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Jared paced in front of Frances in her living room. "I told you if I gave you the pills, you'd owe me a favor. It's time to pay up."
"I can ask her," said Frances, "but she'll say no."
"She can't say no," said Jared.
"She will." It was incredibly unfair of Jared to do this to her. He hadn't specified his favor was going to require her to force Maureen to do something.
"You'll get her there," said Jared.
"Look," said Frances, "I called her Death Girl in front of Jessica Walker. She hates me. There's no way she's going to want to go to a party with me."
"Apologize," said Jared. "Tell her you want to make up. Tell her something. Anything. Just get her there."
"She hates this shit. Even if she weren't mad at me, she wouldn't come. She hates parties. She hates everyone in our school. This is impossible."
"Make it possible."
"What if I can't?"
"Then I'll make you fat again," said Jared.
"You can't do that." He couldn't do that. Could he?
Jared smiled. "I don't make empty threats, Frances. I can do a lot of things. I made you thin, didn't I?"
"The pills did."
"But they were my pills."
Maybe Jared was completely insane. "That doesn't make any sense," she said. "You didn't make the pills."
Jared's smile widened. "Just get Maureen to my party, okay?"
"I'll see you both there," said Jared. "Nine-ish."
Jared couldn't make her fat again. That was ridiculous. He'd given her some diet pills was all. He didn't have control over her weight. He was crazy. Still. It couldn't hurt to cover her bases. She'd have to try to get Maureen to the party. Nine-ish. In three hours. What the hell was she going to do?
She paced, trying to come up with an idea. Then she remembered Jared had been pacing and stopped. Maybe his pacing was linked to his insanity, and Frances sure didn't want to end up as crazy as he was. God. She guessed Jared was right. She'd have to apologize. She'd have to grovel. She'd have to beg. And she wasn't sure that any of that would work. Whatever the case, she had to start now. She didn't have enough time to agonize over it any longer. She marched to her room, got her cordless phone, and punched in Maureen's number.
It rang and rang and rang. Maureen's voicemail picked up. Damn it. She must have recognized the number and decided not to answer it. She was really mad at Frances. "Hi," she said after the beep, "It's Frances. I really need to talk to you. Please call me back. If I don't hear from you in fifteen minutes, I'm calling again. I have to talk to you."
Frances waited. She would keep calling Maureen until she picked up her phone. If she turned off her cell, she'd start calling her home number. If she took her home phone off the hook, she'd go to Maureen's house.
Ten minutes later, Maureen called back.
"Hey," she said. "Did you just call me?"
"Yeah, did you get my message?"
"Huh-uh, I didn't check. What's up?"
"I wanted to apologize for what I said about you the other day," said Frances.
"Oh yeah. That was bitchy of you. It's cool, though. If I had the chance to get instantly popular, I might do the same thing."
"I said might."
"So you're not mad?"
"Not really. We've been drifting apart. It's normal. I mean, we're growing up."
Who was this chick and what had she done with Maureen? "Yeah," said Frances. "I guess that's true. But I don't want to lose your friendship, you know?"
"Me either. We should still hang out. Do you want to go shopping with me tomorrow? You've got to be itching to get new clothes with that fabulous new bod of yours."
"Um...well, actually, I was wondering if you'd want to hang out tonight?"
"Can't. I have plans."
"Can't. Won't. I'm going out with Trevor."
"Maureen, you've been spending every last second with Trevor for weeks. You can deal if you don't see him for one night."
"Well...what did you want to do?"
"There's a party—"
"A party?! No way. We won't even get to hang out. It'll be loud and crowded and...no way."
"It's gonna be very chill. It's just a couple people going to Jared's. I really want you to come."
"I thought maybe you wanted us to hang out one on one. Which I'd be cool with. But you know I hate parties. Sorry, Frances."
"No," said Maureen. "What is up with you? Why would you even ask this?" A pause. "This is a set up, isn't it? You and a bunch of people are going to do something fucked up to me if I show up."
"No. No, that's not it at all. I swear to God."
"Forget it, Frances." Maureen hung up.
Frances dialed Jared. "She won't. She has plans with Trevor."
"I'll take care of that," said Jared.
"Trust me," he said. "Give it half an hour and call her back. And don't take no for an answer."
Whatever. Jared was insane. But that probably meant that even if he couldn't make her fat, he could do something bad to her. He wouldn't care, because he was crazy. Jared was actually kind of giving her the creeps lately. She'd lost that weight awfully fast. Maybe everyone was right. Maybe it wasn't healthy to lose that much weight. Maybe he'd done something very bad to her already. No. No, that couldn't be it. She just had to make him happy. If she did what he said, it would be okay.
Her phone rang. Frances jumped. "Hello?"
"It's me," said Maureen. "Trevor just backed out on me."
"His car's messed up, and he can't borrow his parents' car. He's stranded. And I don't know how to drive, so... Would you take me over there?"
"No way. Maureen, this is a sign. You're supposed to come to this party."
"I really don't want to go."
"It'll be fun. I swear. It's just a couple people. Me, Jared, Nick Jones, Lisa Jennings, Mark Cord, Marissa Tobler, and that's like it. It'll be so cool. Please come."
"God, Frances, why do you want me to do this?"
"I just think that if you got out and talked to more people, maybe you'd be happier. You know? Plus, Jared specifically asked me to invite you."
"What about Trevor? Can Trevor come?"
"Trevor hates Jared. He wouldn't want to. But he's totally welcome."
"No, you're right. Trevor wouldn't come."
"I'm telling you, it's a sign. The car breaking down is a sign. You are meant to be at this party tonight."
"Well...maybe. I did used to really like talking to Jared. He was pretty cool. You hang out with him a lot, right?"
"He is cool. The party will be cool. Say you'll come."
"Okay, fine. I'll come. What should I wear?"
"I don't own anything cute."
"I'll come get you. You can borrow something of mine."
It had just been luck that Frances happened to call him when he was standing outside Trevor's house. Breaking the car was easy, and suddenly, Trevor was out of the picture. Just luck.
Jared had been coming here fairly often. He like to gaze into the windows, catching a peek of Trevor now and then. He honestly wasn't sure why he came. He guessed he was monitoring his project. He'd hoped to get close to Trevor. That was generally the way he worked. If his target perceived him as a friend, then he was less likely to suspect him. Trevor was smart, though. He saw through Jared, saw him as the enemy he really was. Jared actually enjoyed it. It was a fun way to work. Chipping away at Trevor's perceived sanity was a blast. He'd have to keep it in mind for the future. He'd been in a rut and hadn't even realized it.
Trevor was angry now. Jared had watched him storm through the house, unable to understand why his car wasn't working. Later, he might find out that the car had been tampered with, and he'd immediately suspect Jared, but he'd have no way to prove his suspicions to anyone else. It was all quite satisfying, really.
He really needed to get out of there. He had a party to host, after all, and tonight was the night when he did away with the influence of Maureen Paulsen once and for all. Trevor relied too much on her. He cared too deeply for her. She was in the way. Jared was going to remove her from the way. Then everything would be fine.
The thought excited him, so he hurried back to his car, but not without one last look at Trevor's house, and one last glimpse of an angry Trevor through one of the windows. His car was parked along the side of the road, a few hundred feet from Trevor's driveway. Jared got in. He patted his pockets for his keys, and checked the ignition. Ah. That was right. He'd put them in the glove compartment. He opened it up. Several of Trevor's pill bottles spilled out of it on and onto the floor of the car, but there were his keys.
Maureen had to admit that it was more fun to hang out with Frances now that she wasn't fat. At least, it was fun to get dressed with Frances. Somehow, Frances had managed to buy herself an entire new wardrobe of very cute clothes that showed off her new slim body. It was kind of weird, too. Maureen had seen programs on TV where people had lost a lot of weight, like Carnie Wilson. She'd had that surgery where they staple your stomach so it's tiny.
Anyway, she'd lost tons of weight, but even though she was thin, she ended up with a whole lot of left over skin. It was disgusting. It just hung off of her like...extra skin. She'd had to have plastic surgery to get rid of it. But that hadn't happened to Frances, even though she'd lost a lot of weight in a very short period of time. Frances' tummy was smooth and perfect. Maureen could tell because the shirt Frances was wearing showed it off. Frances looked amazing.
They'd been best friends for years, but they'd never been able to trade clothes. Maureen had never thought she'd wanted to trade clothes with anyone. It was a stupid thing that stupid girls did. Not being a stupid girl, she had no interest in it. But it was actually kind of fun. It was like having new clothes, even though they weren't really yours. They each tried on seven or eight outfits. When they finally found the ones they wanted to wear, it was hair and makeup time. The two squeezed together in front of the mirror. They shared eye shadow. When they were done, they were indistinguishable from girls in music videos. They looked hot. Surveying their reflection, Maureen couldn't understand why it was that they'd been pegged as outcasts in school. They didn't really look different. Not anymore. And if their giggly antics while getting ready were any indication, they didn't act that much different, either. Maureen looked at the two of them and felt...normal. She liked it. It felt good.
She was nervous about the party, though. Frances seemed great, but she still wasn't convinced this wasn't an elaborate set up to humiliate her. Granted, she'd never heard of anybody actually doing that in real life, but it happened on all the movies. Deep down, she wanted to believe that Frances was right. Maybe if she got a chance to hang out with some kids, they'd see that she was normal, and she could be normal. She could have friends. People wouldn't laugh at her behind her back or right in front of her face. People would stop calling her Death Girl. Most likely, however, the party would be a bust. It would hover somewhere between an incident to humiliate her and a jumping off point for universal acceptance. Probably, she'd just be bored. She'd have no one to talk to, and she'd beg Frances to take her home all night.
Around nine, they got into Frances' car and left. Jared's house was a fifteen-minute drive away. Apparently, his dad was out of town for the weekend on business, so they'd have the house to themselves. The drive itself was uneventful. Frances blared some music, and they sang along at the top of their lungs. But as they got closer and closer to Jared's house, Maureen felt as if a cold hand reached inside her chest and began to squeeze her heart. A sickening sense of dread washed over her. She stopped singing and thought briefly about Trevor. Trevor hated Jared, because he thought Jared was Simon Finch. Simon Finch had only had a dad. Jared only had a dad... Maureen struggled to catch her breath.
Then, as quickly as it had come, the sensation passed. She was going to a party. She was going to have fun. She never had any fun. Everything in her life was dark and dramatic, and it was about time she started to act like a normal teenager. Forget Trevor. Trevor needed to take his meds and get on with being normal. Just like she was doing. Maureen was going to be normal, and no one was going to stop her.
They pulled into the driveway of Jared's house. Cars lined the sides.
"I thought you said it was only going to be a few people," said Maureen.
"It was," said Frances. "That's what he told me."
They stepped out of the car. Jared's house was small. Two stories high with a narrow V-shaped roof. A tiny porch led to the front door. Kids from school were crowded onto the porch, all holding bottles of beer or plastic cups. They could hear the faint sound of music coming from inside of the house.
Frances and Maureen exchanged a look. Frances smiled hesitantly, but Maureen could see that the sheer number of people frightened her too. After all, two months ago, they'd never have been invited to a party like this. Would it be okay? Would they fit in? Maureen smiled back, and both of them started for the house.
They maneuvered their way through the crowded porch and inside. Many of the faces were unfamiliar to Maureen. Some of the partygoers didn't attend Whitmore, apparently. The house was crowded on the inside too, but they managed to make it to the kitchen, where Jared was handing out drinks. The kitchen table was covered in bottles of liquor, and there were coolers full of beer open against the walls. Where had all this come from? Had Jared bought it? Had his dad? How could he have afforded so much?
Jared was happy to see them. He gave them both plastic cups full of a red colored liquid. "Strawberry daiquiris," he told them. "Enjoy."
Maureen tasted hers. It tasted like melted down red Popsicle. It wasn't bad. "Is there a lot of alcohol in this?" she asked Jared.
"Do you taste alcohol?" he asked.
"Then there can't be much in it, can there?"
Something was wrong with that kind of logic, but Maureen kept the drink anyway. She'd just sip on it.
"I thought you said it was just a couple people," said Frances.
Jared shrugged. "News of a party spreads fast, I guess."
"Who are all these people?" Frances asked.
Jared shrugged, grinning hugely. "I have no clue. Isn't it cool?"
"I guess," said Frances.
"Where's the bathroom?" said Maureen. She didn't have to go, but she thought she wanted to know its location for future reference.
"Use the one upstairs," Jared told her. "Upstairs is off limits for everyone else, but you and Frances can go up there."
"Thanks," said Maureen.
He pointed her in the direction of the stairs in the kitchen, which weren't nearly as conspicuous as the ones in the living room. If she took those, she'd be less likely to give anyone else the idea that going upstairs was okay. Maureen climbed the stairs slowly. They were narrow and not lit very well. The bathroom was right at the top of the stairs. Besides the bathroom, there were two bedrooms upstairs. Maureen could see a bed in each through the doors, which stood wide open. Curious, she peered inside one of them. It was boring and ordered. Two bookshelves, a desk. Nothing exciting. It must be Jared's dad's room. She snuck a look into the other one as well. Oddly, it wasn't a bedroom after all. What she'd originally taken as a bed before was actually a couch. The other room contained a TV and X-box. It was a video game room. So where did Jared sleep? Was there a bedroom downstairs?
There must be. She'd look for it later. Feeling a little guilty for snooping, she headed back down the stairs and into the kitchen. Jared was still there, mixing drinks and playing the gracious host, but she didn't see Frances. She tried to ask Jared if he'd seen where Frances went, but he was too busy talking to someone else to hear her. It didn't matter. She'd find Frances herself.
Twenty minutes later, she still hadn't found Frances, but she had run out of strawberry daiquiri. So much for sipping. She debated continuing her search or just heading back to the kitchen for a refill. She kind of wanted something else to drink.
"Hey," said a guy who was walking past, "You need another drink?"
"Um, yeah," Maureen said. She wasn't used to guys talking to her.
"Cool. I'll get it. What are you drinking?"
"I think it's a strawberry daiquiri."
"Don't move," he said. "I'll be right back."
Maureen grinned. "Okay." She didn’t move, and he was indeed right back with another drink for her.
"Thanks," she said.
"No problem," said the guy. "I'm Dave."
"Maureen," she said.
"You go to Whitmore, right?"
"Yeah. Do you?" Maureen had never seen him before.
"No, I go to St. Catherine's." St. Catherine's was a local Catholic school. "I was hanging out with some guys from Whitmore earlier, though, and they said you were Death Girl."
Oh God. Maureen blushed. Now what? Was he going to point at her and laugh?
"So, I wanted to know why they called you that," said Dave, "and they told me, and I was like, whoa. I've got to meet that girl. Are you really interested in mass murderers?"
"Yeah..." said Maureen, eyeing him warily. This was a trap. She just knew it.
"When I was in junior high, I did a project on Mick Peters."
"The crazy Australian who shot up the coffee shop?"
"Yeah," said Dave, nodding. "And my teacher freaked out. I got in all this trouble, and it was ridiculous. So, I wanted to tell you that, because I hear you did kind of the same thing."
Maureen still wasn't convinced this guy was on the level. "I did. But the teacher didn't freak out. All the kids in my school did. Hence, Death Girl."
"Whatever," said Dave. "When that dude was telling me about you, he sounded more impressed than anything. Come on, we'll go talk to them."
"No way," said Maureen. "You guys are just going to make fun of me."
"Swear to God, I won't," said Dave.
Hours passed. Maureen bounced around the party, chatting with one group of people or another and drinking more strawberry daiquiris. She ran into Frances once, but then they parted ways again. Maureen was starting to feel kind of drunk, and she liked it. She was having a blast.
She stumbled up the kitchen stairs to the bathroom. When she emerged, swaying slightly on her feet, Jared was standing outside of the bathroom.
"Hi Jared," she said. "Great party."
"Thanks," he said.
She lurched forward toward the stairs, her drink sloshing over the lip of its cup. Jared put out a hand to steady her.
"Thank you," she said, aware that her speech sounded a little slurred. Maybe she was drunker than she thought she was.
Jared took the cup away from her. "Maybe you need to sit down for a little while," he said.
"I'm fine," she said.
"Just for a little while," said Jared, leading her into the video game room she'd discovered earlier. He sat her down on the couch. She shut her eyes. Abruptly, the room began turning over and over. She snapped her eyes back open.
"You want some water?" Jared asked.
Maureen shook her head.
"Are you gonna throw up?"
Maureen shook her head again, harder this time.
"Okay," said Jared. He sat down beside her. "I'm really glad you came to my party."
"Frances said you specifically invited me."
"Yeah. I wanted to hang with you."
"Let me get you some water," said Jared. He disappeared for a moment and then returned with a glass of water. Maureen was still hiccupping. He handed her the glass. "I'm gonna teach you a trick," he said. "Take a drink, but don't swallow it. Just hold it your mouth, and then start swallowing little bits of it slowly."
Maureen followed his instructions. "Hey," she said. "That worked."
"It almost always does," said Jared.
"That's so cool. Thanks."
Jared just nodded.
Maureen clutched her glass of water, taking sips of it. "Where's Frances?"
"She's downstairs somewhere," said Jared. "Don't worry about it. I'll take care of you."
"I don't need taken care of."
"You're pretty drunk," said Jared.
"I'm really not that drunk."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I'm sure. I'm completely in control of myself."
"Okay, then," said Jared. He leaned over and kissed her.
Maureen tried to push him off. He was too strong. When he finally pulled back, Maureen glared at him. "What was that?"
"Was it bad?" said Jared.
Actually, it hadn't been bad. It had been very nice. Jared was really good kisser, but there was no way she was going to let him kiss her, because... because...
Jared was kissing her again.
Maureen spoke against his mouth. "No. Don't."
He didn't stop. His hand went into her pants, between her legs, and he began to expertly stroke her. And then she couldn't think. She was drunk, and it felt so good, and she kept trying to figure out why she was mad, but it was too much to process, and eventually she just gave up. Gave in. To the sensation of Jared's fingers. He unbuttoned her jeans and slid them off her, and she helped him. Anything to help him touch her more easily.
It seemed like his hands were everywhere. One between her legs, the other pushing aside her shirt and bra, caressing her skin, sending goosebumps up her spine. She was moaning, she realized. It felt good. It all felt so good.
Jared rolled her over onto her stomach, and he was behind her, his hands still on her everywhere. He whispered in her ear, "Do you want me to stop, Maureen? Do you want me to stop?"
Was he insane? "No," she said. "No. No, please."
But then it hurt. He was inside her, and it hurt. He pounded against her, quick and hard and she cried out in pain, but it was funny how pain sounded a lot like pleasure.
"Jared—" she said, but he was pumping her so hard it knocked the breath out of her and then it all started coming back. Why she wasn't supposed to be doing this. Trevor.
"Stop," she managed.
"Almost there," said Jared in her ear, and his voice was cruel and sinister, and she started to cry, but he either didn't notice or didn't care.
In a few minutes, it was over. Jared left the room and she sat on the couch, her pants around her ankles and her shirt pushed up, and sobbed.
Maureen wriggled back into her clothes and curled up on the couch. Her sobs rocked her to sleep.
Copyright (c) 2010 Valerie Chambers