York, I'd wanted to let Jason go out on his own, because I thought that I was in the way. He could fight better than me. I felt like I slowed him down. Jason had told me that he could teach me to take care of myself. When we'd gotten settled, Jason had started to take me shooting. He figured that if I knew how to shoot a gun, I'd feel much safer.

He was right. I liked it. We went to a shooting range in Sarasota. We had to use fake IDs to get in since we weren't 18, but those were easily obtained, considering most kids have fake IDs for the purpose of buying alcohol. We went twice a week at the beginning. Jason taught me all kinds of things. He'd practically grown up with a gun in his hand and had been shooting since he was about five years old. I got better and better. We started to go less. Work got in the way. We had different schedules. Soon it was once a week. Then it was once every two weeks. Pretty soon we weren't going at all. When I asked Jason about it, he said that I was fine. I could shoot well. And besides, why did I really want to know how to do that? The Sons weren't after us. I was paranoid.

I kept asking about it, but we hadn't been there in a very long time. I really missed it. When I came home from the shooting range, I always felt better. More sure of myself. Less worried that the Sons of the Rising Sun were going to get me. More assured that if they did come after me, I could at least take a few of them down with me.

Wandering around my empty apartment, I realized that I wanted to go shooting again. And I didn't see why I had to wait and go with Jason. I was just going to go. By myself. Why not?

For one thing, I didn't have a car. Hallam had the car. Jason had gotten a ride to work with a co-worker. The shooting range was at least a twenty-minute drive from my apartment. I certainly couldn't walk. Dammit. I was going to have to wait for Jason after all.

Then my phone rang. It was Jude.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Trying to do homework," I said. "But I can't concentrate."

"Wanna hang out?" he asked. "I'll come pick you up."

I only considered for a half a second. "You wanna shoot guns?" I asked.

* * *

When Jude picked me up, (twenty minutes later, since he had to scramble to find his fake ID) there was a car in the parking lot near my apartment with the lights on. I didn't pay much attention to it, even when they pulled out behind us. When I realized the car was following us into Sarasota, I began to feel a little nervous.

Was Mr. Sutherland in the car?

It was bad for me if I was being trailed by the Sons, but it was even worse for Jude, who had nothing to do with any of the crazy stuff I was mixed up with. I already felt a little guilty for taking Jude to a target range. Jude was excited about the prospect of going shooting, but curious as to why I suggested it. When I told him I'd gone a bunch of times, he was even more curious. Why did I do that? I told him I just liked doing it. Shooting was fun. He was intrigued. He'd never known this about me. "Girl, you've got all these layers!" he exclaimed. "Are you sure you didn't steal that bell?"

I worried that letting Jude further into my life would make him too curious about me. And I didn't want Jude to get hurt. He needed to stay out of the messy business of my circumstances. I needed to protect him. Still, going to shoot guns seemed harmless enough. And Jude didn't seem to think it was too weird.

I didn't want to mention the fact that the car behind us made me nervous. It made me sound paranoid. We were going from Bradenton to Sarasota on Route Forty-One. It was a pretty standard route, and lots of cars used it. Maybe I was just being silly. Maybe nothing was wrong. Still. It was weird that the car didn't pass us. It was weird that it just hovered behind us. I watched it as Jude drove and chattered animatedly about stupid people at work. But I didn't say anything.

I was relieved when the car turned onto Fruitville Ave and didn't appear to be following us anymore. I had been paranoid. Nothing was wrong.

The hardest thing about shooting a gun for me was keeping my hand steady. When I first started, I wasn't very strong, and just a few minutes of holding the gun straight out would really, really hurt my arms. Think of holding a book straight out in front of you for hours at a time. Ouch. Anyway, after some time, my arms got stronger, and that helped a lot.

When Jude and I arrived,I was worried that it had been too long. That I wouldn't be able to shoot with the kind of accuracy I had before. But apparently, shooting a gun was something like riding a bike. I still knew how to do it, but in my muscles, not my head. My body remembered how it worked. My body remembered how to stand. My body remembered how to breathe. One of the mistakes I kept making in the beginning was to hold my breath while I aimed. It kept screwing me up. Jason taught me to breathe evenly and steadily, and to pull the trigger as I exhaled.

I didn't have much luck teaching Jude what to do. He was hopelessly horrid with a gun. He didn't even hit the target the whole time we were there, which meant that the both of us spent a lot of time laughing about how bad he was at shooting. Jude was also completely awed by my skill. He thought I was really good. Of course, I wasn't. If Jude had seen either Jason or Hallam handle a gun, he'd know I was a complete amateur.

But I did feel better. My aim was good. I was able to hit the target (mostly) where I wanted to. If I was on the run from the Sons, I'd have a fighting chance. I felt more confident. Less concerned for my safety. I was glad that I'd come to the range. And Jude seemed to like it too.

As we turned in the guns we'd rented, he said, "We've got to come back here and do this again sometime. This was too fun." (We rented guns because you could shoot guns owned by the range without a permit. Jason and Hallam had guns in the apartment, but they didn't have permits for them. We didn't bring those guns to the range. That would get us in a lot of trouble.) I assured Jude that we could come back whenever we wanted, feeling cheered. Maybe I couldn't go shooting with Jason, but I could get practice in with Jude. And Jude was fun to hang out with.

We burst out of the range and into the parking lot, talking loudly and laughing.

"How long have you been shooting?" Jude asked me.

"A few months," I said.

"That's all? You're like a pro."

"No, it's just not that hard. You can get that good too."

"That'd be kind of sexy, don't you think?" Jude asked. "Don't you think guys would dig it if I could shoot guns like really well?" He got his keys out of his pocket as we approached his car.

I shrugged. "I don't know. I guess."

"Does Jason think it's sexy that you shoot?"

"Um . . ."

Jude opened his car door. "He's totally threatened, isn't he? I knew it. He's such a tough guy. There's no way he could handle it if you were tougher than he was." He swung into the driver's seat.

I opened the passenger's side door and stood there thoughtfully for a second. "It's not that," I said, struggling for a way to explain what Jason thought about it without giving too much away.

Suddenly, strong arms grabbed me from behind.

I shrieked, twisting to see who had me. I couldn't see anything in the darkness.

One arm pinned my arms to my chest. Another swept my legs up so that I was being carried like a baby.

And then whoever was holding me was running.

I could hear Jude yelling my name.

I strained to look back at him. I could see him getting out of the car and running after me and my attacker.

Looking up, since I was closer, I tried to get a look at my attacker. My heart was thumping in my chest, but I felt an odd sense of calm radiating throughout my limbs. Maybe I'd been expecting this all along.

I couldn't see anything. The man had a black ski mask over his face.

For several seconds, I did nothing. I let the strange man who was cradling me run with me. I went limp.

Then it was like a switch went off in my brain. I was being captured. I wasn't going to stand for this.

I wished I still had a gun. At this range, I could have made a complete mess of the guy who had me.

But I didn't have a gun. I didn't have anything but my body. I struggled in his arms, digging my elbow into his rib cage.

He made an umphing noise, but kept running.

"Azazel!" Jude called from behind us.

I kept struggling, and with an effort that wrenched the muscles in my arm, was able to free the arm that wasn't against my attacker's body.

We thudded against the ground with the rhythm of his running feet. The jarring was making my stomach hurt.

I didn't have much time to think.

He was grabbing for my arm, attempting to pin it down.

I didn't know why I did it. Lots of other things made more sense. Going for his eyes. Clawing him with my nails.

But instead, I balled up my free hand into a fist and I drove my fist into the man's nose.

The man grunted. Stopped.

Blood gushed onto his ski mask, dripping onto me.

He dropped me, his hands going to his face.

Pain shot through my hip as I hit the ground hard. I winced, but rolled over as fast as I could and scrambled to my feet.

"Jude!" I yelled, running away from the man who'd grabbed me.

I could see Jude ahead of me, running towards me.

He paused, seeing me on my feet.

"Go, go!" I yelled, catching up to him.

Jude grabbed my arm and we raced towards his car. Both of the doors were still open.

As I threw myself inside the car, I looked back. The man who'd grabbed me was gone.

Jude started the car, and we screeched out of the parking lot.

* * *

Hallam paced in the kitchen of the apartment, looking anxious. "What happened, Azazel?" he asked.

Jason and Lilith were apparently still at work, even though it was late. I'd convinced Jude to go home after dropping me off, even though he'd wanted to call the police. I'd lied to him and told him that I'd be calling the police on my own. It was just me and Hallam in the house. I figured now was as good a time as any to talk to Hallam. I started at the beginning, telling him about my suspicions about the bell and about Mr. Sutherland. Then I explained what had happened at the target range that evening.

Hallam sat down at the table heavily when I finished. "It doesn't make sense," he said.

"I think it does," I said. "The Sons are after us again."

He shook his head. "No, they can't be."

I was flabbergasted. Why didn't he believe me? I'd been attacked. I'd nearly been carried off. And with all the other evidence I'd amassed, how could he say that I was wrong? Were he and Jason both incredibly blind?

"They can be," I said, "and they obviously are."

"No," he said again. "No, it's not the Sons style, Azazel. Why would they capture you? They don't care about you. They care about Jason. The only way they'd do anything to you is if you were in the way of Jason. And ski masks and parking lot assaults are not their style."

I thought about what he'd said. The Sons did have a tendency to come in shooting. Usually in mass numbers. One guy in a parking lot was a little sketchy. "Maybe he's not working with the full knowledge of the whole organization," I said. "Maybe he's just doing something covert. For Edgar Weem or something."

"No, that's not possible," said Hallam. "This has nothing to do with Edgar Weem."

"How can you be sure?" I demanded. "You and Jason both seem to think that Weem is iron-clad to this deal you made with him. But I don't think that deal made him happy. And I can't see any reason why he wouldn't try to find some way around it."

"It's not Weem," said Hallam. "I'm certain of that."

"How are you certain?"

"I just am," said Hallam. "Trust me on this."

I didn't. But Hallam's tone of voice warned me not to press the point any farther.

"What else could it be?" I asked. "If it isn't the Sons, then who could have done it?"

"Someone crazy?" Hallam suggested. "People do get kidnapped, you know."

"Why would anyone kidnap me?" I asked. "I don't have money."

"Your grandmother does," said Hallam.

Oh. He was right. I shuddered. "Do you really think that's what it was?"

My grandmother was pretty rich. She lived in a multi-million dollar home. It was old money, but it had been augmented by the work my grandfather and Aunt Stephanie had done for the company my family owned. I had no idea how much my grandmother was worth, but it might be enough that someone would try to hold me for ransom because of it.

Had I been completely wrong? Had I assumed that if something bad was happening to me, the Sons had to be part of it?

But there were other things. Not just the kidnapping. "What about the bell?" I asked. "I saw you look at it today in Dingle's office."

Hallam spread his hands. "I'll admit," he said, "that engraving does resemble an old Sons emblem. I've seen it on old documents."

"So, there could be a connection?"

"I don't know," said Hallam. "I'm inclined to think it's a coincidence."

"I didn't think you believed in coincidences," I said, remembering a conversation we'd had in November.

He sighed. "Well, it wouldn't make sense not to look into it," he said. "I'll do some digging. I'll even check out this Sutherland. But I've got to say, Azazel, his interest in secret societies seems to clear him entirely. If he were really a member of the Sons, why would he mention that to you? Why would he want to make you suspicious?"

I didn't know. If he was a member of the Sons, it seemed like he'd try to keep a low profile. He'd shown me the engraving on the bell. Why would he have done that? Still, something about Mr. Sutherland really gave me the creeps. I couldn't exactly put my finger on what, but I didn't trust him. And I felt like there was some kind of connection between the bell and Mr. Sutherland and the Sons. I just knew it.

"I'd like it if you checked into him," I said.

"I will," said Hallam. "I can't believe that he stole that bell and put it in your purse to get you into detention. He sees you every day as it is in class."

"Every other day," I said. "Maybe he just wanted to be able to talk to me. He asked me to go to his house. Maybe he wanted to tell me something."

"Well," said Hallam, "until we know what's going on with this guy, I wouldn't recommend going to his house."

"I know that," I said.

Hallam sighed, looking at the clock. "Where's Jason?" he asked.

"At work, I guess," I said.

"You didn't call him?"

Huh. Weird. I hadn't. I'd nearly been captured, taken away by a scary man in a black ski mask, and I hadn't even thought to call Jason. Why hadn't I done that? "No," I said.

"I half-wonder if we should tell him at all," said Hallam.

"Really?" I asked. "Why?"

"He's erratic, Azazel, surely you've noticed. Especially when it comes to you. I don't want him out trying to hunt down this masked man. God knows what he'd do."

That was probably true as far as it went. Jason would be livid. He would want to protect me. "Well, he can't," I said. "Go after the guy. We don't even know who he was."

"Does he share your opinions of Mr. Sutherland?" Hallam asked.

"No," I said.

"Thank God for that. At least he won't be after Mr. Sutherland."

"I have to tell him," I said. I couldn't keep something this big from Jason. It would be like trying to keep a secret from some part of myself.

"I suppose you do," said Hallam, "but try to keep him calm."

"I will," I said.

"He's becoming increasingly violent," said Hallam. "I'm concerned."

This was weird, considering that Hallam had spent his time working for the Sons doing things like slaughtering sorority girls at their request. "You're concerned about his violence?" I said.

"Of course I am."

"But you . . ." How did I put this delicately? "You've done things that . . ."

Hallam raised his eyebrows. He stood up from the kitchen table. "Jason told you about that, then?"

I nodded.

Hallam shook his head. "That was a bad night," he said finally. "I don't think Jason's ever been the same." Hallam stared at the linoleum, not speaking for several moments. "But I wonder if there wasn't something . . . something within him . . . something that was always there."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"What he did that night," said Hallam. "It was�"

And the door burst open. Jason and Lilith tumbled inside, drunk and laughing.

I wanted to ask Hallam what he meant by what Jason did that night. Jason had told me that Hallam had shot the girls. He'd said that Hallam had screamed while he did it, blood spattering his face. Jason had said that he hadn't done anything but watch.

I turned toward Jason, my brow furrowing. Hadn't he told me everything? I'd always trusted Jason, but lately things seemed different. We were at odds. He didn't believe me. And here he was stumbling into the house, late on a school night, clearly drunk. This wasn't the Jason that I knew.

Jason stopped laughing, but Lilith was still giggling.

"Who died?" Jason asked us.

"Where have you been?" Hallam asked.

Jason rolled his eyes, striding into the kitchen. He flung himself into a chair at the table. "Geez, Hallam, you sound like you think you're my mother."

Had I ever seen Jason drunk before? I tried to think. Sure, Jason drank at parties, but he usually didn't have more than a few drinks.

Lilith followed Jason into the kitchen and sat down with us. She was still grinning. "We went out for a couple of drinks with some of the people from work," she explained.

Really?

"Oh?" said Hallam, folding his arms over his chest.

"It was my idea," said Lilith. "I didn't know if Jason would go for it or not, but when I asked he said, 'Sure.' I think Jason needs to get out more. Don't you, Zaza?"

I glared at her. I couldn't believe her. I did think Jason should get out more. I'd said as much to him on numerous occasions. But when I asked him to come out with me, he always said no. Apparently, when Lilith asked, it was a completely different story. "Did you have fun, Jason?" I asked him.

He grinned at me. "I had a blast. Lilith was telling me this hilarious story about you freshman year. She said that you got lost your first day and you went into the wrong classroom . . ." He started laughing again and so did Lilith.

"That's great," I said. "Because while you guys were off having a blast, some guy picked me up and tried to carry me off."

Jason stopped laughing. "What?" he said, his eyes darting between Hallam and me.

"She's right," said Hallam.

We filled Jason in on the details of the evening.

"I can't believe you went to the shooting range without me," Jason said angrily.

I snorted. "I can't believe you went out drinking with Lilith without me."

"That's ridiculous," said Jason. "I wasn't in any danger."

"That's not the point," I said.

"It absolutely is," said Jason. "You went off to Sarasota with Jude, and you nearly got hurt."

"I'm fine," I said. "I took care of myself."

"Because I wasn't there," said Jason. "You're blaming me for not being there, but you snuck off without me. You could have asked me to go with you."

"I did the other day at lunch," I said. "You didn't want to go."

"But if you just had to go," he said, "you could have called me."

"You were working!" I protested. "Besides, you didn't call me and ask if I wanted to come with you tonight."

"It was just people from work," he said. "I didn't think This is not my fault."

"I'm not saying it is," I said.

"Yes, you are," he said. "If I'd been there, this wouldn't have happened."

I couldn't believe him. "Jason, are you listening? I hit the guy. He dropped me. I'm fine. Nothing happened. I didn't need you."

Jason jerked back, as if I'd slapped him. He didn't say anything for several moments. "I wish you would have called," he said finally.

"Well, so do I," I said.

"Listen," said Hallam, "it's over. There's no point in worrying about whether the incident would have been preventable or not. It happened. We just need to figure out who did it and why. So, I'm going to do some digging tomorrow. We'll get to the bottom of this."

"It's my fault, anyway," said Lilith. "I really shouldn't have encouraged Jason to come out tonight."

"It's no one's fault," said Hallam. "Let's go to bed."

But I kind of half-agreed with Lilith. Why had she asked Jason to hang out? What was more, why had he said yes? The two were awfully chummy these days. I didn't like it.

Hallam left the kitchen, leaving me with Jason and Lilith.

"I'm so sorry," said Lilith. "I'm sorry that happened to you."

"I'm fine," I said. I didn't need her pity.

"You must have been so scared," she said.

I shrugged. I'd been terrified. Hadn't I? With all the worrying I did about the Sons swooping in and terrorizing me, I expected myself to be more jumpy about the entire incident. But I felt calm. I'd felt calm almost the entire time. It surprised me. Apparently I was tougher than I thought I was. "Not as scared as I thought I'd be, actually," I said.

Jason was shaking his head. "Well, I don't think you should be alone anymore."

"I wasn't alone tonight," I said. "I was before, in the apartment, but after that I had Jude with me."

"I don't think Jude counts for much," said Jason.

"Well, what do you want, Jason? You can't be around me all the time. We both work a lot. And we don't have the same schedule at school. Who else do you think is capable of guarding me?" I couldn't help but be a little sarcastic. Jason couldn't be mad at me about this. I wasn't the one being reckless tonight. I'd gone to the range because I wanted to improve my abilities to take care of myself. It had been a preventative measure. Jason was the one who'd been out having fun. He'd been irresponsible. It was ridiculous for him to be angry with me.

Jason heaved a huge sigh. "You're pissed at me," he said.

I rolled my eyes.

Lilith bit her lip. "Maybe I should leave you two alone," she said.

I stood up. "Thanks, Lilith, but I think I'll leave. It's late, and I'm tired. I was nearly kidnapped tonight. It took a lot out of me."

I stalked back through the apartment to my bedroom and began throwing off my clothes, letting them fall in a messy pile on the floor. I yanked open my dresser drawer, took out my pajamas and began forcing on pajama pants.

There was a knock on my door.

I jerked my pajama shirt over my head and flung open the door.

It was Jason.

"What?" I demanded.

"Can I come in?" he asked.

I moved out of the doorway wordlessly.

He walked past me.

"Well?" I said, folding my arms over my chest.

"Why are you mad?" he asked. "If it's not because I wasn't there, why are you mad?"

"I'm not mad," I said.

"Right," he muttered. He crossed to me, put his hand on my cheek.

I ducked away from him.

"I just feel like I can't do anything right anymore," said Jason.

I rolled my eyes. "I'm tired, Jason," I said. "I had a rough evening. I just need to rest."

"Because," he said, "if anyone should be mad, it should be me. I mean, you didn't say anything to me about going to the range by yourself, and then all of the sudden you're there. With Jude." He said Jude's name like Jude was a leper or a mass murderer.

I couldn't believe it. I glared at him. "Listen, Jason, there is no reason for you to be jealous of Jude. He's gay for God's sake, and I'm in love with you."

"I'm not jealous of him!" Jason said. "It's just that he doesn't look out for you. Look what happened at that party over the weekend. He can't keep you safe."

"No one can keep me safe," I said. "That's ridiculous. Jude's my friend. If anything, being around me makes it less safe for him, not the other way around."

"You spend an awful lot of time with him," Jason said.

"Because he's my best friend," I said.

"When I knew you in Bramford, you didn't spend nearly as much time with Lilith as you do with Jude now, and Lilith was your best friend."

"Sure I did," I said. "I hung out with Lilith all the time. And we talked on the phone like crazy!"

"No," he said. "You didn't. You spent a lot of time with Toby, but not with Lilith."

"Who's telling you this?" I asked. "Lilith?"

"It's my own observation," he said. "Which she happens to agree with."

"Why are you two constantly talking about me behind my back?" I demanded.

"We're just talking."

"You know who it seems like you're spending a lot of time with?" I said. "Lilith. You and Lilith are really pretty friendly lately."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jason asked.

"Well, it's not like she wasn't sleeping with my last boyfriend," I said. "How am I supposed to trust her?"

Jason's face twisted in disbelief. "What?" He took a step back. Ran his hand through his hair. "You're supposed to trust me," he said.

"I do," I said.

"So then why would you even say that?" Jason asked.

I was fuming inside. I clenched and unclenched my fingers. I looked away from Jason, at my bedroom wall. "She's not like me," I said. "She's all curvy and sexy and experienced. And you're always around her. And you're always taking her side, not mine. And I just think that she can be very manipulative."

"I can't believe you would think that about me," said Jason. "I would never . . ." He trailed off. "Look at me," he said.

I didn't.

Jason advanced on me. He snatched my chin between his thumb and forefinger and forced me to look at his face. His eyes were just a few inches from my own. They blazed at me, smoldering. I could feel his breath on my cheeks. "If you think that I would everthat I could everdo anything like that to you, or that I would ever want anyone but you, then you don't have any idea who I am."

He dropped my chin. Gave me one last fiery look, his eyes burning into mine. Then he left my bedroom.

I stood there for a second, too stunned to process what had just happened. Then I closed the door. Leaned against it, the back of my head thudding against its hardness. And I started to cry.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers