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episode seven

Chapter Seven

To: Renegade Son < [email protected] >
From: Edgar Weem < [email protected] >
Subject: Sutherland
Attachment: sutherlanddossier.doc

Liam Sutherland?! This isn't good, Hallam. Not at all. Sutherland is a very dangerous man who's managed to find out far more about our organization than is good for him. We've been on the hunt for him since before Jason's birth. Since we hadn't heard anything in years, I'd almost hoped he was dead. Pass on any information that you can to me about his whereabouts. The organization would be very grateful.

I've attached a document containing all our intel on Sutherland.

Finally, of course we're not after Azazel. Let me know if you need to use any of our resources to track down her attacker, however. Honestly, my money's on Sutherland.

Edgar

Mr. Sutherland stood in the doorway, his nose swollen and red. There was a huge greenish-blue bruise spreading from the bridge of his nose over his cheekbones. I gasped. I'd been right.

"Azazel," said Mr. Sutherland. "What are you doing here?"

"What happened to your face?" I said.

He smiled. "Would you like to come inside?" He stepped aside from the doorway. I walked past him. He shut the door behind me.

"I assume you're after some books?" he said.

I turned on him, my hand going inside my jacket, brushing the cold metal of my gun. "Let's not play games, Mr. Sutherland," I said. "I've got a gun."

He raised his eyebrows, then winced at the movement. "All right," he said. "You've got quite a right hook, I must admit. I wasn't expecting that."

So, he was going to admit it, then? Good. That would make things considerably easier.

"I wasn't expecting to be jumped in a parking lot," I said.

He chuckled. He took a step toward me.

I whipped out the gun, flipping the off the safety as I did. "No quick moves, okay?" I said.

Mr. Sutherland put his hands in the air. "That's really not necessary, Azazel. I don't intend to hurt you."

"Right," I said. "That's why you attacked me and tried to carry me off last night."

"I just wanted to talk," he said. "I asked you to come over here, but you didn't seem interested in that idea. In fact, you seemed frightened of me. I didn't know how else I'd get the chance to speak to you alone."

"I'm here now," I said. "Talk away."

"Might we talk without a gun in my face?" he asked.

"No," I said. "I don't trust you."

He shrugged. "Fair enough. But it would make me a lot more comfortable."

"You can say whatever you have to say with the gun out," I said. "It makes me more comfortable."

"Really?" he said.

My arms were starting to tremble a little bit. The gun seemed to be getting heavier with every second I held and aimed it. I ignored the trembling. "You work for the Sons, don't you?"

Mr. Sutherland laughed. "The Sons? Heavens, no. I don't work for anyone, Azazel."

"Why should I believe you?"

"If I worked for the Sons, would I talk to you about secret societies? That would blow my cover, wouldn't it?"

Funny. That was what Hallam had said. "Maybe," I said. "Maybe not."

"If I worked for the Sons, I would never have spoken to you. I would have watched. Undetectable. You'd never have even known I existed. That's the way the Sons work. You don't see them until they're about to kill you. No one sees them. No one alive anyway."

"You know about the Sons, though," I said. "And you know about me? About Jason?"

He nodded.

"So what do you want then?" I didn't know if I believed him, anyway. But I could play along.

"I told you. To talk. I have information you might find interesting. Helpful."

So we were back here again, were we? "And I told you to go ahead and talk."

"Not until you put away the gun."

Dammit. What was I going to do? I could just leave, I guess. If Mr. Sutherland didn't want to talk, I could just leave. I could put the gun to his temple. Demand that he tell me, or I would blow his brains out. I shuddered at the thought. I didn't think I could really blow Mr. Sutherland's brains out. Not at close range. I'd shot a lot at targets, but I'd never actually shot a person. I swallowed.

What if he were telling the truth? What if he didn't work for the Sons? What if he really did just want to give me information?

Slowly, I lowered the gun. "I'm not putting it away," I said. "But I won't aim it at you. And the safety stays off."

Mr. Sutherland sighed. "Very well," he said. He gestured behind me to a leather couch. "Would you like to sit?" he asked.

I guessed sitting was okay. I was beginning to feel like I was doing a very bad job at this. I should have brought Jason or Hallam along. But since neither of them believed me . . . I crossed to the couch and sat down. Mr. Sutherland did as well.

"So," I said, "if you're not working for the Sons, then why are you here?"

Mr. Sutherland tilted his head, as if he were thinking about how to put what he was about to say. "You could say that I find the Sons intriguing," he said. "I am a Watcher, if you will."

I arched an eyebrow. "What? Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" When I was a kid, I used to watch reruns of that show in the afternoons.

Mr. Sutherland looked confused. "What?"

"Nothing," I said. "What do you mean, you're a Watcher?"

"I study secret societies. Chart their movements. Try to get close to them. Try to figure out what it is they're doing."

"So you study the Sons?"

"The Sons are the most secret and the most powerful secret society in operation. No one knows about them. Unlike the Knights Templar or the Illuminati, their name does not appear on websites all over the world or in popular fiction."

"Wait," I said, "the Illuminati are real?"

Mr. Sutherland laughed. "Not anymore," he said. "Not really. No, the only secret society with any active power these days is the Sons. And they jealously guard their identity and cover up their actions quite well. Finding out information about them is difficult at best."

"And why do you do it?" I asked. "For kicks?"

Mr. Sutherland chuckled. He seemed to be finding me quite amusing. That was not really my intention. I'd wanted to threaten him. Scare him. "The Sons have their enemies," he said. "The information I provide is valuable, to certain people. Certain rich people. I sell what I find."

"I thought you said you didn't work for anyone."

"I don't. I'm a gun for hire, if you will, although I don't actually shoot anything. I work for the highest bidder."

"And who are you are working for now?"

"I'm hoping to work for you," he said.

What? "I don't have any money," I said.

He smiled. "I know that."

"And I can't get money from my grandmother, so don't even think that"

"I don't want money."

"What do you want?"

"As I've already said, information is very valuable to me. I thought perhaps we could trade."

"Trade?" I said. "What do you mean?"

"I have things I want to know about the Sons. I think you know them."

"I don't know anything about the Sons," I said. "And I don't have any idea what you could know that I'd want to know."

Mr. Sutherland smiled. "Someone very close to you," he said, "has completed an invocation. Does that mean anything to you?"

I was stunned. The invocation of Azazel? My parents and the rest of the Satanists had attempted to imbue me with the spirit of the ancient Jewish demon I was named after. It was supposed to give me the power to kill Jason. However, the invocation had never been completed, because it was supposed to end with my losing my virginity to a member of the coven. I'd lost my virginity to Jason. Even though Michaela Weem had said that I had the spirit of Azazel within me, I knew that the other members of the coven had believed that the ritual needed to be finished. "Who is it?" I said.

"Not so fast," said Mr. Sutherland. "You need to agree that we'll trade. I give you a name, and I'll also throw something else in. Something that has come up over and over again in certain messages I've intercepted from various members of the Sons, something that I believe has something to do with Jason. In return, you answer some questions for me."

I considered. What was the harm? Mr. Sutherland might be lying and his information might prove to be completely false. He might not be who he said he was. Also, he might use the information I gave him to sell to someone who would use it for nefarious purposes. On the other hand, he said he sold information to enemies of the Sons. How did that saying go, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"? Could it really hurt anything?

It didn't matter anyway. I was too curious. Who could be trying to complete the invocation? Who was close to me? I had to know. "Okay," I said.

He smiled. "Good." He stood up and walked to one of his bookshelves, where he removed a small stack of paper. "Just to show you my good faith, I'll go first. These are the intercepted messages from the Sons. Look through them. They're yours."

He handed me the stack of papers.

It was four different email messages, each from names I didn't recognize. Mr. Sutherland had highlighted various passages. Because I was scanning through them quickly, I just read the highlighted portions.

They read as follows:

"The Rising Sun is ultimately considered a benevolent force of unification, but there is extensive association to Shiva in some of the later prophecies. Why is the Rising Sun associated with Shiva the destroyer?"

"Have not received any commentary from Weem on the Shiva aspect of the prophecies. Odd, because he usually communicates quickly with me about these issues. When I spoke to him about it over the phone, he seemed defensive."

"Could it be that the solitary nature of our order will protect the Rising Sun from the destructive tendencies of Shiva? Shiva uses the power of his Shakti, the goddess Kali, to accomplish his destruction. If the Rising Sun is celibate, perhaps this power is neutralized?"

"Also noticing the dual nature of certain gods associated with the Rising Sun: Balder has Hoder, Jesus has Lucifer, Apollo has Artemis, and on and on it goes. Does our Rising Sun have a twin or a dark force?"

I looked up at Mr. Sutherland. "What does this have to do with me? And who's Shiva?"

"Shiva is a Hindu god who is the destructive aspect of their greatest god. Shiva's consort is Kali, the goddess of destruction. The two are inextricably bound," he said. "As for what it has to do with you, that actually leads directly into my first question. Can you confirm that the Sons do believe Jason is the Rising Sun?"

He didn't know that? "Yes," I said. "They do."

Mr. Sutherland grinned. "I thought so! I was ninety percent sure."

"I still don't see what it has to do with me," I said.

"They think you're Kali," said Mr. Sutherland. "They think your presence will cause Jason to be destructive."

I furrowed my brow. "What?"

"I conjecture, at any rate," said Mr. Sutherland. "I can't prove that."

I shook my head. That didn't sound good at all. Maybe I was in more danger than I'd thought from the Sons.

"But that doesn't make sense," said Mr. Sutherland.

"What doesn't?" I asked.

"Why aren't they chasing Jason anymore? Why is he allowed to live here in Florida, away from the Sons, with you?"

We'd discovered that Edgar Weem had engineered Jason's birth, purposefully impregnating Michaela Weem himself, so that she would give birth to what he thought would become the Rising Sun. We were using this knowledge to blackmail Edgar Weem into leaving us alone. But since this knowledge was so valuable, I didn't think it was worth telling Mr. Sutherland, so I simply said, "We know some information about Edgar Weem that he doesn't want out. We're blackmailing him to let us be."

"And what information is that?" Mr. Sutherland wanted to know.

I hesitated. "I can't say," I said.

Mr. Sutherland's mouth settled into a firm line. "We made a deal, Azazel. You can't withhold this information from me."

"I have to," I said. "If you know this information, and you sell it to someone who leaks it, it will ruin everything. We'll have no power over Weem anymore, and the Sons will come after Jason and me."

Mr. Sutherland shook his head. "I gave you information in good faith. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to find those email messages I've given you?"

"I-I'm sorry," I said. "I can tell you other things, but I can't tell you that."

"You've given me nothing at this point, except to confirm what I already knew about Jason," said Mr. Sutherland. "You owe me."

"Ask me something else," I said.

"No," he said. "It doesn't work that way." Then he smiled suddenly. "But there is something, perhaps, that you could do to even things up a bit."

"I could . . . do?" I asked. This deal was supposed to be an information exchange. I wasn't supposed to have to do anything.

Mr. Sutherland scooted a little closer to me on the couch. I backed away, tightening my grip on my gun. "What are you doing?" I managed. My voice, to my chagrin, sounded high-pitched and breathless.

Mr. Sutherland moved fast. He leapt forward, one hand going to the hand which held my gun. In a swift movement, he wrenched my wrist. I cried out, dropping the gun.

Twisting my arm, he pulled it above my head. His other hand grasped my other wrist, which he pulled into the same position. And his hips settled against mine so that he pinned me to the couch.

I panicked. I struggled against his body, but he held me fast. I kicked as his legs with mine. He just laughed.

What the hell was going on here?

"I used to be a teacher, actually," said Mr. Sutherland, his bruised face inches from mine. "I mean, a real teacher. In England. You know why I lost my job?"

I shook my head. How was I going to get my gun back? What was I going to do?

"Linda Thames," he said, a wistful look in his eyes. "She was so intelligent. So beautiful. So young. Flawless skin." He smiled, as if savoring a particularly nice memory.

I renewed my struggles. I didn't like the sound of his voice. I didn't like what he was saying.

"She made the loveliest noises," mused Mr. Sutherland. "And her tears . . . But strangling her was by far the best part." He looked me in the eye, his smile wide and maniacal.

Oh God. Oh no. Oh, no, no, no.

And to think, I'd come here voluntarily. Why was I so stupid?

Mr. Sutherland lowered his face to my neck. I felt the dry pressure of his lips, the wetness of his tongue.

I made a face, but I didn't make any noise. After that comment about the other girl's noises, I didn't want to give him the satisfaction.

Maybe . . . maybe, I just needed to keep him talking. If he was talking, he couldn't . . . hurt me.

"So you killed one of your students?" I squeaked. "That's why you lost your job?"

"I didn't just kill her," said Mr. Sutherland. "I kept her locked in a cellar for weeks, and I raped her repeatedly. When I finally did kill her, she was begging for it."

Oh. I made another face. Could I really keep him talking about this?

"So how did you get caught?" I asked.

"I was sloppy back then," he said. "Too many people knew I liked Linda. She was my favorite student."

"People know you like me," I pointed out.

"Yes, but I'll be long gone from the U.S. before they find your body," he said.

My . . . body? He was going to kill me? Oh, Christ, what had I gotten myself into? I needed my gun.

I could see it. It was lying on the floor next to the couch, barely two feet away from my body. How was I going to get it?

"So," I said, "if they caught you, how come you're not in jail?"

He grinned. "I told you I find good information. I've made my share of bargains."

Wonderful. Wonderful. "So you aren't scared of the law, then?" I said.

"Not a bit."

"Or the Sons?"

He laughed.

"When Jason finds out that you did this, he will hunt you down and kill you," I said. I was serious. It was true.

"I'm not afraid of Jason either," he said.

Of course he wasn't. "Jason will know that," I said. "He'll use it to his advantage. You've never seen when he's angry. He's unstoppable. He killed five members of the Sons in the span of two minutes. I watched him do it."

Mr. Sutherland looked a little taken aback. "Five?" he asked.

His grip on my hands loosened a little bit. I kept talking.

"Five," I said. "And Jason and I took out an entire church full of them in Shiloh. Did you hear about that?"

"I always wondered about that incident," said Mr. Sutherland. "What did he do?" His grip was a little looser still.

I yanked my hands away from him as hard as I could. "We did it together," I grunted as I freed my hands. I clenched them into fists and forced them up into Mr. Sutherland's body, right below his rib cage.

He made a strangled noise in the back of his throat and his eyes got wide.

I rolled away from him, off the couch, feeling for my gun.

Mr. Sutherland recovered quickly. He was behind me, his arms reaching around me, trying to pin me down.

I elbowed behind me as hard as I could. I made contact with some part of his body. Some soft part.

Mr. Sutherland let out a cry of rage. "Maybe you are imbued with the spirit of demon," he growled.

Where was my gun?

Well, there was no time. I scrambled to my feet. "Think about that the next time you plant a stolen bell in a girl's purse," I said, running for the door.

Mr. Sutherland was right behind me.

I tugged open his door, threw myself through it and ran out into the street. I didn't look back, and I didn't hear Mr. Sutherland running after me.

But I did hear him calling after me from his doorway, "Azazel, I didn't put that bell in your purse!"

* * *

I ran and ran. There were no footsteps behind me, but I ran anyway. I ran, taking streets at random, hoping that if he were following me, I'd lose him. My breath went ragged and quick. My lungs started to hurt. The joints in my knees ached each time my foot hit the pavement. Eventually, I stopped, looking around me. There was no one there. And I wasn't entirely sure where I was.

I tried to catch my breath.

Damn.

What was wrong with me? Was there a big sign on my head that said, "Please attempt to violate me sexually"? First there was Toby. Then there was the veiled threat of that guy on the beach. Now Mr. Sutherland?!

I wasn't even that pretty. I wasn't ugly or anything, but if anybody should be getting all this negative sexual attention, it should be someone like Lilith. Not someone like me.

But I couldn't ponder that. I was lost on the streets of Bradenton, out of breath, and I'd lost both my purse and my gun. That really sucked. I'd lost my fake ID. I'd lost my driver's license. And I'd lost my check card. I was going to have to get that cancelled immediately. On top of everything else, I'd lost my phone.

And just when I really, really, really wanted to call Jason, too.

What was I going to do?

If I could find my bearings, I guessed I should go back to my apartment. Luckily, my keys were in my pocket, so I could get in.

But Mr. Sutherland knew where I lived. Was there any reason that he wouldn't have just gotten in his car and driven there? He was probably waiting for me.

I rubbed my face with my hands. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't. My eyes were dry. My chest was loose. I wandered to the end of the street to look at the street signs.

Oh. Well, I wasn't that far from home after all. A few blocks.

I didn't have anywhere else to go, so I guessed I'd go home. I'd be very careful. Look around for Mr. Sutherland's car. Then, as quickly as possible, I'd get inside, find the other gun, load it, and hide in a closet somewhere until Jason or Hallam got home. We didn't have a landline phone, so I couldn't even call anyone.

I walked the few blocks to my apartment and cautiously approached, looking around for Mr. Sutherland.

And then I saw Jude. He was standing outside my door, his phone to his ear.

Dammit. Jude was probably calling me. What was he doing here, anyway? Well, if Mr. Sutherland was around, he might go after Jude. Jude could be in danger.

I broke into a sprint again, snatching my keys from my pocket and feeling for the one to the front door as I ran.

"Jude!" I yelled as I approached.

He looked up and half-waved, confused because I was running towards him.

"Azazel?" he said as I approached. "Why are you"

"Don't move," I said, fitting the key to the lock of my door and swinging it open. "Inside," I ordered.

Jude obeyed, his eyes wide.

Once we were safe in the house, I slammed the door after us and locked it.

"What's going on?" Jude asked.

I shook my head. I dashed back the hallway and went into Hallam's room. He kept his gun under his pillow, and the bullets in his top bedside drawer.

"Azazel?" said Jude, following me.

I didn't answer. I just got the gun, got the bullets, and methodically loaded the gun.

"Jesus!" said Jude. "Why do you have a gun?"

I turned on him, angry now. "Why are you here?" I asked. "You're gonna get yourself killed."

"Why?" he said. "Is someone after you?"

I strode out of Hallam's bedroom, more confident now that I had the gun. I didn't think that Mr. Sutherland could have broken into our apartment, but I wanted to make sure. I went from room to room, checking closets and under beds. No one was there.

"Azazel," said Jude, "you are freaking me out! What's going on?"

I looked at him, finally. What was I going to tell him? What kind of lie would keep him safe, but keep him from being so curious that he'd keep wondering what was going on? I guessed I'd better stick as closely to the truth as possible.

"I went to Mr. Sutherland's house this evening," I said.

"Why?" said Jude.

"I don't know. I got this weird idea that maybe he was the guy in the parking lot last night. Because he wasn't there at school today, and because he seemed so weirdly into me."

"So you went to his house?" Jude said. "Why would you do that?"

"I don't know!" I said. "I guess I just thought . . . I wanted to tell him to leave me alone."

"What happened?"

"When I got there, his face was bruised and messed up," I said.

"So it was him," said Jude.

I nodded. "Yeah. And then he . . ." I trailed off. I didn't really want to talk about what Mr. Sutherland had tried to do to me.

"I was right," said Jude, "he is a pedophile."

I remembered Jude's joke in the car earlier that week. I laughed bitterly. "Yeah," I said. "He told me that he did this to a girl at his last job. He said he kept her in a room and . . . over and over. And then he strangled her." I swallowed.

"Jesus!" said Jude, looking disgusted and little terrified. "How'd you get away?"

I shook my head. "I don't know, really. I struggled, and hit him and I ran, and . . ." I looked around again, half-expecting Mr. Sutherland to jump out at me, his bruised face twisted into an expression of psychotic glee. "He knows where I live, because he followed us to the shooting range the other day. I was afraid he'd be here, waiting for me."

Jude looked around too. "He's not, is he?"

"I don't think so. I left my purse there. All my money was in it, and my phone and" I broke off. "Jude, do you have your phone?"

"Sure," he said, taking it out of his pocket and handing it to me.

"Thanks," I said. "I want to call Jason."

I flipped Jude's phone open and stared at the numbers. I started laughing.

"What?" said Jude.

I couldn't stop laughing. The laughter rolled out of me. I doubled over from the force of it. Could hardly catch my breath.

"Azazel?" said Jude.

I tried to squelch the laughter. I handed the phone back to Jude. Between giggles, I said, "I don't know his phone number."

It was programmed into my phone. I'd never dialed it. I just always searched through my address book and selected Jason.

"Oh," said Jude. "Maybe I have it."

"You've never called Jason," I said, still laughing.

Jude searched through his phone anyway. "You're right," he concluded. "I don't have his number."

Suddenly, it didn't seem so funny anymore. The laughter caught in my throat, where an enormous lump was forming. And before I could help it, I was sobbing.

It was just too much. Everything that had happened to me, and now not being able to call Jason. If he knew, he'd drop everything. He'd leave work. He'd come home. He'd wrap me in his arms. And then, I'd feel safe again. But I couldn't call him, because I didn't know his phone number! It had seemed so utterly ridiculous before, but now it seemed tragic. Cruel.

"Oh God, Azazel," said Jude. "I am so sorry."

As if he'd been reading my mind, Jude put his arms around me. I'd never noticed it before, but Jude had very strong arms. He was nearly the same height as Jason, and they had a very similar build. I buried my face in Jude's shoulder, and it felt so much like Jason's shoulder that I started crying harder.

We stood like that for a long timeJude holding me, and me crying onto his shoulder, clutching Hallam's gun like it was my lifeline.

Finally, I quieted. I pulled back from Jude, feeling embarrassed. I scrubbed at my eyes. "I got your shirt wet," I said.

Jude shrugged. "What's a little wetness between friends?" he said. He cringed. "Okay, I didn't mean that like it sounded."

I laughed. "Well, that's the closest you'll probably ever get to wetness, anyway."

He snorted. "Right."

Jude and I went into my bedroom and sat down on the bed.

"When will Jason be back from work?" he asked.

"A little after eight," I said.

It was six o'clock then.

"I'll stay here with you until he comes back," said Jude. "You shouldn't be alone right now."

"Thanks," I said. "You're a good friend, Jude."

Sensing I'd had enough of talking about what had happened, Jude breezily changed the subject to something ridiculous. For over an hour, he and I critiqued Britney Spears' latest video, which Jude thought was "tasteless."

He sighed dramatically. "I used to love her so much," he said, "but I don't know what's happened to her lately. She's just betrayed her roots."

Since I'd never liked Britney Spears at all, not even when I was a kid, I found this hilarious, and we spent another fifteen minutes debating whether Britney had any actual roots to betray. I didn't think she did. She was a product of marketing and record companies. She didn't have anything personal to say.

By this time, Jude and I were laying on my bed. I lay flat on my back and Jude lay on his side, propped up on his elbow.

He looked shocked. "What about when she did 'My Prerogative'? That was personal."

"That was a cover!" I said.

"Still, she made it her own," said Jude, shaking his head solemnly.

I threw a pillow at him.

He caught it, laughing, and checked the clock. "It's almost eight," he said. "Jason will be back soon."

"Good," I said.

"He's going to be pretty pissed off at Mr. Sutherland, isn't he?"

Oh. Yeah. He was. I hadn't thought about that before. I nodded. I thought about what Hallam had said the night before about Jason becoming more and more violent. I looked up at Jude.

His eyes were dark and large like Jason's, but they didn't have the intense luminosity of Jason's. In Jason's eyes, there were depths. Layers and layers of pain and anger. Jude just looked kind. Safe. Happy. I wondered if Jason's eyes would look like Jude's if nothing had ever happened to him.

"Jude?" I said.

"Yeah?"

"You remember this morning when you asked me if Jason ever scared me, and I said he didn't?"

"Yeah."

"I lied. Sometimes he does scare me."

Jude was quiet. He just looked down at me, his expression concerned.

"Not because I'm afraid he'll hurt me," I said. "He'd never hurt me. But other people . . . He just gets so, so mad. That guy at the party he beat up is just one guy. There have been others."

Jude nodded, still not speaking.

"You asked me if I'd forgive him if he murdered someone," I said. "I know Jason, and if something bad happened to me, he would. He'd kill someone." He has, I thought, but I didn't say that out loud.

"Azazel" started Jude.

But at moment, the door to the apartment burst open, and I heard Jason hurrying back the hall to my bedroom. "Azazel, where are you?" he called. "I called your phone three times"

He broke off as he entered my bedroom. He looked at me and Jude, lying together on my bed. I watched emotions flit across Jason's face. Disbelief. Hurt. Anger. And then he put his hands in the air and backed out of the room.

Jude shot me a look. "Um," he whispered. "He knows I'm gay, right?"

"He knows," I said.

Jude nodded. "All the same, I think I'm gonna go." He got up and walked out of my bedroom.

"Be careful," I called after him.

"I will," he called back. "Hi, Jason," he said as he walked through the hall. Jason didn't respond. "Oh," came Jude's voice, echoing through the house, "you must be Lilith. Nice to meet you."

"Hi," she said. "You're Jude?"

"Yeah. I'm actually on my way out."

"Too bad," said Lilith.

And then the apartment door opened and closed.

I got up and went to my door. "Jason, come in here. I need to tell you something."

His face was stone, but the rest of his body was twitching. His hands were clenched. His jaw was set.

"Jason, come on," I said. "This is a big deal."

He shook his head. "No," he said. "I don't want to hear it."

"You don't even know what it is," I said.

"I know what it is," he said.

"No, you don't."

He wouldn't look at me. "I worried," he said, "I always worried, because I knew that you kissed me while you were still dating Toby. But I told myself that didn't matter. I told myself that what we had was different than that. I told myself"

"You worried about what?" I demanded.

"But you haven't changed," he said. "And right in our house."

"I haven't changed?" I repeated, my voice steadily rising. "What the hell?"

"I don't believe you, Azazel," Jason said quietly. "You have no idea what you mean to me. If I meant half as much to you as you do to me"

"What is your problem, Jason? Why are you leaping to conclusions? And how could you throw Toby in my face like that?"

"You cheated on him with me," said Jason.

"But he had been cheating on me for four years before that," I said.

"But you didn't know that when you kissed me," he said. "And you said you loved him. You told me you loved him so many times. So many times that I almost believed it. I didn't think I had a chance."

"Oh my God, Jason, how can you possibly think that about me?"

"You have a pattern. You find your next boyfriend before you've dumped the other one. Well, I'm not going to give you the pleasure of dumping me, because I'm going to beat you to it. It's over, Azazel."

What?!

"You idiot!" I growled. "You stupid, stupid, idiotic bastard. How dare you say I have a pattern? I don't have a pattern. And if you were so worried about this, why didn't you tell me you were worried? How could you have such a low opinion of me that you would think that I would do anything behind your back? You said that I didn't know you, but you clearly don't know me. And how dare you even think about breaking up with me?"

"Stop it," said Jason. "I just caught you"

"You caught shit!" I screamed. "Fuck you!" And I was so angry that I slammed the door in his face.

I stood there fuming for several seconds. I could not believe that Jason thought such horrible things about me. And that he'd thought them for so long. He'd been waiting for me to be unfaithful to him, something he apparently thought I was capable of doing at any time for any reason. And I loved Jason more than I loved myself. I loved Jason more than life. I didn't want to imagine a world where Jason didn't exist. I was devoted to him, body, soul, and mind. And he thought

Wait. I loved him.

I opened the door.

Jason was still standing there, but he looked a little bewildered.

"Listen," he said. "You and Jude were lying together in bed"

"Jude is gay!" I yelled. "Do I have to say it a thousand million times?"

"Bullshit, he's gay," Jason shouted. "I see the way he looks at you. That guy is about as gay as the Rock."

"He likes Britney Spears. And he paints his fingernails!"

"So?" said Jason.

"So, he's gay."

Jason shook his head.

"Oh, fine, whatever," I said. "The point is, nothing happened. Nothing happened at all. And if you'd shut up for a second and stop thinking stupid, horrible, unfounded things about me, I'd explain to you why he was even here in the first place."

Jason pursed his lips. "Nothing happened?" he asked.

"Nothing at all. He's gay!"

Jason ran a hand through his hair. "I just thought"

"I know what you thought. You made that abundantly clear."

"Well, it's not like I don't have reason, Azazel," he said. "You have to admit that."

"Because of Toby?"

"Yeah."

"Toby is dead, Jason. How long do we have to live under the specter of Toby? And I never felt even a thousandth of the things I feel for you for Toby. I worship you, you dumbfuck. I can't live without you." I bit out the last words and folded my arms over my chest.

Jason hung his head. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. He turned to walk away.

"Where are you going?" I shrieked. "Mr. Sutherland tried to rape me!"

Jason whirled, his eyes wide. "What?" he said. And there was an edge to his voice. A tinge of threat that terrified me.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Valerie Chambers