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Treacherous

 

 

 

T r e a c h e r o u s

 

 

Malcolm B. Lambert

 

 

 

Treacherous

 

Copyright © 2016 by Malcolm B. Lambert

Shakespir edition.

 

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

The Calm Before the Storm

3 Weeks Ago

 

 

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty right? Ha. That’s a load of bull. See, everyone thinks they deserve the benefit of the doubt because the world is full of good people and all that. Is the world really such a bad place or is it the people in it that make it bad? That’s something you should think over. For three reckless, overconfident boys who think they are untouchable… well, they used to be. What? You mean you don’t know what happened? Well, you’re in for a little treat. Because I saw the whole thing. Where do I fit into all of this? That’s something you’ll just have to wait to find out.

It was a night of wild partying and innocent teenagers going buck wild in celebration of the end of summer and the start of a new school year. Anybody who was somebody got invited to the kick ass party where no adult supervision existed that night. Amongst the hormonal teenagers were the Untouchables—Holden Cotillard, Danny Scott and Nathaniel Engel. The hottest guys in school were always joined at the hip and it was likely that whenever you saw one, you were bound to see the other.

Holden with his exotic features, appeared as a classic overachiever, always the one to turn the smallest thing into a competition. How did I know? Well, it was the only thing he ever talked about. Next was Danny—he was a womanizer and didn’t mind flaunting his wealth around. When he enters a room he doesn’t walk—he struts. With those light blue eyes and dark hair, it’s no wonder the girls can’t get enough of him, even if there were rumors spreading around that he gave a girl an STD freshmen year. Then there Nate—the oddball of the group. Like the others, he was handsome but more in a quiet way. Also, he was into guys. It was no big secret that he had sworn off dating girls indefinitely. Surprisingly enough, he didn’t catch any slack for his lifestyle choice, probably because Holden went to bat whenever anybody made a joke about him.

No surprise that as the party raged on, the three boys mingled with their friends and kept a close proximity to each other. Holden watched mostly and kept away from all the alcohol being passed around. Danny helped himself until he was staggering around in a drunken state but not in an obnoxious matter. Nate was in a corner eye-stalking a shirtless guy flirting with a ditzy blonde twirling her hair around, throwing her breasts in his face. Poor Nate—always wanting what he can’t have.

“Man, this party blows,” Holden said, taking a seat next to his buddy Nate.

Nate chuckled. “Holden, I don’t even know why you even bother coming to these things if you don’t plan on having fun.”

“I’ll give you the short version,” Holden said, leaning back. “It gets me out of the house and besides, I need to blow off some steam.”

Nate shook his head. “I see. You’re lucky as hell, man. You’re a super nerd, yet you’re the most popular guy in school. How do you do it all? Smart pills?”

Both boys laughed out loud.

“Hell no, I don’t use drugs,” said Holden. “My parents would kill me twice.”

Nate turned and picked up a Corona and chugged it. “Don’t tell anybody this, but I actually miss my parents. I know it’s not like they’re dead, but they disowned me like it was nothing.”

Holden nudged him in the shoulder. “Dude, don’t get all sappy on me. Drink up until your parents aren’t even on your mind. Get wasted and have a good time. We’re going to be seniors, man!”

Nate cheered up. “You’re right. I need to get obliterated!” He chuckled and went back to his Corona.

“Am I missing something?” asked Danny, as he appeared out of nowhere in front of the two boys. “Holden, don’t tell me Nate’s trying to convert you to play for his team.”

“No, you homophobe,” said Holden.

“Good,” said Danny. “’Cause there’s way too much pussy to go around for anybody to be gay. I mean, look around. So many lovely ladies! Come tag team with me, bro!”

Holden looked at his watch and said, “You know what, normally I would, but it’s getting late and I have to get home before my mom starts blowing up my phone.”

“Dude your mom is so hot. Like, the hottest MILF I’ve ever seen.” Danny stared off dreamily, probably having a daydream of him and Holden’s mom getting hot and heavy.

Holden playfully punched Danny square in the gut. “Shut up. You disgust me, you know that?” He stood up and announced, “I came, I saw, I conquered, and now it’s time for me to bounce. I suggest you call a cab, Danny.”

Nate finished his Corona. “Hey, can I hitch a ride with you since we live in the same direction?”

“Yeah, no prob.

The two boys turned to leave when Danny shouted, “Hey, wait for me!”

Despite the two other boy’s brisk pace, Danny was able to walk fast enough and caught up with them at Holden’s Audi. He took two steps toward the grass, bent over and puked. “I call shotgun!” he called, loud enough to wake the neighbors if they weren’t already up from the loud ruckus going on in the backyard.

With Nate in the backseat, Holden slid behind the wheel and started up the engine. Danny went into talk mode, because he was an emotional drunk. The road was deserted. Out of the blue, Holden’s cell phone chimed loudly. Foolishly, he bent down to retrieve it, taking his eyes off the road for just a moment.

Just as he looked up to the road, he yelled, “Oh, shit!” It took barely a second to register a figure standing in the road, hands up to shield its face from the car’s high beams. He stepped on the breaks as hard as he could but it was too late. The figure collided with the car so hard that it cracked the windshield on impact. As the car screeched to a halt, there was the distinct sound of something rolling over the top of the car.

Horror-struck, Holden put the car in park and tried to catch his breath. “Everybody all right?” He asked, turning to face the backseat.

“What the hell was that?” Nate and Danny both asked.

Holden’s voice shook. “I think I hit something or someone….”

“Go check it out,” said Danny.

Hesitantly, Holden got out of the car and checked the damage. The windshield and grill was smeared with blood and on the ground lay a lifeless body of a kid about his and the rest of the boys’ age. His clothes were bloodied, his neck was turned at an odd angle—he was barely hanging on, Holden could tell, as the boy’s body trembled.

“Guys!” Panic was etched in Holden’s voice.

In a flash, Nate was by his side, kneeling on the ground. “Jesus, Holden! Is he dead?!”

“I don’t know!” Holden snapped, his voice shaking with fear. “He came out of nowhere! I swear I didn’t see him!”

“Calm down, bro,” Danny said, appearing on the other side of him. In the light from the car’s headlights, the unknown figure lying on the ground was sprawled on his back; what remained of his gnarled face was covered with blood, his eyes shut. Danny touched his neck with two fingers and waited. “He has a weak pulse.”

“Okay, that’s good. I can call the cops—”

“No you can’t!” snapped Danny. “Not unless you want to throw away your life, and not to mention mine or Nate’s. Get your head out of your ass!” He was on edge and it wasn’t from all the alcohol he had consumed earlier in the night.

Holden ran a hand through his dark hair frantically. “Shit, man, what are you saying? You want to me to just leave him here to die?”

“Yes! Pretend this shit never happened!”

Nate paced beside him, genuinely worried. He wasn’t built for situations like this. He took a deep breathe, and repeated the process. “I can’t believe I’m saying this but—”

“No!” Holden cut him off. “I am not leaving this guy to die! He needs medical attention.” Holden, always trying to be a Good Samaritan, ran to the car and retrieved his cell phone. Before he could dial the first 9 in 911, Danny yanked the phone from his hands and tossed it into the backseat.

“What the hell, Danny?” Holden yelled at him, grabbing him by the collar and throwing him onto the car, rage in his eyes. “Have you lost your mind?”

“Maybe,” Danny said coldly. “But one day, you’ll thank me for what I just did.” His chest was puffed out, eyes bulging like a mad man. He was not about to go down with a fight.

Holden let go of him and raced back to the man on the ground. This was too much. The blood, the stress, everything. Holden ran over to the grass and puked until his body stopped convulsing.

Danny was at his side again, determined to talk some since into his best friend. “We have to go. I am not going to jail over this bullshit!”

Nate chimed in. “Do you really want to throw away all of those years of hard work for one measly mistake?”

More tears fell from Holden’s eyes. “I can’t do it. I can’t leave him—”

Danny punched Holden right in the jaw.

“Come on that wasn’t necessary,” Nate snapped at Danny, but it wasn’t very convincing.

Not one to give up on a lost cause, Holden took off his shirt and pressed it against the guy’s bleeding wound, hoping to stop the bleeding or something. Still, there was so much blood. In seconds, his shirt was soaked.

Taking charge as always, Danny said, “We are going to get back in the car and pretend like this never happened. Tell no one. Understood?”

They nodded in agreement.

“Like it never happened.” They said it slowly in unison, daring to look each other in the eye.

They all stood there, glancing at the body, and then back at each other.

They piled into the car and went off to resume living their perfect lives as if nothing had went down.

If only things in life were so simple.

Chapter 1: The Beginning of the End

 

 

Holden Cotillard was in heaven—the kind that makes your toes curl. That’s exactly how he felt as he threw his head back and groaned. Carly Rae was doing a fantastic job relieving his stress. The new school year barely just started months ago and he was already feeling the pressure from juggling four AP classes to dealing with Key club, Math club, Amnesty International and French club had really started to weigh him down. All his friends told him he was crazy for taking on such a heavy load during his senior year at Miami Shores Prep but he didn’t mind. When you’re the best, you have to do go hard or go home. Speaking of hard, Holden had to switch his mind back to the present where Carly was smiling at him.

“Do you want me to stop?” she asked, massaging his equipment with the care of a pro.

“Don’t even think about it. You’re driving me crazy.”

She giggled and went back to work. The only sounds in his bedroom were the slurping sound coming from Carly and Holden enjoying the hell out of it. Instinctively, his free hand went to the top of her head as it bobbed up and down. Within a matter of minutes, all the pent-up stress was finally released and Holden felt ten times better. It was the best feeling in the world, compared to when report cards came out and his parents spoiled him with expensive gifts.

Carly tried to go for a kiss but he rejected her and instead opted for a snuggle session. As he laid back, he wondered how he could be so lucky; his parents were out of town and he was caught up with all of his assignments (as usual). Carly wasn’t his girlfriend. Although if he was ready to focus on something other than academics, she would be a great candidate. Friends with benefits were perfect for the both of them: she was unavailable because of her meathead boyfriend and Holden wasn’t looking for anything long term. But lately she’d been getting a little too personal and wanting to spend time outside of his bedroom. Not that it was a bad thing, but it wasn’t a part of their terms.

Rubbing her hands over his bare chest, she asked, “Holden, what are you thinking about?”

“That’s Holden the Great, to you,” he teased.

She responded with a light tap on his thigh. “Whatever. Tell me what goes on inside that big head of yours?”

“Which one?” Holden snickered.

She leaned onto her elbow and stared at him. “I’m serious, Holden. Talk to me about something other than how good oral sex is or how many points you scored in your last lacrosse match.”

What did she want to hear? That his dad was acting weird lately, that he was suddenly spending more time alone than with him and his mom? Did she want to know how much pressure was on him to continue to be his class valedictorian? Too bad. He wasn’t ready to share that with anybody but his boys Danny and Nate. They were probably out right now having a good time. Holden sighed heavily, hating where this was going. “Um, let’s see: my grades are cool. I got an A+ on that The Great Gatsby research assignment and I also got an A for the extra credit Macbeth project. I got extra points on that for being the first one to turn it in.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re such an overachiever. It’s exhausting just listening to you drone on and one.” Surprisingly, she rolled off his king size bed and walked over to the dresser where all of his many medals, awards and other accolades were on full display—well, at least the ones that his mom hadn’t framed and had mounted on every visible surface downstairs.

He watched as Carly’s eyes scanned the length of the table of mementos he’d collected from traveling all over the globe. Before she even picked it up, he knew she was going to pick up the twenty carat gold mini Eiffel Tower replica. His dad had bought for me when they visited his native country when Holden was nine to remind him of a part of his heritage. Right next to that was the flag of Africa, symbolizing his mom’s Ethiopian ancestry. Holden liked being reminded of his roots.

“Where did you get this?” Carly asked, holding up the Eiffel Tower. “It’s so cute! I’ve always wanted to visit Paris, the city of love.” Of course it was the city of love. His parents met during his mom’s senior high school abroad trip. It was love at first sight and the rest they say is history.

“My dad bought it for me on my ninth birthday. He’s very prideful of his childhood. Plus, it was the most expensive thing in the entire store, so he bought it just for the hell of it.” I shrugged like it was nothing. “You should see the necklace he bought for my mom from Cartier. She keeps it locked away in a safe and only wears it on their anniversary or some charity event where she knows there’s going to be cameras.”

“I think I’ve seen it before,” she said as she walked over to his desk where I do most of his studying. The desk held his laptop and other study tools. She grabbed a couple of books from his desk and began reading the titles. “…College Study Guide…Statistics…Advanced Chemistry.” She glanced back at me. “You do realize that you’re insane, right?”

“Really? I had no idea.” Holden said, sneaking up behind her and pulling her close to him. He liked the warmth of her neck, the way she smelled like roses. He ran his fingers through her dark curls, spilling down her back. With his free hand, he traced the edges of her panty line, felt the heat.

She turned around with a smile on her face. “You’re crazy, but not as much as I am about my favorite subject: anatomy and physiology—advanced of course.”

“Oh, really? I didn’t know that.”

She smiled as she put her hands on his chest and pushed him back. Luckily, his chair was behind him, which I think was her goal. With Holden sitting in the chair half-naked except silk boxer briefs, she straddled his lap, her short legs dangling over the sides. “I bet I can teach you a thing or two…”

“Hmm…I highly doubt you know more than I do,” he challenged. “But please, tell me more.”

Holden could see the challenge in her eyes, felt his boxers become restrictive. She positioned herself closer to him. “I can show you better than I can tell you.”

Instantly, her warm, soft, killer lips were on his. He probably set a personal record of mine in the short time that it took to unfasten her bra. Just as she found his flesh and Holden was ready to take the plunge, he heard his dad’s light French-American accent. “Excusez-moi.”

They both froze and turned towards the direction of his dad’s voice. There he was, standing tall as he leaned against the door frame, his eyes filled with amusement. This definitely wasn’t the first time he’d caught Holden with a girl in his room.

Carly shrieked, “Oh my God! I am so sorry, Mr. C!” She turned to him and whispered, “I thought you said they weren’t coming back until tomorrow night?” Quickly, she jumped out of his lap, grabbed her clothes and ran to his bathroom.

After sliding into his True Religion jeans, Holden said to his dad, “Come on in, Dad. The door was only closed for my privacy.”

Arms crossed, he laughed. “Didn’t we already have this conversation? The one where I told you not to bring your sleazy girlfriends home while your mother and I were away? I remember you being there.”

He didn’t even bother to apologize. At this point, Holden felt violated, not to mention flustered by the fact that he was so close to having another round of mind-blowing sex. At least this time his mom wasn’t the one who had walked in on him—he still had trauma from the time his mom saw him buck naked in the middle of sexual encounter. “It’s not like we were doing anything,” Holden lied easily. “We were just studying.”

“Didn’t look that way to me,” Mr. Cotillard said. “It looked like you were doing more than just ‘studying,’” he countered, even using air quotes.

Carly rushed out of the bathroom, fully dressed. After sucking up to his dad with another heartfelt apology, she promised to call me later and ducked out of sight. “Thanks, a lot, universe,” Holden grumbled under his breath.

Just then his mom ducked her head inside his room. “Hi, honey! Hitting the books hard as usual?” Her caramel complexion was glowing, which meant she either just bought another island at a steal or she just had another awesome encounter with Oprah. Her dark hair was swept off her beautiful face into a bun, with a strategically placed curl dangling freely.

Holden opted to go in for a hug but she declined. “No, no, sweetie. You smell like sex.” She glanced between Holden and his father. “Is there something I should know about? Tell me you didn’t get that girl knocked up?”

“No, Mom. I used protection—like I always do.”

Satisfied she wasn’t on her way to becoming a grandmother too soon, she sighed. “Cool. Did you go through that box of condoms already?”

“No,” Holden answered. Just to humor her, Holden went over to his nightstand, pulled out a box of condoms and emptied its contents on his bed: only four condoms left out of twenty. Oops.

His mom shook her head as his dad laughed and looked on proudly. “I’ll get you a new box on his way home from the office tomorrow. Try to take it easy this time.” She kissed his dad on the cheek as she turned to leave the room. “I need a glass of wine. You coming, Vince?”

“I’m right behind you,” his dad said, although he stayed put. He rubbed his hands together as he looked Holden squarely in the eyes. “We need to sit down and talk.”

“I thought we just did?”

He puts his hands in his pockets, a gesture that usually means he’s nervous or anxious about something important. “No, this is different.” His tone was serious, so Holden knew that whatever it was, it had been on his mind for a while and he needed to shut up and listen. When he closed his room door, Holden knew he was right.

“Dad, you’re starting to freak me out. Please tell me that you don’t have cancer or some or other life-threatening illness.”

He paused. “No, I don’t have cancer. But…”

Oh hell no. He didn’t like anything that started with the word “but.” He wasn’t ready to hear what was about to come out of his mouth. Holden held his breath as he spoke again.

“I’ve been seeing a neurologist for a few months…”

Oh God. Holden braced himself as best he could. “W-why would you need to see a neurologist? Is everything okay?”

He left Holden hanging in suspense. “Son, what I am about to tell you can never leave this room.”

Holden swallowed hard. “Of course. You have my word.”

“The reason I’ve been seeing a neurologist is because I have—”

Holden’s cell phone went off, filling the room with some stupid ringtone of a baby laughing up a storm. He didn’t bother to move, his feet were planted to the carpet. He ignored it. “Go ahead, finish what you were saying, Dad.” He’d just let it go to voicemail.

“It’s okay. See who’s blowing up your phone. Must be really important.”

Holden grabbed his phone off of the nightstand and looked at the caller ID. “It’s just Nate,” he told his dad, the phone still chiming.

“Answer it. He probably wants to ask out one of your lacrosse buddies.” Mr. Cotillard chuckled at his own joke and Holden almost joined in. Almost.

The phone stopped ringing by the time he got to it. Good.

Mr. Cotillard paused and said, “I think this conversation can be had at another time. It sounds like your friends need your help.”

“Dad, they can wait. I need to know what is going on with you.”

“We’ll talk later, I promise. I won’t be dropping dead anytime soon. Besides, I’m jet lagged and I could use a glass of wine before I go to bed.” Before he left he added, “Have you been watching the news lately?”

“Every now and then,” Holden said, which was partially true. “Why, what’s up?”

“Well, I’m surprised you haven’t heard the news yet, but a couple of months ago a kid from your school was struck in a hit and run. I believe it happened on the Fourth of July.”

Holden’s blood ran cold. He cleared his throat and fiddled with the drawstring on his pants. “That’s horrible. Do the police have any leads on who did it?”

“Not yet, but the police say the case is still open, no suspects. I have a feeling they won’t be closing the case until his parents get justice for their son.”

Holden swallowed hard, trying to fight back the memory from that night.

Mr. Cotillard shook his head. “Criminals are sloppy and they are bound to get caught. They deserve whatever comes to them for killing such an innocent kid…”

Holden was suffering from temporary cotton mouth and couldn’t find the words to speak.

Mr. Cotllilard paused on his way to the door and asked, “You drove straight home that night of that wild party, right?”

Again, Holden cleared his throat and faced his dad, hoping all traces of his deceit were erased. “Yeah, Dad. Well, technically I didn’t go straight home—I had to give the guys a ride home. I was the designated driver.”

Holden could see relief surface on his features. “Good. How are the boys Danny and Nathaniel? You guys haven’t hung out around the house since before school started. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything is cool. I’ve just been super busy lately.”

“Okay,” he said, holding the door open. “We will resume this conversation another time. For now, hit the books hard and stay sharp.”

When he closed the door, Holden heaved a big sigh of relief. Panic threatened to make an appearance but he wasn’t about to break down. He clicked on the flat screen TV mounted on the wall to all the news channels to see if he might catch a story about the hit and run from back in July but nothing was on. That was perfect because as the saying goes—no news is good news.

Holden grabbed his cell phone and scrolled through his contacts. He was about to fire off a text message to Danny to see if he had heard a peep but decided against it at the last minute. He was probably off in his own world doing his thing. Continuing through his contacts, he saw Nate’s name and decided to fire off a text message: Hey. Text me when you get this. It’s urgent.

Holden expected him to reply immediately but was waiting forever and no response came. Naturally, he threw himself into study mode to take his mind off of things. There was nothing like some complicated trig to ease his mind. Just as he was getting into a big problem, his phone chimed. Thinking it was Nate, he reached over and glanced at the screen. He was disappointed that it wasn’t Nate, but a little happy that it was from Carly. That is, until he opened the text message: We are done.

Short and to the point.

Holden was about to go back to his trig when he looked at the TV screen, which was muted. There on the screen was a photo of the boy he hit. Turning up the volume, Holden listened to the cute anchorwoman as she spoke into the camera:

“…Police have no leads as to what transpired that fatal night seventeen-year-old Charlie Wyatt was struck by a car and left for dead. They have canvased the area and no eyewitnesses have come forward. A memorial will be held tomorrow at the victim’s last attended high school. If anyone has any information, the police and family are asking that you please come forward to shed some light on this horrible tragedy….”

Holden clicked the TV off just to get the image of Charlie out of his mind but it was stuck there, burning into his skull. He tried to shake it but it was useless.

“I’m so sorry,” Holden mumbled to no one but himself. “I ran you over, Charlie, and I hope you can please forgive me. Please don’t die…”

Holden closed his eyes and one word that had enough power to induce more nightmares, ones he hadn’t told his parents or friends about because they frightened me to death. Just one word would haunt him forever: Coward.

Chapter 2: Speechless

 

 

As Nate Engel lay in bed that same night, his stomach knotted up. He needed to stop dwelling on the past and go on with his life, which currently included lying in his bed on a Friday doing absolutely nothing.

Turning the TV off, he swiveled from his desk to find Aunt May standing in the door way, almost as if she was watching him.

“Um, what are you doing in my room?”

“Nathaniel, I called you three times but you didn’t answer and I thought something was wrong.”

Nate stood tried for a smile. “I’m fine, Aunt May. Thanks.”

“From the way you were staring at that TV screen seemed liked it had your full attention. I thought you hated watching the news.” She eyed him askance. “Should I be worried?”

“No.”

“Nathaniel, it’s not normal for a boy your age to be stuck at home on a Friday night. Why don’t you hang out with Holden and that other handsome fella…Danny?”

Nate felt his blood pressure rise slightly. “Things are tense right now. It’s the start of our senior year and we just haven’t had time for each other.”

She grimaced. “Still, I think you should go have some fun while you can.”

Nate’s heart beat shot up again at the double meaning, not that she would ever know how much he was freaking out over something so trivial. But then again, Nate thought, maybe he needed to be punished for what he did. He got away with taking away someone’s son.

God, he felt nauseous. He needed some fresh air.

He needed to get out of the house. Maybe Aunt May was right. Grabbing his cell phone off the desk, he said to Aunt May, “A night out is exactly what I need.”

Minutes later he walked into a local pizzeria where his buddies from Miami Shores High were waiting for him at table. The smell of Italian food made his empty stomach grumble. When he reached them, Jenny Humphrey and Alec Dapper were making out. It took Nate obnoxiously clearing his throat several times to get them to break apart for some air. “You two should get a room.”

“Jealous, much?” Jenny teased, a big grin on her pretty face. With her strawberry blond hair and barely-there freckles, she could easily pass a model buts she was way too down to earth for all of that. Not to mention she was on the short side at five-feet three inches tall.

Nate grinned as he slid into to the booth. “You wish.” He grabbed the menu and only pretended to be interested. He needed any distraction possible to keep from looking up at Alec and his bow-shaped lips, the way his lean sun-kissed biceps peaked from under his taught t-shirt.

He shouldn’t be coveting after his friend’s straight boyfriend but was it so bad to look? It’s not like Alec was homophobic or anything. The guy pranced around the locker room naked all the time, even when it was just him and Nate in the room and he knew Nate was into guys. It was no big secret, heck the whole school knew. Still, it didn’t stop Alec from being the biggest tease ever—showing off his ripped physique in the locker room, times he would throw glances Nate’s way, find some excuse to “accidentally” brush up against his backside in the hallways, and let’s not forget the traditional slap on the butt after practice. Nate squirmed in his chair, trying to push the thoughts out of his mind. He was purely delusional, that’s all.

“Speaking of being jealous,” Alec said, his husky voice snapping Nate to attention. “I heard you were the only one who got an A on last week’s Lit test. How the hell did you pull that off?”

Trying not to stare into the hazel abyss that was Alec’s eyes, Nate rifled with the menu and shrugged his shoulders. “It wasn’t all me. I had some help from a friend.” A very good friend named Holden Cotillard who was currently at the top of his class and well on his way to an Ivy League education. If it wasn’t for him, Nate’s GPA would be a disaster. But then again, he also wouldn’t be feeling so guilty about what happened two months ago at the end of summer. After the accident, he isolated himself from the group and tried to stay as far away from Holden and Danny as possible. Yet, it only took a few days for them to resume their friendship but things just weren’t the same. But still, he couldn’t shake the feeling of overwhelming guilt and deceit. He was part of the cover up and hoped like hell that he could just move on with his life, as messed up as it was.

“You mean Holden Cotillard?” Jenny asked. “That guy is the hottest nerd I’ve ever seen.”

“Whatever,” said Alec flippantly. “I bet he lives off Ritalin in secret.” He paused and said, “You, him and Danny used to be real tight. They used to call you guys The Untouchables. What happened between you guys?”

Before Nate could answer, the waiter strolled over to their table to take their orders. Knowing he was going to end up hitting the gym before school, Nate went ahead and ordered a large slice of pepperoni pizza and Jenny and Alec ordered a small pizza for them to share. Lovebirds shared everything. As the waiter walked away, Nate’s eyes wandered to his butt, noticing the tightness of his curves and how well he filled those black jeans.

“Try not to stare so hard,” teased Jenny, giggling.

Being the gentlemen he was, Alec chimed in, “Want me to ask him for his phone number? I think I’ve seen him around school.” He was dead serious. Nate couldn’t tell which was scarier: knowing Alec was serious or actually considering the proposal.

Bad idea, Nate thought. “Nah, that’s okay. I like being single.”

Jenny scoffed. “You’re such a bad liar. You mean to tell me that you don’t want to cuddle with someone, go to the movies just to make out in the dark, and then have hot sex while your parents are at work?” She wiggled her eyebrows at Alec, and at the same time, began rubbing her hands all over him—his arms, chest.

Taking a gulp of cold water, Nate lied, “Not really.” He averted his eyes to his lap. That is until Alec spoke up, his voice low and teasing.

“Come on, there must be someone you’ve been pining over. If not the waiter, who have you been dying to hook up with?” No lie, Alec saw a twinkle in Alec’s eyes, even if it was just for a few seconds. The way his lips curled into a devilish grin hinted at something. Something that was only meant for Nate’s eyes. When Alec licked his lips, suddenly Nate felt like he was suffocating and he needed air desperately.

Taking a deep breath, Nate stood up and announced he had to use the bathroom, attempting to laugh but it came out tight and forced. He turned and all but ran to the bathroom to splash water on his face. What was wrong with him? Better yet, why did Alec have to be such a tease?

As if on cue, the bathroom door creaked open and in came Alec. More odd, he closed the door behind him and locked it. Hesitation lingered in the air before he walked over to Nate, his face just inches away. “Come here to hide out?” he asked.

Pulse racing, Nate held onto the countertop. “No. I just needed to think.”

“About what?” Alec prodded.

Feeling a twinge of irritation, Nate asked, “What are you doing in here? And why did you lock the door?” Then another thought crossed his mind. “Look, if you’re about to hit me, just do it fast and get it over with, alright?”

Alec’s voice was calm when he spoke. “Relax. I just want to talk, without Jenny around.”

“Look, whatever is going on between you and Jenny, please leave me out of it.”

Alec closed the space between them. They were so close Nate could smell his Polo cologne and the mischievous look in his eyes. And before he could even brace himself, Alec gently pulled his lips close to his until they smashed into each other, hard. Passionate. At first Nate was hesitant, but feeling Alec’s hungry lips fitting his like a missing puzzle piece made his instinct take over. Their tongues danced around, hands groped his lower back. The heat between them was rising fast and chaotic all at once—

Until there was a knock on the door.

Both boys broke apart, panting for air, their chests heaving.

As if he was snapping out of a daze, Alec shook his head. “Sorry,” he said, his voice rushed. “I shouldn’t have done that.” With that, he ran a hand over his dark hair, turned and stormed out of the bathroom, leaving Nate staring at his reflection in the mirror.

He touched his lips. They were plump and warm. He closed his eyes as confusion turned to anger then back to confusion. What the hell just happened? He stood there for several moments before coming to the conclusion that it was as Alec had said—it was a mistake. A mistake that could and will not happen ever again. Sure, it was hot and off the charts, set his skin on fire. The kiss was better than all the times he fantasized about it happening but that was it—just a one-time deal.

He had to remind himself of that when he returned to the booth where his slice of pizza had arrived—and Alec was back to cuddling up to Jenny, as if nothing had happened. And if he wanted his friendship with her and Jenny to continue, it had to stay that way. But what if he didn’t want that? What if he wanted to explore that side of Alec he had seen for a brief moment? Who cares if Jenny was boyfriend-less? She was a pretty girl and pretty girls are never lonely. Plus, it’s not like she and Alec were soul mates. They were teenagers. What could they possibly know about love?

“What are you smiling at?” Jenny asked. Her eyes were bright and curious. The girl was oblivious to everything, which made Nate laugh out loud.

“Nothing,” said Nate. “Just thinking about something stupid.” Jenny was so ADD that while she was busying playing with her iPad that she didn’t even notice the look that Alec gave Nate.

“Oh my God!” Jenny cried. “Come look at this.” She scooted over in the booth and Alec followed, leaving just enough space for Nate to slide next to him. Nate tried not to notice that their arms were touching and suddenly Alec’s left hand was slowly inching its way down his back.

Ignore, ignore, ignore, Nate chastised himself.

Bringing the iPad close, Jenny showed them the news article followed by a video clip of an anchorwomen talking. Nate’s heard skipped several beats when he noticed the caption: Fatal Hit and Run Update. Nate held his breath as the woman spoke into the camera saying, “Seventeen year old Charlie Wyatt was the innocent victim of a near-fatal hit and run. As most of you who have been following this story know that he was struck by a car and left for dead. A Good Samaritan called the police and paramedics reached Jackson Memorial Hospital just in time. Still, the police have no leads at this time and plead with the pubic for anyone with information on this crime to please come forward. Charlie’s grieving family would like to move on knowing that their son’s assailant has been brought to justice. That is all; please stay tuned for an interview with Charlie’s mother.”

Panic sank in, cementing Nate to the seat, not letting him move, let alone breathe. He thought that accident was long behind him. He’d moved on—somewhat. After all, he’d made a pact that night to keep his mouth shut. But seeing the story on the news made him feel horrible and guilty all over again.

“Are you alright, man?” asked Alec. He gently nudged his shoulder and placed a hand on Nate’s thigh under the table.

Nate shot up from the booth, nearly knocking into a waiter passing by. “You know what? I have to go.” He tried to conceal the panic in his voice but it was no use.

“Nate, please stay,” she pleaded. “I haven’t seen you in weeks. At least tell me what’s going on inside that head of yours.”

“I’m sorry but I can’t,” Nate said, pulling out a bill to pay for his pizza. “My aunt is really strict and if I miss my curfew, I’m dead meat. I’ll text you later.”

“I guess I’ll see you at practice,” said Alec. “Stay sharp.”

“Yeah, I’ll see you there.” Their eyes lingered for a second longer than necessary, but not so much that Jenny caught wind of it.

He had to get out otherwise he was going to explode. Once he was outside and made it to his Passat, a birthday gift from Aunt May for keeping his grades up while holding down a summer internship. It took everything inside of him not to lose his cool and breakdown all over again. They were in the clear because there was no physical evidence, let alone and witnesses to place them at the scene of the crime. In other words, they were okay. Clearly, the other two weren’t freaked out as he was because if they were they would have picked up the phone and called or sent him a text or God forbid, a freaking e-mail.

Plus, he had to deal with Alec and the kiss. Nope, he couldn’t think about that. Why torture himself? Unrequited love was pointless. Everybody knows that.

Suddenly, his phone chimed. He opened it to see he had a new text from Holden: Hey. Text me when you get this. It’s urgent.

Maybe Holden was freaked out after all. Nate fired off a response: What’s up? Have you been watching the news?

A response came back quickly: Yeah, It’s all over the place. Really depressing. Not sure how Danny is handling it or if he even cares. Are you attending the memorial tomorrow?

Memorial? What the heck was he talking about? Nate responded: A memorial for who and where?

Even quicker this time and with this text made Nate stare at screen until the words blurred: The memorial for Charlie, at school. I’m thinking about going. Will I see you there?

Nate didn’t respond, for something caught his eye. Around the corner, he could make out the distinction of a silhouette. Too dark to see, Nate craned his neck for a better view, and then there was nothing. Was someone watching him? And if so, where did they go so quickly? Surely, his mind was playing tricks on him. Probably just the after effects of a guilty conscience.

 

Chapter 3: Perception

 

 

Perception is everything. Which is why at around eleven that night, Danny Vanderbilt pulled up to a townhouse overflowing with drunken teenagers in his pearl-white Porsche. It was that time at the beginning of the school year where all the so-called smart kids were doing everything to stay on top of their perfect GPAs. Of course, that couldn’t happen without a little bit of help. That’s where Danny came in. He wasn’t always a giving person but his fellow classmates were always looking for the next best study aid—one that came in the form of a pill that helped them focus on their Honors and AP classes and college prep tests. Funny thing is, Danny didn’t like to consider himself a pusher or drug dealer—although that’s the technical term. He’d never sample his own product, what with his hate for school and anything that hindered his ability to think clearly. He was an entrepreneur after all.

Tonight’s party was being thrown by Chace Mead, a senior who only pretended to like his own parties because he wanted everyone to like him. His house was in Doral and you could tell by the size of his McMansion just how loaded his parents were. Drunken kids were stumbling along the sidewalk, the grass was littered with plastic cups, cliques lingered, laughing and pointing. The music pulsed from inside the house. Inside, someone offered Danny a beer but he waved it off, pretending that he was already tipsy. The room was filled elbow-to-elbow and Danny was begging to feel like he was about to be smooched to death or die from second-hand smoke. He coughed as he made his way around the maze of bodies, girls were prancing around out of their drab school uniforms and opted for miniskirts and skin-tight clothing that was sure to get them in trouble in more ways than one. Several of the girls tried to clamor at Danny as soon as he showed his face around the place.

“Oh my god, is that Danny? He’s gotten hot since last summer.”

“Is he dating anybody?”

“I’d like five minutes with him in a closet…”

Sure, the girls were beautiful and wasted, but he had only come tonight for one thing only, and that was to make his money and even pick up a few new customers. Making his way through the crowded living room, he checked his latest text message: I need 8 of those Smart Pills. Meet you around the back.

He slipped his phone back into his jacket pocket and made his way to the patio where things were a little quieter. A few people were smoking cigarettes and weed. Most of the kids Danny new from school, others from around the neighborhood. Glancing around, he felt a twinge of regret that he couldn’t enjoy the night with his boys Holden and Nate. Things just weren’t the same.

He couldn’t get all mopey and let it get the best of him. What he did was horrible, purely unconscionable and downright disturbing, but it wasn’t going to hinder his future. It was something that happened and he had moved on. Why couldn’t they just do the same and stop being pissed at him? Hell, it wasn’t like Danny was the one behind the wheel that night. Holden was the smart one but that night he was a fool. Images of that night echoed through his mind and he took a deep, calming breath to relax.

“Well, if it isn’t the infamous Danny Vanderbilt,” said a voice from his left.

Danny turned to see a tall guy he shared a couple classes with but never spoke to outside of school. He was kind of a loser, what with his Wal-Mart attire and five-dollar haircut. He was so pathetic Danny had to hold back from laughing in his face. “What do you want, dork?” No need to wrack his brain trying to remember his name.

Wal-Mart looked around nervously. “Um, I need you to hook me up.”

Danny stared at him for a moment. “Excuse me? Who do you think I am?”

Wal-Mart’s eyes danced around some more, avoiding Danny’s hard gaze. He lowered his voices as he leaned close and said, “Look, I heard you’re the guy who can get me some dexies.”

Danny chuckled. “Look, bro, I don’t know who you’ve been talking to or—”

Wal-Mart was bold enough to raise his voice. “I know you deal to people at our school so stop playing dumb with me. I want in.”

Danny looked at his watch. He had at least ten minutes before his customer was supposed to meet him for the exchange. He dug his hands into the coat pockets of his trench coat and said, “Come, walk with me.”

He looked confused. “What? Why?”

“Do you want the pills or not?” Danny could tell the guy was nervous and plain clueless about buying pills. Though he hadn’t been dealing that long, he had seen all kinds of kids approach him—smart kids pressured by their parents to maintain straight As, athletes in academic trouble who needed a boost to improve their GPA to stay on the team, and even the last minute crammers who needed a study aid to keep them focused longer. Then of course there was the newbies who came to him that only wanted to do it because everyone else was doing. He had the right to turn away anyone he wanted but when there was money to be made, who was he to say no?

Walking along the backyard, Danny asked, “Is this your first time, buying?”

Wal-Mart took a moment to respond. “Is it that obvious?”

“Yeah,” said Danny. “Besides, I don’t deal to just anyone. How do I know you’re not going to narc on me to the principal or to the cops for that matter?”

“Dude, I’m not that kind of person. Seriously, I just have a huge exam coming up and I’m drowning in Statistics. I’m a scholarship kid and I can’t afford to let my grades slip.”

“I feel for you, bro,” Danny said. “But I don’t deal to newbies. Not unless you have a legit referral.”

Wal-Mart stopped dead in his tracks and stared at Danny. “Are you kidding me right now? Dude, I need those pills like yesterday!”

“Calm down.” Danny paused and knew he was probably going to kick himself for this later on. “Look, how much money do you have?”

“Um, well, how much do I need?”

“I charge ten dollars a pill.”

Wal-Mart’s eyes bulged. “Jesus Christ, man! That’s crazy expensive!”

Danny shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Wal-Mart frowned. “Easy for you to say when you’re the one who invented the game.”

Danny couldn’t help but laugh at that joke as he glanced around, making sure no one was watching him. “So are you buying or not?”

Wal-Mart looked around nervously. “Yeah. I want six.” He fished a wad of bills from his wallet and handed it over to Danny in exchange for six orange triangular-shaped pills that he slipped into his pocket.

“Don’t be an idiot and try to take them all at once. You’ll have a heart attack before you even know it.”

“Thanks.” He turned he asked, “What’s the best way to feel it faster? Should I chase it with alcohol or crush it and snort it?”

Danny began walking away. “Sorry, bro, but I can’t help you with that. Do what you want. It’s totally up to you.” He was not about to miss his appointment on account of some rookie. With that, he turned and checked for the meeting spot they had agreed on. After a few moments, a short and curvaceous girl with bouncy dark hair walked up to him and kissed him on his cheek. Per the rules, she greeted him with a repeat of the text message she had sent him, as a safeguard. Satisfied, she handed Danny four twenty dollar bills and he discreetly slipped seven pills into the pocket of her jacket. “A ten dollar tip? How generous.”

Amber smiled back. “I have a weakness for hot guys.”

Danny grinned as he admired her perfect cheekbones, pouty lips and long, curly chestnut hair. Amber was so smart and pretty. He just didn’t see why a girl like her needed with pills to help her study longer. Between being the captain of the swim team and kicking ass it volleyball, she was definitely in the league to be voted Most Likely to Succeed. Danny couldn’t help but ask her, “Why do you need these? I thought you were on track to being class valedictorian, right up there with my boy Holden?”

She frowned. “B’s don’t cut it anymore. I’m taking five AP classes on top of the million things I’m doing. I have to stand out if I want a shot at my first choice college and a measly 4.0 isn’t going to cut it.”

“I wish I knew how that feels, to have all that pressure on you all the time.” He used to know what it felt like. Right up until his mom died and he stopped caring about school and his dad stopped caring about his grades. As long as he wasn’t in trouble, he was okay.

“You have no idea.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks again for the smart pills.”

“Anytime. Good luck on your next swim meet.”

As she walked away, Danny couldn’t help but think she would be a nice lay. Too bad it was never a good idea to mix business with pleasure. Still, he was horny and the night was young. He needed to blow off some steam since he was through dealing for the night. He ended up making out with two girls and then followed them to an after party on the beach where a lot of drinking and nudity ensued.

He shouldn’t have checked his cell phone for a new text message, otherwise he wouldn’t have seen that the hit and run incident was far from being swept under the rug as he had hoped. Even worse, a memorial was going to be held at the school tomorrow.

Shit, he was out this late on a school night? What the hell time was it?

Screw it. He didn’t want to know or think about anything besides the hot girls he was going to have sex with. Vodka-soaked gummy bears were passed around along with marijuana and before he knew it, he was wasted beyond belief. When he woke up the next morning, the sun was shining in his eyes and he was half-naked, save for his Calvin Klein boxers and a shirt. The people he had partied with the night before were passed out cold. Gathering his things, he got dressed and drove home in an effort to get home before his father left for work. He pulled up to the glass structure and made sure to be quietly as possible as he unlocked the door, disabled the alarm system and sneaked up to his room. Just as he was about to close the room door, his father’s voice rang out, “Hmm. It seems you barely beat the sun.”

Danny cursed under his breath as he took in his father’s work attire: a dark custom-made Armani suit and matching wingtip shoes to match.

Keeping his eye on his son, Danny’s father asked, “Where were you all night?”

“You stopped caring, remember?” He hoped his words stung just as much as the aftershave his father was wearing.

“Quite the contrary.” His voice was even. “I have a right to know where my son is and what he’s doing…and with whom.”

“Since when? You haven’t been a father since mom died so I don’t see why you’re so interested in being a parent now. I’ll be eighteen in a few months and then I’ll be out of your life for good, just like you’ve always wanted.”

“There’s no getting through to you so I’ll just say my peace and be on my way.” He looked Danny right in the eyes. “As long as you keep up your end of the deal, I’ll hold up mine.”

Danny sat on the edge of his bed, ready to fall into a deep sleep. “So far, I have been doing exactly as agreed.”

“Oh, really? So you’re not into drugs?”

On instinct, Danny bust out laughing. It was all he could really do not to straight up lie to his father’s face, neither could he tell the truth—not that he wanted to anyway.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your ridiculous accusation, that’s what’s funny. Whoever your spy is, they’re doing a horrible job.” So far he was doing okay—he hadn’t lie and he hadn’t actually admitted to anything.

His father grinned as he pulled out a tiny plastic bag, also known as dime bag on the streets, usually used by drug dealers. “So, where did you get this? The maid said it fell out of your pants when she was doing laundry.”

Danny opened his mouth to respond but his father cut him off.

“I don’t care what you do outside this house, but I will not have you bringing drugs into my home. I will not tolerate it. Do you understand me, Danny?” His ice cold cobalt gaze locked with Danny’s.

Danny wanted to lash out, tell his father to go screw himself. Instead, he figured it was better to keep his mouth shut. No need in added fuel to the flames. “Whatever,” Danny said flippantly. “I don’t do drugs—never have, never will.” That was the honest to God’s truth. Okay, maybe it was half-truth. Wasn’t like he believed in God anyways.

“Be clear,” his father said, “I don’t want to have this conversation again. Now go take a shower and get ready for school. You’ll get there one way or another if I have to drag you myself.”

When his father was gone, Danny lay in his bed for a long time, almost wishing that he was a drug user like some of his pothead friends. At the moment, he sure as heck could have used something to take him away from his troubles. Since he had no such luck and his father wasn’t going to drop dead anytime soon, he was just going to have to deal with it like a man.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4: The Girl with the Dead Eyes

 

 

 

Holden Cotillard had a plan: Graduate at the end of the year, go to Barry in the summer, graduate after three years with an undergrad in Bachelor of Arts and then another two years for his BA in Architecture. He’d work as an intern for his father’s company, get some experience and eventually take over for his father. All he had to do first was get through high school, which to him was a tiny blimp on the radar. To most people, high school seemed to stretch on forever and they were determined to hold onto whatever they could, trying to stay young forever. But Holden couldn’t wait to graduate from high school. He’d been around most of his classmates since they were in grade school, watched them change into people he hardly recognized. The only people who knew that remained the same were Danny and Nate, well, Danny more so than anyone else. Then again, Nate had also changed drastically, going from banging hot girls in middle school to hooking up with guys during freshman year.

Holden thought about this as he sat at a table by himself during lunch, watching his fellow classmates hustle about, stuffing their faces with so-called healthy food that he wouldn’t dare feed to his Rottweiler. His tray of meatloaf, mash potatoes and green beans was making his stomach hurt. Disgusted, he decided he was going to drive across the street to the taco chain restaurant and order him something off the Fast and Fresh “healthy” menu. The place was crawling with students who were smart like him to be more careful about what they were putting in their bodies.

He ordered a grilled steak soft taco and a burrito supreme. That should hold him over until dinner. He picked a seat close to the entrance so he could people watch in between looking over class notes. He dug into his backpack and began spreading out his homework. So far: a 10 page essay for AP English, a worksheet for a model of a roller coaster for Physics, a reading assignment from French Honors class along with a paper written completely in French and a ton of Calculus solutions to solve. Holden fueled his brain with some food, then dug into math, since it was the one he found easier of all. Math he understood because it was either right or wrong. People on the other hand? He didn’t understand them so well, like why the girl sitting across from him was watching him with an intensity that tore him from his homework.

Holden tried to go back to his math and when he looked up again, he saw her walking towards him. At first he couldn’t decide whether he was mistaking her for someone else, but he knew her face looked familiar. When she approached his table and stopped in front of him, he knew exactly why. She was Rebekah aka Crazy Becca from Miami Shores Middle school. He had seen her around in school but went out of his way to avoid socializing with her.

“Hey,” she said, her voice low. “I know we haven’t spoken since like forever but I’ve had a horrible week and my doctor says I need to make new friends.”

Holden glanced around self-consciously. “Um, okay.”

After sitting down, she asked him what he was working on and then she got all sad and brought up summer. “My summer sucked. I had to go to summer school and then my friend Charlie got hit by a car—now he’s in a coma.”

Holden paused. “Wait, you mean the Charlie everyone’s been talking about?”

She tucked a strand of her dark hair behind her ear. “Yeah. I was close to him. Like, really close.” Her eyes began to water and something inside Holden felt that she was trying to tell him something.

Almost certain of what she was going to say before it slipped out of her mouth, Holden thought long and hard before he asked, “Um, just how close were you?”

She sniffled and looked Holden in the eyes. “He was my boyfriend.”

Alarm bells went off inside his head, telling him to run for his life and get as far away from this girl as possible. This wasn’t right. How had the universe thrown him smack dab into the person that was once the girlfriend of the guy he’s killed? This could not be happening. Even worse, something—guilt or pain—gripped his gut. “Uh, I didn’t know Charlie that well, but he seemed like a nice guy.”

She started to cry so Holden handed her a napkin. “Thanks,” she said. “Charlie was a sweetheart. And even though we were in a long distance relationship, I knew he was special. Why would someone do that to him? They just left him on the side of the road like road kill.”

Holden cleared his throat. “Yeah, that was, uh, pretty awful. What kind of person could such a thing?”

As if something set her off, her eyes clicked with Holden’s for a full minute. There was something dark behind her frozen stare. Her words ice cold when she spoke. “I have a feeling whoever did this is going to pay with their life. I can almost guarantee it.”

Holden didn’t know what else to that because he was honestly scared. She couldn’t honestly be talking about him…could she? Nah, he was just being paranoid. As Holden gathered his thoughts, she Rebekah stood up and announced, “I’m sorry. I have to go.”

Holden was left taken aback has the watched Rebekah leave. Something just didn’t feel right but he couldn’t put his thoughts together. Rebekah was in pain and it was completely his fault. Shit, why did he have to eat lunch off campus today? Why couldn’t he just grab something from the stupid salad bar?

Calm down, he chastised himself. There was no point in getting paranoid over some weird girl he just met. Sure, he felt bad for her and a part of him worried that her last words left an ominous feeling but he’d just have to get over it. No one was there that night and Rebekah couldn’t possibly have been there to witness what happened. If so, why not just come out and confront him? Why not call the cops and have him and his friends arrested? There was one simple answer: She wasn’t there and didn’t see a thing. Holden needed to put the hit and run behind him and move on with his life, starting by getting a jump on his homework.

The sad, haunted look on her face crossed his mind and he couldn’t stop thinking about her, even as he walked out of his last class of the day. He felt good, for he had managed to complete most of his homework during study hall. He was going to head to the multipurpose room to meet up with the French club for their weekly meet when he remembered the memorial for Charlie was going to start. He felt compelled to go. Instead of going right away, he waited until a small crowd had built so that he could hide in the back. The flags were at half-mast and the designated area for Charlie was covered with flowers, cards, and pictures of Charlie in recent pictures. Immediately, this made Holden think back to the night of the accident. He could clearly remember the way Charlie’s face had been cut up from the windshield, his eyes barely open—he was a mess. It was a wonder he was able to recognize him then. He could only imagine the pain and heartbreak his family must have felt when they had to identify his body.

Snap!

Something made Holden’s head snap to his left. There was the funny sensation that someone was standing behind him. When he turned around, no one was there. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up and he just knew that someone had been watching him.

Holden turned back to the memorial and listened as people took turns remembering their fondest memories of Charlie. Some talked about how he was no Romeo, but he had a heart of gold and didn’t want to stand out. He was a hardworking kid hoping to get into Yale on a full scholarship.

“That’s bullshit,” someone had said next to Holden. It was a tall guy Holden recognized from Amnesty International Club. “Everybody’s talking about him like he was a fucking saint. Ha! He was far from it.”

“I know, right?” said his buddy standing next to him. “If only they knew that he was taking Adderall to keep up with his grades.”

His friend scoffed. “Cheating on the SATs and putting on a front like he won that scholarship on merit.”

Whoa, Holden thought to himself. Where had that tidbit of info come from? Maybe the old saying was true: Looks can be deceiving. So Charlie may or may not have been the innocent, loser kid everyone thought he was.

The two started talking again and Holden listened up. “Don’t believe me? Ask my boy Danny,” said the tall one. “He and I used to deal to Charlie all the time, especially right up until he died.”

“What happened before he died? Wasn’t he rushed to the hospital a couple of times before the End of Summer party?” his friend asked.

“Yeah. He was cramming a bunch of summer classes at Miami Dade College and I guess he couldn’t handle the load, so he took a shitload of Adderall and damn near overdosed. Twice in a twenty-four hour period.”

“Holy shit,” his friend exclaimed.

The boys quieted down when a teacher walked by. This gave Holden the opportunity move up to the front for a better vantage point. After listening to the boys talk, he wondered if what they were saying were true. If that was the case, his perception of Charlie was slowly changing from timid smart guy to sneaky fraud. Holden loathed people who turned to drugs, especially when it came to using them to get ahead in class while people like him had to work hard to get their A’s. The way he was brought up, cheating was considered unacceptable. His father was always riding him to be the best, never give less than 100% at all times. He liked that his father pushed him because it meant that he cared about him and wanted him to have a bright future and he would be prepared to face anything the world threw at him.

He thought back to Charlie and wondered what drove him to wander the streets late at night by himself. Was he in his right frame of mind that night or was he higher than the Empire State building?

Holden couldn’t take any more of the stories and the crazy thoughts running through his mind. He began to walk away and saw her before she saw him—Rebekah. She looked distraught and all around just horrible. “Hey, Rebekah,” Holden greeted.

“This is so hard,” she said, her voice low. “I can’t be here. No matter how many tears I shed or how hard I cry, I know it’s not going to bring back Charlie. God, I miss him so much.”

Not sure what to say, Holden blurted out, “I lost my best friend when I was thirteen.”

Rebekah’s eyes found his. “His name was Teddy…And yes, he was a stuffed animal.”

Rebekah looked at him for a moment, and then her face lit up like a Christmas tree as she exploded with laughter. Relieved, Holden joined and laughed too.

When she was all giggled out she wiped her nose. “This is so embarrassing. But thank you. I really needed that.”

“No prob.” He looked down at the ground.

Her voice was hopeful as she asked, “Are you doing anything later? I only ask because I’m new to this area and you’re the nicest person I’ve met since…”

“Uh,” Holden scratched the back of his neck. Was she asking him on a date? “Well, I have a few club meetings after school and then I have lacrosse practice.”

“So your schedule is jam-packed. Sorry I asked…” she turned and started walking away.

“I can try to get out of practice early.”

“You don’t have to do that. I just thought we could hang out or something. Anything to take my mind off of all of this,” she said, pointing to the memorial site.

“Well, if you want to watch me kill it on the field, practice starts at four-thirty.”

She smiled. “I think that sounds cool. Maybe afterward we can go to the mall or something?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

She was still smiling as Holden left for his Amnesty International meeting. He was smiling as well, which was pretty twisted. He was a horrible person for even considering hanging out with the girlfriend of the guy he (accidentally) ran over with his car. She was pretty and they were just hanging out. There was no harm in that. Her grief was too much for him to overlook and if hanging out with her for an hour or so would help her, he couldn’t refuse.

His father would want him to do it because after all, it was the right thing to do.

Chapter 5: Easy Does It

 

 

Nate was able to make it through the majority of the day in a blur, participating in class only when he was called on and keeping his head down. Normally when lunch period rolled around he would grab lunch off campus with Holden. Today he wasn’t feeling up to it for some reason. Instead, he decided to stop by to see his JROTC instructor. Colonel Young was a cool teacher and was always around for sound advice. When Nate entered his office he was watching some old western on the flat screen TV. “Hey, what’s up?” Nate greeted when he entered the classroom.

“What’s up Engel?” Major Carey said, muting the TV. Despite his age, he had no qualms about keeping up with slang.

“Nothing much. Just stopping by.”

“What happened? Did your friends ditch you?”

“Nah, more like I ditched them. I’m just not feeling particularly friendly today…”

Young studied him. “You seem like you’ve got something on your mind. Are you still worried about getting accepted into the Academy?”

“Yeah, sort of,” Nate said after a while. That was part of the reason. He didn’t need to go into the horrible details about what had happened last night. “I’m worried that out of thousands of applicants, that I won’t be one of the twelve hundred to get accepted. On paper I’m the perfect candidate, but in reality, I suck.”

Major Carey said, “Are you kidding? You’re one of my best students. You have the mental and physical capacity to be a leader. You have to start believing it for yourself.”

Nate sighed. “True dat…”

Major Carey paused. “On another note, I’ve been hearing rumors around campus about you…the kind that can ruin your future as a naval officer.”

Nate sucked in air. “What kind of rumors?” he asked, although he already had a feeling of what they were.

“Well, it is none of my business what you do in spare time…I just thought I should bring it to your attention that your fellow peers seem to think you are into hooking up with guys.”

Nate almost couldn’t bring himself to look Major Carey in the eyes. But then he remembered how Major was like a second father to him and he wouldn’t judge him as harshly as his peers would, or even the military if they knew. “What are you asking, Major?”

“I’m not asking anything. I’m just making sure you are careful about what you do outside of school. Sure, the military has the don’t ask, don’t tell policy but it can hinder your chances of getting into the academy. You’ve come so far and I don’t want to see you disappointed because of a careless mistake.”

Nate knew all too much about disappointments. Ever since he was child his father considered him one big disappointment after another: he didn’t inherit his dad’s fascination with collecting vintage cars, fishing or any of the other lame activities he tried to get Nate to like. Then over a year ago when Nate confessed to being gay, his father and mother disowned him—quite literally. Not being able to handle having a gay son, he was pawned off to his Aunt May so she could be the ones to deal with his “gayness” as if it was some kind of contagious disease. Some parents they were. If it hadn’t been for his aunt and Major Carey, he would have given up on life many months ago. Though he recovered from the betrayal, it still stung every time he thought about it.

Nate had always knew he was secretly attracted to guys. But in order to protect himself from being bullied and not wanting to lose friends, he dated random girls between middle school and freshmen year but it all changed for him when he met an older guy at college party. That night things changed and he couldn’t even blame it on alcohol or drugs because he was the only sober person there, besides Holden. He mingled and flirted and then came the tall, handsome guy who epitomized every girl’s fantasy crush: tall, dark and handsome—not to mention he had a killer physique. He pulled Nate to the side, and after a dare to kiss him, Nate was compelled to take things further. The next morning he woke up in the guy’s bed, introduced to a side of himself he always knew was there—and there was no way he could go back.

Nate sighed and said, “Nothing is going to get in my way of getting into the Naval Academy. I just have to keep my eyes on the prize, no distractions.”

That was all good and well in theory but not so much in practice. He had to endure Alec’s stares as they worked up a sweat in gym class during an intense basketball game. By the end, Nate couldn’t take his gaze of off Alec’s glistening skin as biceps flexed when he made the winning shot. Nate’s team loss but he was only playing the game to keep up his semi-athletic figure in shape and also so he could get his class participation credit for the day. Not trying to be caught lusting after someone he knew he couldn’t have, Nate took a quick cold shower, got dressed in record’s time and left the locker room before anything could happen. When he exited his last class of the day her remembered there was going to be a memorial for Charlie and decided to check it out. He needed something to take his mind of off Alec, even if the memorial was going to be depressing.

He felt the mood as he joined his classmates at the designated area and watched them drop off items: teddy bears, candles, flowers, cards and other stuff with Charlie’s picture on them. Several girls hung in tight circles as they cried on each other’s shoulder in-between saying nice things about Charlie.

“He was so sweet,” a dark-haired girl said as she placed a candle down. “He never hurt anybody. Why do bad things have to happen to good people? It’s so not fair.”

“I know it sucks,” a girl said next to her. “But the bastard who did this to him will get what they deserve.”

A shiver ran up Nate’s spine that had nothing to do with the weather. Was he being paranoid or did he feel like someone was watching him? He turned every which way and no one was really looking at him—except for one particular set of eyes: Alec.

With a confident stride, Alec was standing next to him. “Surprised to see you here,” he said, closing the space between them.

“Yeah, I can say the same about you,” Nate said shyly. He stuck his hands in his pockets to keep his hands tame, lest he’d be unlikely to reach out and touch Alec’s skin, just to see how firm his biceps were.

Alec’s eyes were full of intrigue as he asked, “Did you know that guy Charlie?”

“Not really,” Nate said honestly. “I may have seen him at a few parties and we had some classes together but we weren’t tight.”

Alec nodded. “I didn’t know him either.” He glanced at the memorial and then back at Nate. “Maybe we should hang out sometime.” And by hang out you mean something else, Nate thought wickedly.

He couldn’t handle being so close to Alec, not after that kiss. He couldn’t think about anything else. Well, that and Colonel Young’s words about rumors spreading. He couldn’t get Alec caught up in his mess; that would only end in disaster and Alec would never forgive him. More so, he would never forgive himself.

With a heavy heart, a frown formed on his face. “Sorry, Alec. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Um, maybe some other time?”

Alec looked wounded, but recovered with an impish smile. “It’s cool, man, I understand.” Out of the blue his cell phone rang. He held up the phone, showing Jenny’s face on the screen. “I better take this. Guess I’ll see you in class.” He gave a heart-stopping wink before answering his phone and heading off in the opposite direction, looking over his shoulder as he went.

It took everything inside Nate not to call after him, to stop him from walking away. But he knew it was for the best.

He had to let Alec go.

Chapter 6: Hustle

 

 

At eight am the next morning, Danny rolled out of bed with a hard-on and was in serious need of a blow job or one of his girls willing to par take in a quickie. He wasn’t above masturbation. It’s just that everyone but virgins knew that there was a major difference between getting your rocks off with your hand and doing it with a real girl. He preferred the real thing any day. He made his boner disappear by thinking of all the homework that was sitting on his desk, waiting for him but he had other plans. Before he had the chance to step in the shower his phone rang. He grabbed it and looked at the caller ID; it was his friend Liam. “Hey, what’s up, bro?” Danny asked in between stifling a yawn.

“Do you know what time it is?”

Danny scoffed. “Of course I do. You know any girls that give good head?”

“Why aren’t you in school? Do you realize what day it is?”

Danny made his way to the bathroom and turned on the shower’s hot water. “Not really. Do I have a test or something?”

“Or something,” Liam said. “That freshmen you usually get your supply from didn’t get his prescription filled like he was supposed to.”

Danny sighed. “Well, that’s why I have my own prescription. And besides, I have backups.”

Liam sounded relieved. “Okay, cool. Wait—how did you get your own prescription of Adderall? You don’t have ADHD…or maybe you do.”

Danny didn’t feel like going into detail so instead he gave him the short version. “It was easy, dude. I just went to my buddy’s shrink and I told her I was having problems concentrating in class—it was all rehearsed by the way.”

Liam laughed. “Yeah, most of them are. So, are you coming to any of your classes today? I haven’t seen you at all this week.”

“Yeah, I’ll see you at lunch.”

“Dude, that’s not a class.”

Danny stripped out of his t-shirt and boxers. “For me it is. Gotta go.”

Danny tossed his cell phone on the counter, then jumped in the shower to let the steam and hot water give him a proper wake up. Once he was showered and doused in Dolce and Gabana cologne he put on his stupid school uniform. He checked his little brother Brandon’s bedroom and he was already gone. His dad was nice enough to leave his some breakfast on the stove, which he ate in his car on the ride over to his spot. His spot was the old library where a lot of kids from the nearby public school would come to use the computers and check out the lame books inside. The others who came were his customers. As per usual his routine, Danny checked his inventory. He had several bags of pills which he knew would sell out before lunch was over and he would be rolling in the dough—and richer than the schmucks who worked part-time jobs after school for minimum wage. He didn’t have a problem working a minimum wage job—it just wasn’t for him and he didn’t like the idea of slaving away for crappy pay.

Instead of being at school wasting his time learning crap he wasn’t going to use out in the real world, he was sitting in his convertible waiting for a hit when a girl who was well-known for sleeping with any guy who would give her a second look, made her way to his car. “Hey, Danny,” she cooed. “Looking sexy as always.”

“Hey, Kendall,” Danny said in a monotone voice. Since she was dressed in a pair of skin-tight jeans and a halter top with no bra, he couldn’t pay her a decent compliment. Instead he just went with, “You look…nicer than usual. What do you need?”

Leaning against his car door, she said, “I need to buy some Ritalin for a friend. He’s too chicken shit to buy it himself.”

“And what’s this friend’s name?” Danny asked, whipping out his cell phone.

“Drake. He buys from you all the time.”

Just to confirm, Danny looked up the guy’s name in his cell phone contacts and saw the guy she was talking about. Sure enough, he had indeed been a loyal customer and went so far as to send a text message. Still, Danny called him up anyway just to confirm that he really sent Kendall to buy for him. After a thirty second phone conversation, Danny handed over the product and tucked a wad of cash into his console. Seeing that Kendall hadn’t left, he asked, “Do you need something?”

She tried to smile at him in a sexy way but it came off like she was trying way too hard. “Yeah, I need you to fuck my brains out. Think you can do that?”

She had the body of a future porn star or at the least, a high-priced call girl. He didn’t need to think twice before he grabbed a condom and had her moaning in the backseat. After two rounds of hot sex, she went her way and Danny got back on his post, which was in full swing by lunch period when he drove to Miami Shores Academy. The cafeteria was watched by too many teachers so he stuck to the student parking lot where mostly upperclassmen went to hang out. His cell phone was blowing up as soon as he parked his car. Within twenty minutes he had sold half of his three hundred pills. He got such a thrill of fast money and being on top, being the go-to-guy.

By the time lunch was over, he was completely sold out of Ritalin and that left a lot of people pissed off. He wasn’t in control of the supply and demand—just the supply part. This was way too easy, Danny thought to himself. Way too easy.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7: Trust

 

 

The accident was behind Holden and that’s all that really mattered.

Sure, he felt a little guilty that he was living his life while Charlie was in a coma fighting for his, all thanks to Holden not paying attention that night. He sighed as he sat in his usual spot at Café, Miami Shores premiere spot for the greatest coffee on the planet. Also, it was the best spot to get some studying done while watching his classmates. People watching was interesting, especially right before morning classes. From his spot, Holden counted exactly four girls shortening their skirts after their parents dropped them off. He didn’t understand the logic of some girls. He found himself thinking about Carly. Even though she made it plain that she was over him, he wanted to know why. He wasn’t a bad guy. Maybe he was a bit of a bookworm and he liked keeping his grades up, but Holden Cotillard was the most popular boy in school. All his classmates knew it too. That’s why they copied off his pressed uniform, tried to steal his haircut. And on top of that he was nice, down to earth. What girl didn’t want that in a guy?

Maybe he should just get over her and move on. They had only been on a couple of dates and besides the occasional hookup, that was all they had in common. Sex, sex, sex. Yes, the sex was super-hot, but Holden just knew there was more to a relationship than that. He wanted to get know a girl better, hang out places other than his bedroom or the backseat of his car for that matter. Was he really asking too much?

Then he got to thinking about Danny’s situation. If it was truth that there was a snitch, Danny would either have to give up dealing or risk getting expelled or worse, facing charges. Danny really had no real reason to be selling pills to his classmates, but Holden figured it was just a distraction to avoid dealing with his mother’s death. She was fairly young, somewhere in her mid-thirties when she succumbed to an aggressive form of breast cancer. It literally came out of nowhere and by the time she was diagnosed, the doctors couldn’t do anything for her. Holden was there for Danny as he lost his mother—the one person who ever cared about him more than life itself. He had his father, but with his crazy work schedule, the might as well have been considered roommates. That left Danny to look after his younger brother Brandon. He tried to be a positive role model but somewhere down the line, Danny stopped caring about school and dived head-first into the fast lane. All Holden could do was preach but eventually he stopped doing that. Danny was his best friend and although he hated seeing him in pain, it seemed that dealing somehow made him into a different version of himself that was cooler.

Holden sighed. How was he going to deal if Danny got caught? What could he do?

His stomach rumbled. When was the last time he ate? He was famished. Maybe he could take a break from studying and thinking so much. As he went to put his books away, he heard a familiar voice behind him. He turned around to see Rebekah approaching his table.

She seemed shy as she sat across from him. “So, uh, what are you working on?”

Holden helped up his Physics textbook. “Just double-checking my work.”

“You mean triple-checking?” Rebekah giggled.

Holden found himself smiling. “Yeah, I guess that works too.”

Laughing, Rebekah looked past Holden shoulder at a group of girls, then back at him. “I heard you’re going to Harvard. That’s awesome.”

“Yeah, that’s the plan—or should I say my father’s plan since it’s his Alma mater. It’s a family tradition, even though my mom went to Dartmouth. Sorry, why am I boring you with my lame family history?”

“No, it’s cool. Most kids at this school will probably follow suit just like you are. I wish I had that kind of money. But who knows, maybe I’ll get a scholarship or something like Charlie did.”

That stopped all the moment for just a moment. Holden did his best to keep his composure. He took a sip of his cold coffee and looked around. Who was he kidding? He couldn’t avoid talking about Charlie if he wanted to, at least not with Rebekah around. And a part of him felt indebted to her.

Holden tried to clear his head of the things that had been said about Charlie the other day at the curb, which could have just been idle gossip. He didn’t really know Charlie like that, much less the guys that were talking about him.

Before he could stop himself, he asked, “Um, did Charlie have a problem with pills?”

“What?” Rebekah, asked softly. “Why would you ask me that?”

Holden waited a beat. “Nothing. I mean, I heard some rumors about Charlie. They say he wasn’t the nice guy everybody thinks he was.”

Rebekah looked at Holden for several moments. “That’s not surprising.” She looked away, then back at Holden. “What about you? Haven’t you ever done something you wouldn’t want anyone to find out about?”

His heart sped up. “Like what?”

She held his gaze. “I don’t know. Cheated on a test? Thrown a party while your parents were out of town?”

“No way! Never.”

Rebekah leaned back in her chair. “Wow. It must be exhausting being so perfect all the time.” She grabbed her bag. “I dint think I can be friends with someone so pristine. Wouldn’t want to get any of my dirt on your squeaky-clean image.”

What the hell was she talking about?

Before Holden could wrap his mind around her words, the group of girls that were standing near the wall came over to his table and paid no attention to Rebekah as the leader sat with her thigh dangerously close to Holden’s face. “What’s up, smart guy?”

Holden smiled at the long-legged brunette. “Uh, just hanging out.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I need a study buddy. Know anything about biology?” The way she said it implied she was talking about a whole lot more than science.

“Um….”

Rebekah jumped out of her seat and declared, “Bye, Holden. I can see you’re busy.” She glared at the girls as she turned to leave.

Holden felt a twinge of remorse as he left the girls and caught up with Rebekah. By the time he caught up with her she was near the student parking lot. “Hey, where are you headed? School isn’t over yet.”

She stopped and faced him. “I need to clear my head.”

Holden looked around, despite the fact that there was no one around, except for the school security guard reading a magazine from his cart. Holden couldn’t believe his own words as he asked, “Want some company?”

The best way he could explain to himself why he was at a sushi restaurant instead of attending class was because he felt guilty. Plain and simple. No better way to explain that Rebekah told him Charlie was a big fan of sushi and it was the very same place they met. There was no backing out of whatever relationship was building between them. Not when he was started to feel some kind of connection to her.

They had talked about Charlie, or Rebekah had done all the talking, as if he was already dead, until Holden couldn’t take it anymore. He began asking her about herself. She sat her California roll aside and revealed some stuff about her past, mostly boring stuff. Her parents used to make her compete in beauty pageants until she was too old. Her mom was a homemaker who gave up teaching and her father worked at a big company until he was fired a few months ago.

“My dad worked at the company for eighteen years only to be let go. After that we lost everything and practically had to live out of a motel.” She wiped her eyes. “Luckily I had Charlie by my side to get me through it.”

“Sorry to hear about that. What happened to your family sucks.” Holden couldn’t imagine a life like that—one minute everything is peachy until it shatters and you’re holding onto scraps. Sure, his parents weren’t filthy rich—maybe they were—but he learned the value of hard work from his dad who taught him to never rely on anyone but himself. So he always challenged himself in school and everything else to be the best.

Then a sudden thought came crashing into his mind: How was he going to be the best if he was skipping school? What would his parents say when they found out?

Alarmed, Holden stood up from the table. “I’m so sorry, Rebekah but I have to go back to school.” He shook his head, as if that would make him feel better. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I thought we were having a good time?”

“Yeah, we are. I just don’t want to fall behind in my classes. Maybe we can hang out after school?”

She looked sad but nodded. “Okay. Guess I’ll see you later.”

Holden paid for their sushi and left in a hurry. He raced back to campus and managed to get there before he missed too much. Unfortunately, after school he had a bunch of assignments to catch up on. The work was nothing compared to the fiery look on his father’s face when he came home. It was well past seven o’ clock when he was called into the den. Standing up, Mr. Cotillard asked, “What were you thinking cutting class?”

He didn’t have a minute to come up with a reasonable lie, so he just told him the truth. “Well, dad, I got carried away. I was off campus studying with a friend and I lost track of time. I’ve already got my make-up assignments.”

His dad was about to turn off the TV when a news reporter began talking about Charlie’s condition, saying that he was still on a breathing tube and that doctors were out of options. Basically, it was up to Charlie to fight and hope that his body would heal. Gladly, his Mr. Cotillard turned off the TV and sat down again. “I’m glad you’re on top of things, Holden. Because one day I’m going to need you to run the firm.”

Mr. Cotillard was serious as a heart attack. Yet, Holden still found himself scoffing at the idea of seeing his father step down anytime soon. “Dad, why are you talking like that? You told me retirement is for old, lazy people.”

He rubbed his chin. “I know. However, things have changed my perspective just a little bit. Come have a seat. I need to discuss something with you before your mother gets home from shopping.”

Holden sat next to his dad. “What’s going on?”

“Remember a few nights ago I was about to tell you something important?”

Of course he remembered. Holden nodded his head.

“Well, the things is, I’ve been seeing the best neurosurgeon money can buy for the past six months.” He took a deep breath. “I have been diagnosed with dementia with Lewy bodies.”

Shocked, Holden’s mouth fell open. “D-dad, that’s not possible. You’re only in your late forties and you’re the healthiest person I know. How can you have dementia? And what is this Lewy body?”

“It is a degenerative neurological disorder. Though the disease is terminal—

“Terminal?” Holden’s heart raced and it took a lot of self-control not to yell. No, this couldn’t be happening.

“There is no cure at the time but the doctor I’ve been seeing has been treating me for it.”

Rage sparked inside Holden’s chest. “Oh my god. How could you not tell me about this? Does mom know yet?”

“No one knows about this except you and I and I want it to stay that way.”

Holden stood up and paced. “I can’t keep something like this from mom. And how are you going to continue living like this? I mean, aren’t there symptoms and stuff? How much time do you have? Is your body going to shut down? Will—”

“Slow down, son.” Mr. Cotillard. Took a breath. “I am determined to continue living my life despite such a bleak prognosis. My neurologist says I have two years at least before things get bad and that my best days are behind me. I can’t worry your mother about this, let alone let the public know or they’ll think e incapable of doing my job.”

Holden remained silent as his brain processed everything.

“I’m sorry to burden you with this but I just wanted you to be the one to know. You’re my one and only son.” Overwhelmed, Holden hugged his father and wept so hard his chest shook. The very thought of losing his father scared him to death. He couldn’t imagine a world without his father in it. His father was dying and there was nothing he could do about it. Charlie flashed in his mind and it made him want to curl into the fetal position.

Being the strong man that he is, Mr. Cotillard wiped his tears. “We will get through this. I’ll be fine.”

Before he could reassure Holden, Mrs. Cotillard bounced through the door, looking rejuvenated. Holden wiped his eyes quickly and forced a smile and weak “Hello” before leaving the den in a hurry.

Taking the mail, a bunch of letters from local universities, he gave his father a sympathetic look as he went to his room and shut the door. Alone, he tried not to let his mind wonder to what his father had just revealed to him. He decided homework was the best distraction and threw himself into his French homework. Finished, he went to open his Literature textbook and found a note that made his blood run cold.

 

Dear, Mr. Know It All:

 

Guess what? You’re not as smart as you think you are. In fact, I’m so smart I know a lot of things—like the fact that your best friend is a drug dealer. Oh, and I also know you were a naughty boy last summer. Tsk, Tsk. We’re going to have so much fun together.

 

Sincerely, Good Samaritan

 

Holden read the not several times, his mind still reeling. Someone was playing with him. He simply balled up the letter and tossed it in the trash. He’d had enough shockers for one day.

Chapter 8: Riding Dirty

 

 

The smell of fresh breakfast assaulted his nostrils when Danny rolled out of bed. Teeth brushed and dressed, he made an appearance at the breakfast table and nearly froze in surprise when he noticed his father and brother sitting at the breakfast nook. There was a magnificent spread from French toast to muffins to fresh orange juice. Danny made himself a plate of grits, eggs, a bagel and toast. He’d always been used to having his food prepared by a maid since he was his brother’s age, but still, a part of him missed his mother’s home cooked meals. No one could ever replicate her grits or the special way she made her French toast. He tried not to think about it as he sat across from his father, who surprisingly sat his newspaper down and actually spoke a decent sentence that wasn’t a backhanded remark. He finished breakfast and decided he wasn’t going to school right away. He hung out with some friends and by the time he realized it, he’d nearly missed all of his morning classes.

When he rolled up at lunch, he got an unexpected visit from Holden, Mr. Holier than Thou, dressed in his pressed uniform without a wrinkle in sight. His arms were crossed at his chest with a disapproving scowl on his face. Danny sat on the hood of his car and said, “What happen, buddy? Did someone kill your GPA?”

Holden scoffed. “No—and that’s not even possible.”

Danny smirked. “You should know, right? Mr. Big shot.”

“I hate it when you call me that. You think I like being the smartest kid in our class?”

“Um, hold the phone. You can’t be smartest person in our entire class.”

Holden cracked a smile. “Okay, maybe not but I’m pretty damn close.” He sighed. “Man, I need a break. I’ve got so much going on right now it’s ridiculous. Just wait until debate season kicks in—I’m going to be screwed. I haven’t even prepared a speech yet and my dad’s on my ass about my early acceptance letter to Barry and—”

Danny stood up. “Jesus Christ, dude! You’re making my head hurt with all that. No wonder you’re so uptight all the time.”

“I’m not uptight. Just…busy. All the damn time.”

Danny clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Dude, haven’t you ever heard the expression that you create your own problems? You’re a shining example.”

As Holden went quiet, Danny continued, “Maybe you need some sex with a super-hot girl like Mindy Parks. I can hook you up.”

Holden shook his head and smiled a little. “I’ve already met somebody. I mean, we’re just friends but I think that’s what I need right now after the accident and Carly breaking up with me. I feel like a loser.”

“Hell, if I were in the friend zone I’d feel that way too.” Danny laughed. “So, who is she? Someone I know?”

Holden smiled and then it disappeared and was replaced by a haunting look in his eyes. He cleared his throat. “Uh,” Holden stalled. How was he going to explain to his best friend that he was dating Crazy Ass Rebekah? “I met her yesterday at Charlie’s memorial thing.”

“You actually went to that lame shit? That’s just like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I felt bad, okay.”

“Well you should. You hit the poor bastard with your car.” Danny doubled over laughing hard. When he looked up, Holden was looking at him like he was ready to pounce on him with a reign of fists.

Holden crossed his arms and snapped, “That’s not funny. You should feel bad too, because after all, it was your idea to cover the whole thing up and leave him to die instead of trying to get him to a hospital. God, do you even have a soul?”

Danny laughed. What the hell kind of question was that? Of course he had a soul. It may have been a little corrupt or tainted from years of so-called daddy issues according to the child psychologist he told to go fuck herself. He was just about to apologize when Nate spotted them and decided to invite himself into our conversation. He only looked at me for a few seconds and nervously said, “Hey, what are you guys talking about?”

Holden got quiet and said, “Nothing of importance. Danny’s being a dick as always.”

An idea struck inside Danny’s head and before he stopped himself, he asked Nate, “Speaking of dicks, how many do you think you’ve had? Three? Maybe a dozen?”

Instead of going off like he probably should have, Danny was surprised as Nate just stood there, unfazed. “None of your business, Danny. While I’m standing here, you got any other gay remarks you want to get off your chest?”

“Not at the moment but when I get some, you’ll be the first to know.”

“Yeah, right. You’ll be doing five to ten before we graduate.”

That hit a little too close to home. “Yeah, and you’ll still be a homo. By the way, how are your parents?”

Nate balled his fists and took deep breath. “Asshole! I hope you get busted by the cops and they hall you off to jail.”

That got his attention. “What the hell are you talking about? I’d never get busted. I’ve been dealing way too long because I’m smart. And it helps that my dad’s a kick-ass lawyer.”

“Whatever,” said Nate, turning to leave. “I guess you don’t want to hear about that guy who OD’ed on Ritalin a while back.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “What about it?”

Holden spoke up and said, “I knew him. His name was Cal Rice. He was an Honor student like me, president of almost every club, really good at volleyball and stuff.”

“What does this kid have to do with me? I didn’t deal to him.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, his name doesn’t sound familiar at all. Why?”

Nate turned to face Danny. “I heard that there’s a whistle blower going around catching kids who are abusing Ritalin, such as the people you’re dealing to. Think about it—if your name comes up, you’re facing more than expulsion.”

Danny looked unfazed by the revelation. “Like I said earlier, I’m too smart to get caught.” After a long pause, he said, “But thanks for the heads up.”

The bell rang, bringing lunch to an end. They had approximately seven minutes to get to their next class.

Holden holstered his book bag over one shoulder. “Are you coming to study hall or do you have other plans that are too cool for school?”

“Yeah, I’m coming. If I don’t at least show my face someone is bound to snitch to my dad and then I’ll never hear the end of it.”

They all fell in step together as they walked up the steps to the entrance to the main hallway and lockers. Incidentally, they all shared the same study hall together. It was supposed to be a time where you devoted two whole hours to studying—which of course, meant no homework Danny propped had his feet propped on the table when he got the note—he was wanted in the dean’s office.

He all but dragged his feet the whole way there. Once he was in the dean’s office he sat in an uncomfortable chair while the dean sat in his comfortable leather-back one. His office smelled stale for some reason. The dean’s double-chin jiggled as he said, “Mr. Vanderbilt, do you know why you have been summoned to my office?”

“No. Did I win a prize or something?”

He wasn’t smiling. “It has been brought to my attention that you may have been involved in some uncharacteristic activities during school hours. Now, I know that you are friends with Holden Cotillard, one of my brightest students, so I know there is now way possible that you could be caught up in a cheating rink, now could you?”

A cheating rink? That was laughable. At least it wasn’t the reason he thought he was called. For a slight second he had thought that the whistle blower had blowing his cover. Hiding a smile, Danny said, “Sir, I don’t need to cheat. I may not be a model student, but I’m smart enough to take my own damn test. Is there any proof of these accusations?”

“No, Mr. Vanderbilt. But be aware that there is going to be a full investigation and if you are involved, you and the others will be dealt with swiftly. You do know the honor code don’t you?”

He’d only had it since he took that stupid placement test and score a pretty high score. He lazily said, “I will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do. Can I go now?”

“You may return to your class.”

After his brief meeting was over, Danny stopped by his locker for an afternoon pick me up. As he opened his locker, a note fell onto the floor. He picked it up and afterward, looked around the empty hallway for anybody. His heart sped up as he re-read the note aloud: “Better watch your back, drug dealer. Might find yourself on the wrong side of the law—right where you belong.”

He jumped when a door slammed. He looked around and no one was with him in the corridor. That did nothing to still his beating heart.

Chapter 9: Temptation

 

 

 

Nate really tried to stay away from Alec. Really, he did. But eventually, he realized the more you resist, the easier it is to give in. He was doing fine for a couple of days until one Friday after school, Alec all but ambushed him in front of his car.

Standing there in his V-neck t-shirt, tight jeans, he looked absolutely irresistible. And the mischievous look in his eyes. “So, is it just me or have you been avoiding me?”

“Th-that’s just crazy,” Nate stammered. “Why would you think that?”

“Ever since our little talk you’ve been avoiding me like I’m Typhoid Mary or something.”

Nate laughed. “Nah, I just thought you needed some space, that’s all.”

Alec nodded. “So, last time we spoke you said we should hang out sometime later. I think now is a good time.”

It would have been easy to say no, if not for the gleam in Alec’s eyes. Nate wanted to kick himself when he said, “Uh, yeah, I did.”

“Want to go someplace else?”

What did you have in mind? Your bedroom, perhaps? Nate thought to himself. He had to bite down on his bottom lip to keep his thoughts from slipping out. He looked at the student parking lot and figured there was no harm as long as things didn’t go too far. Plus he didn’t see Jenny around or anyone else for that matter…

Nate fought back a smile as he turned back to Alec. “What about Jenny? Don’t you guys usually hang out before practice?”

Alec grinned. “Usually, but since practice was canceled, I think I deserve a day off from boyfriend duty.” He licked his lips—killer lips—and asked, “So, what do you say to a game of pool at my house?”

Nate’s breathing increased and he literally had to take a deep breath to calm himself down. A slow smile crept across his face. “I’m not very good at pool.”

“It’s cool. I can teach you how I hustled my older brother out of a thousand bucks over the summer.” He laughed softly. “I got Skills, with a capital S.”

Nate didn’t want to take too long to answer. After all, it wasn’t rocket science. He couldn’t stand the sight of the picture of Charlie nor his mourning classmates. He had to get the hell away from this place. He could go to Alec’s place and forget about that horrible night when everything went wrong. He needed to put it behind him once and for all and if Alec could provide him some kind of distraction, who was he to turn it down? “Let’s see what you got.”

 

 

Learning to play pool was the distraction Nate needed to keep his mind off of Charlie. After they left the school, Nate followed Alec in his Mercedes to his parents’ huge house. It oozed with taste and old money. Inside was even more breathtaking then the outside; the floors was covered in white Italian marble and the furnishings was something out of a Southern Living magazine. The game room was a glorified kid’s room with a humongous 75-inch flat screen mounted to the wall complete with surround sound speaker system, more game systems than Nate could count and a plethora of arcade games. There was Pac Man, a throwback space game and right in the middle of the room was the pool table. Alec raided his parent’s liquor cabinet where they kept the good stuff and they took shots of patron. The tequila left a warm, burning sensation at the pit of his stomach and Nate suddenly wished he had ate something other than sushi and a honey bun for lunch.

When Alec wasn’t checking his cell phone every five minutes for messages from Jenny, he showed Nate the basics of pool, which wasn’t all that hard. He took it easy on him the first couple of rounds, just so Nate could get the handle of it. Instantly, Nate felt himself getting completely comfortable around Alec. Maybe it had something to do with his woodsy cologne or the way his crotch rubbed against him when he passed behind him. Either way, it was hard to ignore his feelings. He couldn’t just turn them off, no matter how hard he wanted to. What he was doing to his friend Jenny was wrong on so many levels. But he didn’t care at the moment. He’d worry about her feelings when something bad happened—like say, he ended up in Alec’s bed or in his shower—

“Yo, are you going to take the shot or what?” Alec’s voice was like a splash of cold water against his face. Nate gave himself a mental shake and looked up at Alec.

“Yeah, my bad.” Nate grabbed his stick and analyzed the table; there were four balls left on the table and the ball he needed to hit to get his points were blocked. There was no way he could hit his ball without hitting Alec’s, in turn giving Alec the advantage. Not sure what the hell he was going to do, Nate prepared to take the shot and just before he did, felt a presence behind him. Shit, when did Alec sneak up behind him? Did he have to be so close against his backside?

Nate felt Alec’s warm breath on his neck as he said, “You’re not going to make that shot with the form you’ve got.”

Keeping his hands tightened around the wooden stick, Nate asked, “What’s wrong with my form?”

“I can show you better than I can tell you.” Alec chuckled. If it was even possible, he stood even closer to Nate as he placed his long arm next to Nate’s and wrapped his fingers around the one holding the stick. Nate didn’t know or care what he was doing with his hand but it felt damn good and Nate was not about to interrupt. He felt the friction building in Alec’s pants and took a deep breath to still his beating hard. “This is how you make the shot.” He angled Nate’s hand to give him a better angle at the ball he needed to hit, then he slowly pulled his elbow back.

“Now?” Nate asked cautiously.

“Not too hard, though. Softly.” He remained pressed against Nate’s backside.

Taking a moment to concentrate, Nate implemented Alec technique and slowly used the tip to hit the ball. He watched as it the exact ball he needed. Alec was a freaking genius! “Wow, that was neat!” He turned around to face Alec and noticed he was pinned with his back against the pool table and nowhere to go.

For a moment no one moved. Nothing but complete silence.

Then Nate found the words to ask, “Uh, what are we doing here, Alec?”

“ What do you mean?? We’re playing pool.”

“No,” Nate said, his voice sharp. “What are we really doing? Why did you really invite me over here instead of spending time with your girlfriend?”

“Because like I told you earlier, I needed a break from—”

“Boyfriend duty,” Nate finished for him. But he knew there was something he wasn’t saying. “I don’t buy it.” He could sense something behind Alec’s playing smile and even though it pained him to ask, he had to know. “Why did you kiss me yesterday?”

Still not moving from his place, he crossed his arms over his chest. “I think you know why I kissed you. I mean, if not, then maybe you really are as clueless as I thought you were.”

“Look, I don’t usually deal with guys giving mixed signals. Stop confusing me and just tell me what the hell you want.”

For a moment, Nate could see he was vulnerable. Alec dropped his arms and gazed out of the window. He waited a moment. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve liked girls all my life but I like guys…not the ugly ones, just hot ones.” His eyes locked with Nate’s.

“I don’t know what to say,” was the only thing that came to Nate’s mind.

“Look,” Alec said, “I like what I like. I have a pretty good reputation at school and I’d like it to stay that way. You can’t tell anyone about this.”

That ticked Nate off. Who did Alec think he was? Something deep inside his chest wanted to lash out but he fought against it. He knew Alec was confused, as he should be. How could he blame him? “Just what is this? This thing that we’re doing?”

“It can be whatever. I can’t break up with Jenny. Not yet anyway.”

Nate laughed, hard. “Wow. So what about when we’re at school? I’m supposed to pretend like we’re just friends?”

“Exactly.” He walked over to Nate. “Being around you makes me crazy. I can’t explain it but I never feel this way when I’m around Jenny or any other girl. I want you so badly. Tell me you don’t feel the same way.”

Nothing passed through his lips; his brain was scattered all over the place.

Alec kissed him softly, then again. Going with the flow, Nate kiss him back, getting lost in the softness of his lips, the firmness of his bare skin. He was about to unbuckle Alec’s pants when he saw something out of the corner of his eye, almost as if someone was watching him. He froze and backed away from Alec.

What hell was that?

Jenny’s innocent face popped inside his head and he suddenly felt awful. Did he really need the backlash of messing with his friend’s boyfriend? He wasn’t that type of guy. He was better than that.

“I’m sorry, Alec, but we shouldn’t do this.”

Alec’s face fell. “Why not?”

Nate backed away from the table and began to leave the room. “This isn’t right.”

He didn’t want to remember the hurt look on Alec’s face or the feeling he felt as he drove home, feeling relieved and confused at the same time. Yes, he was able to walk away from doing something undoable but a part of him felt like it was meant to be. Alec was the hottest guy he had locked lips with in ages.

He was still feeling awful when he arrived home minutes later. He decided to check the mail and when he did, he felt a sickening feeling wash over him as he pulled out a letter addressed to him without a return address. Inside was a letter that made his insides flip-flop. He looked over his shoulders and ran inside the house, locked all the doors. He ran to his bedroom and read the letter again and felt panicked worse than the night of the hit and run.

Nathaniel Engel,

I saw what you and your friends tried to cover up. You guys are so treacherous! Don’t worry— I’ve got my eyes on you, Nate. And I’m going to make sure you and your friends get exactly what you deserve –a double dose of Southern hospitality.

Sincerely Yours Truly,

Good Samaritan

He read the letter over and over again until his eyes blurred. He was about to toss the envelope when something dropped. He picked it up and saw that it was a picture taken the night of the accident. Pictured in plain color were Nate, Holden and Danny, as they huddled around Charlie’s corpse, the headlights from Holden’s car showing the stunned looks on their faces.

This wasn’t just proof of what they’d done—it was a smoking gun. Whoever sent him the letter had enough dirt to bury him and his friends alive.

Immediately, he took the photo and ripped it into tiny pieces. For a while, he actually believed it would make him feel better, even if just for a moment.

Chapter 10: Danny Is An Asshat

 

 

Holden was good at hiding his emotions. He had learned to do keep things to himself as early as kindergarten when all the other kids were jealous of him being smarter than them, always getting all the gold stars. He couldn’t help that teachers took to him because he was good at math and loved to outshine his peers. In middle school he learned to be smart and popular by helping the not-so-smart kids cheat off his test by pretending not to notice. As he sat at the dinner table, he tried to hold onto his emotions bubbling to reach the surface, lest his mother find out what was going on inside of his head.

“Holden, what’s on your mind?” His head snapped up at his mother’s voice and found her staring at him from across the table, her head cocked to the side.

He was playing with his mashed potatoes which had grown lukewarm by now. He pierced a piece of broccoli and attempted to shovel it in his mouth but thought against it. To answer his mother’s question would ease his mind. He could tell her about his father’s illness, maybe even tell her about the accident he had been in, that he was the one the authorities was looking for.

But he couldn’t.

He was a coward.

“Holden,” Mr. Cotillard’s voice boomed. “Your mother asked you a question.”

Holden cleared his throat, gave himself a mental shake. “Sorry, Mom,” he finally said, giving her an apologetic smile. “I’ve just got a lot going on these days.”

She dug into her peppercorn steak. For a woman of her small size, the woman could eat. She sipped from her wine glass. “Oh, I’m sure things will settle down soon, honey. Senior year is a big year but I don’t want you to spread yourself too thin.”

“I can handle it,” Holden said reassuringly. “I just want to have some fun but I barely have time to do anything but study, study, study.”

“I know, honey. But all that hard work will pay off in a few months when you’re away living on your own. The thought of you leaving makes me want to cry. My baby is growing up!”

“Mom,” Holden groaned. “I’m not a baby anymore.”

Mr. Cotillard laughed. “That’s for sure.” He eyed his plate. “You need to eat up. You have a big lacrosse game tomorrow, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I’m surprised you actually remembered.” That slipped but Holden instantly regretted it.

His father opened his mouth to speak and stared at Holden for a whole minute at least. He cleared his throat. “And why wouldn’t I remember my son’s athletic schedule?”

“I don’t know,” Holden said, playing it safe. “You’re getting old and stuff…”

He just knew his father was going to go ballistic but instead, he just smiled and said, “You do know that you inherited your skills from me, right?”

“Of course,” said Holden. “You only remind me that you played lacrosse for Barry every other day.”

“And don’t you ever forget it. Keep those grades up and play hard.”

Holden’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket, making him jump a little. Excusing himself from the table, Holden went outside and sat down on the patio. The pool’s blue lights lit up everything and the stars were out. Holden was at peace for little while anyway until he answered his phone. It was Nate.

“Tell me you got one too,” he said, his voice shaky.

“Nate, what the hell are you talking about? Did I get what?”

“A note,” he said.

“Dude, take a breath.” Holden took a breath as well. “Relax and tell me slowly what’s going on.”

Nate sighed. “The other day I came home from…hanging out. I checked the mailbox and inside was a letter addressed to me and there was a note saying they know you, me and Danny covered up an accident. Plus, there was a picture inside!”

Crap. This couldn’t be a coincidence. His own letter was burning in the back of his mind, as well as the fact that his father was very well losing his mind, possibly. Thank God he hadn’t seen any signs of the symptoms yet. Still, it was hard knowing that it was happening and there was nothing he could do. Now this?

“I got one too,” Holden said, “except mine didn’t come with a picture, just a note saying they knew about Danny being a dealer and you secretly hooking up with some guy that’s off-limits. It totally caught me off guard.”

“Me too! This is some crazy shit, Holden! Have you spoken to Danny yet? Should we even be talking about this on the phone?”

Good point. “Umm, can you leave your house right now? We should meet up at the library. I’ll call Danny.”

“My aunt is going to go ballistic but I can try to get past her. See you there.”

 

Ten minutes later after Holden left his house, he met Nate at the library’s main entrance. They ducked inside and waited for Danny to meet them in the back. It took him forever to show up and when he did, he had a scowl on his face. “What the hell is up?” he said, flopping into one of the comfy red chairs. “I’m in the middle of a transaction when I get a crazy ass text saying it’s an emergency. This doesn’t look like an emergency to me.”

“We got letters,” said Holden, “from someone named Good Samaritan. Ring any bells?”

Danny frowned. “Yeah. Except I didn’t get a letter, it was a note somebody slipped inside my locker the day I found out about the narc. You’re saying we have a stalker on our hands or some shit?”

“Pretty much,” said Nate. “How else would you explain all three of us getting letters around the exact same time?” He shook his head. “This person was there the night of the accident—and they have photographic evidence that puts us at the scene of a crime.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” snapped Danny. “What photographic evidence?”

Nate said, “This person sent me a picture of us standing over Charlie’s body! I destroyed it but I’m sure this person is capable of making copies.”

“Oh my God,” said Holden. “See, I knew this shit was going to come back to bite us in the ass! We should’ve went to the cops when we had the chance!”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” said Danny, leaning back in his chair. “Besides, if this so-called stalker wants to rat us out to the police, why not just turn us in?”

Nate sat quiet for a while before saying, “Maybe this goes deeper than the accident. I mean, why would they care about our personal lives? What did we do that was so bad?”

“You mean besides leaving a kid on the side of the road to die?” said Holden. “Gee, that sounds pretty criminal to me.”

Danny quipped, “No duh, smart ass! You were the one who was driving.”

Keep your voice down,” chastised Holden, looking around to make sure no one was listening in. “This is serious and I’m freaking out! You should be too.”

The librarian who had been eying them walked over, hands on her hip. She cleared her throat and said, “This is a place for studying. Please keep your voices down or else.” She eyed them once more and walked away.

With her back turned, Danny stuck up his middle finger and snickered. “Anyway, why should I be afraid of some punk ass who is too chicken shit to confront is out in the open? Why not just come out and turn us in already?”

Nate spoke up. “Maybe they want to give us the benefit of the doubt? Give us the chance to do the right thing. It’s only been a few weeks since the accident. I’m sure we can just explain to the police what happened.”

“Hell no!” said Danny hotly. “Are you hearing yourself, homo? I’m not about to go to jail for someone else’s mistake.” He cut his eyes at Holden.

“Oh that’s real mature,” said Holden, offended. “Put the blame on me.”

“I’m being honest, bro!” He leaned over and continued, “You were the one driving and lost control of the car. So why should I be punished for something you did?”

Holden sat back in his seat, burning holes into Danny’s face. He was the smuggest bastard on the planet. He couldn’t even have the decency to feel bad that Holden made a horrible mistake and it was eating him alive. He felt bad for what he did. Really, he did. But he was not ready to turn himself into the police. This Good Samaritan person was just trying to guilt him into throwing his life away. So maybe Holden was to blame for all of this. Just maybe. But that didn’t explain how this person knew other things about them.

Taking a breath, Holden asked Danny, “How does this person know about your drug dealing? Think that’s a coincidence?”

That shut him up. Danny’s jaw twitched.

“That has to be it, then,” said Nate. “It has to be somebody we know at school. But that’s impossible. I never told anyone about the accident, let alone the personal stuff I got in the letter.”

Holden couldn’t think of a single person he told about the accident. If he couldn’t tell his parents how the hell could he trust a stranger? No way.

Holden was going to make a comment just as the librarian walked over and warned, “I will not say this again. Keep your voices down or you will be asked to leave.”

“Sorry, we’ll keep it down,” Holden offered, sounding truly apologetic. When she left, he actually tried to lower his voice to just above a whisper. “So, what are we going to do? Sit back and wait for them to turn us into the police? Or should we try to figure out who this person is and why they’re coming after us after all these weeks?”

“I think we should do something,” said Nate. “But we need to gather some facts first.”

“Exactly,” Holden agreed. Facts would definitely be a good place to start.

Danny scoffed. “This is bullshit. I’m not the one who hit that kid, so why should I have to put up with this your mess?”

Danny’s words stung, hit him like a slap to the face. How dare he?! “Excuse me, but it was your bright idea to leave the scene of the crime in the first place!”

“Yeah, and you were the idiot playing with your fucking cell phone,” Danny said, rising out of his seat. “Don’t blame me for your careless mistake, Holden. This isn’t my problem—it’s all yours, bro.”

“Where the hell are you going?” Holden asked as Danny brushed passed him. “We’re supposed to be in this together!” His blood was rushing in his ears and it took everything inside of him not to raise his voice.

Instead of giving a response, Danny just shrugged his shoulders and walked away, leaving Holden to stare at his back until he was gone. Frustration seeped through his veins as he collapsed into the chair. He could feel a headache coming on.

“He’s such an asshole!” Nate blurted out. “I don’t know why I put up with him.”

Holden was thinking the same exact thing. “Me either. He puts up a front like he’s a bad ass but I think he’s just scared as we are.”

Nate scoffed. “Hey, I didn’t say I was scared, just a little freaked out.” His eyes darted around the place, as if he was expecting to find someone peeking around the corners. “I don’t think you understand. If people found out who I’m kinda-sorta-seeing, it’s not going to end well for either of us.”

That was uprising. “Wait, you’ve a got a secret boyfriend?”

“No, not exactly. That’s the thing. See, we aren’t anything. We’re just friends. The main thing is he’s a straight guy—and he’s dating a good friend of mine. Soo…”

“Ohh, I see,” said Holden, realization setting in. “He’s in the closet and you’re stealing someone else’s boyfriend. Kudos!” Holden laughed and tapped Nate on his knee.

Nate grinned. “Yeah, it’s complicated. And we’ve been careful so I don’t know how this Good Samaritan person found out about it. It’s so maddening!”

“I know. I hate this.”

“Off topic, have you spoken to Carly since the breakup?”

“Nah. We see each other in the halls and class but not really. She’s busy with her new meathead boyfriend. I don’t see what girls see in jocks.”

“Dude, you’re a lax rat and you play tennis and soccer. I’d say that totally makes you a jock.”

“True,” Holden agreed.

After a moment or so, Nate said, “I don’t blame you for this whole stalker situation. Well, not completely. I mean, sure, you hit the guy with your car but we are just as guilty as you are for not going to the police.”

Holden sighed. He didn’t want to think about that night. Brought up too many shoulda, coulda, wouldas; should have stayed home that night or he could have just called the cops…things wouldn’t be so messed up.

Nate continued, “We’ll figure this thing out. Stalker or not, we’re all a part of this whether we like it or not.”

Holden laughed humorlessly. “That’s for damn sure.”

Nate leaned over to speak when the librarian appeared yet again, this time her expression was pure annoyance. Nate stood up and said, “Don’t worry, I’m leaving now.” He turned to Holden. “My Aunt May is probably freaking out. I’ll hit you up later.”

Holden would swear that he saw a look of triumph on the librarians face as Nate walked always he was probably feeling proud that she had disbanded the most talkative group. With his sick father at home and his mind reeling, he decided to stay at the library and read up for a bit. Studying always calmed him down. He may not have had control over the stalker but he did have control over his future. Well, at least until it all blew up in his face.

Chapter 11: Stubborn

 

 

At exactly one thirty in the afternoon Danny decided he was going to skip the rest of his afternoon classes. He could barely keep his eyes open during fourth period when his teacher was explaining some complicated story about some guy named Macbeth. Mind made up, he sent a quick text to Holden, even though he already knew what the response was going to be.

Yo, wanna cut next period?

Knowing Holden, he had his nose stuck in a textbook and took him forever and day to text back: Heck no! Are you high?

Danny smiled and fired off a response: I’m totally sober. Which is why I need to bounce.

A moment later Holden texted back: Count me out.

Danny groaned and ignored the sharp look he got from the guy sitting next to him. He sent back a text: Are you still trippin’ off that stalker shit?

Danny couldn’t care less about that note he received in his locker. Sure, he found it a bit odd that both Holden and Nate received letters basically blackmailing them from the night of Holden’s accident. Still, it didn’t mean jack to him. If the so-called blackmailer had proof, why not just go to the police? Holden wasn’t the confrontational type and neither was Nate—no surprise there.

Danny looked up from his phone and pretended to be following along in his textbook until Holden sent him a new text: Yes! Shouldn’t I be freaked out that someone has a picture of all three of us red-handed?

Danny texted back: Yea but dude, let that shit go. Get over it.

Can’t do it, D. I’m not like you.

And what the hell is that supposed to mean?

Danny looked up as his teacher cleared his throat in an effort to get his attention. “Mr. Vanderbilt, do you have a problem following along? Is ancient history boring you?”

Danny didn’t bother to put his phone away. He smirked as his teacher. “Yeah, this shit is boring me to tears.”

The tiny classroom filled with laughter from his classmates and Danny was loving every second of it as his teacher’s face reddened. “Put away your cell phone before I confiscate it.”

“You’re not taking my cell phone,” Danny challenged him.

“Danny, I’m warning you. Put the phone away now.”

Danny blatantly fired off a text to one of his buddies. Just as he finished texting, Danny said, “Make me.”

The classroom erupted with a bunch of noises and Danny smiled, in spite of himself. He smiled even wider when the teacher raised his voice and said, “Get out of my classroom and march yourself to the dean’s office. I will not have you disrespect me!”

Danny bounced out of his seat, grabbed his things and took his time walking out of the classroom. He pretended to be headed in the direction of the dean’s office and instead, went to his locker to drop off his book bag. While he was there he grabbed a hall pass that was already signed and held on to it just in case someone stopped him. He caught a glimpse of the note that he had meant to throw away—the one threatening him. He laughed and closed his locker door.

“School is lame,” Danny muttered to a kid he passed on his way to the student parking lot. “Four years of endless bullshit.” He tore off his blazer on his way into the blistering heat and found his Porsche. He had a feeling of euphoria after just facing off with a teacher. He was still feeling frustrated that Holden was being a bigger pussy than usual and decided he needed to blow off some steam.

He called up some of his friends and they decided to ditch together and would meet up at the local pizza place. The place was pretty quiet, except for a few people. Danny walked outside to the patio where he met up with Cole and Luke, two guys he knew who also dealt at school. Cole dealt mostly weed and Luke dealt ecstasy and fake IDs. As long as they weren’t trying to compete with him by also selling smart pills, he was cool with everybody.

At the table, Cole had his school-issued shirt rolled up to his elbows. He was in the middle of stuffing a king-sized slice of pepperoni pizza in his mouth when he saw Danny approach. “Yo what up?” he said, putting his hand up for a high-five.

Luke moved over and said, “Danny!” He laughed and asked, “Do you ever go to school anymore?”

“Well,” Danny said, sitting down across from them, “as a senior, I think it’s my duty to rack up as many unexcused absences as I can just to piss off the dean—and my father of course.”

Cole laughed. “Better be careful, D. Your old man might get the nerve to send you off to military school.”

Danny scoffed. “Yeah, he’s been threatening me with that for years and it hasn’t happened yet.”

“That’s because D is untouchable,” said Luke. “You get away with everything.”

So, far, though Danny as he picked up a slice and devoured half of it in a big bit. Talking around his slice, Danny said, “Besides, my father would rather put up with my bullshit than raise my brother alone now that my mom is dead.”

Well, that was a mood killer.

Almost as if they were unable to talk, Danny said, “Guys, don’t be all weird. My mom’s been dead for like a year now. I’m not going to burst into tears.”

Cole cleared his throat. “She died of breast cancer, right?”

Luke nudged his shoulder, as to say, “Shut up!”

Danny finished off his slice. “Yup. She didn’t know she had it and by the time the doctors could do anything, it was too late. One of those aggressive cancers, too. The only good thing that came out of it was that she lost a ton of weight.”

Once again silence fell over the table.

Danny laughed so hard soda sprayed from his nose. “Sorry,” he said, wiping his nose. “I thought that was pretty funny—so did my mom. Come on guys, stop looking at me like I’m some kind of wounded animal.”

“Can we talk about something else?” said Cole. “Like the fact that I keep hearing about a narc snitching to the dean about dealers.”

“Yeah, I heard that too,” said Luke. “You think it’s for real?”

Leaning back in his seat, Danny said, “I don’t know. I mean, I just heard about it the other day. To be honest, I’m not worried.”

“You should be,” said Cole. “I heard this one guy from Miami North had his locker inspected and they found drugs in there. Not only was he expelled, he got sent to juvie.”

Luke nodded. “I heard that once you go to juvie, its only downhill from there.”

Danny was unfazed. “Please, juvie is nothing to be afraid of. It’s not like jail. I’m not worried about some narc.”

“So you’re not going to stop dealing, maybe lay low for a while?”

Danny scoffed. “Hell no. What for? As long as there is money to be got, I’m all in.”

Cole went quiet. “I don’t know about this. I can’t afford to lose my scholarship.”

“Me either,” said Luke. “My parents will kill me if I don’t get into Stanford.”

“Whatever,” said Danny. “More money for me. Speaking of which, I made over fifteen hundred last month. Why stop now?”

Cole threw his hands up. “I think I’m going to get rid of this little bit of stuff I have and then I’m out. It’s too risky.”

Luke looked at Cole and then at Danny. “I don’t know what I’m going to do but I gotta slow down. I’ve already got two strikes on my record and one more will get me kicked out.”

Danny laughed humorlessly. “Wow. You guys are a bunch of pussies. One little rumor gets spread around you’re running scared.”

“Well,” said Cole, “not everybody is like you, Danny.”

Why did everyone keep saying that? What the hell did that mean anyway? Danny shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t help that I have a backbone. Guess that’s one trait I learned from my father.”

“See that’s the thing,” said Luke. “You have your daddy in your corner. If anything goes down you’ll be straight and get off with a slap on the wrist.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Danny said, rising to his feet.

“Yo, where are you going?” asked Cole.

“Time is money—and the more time I waste with you two, the more money I lose. “

Harsh but to the point. He needed to let them know that he didn’t scare easily. It was going to take a lot more than a rumor about a narc or a petty note in his locker to knock him down. He liked fast money—and fast money sure as heck liked him too. As he left, he could have sworn someone was tailing him for at least a half a mile. Not sure if it was an undercover cop or just his over-active imagination, he decided to pull a fast one on them and took the shortcut to get to his house, checking his rear-view mirror every so often. A red car was always a few cars behind him up until he crossed over to Bal Harbor. He never saw the car again but he was certain that someone was watching him—which irritated the hell out him.

He took the elevator up to his place and was surprised by his father’s appearance. Tossing his keys into a bowl near the door, Danny took off his shoes and thought of a quick lie for his father, one he hadn’t overused—this month, anyway.

His father was sitting in the living room, a bunch of open boxes and papers scattered around him. He looked up at Danny’s arrival and asked, “What the hell are you doing home in the middle of the afternoon?”

Feeling mischievous, Danny said, “I felt like ditching school.” Why not hit him with the truth?

His father’s reaction was a mixture of confusion and utter annoyance. His voice was stern as he said, “This has got to stop. I don’t understand why you continue to defy me.”

“What, are you going to spank me, Dad?” there was a challenge in his voice.

Mr. Vanderbilt stood up, walked over to Danny and surprised him when he pulled out a wad of cash. He looked at the cash and then up at dandy. “I’m going to ask you a question and the next words that come out of your mouth better be the truth.”

Danny swallowed hard. How the hell had he found his cash? He could have sworn he had put it somewhere out of his father’s prying eyes.

Mr. Vanderbilt continued, “Where did you get this?”

Ever the smart ass, Danny snidely replied, “I’ve been saving up my allowance money to buy a dog.”

In a flash, Danny felt white hot pain fly across his cheek as his father slapped him—hard. It had been a while since Danny had pushed his father this far and it almost amused him. Rubbing his cheek, he taunted, “You hit like a girl.”

Angered pierced from Mr. Vanderbilt eyes as he towered over Danny. “Go get my belt and bring it to your room.”

Danny didn’t realize his breathing had increased until then. Knowing what was going to come, there was no need for tears; so he obliged his father’s orders and grabbed a leather belt from his closet and when he was finished met his father in his bedroom. He didn’t even have the decency to close the bedroom door. Danny felt scared for once as he watched his father hold the belt folded in both hands.

Danny already knew what the deal was but still waited for his father to yell, “Put your hands on the bed and drop your pants.”

Again, he obliged his father and did what he was told. With his back to his father, he heard him growl the familiar words, “This is going to hurt me more than hurts you. You know I’m only doing this because I love you.”

Danny rolled his eyes and sucked in air. “Just do it and get it over wi—”

A blistering pain hit his backside and it he yelped out in surprise and pain.

Deep down he knew he deserved to get a whipping. Either way, it didn’t make the pain any more manageable. All he could do was let his tears fall and pray for the strength not to bitch out.

After all, a little father-son bonding was just what he needed.

 

Chapter 12: Sore Loser

 

 

Holden stared down at his phone for the umpteenth time in the last past half hour. He was hoping to find some new information regarding Charlie’s condition. For the most part, Charlie wasn’t doing worse, but he was doing any better, either. On the one hand, it was great that Charlie wasn’t, well, dead. But on the other, there was no telling how long his condition was going to last. Would he come out of it and be a normal kid again? Would he have some horrific physical deformation? Most importantly, would he remember what happened the night of the accident and that Holden was responsible for everything? Holden shivered as he thought back to that awful night, how he had pleaded with Danny to turn the car around, or at least call the police with an anonymous tip. He had to be the worst person in the world for what he did.

Now with the letter hanging on his head, he didn’t know what to think. Someone was either playing with his head or they really knew what was going on. But who the hell could it be? Holden was pretty sure that there was no one else at the scene of the crime but he and the others. Plus, hearing that Nate received a paper in the mail showing the three of them looking guilty didn’t exactly sit well with him.

This was too much stress on top of the fact that he had a debate event coming up on top of a dozen assignments he could do in his sleep. The whole point of senior year was to have fun, maybe lay back a little. But no. Not Holden Cotillard.

A locker slammed about three rows away from him and he nearly jumped out of his skin. He looked over to see Nate, and luckily he appeared to be in a good mood from the smile spreading across his face. “Hey what’s up?” Nate said, leaning against the row of lockers. “Why are you so jumpy?”

Holden shook his head in effort to get his thoughts straight. “I was thinking. Just caught me off guard.”

“What were you thinking about? Our creepy stalker?” Nate half laughed.

“That’s not funny.” Holden turned and started walking towards his next class, French 4. “What if this is for real? Someone was clearly there the night of the accident and it they’re going to blackmail us into confessing.”

Nate scoffed. “What do you mean ‘us’? I was just a passenger.”

Holden almost stopped but he refused to on account of ruining his perfect attendance record. He looked over at Nate and said, “We’re all in this together. Isn’t that what you said the other night at the library?”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to go to jail over a crime that I didn’t commit.”

Holden rolled his eyes. “Haven’t you heard the phrase guilty by association?”

“Yeah…but—”

“But nothing. If this person is coming after me then they definitely want you and Danny to go down with me as well, hence the letters and creepy notes.”

Holden turned down the corridor for the foreign language wing and Nate went to turn for the other direction. “Whatever, smarty pants. Oh—are you playing the game after school?”

Holden had nearly forgotten about the lacrosse game after school, it was going to be a home game against one of the school’s rivals. Of course he was going to be in the game. He needed something to keep his mind off of things and running up and down the field with his teammates was perfect for that. “Of course I’m playing. The team would be garbage without me.” Holden laughed.

Nate laughed and mocked, “Go hellcats!” He pumped his fist in the air before turning down the hall. Holden smiled and headed for French class. He made it just in time, as usual. He had a feeling that despite the shaky start, this was going to be a great week.

*

The energy in the locker room was infectious. It was an hour or so after school had ended and Holden was in the boys’ locker room getting psyched for the biggest game of the season. His teammate’s laughter and trash talking floated around him and it felt good to be around others who loved the game as much as he did. There was nothing greater than running down the field, staring down his opponents and making a score. The rush was amazing and as he bounced on his feet, half-dressed, he was ready to kick some ass. As he tightened his laces, he looked up to find Danny talking to one of his teammates, Zack. They exchanged a few words and looked like something suspicious was going on. Danny reached into his back pocket as Zack pulled out a wad of cash. The exchange was so quick Holden nearly missed it. Before Danny turned to leave, he caught Holden’s eye and walked over. “Yo! Put some clothes on! I can’t talk to you while you’re shirtless. It’s gross.”

“Dude, it’s a locker room. And what the hell are you doing in here? I saw you talking to Zack.”

“So what?”

“I saw you hand him something. What was it?”

Danny furrowed his eyebrows. “None of your business.” He slapped him on his bicep. “Relax, bro. it was nothing bad.”

Holden scoffed. “If you say so. Anyway, are you sticking around for the game? We’re going to kick Miami Shores’ asses!”

“Sure, if you guys don’t suck too badly.”

Coach ridges came of his office. He spotted Danny and shooed him away. Holden put on his number nine jersey with the rest of his lacrosse gear as coach went into his pre-game speech to get the team pumped. Once he had Holden and everyone else’s attention, he stood at the center of the locker room in his typical stance and said, “…”

The speech was supposed to be uplifting and all that rah, rah but Holden was surprised how fired up he was. The feeling intensified when Rebekah spotted him as he made his way to the feel. He smiled and asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I came to wish you good luck!”

“Thanks but I don’t need luck! I’ve got talent and my stick —”

“Cotillard get your ass over here and stop lollygagging!” coach yelled.

“It’s game time!” Holden said to Danny. “Stick around for the game.”

“Sure, why not? I’ll be rooting for ya!” shouted Danny.

He turned and joined his teammates. They huddled and when the announcement was made, they ran onto the field, hooting and hollering. Holden was in on the hype. The crowd was cheering them on and as he passed the cute cheerleaders, Holden felt a case of melancholy, especially when he spotted Carly in her skimpy uniform.

At the faceoff, Holden lined up with his team and once they had possession of the ball, it was game on. Holden stayed in his zone, shielding his captain, knocking into opponents until he had a clear shot and when he did, scored. Holden scored several more times during the first half of the game. Right when he had the ball in his position again, he looked out into the crowd and saw the signs. One caught his eye in particular and made him stop in his tracks—a sign that read MUDERDER in bold red letters that seemed to be dripping in red paint. Holden shook his head, thinking he was seeing things but he saw it again—and this time it caused him to lose the ball.

Shit.

Before he could get possession back, the other team scored.

“Cotillard what the hell are you doing out there?” coach yelled. “Pull your head out of your ass before I bench you!”

“Yes, coach!” Holden shot back, furious at himself.

His teammate slapped him on the butt, hard. “Get back in the game! Those bastards are going down! Let’s go!”

That’s all it took. After that, Holden shook his worries away and returned to the game. No more letters, no more seeing things. It was all about lacrosse. Up until the last third quarter, it was tied. Holden knew the play to break the tie and win the game. After they huddled, Holden let Zack do his thing, running the ball until he found an opening. Holden gained possession of the ball and with all the fiery he could muster, plowed down the line, knocking over anybody that got in his sight of vision. Darting around the slow ones, with less than fifteen seconds on the clock, Holden lined up the shot, and when he took it, watched the ball zoom into the net.

The buzzer sounded, ending the game with a one point victory. There was a reason coach put him on first line and he took every chance to prove he was worthy. He could see the coach happy, even though the veins in his neck looked ready to burst at any given moment.

“Awesome job guys!” Holden cheered to his teammates as the bumped helmets.

“Yo, you down for pizza?” Cody said, bumping into him as they made their way to the locker room. “There’s going to be some hot chicks from that catholic school there! Don’t pussy out.”

Holden laughed. “For reals? Sign me up!”

A nagging voice in the back of his head reminded him that he had homework waiting for him at home but he ignored it and joined his team in the locker room, where they chanted and sang as they showered. Still riled up from kicking ass, Holden grabbed his gear and headed to the parking lot and found a horrible surprise.

“Ah, shit!” Holden shouted as he found his dad’s car. Along the side of his car was keyed all the way to the passenger door. He dropped his bag on the ground. “Fuck, fuck!” His dad was going to murder him for sure when he got home. Not only was the car keyed, he saw the words KARMA’S A BITCH sprawled across the windshield in fresh, wet red paint, same as the sign he saw.

Holden looked around the parking lot and there were too many people around to single out; it could have been anyone. He chalked it up to one of his rivals, pissed that Holden’s team kicked their ass. His cell phone chimed with a new message. Chills ran down his spine as he read it several times while looking over his shoulders: You might be king at lacrosse but I’m changing the rules. Game on!—Good Samaritan.

Pissed yet taken aback, Holden fired off a reply but never got a response.

He tried to pretend like he wasn’t bothered, but deep down inside, he was losing it.

Chapter 13: Nate the Rebel

 

 

As the crowd of parents and students filed out from the stadium, Nate walked the path with Jenny. With her by his side, he had cheered on the lacrosse team and watched as Holden tore up the field and was somewhat a ball-hog. Still, Nate was amazed the way Alec was able to keep up with Holden despite suffering a minor injury that temporarily took him out of the game. It felt weird that he was in lust with Nate while Jenny was standing right beside him, oblivious to everything. A part of him wanted to be upfront with her and tell her what he had been doing behind her back. The truth would kill her and he couldn’t stomach the look on her face. He had to wait for a good time to tell her. Nate was convinced that Alec was just a straight guy exploring his sexuality, which was totally fine. It wouldn’t last much longer, so why ruin a good thing?

Jenny linked her arm with Nate’s as they headed to the parking lot to find her car. On the way, he saw Holden, a horrified expression was on his face. “Hey, everything okay?” Nate asked.

Holden paused before saying, “Yeah, I’m good.” He was holding his cell phone as if it was a bomb ready to explode or something. That’s when Nate noticed the long scratch on his car—and the horrid message on the windshield written in red paint.

“Whoa,” Nate said, “Who or what happened to your car?”

Holden shrugged. “Probably just some idiot from Miami Shores Day. Sore losers.”

“That sucks,” said Jenny.

“For reals,” agreed Nate.

Holden tossed his lacrosse gear in the trunk and slammed it, hard. “Whatever. I’m going to Kate’s for a little celebration party. You guys coming?”

Wait. Was this the same Holden Cotillard who was always curled up in front of a book, ready to make a competition out of anything? The same kid who had a plethora of first place ribbons and awards sprawled across his bedroom wall and gleaming trophies to match? Couldn’t be. Holden may have been an academic type but not a party-goer. Neither was Nate but still…

Nate raised his brows. “You’re going to a party— on a school night. Are you sure you don’t have some test to study for?”

Holden grimaced. “I guess. Fuck it. I don’t feel like going home. Besides, I won the game so my team expects me to be there. Life isn’t just about studying.” He climbed behind his wheel and said, “Be there or be sober!”

“Well, come on,” Jenny said, “I’m ready to par-tay!”

Nate rolled his eyes playfully. “Please don’t ever say that again.”

They laughed and bounced to Jenny’s car. Finding their way to the party was easy, considering all the kids were going to the same place. Once on the road, Nate called Aunt May to let her know he was going to be home, just later than usual. “I won’t be out too late,” he told her. “I promise.”

“It’s a school night,” she said her voice neutral. “Did you get all your homework done?”

“Of course. You can even check it in the morning.”

Aunt May paused. “Nate, you know I worry about you enough as it is. Why can’t you stay home?”

He couldn’t believe she was trying to keep him home after the speech she gave home just days ago about the opposite, how he needed to act like a normal teenager. Now that he had some form of a social life she was acting like a tyrant. “Aunt May, don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”

Jenny snickered and kept making funny faces. It took everything for Nate not to laugh.

“Okay,” Aunt May said. “Just be home by nine.”

“Nine?” Nate repeated, appalled. “That’s ridiculous.”

“My house, my rules,” Aunt May quipped.

“But that’s way too early, besides all my other friends get to stay out past midnight!”

“I don’t care, Nate. There’s nothing but trouble staying out that late.”

“But Aunt May—” Nate started to protest when Jenny grabbed his phone from him and hung up on Aunt May.

Looking stunned and please, Nate couldn’t find the words to respond.

Jenny grinned and said, “You’re welcome.”

Seconds later his phone chimed and his Aunt May’s face popped up on the screen.

“Don’t answer that,” Jenny said, giving him the side eye.

“But what if she’s pissed? What if—”

“Just let it go to voicemail.” She sighed. “Nate, I love that you’re a nice guy but you need to toughen up.” Jenny slapped his thigh playfully. “Don’t take it personal, ‘kay?”

Nate slid his phone into his pocket. Jenny was absolutely right. Even if Aunt May was pissed for what he did when he got home, she’d forgive. A smile crept over Nate’s face. “’Kay.”

When they pulled into the house, the party was full of bodies and students poured out of the house, all over the lawn. The house was huge and could probably hold the entire senior class and more. Nate let Jenny guide him into the house, through the crowded grand entrance, music was booming from a sound system, which Nate almost wanted to dance to once he had a few drinks in him. Free from his Aunt May’s nagging, he was going to have some fun and try to forget the image of the picture in his head, try not to think that there was a stalker watching his every move.

Jenny handed him a drink that tasted awful. Then he chugged a beer. He could feel the effects after a couple more. “Isn’t this what senior year is all about?” Jenny screamed into his ear over the loud pop music.

“Of course!”

She pulled him to the dance floor and began grinding on him and he had to admit that a part of him found her sexy as hell, the part of him that still found girls alluring. She put her mouth next to his ear and said, “Too bad you’re gay! You could make some girl very happy!”

“Hey, are you hitting on me? You know you have a boyfriend right?”

She rolled her eyes and pouted. “Yeah, but not a very good one!” She looked around the room and said, “I think he’s cheating on me.”

“Alec?” Nate said, “No way! He’s a good guy. I can’t see him doing that.” He felt a pang in his stomach for telling such a lie.

“He’s up to something. I just know it.”

Nate continued to dance, refusing to say anything else and pretended to be caught up in the music. A few minutes later the lacrosse team made their grand entrance and with it came Holden and Alec. Nate’s heart sped up at the sight of him; his parts below the belt became aware as well. From across the room it was as if Alec was looking for him too as their eyes locked for just a few seconds.

Jenny pulled him over before he could stop her and had to witness her put her mouth over him, had to watch as Alec grabbed her ass and squeezed. Nate suddenly felt his stomach roll.

Slutbag, Nate mused. You don’t deserve Alec.

He gave himself a mental shake before his bad thoughts got the best of him.

Nate turned away from the mess in front of him and went to seek out Holden, who was busy chatting it up with two cute girls dressed like, well, sluts screaming for attention. Nate watched as Rebekah pranced up to him with a tight smile on her face. Holden looked surprised by her sudden appearance. Nate had a feeling that something was going on between them, which was odd because Holden had just gotten out of a relationship with Carly, who may not have been the love of his life but they had been together for ages. Nate knew about Rebekah from middle school and as far as he was concerned, something was definitely off about her and every time she came around he got goose bumps.

Suddenly Nate found himself transported back to the summer before eighth grade, when Rebekah was the queen of Dorksville and no one wanted to talk to her at the pool party his aunt had thrown. He’d only invited her out of guilt but he regretted it the moment he witnessed her odd behavior. One minute she was smiling and the next she was off in a corner by herself. There was a point Nate tried to talk to her but she lashed out at him and called him a queer. So much for being nice. Nate stood by moments later when some girls pushed her into the pool and she went straight to the bottom like a boulder. Everyone laughed when she resurfaced and Nate joined in, pointing and taunting her as she ran past him, crying and holding her body. He didn’t feel bad for her, but he certainly felt her icy stare the next day at the mall and certainly the first day of freshmen year.

Standing a mere five feet away from her, Nate felt that same icy glare on him, despite telling himself he was just imagining things. And with Holden by her side mingling with female friends, something still felt strange about her. She didn’t belong here and it was evident by her body language. She refused to speak to anyone and held Holden’s hand for dear life.

Continuing to look on, the situation started to get interesting when a girl pushed Rebekah and shouted, “You don’t belong here, freak.”

“Leave me alone,” said Rebekah, an edge to her voice.

“Or what?” said the blonde girl. “You wouldn’t dare touch me.”

Rebekah’s face reddened. “I’m warning you.”

Holden tried to step between the girls but the blonde sneered, “I’m not afraid of you, bitch.” To prove her point, she shoved Rebekah again, this time harder than the first.

Holden went to hold Rebekah back when she pushed him away and went for the girl. She grabbed her arm and snapped, “I said, leave. Me. Alone!” The girl cried out as Rebekah pulled the girl’s arm back and then the blonde was on her knees, screaming, tears in her eyes. There was a sickening crack! Rebekah’s eyes were full of rage and pure fury. She looked around the room and took off with Holden following closely behind her.

“Holy shit!” said Nate, stunned.

“That bitch is still crazy,” said a lacrosse player standing next to Nate.

To try to get back in party mode, Nate grabbed a few more drinks, not really keeping an eye on his limit. He danced up a sweat until he was ready to get some air. He went outside, still able to walk straight. That’s when Alec and Jenny also came outside with a group behind them.

“Yo, are you going home?” Alec asked him.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Nate answered looking down at his watch. “It’s almost eleven and way past my curfew.”

Alec snickered. “That’s sweet. I mean, it sucks for you of course.”

Nate turned to Jenny. “Can you take me home please?”

Jenny’s face scrunched up. “I think I’m going to stay for a bit.”

One thing led to another and Alec said, “Hey, why don’t I drop you off.”

“Aww babe, you’re so nice.” Jenny gave him a peck on the cheek and Nate saw him grimace a little.

“It’s no big deal,” said Alec.

Minutes later Nate was in Alec’s BMW, which smelled like cinnamon, sweat and, man. So amazing. Nate took a deep breath and said, “Your car smells amazing.” He instantly regretted saying it out loud the moment he blurted it out.

“Thanks,” said Alec. He smiled and kept his eyes on the road.

Nate went quiet, trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t make him sound like a love-struck fool. Since he came up blank, he decided it was best to keep his mouth shut. He decided to turn on the radio and hated everything that was playing and decided to turn it off. Silence filled the space and his short ride home seemed to take forever.

Breaking the silence, Alec said, “You know, I’m still trying to figure you out.”

Nate felt his face blush. “What’s there to figure out?”

A mischievous grin spread across Alec’s face. Nate grinned back.

“Umm, Alec I think you just passed the street for my house,” Nate said.

“We’re not going home…”

“Then where…”

“We’re going to another party…one where my girlfriend won’t be breathing down my neck.”

Nate felt like he was going to upchuck at any minute as Aunt May crossed his mind. “Oh my God. My Aunt is going to go kill me, I just know it.”

“Oh, come on. Live a little,” Alec pleaded, his eyes making Nate feel like putty melting in Alec’s hands.

Nate half smiled as he looked over and took Alec’s free hand. “Just so long as you have me home by midnight.”

Alec laughed hard. “Nope. No way. You belong to me for the rest of the night.”

Nate’s heart soared all the way to cloud nine. This was both good and bad; mostly good because he was dreaming of spending more time with Alec. Before he chickened out, he placed his hand on Alec’s knee.

A thought crossed his mind: How could something so wrong feel so right?

Chapter 14: What Are Friends For?

 

 

Danny was in no rush to get back to school after leaving school during P.E. He had to leave early to make a deal on the other side of town. Luckily, his client was a loyal customer and always paid on time. That’s the kind of customer loyalty he enjoyed about being a dealer. Was he really a bad person for helping out his peers by providing them with a study? Heck no.

Maybe if his father wasn’t such a kick ass lawyer he’d be a little afraid of the so-called narc that could potentially ruin him. But instead, he was indifferent about the whole thing. Why worry about something he couldn’t control?

Danny was feeling good as he slipped behind the wheel of his car. As he pulled out of the parking lot his phone blurted: “You have an incoming call from Holden.”

Danny touched the answer key on his dashboard and kept his eyes on the road, thankful his dad had spent the extra money for the hands-free speaker.

“Danny where the hell are you?” Holden’s voice shouted through Danny’s car speakers.

“I’m out doing what I do best.”

“You better high tail it back to school—quick.” His voice sounded frantic.

“Hold your horses, Frenchman. What’s the big deal? Are you having another panic attack over a test you got a B on?”

“No. Principal Ross is doing locker checks—like, right now!”

“So—oh shit!” Danny nearly lost the wheel but he quickly recovered.

The school was only a couple miles away and he could make it. He ran a couple of lights and made it back to school. He casually walked through the corridor as if he was passing through the halls and saw that this was no ordinary locker check—there were two police officers and a mean-looking German Sheppard escorting Principal Ross as he made his way down the row of lockers. Danny began to panic when he the dog got close to his and there was no way he could get to his in time and hide his stash…

Shit, shit, shit!

All he could do was watch as the principal walk up to him as he casually stood next to his locker. Knowing what was about to happen, Danny decided to try to buy himself some time. “Hey there, Principal Ross. You’re looking pretty pale—have you been outside today? It’s pretty nice.”

Principal Ross raised his eyebrows. “Cut the bull, Danny, and open your locker.”

“You know, I think these random locker searches are kind of pathetic. Don’t you have other things to do with your time?”

“Danny I’m not in the mood to play games with you. Open your locker now!”

“Alright, alright,” Danny said, turning to face his locker. As he did, he was aware that everyone in the hallway was staring at him in awe—including Holden and Nate. They looked like he felt—genuinely worried.

No longer able to stall, Danny took a deep breath, exhaled and took his time entering the combination of his lock. Once it was unlocked, he opened the door, saw his backpack and felt like this was the moment everything was going to come crashing down.

“Step aside,” said the police officer.

Danny obliged and gave a side look at Holden and Nate.

He waited patiently for the moment when the police dog was going to start barking like crazy. He waited for what seemed like an eternity…and the moment never came to pass.

“All clear,” said the police officer.

Danny sighed, relieved.

“Check his backpack.”

Danny’s heart rate went up. “Whoa, whoa,” he said. “That’s clearly a violation of my privacy.”

“No it’s not, smart ass,” said Principal Ross, almost smiling.

Well, he was certainly finished now. He had a ton of pills in there. So Danny did the unthinkable just before the police officer unzipped his backpack. “Alright, guys,” he said. “You got me. Caught me red-handed.”

Principal Ross narrowed his eyes. “I always knew you were up to no good.”

Before Principal Ross could smile wider, the police officer said, “Sir, he’s clean.”

“What?” his face went red as a tomato. “There has to be a mistake.”

The officer shook his head. “There’s no drugs in his possession.”

Ah, so that’s what he was looking for…

Principal Ross snatched the backpack from the officer’s hand and turned it upside down, spilling all of Danny’s textbooks onto the floor.

Danny held back a laugh as Principal Ross wagged a finger in his face. “You got lucky this time, Danny. But don’t worry, you’ll slip up. I’m counting on it.”

“Have a great day,” Danny teased as he turned and moved on to the next victim. Leaning against his cold locker, Danny released a much-need sigh of relief. Holy shit that was close!

 

 

“You are one lucky bastard,” said Holden as he helped Danny pick up his things.

“I’m not lucky—I’m just awesome!” he beamed like a thief just gotten away with the crown jewels. As he stood there, not being hauled away, he wondered how the hell he got away with it.

“And you’re arrogant,” said Nate, suddenly appearing by his side.

“Yeah, that too,” agreed Danny.

“Close call.” That came from a voice he didn’t recognize but when he saw her, he knew exactly who she was—Rebekah Rogers aka The Little Psycho Who Could. The stories he’d heard and seen for his own eyes. He all but puked when she smiled devilishly at Holden.

“You two know each other?” he asked Holden accusingly.

“Yeah,” said Holden. “We’ve been hanging out.”

Danny’s jaw hit the floor. “Get the fuck outta here,” he said in disbelief. “I know you’re lying because there’s no way in hell that you’d be dumb enough to hang out with this crazy bitch. Especially after what she did to Amber—I saw everything.”

Holden’s eyes widened in shock. “What is your problem?”

“What? You were there too. This bitch is seriously messed up just like she was in middle school. The only difference now is she got a little hotter, possibly crazier.”

Holden went red.

Rebekah looked between him Holden, her eyes became daggers. “Do you believe everything you hear?”

“Do you get crazy on full moons or is it just a part of your nature?” Danny shot back.

She opened her mouth to make a remark but Holden said, “Jesus, Danny! You barley know her. Knock it off!”

“Oh, but I do know her. You better stay away from her. Something about her isn’t right. I can feel it.”

“Come on Holden, let’s go.” Rebekah took Holden by the hand and turned him away from Danny and Nate. As they left, she turned around and gave him an ice stare that sent a menacing chill down his spine, made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

“Classy,” said Nate, shaking Danny from his thoughts. “Come on, walk with me.”

“Excuse you?” said Danny, appalled at this freakazoid. No way in hell did he want to be seen walking down the halls with Nate off all people.

“You heard what I said,” Nate said, adding an edge to his voice. Without giving him a choice he began walking away.

Grumbling under his breath, Danny reluctantly followed Nate and made sure not to keep his distance. Nate stopped inside the bathroom and locked the door behind Danny when he checked the stalls to see that no one else was in there with them.

“Look, dude, I’m not into. You’re not even remotely my type so—”

“Shut the hell up,” said Nate, surprising Danny. Even more surprisingly, Nate reached into his pocket and shoved a lightweight, clear bag of triangular pills into Danny’s hands—his stash.

Danny was at loss for words.

Nate stared at him. “Turns out you’re not so lucky after all, huh?”

Not a clue what else to say, Danny said, “Umm, thanks?” Nate turned to leave and Danny asked, “Why’d you do it?”

Nate paused, his hand on the door. “What are friends for?” He walked out before Danny could come up with an offhanded remark. Danny didn’t like him but he suddenly hated Nate a little less.

 

Chapter 15: I Knew You Were Trouble

 

 

It was just days after the party and the locker incident but Holden couldn’t shake the idea that Rebekah wasn’t so perfect after all and that maybe Danny struck a nerve. He didn’t want to think about the way Rebekah lashed out at the party and broke the girl’s wrist without a moment of hesitation. And the way she snapped at Danny? That was a bit necessary but still. What of this was the universe’s way of telling him to back away from Rebekah? After all, they were only friends and it wasn’t like there was a solid reason to stay friends with her. She was the girlfriend of the guy he nearly killed, he kept reminding himself. He was at home sloshing through physics homework, forcing himself to read until his eyes hurt.

He only planned to close his eyes for a few moments. Instead, his mind became filled with a horrible dream of the night he hit Charlie. In the dream he was all alone on the dark road, kneeling before Charlie as his breathing slowed. He could feel his life slipping as Charlie reached out and mumbled, “…help me! P-please…” Holden’s cheek moistened as he tried to speak but no words came out. He stood up and tried to run to his car but his legs were stuck like he was in quicksand. Suddenly there was a blinding light from headlights coming from behind him and just as he turned around, the car was inches away from impact. He could barely make out the outline of the driver when he was thrown out of the dream.

Back in his room, his heart pounded inside his chest and he felt somewhat safe knowing that it wasn’t real. But it felt like he had actually been close to being struck just as Charlie had. He closed his textbook and stood, thinking it would be a good idea to stretch. He needed to clear his head. Why was he thinking about Charlie so much lately? Guilt? Or was it the stalker hiding? What the heck was he going to do? He couldn’t exactly walk into the police station and tell them someone was stalking him without incriminating himself and his friends…not unless he lied.

No. He was done keeping secrets. The one he was harboring was eating at him too much and couldn’t bear to add any more. He got in his car and drove around the neighborhood. There was a park nearby where children were running around free and not worrying about jack. Holden felt a tinge of jealousy, wishing he could go back to those days. Of course, he remembered middle school where he befriended Danny and later Nate. It was a nerve-wrecking experience, particularly the sixth grade. Back then he was the brainy, quiet kid in a magnet program trying not to get pulverized by the bigger kids who were jealous of the way he spoke and dressed, not to mention he was a teacher’s pet. If it wasn’t for Danny to have stood up for him in the cafeteria, he would definitely have never made it through the rest of the year, or better yet, he would’ve ended up a psychopath hating life.

Seeing the kids on the playground brought him once again to Charlie. He also thought about the things he heard some people saying about Charlie, how he was hooked on dexies and wasn’t as innocent as the media was trying to perceive him. What was he like as a kid? Would he like to have kids of his own? Holden had to know. A part of him had to know what was going on with Charlie, just to satisfy his curiosity.

Stay away, Holden, he chastised himself. What if someone realizes what you did? Then what?

He ignored his thoughts as he found himself pulling up to Jackson Memorial Hospital. It didn’t take much to find out which room Charlie was in, thanks to the Facebook his family had set up for him. After some lurking in the hallway, Holden made his way into Charlie’s room. Aside from the beeping machines, the room was super quiet. Right in the middle of the room was Charlie. Holden took a few tentative steps closer to the bed. up close, he could see that Charlie’s eyes were swollen shut; there was a lot of bruising around his mouth where a breathing tube was poking out, it appeared to be hooked up to a machine that was breathing for him.

For a second Holden stared at the lame gift he bought on his way from gift shop. He looked at the dresser of other gifts and get well balloons. At least someone was rooting for Charlie. Holden was rooting for the wrong reason – he only wanted him to get better so his death wouldn’t be on his conscience. He couldn’t live with himself if Charlie died.

Footsteps from behind startled him. Holden turned around to see a man about the same age as Holden’s father. He stood in the doorway before coming inside. He cleared his throat and asked, “Are you a friend of his from school?”

“Um, I—I…,” Holden stammered as he struggled for the right words to say. Fuck. He swallowed hard. “Uh, yeah, sort of,” Holden said quickly. “I didn’t know him that well but I wanted to pay him a visit. Um, I’m sorry I’ll leave—”

“No, please stay,” he said. He reached out a hand and said, “Hi, I’m John, Charlie’s father. Not biologically of course, he was adopted.”

“Oh, hi,” said Holden. “I’m Kenneth,” he lied, then felt bad for giving a fake name. Shit, what else was he supposed to do?

“Nice to meet you, Kenneth.” He looked over at Charlie. “He’s always been a loner, had problems in school, especially in middle school when he found out he was adopted. He lashed out and started hanging out with the wrong crowd.” He sighed exasperatedly. “I never thought he would end up like this.”

Holden was torn. He wanted to reach out and comfort the man but he had to maintain his distance. After all, he barely knew the man.

John continued, “He didn’t deserve this.”

Holden swallowed hard. Panic sunk in and blood began rushing in his ears. He had to get the hell out of here. He slowly turned to leave when john said, “Have you heard anything at school? Know anyone who could have hated Charlie so much?”

Holden froze. He cursed under his breath before facing john. “Uh, no sir. Sorry but no one is really talking. I think we’re all still in shock, you know?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I guess. I’m so confused by all of this. I want to do more but the police have made it clear they want me out of the way. I just want justice for my son.”

Holden nodded. He looked about the rooms, did any and everything to avoid looking at john’s eyes. He stuck his hands in his pocket and asked aloud, “How is Charlie? Is he getting any better?”

When he turned, Holden could see tears in the man’s eyes. “No. The doctor’s say it’ll be a miracle if he makes it out of this. And if he does he’ll be a vegetable for the rest of his life.” his hand balled into a fist. He walked over to Charlie’s side and closed eyes in prayer.

In a barely audible voice, Holden said, “I hope he gets better.” He left the room so quick he barreled into someone. He looked up to see Rebekah staring back at him. She looked like she had been crying a river. Her eyes were bloodshot with dried tears streaking her cheeks.

Instinctively, he reached and held her shoulder. “Hey, are you okay?”

She sniffled. “No. I was on my way to see, to see Charlie but I broke down. I just couldn’t stand to see him like that.”

Holden blinked back tears of his own. “I just was in there with his father. He’s not looking so good.”

Rebekah’s eyes flashed with hurt, anger even. She pulled away from Holden with an icy glare so cold he felt it deep in his core. “Get away from me!”

Confused, Holden asked, “What did I do?”

“I need to be alone right now. Just leave me alone, Holden!”

He tried to grab her gently but she scared the crap out of him when she shoved him so hard he flew backwards and hit the wall, hard. She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and Holden was sure she was about to do some harm. A nurse ran over and broke Rebekah’s hold. Holden took his opening and ran.

The tears came moments later when he was sitting in his car. Alone and genuinely worried, Holden played back in his mind the look on Rebekah’s face.

As much he as he tried to deny it, he knew he had to stay away from her. She was grieving and hurt. He needed to give her space. It was better this way.

When he was home in his bedroom, he called up Danny and Nate on three-way, something he hadn’t done since, well, middle school. He told them about his meeting Charlie’s father. Danny screamed at him and told him what he already knew—that Holden was an idiot and needed to be locked up for in a mental ward. Nate was silent, speaking up only when Holden mentioned running into Rebekah and her freaking out on him. They all agreed that Rebekah was a basket case, yet again. If the scene at the party wasn’t evidence enough, clearly this was a sign that Rebekah was indeed unstable. What other proof did he need?

“Dude, if I have to tell you again, I’m going to kick your ass,” warned Danny. “Why can’t you see what’s so plain to see? She’s clearly got some anger issues she needs to work out.”

“Can you blame her?” said Nate. “Someone nearly put her boyfriend in a coma and he’s probably not going to come out of it. She’s a weirdo at school and everybody knows it. She’s the same crazy chick from middle school we all stayed away from with good reason.”

Holden listened to his friends and agreed. The best thing he could do was avoid Rebekah in the halls. Well, at least until she calmed down or something.

Chapter 16: On The Edge

 

 

Nate was trying to focus on his trigonometry homework but he could barely concentrate. For a split second he considered calling Danny and asking for some pills. He decided that would a bad idea. He’d rather earn his grade the honest way. It kind of made him sick to his stomach being friends with a guy like Danny. And to think he helped him out a few days ago with the random locker search. If he had been a horrible person he would have stood idly by and watched as the police haul Danny off to juvie, or worse, which he so deserved.

Closing his trig book, Nate decided he needed a study break. His eyes hurt and studying wasn’t getting any easier. He was just about to get a snack from the kitchen when his cell phone rang. He grabbed it and saw Alec’s face pop up. He held back his excitement as he answered, “Hey, Alec. What goes on?”

Alec laughed. “Jenny just left. Wanna come over? Play some Xbox..?”

If play Xbox was code for make out, he was totally down for it. That made him smile so hard his cheeks hurt. He was about to say yes when his bedroom door burst open, making Nate jump. Aunt May stood in the doorframe, an amused expression on her face. “Is your homework finished?”

“Almost,” Nate answered. Though truthfully, he hadn’t even started his essay for English, let alone his French project, which he was going to need Holden’s help with.

Aunt May rolled her eyes. “Maybe if you spent less time flapping your gums on the phone you would be.” She paused and walked into the room. “Who are you talking to?”

“Nosy much?” said Alec. He let out a laugh, which made Nate do the same.

Nate covered the phone. “Can I have some privacy please?” he already knew the answer was going to be a big fat ‘no’ but he liked messing with Aunt May. She may be old in age but she was pretty lenient with him. Most of the time.

“You want some privacy?” She raised her eyebrows. “Maybe when you start paying the bill I’ll think about it.” Her face was dead serious. “Now, I ask again, who are you talking to?”

Nate groaned. He glanced at the phone and back at Aunt May. “Just a friend…his name is Alec.”

“Just a friend, huh?”

“Yes…”

“Is he cute? Straight? In the closet—”

“Aunt May!” Nate cried out, feelings his face flush. “He’s still on the phone.”

“Good. He’ll hear me tell you this: no sex, no more late night partying. You need to be focused on getting your grades up. You don’t have time for distractions.”

Nate couldn’t believe she was going there, now of all times. It wasn’t like he was in danger of flunking any of his classes. Last quarter he maintained his 3.0 GPA while doing a bunch after school stuff. He wasn’t crazy as Holden but he was no slacker.

Sighing, he said, “I’m not having sex…with anyone. And my grades are pretty awesome so I think you need to take a chill pill.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t know what a ‘chill pill’ is but I do know you better have your but in bed by ten. No excuses.” she turned and walked out of his room, humming to herself.

Nate put the phone back his ear and groaned. Alec laughed and said, “Um, the nineties called and they want you to refrain from ever using ‘chill pill’ ever again.”

Nate cracked up. “Shut your mouth.”

“Why don’t you come shut it for me…?”

Nate smiled. “I think I just might.”

“Don’t think about it – just do it.”

Nate rolled his eyes. “Stop tempting me.”

“Stop being scared.”

Suddenly a chill ran up his spine. He saw a shadow dart across his window from outside. He took a deep breath and looked out the window; nothing was there. Nothing but darkness. A feeling of creepiness crept over him and he thought of the creep who had left that message in his mailbox. Even though Aunt May was home with him, he didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to be anywhere but here.

Alec was right in more way than one—he needed to stop being scared. His phoned chimed and he saw Jenny was calling.

“Hold that thought,” he said to Alec and switched over to take Jenny’s call. “Hey what’s up?”

“Nothing. What are you up to? Feel like going out for some pizza?”

Heck no, he wanted to answer. Instead he came up with a quick lie. “Sorry but my aunt won’t let me out of the house until my homework is done. I barely just got started.”

He felt bad when she said, “Well, that sucks.”

Trying to steer things around, Nate said, “Why don’t you take Alec with you?”

“Ugh. I don’t wanna be around him right now.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a long story. Anyway, I’ll tell you all about in class tomorrow. Have fun with your homework.” the sadness in her voice put a knot in his stomach. Still, he clicked back over to Alec. “Hey, I’m on my way.”

 

 

Alec’s house smelled like fresh-baked cookies when he walked in. he had the house to himself with both of his parents stuck at work and his older brother was somewhere with his friends. Since Alec didn’t have lacrosse practice today, he was feeling bored and Nate certainly didn’t mind passing time with him. They sat in the grand living room, stuffing their faces with pizza and hot wings. Alec put on the Xbox and they played a bunch of war-themed games, blowing stuff up and then they watched a movie, where again, things blew up.

Nate felt safer than ever with Alec sitting so close he could feel the heat radiating off of Alec’s body. He so badly wanted to reach out and stroke his thigh, maybe even touch his bicep. The temptation to touch his soft skin was making his head hurt.

“You think he’s cute?”

“Hmm?” Nate snapped his head up to Alec. He had his eyes on the fifty-inch flat screen, which was showing a shirtless scene of a hot guy with deeply tanned skin and an ab-tastic body. Sure, he was okay-looking but Alec was way cuter. “Nah,” said Nate.

After a moment, Alec turned off the TV. He turned and asked, “You think I’m gay or bi?”

Nate looked at Alec straight in the eyes, almost like he was staring into his soul—and he liked it. The way Alec’s hazel eyes drew him in, so gentle and kind. Nate felt himself melting. Nate placed his hand on Alec’s thigh and said, “It doesn’t matter what I think.”

Alec sighed. He leaned his face next to Nate’s. “You’re not just saying that to get inside my pants are you?”

On impulse, Nate closed the space between them and kissed his lips. When he pulled back, Alec’s face flushed red. “I liked that. I like when you give in to me.”

Feeling the blood rush in his veins, he kissed Alec again, this time pushing him back so they fell against the sofa. Eyes closed, Nate used his hands to explore Alec’s body; the contours of his muscles. He loved being so close to him, having their bodies pressed so close to each other. And those lips. So soft and—

Nate bolted up at the sound of a door opening. They froze.

Alec’s eyes bulged when a male voice called out, “Alec, where the hell are you? You better be making out with that hot girlfriend of yours.”

“Shit!” they said in unison as they scrambled to their feet.

“How the hell am I supposed to get out of here?” Nate whispered.

“Come on, I’ll show you to the side door,” said Alec, leading Nate by the hand as she scrambled to grab his t-shirt and shoes from off the floor. Alec quietly sneaked past the living area and into the kitchen where there was a side door that led outside.

Just as Nate stepped into the yard Alec gently grabbed his wrist; Nate turned around just as Alec pressed his body up against the wall and kissed him hard on the lips. He was the first to pull back and was nearly out of breath. He kissed him on the cheek and said, “Rain check on that make out session?”

Nate smiled. “Definitely.” He took a mental note of Alec standing there shirtless, the way the jeans hugged his backside. This made him smile as he jumped in his car. When he was a block away, he looked at his phone as a new message popped up from an unknown number. An overwhelming sense of anxiety rushed over him as he opened the message: Boy was that close! Like to live life on the edge, huh? Well, so do I!”—GS

Nate groaned. So much for being paranoid.

The stalker was real. But what the hell did they want with Nate?

Chapter 17: Snitches Wind Up With Stitches

 

 

Surprising his father, Danny was up and eating breakfast early Monday morning. For some reason, he couldn’t stand to stay in bed past eight AM. Maybe it had something to do with the horror movie he had watched before bed about a bunch of college kids getting picked off one by one by a sadistic killer. Either way, he had a pit at the bottom of his stomach that wouldn’t go away. After tossing and turning he finally got out of bed and waited for the maid to show up and get breakfast started.

As he sat at the table eating grits and catfish, Danny’s father walked in, dressed in his suit and tie, nothing out place. He sat down and stared at Danny from across the table. “This is a surprise.” A skeptical look turned his lips into frown. “Why are you up so early?”

Danny shrugged his shoulders. “Thought I’d watch the sunrise while I masturbated to some lesbo porn.”

Mr. Vanderbilt groaned. “Must you be so crass early this morning?”

Danny went silent. “Mom never had a problem with it.”

“Well, your mother is dead. She’s not coming back.”

“I know that.”

“Did you also know that a kid at your school was nearly killed in a hit and run accident? Could you imagine what his parents are going through?”

Danny eyed his fork and did ever thing but look at his father until he mustered a stern look. “I guess it must be tough.” Danny paused. He looked at his father and asked, “You wish that was me don’t you, Dad? That way you’d be done with me and my immaturity.” Mr. Vanderbilt cut his eye at Danny and he just knew he was going to get a slap in the face…or worse. Instead, his father turned in his chair and said, “Danny, we may not see eye to eye all the time but you are my son and I love you. I’d be devastated if I lost you.”

Danny scoffed. “You sure as heck don’t act like it.”

“What do you want from me, Danny?”

“I want you to stop looking at me like I’m a screw-up, like you hate me or something. I may not be a bookworm like Brandon but I keep my grades up, I go to school—when I feel like it—and I think I’m a good person.”

“So why can’t you stay out of trouble? You think I like having to discipline you every time you act up? I want you to graduate and be successful. I love you, Danny. Otherwise, I’d let you run wild.”

After a few minutes, Danny let his father’s words sink in. Brandon came to breakfast and once they fell into routine, Danny gave Brandon a ride to school. On the way, Brandon was his usual self, asking tons of questions. He was nosey and Danny didn’t realize how so until he reached into the glove compartment. He pulled out a bag and asked, “Can I have some candy?”

Not remembering having any sweets, Danny shrugged. “Sure.” Nothing wrong with a little candy for breakfast.

Brandon laughed and said, “I’ve never had triangle candy before—”

Danny stopped the car and reached over just as Brandon was about to put a dexie in his mouth, Danny knocked it out of his hand and said, “Hey! That’s not candy!”

Brandon looked scared, like he wanted to cry. Danny lowered his voice. “Sorry buddy but I’ll buy you some after school, okay?”

“Why can’t I have the triangle candy?”

Danny paused. “Because it’ll make you really sick and Dad will be very upset.”

He looked confused but said, “Okay.”

Danny was still reeling when he strutted into class with Holden on his heels. He didn’t really feel like talking to him so he ignored him. At least until the dean announced that all the seniors had to go to the auditorium for a mandatory assembly. “What do you think it’s about?” Holden asked.

Danny scoffed. “Like I care. I’m just glad to be getting out of class.”

Holden pulled out his giant physics textbook and began reading and highlighting words with a marker, ever the overachiever. Danny rolled his eyes, even more so when he happened to see Rebekah sending him an icy glare from across the room. He thought he was just imagining it but she was really staring at him like he had killed her puppy or something.

He turned away from her stare before he really got goose bumps on his arms. The dean began talking and droned forever. Danny didn’t pay attention until he heard the dean say, “It brings me great sadness to inform you all that a student has recently passed away from an apparent Ritalin overdose.”

The gym erupted in sighs and shocked conversations. Holden nearly dropped his book and grabbed Danny’s arm. “Dude, did you hear that?”

Danny turned back to the dean. “…Michel Carter was a senior who had received an early admission to Stanford. He was last seen at the library before his parents found him dead in his bedroom. They called paramedics and he was unresponsive. I want this to serve as a warning to all students taking part in drugs at my school—you will get caught and the consequences will be severe.” It was almost as if he was speaking directly at Danny. But that was impossible. He got this gut feeling that he was on the edge of getting caught but then again, he was probably just being paranoid. So what, another idiot overdosed on dexies. It wasn’t as if Danny and the other dealers were forcing people to take the pills—they knew exactly what they were getting into when they bought the pills. Danny shook off any feelings of guilt easily.

A thought crossed his mind—what if Brandon had swallowed a handful of dexies by accident? What would he do? His father would surely kill him. Would he be able to live with himself? Hell no.

Danny did have to admit that it was kind of sad that another student had abused dexies and paid the ultimate price. Maybe he should consider taking a break from dealing. Things were getting crazy and he most definitely didn’t want to get caught up. He had to do something to distance himself.

At the end of the assembly Danny’s phone was blowing up with requests for dexies.

This made him smile and felt a tug of guilt at the same time. He would quit once there was no longer a demand for dexies. Until then, as far as he was concerned, if it made money, it made sense.

By the time gym rolled around, Danny was feeling awesome. He went to the lockers and when he passed the gym teacher, he stared at Danny and exclaimed, “My god! I missed you I gym the last couple of weeks.”

Danny smiled. “I could have sworn I saw your picture on the sex predators list…”

Danny went on and played basketball to get his class participation credit. He was on a team with Holden and Nate. Surprisingly, they made a good team. He had to admit that Nate surprised him when he made a few three pointers. It felt good to be able to get the dexie overdose off his mind. He was so happy when he showered and went to change. He reached his and a note fell out of his pants. He opened it and read the note to himself, almost feeling like he was being watched the very second. There were some people around but he still felt paranoid as hell when he read the note again: Remember how you got away with leaving the scene of a crime? Well, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. G.S

“What the actual fuck?” exclaimed Danny. He stared at the typed note for several long seconds before shoving it back in his locker. As he looked up, he was nearly face to face with Nate. It was then that he realized he was standing in his Armani briefs. “What are you staring at?” he snapped as he began pulling on his jeans.

Nate scoffed. “Not much.” He turned to leave and said, “I hope you got that wakeup call earlier.”

“What?”

“The dean’s speech, the recent overdose. Don’t you think it’s time to stop dealing while you’ve got the chance?”

“And miss out on making easy money? I don’t think so,” Danny said, tugging his shirt on. “I’m not giving up my dexies just because some idiots don’t know how to be responsible.”

Nate stepped in his way as he turned to leave. “You want to talk about responsibility? Why don’t you realize that you are part of the problem? Stop selling dexies and maybe there won’t be any more overdoses.”

Danny thought for a second. “You know, I’ll stop dealing when I feel like it.”

“Or when you get hauled off to jail…” Nate added under his breath loud enough for Danny to hear.

Danny went about the rest of his day, caring about anything but keeping a low profile. It was nearing the end of the day when he was walking behind Rebekah and a tall guy he had seen around school. He was on the journalism thingy. They were talking about something when Rebekah pulled him into the hallway. Curious, Danny hurried behind and peeked around the corner. He was close enough to hear the conversation, which sounded serious.

He was pretty sure he heard Rebekah curse. “…this is taking you entirely too long, Jackson. I gave you that deadline ages ago! Why hasn’t that list been published yet?”

“Because I need more time…It’s not as easy I thought it’d be.”

“Come on! I don’t care how you but I want Danny Vanderbilt at the top of that list ASAP.”

Danny froze in place, a bewildered expression on his face.

His heart sped up as he pressed his back up against the wall.

“…I’m sorry,” Jackson was saying, his voice quivering. “I just need more time to get some dirt on him…try to catch him in the act.”

“Do what you have to do but I want to see him go down for this. He’s the worst one of them all and he deserves to rot in jail. Am I right?”

“Um, I see your point. A lot people are taking dexies and getting A’s while the rest of us have to get our grades the honest way. It’s not fair.”

“Oh please, I don’t care about the politics. It’s the principal: get rid of him and make him pay,” she snapped.

“Jeez, what did he ever to do you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, you seem to have a grudge against him, not to mention the other guys he hangs out with, um, Holden and Nate. What, you’ve got something diabolical planned for those two as well—”

Danny’s cell phone rang loudly.

Rebekah and Jackson were silent.

Heart thudding, Danny silenced the phone and hurried down the hall and slipped into the bathroom. He locked himself in an empty stall and calmed himself, let everything he’d heard sink in.

He was just exiting after a few minutes when Jackson was coming inside. He paused when he noticed Danny was in front of him. He was scared, like he was ten seconds away from pissing his pants. Danny looked him straight in the eyes and hoped he was scaring the bejesus out of him. Sure, it probably wasn’t enough to get him off his back, but Danny couldn’t let him know how terrified he was of being snitched on…

After a moment, Jackson said, “I’m not surprised to find you hiding in the slacker’s hangout.”

Danny cracked his knuckles. “Is that right?”

Jackson gulped and backed up, his back against the wall. “Look, I don’t want any trouble, Danny. I just came to use the bathroom.”

Danny grinned mischievously at how badly Jackson was quivering. “Go ahead. It’s a free country.” Danny motioned to the stalls with his arm.

Jackson sighed and stepped around Danny.

Danny took a step towards the door and said, “You should watch your back, Jackson.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because you’re a snitch. And you wanna know what happens to snitches?”

Jackson’s brows raised.

Danny’s lips curled into a smirk. “They wind up with stitches.”

Chapter 18: Back Up

 

 

After being up since five a.m., Holden closed his eyes as he slammed his physics book shut. He needed a break after all that studying so he got up and went to the kitchen. Mrs. Cotillard was making breakfast and the smell of fresh blueberry pancakes – his favorite, filled the air.

“Good morning! It’s barely seven a.m. and you’re up already? Why can’t you be a normal child?” She laughed as Holden took a seat at the bar.

Holden gave her a smile. “I can’t be normal. I inherited your super-brain and dad’s OCD tendencies. Thanks for that,” he added sarcastically.

Mrs. Cotillard piled Holden’s plate high with pancakes, bacon and toast. “So,” she said, taking a seat next to him. “How’s school?”

“It’s good. A bit exhausting but nothing I can’t handle.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Mr. Cotillard, walking into the kitchen. He was dressed in a pressed suit, looking very much like a businessman. He grabbed a slice of bacon and said to Holden, “Keep it up and don’t let those idiot classmates ever tell you that you’re too smart.”

“Because there’s no such thing as being too smart,” Holden said, laughing.

As Mr. Cotillard turned to leave, Mrs. Cotillard pointed out, “You missed a button.”

Mr. Cotillard went to fix it and that’s when Holden first noticed something was definitely off. His hands shook as she he tried to button the shirt. He struggled for several long seconds before giving up. He shot Holden a stern look, who decided it was best to keep his mouth shut, especially when a worried look crossed his mother’s face.

Mr. Cotillard grabbed his coffee mug and left as if nothing was wrong. But Holden knew the disease was in full effect. Lately Holden had been noticing everything about his father–how he took longer to put on his socks or simpler tasks such as picking up a book. Sometimes Holden would find his father staring off into space in the middle of a conversation or his hands would twitch uncontrollably. The disease was slowly killing him.

Holden shook the images from his mind and went on about his day. At school, he was somewhat looking forward to spending time with Rebekah. He wanted to ask her why she freaked out so badly after the hospital visit. He had tried texting her but never got a response so he figured she needed some space to deal with her emotions, especially if she had visited Charlie.

During his free period he shared with Danny on the rare occasion he actually showed up to class, they chilled on the bleachers. The weather was perfect – not too hot and the wind was blowing just right. Holden leaned back against the bleachers and took it all in. I just a few months this would all be in the past. No more high school. No more putting up with lazy classmates. He’d be on his way to adulthood.

“Yo, what are you thinking about over there?”

Danny’s question stirred him from his thoughts. “Nothing really. I just can’t believe high school is almost over. This is our last year. It seemed like just yesterday we were scared freshmen. Now look at us.”

“I wasn’t scared,” Danny said, his chest puffed out. “Don’t you remember I got into a fight with that senior who tried to steal my iPod?”

“Of course I remember,” Holden laughed. “That’s the same day I got my nose broke during P.E. There’s a reason I never played football—even in middle school.”

Danny laughed. Then it dimmed. “Speaking of middle school, Rebekah seems to have changed a lot—well, physically speaking. Back then she was a hot mess. Now she’s still a hot mess and still psycho. How can you be friends with her? And please tell me you’re not trying to hit that.”

“Come on, you know me better than that,” Holden said, feeling his face flush. He hadn’t been with anyone since Carly and it sucked. Masturbating was okay but he was certainly missing the real thing. “We’re just friends.”

“So you admit she’s the same psychopath she was in middle school? Look what she did to Megan. That was so unnecessary. You don’t agree?”

“I guess.”

“And didn’t you say she flipped out on you at the hospital? If that’s not a clear sign to walk away then, hell, I must be the crazy one.”

Holden laughed but it was cut short when he heard a noise. He looked around and found they were the only ones out. “Didn’t you hear that?”

“What? The stalker is amongst us?” Danny said playfully.

“I’m serious. I heard something. You don’t think this Good Samaritan person is really after us?”

Danny stood up and said, “I’m not worried about a damn thing until I see some proof. Until then, screw it.”

“Where are you going? We still have like twenty minutes left until our next class.

“No, you might but I got a customer. Plus I’m going home to take a nap. Call me of you see any stalkers,” Danny said as he left the bleachers.

Holden shook his head in disbelief. He killed in it classes, especially in lit class. He gave a riveting example of Shakespeare and made his other classmates look like lazy morons. He was happy all day, even when he saw Rebekah during lunch. He decided he was going to eat lunch off campus as usual and ran into her in the parking lot. “Hey, Holden.” She smiled like a kid on Christmas.

“Hey. Glad to see you’re not mad at me anymore.”

A confused look crossed her features. “Why would I be mad at you?”

Holden chose his next words carefully “Well, after you freaked on me at the hospital I thought—”

“Oh, Holden! “She lightly punched his arm. “I was just having a bad day. Where are you going for lunch?”

Holden found her shift in mood jarring and had to take a few moments to consider whether he should distance himself just because or be glad she was being, well, normal. “Um, I don’t know. You can choose.”

That was a bad idea. They spent fifteen minutes with Rebekah trying to decide if she wanted fried chicken or burgers and then she vacillated between sushi and Chinese food, eventually deciding on pizza. By then lunch was nearly over and Holden hurried back, lest he be late for afternoon classes.

“What are you doing after school?” Rebekah as Holden pulled into the parking lot, counting down the minutes in his head before the bell rang.

“Um I have lacrosse practice and I have few meetings. Why what’s up?”

I was hoping we could hang out. Just us too. Maybe go to the movies?

“Uh sure. Why not?” Holden answered too quickly just to get her out of his car. He couldn’t imagine being late, even for a second.

Rebekah squealed. “Yay!”

Holden laughed at how ecstatic she was. In class, he was certainly not looking forward to telling her that the movie was not going to happen. He had to crack down on his extra credit project he was doing involving tons of research not to mention time he was going to devote to being in the library. With practice and everything else, he just didn’t have the luxury to put it off. He sent her a quick text: Sorry. Can’t make it. Rain check?

Rebekah replied with a sad face: I understand.

Holden smiled, glad she was cool with it. As far as he was concerned, she wasn’t psycho at all. She was a bit closed off bit not a psycho.

After school he threw himself into lacrosse for an hour and then went on to several meetings. By the time he got to the library and worked on his project for history he was feeling like he was ready to pass out. Amidst his studying a familiar voice said, “There’s more to life than studying.”

Holden nearly jumped when he looked into Carly’s face. She was still beautiful and the thought of their brief history made his heart pound. He smiled at the same words once spoken by Danny. “Thought I’d never see you in the library – alone,” he teased.

Carly laughed. “Whatever.” She closed his textbook and ignored the warning look on his face. “How have you been?”

“Good. I miss you,” the last words flew out of his mouth and he felt his face go hot.

“I missed you too.”

They sat and talked for a long time and Holden remembered he had to be getting home. They walked out of the library laughing, which continued until they got to the parking lot. It was dark and the lights were on but an eerie feeling was heavy in the air. Holden fought the feeling. When they got to Carly’s car, she screamed, “Oh my God!”

Holden froze as he surveyed the car – and the damage. Someone had wrote SLUT on the hood and the driver’s side of the car. “What the hell?” said Carly? “Who did this?”

An uneasy feeling fell over Holden as he remembered what happened to his car after the lacrosse game. Was it the same person? What did they have against Carly?

Instead of telling her what was on his mind, he went with something else. “Damn they got you too? I heard this has been happening a lot since we beat Miami Gardens.”

She cursed. “This sucks! You know how much it’s going to cost to get this fixed?” she rolled her eyes. “I hate high school.”

Holden placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry. Wish there was something I could to help.”

Tears began to build in her eyes and Holden really wished he could do something. He felt so helpless. Surprising himself, he pulled her into a hug. He wanted to hold her forever. They stayed like that until the sound of tires screeching filled the air. Holden turned and saw a car pulling out of the parking lot. The windows were tinted but he felt totally creped out.

It’s nothing, he told himself. Just a coincidence.

Chapter 19: Why So Serious, Nate?

 

 

Nate strolled into class just as the tardy bell rang. He took his seat next to Holden. He looked great as usual but Nate could tell something was on his mind. Nate hadn’t seen or spoken to him since the night of the game and had witnessed Rebekah going batshit crazy on that poor girl Amber. Of course, there was also the incident with Danny confronting Rebekah. There was so much hostility in the air Holden had to be brain dead not to notice it.

“What are you so giddy about?” asked Holden.

Nate looked over at Holden. He had a curious expression on his face, “I’m not giddy,” said Nate.

“Yes, you are,” Holden said. “You’re doodling N + A all over your paper.”

Alarmed, Nate looked down and sure enough, he had written exactly as Holden said all over his paper. He was turning into a lovesick fool and they hadn’t even had sex yet. Not that he was counting down the days or anything. The thought of his body on Alec’s made his heart patter.

“So,” Holden continued, “Who’s this ‘A’ person? Your secret lover I’m guessing. Anybody I know?”

Shit. He didn’t want Holden to know that he was in a secret relationship with his teammate. That so wouldn’t go well. Holden was great at Holden secrets. But with the accident and the stalker, he didn’t think Holden needed to be bothered with Nate’s complicated love life. And really, there was nothing to tell. Avoiding Holden’s watchful eye, Nate said, “Uh, he’s a guy of course. You might know him since you know everybody in our senior class.”

Holden smiled. “That’s cool.”

Nate nodded. “What’s up with Rebekah? Glad to see you don’t have a bruised eye. Yet.”

Holden stiffened. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Well, you know. Rebekah isn’t the most stable person on the planet. I mean, didn’t you see her at amber’s party? So not cool.”

Holden’s jaw twitched. “That wasn’t her fault. Amber provoked her.”

Right,” said Nate, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“You were there. You saw it.”

“Yeah, I saw how Rebekah freaked when some hot girl tried to steal you away and winded up damn near breaking the girl’s arm.”

Holden folded his arms. “I guess you’re on Danny’s side then.”

“For once, yeah. That girl has your head so clouded. What is it about her? I don’t get it. Crazy must be a turn on since Carly broke up with you. Rebekah is nowhere near your type.”

Holden turned. “Oh, so you know my type now?”

“Bro, I’ve known your type since before you knew you had a type – and Rebekah isn’t it. Not even close.”

Holden frowned. “Whatever. Rebekah is going through some stuff right now.”

“Like what?”

Holden went quiet. “I can’t talk about it. It’s personal.”

“Like what, her dog died or something?” Nate deadpanned.

Holden sighed. “Yeah, something like that. Can we talk about something else? Like that project for French class you emailed me about?”

“Oh yeah. I don’t want to talk about that – nice subject change though. Oh, speaking of change, have you changed your mind about going to the faux Halloween party?”

“The what?” Holden scrunched up his nose.

“You know, the big faux Halloween party our senior class is throwing to see who has the most school spirit or whatever? How could you forget? You’re like the poster child for school spirit.”

Halloween is like months away. That’s stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“That’s because we have an imbecile for class president. I can’t believe you lost to him.”

Holden laughed. “I know, right? And you get mad cool points for using an SAT word in a sentence. Kudos!”

They exploded with laughter and quieted down when the study hall monitor, shot them a look. They continued to talk some more when Danny strolled into class and made a scrawny kid give up his seat. He threw his feet on the empty desk in front of him like he was a king. “Waddup, bitches?” he said, twiddling his fingers.

“It’s this thing called studying,” said Holden. “You know, where you use your brain to learn stuff.”

Danny reached a hand inside his pocket. “I’ve got something for you.” he pulled out his hand with his fist closed. Slowly, he lifted his middle finger. Holden gave him the finger right back.

Nate laughed.

Danny gave him an icy look. “What are you laughing at?” he looked down at Nate’s paper and started to ask, “What the hell is N plus A?” he threw the paper down and said, “Nope. I do NOT want to know.”

Nate opened his mouth to speak just as Alec strolled into class sporting dark shades. He looked in Nate’s direction and his breath hitched. He didn’t know how long he stared before Danny blurted out, “You know, you can’t turn someone queer just by staring at them longingly.”

“Shut up, Danny,” said Nate.

Danny snickered. “Dude, it’s a joke not a dick – don’t take it so hard.”

“I swear you’re such an asshole!” Nate shouted as he jumped out of his seat and fought the urge to launch himself at Danny. He snatched up his things and stormed out of class before his anger got the best of him. He walked around campus until he found himself at Major Carery’s classroom where he was able to talk ad calm down. He talked about the status of his application, his fears of not getting in and all the pressure he was feeling. It felt good to talk about it.

When lunch rolled around, Nate barely had an appetite. He had been daydreaming about getting his acceptance letter, seeing the proud look on Aunt May’s face and the satisfaction knowing he had beat out thousands of others. He was also thinking about how much he enjoyed spending time with Alec and the way he felt whenever he was around.

He found a table on the patio and stared at his food. Jenny came out of nowhere and plopped right next to him. She was dressed nicely in the school’s uniform, which she made her skirt dangerously low according to the dress code. She popped open a can of soda and said, “I think I’m going to break up with him.”

Nate pushed his plate away. This was good and bad. Good, because he was much closer to having Alec all to himself without having to come clean, but it made him feel bad knowing he was the one causing the strife. “Why? Did you find evidence he’s cheating on you?”

She shook her head. “No, but my woman intuition is telling me he’s cheating. I mean, I just know it. We haven’t had sex in days and he was acting so weird at the party.”

“Maybe he’s just being a guy.”

She gave him a sharp look.

“…Or maybe you’re right and should break up with him before he dumps you.”

She gulped her soda. “I will break it off first, but not before I get some proof. And guess what?” she asked, smiling.

Nate suddenly had a bad feeling come over him. But went ahead and asked, “What?”

Jenny bumped her shoulder into his. “You’re going to help me catch him in the act.”

He felt a tinge of guilt when he faked a smile and said, “Let’s bring that bastard down.”

 

Chapter 20: Like A Thief In The Night

 

 

Holden didn’t want to listen to his over-worked brain, otherwise he would definitely be crazy. How else could he explain what happened to Carly’s car? Whoever did was seriously twisted. He thought about it as he sat at his desk. He needed something else to focus on so he found himself looking up his father’s condition. From what he could gather, there was no fix for dementia Lowy Body and just like his father said, things were only going to get worse. Holden shook his head in disbelief. His father was way too young to suffering from dementia. How could something like that happen out of nowhere?

That’s messed up, said Nate. He was currently lying on Holden’s bed, staring up at the ceiling with his hands folded under his head. He had been so quiet for the past few minutes that Holden had completely forgotten that he was even there.

Holden turned to face him. “Tell me about it. I wish there was a cure-all for all human ailments. That would be freaking awesome.”

Nate laughed. “Yeah but it would probably cause a lot of chaos in the world.” He paused and sat up straight. “Why don’t you become a doctor and try to find a cure for like cancer or something?”

Holden shrugged. “I’m not a science guy.”

“You’re just saying that ‘cause your dad wants you to be an architect like him.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

Nate paused. “There’s nothing wrong with it…just saying maybe you should choose what you want and do it because it’s your dream and not someone else’s.”

“I kind of see your point,” Holden said. It was true. For a long time he had always listened to his parents. They’ve always instilled for him to have good grades and never settle for being an average student. he didn’t want to let them down because if he didn’t do well in school he’d probably end up working some dead end job, living paycheck to paycheck, never being truly happy. He saw plenty kids from the other side of the tracks and how their parents worked and worked their minimum wage jobs and have nothing to show after twenty years and still working in their sixties. Holden wanted more than that. He wanted to continue the Cotillard legacy and if he had to follow his father’s footsteps, so be it.

“You’re too smart,” said Nate. “I think that brain of yours would better be suited in the medical profession, not necessarily a doctor.”

Holden liked that Nate. Was talking about anything other than the stalker, so he continued to indulge him, knowing he wasn’t changing his mind about his future. “What about you? Aren’t you joining the military because your granddad was in the Navy?”

“Yup. I want to honor him and serve my country. Plus, I want to travel, see the world. Like my parents, I don’t like to stay in one place for too long.”

“Speaking of your parents, have you heard from them?”

Holden noticed Nate’s expression falter a bit. It was small but noticeable. “They’re off backpacking in Europe last I heard.”

It was messed up what happened with his parents leaving him behind to be raised by his aunt. Holden might disagree with his parents’ strictness at times but no way could he ever imagine living without them in his life. Holden could see Nate on the verge of sadness and changed the subject. He asked, “So, um, how’s that secret crush coming along?”

Nate. Instantly brightened up. “It’s heating up. I think I really like him.”

“Does he like you back? Does he even know you exist?”

“Yes to both questions.”

“Well, I think you should tell him to stop being a jerk and ask you out on a date or something.”

“I wish I could,” said Nate. “It’s complicated. But I’m confident things are going to get better real soon.” He smiled brightly. “I can almost feel it.”

Holden was curious to see the mysterious guy Nate was all giddy about. A few days after their study session he saw Nate talking to several potential guys and then he saw one guy in particular – Alec Wes. He was Holden’s partner on the lacrosse team and he was an okay guy but never did Holden suspect him of being gay, or at the very least bi. Holden even noticed how the two were close but not too close but the way Nate looked at Alec was a dead giveaway – the boy was seriously crushing on Alec. Just as Holden was about to leave, he noticed Alec’s hand brush against Nate in a very suggestive way. Then just like that, they parted ways.

Holden had his own problems to worry about in class. Carly was being way too nice to him in physics, what with the way she had ignored him after their abrupt breakup. He was glad to be talking to her even if he knew there was no chance of them getting back together. She sat next to him, filling the air with her perfume that smelled amazing on her. She batted her eyelashes and bent down to show off her cleavage. Holden was pretty sure her breasts were ready to burst from taught shirt. “Holden, I enjoyed our run-in the other day.”

“Me too. How’s your car?”

“Oh, my dad is getting it fixed so I have to drive his Benz. But anyway, I need to talk to you about something.

“What’s up?”

“Well, I was up late all weekend and I forgot to do my worksheets. Would it be too much to ask if you could break into Mr. Carter’s office and steal the answer keys to his makeup test?”

“What – why?” Holden felt like his palms were sweating too much and his heart was pounding way too fast. Why the heck did she think he was capable of breaking into a teacher’s office?

She rubbed his arm. “It’s not like you’ll get caught or anything. I have it on good authority that Mr. Carter leaves his windows open. You can be in and out.”

“But—”

“Come on. You’ve done it before.”

His face flushed hot. How the hell did she know about that? Oh, right – he had told her when they first hooked up. She had said it made him sound like a bad boy. Holden didn’t like that side of himself but it did feel good the first time he did it – the adrenaline rush like when he was on the field just seconds away from scoring. After thinking for a moment, he said, “If I do this—”

“I’ll make up for it.” She kissed him on his cheek and stood up to leave. “You know I keep my word.” she did indeed. On her way out, Holden could have sworn he saw a dark haired girl glaring at him from outside the classroom door. A chill ran up his spine.

After school he was a nervous wreck. He ran through his plan a million times. The plan was really simple – wait for Mr. Carter to leave and then go to work. Easy-peasy. He waited and waited but Mr. Carter seemed to be taking his sweet time. Then a new plan came to mind. Ever the resourceful one, Holden walked into rm. carter’s room after knocking. He looked up from his papers and said, “Oh, hi, Holden. Can I help you with something?”

Uh, no not really, Holden said. “Practice got canceled so I don’t have anything to do for an hour. I could go to the library and study but it’s so creepy there.”

He laughed. “That’s quite alright. I’m still grading papers. If you like you can study here.”

“Really? That would be awesome.”

Holden walked to an empty desk and took out his books and homework he had gotten a jump on during lunch. As Mr. Carter worked on papers, Holden tried to be patient. His eyes danced around the room, nervousness settling over him as the seconds ticked away.

At least a half hour flew by before Mr. Carter stood up and said, “I have to run to the teacher’s lounge. Shouldn’t take too long.”

“No prob,” Holden said, trying to keep his voice steady.

Once Mr. Carter was gone, Holden listened until his footsteps faded down the hall. Then he jumped out of his seat and ran over to his desk. He looked through his folders and came across a locked drawer. Luckily, Mr. Carter had a spare key locked under the desk. Holden unlocked the drawer and searched until he came across the file labeled ‘Senior Chemistry.’ such a neat freak, thank God, Holden mumbled. He found what he needed, took a picture with his phone and put everything back the way he found it.

Holden was just locking the drawer back when he heard footsteps getting close to the door. he walked calmly back to his seat and just inches from the door, a figure walked past the door, only a glimpse of a figure could be seen in the door’s tiny window. Had someone been watching him? Shit.

Mr. Carter returned seconds later and when he seemed normal, Holden grabbed his things and bolted.

Chapter 21: This Boy Is On Fire

 

 

Despite the principal dogging his every move, Danny was having a fantastic week. He hadn’t been too worried about the fact that the police had come to the school several time and not once did they pull him out of class. He took this as a good sign. Plus, he had cleared over two grand alone. The feeling of having his own cash without having to rely on his father was too great to pass up. Why stop now? When the weekend came he had time to spend with his brother. He had been looking forward more than anything else.

“Danny where are we going?” Brandon asked as they drove through Bal Harbor.

Danny smiled and said, “It’s a surprise.” He was looking for the upscale shop their mother used to take them before the cancer made her too weak to get out of bed. When he found it he paid the valet and said, “Ready to have some fun?”

Brandon’s eyes lit up with amazement at the sight of the place. “No way! We haven’t been here since mom died.” There was a sadness to his voice and it made Danny’s heart hurt.

“I know buddy,” said Danny. “I wanted to surprise you. You’ve been doing really well in school.”

Brandon bounced in his seat. “Come on! What are we waiting for?”

Danny laughed as he and Brandon raced into to the kid store. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. It was the kind of store that wasn’t really a store – it was like a theme park inside a store catered to allow kids to explore their wildest imagination. They could dress up as firemen, doctors, and scientist – whatever they wanted. Brandon was beside himself all day and for over an hour and a half Danny ran around after his brother, taking photos and posting them to his Friendbook profile. He enjoyed seeing his brother being the happy kid who laughed and played with other kids instead of the depressed kid who stayed in his room and cried for his mom.

At the end of the adventure, Brandon still had plenty of energy to keep him going. “Can we get some food?” he asked on the way out.

“Of course!” Danny said. “Whatever you want.”

Their next stop was another kid’s place that boasted cheese pizza and sugary snacks to keep them busy when they weren’t playing arcade games. As Brandon ate his pizza, Danny had the odd sensation someone was behind him. When he turned around he saw someone with dark hair walking away at brisk pace. He returned to watching Danny and thought nothing else of it. When they were on their way home it was dark out and Danny was already paranoid about the cops so when a red car began tailing him, he figured it was an undercover cop. Maybe he had been watching too many cop shows but he didn’t want to risk it. He took the long way home which included a bunch of turns, which gave him the chance to confirm his suspension – someone was following him. He was a quarter of a mile away from home when he cranked up his speed and ran a few red light. He lost the tail and managed to make Brandon laugh. “That was fun! Who were you racing?” he asked as they finally got home.

“Too many questions,” Danny said. “Go get washed up before dad gets home.”

“Too late,” said Brandon as their father emerged from the kitchen, a stern look on his face.

“Where were you guys?” he asked Danny.

“I took him to Wanna Do City.”

“And you didn’t think to tell me before you went off on your little trip?”

“Dad it’s not that serious—”

“Don’t talk back to me.”

“Are you guys fighting?” Brandon asked, looking scared.

Danny’s father smiled. No, we’re not fighting,” he said. He ruffled Brandon’s hair. “Go get ready to take your bath. I have to talk to your brother.”

Okay, Brandon said sadly. “Please don’t yell at him, Dad.”

Once Brandon was gone, the look on his father’s face made Danny kind of wish he had stayed out longer. “So what are you gonna do now?” Danny asked. “Punch me in the stomach? Tell me to go get your belt?”

His father paused for a moment. “No, Danny. I’m not going to do that.”

Danny was shocked speechless. “W-why not?”

“Because it’s unnecessary. Sure, I would have liked a phone call but I’m glad you spent some quality time with your brother. It’s good for him.” he waited a moment and asked, “How have you been doing lately? I know it has to be a hard month for you with the anniversary of your mother’s death coming up.”

“Dad, I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“I know. I just…I just miss her.”

Me too.” Danny looked around so he wouldn’t see the pained look in his father’s face. “So, um, what’s for dinner?”

His father laughed. “I have no clue.”

“Don’t worry about it tonight, Dad,” said Danny. “I’ll treat us tonight.

His father nodded. “Cool with me.”

“You’re not even going to ask how I’m paying?”

“I assume you’ve been saving your allowances. Or are you using your drug money.”

Danny scoffed. “Come on, Dad. I’m not that stupid.”

His father tapped him on his shoulder. “That’s a fact.”

The dinner that followed was the best they had in years. He was still thinking about it the following Monday. He was still rolling in cash from his last few deals. He was smart enough not to brag about his drug deals but couldn’t say the same about a classmate he saw getting hauled off in handcuffs. There was no way Danny could allow himself to get caught, let alone be embarrassed in front of his peers.

He was in the middle of sociology when a text came in with the usual coded request for pills. Feeling some of the pressure, he decided to tell his potential client that he was out. After school he was in the middle of soccer practice when two detectives showed up. One was tall with dark hair and blue eyes and the other was a short woman about Danny’s height.

“We need to search your lockers,” said the one who introduced herself as detective Ramen.

“This is part of an ongoing investigation, sir,” said the other, detective King.

Danny folded his arms in defiance. “I don’t see a search warrant.”

“We don’t need one. There’s thing called probable cause. Look that up while you’re doing your homework.”

Danny scowled as he lost the battle. He had to comply or else. He felt a trickle of fear as the officers searched his locker in the gym and the one for classes. “Just what exactly are you guys looking for? I’m a little curious.”

“Don’t play dumb,” said Ramen. “I’m sure you know about your little friends who par take in using illegal study aids.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh really?” said Officer King. She held up a clear bag marked evidence. “So, you’ve never seen these before?”

“Of course I have,” Danny said confidently. “I have a legitimate prescription for Adderall.” And Ritalin.

“So, what, you’re also a dealer?”

“No way!”

“Then how did your fingerprints get on our victim’s possession? That’s where we found these bad boys.”

Danny fumbled for words. “I don’t know. He probably stole them. Everybody knows Ricky was a thief.” Danny rubbed his sweaty palms. “Why would you automatically think that I’m a drug dealer? So not cool.”

“Why else would you carry your prescription in dime bags?”

Danny purposely avoided the officers’ stern gazes, just to seem like he was actually having a hard time focusing. “I don’t exactly want my friends knowing I have ADD. It’s embarrassing enough having to sit in the front of the class. I’m not trying tell the world I can’t stay still.” he played the scared kid card a little more as he thought about his mom, how he wished she was still alive. Maybe then he wouldn’t be in this mess. She knew how to keep him on the straight and narrow without smothering him too much. Letting a few tears fall, Danny said, “Look I’m freaking out. I need to get some air or something. Am I free to go?”

The officers looked at each other.

“Yeah, you can go. But don’t go too far,” said King. “I really, really don’t want to have to chase you down in front of your friends.”

Danny walked away with his head high, feigning fear. When he was outside near the bleachers he took a deep breath and calmed his beating heart. He just knew it was about to burst out of his chest. That was way too close. What the hell was he going to face next? He closed his eyes and for the first time in years, prayed that he wouldn’t have to face the detectives again. His cell phone vibrated in his athletic shorts. He shouldn’t have had the damn thing. He had a new text message from a blocked number. The message made his skin crawl. Why do you look so scared? Better toughen up. I hear jail is a real bitch for pretty boys. G.S.

Danny glanced around and only saw his teammates and coach on the soccer field but as he turned, he could have sworn he saw someone darting around the bleachers. He went to look and didn’t see a thing. Maybe he was just being paranoid. Or maybe someone really was watching him, and if so, he had every right to be afraid.

 

Chapter 22: Warning

 

 

Nate didn’t think the day could be so damn perfect; it was Saturday afternoon and the sun was shining. As he sat in his car, he breathed in the cool Miami breeze and imagined strolling through Aventura Mall hand in hand with Alec. The only that could have made the day better was that coming into fruition or better yet, if he was alone instead of staking place out with Jenny, who was beside him loading up a spy app on her cell phone.

“What are you hoping to get out of this?” Nate asked for the hundredth time. He leaned back in his seat and regretted the day he opened his big fat mouth and agreed to accompany her to spy on Alec. At first he figured she would let it go. Move on to something else. But one thing he knew about Jenny is that once she gets something stuck in her head, there was no going back. He knew he wouldn’t find anything on Alec – after all, he was the mistress Jenny was looking for so he was pretty much in the clear. For now.

“Hmm?” Jenny continued to play with her phone. “Oh, I’m hoping Alec will make things easy for me and I catch him red-handed.”

“But why are we here? Did Alec make plans to come here or something?”

A sly look crossed her face. “Sort of.”

“I don’t like that look,” said Nate.

Jenny smiled. “Don’t worry, boo. It’s all good.”

Nate sighed. “You know, I could be doing some other things with my time. Like working on improving my fitness test score, studying…hanging with my friends.”

“What, you don’t like hanging out with me? You’d rather hang out with your secret admire?”

Nate’s heart skipped a beat. “Wait-how did you know I have—”

“Oh, please, I’m not an idiot, Nate. I know you have a crush on some hot, straight guy on the lacrosse team. Does Alec know you’ve been checking on his teammates?”

Alec coughed uncomfortably and looked out the window. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Like I’d ever be interested in a jock.”

“I know your type – tall, athletic, and straight. Been that way since, what, middle school, right?”

Nate smiled ruefully as he thought about it. Jenny was right. He had always had a certain “type” of guys he was attracted to. It was always the athletic types; maybe it was the muscles, maybe it was the manliness. Just thinking about the sweat dripping off of Alec’s lean body during lacrosse practice made Nate’s body tingle all over.

“Are you thinking about him now?”

“No. Of course not.”

“Liar! Why are you blushing?” She giggled and pinched his cheeks.

He pushed her hands away. “Quit it! Aren’t we supposed to be spying on Alec?”

Jenny straightened and said, “Yeah. He should be arriving here any second according to this app – oh there he is!” Jenny pointed her manicured finger at Alec as he walked towards the entrance of the mall with a couple of lacrosse buddy. They were all good looking and of course, had the best physiques that ever walked the halls of Miami Shores Academy.

“Stop drooling all over my leather seats,” teased Jenny with a nudge.

Nate sunk into his seat when one of the guys looked back, almost as if they were looking in Nate and Jenny’s direction.

“Come on,” Jenny said. “We’re going to follow them.”

Nate rolled his eyes. “This is so beneath me.”

Jenny mimicked his eye roll. “Don’t me so dramatic.”

They waited five minutes or so before going into the mall. They weren’t hard to spot, considering the mall was huge and packed with people. They followed behind as Alec and his gang rode the escalator to the second floor. They ducked in and out of stores, doing normal guy stuff. It was all boring until Alec split himself off from the group and went off to Guess, checking his phone every so often. While Jenny was off to the side, Nate’s phone buzzed. His hands flew to his pocket and he looked at his phone to find Alec’s calling him. Instinctively, he sent the call to voicemail. Feeling bad, he sent off a text: Sorry, can’t talk. Kind of busy.

He looked over to see Alec frown, which made Nate regret rejecting his call. His phone buzzed again, this time it was a text. I miss you…wish I could hear your voice.

Nate’s heart fluttered and he quickly fired off a text without thinking: Miss you too. I need to see U.

“Who are you texting?” Jenny’s face startled Nate and he almost dropped the phone.

“No one.”

Jenny reached over and said, “Let me see.”

“No way!” Nate said, keeping the phone out of her reach.

Jenny frowned. “Whatever.” She looked around and said, “Where did he go?”

Nate looked around and came to the same conclusion: Alec was gone. According to Jenny’s app, he was somewhere in the vicinity but it only worked best when Alec was within five to ten feet. Jenny sighed as she sat down on an empty bench. “This blows. Am I losing my mind?”

Nate patted her knee. “Maybe just a little.”

“Maybe I should just break up with him anyway, you know? Get it over with.”

Please, do! Nate screamed inside his head. He’s not into you anymore!

He took a deep breath and said, “What’s the point of being with someone if you can’t trust them?”

Jenny was silent for a few moments. Finally, she said, “I concur.” She stood up. “Want to get some froyo before we call it quits?”

Nate hated doing it but he knew he had to get away from her. “Nah, I think I’m going to head back upstairs. I want to grab some new cologne I saw.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“I appreciate it but I need to clear my head. With the application deadline approaching and Aunt May getting on my back, I have a lot on my mind lately.”

She frowned. “Alright. Call me later, ‘kay?”

He agreed to call her later and went upstairs as he said but ended up buying some preppy clothes and shoes to match. He’d barely made a dent in his credit card when he was done. Three hours later he was lying in bed, trying to get Alec off his mind when his phone buzzed. He was in the middle of “taking care of business” with some porn and a bottle of lotion. He looked at his phone to see Alec’s name on the caller ID. “Hey, what’s up?” He tried to hide the excitement in his voice.

“Nothing much. You were busy earlier so I thought I’d call to check on you…and see if I could maybe come over.”

“Um, cool. You can come over.” Shit. He didn’t mean to blurt that out. Aunt May was downstairs watching some stupid romantic comedy, per her weekend regiment.

“Cool. I’ll be right over.” It didn’t take but less than ten minutes for Alec to make his way over. Thankfully, Aunt May didn’t ask too many questions and was quite nice to Alec, even being okay with them “studying” in Nate’s room despite the lack of textbooks.

“So, this is where it all goes down,” said Alec, stepping into Nate’s room, which was neat and tidy. His walls weren’t covered in posters but had a bunch of US Navy posters covering a majority of wall space. A few trophies displayed from JROTC drill team national championships. He was proud someone other Aunt May could see them. Alec eyed the Navy posters. “Obsessed with the Navy?”

“A little bit,” Nate said. “I’m hoping to join as an officer if all goes well.”

“Get over here,” Alec said, patting the bed. “Why are you so shy all of a sudden?”

“You make me nervous,” Nate blurted out.

Alec smiled. He stood up and wrapped his arms around Nate and then he flinched. Worried, Nate stepped back and asked, “You okay?”

Alec grimaced. He placed his hand on his ribs. “Things got a little intense during lacrosse practice. No big deal.”

“Let me see.”

“I hope you’re not squeamish.” Alec lifted his shirt to reveal a bruise forming on his side. It looked pretty painful.

“Holy crap,” said Nate, moving closer to get a better look. He lightly touched the spot and then his eyes flickered to Alec’s. “I understand you being a tough guy and all but this looks like it really hurts. Maybe you should go to the doctor or something…”

“Nah,” said Alec, moving away from Nate. “It’s not that serious.”

Nate paused a moment before locking the door and turning to Nate. “Take your shirt off and lie on the bed.”

Alec grinned. “Are you trying to seduce me?” He smiled and after a moment, slowly took his shirt off and tossed it on the floor before facing Nate’s bed and lying down on his back. “Now what?”

Nate grabbed something from his dresser and walked over to the bed. “Icy Cool; it’s supposed to relief pain and stuff.” He straddled Alec with his knees on either side of him until he was leaning over Alec. He applied a small amount of cream to Alec’s smooth, chiseled abdomen. He rubbed the cream into Alec’s skin, enjoying the way Alec breathed.

“That feels nice,” said Alec.

Gently messaging the cream, Nate asked, “Where else are you hurting?”

Alec motioned his shoulder. Nate dabbed some more cream into his hand and began working on Alec’s shoulder. He felt something stirring inside Alec’s pants and most definitely felt the friction inside of his own pants.

As if reading his thoughts, Alec sat up and pulled Nate into a kiss. Nate kissed him back as well and when he pulled apart they were left breathless. Nate pulled his shirt off and pushed Alec back on the bed, feeling the same way he felt when they were making out on Alec’s couch. He felt Alec’s hand move up his thigh and to his belt buckle. Everything was feeling so good he wanted it to go further.

When they pulled apart again he was a little annoyed that Alec was pulling away. He looked at Nate and said, “I hate to do this but before we go any further, I think I need to breakup with her.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. She’s already suspecting you of cheating.”

He scoffed. “I kind of figured that when I caught her trying to snoop through my phone the other day but thankfully she doesn’t know my password.” He went quiet. “Plus I saw her following me and my friends around at the mall”

“Wait—what?”

“Well, technically I saw her on an app we both have. She must really think I’m stupid.”

He was about to respond when suddenly the sound of a car window breaking erupted through the air followed by a car alarm. Nate and Alec rushed to the window and Nate shrieked, “Fuck!” He all but ran downstairs and out of the house to see a red car peeling off down the road. Aunt May’s driver window was busted as well as the headlights and windshield. But what made Nate’s blood boil was the note taped to the steering wheel. He grabbed it and read it, making him livid:

Always taking things that don’t belong to you. Tsk, tsk. You made me do this. –G.S.

He looked around and nothing made sense to him, except Aunt May’s horrified expression. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “What happened to my car?!”

Nate hid the note in his back pocket.

A small part of him was freaking out, now more so than ever. This was a warning, loud and clear.

Chapter 23: Holden Is More Than Just A Model Student

 

 

Holden wish he knew more about Charlie before the accident. He thought about this as he stared at the TV screen. There was a news a young female news reporter talking about Charlie and how the police were still unable to identify the person who left him for dead. His family were still a mess and no closer to finding justice.

Holden closed his eyes and wished he could go back to that night and have a total do-over. No way would he have tried to text and drive at the same time, something his parents had warned him about when he first got his license. Now someone was in a hospital bed.

Holden’s ears perked up as the news report said, “The investigation is pending, with authorities turning to witnesses at Miami Shores High to see if anyone can shed some light on what happened in the last moments before Charlie was struck. Police say they are looking to anyone with information…”

Holden muted the screen.

“That’s sad isn’t it,” said Holden’s father as he walked into the living room. He sat down next to Holden.

“It sure is,” Holden, said staring blankly at the screen.

Holden’s father said, “It’s strange that this is coming to me now, but as I recall, you came home pretty late that night.”

Holden turned to face his father. “Of course I did. I had to give Nate and Danny rides – I was the designated driver.” he tried for a smile.

“Yea but the next day I couldn’t help but notice the car had some questionable scrapes on it – as if you hit something.”

Holden’s eyes bulge as an alarm went off inside his head. No way. His father couldn’t have figure it out. He just couldn’t have.

Holden’s father continued, “And I can’t help but notice that suddenly you have a fondness for driving your mother’s car instead of your own – and the fact that you somehow managed to get her car scratched as well…”

Holden’s heart pounded loudly in his chest. He cleared his throat and asked, “What are you saying, dad?”

After a long hard look, Mr. Cotillard said, “I’m just saying that maybe you should be careful. Driving is a privilege. Yes, you keep up your grades and everything but when you get out there on that road, I worry about you.”

Holden sighed, relieved. “Um, dad, you don’t have to worry. Really. The thing with my car and mom’s car are two totally different things. Mom’s car got scratched while it was parked and – dad?”

Holden stopped talking as he noticed his father was staring at him with a blank expression in his face, like he was out of his mind. The look scared Holden. So much he called his dad’s name twice and he was unresponsive. Holden stood up and noticed his father’s hands were trembling, like he wasn’t in control of it.

“Dad…?” Holden said calmly as he placed a shoulder on his hand.

It took a few moments but he snapped out of his state and looked around the room, then at Holden. “Are you okay?”

“Of course,” said Mr. Cotillard. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you just—” Holden. Stopped himself. He knew this was a symptom of the disease – he had looked it over a thousand times to know it. “Nothing,” said Holden.

“Good. Go get me a beer out of the fridge will you?” he asked.

“Sure,” said Holden. He got the beer from the fridge and sat down to watch TV with his dad, checking on him every so often. There were no more slips after that, much to Holden’s relief.

At school the following morning he ran into Carly, who told him how awesome he was for stealing the test and paid him back with a blowjob in the janitor’s closet. God, he needed that so badly; all the stress he had been under the past few days had taken its hold on him.

Later in the day he felt like everyone was sucking up to him for some odd reason, mostly the seniors he never associated with would stop and thank him for something. He knew something was up when Danny walked up to him smiling when they met up after AP English. “Yo,” greeted a little too cheerfully. “I didn’t know you were such a badass.”

“What are you talking about?”

Danny continued to smile. “Don’t act like you don’t know.” He pulled out a graded paper that nearly floored Holden right then and there.

“How the hell did you get an A in Physics class? You’re hardly ever in class.”

“This is true,” said Danny proudly. “Like I said, don’t act like you’re not the one who put up that website. I didn’t think you had it in you to defy school rules like that.”

Holden felt completely lost. “I still don’t know what you’re talking about. What website?”

Danny rolled his eyes. Okay, I’ll play along.” He put his paper away and said, “Come with me to the media center and I’ll show you.”

And so, Holden. Followed Danny to the media center, a room where students were allowed access to the laptops and desktop computers. The room was empty, save for a handful of girls crowding around a computer and giggling. Danny sat behind a computer and pulled up a website and before he knew it, Holden was on the verge of hyperventilating. The site was for Mr. Carter’s Physics class and there was the entire test – questions and answers laid out for everyone to see. “No way,” said Holden. In disbelief. “H-how did this get up here? And why do you think I put it up—” His jaw dropped when he scrolled down to the bottom of the page and saw his name at the bottom. “Holy shit!”

“I know, right?” said Danny. “I applaud you for putting this up but why the hell did your put your name at the bottom? Are you trying to piss of Principal Ross?”

“No!” Holden. Snapped. “I didn’t do this at all!”

Danny waited a moment. “Wait – are you sure? I mean…”

“Yes, I’m sure! I’ve never cheated in my life. Why would I want some low lives getting a free ride off me after all the time I put into studying?”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic, bro.”

“I’m serious! I didn’t do this. I’m being set up.”

“Why?—oh wait, ‘cause we have a stalker. Right…?”

Holden noticed that Danny looked to his left as if he was expecting someone to be behind him. “What?” Holden asked. “You think your shadow is stalking you or something?”

Danny paused. When he spoke, he lowered his voice. “Look, I don’t what’s been happening lately but I think…I think you might be right.”

“About what?”

“The stalker – duh! Just the other day I was hanging with my little bro and I could have sworn someone was following me around. I swear it.”

Holden stared at the computer screen. “Who do you think it is?”

Danny sighed. “Honestly, it can be anybody, right? But I haven’t done shit to deserve this.”

“Really? So you’ve never ripped off a customer? Maybe played a part in someone overdosing?”

Danny blinked for a moment as he sat in silence. “No,” he said, his voice low.

Holden sighed, unsure what else to say. There was a nagging thought in the back of his mind about a girl who died right around the time Adderall and Ritalin became a popular study aid among his peers. Sure, Holden felt the pressure to jump on the band wagon but he preferred to earn his A’s the old fashioned way. Cheating was for lazy people. He was not about to throw his future away because some asshole put his name on a website to get busted. He had too much riding on his stellar academic file. He stood up and announced, “This is bullshit. I have to go see the principal and talk to him before I get expelled over this.”

Danny’s phone chimed. “I’ll walk with you for moral support or whatever.” He pocketed his phone. “Plus I’ve got a deal to make on the way.”

Holden and Danny had just rounded the corner when Nate joined them from the opposite direction. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to catch up with you. Got a second?”

“Not really,” Holden said in a hurry. “I’ve got to find principal Ross ASAP.”

“What, are you in trouble?”

“He will be,” said Danny with a laugh. “Hey can we stop by my locker? I have to get my stash.” Danny rolled his eye in annoyance as they headed for the lockers. Danny went to his locker and when he opened, a few pages fell out, looking like clippings of some kind. Holden bent down and saw there were a total of three. Closer look revealed that his, Danny and Nate’s faces had red X’s on them.

Danny picked one up and exclaimed, “What the actual fuck?” He looked closer. “This is my school picture from 8th grade…”

“Mine too,” said Nate.

They shared a quiet exchange.

Holden flipped his picture over and felt a mix of fear and confusion as he stared at the words scribbled on the back: “Model student.” He turned to Danny. “What does your say on the back?”

Danny flipped his over. “Troublemaker.”

Nate. Did the same and read his. “Mine says ‘Follower.’ What is this supposed to mean?”

Danny tossed his picture in his backpack. “Who the fuck cares? I don’t have time for this stupid shit. “Deuces,” he said as he turned and walked away.

Nate. Shook his head, and mumbled something under his breath as he looked at his 8th grade photo. “I’m not a follower…am I?”

“Of course not,” said Holden.

“Are you being sarcastic right now?”

“I really don’t have time for this. Later.” Holden took off as fast as he could and luckily he was able to find Principal Ross in his office. After waiting over twenty minutes, he finally got the chance to tell Principal Ross that he wasn’t the one who put up the website and that he was being set up.

“Set up? By who?” asked Principal Ross? He sat behind his desk with a bored expression.

“I don’t know,” said Holden. “Whoever it was wants me to take the fall. Can’t you launch some investigation on my behalf? You’ll see that hold up the school’s honor code and—”

“See, you’re selling me B.S. and guess what? I’m not buying.”

“Excuse me?”

“I know you had something to do with this site, just like you helped steal answers from Mr. Carter’s test.”

“What? How?”

“Mr. Carter says you were the only one in his classroom after he was kind enough to let you study there after school. So, either he’s lying or you’re a cheater.”

“But I—”

“What? Did you finally cave after 4 years of being perfect?”

Holden took a deep breathe. “I don’t like what you’re insinuating. I had nothing to do with any of this. Wait until my parents here about this.”

“Oh, they’ll be hearing about this very shortly. If had a half of mind I’d expel you right now. But seeing as I’m in a nice mood, I want you out of my office until I can find a punishment that fits the crime.”

Holden stormed out of the office, knocking over anyone or thing that got in his way.

Something had to be done. One way or another, he was tired of being turned into a fool.

Chapter 24: Push It Real Good

 

 

Thursday night, Nate Engel tossed and turned. No matter which way he positioned himself in the bed with a thousand threat count Egyptian cotton, his mind wouldn’t turn off. His mind drifted off. He willed himself to go to bed, to try to forget everything. But like most things in his life, he couldn’t shake it off. He sat up in bed, staring at the moonlight sky through the floor to ceiling window and contemplated whether or not he had made a wise decision. Sure he did, a voice told him. Giving Alec the ultimatum to breakup with Jenny was a god thing. He couldn’t let his Aunt May’s car mess with him. No, he had to keep it together so that he could go off to the Naval Academy like his mother and older brother did.

He wasn’t doing it to look good in the uniform (although he did) and he most definitely wasn’t doing it for the glory to be able to rub it in his father’s smug face (which couldn’t hurt). Joining the Naval Academy after high school was something had been striving for ever since he first saw his mother’s old pictures. seeing his older brother Shannon come home all gussied up cemented the idea for him, especially since Shannon was never really good at anything, the least of all how to be a big brother.

If Shannon had stuck around more maybe he wouldn’t be in this mess. No, the real reason he was in the mess is because he decided he wanted to get away from his Aunt May and her long-winded lectures about his “strange” lifestyle. Just because he was into guys didn’t make him less of a person. He liked what he liked and to him, that didn’t make him any different from anyone else in the world. Aunt May disapproved when he first came out. She was shocked. After all, he had always seemed masculine and normal just like his brother Shannon. He was flamboyant or playing dress up with his mom’s clothes or secretly fantasizing about getting a sex change. His aunt had driven him up the wall so when he heard a friend from school was throwing a party, he jumped at an excuse to leave home for a few hours.

As Nate lay in bed, his stomach knotted up so badly he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. How the hell was he going to keep this a secret from Jenny much longer? How long would it be before someone found out he and Alec were doing? God, he felt like such a horrible person. Scratch that, he was a horrible person.

To ease his mind, he did what he always did when he was stressed out: push-ups. When he was pumped out a hundred without breaking a sweat, he started on crunches. Might as well keep his body in shape. By the end, he was borderline tired and climbed back into bed. As soon as he closed his eyes, he found himself back at the scene of the crime the night of the accident. He was watching as Holden knelled over the guy; the Charlie’s scarred face looked right at Nate and at the same time, his hands pointed and said, “How could you leave me like this? What kind of human being are you?”

“I’m sorry!” Nate tried to scream, but his voice was locked up, heart beating at a thousand beats. Then, there were headlights. The car was coming too fast and Nate heard Holden and Danny shout in unison, “Nate, watch out!” It was like his feet were glued to the road. Too late to move, the car increased speed. On instinct, Nate through his hands up to shield his face just as the car made impact.

He was still screaming when he woke up and found his Aunt May rushing to his bed. “It’s all right, Nathaniel. It was just a dream,” she said in a soothing, motherly tone. “Calm down.”

After a few moments of breathing, Nate relaxed and said, “That was the worst nightmare I’ve ever had.”

“I can tell,” she said. “Did you eat chocolate before you went to bed? I thought I warned you about doing that?”

“Yeah, must have been,” Nate lied. He wasn’t going to tell her the truth.

Eat some breakfast. It’ll make you feel better.”

Shaking off sleep, he murmured, “Okay, thanks. I’ll be down in a sec.” Nothing was going to make him feel better unless he managed away to build a time machine. He could undo going to that stupid party and erase ever letting Alec kiss him. Things would be so much better for him. But would they? A smile crept across his face as he thought about that funny feeling he got whenever Nate was around. He like it too much.

Aunt May smiled and disappeared from the room.

When he walked downstairs, surprised at the breakfast spread; there was so much food on the table his mouth began to water instantly. There was everything from pastries to grape fruit to biscoti. Nate grabbed a few things and piled it onto his plate.

He ate his breakfast in silence. Aunt may made comments here and there about her car, which made Nate feel nervous about what could possibly happen next to him or the others. Was this stalker really going this far to scare them or worse? Was anyone safe?

Nate rolled into JROTC drill team practice after school. It was the one place he felt like he belonged, where his friends didn’t judge him. He gave out orders and led practice, making sure his team members were on point. Drill was so easy to him it was almost second nature; he could do it all day. At the end of practice he was surprised when Alec showed up, smiling from ear to ear. “What’s got you in such a good mood?” Nate asked, heading for the parking lot.

“I did it!” he said, bouncing on his feet.

“Did what?”

“I broke up with her!”

Well, shit.

Nate felt a mixture of relief and anxiety. Yes, it was good that Alec had finally done the impossible. It was only a matter of time before she found out the truth, possibly through someone other than Nate or Alec. “That’s awesome,” said, hoping to mask the fear he felt.

Alec almost pulled him into a hug but suddenly grew aware of the fact that they were still on school grounds. Anybody could spot them. He looked around and then at Nate.

Nate ignored the irritation of not being able to hug Alec in public and asked, “What did you say to her?”

“I told her the truth…kind of.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“I just told her that I was cheating on her with someone else, that it wasn’t working. I gave her the whole ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech.”

“How did she take it?”

Alec started to talk when his phone chimed. “Ugh. She won’t stop calling my phone!”

When his phone stopped ringing suddenly Nate’s started ringing. When he checked the id, he wasn’t surprised to see Jenny’s face on the screen. “Should I answer it?”

“It’s up to you,” said Alec as the approached Nate’s car.

As Nate’s phone rang, he weighed his options. He had waited for this day so long. He sent Jenny’s call to voicemail and sent a text: Sorry, practice got extended.

Jenny immediately responded: I need to talk to you. It’s important.

Nate fired off a text: I’ll try to call later.

Jenny’s last text was short and simple: K.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell her,” Nate said after a moment. “She’s going to be so pissed.”

“Just give her some time,” Alec said. “She probably wants to vent and ask you a bunch of questions.”

Nate sighed. “This is going to suck.”

Alec went behind him and said, “Please don’t say that again…you’re giving me a boner…”

Nate could feel Alec’s crotch pressed up against his backside. The hardness he felt was hard to ignore. Instead of giving in, Nate opened his car door and used his Aunt May as an excuse to get inside his car, otherwise he would have never left. “Gotta go,” he said as he started up his car. “I’ll call you later.”

“You better,” Alec said, a mischievous grin on his face.

By the time he got home he was still smiling. He was beside himself knowing that finally he had Alec all to himself – finally. Sure, he felt bad about breaking Jenny’s trust and stabbed her in the back. But the relationship was pretty much over the minute Alec kissed Nate. He thought this over as he entered the house. Aunt May was smiling as she held an envelope in her hand. “Guess what came in the mail?”

Excited, Nate asked, “Is it a letter from the naval academy?”

“Yup!” She pulled out a blue envelope from behind her back and handed it to Nate. On the front was the Navy’s seal. The envelope felt heavy in his hands. As tempted as he was to rip it open, he decided to wait.

“You’re not going to open it?”

“Nah, I’m going to wait.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Yup.”

“Well, you better get started on your homework, mister. Keep those grades up!” She hugged him tightly. “I am so proud of you, Nathaniel. You’re a great kid and I know you have a bright future ahead of you.”

“Thanks, Aunt May.”

Nate ran upstairs and started on his homework. He managed to get through Spanish and Biology on his own but had to call Holden when he got stuck on a Statistics worksheet. By the time he was done he was sick of reading and took a break. He checked his phone and saw that Jenny had left a dozen voicemails and text messages for him. He felt torn between calling her and giving her space. He knew she was hurt, confused and needed him. But he needed to prepare himself on how he was going to deal with the fall out. Surely she was going to hate his guts and never want to speak to him again. But could he blame her?

Nate took his mind off of Jenny by thinking about the letter from the naval academy. His entire future was riding on that letter and all he could do was wait. It took a lot of self-control but he willed himself to hold off. He could just imagine himself in his uniform, standing tall and proud. He was going to make a great officer.

He was in the middle of a light workout session when Aunt May knocked on his door. “You might want to get cleaned up. You have company.”

Nate was a little confused. After what happened with Aunt May’s car he was baffled that she would allow anyone to come over. He hadn’t been able to do anything but go to school, the library and nothing else – not even the mall. “Company?” Nate repeated. “Really? Who?” He looked at the digital clock on his nightstand. “It’s after eight o’clock.”

“Normally I would have showed him away but I think Alec seemed in need to talk to you. Said it was important.”

After a five-minute shower, Nate was dumfounded when Alec came up to his room looking cute as usual – except for the bruise on his cheek and busted lip. “What the hell happened?” Nate asked after he closed the door and led Alec to the edge of his bed.

Alec played the tough guy card and said, “Nothing…it’s stupid.”

Nate thought back to the last time he saw Alec bruised up when he said it was from rough playing but Nate had a sickening feeling that he wasn’t telling the whole truth. He could see it in his face and the way he spoke told him everything. “It must be something,” Nate said. “Between the last times I saw you and now, did you walk into a door repeatedly or something?”

Alec was quiet.

Nate got off the bed and stood directly in front of him. He had his head down. Nate lowered his voice and asked, “You can tell me.”

When he looked up, tears were in his eyes. It nearly knocked the wind out of Nate but he remained with his feet planted on the ground. Alec said, “My brother knows…he knows everything.”

Nate opened his mouth to speak but nothing but silence came out.

Several minutes later Alec continued, “He found some pictures of you on my laptop and I told him the truth – I don’t know if I’m gay or bi. I just know that I couldn’t lie to myself anymore and that I was hurting Jenny, so I broke up with her.”

“He beat you up because you’re…” Nate let the words hang in the air.

Alec nodded. “Kind of. He was more pissed that I felt like I couldn’t confide in him about it. We’ve always been close but I just didn’t know…I still don’t know what this all means.” He closed his eyes. The tears he had been holding back streaked his face and Nate’s heart broke into a thousand pieces. He hated this.

“Alec…I wish I knew how to make things easier. I just…”

Alec put his hand next to Nate’s and slowly inched his face beside his. He pulled him into soft kiss. One that Nate could only dream about; it sent a wild sensation all over him. He gave in and kissed Alec back just as soft; their lips interlocked and the moment was perfect. Alec took his shirt off and Nate did the same. Next went their pants and they were standing in their boxers. Alec kissed some more as he gently led him to the bed. Nate’s heart pounded so fast he thought it might burst out of his chest. Alec slipped a hand inside Nate’s boxers and he knew instantly that there was no going back. It was now or never – and something they both wanted, had waited so long for.

“Alec,” Nate said, breaking apart to look in his eyes. “I’ve never done this before.”

“Me neither,” said Alec, a beautiful, sincere smile on his face. “I’ll be gentle. I promise.”

He needed this. No, he wanted this so damn badly. Why deny it any longer?

 

 

Once Nate had his mind blown, he walked Alec to the front door, barely able to keep his hands to himself. Alec pressed up against the wall, kissing him tender and soft. Smiling, Alec said, “That was pretty awesome.

Nate chuckled. “Yeah, I know.”

Alec kissed him again and said, “I’ll text you later?”

“You better.”

Nate watched Alec leave and just before he turned to go inside, that he saw something from the side of the house. He stood still, hoping he was just seeing things. Was someone watching him? No way. He was just being paranoid. But he couldn’t the shake the feeling of being watched. It made his skin crawl. Frowning, he went inside and erased it from his mind.

Chapter 25: The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

 

 

Danny dropped Brandon off at school and didn’t care that he was running late for first period. He was too busy trying to make sure his homework was decent enough to get him a passing grade. When he got to school he stopped by his locker to grab a textbook when the picture fell out. It was the same one that he had found along with Holden and Nate’s. He looked at the picture and smiled ruefully. He was dressed in his Miami Shores Middle School uniform, his hair parted on the side courtesy of his mother and her love of overdoing this, especially when it came to hair products. The last time Danny wore that hairstyle, he and his mom was showing him off to all her friends at some fancy charity event. He was fourteen and his mom had less than a year to live, though she was the only one who knew at the time. He could remember the way she smiled and doted on him, telling all of her friends how jealous they were going to be when Danny grew up to be even more handsome when he graduated from Yale Law school, just like his dad. His mom was beautiful and walked as graceful as an angel. That night was the first night he saw her cry – ever. They had arrived home from the event and his mom was fine until some hours later when Danny heard his mom and dad talking loudly. He crept out of his room, which was down the hall, and pressed his ear up against their bedroom door.

He heard his mother’s voice say to his father, “I can’t keep this up much longer, Johnnie. I’m tired. Pretty soon I’m going to have to start wearing a wig. I don’t want to be seen like that. Hell, I’ve already lied about my weight loss.”

Honey, everything will be fine. Chemo is going to work! We’re going to beat this thing.

Ever the impulsive one, Danny opened the bedroom door and his parents both turned to look at him at once. “Mommy,” he said, looking at her stressed facial expression, “What’s chemo?”

She fixed a smile on her face and said, “Don’t worry about it, Dan.” She smoothed his hair.

He had watched plenty of movies and seen too many adults lie to know when his mom wasn’t telling the truth. He looked her square in the eyes and said, “Are you going to die?”

Danny’s father reached him with lightning speed and slapped him across the face. “I don’t ever want to hear you say that ever again!”

“Johnnie, take it easy,” his mother said, gently cupping his face. “I’m going to be fine, Dan. You’ll see. Come on, I’ll tuck you back in bed.” He was a big boy but still, he allowed his mom to tuck him in bed. That night was the night she ever did it. It was the last night he saw her remotely happy. She died less than four months later after losing a battle to stage 4 breast cancer.

When a locker slammed near him, Danny was still holding the picture in his hand, his eyes blurry from tears threatening to fall. He went to the bathroom and washed his face. By the time he came out it was almost time to change classes. He was heading for the gym when Jackson walked right in his path and said, “I’ve got some good and bad news for you. Want to hear it?”

Danny rolled his eyes. “I don’t have time for this, snitch.”

Jackson laughed humorlessly. “I used to be afraid you. You talk a big game but you’re nothing. Matter of fact, when the school newspaper comes out in a couple of hours, you’re going to regret ever being an asshole to me.”

What are you talking about?”

Jackson reached into his messenger bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. It had some stuff printed on it. He said to Danny, “Christmas came early.”

Danny snatched the paper out of his hand and as his eyes scanned the page, his heart leapt in his throat. It read: “Some of my peers of Miami Shores Academy aren’t as innocent as they seem. In fact, they have been abusing Rittalin, Adderal and other ADHD medicine to study longer, but some have taken things too far and have overdosed…” Danny’s eyes scanned the papers until he read, “…the suppliers are Danny Vanderbilt, Cole Scott, Brian Goldman…” He folded up the paper like as if it meant nothing.

“Oh,” said Danny, hoping he sounded braver than he felt. “So, this is the part where you warn be about you blowing the whistle? Giving me a chance to come clean about supplying dextro to half of the kids in school?”

Jackson’s face reddened. “Danny, I’m trying to do the right thing here. Don’t make me out to be that bad guy.” He cleared his throat. “Getting expelled might be harsh but you deserve worse for—”

Danny grabbed him by his shirt collar and threw up against a row of lockers. His face next to Jackson’s as rage coursed through his veins. “You’re fucking pathetic! You know that?”

“And you’re scum of the earth! Its people like you that causes people to overdose on drugs! It’s your fault Chris is dead! You killed him!”

Rage still rushing in his veins, he punched Jackson in the face, catching his nose. Instantly, blood oozed out of nose. He slid to the floor and whimpered. Danny was about to go for another punch when someone one strong pulled him off of Jackson and hauled him away.

He was still fuming when he realized he had been taken to the room where everyone has to serve detention. He couldn’t believe he had went off like that. His breathing was heavy as he remembered the school paper was going to be published, and with it, his name was at the top of the list. It was over. It was all over for him.

Yup. Principal Ross was going to have him expelled, along with the rest of the dealers on campus who hadn’t already been caught. Sure enough, his dad was going to go ballistic when he caught wind of it.

Shit. This was really bad.

Danny was on his way out of school when his phone was blowing up; everyone was asking questions like: Is it true? You got ratted out?! No more smart pills? Is this some joke? Are you kicked out? Know where I can score some pills?

Danny was somewhat relieved when he got a text from Holden. I hoped it wouldn’t come to this but I told you this was going to happen. I’m sorry.

No worries, bro, Danny texted back. This ain’t nothing. I’ll be straight.

Holden quickly texted back and made Danny laugh out loud: Ain’t isn’t a real word. Catch you later – if your dad doesn’t kill you.

Danny was about to tuck his phone in his pocket when his father called. Regretting not letting it go to voice mail, Danny answered it anyway. “Yes, Dad,” he answered. “I’m guessing by the tone of your voice that you’re not a very proud father at the moment.”

His father was practically screaming into the phone he had to hold it an inch away from his ear. “You better get your ass home IMMEDIATLEY! No hanging out with your friends or taking the car for a drive— no nothing! Do you hear me, dammit?!”

“You got it.”

With a heavy sigh, he totally ignored his dad’s wishes and decided he was going to stay at school and watch the cheerleaders practice. Then he watched Holden and the rest of the lacrosse team run up and down the field until it was dark. When he was ready to face his father, he headed towards the student parking lot. The lights were on and he was just a few feet away when he heard a voice say, “Grab him!”

Before he could defend himself, a tall guy with a baseball bat him right in the gut, then another in the back. He doubled over and several dark figures – at least four – began taking turns punching and kicking him. He couldn’t think straight but he did fight back, throwing his own punches – he was able to connect a fist to someone else face hard enough to make his knuckled throb. When it was over, the figures ran off and sped off in a car.

Danny managed to drag himself to his car. He looked at his face in the mirror; it wasn’t too bad. He’d seen worse. A busted lip was nothing. All he had to do was put some ice on it. Adrenaline pulsed throughout his body and all he wanted to do was find the assholes who did this to him. His phone chimed and thinking it was his father, he was ready to send it to voicemail when he saw it was a text from an unknown number. He wanted to punch something when he read the text: The bigger they are, the harder they fall – Good Samaritan.

Danny punched his steering wheel. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!”

He tossed his phone on the passenger seat, turned on the radio and blasted Breaking Benjamin in the speakers all the way home. Something about rock music washed everything away. Well, almost. When he stepped off the elevator, his dad was waiting for him in the foyer, his arms folded across his chest. Brandon was sitting at the table doing his homework. Danny envied him for being so innocent. So care free.

Danny hadn’t taken a foot into the house when his father said, “I’m going to ask you a question and if you lie to me, I swear you’ll regret it.”

Brandon finally looked up from his homework and when he saw Danny’s appearance, the look on his face nearly made Danny want to breakdown and cry. He ran over to Danny and asked. “What happened to you? Did someone beat you up?”

“Brandon go finish your homework in your room. I’ll come check on you in a minute.”

“But dad—”

“NOW!” snapped Mr. Vanderbilt. Brandon did as he was told and left Danny with his father’s hard gaze on him. “Now,” he said, “did you bring drugs into my house?”

Danny took a deep breath. There was no point in trying to come up with a lie. Might as well tell the truth for once. Sort of. “No. I didn’t bring drugs home.”

His father’s heavy hand flew across his face. “You’re a compulsive liar! You got that little trait from your mother.”

“Thank God I didn’t any of your traits.”

In a flash, Danny’s father had his hand wrapped around Danny’s throat. “You might be my son but I swear you are nothing but the devil!”

“Get off me!” Danny struggled until he was able to overpower his dad just enough to get out his death grip. Danny grabbed his keys and headed for the front door.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

“Don’t worry about it!” Danny flung the door open so hard it hit the wall with a loud thud.

“Don’t you come back,” his father spat. “I hate you!”

“Screw you!” Danny yelled as tears streamed down his eyes. He made his way to the elevator. He stared at his father’s own tear-streaked face until the doors closed. When they did, he collapsed to the floor and pulled out his cell phone. “Hey,” he said. “I need a place to crash tonight.”

 

Chapter 26: Give It Up

 

 

It was after six thirty when Holden got the call. Danny was crying and talking at the same time and Holden could barely understand what he was saying. “Wait, slow down,” Holden said as he took a break from watching Romeo and Juliet. He was supposed to a do paper on it and if he wanted extra credit (which he did) he was going to have to analyze Shakespeare’s theme about death and love at first sight.

Holden paused the movie and held the phone to his ear. “Slow down and breathe.” When Danny was calm enough, he told Holden how he had gotten his ass kicked by some kids at school and how his dad practically kicked him out of the house. Shortly after, he arrived at Holden’s place looking like, well, crap. His lip was busted, his hair was disheveled and his shirt was had bloodstains. And from the looks of it, his nose was broken.

Holden’s mom got him cleaned up and offered him one of the upstairs guest bedrooms to sleep in. “You can sleep here as long as you like,” she said, setting down his clothes after she washed them. “It’s not a problem at all, dear.” She smiled and left Holden and Danny in silence. Danny looked much better, now that he was cleaned up. He felt bad for the guy. “Did you see any of their faces?” Holden asked, posted up next to the wall opposite the bed Danny was resting in.

“Kind of,” Danny said. “Everything happened so fast. One minute I’m walking to my car and the next I’m getting my ass kicked. I got a few hits of my own. I’m good.”

“Dude, you have a black eye, a broken nose and a busted lip! Not to mention you could be on the verge of being expelled, possible thrown in jail. You’re not ‘good,’” Holden said, using air quotes.

Danny tried to laugh but stopped. “Shit, I think I might have a broken rib.”

Holden sighed. “I’m having my mom take you to the hospital first thing in the morning.”

“No. I’m fine.”

“Dude, it’s not up for discussion.”

Danny snickered. “Ha. You sound like my dad.”

Holden felt torn for his best friend. They’d been through a lot in the last few years but seeing him like this sucked. There was nothing he could do to help except be there for him. What did he do to deserve this?

A thought crossed Holden’s mind and he blurted out, “Maybe we should go to the police.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Danny said, anger flashing across his face. “And what would you tell them?”

“Something isn’t right. I mean, we know we’re being stalked and all these bad things have been happening to us lately. My car getting keyed; that bogus website, and now this? It’s not a coincidence.”

Danny waited a moment. “Do you really think they’re going to believe us? And what proof do we have? A bunch of text messages and creepy notes from some sadistic fuck who calls them self Good Samaritan?”

Holden went quiet.

“See my point? If anything, you’d be facing hard time for—”

“I know what I did, Danny. I think about it all the damn time.”

Holden was on his way out when Danny said, “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” said Holden.

Danny cleared his throat and said, “Hey, do you think you can sneak some booze from your dad’s liquor cabinet?”

“Not a chance.”

Danny groaned. “You suck.”

Holden looked back to see him laughing. “You suck harder.”

He went down the hall to his room. He finished up his project and while he was typing up his next assignment, came across a photo of Charlie. He immediately closes the page. He didn’t know why he was feeling so pained. He wanted to turn himself in, be punished. He kind of deserved it. But did he have the heart to drag Danny and Nate along with him?

He thought about what he would tell the police. He grabbed a pen and notepad and began writing everything he wanted to say about that night. He felt compelled by guilt to keep going, even when the tears began pouring. It felt good get it all out, even though he didn’t intend for anyone else to read it. He was just finishing up when his dad told him he had a guest downstairs. He was surprised when Rebekah beamed as he met her upstairs.

“Hey, wanna go out for a drive? It’s nice out this evening.”

Sure, let me get permission from my folks.”

After he got the okay from his parents not to be out past eleven, Holden went upstairs to grab his jacket. He must have been taking too long when she came upstairs and said, “Wow. I think your room is cleaner – not to mention like five times bigger than mine.”

Holden laughed. “It’s not that big.”

He went to his closet and scrounged for a light jacket to wear.

“So,” Rebekah as. “Was that Danny I saw sleeping in the room down the hall?”

“Yeah,” Holden said, his back still facing her. “He’s had a rough day.”

“I heard…sort of. So is it true he’s getting sent to juvie?”

Holden thought he saw her moving around when he faced her, like she was looking at more than his book collection. “Um, I pretty sure that’s just a rumor.” He put on his jacket. “Ready?”

He didn’t know where they were going until he pulled up to a 1950s themed drive-in movie theater. It had an authentic feel to it, with the retro trailer concession stands and the people working there had on costumes straight of the era. They ended up seeing a popular chick flick, involving a lot of swoon-worthy moments Rebekah cried over. After the movie Rebekah wanted to go midnight bowling but Holden was not up for it. “I don’t know,” he said. “My parents aren’t too happy with me right now.”

“How come?”

“Well, my mom’s car got keyed a while back and I guess you’ve heard about the stupid cheating ring I got caught up in – I swear someone set me up.”

She smiled. “I believe you. You’re too smart to cheat.”

They were still in the driveway with a few other cars idling by. Rebekah said, “I want to do something for you.”

“Like…what?”

She wiggled her eyebrows. “I can show you better than I can tell you.” she started to unzip his pants.

“Um Rebekah, I don’t think—”

“Shh,” she said. “Relax.”

Holden sat back in disbelief; he had let Rebekah go down on him. Sure, it felt way better than taking care of business while in the shower, but the thrill of nearly getting caught made him feel reckless – and he didn’t like it. Rebekah sure got a kick out it, the way she giggled on the way home.

“Is that something you did with Charlie?” Holden asked as he pulled up to the drive way.

She glared at him. “Why would you ask me that?”

“I was just wondering.”

“What I did with Charlie is none of your business.” She got out of the car. “This was a huge mistake.”

Holden felt like he’d stepped on a landmine; how the hell had she gone from laughing to being pissed off? “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Too late,” she said slamming the car door.

Holden thought he made it home in time but his parents were pretty ticked off when he tiptoed into the house after curfew. His father had a scowl and his mom’s fingers tapped on the table.

Before he could a word out, his father said, “I don’t think you understand the purpose of having a curfew, let alone following our rules.”

“So,” his mom said, “from this moment on, no more seeing Rebekah. No more parties – well except for weekends. After practice you will come straight home.”

Holden opened his mouth to protest. “But—”

“No buts. That girl is distracting you from your grades. You need to be free of distractions if you are going to get early decision from Harvard,” said his father. “And after this fiasco with this so-called cheating ring, you need to seriously buckle down. Understood?”

Holden fought back tears of anguish. “I make one mistake and my whole life is over. Thanks, universe!” he shouted as he stormed upstairs.

When he was in his room, he couldn’t help but think that maybe his parents were actually right. Rebekah was bringing down, adding an unnecessary distraction to his already stressful life. He knew what he had to do. He didn’t like it, but it had to be done.

Chapter 27: Payback’s A Bitch

 

 

After a horrific week of drill team practice and going out of his way to avoid Jenny, all Nate really wanted to do was chill out and relax. He hadn’t heard from Alec since they made love and it was starting to scare him. What he shared with Alec was something he had dreamed about forever and it finally happened and he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. Then there was Jenny.

He could hardly talk to her, let alone be in the same room as her without feeling like a complete coward. He stolen her boyfriend behind her back and was still pretending to be her friend. He tried to tell her about what was going on, to give her a heads up that she needed to be the one to break up with Alec, to save herself the heart ache. But no, she was still determined to catch him in the act.

As Nate gathered his books from his locker, he accidentally checked his phone for any new messages from Alec and instead saw the horrifying text message from GS warning him to tell Jenny or else… Nate wasn’t exactly sure what this person was going to do to him but he didn’t know how else to go forth. How could he tell Jenny he was the reason Alec had been so distant and acting shady? How could he look her in the eye and break her heart? Despite what went down, she was still his best friend and he didn’t want to lose her friendship. He cared about her too much.

Well, you should have thought about that before you stabbed her in the back, said a voice in the back of his head. Just get it over with already, coward.

Nate shuffled into JROTC class and barely paid attention. By the time lunch rolled around, he finally had a plan formed on how and what he was going to tell Jenny. He was going to spill everything so he could be done with this whole thing and maybe this GS person could leave him the hell alone.

He was sitting on the patio when a voice said, “What’s got you looking so bummed out?” He expected to see Holden, but instead he was shocked to see Danny.

Nate looked around uncomfortably. “Nothing. Just got some stuff on my mind. Stuff you wouldn’t care about.”

“Try me,” said Danny.

Nate sighed, trying to decipher if Danny was for real. Then he said, “I feel like I’m in a lose/lose situation. No matter what I choose, someone is going to get hurt – and it just might be me.” Nate shook his head. “I’m an idiot.”

Danny sat next to Nate but kept his distance, naturally. Looking straight ahead, he said, “I don’t know what it’s like to be gay or whatever but I guess it must be tough, huh?”

Nate rolled his eyes. “This has nothing to do with being gay. I hurt someone – unintentionally of course – and I have a decision to make that’s going to affect other people. Do you have any idea what that’s like? Of course not,” Nate added quickly. “You’re Danny Vanderbilt, a man without feelings ‘cause he’s too cool.”

“That’s not true. I feel things. I just don’t show it all the time.” He paused. “Like when my mom succumbed to breast cancer? I felt that. I felt her pain. Knowing there was nothing I could do to help…”

“Yeah, that must’ve been tough…Sucks not having a mom.”

“Whatever,” said Danny, jumping off the table and turning to leave. “Oh, a wise man once said to me, ‘Doing the right thing is never easy. But it’s better than living with a lie.’”

 

 

Journalism class came quick and with it, his confrontation with Jenny. He already had a speech prepared and everything. He spotted Jenny in her regular seat and when he approached her, almost flinched from the furry in her eyes. He tried to touch her shoulder when she screamed, “Don’t touch me! How could you hurt me like this?”

“Jenny what are you talking about?”

By then everyone was staring. Jenny wiped her tear-stained face as she poor her cell phone in Nate’s face. She pulled up a video that was a little blurry at first until it cleared up. When it did Nate’s heart hammered. In the video, two figures were making out in someone’s bedroom, hot and heavy. Something looked oddly familiar about the angle and the room and the familiar Navy posters—

Nate choked when his and Alec’s faces were shown when they broke apart for air. To confirm his horror, he watched as the video cut to minutes later when Alec and Nate were naked and making sex sounds. The video ended just as quickly as it started.

Nate’s heart was in his throat; he could feel the blood drain from his face even more so now because everyone was looking at Nate with disgusted looks on their faces.

Jenny shoved him in the chest. “Explain! Explain to me how you could do something like this to me!”

“Who-who sent that to you?”

Does it matter? Are you seriously going to stand there and tell me you weren’t fucking my boyfriend?”

“Look, I can explain! I tried to tell you—”

Jenny slapped him hard across the face and Nate couldn’t react. Hot tears rolled down his face and he did what came natural – he ran past his classmates pointing at him and past Jenny. He didn’t know where he was going but he had to get away.

He couldn’t believe this! How the hell did GS follow him and record him without him knowing about it? What was Alec going to say? Did the whole senior class know about his not-so-secret tryst? Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Nate waited in his car until school was over. Hours later he hoped the debacle was over. There was no way he could go home so instead, he went to the pool. It was locked but luckily, he was on good terms with a janitor who gave him a copy of the pool key. He liked to swim to clear his mind. Plus, it was the perfect excuse to work on his swim qualification he would need in officer training school. After changing into a tank top and patterned swim shorts, Nate began his training. It was just him and the pool, peaceful and quiet.

Suddenly he saw a figure above the water. He pooped his head up and was shocked to see Alec. And boy was he pissed. Nate pulled himself out of the pool. He barely caught his breath when he blurted out, “Look, I can explain. I mean, not really. I don’t know how that video got out.”

“What video?” Alec asked.

Nate was confused. “Wait – you didn’t get a copy of the video?”

“Again, I ask, what video?”

Nate swallowed hard. “The one with us…the other day it’s been circulating around the whole senior class.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “I guess that explains why Jenny blew up my phone and all but trashed my car. Oh, and my teammates hate me. Thanks, for that.”

“Alec, listen, it wasn’t my fault. I don’t know who made that video but—”

It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done. My life is ruined now and everyone think I’m a fag.” He had a fiery look in his eyes that sent Nate’s heart racing. Nate tried to console him bit Alec. Backed away. “Don’t touch me. Please, just leave me alone.”

“But Alec, I—”

“GO! Get away from me!”

“Really? You’re gay just like me. Might as well admit it—”

Alec’s fist flew across Nate’s jaw and made contact before Nate could react. Not enough to draw blood but it hurt like hell. Alec pushed him. “Get the hell out of my face!”

“No, not until you talk to me!”

Alec punched him in the stomach, twice, Nate doubled over. He felt hot tears blurry his vision. The rage on Alec’s face should have made him fear for his life but he wasn’t scared. Okay, maybe a little. But he was feeling so confused. He still loved Alec. And he didn’t want to lose him. Alec pushed him once more and this time Nate took the hint and walked away. He was five feet away from the pool entrance when he felt a gut instinct telling him to go back. He needed to apologize for real, make Alec hear him out. He ran back to the pool, where Alec stood in the same spot as before. “I’m sorry, Alec! I didn’t mean for any of this to happen! I fell for you and I knew it was wrong but—”

Nate stopped talking when a hooded figure emerged from behind Alec—and they were holding a baseball bat. Nate’s eyes bulged. “Alec! Behind you!”

It was too late. Alec barely had time to turn around when the fat end of the baseball bat crashed into the side of his head with a sickening crack! Blood oozed from his head as his body fell into the pool. The hooded figure, straight out of Hollywood movie, moved towards Nate and he instinctively jumped into the pool after Alec.

He swam to Alec’s body and easily pulled him up to the surface. He looked around and the figure was nowhere to be found. He pulled Alec out of the water and began CPR, trying his hardest to ignore all the blood – so much blood.

Eventually Alec coughed up water but his eyes remained closed. “Oh my God, you’re okay!” Nate cried and sobbed as he pulled Alec’s head into his lap.

Nate let out a sigh of relief.

Alec reached out for his hand and squeezed.

“I’m so sorry,” Nate cried. He held on to Alec, never wanting to let him go again. No matter what.

Terror ran through his veins when he heard footsteps approaching the pool. Thinking it was the assailant coming to finish what they started, Nate held Alec protectively with his back against the wall until he saw who it was and relaxed a little. It was only the janitor.

 

Chapter 28: Don’t Let ‘em See You Sweat

 

 

Danny was pretty damn certain everyone was staring at him when he rolled up at school the following Thursday. He had a couple of days off to recuperate at Holden’s place. His parents were super nice. That morning Mrs. Cotillard made a breakfast spread that would put his own mother to shame. He didn’t want to leave the safe haven but he had to go to school, per their rules for allowing him to stay. He was cool with that. However, he wasn’t cool with the way everyone kept staring at him.

“Just ignore them.” This came from Holden as they strolled through the hallway before home room.

“I know my face is jacked up,” Danny said. “I’d be staring too.”

“Oh my God,” said Nate, sliding up to their conversation. “I wish I was there to witness that epic ass beating.”

Danny clenched his jaw. “Say one more word and I’ll knock your teeth out.”

He was seriously thinking about it when he remembered he was still recovering from a bruised rib. Instead, he shoved him into a locker – hard. “Stay out of my way.” He was going to add something mean at the end but the scared look on Nate’s face was more than enough. What came next surprised him – Nate had the balls to push him back with so much force he slipped and bumped into several people in the hall. Danny was ready to attack just when Principal Ross yanked him by his backpack. “That’s enough! I’ve had it with you!” He glared at Danny. “In my office now!”

“Fuck off!” Danny snapped, moving out of Principal Ross’s viewpoint.

“I’m calling security and having you removed immediately!”

“Don’t waste your time. I’m already out of here.” Danny gave him the peace sign and went on his way. He didn’t know where exactly he was going to end up but he just had to get away from there before he exploded. He drove until he ended up at the last place he wanted to be – the grave site where his mother had been laid to rest. There were sprawling acres of green, picturesque views and crazy architecture that Holden and his dad would go crazy for. He drove up to the mausoleum. Inside was air conditioned and smelled like fresh flowers. His mother was buried in crypt 24, right next to some famous movie star who died young due a drug overdose. His mom had requested the crypts specifically. At his mother’s crypt, red roses from he and his father’s last visit was still there. Jocelyn Vanderbilt, the plaque spelled out against the marble. He still couldn’t fathom how she succumbed to breast cancer at only thirty-six years old. It just seemed unreal. Everything was perfect back then. He wasn’t acting out or felt the need to be the center of his dad’s problems. His mom was always there, being supportive. Then she left him. He didn’t even get a chance to hug her one last time.

He shook his head, trying not to cry. He missed his mother and he also missed how simple everything used to be. He didn’t mean to spiral out of control, to become some jerk who only cared about driving his dad insane. He just wanted things to be different.

He spent twenty minutes there and as he headed to his car, found two detectives waiting for him. Actually, they were same cops who questioned him at school. “Danny Vanderbilt,” said detective King. “I’m going to need to you come with us.”

Danny sighed. “Seriously? What for?”

Detective Cross smiled and said, “Please don’t make this hard. We just want to bring you down to the station to answer some questions.”

“So, I’m not under arrest?”

“Not yet,” said King.

“Shouldn’t I bring my dad?”

We’ll notify your father but his presence won’t be required…as of yet.”

“Tell you what,” said King. “I’ll be nice and let you ride in the back without handcuffs.”

“Fuck my life,” Nate mumbled as he followed the detectives to their sedan, where he sat in the back. He was more worried about what he was going to once his father was called down. Shit, he was probably going to blow a gasket.

After they arrived at the station, Danny was led to a room, kind of like the ones on cop TV shows, except this room didn’t have a two-way mirror. He sat down and felt nervousness fall over him as the questions began. They started with the simple stuff and worked their way up to the tough ones. Danny broke into a sweat when king asked, “How long you been selling dexies? And don’t lie to me, kid. I know the truth but I want to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

Danny sighed. He figured lying would definitely do more harm than good. Couldn’t get any worse than this. “Not that long,” he confessed. “About a year, maybe two.”

King sat back in his chair. “And I guess you’re not aware that selling dextro is a felony. Oh and another freebie – two classmates have overdosed on dextro, the most recent was one of your buyers.”

“I’m sorry about that, really. But I’m not a therapist. I was just the supplier. They came to me for help.”

“Oh so you were helping him by allowing him to take pills that he wasn’t prescribed by a doctor? Even when you knew how harmful they could be?”

“I didn’t know anybody could overdose on dextro! It’s just a study aid – used to help turn F’s into A’s. I admit I should have cut him off but I was just in it for the money.”

Cross spoke up and asked, “The school newspaper recently published your name with a list of other dealers. The author was a Jackson Wright. He ratted you out to the whole school. You kicked him around and that’s how you got those scars, right?”

“Wait – what? I got the scars from some assholes who jumped me in the student parking lot. I never touched Jackson but I guess somebody else did.”

“Like who?”

“I don’t know,” Danny said, anger building up inside of his chest. “All I know is that this happened to me yesterday after school. Ask my dad. I came straight home afterward and crashed at my friend’s place.”

“We’re going to need a name and phone number for this friend of yours.”

“Fine. That won’t be a problem.”

Officer Cross paused and lowered her voice. It was kind of motherly, soothing, especially when she reached out and touched his hand. “Look, kid, we’re trying to understand how all this played out. Someone attacked Jackson the same day his story went public, exposing you and other dealers at his school. He ruined a lot of futures and someone wanted him to pay with his life. It’s so sad. It’s just as bad that other kid, Charlie, who was struck by a car – presumably also by a classmate at your school.”

King slapped a folder on his desk. “You’re looking at a dozen felony charges, if you’re lucky. I’m sure your principal is probably going to expel you and then what?”

Cross looked him in the eyes and he felt the tears stinging his eyes. He thought about Charlie, about the classmates who OD’d on dextro. And Jackson. What the actual fuck was happening? How the hell was he going to get himself out of this?

“Look, I didn’t do anything to Jackson,” he said, telling the honest truth.

“We saw the surveillance tapes of you roughing him up. You seemed angry enough to want to see him harmed. He deserved to pay for snitching on you, right? No more fast money for you.”

Danny took a deep, calming breath, forcing himself not to reach over and punch the detective. He shook his head. “This is bullshit.”

“You better tell us something, kid. My patience is growing thin.”

Cross touched his hand. Her hand was soft. “Is there anything you can think of?”

He thought about what his mom would say if she were here with him. She’d tell him to cooperate and do what he had to. Even if it meant doing something he’d later regret. Just as he was about to cave, he thought back to the day he overheard Rebekah and Jackson taking in the hallway. She was behind the whole set up. She was the reason Jackson was pushing the story forward, making sure the story got published, and thus ensuring Danny’s fate was sealed.

“That crazy bitch,” Danny said, smiling to himself.

“What is it?” asked cross.

He looked at king. “I can’t tell you anything unless I get some kind of deal.”

King laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope.”

That was it – he had some leverage.

The two detectives talked in low voices for a few minutes. When they were done, king said, “Well, out with it. We don’t have all day.”

“Rebekah,” Danny said. “She was the one who attacked Jackson. She set up the whole thing.”

“What thing?”

“She pushed him to go forward with the story. I think he was scared to do it and she pushed him too far. Maybe something went down between them. She’s always been an outsider at our school and she’s definitely hated me since middle school so, yeah, I’m pretty sure she’s setting me up.”

“We’ll take this into consideration,” said king, standing up.

“So, am I free to go?”

“You’re free. Just don’t leave town or the country. We’ll be in touch.” She looked behind him and said, “Looks like your father is here.”

Sure enough, his father was standing outside, looking both pissed and stern. When Holden approached he expected to get a lecture after not having been home for two days in a row. He stiffened when his dad hugged him – a real hug. It had been so long since they had any real contact, other than getting beaten with a belt. This felt so unreal but Danny didn’t fight it. He hugged his dad back. When his father broke apart, he said, “I missed you not having you at home, son.”

Danny looked at the tiled floor. “Missed you too, Dad.”

His father placed a hand on his shoulder. “Ready to go home?”

“Definitely. This place gives me the heebie jeebies.” He hoped he would never step foot inside a police station ever again.

Chapter 29: You Are So Not Forgiven

 

 

Nate didn’t shed a tear when his platoon failed an inspection. But when Jenny told him about Alec’s condition, suddenly the world stopped.

“The doctors are keeping him over night for observations. They want to run some more tests before they send him home.” They were standing outside of journalism class before the bell rang.

“Is he going to be okay? Will there be any permanent damage or anything?”

Jenny regarded him closely, almost as if she was censoring her next words. “He’ll be okay. His parents said if you weren’t there he’d be in much worse shape.” She folded her arms and said, “I still don’t understand how something like this happened at our school.”

“Yeah, it’s insane.” Nate looked down the hall as students began disappearing into their classes. “Alec didn’t deserve that…”

“I know. Did you give the police your statement already?”

“Of course. It was the first thing I did after the whole thing went down.” He was so terrified during those seconds when Alec had stopped breathing. He just knew for sure that Alec was gone because of him. When the paramedics arrived, Alec was awake and conscious but he was so weak and bloody it hurt him to his core. The police took his statement when Aunt May raced over from work. She wasn’t too happy about that and learning that Nate had sneaked into the pool after hours.

Jenny pursed her lips. “What were you guys doing there?”

The bell rang and Nate took that as his cue to take his seat. Jenny continued to pester him with questions and he tried to be as cool as possible. He could feel her icy glare bore into him from across the room whenever she had to return to her station.

“You didn’t answer my question,” said Jenny after class. “What were you guys doing there?”

“None of your business.” Nate was surprised at his tone. It was stern and confident.

Jenny looked surprised as well. “What do you mean it’s none of my business? Alec—”

“Alec isn’t your boyfriend anymore. It’s over between you guys.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t act like that. I’m still pissed you betrayed me. When were you going to tell me that you turned my boyfriend into a queer?”

It took every ounce of self-control not to retaliate. He steadied himself and said, “Your boyfriend was already queer – you just couldn’t see it.”

Nate left her standing in the hall with her mouth hanging open.

The day was uneventful until American History class. The principal sent a student aid to summon him to his office immediately. When he got there he almost jumped out of his skin at the sight of Holden and Danny sitting across from his desk. Principal Ross was giving Holden a serious scolding that had something to do with the cheating scandal he was caught up in a few days back.

“…and let me make sure I’m clear about this Holden. If I get one more whiff of your wrongdoing, I’m letting Barry know all about this little fiasco.”

Holden sat in the chair looking like he was on the verge of crying. “Will that be all, sir?”

“No. From this moment on you are relieved of your duties from the debate team, key club and—”

“Are you serious? I’m the vice president of debate team and we have a big tournament coming up. I can’t miss it!”

“Well, you weren’t thinking about that when you helped your friends to those study guides, now were you?”

Nate saw Holden’s hands ball into fists as he replied, “No sir,” in a tight voice.

Mr. Ross turned his cold gaze on Danny. “And you…”

“What?” said Danny stoically. “You’ve got something planned for me?”

“I’m not going to waste my breath on you. I know you’ll get caught just like the others I’ve rounded up in this past week alone.” He grinned, proud. “It’s only a matter of time.”

There was a standoff and Danny’s eye said he wasn’t intimidated at all.

After a moment, Nate cleared his throat. “Um, Principal Ross, you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, Nate. I’ll be right with you.” He sent Holden and Danny back to their classes with another threat. After taking a seat, Nate felt uncomfortable. He knew something bad was about to happen and it had nothing to do with the ominous tension that loomed in the air or the creepy smile on Principal Ross’s face. “Regarding the incident that occurred on Monday, I have a few questions.”

“Um, I already told you everything I know. Plus I gave my statement to the police.”

Mr. Ross was silent. “I want to know how you were able to get access to the pool and who could possibly have a motive to cause harm to one of my students.”

Nate swallowed hard. It was hard to concentrate with Mr. Ross’s eyes locked on him. His arm pits were sweating. He bit down on his lips and considered his options. There was no way he could tell on the janitor and cost him his job nor could he explain the unknown person who showed up out of nowhere and tried to attack him. He had an idea that it was the stalker G.S. Nate didn’t want to draw any attention to that whole situation and make things worse.

He took a deep breath and lied. “I got access to the pool by a senior. I don’t know his name but he unlocked it for me. And as far as the crazy person goes, I have no idea why they were there. Wish I had a clue.”

“A senior you say,” he repeated. “I need a name.”

“I told you I don’t know his name.”

“Okay then I’ll just have to suspend you—”

“On what grounds?”

“For one, insubordination…shall I go on?”

Nate rolled his eyes. Aunt May was not going to be too happy about this. Nate held his head up as he received his three day suspension along with an eight thousand word essay and walked out of the office feeling braver than ever. Principal Ross was an asshole but Nate had held his ground.

“Why are you eating out here by yourself?” asked Holden.

It was lunch period and Nate was indeed sitting on the patio looking like a loser with his lunch. Holden sat across from him, no lunch tray in his hand and instead a pile of books. Nate took a swig of his juice and said, “Nobody likes me and my sort-of-boyfriend is in the hospital.”

“I still can’t believe that happened. Are you having nightmares from it? I know I would.”

“Yeah, sort of. The worst part of it all is that it should have been me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Whoever attacked Nate was coming after me. I think. It had to be that G. S. person whose been stalking us. Check this out.” Nate showed Holden the text message he got the day of the incident. “See? I think this was a direct result of not doing what G.S. wanted me to. Alec paid the price for my mistake.” Nate shook his head, the image of Alec’s horror-struck expression.

Holden thought for a moment. “This has got to stop. First I get caught up in that cheating ring crap, then Danny getting caught over some anonymous tip and luckily he didn’t have any drugs on him – and now this. What are we going to do?”

“I really don’t know,” Nate said. “I just wish I had an inkling of who has it out for us so bad. It’s not like we’re all that bad, right?”

Holden paused. “I get what you’re saying. Sure, we left a guy on the side of the road to die. Could have been a lot worse.”

“That’s not funny, Holden.”

“I know it isn’t. I don’t want this stuff weighing on my conscience. I want to get senior year over with and be done with all of this. I want to be decorating my dorm room next year, not sharing a jail cell.”

“Speaking of jail,” Nate said as Danny strutted over wearing his uniform; it looked quite good on him, the way his cardigan showed his biceps. He sure could fill out a pair of khakis too. He plopped next to Holden and said, “What are you two lovebirds talking about?”

Holden filled him on everything that had talked about. Danny laughed and said, “I’ll start to worry when I see evidence that places us at the scene of the crime.”

Nate shook his head slowly. “God must love stupid people. He made SO many.”

Danny glared at him.

“I’m just saying,” said Nate, “there’s a picture of us standing near Charlie’s body and now all of this stuff is happening. I don’t know if I can handle any more surprises.”

“We need to figure out who was there that night,” Holden said. “Maybe try to remember everyone who was at the party that night. Maybe someone was going the same way as us and saw what happened and decided to use it against us.”

“Good idea,” said Danny. “But do you have any idea how many people were at that party not to mention were either high, drunk, or both? It’ll be like finding a needle in a hay stack.” he threw his hands up. “I say scratch that idea.”

Nate grimaced. He stared at Danny for a long second. “I have listened to everything you just said and have come to the realization…you’re a moron!”

Danny went to reach over the table but Nate was quick enough to grab his wrist. “What’s the matter? Don’t like being called names?”

Danny pulled his hand back. “Touch me again and you’re dead!” He turned to leave and said, “You guys are a bunch of pussies!”

Nate finished his juice in silence. “If we’re a bunch of pussies, what does that makes him?” he quizzed.

Holden waited a beat. “He’s just as freaked out as we are. Have you met his dad? He’d go ballistic if Danny gets caught dealing.”

“Maybe he deserves to get caught. It’ll teach him.”

Holden was quiet for a while. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

Later in the day when classes were over, Nate rushed over to journalism club. He figured he’d get as much work done as possible before his suspension kicked in. he worked on a few articles. It was weird not getting any texts from Alec. He was so worried after not seeing him for so long. He’s stopped working and typed out a message to Alec: Hey. Are you feeling better?

It took some time but eventually he got a response – and it wasn’t what he was expecting: Can’t talk. J is here :(

A few minutes later a new text came in: Good news – the doctors say I might be able to go home today! Followed by several smiley faces.

Great! Nate texted back. Hope I get to see you.

Me too!

There was nothing but quietness by the time Nate got home hours later. He occupied himself with watching TV and was nearly asleep when a text came through at nine o clock from Alec. Wanna see you. Can you meet me?

Nate’s eyes snapped awake. Yeah…where?

The park near Miami Road.

Are you okay? Why so late?

I just wanna see you.

Nate found the last message a bit off but he ignored the nagging thought in the back of his mind. He sneaked out of the house through the side door and cleverly got his car out of the driveway. He was pretty sure he saw Aunt May standing in the living room window. Oh well; he’d face the consequences later.

When he pulled up to the park, it was empty. The lights were on but didn’t help any. He saw a tall figure near the park bench and proceeded to walk towards them and stiffened when the figure turned around—

“Jenny…what are you – his voice broke off as fear gripped his vocal cords.

“What? Were you expecting lace?”

“How did—”Nate stammered as he tried to make sense of his swimming thoughts. “How did you know I’d be here waiting for Alec…?”

“Get it together, Navy Boy. It isn’t rocket science.”

Nate swallowed. “You stole his phone.”

She smiled proudly. “I did. It was the only way I knew you’d show up.”

“What do you want?” Nate snapped.

Jenny folded her arms over her chest. “I want you to leave him alone. Go be with someone else.”

“I can’t do that,” said Nate. “We have something…something special.”

“It’s the sex isn’t it?” she rolled her eyes. “Don’t tell me. It’s disgusting! I thought you were my friend but NO! You stole my boyfriend and convince him to dump me! What kind of person does that to a friend?” Tears began rolling down her face. “What is wrong with you?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why? Why did you do it?”

“It just happened. I never thought he’d be interested in me like that.”

She glared at him. “Who made the first move?”

“I can’t remember. I think he did—”

“When?”

“That night we had pizza. I went to the bathroom and he followed me.”

“Way back then?” she shouted. “God! How could I not see it? I – don’t touch me!” Nate tried to approach her but she freaked out. “Stay away from me, Nate!”

Jenny, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I tried to get Alec to break up with you before we started getting close. I’m so—” She smacked him – hard. Nate’s face stung and all he could do was stand there, stunned.

“I hate you!” She shoved him hard, tears running down her face. She began walking away, determined to fix things, Nate followed her. She broke into a run. “Jenny, wait! Let me explain!”

What was he going to explain? That he wasn’t all that sorry that he stole her boyfriend? That he wanted to rub in her face some more that her boyfriend was bi and she never had a clue? He thought about this as she disappeared out of sight. The darkness made Nate aware just how alone he was.

Jenny or not, he needed to give her some space. He began walking to his car when he heard the sound of footsteps in dirt. He turned around and there was a figure standing just five feet away from him. He booked it without a second thought in the direction of his car. His heart pounded the whole way and when he got there his stomach dropped – the air had been let out of all the tires. He looked around for the mysterious figure or Jenny but he was alone.

Taking a deep, calming breath, Nate started his car and didn’t stop until he was home. He ran past Aunt May, locked himself inside his room and cried so hard his entire body shook. He was too scared to sleep in the dark he left the light on and curled on his bed facing the door.

He knew there was no way he was going to sleep a wink that night.

 

Chapter 30: Heartbreaker

 

 

Holden tried to ignore the swirling feeling in his gut as he dialed Rebekah’s number. He didn’t want to tell her that his parents forbade him from seeing her but it was the only way. The only way to get some normalcy back in his life. Sure, they weren’t exactly dating but she was a distraction he couldn’t afford. If he didn’t get early acceptance to Harvard everything would fall apart; he just knew it. After his parents lectured him some more he caved and wrote up a speech he was going to recite to Rebekah. Better to be prepared rather than wing it.

With his speech in hand, he waited for her to pick up. “Hey, Holden,” she answered on the second ring. “I was just thinking about you.”

“Really?” said Holden, trying not to smile. He took a deep breath. “Um. We have to talk…in person. Do you have a minute to meet at that coffee shop you like on Collins?”

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

Before Holden disconnected, he remembered how she flipped out after their movie date. It had bothered him all night more so than his parents’ strict curfew. “Is everything okay? I mean after the movie thing you kind of went quiet.”

She laughed through the phone. “Yeah, of course. I was just kind of upset that’s all.”

“Sorry it’s just….never mind. We’ll talk more in a few.” Holden did everything to distract himself for the next half hour. He thought about was he was going to wear to the Halloween party his school was throwing. He wasn’t too old for a costume or being a dork for that matter. He wanted to wear something age appropriate and something that not everyone was going to copy. First he opted for something cool like a character out of his favorite film Grease. Thinking it was too outdated he opted for something like Indiana Jones. Nope. Way too out there. He didn’t want to dress up like a sexy doctor nor did he want to dress up like a zombie or freaking vampire – being undead is so played out.

An hour later he was at Nate’s. He called him shaken up and sounded like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “Hey,” Holden said, sitting at the kitchen table. “Are you going to the Halloween party tonight?”

“I don’t know,” said Nate. “With everything that’s been happening lately I don’t feel like leaving the house. Someone tried to killed me, or at least harm me – twice!”

“Did you see who it was?”

“If only. It was way too dark to see anything but I know someone was after me.” He ran his hands over his hair. “Any ideas who this asshole can be?”

“I’m just as clueless as you,” Holden said. “Honestly, I never knew someone hated us so much to come after each of us. What if this isn’t just about Charlie? It clearly has to be about something else.”

“True,” said Nate. “Can you believe Danny finally got caught? I’m kind of torn between being happy and feeling bad for him.”

“Yeah, it was bound to happen. But he’s been doing for a long time. I don’t think it was a coincidence that Jackson was the nail in the coffin.” Holden thought about it, all the things that had happened to them. Nothing clicked. What was the connection?

Nate shook his head. “And what about the pictures Danny found in his lockers? We were just becoming friends in middle school. The only awful thing we did was trick Ashley Hines into showing us her boobs.”

Holden frowned. “I don’t get it.” His phone vibrated. It was a text from Rebekah – thankfully not from Good Samaritan: Can’t wait to see you.

“Who was that?” Nate asked.

“Rebekah. We’re supposed to meet up later.

“Hot date?”

“Nah, I have to stop hanging out with her. My parents don’t want my grades to suffer because I’ve broken a couple of curfews.”

Nate laughed. “I see. Sounds like my Aunt May. I still haven’t heard about my application but I guess no news it good news…same with Alec. I’m so scared for him. What if he never wants to talk to me again?”

Holden remembered the video that had mysteriously surfaced of Nate and Alec hooking up. It had been leaked by someone anonymously and ruined things between him and Jenny indefinitely. Now that he was on the verge of losing the first guy he ever cared about, Holden was on edge. Something had to be done about their stalker one way or another. Still, he was going to live his life, starting with the Halloween dance later that night. “Hey, I know you’re worried about him but you can’t think about it too much, you know? Take your mind off of it.”

“How? He’s all I think about when I close my eyes…and Jenny. The look on her face…” he looked like he was about to burst into tears.

Holden playfully punched him in the arm. “We’re going to the Halloween party tonight. No ifs and butts okay?”

“I’m still grounded. Aunt May won’t let me leave the house.”

“That’s because I haven’t worked my charm on her yet.” Holden laughed. “Leave it to me.”

Holden was at the coffee shop a few minutes later, dreading Rebekah’s arrival. He ordered a cappuccino and gulped it down, taking in the fantastic scenery. The people, sun. It was all amazing. Then it was all gone when Rebekah stepped through the door. She was wearing a nice outfit that made her ass look amazing, Holden observed as she sashayed through the tables. She was smiling until she sat down. When she took a seat they talked about the weather, school and the usual small talk. Holding was playing with his fork when she said, “so, are we going to the Halloween party together or should I meet you there?”

“Um, about that,” Holden said, finally meeting her eyes. “I don’t think this is going to work anymore.”

“What are you talking about?”

“My parents. They think I’m spending too much time with you and its throwing me off my game.”

“Come on Holden, just spit it out already.”

“We can’t be friends anymore. No more hanging out. I have to focus on my academics.”

Her smile vanished into a sneer. “So what, you’re dumping me?”

“Whoa – we were never in a relationship.”

“So why’d you let me go down on you in the car? Why did you lead me on thinking we were something we’re not?” Her voice rose, making Holden feel extremely uncomfortable.

“Look just calm down. I’m sorry.” He looked around, to see make sure no one staring. “I just wanted us to be friends after you were so torn up over Charlie.”

She shot daggers at him. “Don’t talk about Charlie.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to get you all upset.”

“No, you just brought me here to make me look like an idiot!” She stood and snatched up her purse. “I hate you, Holden!”

“I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“You’re a horrible person, Holden.” Her eyes were as dead as they day he first met her, but Holden would never get that icy-cold glare out of his mind.

The look on Rebekah’s face was fresh in his mind when he rolled up to Danny’s place to pick him up. He strutted to the car in his costume, which Holden guessed was the character Tony Montana from the movie Scar Face. “Wow,” Danny said, taking in Holden’s costume. “Think you’re overdoing it with the Sparta costume?”

“No,” said Holden. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, unless you’re trying to catch the attention of every gay dude at school.”

Holden sighed heavily. “Why do you have to be such a hater?” Holden laughed. He was glad to see Danny in a good mood, what with everything going on. He drove toward ante’s place and when he came to a stop, he asked, “So, are you through with dealing?”

Danny waited a moment. “I guess so. I mean, I can’t really do it with the cops all over my ass. The thrill is gone.”

“Speaking of thrills, Rebekah and I are no longer friends.”

“How come?”

Holden gave him the low down. “Basically, my parents told me I’ve got to buckle down and Rebekah kind of freaked when I told her.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Now are starting to see the picture?”

Holden smiled. “Yeah, I guess. She sucked at life in seventh grade. Remember she used to sit at the lunch table looking like an orphan?”

“It was pretty pathetic. Didn’t she try out for the dance team or something?”

“Yeah but she didn’t make the cut. I heard she danced like a robot.”

Danny burst out laughing.

“What are you guys laughing about?” Nate asked as he hopped in the back seat.

“Psycho Rebekah,” they said simultaneously.

“Think you’ll see her at the party?” Nate asked.

“God, I hope not,” Holden said. “It’s going to be so awkward.”

“Better watch your back bro,” said Danny. “You might have a new stalker on your hands.”

Holden laughed but then a thought hit him hard – so hard he nearly had to stop the car. His eyes bulged as his mind spun. No. Fucking. Way.

“You alright?” asked Nate

“It was just a joke,” said Danny.

Holden shook his head, deciding to keep his thoughts to himself. “Yeah, I’m good.”

The party was alive and thriving when they arrived. Halloween decorations were everywhere and it was obvious the school budget went all out. Holden actually felt a creepy sensation fall over him, save for the fact that he knew it was all fake. Seeing his classmates running around in masks pretending to be serial killers and sluts was a lot more interesting then thinking about Rebekah and whoever was holding a grudge against him and his friends.

Danny mingled with a pair of candy stripers while Holden and Danny walked around. With his angel costume, he had no problem getting compliments left and right but Nate wasn’t into it. A tall guy Holden knew from Statistics class said hi to him and approached Nate. Totally weird but it was hard to tell that he played on the same team as Nate (figuratively speaking)—no hint of feminine traits whatsoever. So when he slipped Nate his number and told him to find him on a popular social networking site called Friendbook, to say that Holden was shocked would be an understatement. Even more shocking, Nate politely pocketed the piece of paper and about five steps later, he ripped it to shreds.

“Dude, why did you do that?”

“Because Alec is still my kind-of-boyfriend,” he said. “Plus, that guy just wasn’t my type.”

I frowned. “Wait – you actually have a type?” I regretted asking the second it flew out of my mouth. I hoped it didn’t come off as ignorant as it sounded.

Nate chuckled. “Uh, yeah. And that guy was definitely not it.”

Holden snickered. He was about to say something else when he saw someone that looked like Rebekah moving towards the bathrooms. He turned around to see if Danny was still chatting up the candy strippers but he was gone. Holden looked back and Rebekah or what he thought was her, had vanished also. “You, did you see where Danny went off too?” Holden asked Nate.

“Nah, he’s probably looking for his dealer buddies or something.”

“Yeah, probably,” said, Holden, hoping to let go of the gut feeling that something was off. He hoped like hell that he was just imagining things.

Chapter 31: It’s A Quarter Past Payback

 

 

Unlike the rest of the senior class, Danny was in no mood to be around his fellow classmates. He’d rather be at home watching Sportscenter on the flat screen. Instead, he allowed Holden to drag him to this stupid party – if you could call it that. He didn’t want to follow Holden around all night so he went off and did his own thing. He loved his best friend but sometimes it was good to have some space. He needed to keep a low profile since technically he wasn’t even supposed to be on school grounds pending his hearing. He laughed at Principal Ross and his bullshit scare tactics. Like Danny was really going to be afraid of that asshole. Okay, maybe he was a little more afraid of what his father might do if he got expelled. He shuddered at the thought.

He downed some punch and decided he might as well enjoy the night just in case he wasn’t allowed back. There were people screaming and laughing. Maybe this wouldn’t be as lame as he thought. There were several “scary” things he could try and first up was the creepy-looking graveyard theme. There was a bunch of faux fog, and creepy sound effects that gave the dark place a sinister feel. The music was cheesy and didn’t really add much to the experience. He made it through without anything jumping out to spook him. Next up he was in line for the haunted house and was surprised to see Holden there. “Yo! Think you’re brave enough to face your nightmares?” Danny teased.

Holden snickered. “Yeah. Want to make a bet? Fifty buck says you won’t make it without screaming like a girl.”

“My fifty bucks says you won’t make it without grabbing someone or wetting your pants.”

Holden laughed. “Okay, asshole. You got a deal.”

They shook on it and when it was there turn to enter, Danny psyched himself up. He was a big fan of horror movies so he’d seen every horror movie cliché there was. No way would he get scared over this crap. The house was set up to be a maze, so the first floor was dark. He watched Holden’s face, hoping to catch him freaking out but he was calm – for now. There was a stale stench in the air, like must. Smoke rose from the floor and wafted everywhere. Danny stepped over a fake hand just as a ghostly shape flew over his head. He backed into the nearby wall and something brushed against his hand. He turned around quickly and clamped his mouth shut, determined not to scream as his heart thudded in his chest.

He laughed it off. “Get the hell away from me!”

Beside him, Holden was laughing up a storm. “Scared yet?”

“Not a chance!”

They continued with the rest of the crowd. That’s when things started to get interesting. Out of nowhere the music changed and zombies came into view a few feet ahead. “Oh shit!” Danny half laughed, half-shrieked.

The rules didn’t allow for the zombies to hold onto them or anything but they sure got up close and personal. Danny freaked a little when an ugly-ass female zombie laughed a creepy laugh as she stuck her gnarled hands out at him. She sniffed the air around him. “Mmm, you smell good enough to eat!”

She tried to touch his face but Danny backed up until he tripped over someone or something, he was determined to get away as quick as possible. He ended up running smack into someone’s back. “Watch it!” the person turned around and laughed.

Danny laughed to when he saw it was Holden. “Holy shit, dude!” He was nearly out of breath. “I think I might actually be in danger of losing that bet.”

Holden placed his hand over his heart. “Damn, my heart is racing a thousand miles per hour!”

“Come on let’s keep moving so we can finish this thing.”

Holden nodded.

They joined the rest of the crowd down a hallway. Danny could barely see a thing. The lights flickered and suddenly there was a throng of zombies being held off by a locked door. They stretched out there greedy hands as the group passed, touching and groping Danny’s arms. He had just made it to a room. It was dark, and about the size of a shoebox. He was alone – a thought that made his heart thump. He couldn’t hear a thing.

Then he heard movement from behind him. He went for the door, ready to leave. When he tried to push it, it didn’t bulge. It was like it was locked from the other side. “Hello? Is someone out there?” He banged on the door. “Hello! Someone let me out of here!”

He continued to bang on the door.

Suddenly there was movement again followed by a voice. “What, are you scared to death?” The voice was muffled and way too close to him.

Heart hammering against his chest, goose bumps spread over his arms. “Who’s there?”

“I want to play a game.”

Danny’s breath hitched. “This isn’t funny! Let me out of here!”

Just answer this question honestly,” said the voice, moving around him. Danny heard feet shuffling.

“What do you want?”

“Just tell me. Have you ever stood by while someone did something horrible and got away with it?”

“What?”

“Answer the question honestly and you can walk out of here.”

“No!” snapped Danny. “Let me out of here now!”

The voice paused. “Okay. You’re free to go.”

Immediately, Danny heard the sound of a lock clicking. He felt around and when he found the door, flung it open so hard he fell to the floor. No one was around. In fact, no one came out of the room. He got up as fast as he could and moved as fast as his legs would carry him. He ran past a couple of zombies and moved to the sound of screams. They were so close. If he could just get there—

Just before he was about to round the corner, something grabbed him from behind. With all his might he struggled to get free, thinking it was a zombie but instead he saw long dark strands and – it was Rebekah.

“What the—”

Suddenly he felt like he was being electrocuted. He saw blue sparks and then his body jerked and tensed. He felt it again, this time much longer than the first; his eyes closed, slowly dragging him into unconsciousness.

Some moments later he heard the door slam. He looked around feeling dazed and realized he was in the back of a trunk and the car was moving. His cell phone was gone and so was his chance to call for help. Rebekah’s face surfaced and he wanted to punch his way out. After a while the car came to a stop. There were footsteps and then the trunk opened. Rebekah held her weapon and made sparks shoot out. “This is a stun gun. If you scream, I’ll Tase you. Try to escape, I’ll Tase you. Got it?”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Shut up. Your voice is extremely irritating.” She forcefully pulled him by his arms out of the trunk and down a sidewalk. From what Danny could make out they were somewhere downtown. A tall building loomed before them. Rebekah forced him up three flights of stairs and into a loft, empty of any kind of furniture. The view of the city was kind of beautiful, Danny thought. His stomach turned into a knot when he saw Nate sitting on a sofa with his hands tied behind his back, just like Danny. She pushed him onto the sofa and said, “Now. All I need is one more to complete the trio.”

“Let us go,” said Nate.

“Shut up,” she screamed. “Just shut up!” Danny swallowed hard when she went to a corner of the room, where she had a duffel bag open. She pulled out a gun and a cell phone. She walked back over to Danny as she typed out a text.

Danny’s heart was in his chest… “Give me a good reason why you shouldn’t be here?”

Danny stared at her, lost. “I don’t know. I didn’t do anything to you.”

Anger flashed across her eyes. “Wrong answer.” She pressed the cold metal against Danny’s temple.

This was it. The moment before he took his last breath.

 

Chapter 32: The End of The World

 

 

Holden’s heart thudded against his chest as he stared at the text: “Want to see your friends again? Meet me at 230 L Street.”

Holden raced to his car and hoped like hell that this Good Samaritan person wouldn’t do anything reckless. God, could this night get any worse? Holden mused. It sure as hell seemed like it. He was more irritated by the fact that he was so close to figuring it all out. Well, he had a working theory anyway. Maybe it had to do with getting justice for Charlie. Maybe it even had something to do with middle school drama. He hadn’t the slightest clue but he was certainly going to get to the bottom of it once and for all.

He drove up to the location and saw lights on, along with the silhouette of someone walking around. He didn’t know what to expect but proceeded as calmly as he could manage. He knocked on the door and nearly fell backwards as the air was sucked out of his lungs when he saw—

“Rebekah?” he said in disbelief. “W-what the hell are you doing here?”

“She’s got a stun gun!” Nate hollered.

Holden froze as Rebekah lightly tapped her stun gun and loud, tiny sparks shot out. “Come inside,” she said. “Don’t you want to join your friends?” Not waiting for a reply, she grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and shoved him in on the couch in between Danny and Nate. He looked at them and when he saw the horror on their faces, he knew this was real – undoubtedly real. He was somewhat relieved to see that their hands weren’t tied up or anything. She hadn’t taken things too far – yet.

As Holden’s brain sputtered for some kind of explanation as to Rebekah’s plans, she said, “You know, this has been in the making for quite some time. But it wasn’t until one of you bastards ran over Charlie that I decided enough was enough.”

“What are you talking about?” said Danny, an edge to his voice. “We didn’t—”

“Shut up, drug dealer—”

“Screw you, crazy bitch—” Rebekah tazed him with her stun gun, just enough to cause Danny’s body to writhe and shake. When his body stopped, his eyes were huge and he was panting.

“I’ll do the talking,” said Rebekah.

Holden was seriously pissed off. He tried to dial back his irritation as he said, “It was you this whole time…”

“Yes,” Rebekah. Said, a little too proud. “As I was telling your friend, I was waiting for the perfect moment to get my payback on you little bastards. I thought I could let go of what you three did but I just couldn’t get over it.”

“Get over what?!” snapped Holden. “What the hell did we do that was so damn bad you had to stalk us?”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll figure it out…hopefully soon ‘cause I don’t have all night.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Nate. “You planning to call the cops on us? If so then just do it and get it over with.”

Rebekah. Pulled out a timer, the kind Holden’s mom used for cooking. “Tell you what? I’ll you guys and hour to figure out why I hate every last one of you – mostly you Danny,” she said, cutting her eyes at him. He stuck his middle finger at her.

“You’re on the third floor so don’t even think about doing anything stupid.” She walked out the door and slammed it behind her. There was a sound of locks clicking in place.

Mind reeling, Holden sat back and closed his eyes, hoping he could wish all of this to go away. “What are we going to do?” Holden said aloud, to no one in particular.

Danny sucked in air and stood up. “I’m going to find a weapon.” He walked around, though there wasn’t so far he could go. They were surrounded by glass windows and no furnishing except for a few lamps and heavy desks.

“I think the better question,” Nate said, “is what is she going to do to us?”

Holden looked at the timer. “I can’t believe this shit! Rebekah was behind this ‘Good Samaritan’ crap this whole time?”

Danny returned with a scowl. “I told you to stay away from that psycho, didn’t I? But you didn’t want to listen,” he said. “Bet you feel like the world’s biggest idiot.”

Holden sighed and looked at his friends. Guilt washed over him and he fought back the urge to scream or cry. Hell, both. “I’m sorry guys. I never had a clue…I mean I know it was a bad idea to be friends with her when I knew she was Charlie’s ex—”

“Wait, what?” said Danny and Nate in unison.

Holden rubbed his hands together as he prepared to tell them everything. “Yeah. You guys didn’t know that?”

“Hell no!” snapped Danny. “Fuck, that’s a pretty big piece of information, Holden! Why didn’t you mention this before?”

Nate jumped in. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it might’ve been obvious that something was up with her. You ran over her ex and didn’t think that might be a problem?”

“I knew it was an issue but I didn’t tell you guys because I…I thought Rebekah just needed a friend.”

Danny. Scoffed. “She doesn’t need a friend – that bitch needs a straightjacket!”

Nate shook his head and stared at Holden for several seconds without speaking. “I can’t believe you right now. What else haven’t you told us?”

Danny crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m with Nate on this one. Any other secrets you’ve been keeping from us?”

“It wasn’t a secret! Jeez!” Holden exclaimed. “I just thought we were becoming good friends. How was I supposed to know she was stalking all of us? She never brought up the accident.” He paused and took a moment to calm his nerves. “I’m sorry.”

Danny laughed humorlessly. “Sorry isn’t good enough, bro.”

Holden rubbed his eyes as he looked between his friends. “Danny, what happened to you at the party? One minute you were there and the next you were gone.”

He placed his hands on his hips. “I’ll tell you what happened. I was having a good time until I ended up in a dark room. I heard a voice ask me some stupid questions and next thing I know, Rebekah was in my face!” He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what has just come from his own mouth.

Nate cleared his throat. “I was taking a break from all the creepy decorations and went to the parking lot. That’s when Rebekah used that stun gun thingy on me. It hurt like a bitch.”

No one said anything else. Holden was responsible for all of this. It was all his fault. How could he not have seen this coming? He knew there stalker was holding a grudge but he never thought Rebekah was capable of doing such things. Sure, she was unstable at times and a bit out there. That didn’t mean he could label her ‘crazy.’ But she had done all of those things to him and his friends. Now they were sitting around like sitting ducks, clueless and out of options.

He thought about what Rebekah had said when they first met. That she was saddened by Charlie’s accident and how she felt a connection with Holden. If this was all about Charlie why go through all of the trouble to stalk them and torment them with text messages, threats, and—

A revelation hit Holden like a right hook to the gut. He jumped off the couch. He faced his two friends and said, “I think I know what this is about.”

Danny stared at him, clearly unimpressed. “Well, spill it.”

“I think she’s pissed that I snapped on her. Like when I started hanging out with Carly. Maybe she got jealous and—”

“No freaking way,” said Nate. “It goes much deeper than that. It has to.”

Danny waited a moment. “Again, he’s right. Sure, that might have pushed her over the edge but to go after all three of us? It’s way bigger than a jealousy issue. I think—”

The door clicked as Rebekah walked in, a stern look on her face. She held her Taser. “So, did we figure out why I hate you little bastards?”

“Yeah,” said Danny. “You hate us because you’re insane!”

She raced over to him and after a short tussle, connected the Taser with his neck; his eyes widened before he collapsed to the ground. Then she turned her furry on Nate. She left Holden for last. “You made me do this…” Holden did everything he could to deflect her but she was way stronger than he remembered. She shoved him into a wall and connected the Taser with his neck. Volts of electricity constricted his body, causing him drop to the floor in a heap. His whole body twitched until everything stilled.

“You guys are such boneheads! It’s not that hard to figure out!” Rebekah snapped, her face full of rage. “Here’s a hint: it has absolutely nothing to do with Charlie. It was way back at Miami Shores Middle School.”

Holden sat up against the wall, his body feeling like rubber. “I didn’t know you back then—none of us did! Not really…”

“That’s because you thought you were so cool with your perfect friends and your perfect life. Bet you didn’t know your dad was the reason my dad lost his job and we had to live out of one motel after another. My father worked for your dad for years and then BAM! He gets fired out of the blue. But you didn’t care. You just went on living in the lap of luxury.”

“Is that what this is about? Your jealousy?”

Danny glared at Rebekah with a death stare. “I swear to God I’m going to kill you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Shut up. You’re lucky I didn’t tell those guys from the baseball team to take out your knee caps.” She paused. “I’ve always hated you the most, especially in eighth grade. Yeah, that’s right around the time you started hanging with the big boys, remember? Started going to high school parties, hooking up with older girls.”

Danny’s brows furrowed. “You need to get a life. How could you possibly know all of that about me?”

“I’m like a chameleon; I can blend in anywhere. See, I was there that night watching you and your buddies get wasted and act like you were kings.”

“What night are you talking about?”

Her hands balled into fists. “The night Marie Hollis was date raped. She told me you were there and you were the look out while your buddies took turns on her like she was some whore!” she screamed at him, her eyes crazy.

Danny looked genuinely scared. “That was a long time ago! I was only fourteen! I didn’t know they were date raping her! That wasn’t my fault.”

She rolled her eyes. “Liar! You knew exactly what was going on. They paid you to keep your mouth shut.”

Holden could barely speak as he looked at Danny. “Is this true?”

Danny went quiet. Nothing but silence.

“Oh my God,” Holden exclaimed. “I don’t believe it.”

Nate sat up, rubbing his neck. “It’s not that hard to believe.”

Danny didn’t move an inch. He stared at the ground with his head down. Rebekah moved towards Nate. “You’re one to talk.”

“What the hell did I do to wind up here, huh?” He paused for a moment and laughed. “Wait. Is this because I laughed at you when you almost drowned at the pool party? Everybody was there and they were all laughing at you too!”

“Nope, it’s not about that but thanks for the memory.” She walked in a circle. “I’m sure you remember eighth grade fondly. You took something away from me.”

“I never—” He broke off as he paused to think. He shook his head. “Are you serious? You’re pissed because I liked Boyd Pearson?”

“He was into me too!” she huffed. “But no! You had to go and convert him to your team. I saw you two kissing in the hallway. It was so disgusting I nearly vomited all over myself.”

Nate scoffed. “Trust me, he wasn’t into you at all! He thought you were a total loser!”

“See that’s your problem, Nate – always wanting what you can’t have. Firs with Boyd and then with Alec. I can’t believe you did that to Jenny. She didn’t deserve that.”

“And Alec didn’t deserve to get his head bashed in!” Nate was on his feet, weak-looking, but the look on his face made Holden think he was about to charge her like a raging bull.

“That was an accident – my bad.” Rebekah shrugged her shoulders like she was apologizing for stepping on a rodent. “But I had to teach you a lesson somehow. Oh, and the sex tape is going to do wonders for your future in the military. Better try your luck in gay porn after graduation.”

Nate attempted to walk over to her and stumbled over his own feet.

Holden felt disgusted. “I can’t believe you did all of this,” said Holden. “Something is seriously wrong with you.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I guess I got a little bit obsessed. I didn’t want to come after your friends. I was ready to let the whole thing go but when you hit Charlie with your car and left him for dead, I couldn’t let you and your so-called friends get away with it. I had to do something about it.”

“Well,” said Danny, speaking up. “You finally got us. Now what? Is this the part where you tell us some more depressing shit?”

“No but—”

“Let us go!” said Nate. “You’ve had your fun now stop it! We messed up! We’re human and we made mistakes! Stop living in the past!” Tears were in his eyes.

She laughed. “I’ll let you guys go. But first I want a full confession – to give to the police.”

“Fuck you!” snapped Danny. “You’re not getting a damn thing out of me.”

“Wanna bet?”

She went over to a duffel bag and pulled out a shiny pistol, one that fit perfectly in her tiny hands. She pointed it at Danny. “Still not convinced? I’m not in the mood to negotiate.”

Just as she waked closer to Danny, Holden said, “Wait. I already have a confession written.

“What?!” said Danny and Nate in unison.

“Oh, you mean this one?” She reached inside her bag and held up the typed confession Holden had thought he had hidden in his bedroom.

“How did you get that?”

“That night I went up to your room and you were looking for something to wear. I saw it sitting on your bed and couldn’t believe my luck when I saw it. I mean wow! You are very articulate. You forgot to mention that you weren’t alone that night.”

“I guess I wasn’t.” A question crossed his mind. “Where exactly were you, Rebekah?” When she turned away from him, he had an idea. He reached into his back pocket and slowly inched out his cell phone, keeping it behind him.

“It doesn’t matter, but you passed right by me in your rush to get home. I was able to write down your license plate.”

Danny looked at Holden’s phone and said to Rebekah, “No way out of this, huh? Guess I’ll be needing some paper after all.”

“Me too,” said Nate.

While they had been talking, Holden had punched in 911. He waited until her back was to him before he called. He prayed like hell his plan would at least buy a few minutes so the police could track his cell or something before Rebekah was tipped off. Rebekah dug into her bag and tossed legal pads to the three of them with cheap pens. “Write down everything.”

As Holden pretended to write he faintly hear the dispatcher’s voice. As Rebekah pointed the gun in their direction, he recalled the area he was in. he figured it was in the residential downtown area. The street number was easy to remember because it reminded him of his dad. He looked at Rebekah and loudly said, “How did you find this place? L Street isn’t a quiet street. If you fire that gun, a lot people are going to hear it.”

Catching on, Nate said, “Please don’t shoot me, Rebekah. I don’t want to die.”

“Seriously,” said Danny. “That gun looks loaded.”

Rebekah turned around and screamed, “Shut up! All of you!”

“Look, you don’t have to do this. No one has to get hurt, right?” Holden said, making his voice shake.

“Oh please! I’ve been hurt all my life. I’m pretty used to it. First Charlie and then you! I’ve had enough!” The way she was holding onto that gun made Holden’s stomach drop.

Danny stood up. “Quite frankly, so have I.” He tossed his notepad to the floor. Holden slid his phone to Nate.

“Did you call the cops?” Rebekah lunged for Holden but Danny intercepted. He grabbed her Taser from her waist and tased her in the stomach; instantly, she dropped to the ground. The gun scattered across the wood floor.

“Go!” Holden shouted to Nate. “Get out of here and tell the cops where we are!”

Nate bolted for the door and managed to get the door unlocked. He took off just as Rebekah screamed. “You’re not going to get away with what you did!” She scrambled to get to her gun but Holden saw it first. He dove for it and snatched it up. He flipped on his back and aimed it at her with shaking hands, tears of anguish in his eyes. “Rebekah stop this! It ends here!”

She kicked her leg out and it connected with the gun. It went flying across the floor. Holden grabbed her ankles as she kicked and thrived. Danny grabbed the sole office chair and threw it at her, missing her by inches. It hit the giant window instead. The window splintered as tiny cracks lined the window with a ripple effect.

Holden went for the Tazer, hoping to stun her one more time but Danny was already crossing the distance. Somehow he managed to tackle Rebekah. She had a firm grip on the pistol and wasn’t letting go. Holden tackled her but wound up with his back up against the wall.

“I’m sorry, Holden,” Rebekah said. “I didn’t want it to end like this!”

He continued to fight to rip the gun from her vice grip and somewhere in the struggle, he heard the gun go off. It was loud. And close.

A sharp pain ripped through Holden’s stomach like a punch but a million times worse. He felt his body slump to the ground. Blood pooled at his stomach, covering his hands as he sat there in complete shock.

Rebekah cried out as anger flashed in Danny’s eyes. He managed to get the gun out of Rebekah hands. He started shaking her hard and suddenly Holden watched awestruck as Danny shoved her toward the cracked window. One second she was facing him with wild look on her face and the next she was free-falling backwards. From where he lay, Holden could hear the impact of her fall followed by a loud scream.

Danny rushed over to Holden. “Oh, shit! You’re bleeding! Like, a lot!”

Holden felt the world spin around him. Everything was blending together. He could feel the blood pool around him.

“Stay with me, bro,” Danny said, sounding like he was about to burst into tears.

As Holden heard the sirens, he felt cold, followed by the sensation to sleep. Maybe if he did, he’d wakeup to find that this whole things was a nightmare. Just maybe.

Chapter 33: Turn Around

 

 

Danny was pretty certain the night couldn’t get any worse. Tears of anguish blurred his vision as he watched his best friend being hauled out on a stretcher, blood oozing from his stomach where he had been shot. The police had arrived just minutes after he had pushed Rebekah through the window. When it happened, he was shocked at his own strength and even more surprised by the look of horror on her face – like Rebekah couldn’t believe it either. But sure enough, he watched her fall until she landed on top of a car, like a scene straight out of a horror movie where the killer gets offed, only to find the body moved. Only this was real life and when the cops arrived, it was utter chaos.

“Sir, did you know the victim?” a tall female police officer had pulled him aside and was ready with a pen and note pad. He looked around and saw the other cops, the two ambulances, one rushing Holden to the hospital for emergency surgery. “Sir,” said the officer, snapping Danny from his thoughts.

“Yes,” said Danny, more as a question than a statement.

“Did you know the victim?”

Danny took a breath. “Which one?”

The police officer stared at him for a few seconds. “The one who was shot.”

“Yes,” said Danny. “Of course I knew him! And why are you talking about him in the past tense? Is he going to be alright?” His words came out in a rush.

“Please try to remain calm,” she said to him. “I just need to know a few more details about what happened tonight. Also, I might need you to come down to the station.”

After what happened with the dextro incident and Jackson, he dreaded ever stepping foot inside a police station ever again. He nodded his head and looked over at Nate; he was being questioned by a tall officer who kept rubbing Nate’s shoulders, like he was trying to calm down a toddler. He cried so hard his shoulder shook. He looked like Danny felt; emotionally drained and totally in disbelief that this whole night ever happened.

“I still don’t understand,” said the officer. “Why did she come after you and your friends? You said it was some grudge she was holding since middle school?”

“Yes,” Danny lied, sort of. “She was crazy! I swear! She was mad at us because we treated her like the loser she is.”

“And you say this all just happened out of nowhere?”

“It didn’t happen out of nowhere. She’s been texting us; leaving behind threatening notes.”

“Do you happen to have any of this evidence?”

“Not really,” said Danny, feeling deflated. “It’s complicated.”

“We’re going to need to see these things you’re talking about. For now, you can wait for your parent or tell them to meet you down at the station.”

A shiver ran down his spine at the thought of going down there alone. “I’ll wait for my dad. I’m sure he’s on his way.”

It didn’t take but fifteen minutes for him to find the place. The first thing Danny expected him to do was yell at him and lecture him about how stupid he was, how he was never going to change. Instead, he pulled Danny into a hug and walked him to the car. He actually had tears in his eyes when he said, “I thought something awful happened to you when I saw the ambulance.” He took a deep breath. “And when I saw the stretcher….”

“No it wasn’t me, thank God.” He shook his head. “It was Holden. That bitch shot him!”

Danny’s father pulled out of the madness and was on the road when he asked, “Why did she do that?”

“I don’t know. Everything happened so fast. He tried to get the gun away from her and in the struggle, the gun went off.”

“Oh my God, son.”

“I know,” said Danny. “She just went over the edge. I can’t believe she survived the fall.”

Mr. Vanderbilt eyes bulged. “How far did she fall?”

“I guess maybe three stories? She should be dead or at least splattered all over the pavement.”

“Hey, that’s not nice, Danny. That girl is obviously mentally unstable. I thought Holden was smart. How could he not have seen the signs?”

“That’s what psychopaths do. They disguise themselves to look like normal people.”

“I’m just glad you’re alright.” He glanced him over. “How’s your ribs feeling?”

“Alright, I guess.” Danny put up a tough act but really, he was in a lot of pain. Sure, the swelling had went down but it was still a bitch moving around and after being Tased, all he knew was agony. As soon as he got home he was going straight to bed.

Going straight to bed didn’t exactly work out. He was at the station until close to midnight and when he got home he was so scared to close his eyes he slept with the light on. When sleep finally came it was restless as thoughts of what might happen to Holden ran through his mind. The following morning he rushed over to the hospital, only to be told that Holden was in critical, but stable condition. No one but family was allowed to see him after, as he was still weak from surgery. He was going to be okay, thankfully, as Danny learned that the bullet only grazed his abdomen, missing any vital organs. If the bulled had been any higher it would have hit his spleen. The doctors were going to keep a close eye on him for the first forty-eight hours.

He was taken aback when he made it past the front desk clerk by stealing a guess pass, only to see cops posted outside a room – had to be where Rebekah was. He found out through Holden’s family that he was in a private wing, resting. He didn’t see the point of sneaking to his room when Holden was still knocked out, so he decided to come back another day. For some strange reason he found himself on the ICU floor. Charlie’s room was somewhere. He talked a nurse into giving him Charlie’s room and when he found it, saw two adults watching over Charlie. They were crying softly. The sight of them made him think of when he had to watch his mom die at home, surrounded by flowers and “I Beat Cancer’s Ass!” balloons.

“Sorry,” Danny said as he stepped into the room. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

The parents looked at Danny and asked, “Did you want a moment with Charlie? We were just leaving.”

“No, not really,” Danny said trying to avoid looking at all the tubes and medical instruments. The room was caving in on him. “Um, how is he?”

“Not good,” said his mother. “The doctors say he’s not getting any better.”

“But we still have hope,” said his father. “He’s going to pull through.”

His mother sniffled.

Danny’s heart tugged and he suddenly wanted to do something – anything, to make this right. He may not have been behind the wheel but he was just as guilty as Holden. For leaving Charlie there. He should have let Holden call for help. Maybe things wouldn’t have been so bad? He didn’t want to go to jail. Facing off with Rebekah was punishment enough, not to mention the fact that he was no longer pushing dextro to his friends. He thought about his mother’s last few days. She wanted him to be a good kid, to stay out of trouble and always try to do the right thing. He knew what he had to do. It would definitely make his mother proud.

“Um, the reason I came by,” Danny said, looking at them, “is because my dad works for a non-profit organization that helps families through hard times. He – we – would like to help you guys out by paying for the medical expenses or funeral arrangements. Whatever you need.”

The father looked curious while the mother half-smiled. “Really?”

“That would be very kind of you,” said John. “But you don’t have to.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Danny. “Charlie didn’t deserve to end up like this. No one deserves it.” Danny smiled for the first time since God knows when. He felt something lift inside of him. He felt good about this. Doing a good thing for someone else felt good.

When he got home he flushed all of his dextro down the toilet and deleted all of his contacts. Better yet, he tossed his phone in the trash and decided he was done with his pushing days for good – no contacts, no nothing. When his brother got out of school he took him to the park and they hung out for hours. He was surprised when his father showed up dressed in a polo shirt and jeans. He had a basketball in his hands and the image of him shocked the words out of Danny’s mouth.

“Come on,” said Mr. Vanderbilt. “Let’s shoot some hoops.”

Danny and Brandon laughed out loud. “Dad, stop trying to sound cool.”

His father laughed and stopped short when he saw what Danny was working on – a bunch of papers scattered over the picnic table. He picked up a paper and said, “Are you actually applying to Barry?”

“Yeah, it’s a backup plan if I can’t get into Miami Dade Community College.”

His father good-humoredly smacked him in the back of the head. “Don’t be an idiot. You know you’re too smart for community college.”

Danny laughed. “If you say so, Pops.”

Mr. Vanderbilt shook his head. “I’m still shocked but glad you decided to turn things around. I’m proud of you.”

“Well, you know,” Danny said with a smile, “Every now and then I like to do as I’m told to confuse people.”

“Me too,” said Brandon. “I do as I’m told all the time.”

“I know buddy,” said Mr. Vanderbilt. “And that’s why we when we go home, I want you to pack your bags – we’re all going to Busch Gardens!”

“Really?” said Danny and Brandon at the same time.

“Yes!”

Danny and Brandon jumped with joy, which turned into a bear hug.

This was the way it was supposed to be, Danny mused as he hugged his father and brother. It felt great to have his family back to the way it was supposed to be. No more stupid text messages, no more being on edge and no more being selfish and reckless. He knew if his mom could see him now that she’d be proud of him.

He knew he could finish senior year, graduate and be an honorable college student. A few weeks ago he couldn’t fathom it. Now, he knew it was possible. All he had to do was try.

Chapter 34: No Take Backs

 

 

It had been ages since Nate watched the news with Aunt May. It wasn’t like he had anything else to do to occupy his time. Besides, he was too scared to sleep after he came home from the police station. He still was in disbelief as he watched the news report. A handsome reporter was standing outside the scene where Rebekah had been pushed out of the window. There was police tape roping off the area where she had fallen. No one knew what really happened in that loft hours before and Nate wanted it to stay that way. Kind of. It was best that the cops only knew half of the story and pin most of the blame on Rebekah. How she survived the fall was beyond anything Nate could fathom.

He sighed heavily as images flashed in the back of his mind of Rebekah Tasing him, the look on her face when she pulled out a gun.

Aunt May looked at him for several seconds. “Need me to make you some tea?”

“No, that’s okay,” Nate said absentmindedly.

He wanted to believe that this whole thing was just a misunderstanding. But was it? It was just blown out of proportion. No way could he ever could have guessed that Rebekah was holding something he did over him from freaking eighth grade – back when he was still sexually confused and finding himself. So what if he kissed a guy – one time – that Rebekah was all in love with. That didn’t give her the excuse to put a mark on his back. It wasn’t like he even knew she had a thing for him. Suddenly he was thinking about Jenny and how he had ruined their friendship indefinitely. He had no clue how he was going to fix things between them, if there was anything left to salvage. She hadn’t returned any of his calls or texts.

Always wanting what you can’t have, Rebekah had said in a text and with her own mouth. A realization he didn’t want to admit hit him – hard. Maybe she was right. He had went after Alec knowing it was wrong. He should have went after someone who wasn’t dating his best friend. There were plenty of hot guys at Miami Shores High that he could have asked out. He felt awful about the way things had turned out.

He shook his head as he thought back to Aunt May’s car being vandalized, nearly being bludgeoned at the pool and that night he knew he saw a figure at the park. To know that she was so close to him all that time made his skin crawl. He guessed her plan all along was to scare them into confessing their crime and on top of that watch them squirm in fear as she got revenge on them by ruining their lives. She almost succeeded. She was so close.

He was so glad Holden was the brainy one of the group. With his smart thinking, he had managed to dial 911 while Rebekah rambled. When Nate saw the phone he was almost happy, halfway scared that she would catch on. When he got his chance to run for it, he broke into a run down the stairs, phone still in his hand and told the dispatcher everything. But as he stood outside, he watched in horror as Rebekah body hurled out of the window and landed just a few feet away from him. He thought for sure that she was dead.

The news reporter was just as clueless about Rebekah’s brush with death, questioning how Rebekah managed to survive such a fall. “There are still a lot questions that need to be answered,” said the handsome reporter. “The police are looking into what led up to this awful tragedy, as nothing is clear as of yet.”

Nate was certain no one was going to know the truth about that night. He couldn’t sit still and grabbed his coat on the way out the door, surprised Aunt May didn’t try to stop him when he said, “I’m going to the hospital.”

“Okay, be careful,” was her only response. He intended to check on Holden but knew that he wasn’t allowed visitors at the moment except for family. He knew there was one other person he needed to see. When he walked into the room a smile spread across Alec’s features. Aside from the bandage on his head, he looked just as handsome as ever. Nate’s heart swelled and it took everything not to fall to the floor.

“Hey, what took you so long to come see me?” Alec asked. He sat up in bed and muted the flat screen TV mounted on the wall showing an action flick.

“I-I tried to come see you a while ago but, um, I thought you needed some rest.”

“Come over here. I haven’t seen you in ages and I don’t even get a hug?”

Nate crossed the space and was in Alec’s arms within seconds. It felt so good to be there with him. He even smelled good as usual. “I missed you,” Nate said once he was sitting in the bed with him. “And after I heard about your injuries I didn’t know what to think…”

“Look, I was banged up but it could have been worse. Why do you look so down?”

“It’s been a lot going on. Plus I feel responsible for what happened. The video of us getting out and then this…”

“Hey, that stuff wasn’t your fault. I know you didn’t send out that video. Whoever did it is one sick son of a bitch.”

“It was Rebekah,” Nate blurted out before he could stop himself.

“Rebekah?” Alec repeated. “The girl who broke Amber’s arm?”

“Yeah,” said Nate. “She was behind everything.”

He looked confused. “Why?”

“It’s a long story…”

Alec grinned. “Tell me. I can’t go home until tomorrow so I’m all ears.”

“Okay,” said Nate. He launched into the whole story, well, the part where Rebekah was the culprit who was stalking him and practically ruined his life. He told Alec about the night at the Halloween party and how everything unfolded afterward.

“Wow,” said Alec. “I thought she was the quiet type but never knew she was a psychopath. Geesh.”

“Looks can be deceiving…” Nate looked at Alec and asked, “So, are we still…”

“…together?” Alec supplied. He held Nate’s hand. “I hope you didn’t come here to break up with me?”

“No, of course not.” He looked at the door, expecting Jenny to walk through the door at any second. “What about Jenny?”

“What about her?”

“Nothing,” Nate said, leaning into Alec’s firm bicep. “It’s clear she hates me for what I did. I hate myself for it.”

Alec was quiet for a moment before he said, “Some friendships aren’t meant to be.” He sighed and said, “All I know is that I’m glad I can finally be myself. No more pretending to be someone I’m not.”

Nate smiled. “Glad I could help.” He looked at the muted TV and tentatively asked, “So, does this mean you’ll be my prom date?”

Alec snickered. “Sure. Just promise there won’t be any matching tuxes and we have a deal.”

Nate blushed. “So much for that idea.”

Alec’s chest rumbled with a laugh and Nate joined him. He held Nate’s hand and said, “No take backs. Are you cool with that?”

Nate looked in him right in the eyes. “No take backs.”

 

Chapter 35: Rectify

 

 

Getting shot really sucked for Holden. After being rushed to surgery, he woke up to find out that the bullet pierced his abdomen and went out clean. He would need a couple of weeks to recover but otherwise, he was in good shape. And by good shape, he felt all kinds of confused. Should he be happy that he survived that crazy bitch Rebekah or be pissed that he got himself involved with her in the first place. How could he be so stupid? He should have been able to sense her craziness from a mile away. Even though he didn’t get to see her hauled away by the cops, he replayed her last words: It wasn’t meant to end this way.

He didn’t believe her. How could he? How could he trust someone ever again? He shivered as he lay in bed and images of Rebekah burned in the back of his mind. She was the definition of a con artist—deranged and all.

Sometime he woke up, feeling sluggish from the morphine drip—and the sensation that someone was sitting on his bed. Rubbing his eyes, he sat up and opened his eyes, shocked to find the silhouette of a girl with their back turned to him. Alarmed, he croaked, “Who are you?” How the hell did she get past his dad’s security?

When she faced him, his blood ran cold.

No it couldn’t be her. Not here.

“Rebekah?” his voice was dry and low.

Her eyes bore down on him as she slowly moved closer to him. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this,” she said, tears beginning to fall down her face. “I thought I had it all planned out.” She reached for his hand and he snatched it back, repulsed by her cold-as-ice touch.

“What are you doing here?” His eyes darted around the room. Something wasn’t right about this. “I saw you…I saw you get taken away by the police!”

“Holden, you’re not listening to me. Why won’t you listen to me?”

“Because you’re a psychopath! You shot me and I want you to stay away from me!”

“But Holden, you told me we had a connection! You ran over my boyfriend and got away with it and I still wanted you. If that isn’t love I don’t know what is.”

“You’re delusional! Stay the hell away from me!” Rage and fear dripped through his veins as he tried to back away from her but his stitches hurt like held and something held him to the bed, as if he was being weighed down an invisible force. He pressed the call button on the side of the button to summon someone but nothing happened.

Rebekah climbed on top of him until her face was hovering inches away from his, her cold eyes staring into his soul. “You did this to m and you’re going to pay! I will never forgive you!” she wrapped her icy fingers around his throat and screamed, “Murderer!” She tightened her grip and Holden could feel the air literally being squeezed out of his lungs. He desperately struggled to get her off of him, pushing with all of his might but she was too damn strong!

Just as his vision darkened, Rebekah breathed, “This is exactly what you deserve.”

Just as his eyes closed, his eyes flashed open and someone else was on top of him as he thrashed around—but it wasn’t Rebekah. It was his father. He was shouting for Holden to calm down. It took a moment but eventually he was able to pull his hands off of his father and sat back against the cool pillows.

“It was just a nightmare,” his father said, breathing heavy as he collapsed in the chair beside the bed.

Wiping sweat from his forehead, Holden felt relieved. “I’m sorry, Dad. It felt so real…”

Holden’s father went quiet. “Son, you have to talk to me. You know I don’t like being in the dark.” He gave him a stern look. “What the hell happened between you and that young lady?”

“You mean Rebekah the sociopath?”

He nodded. “What did you do to set her off like that?”

“It wasn’t my fault…I mean, not really.”

“Well, tell me.”

Holden dove into the story from the beginning, told his dad about how he thought Rebekah was a nice girl in the beginning and how he should have stayed away from her given her history with Charlie. He told him about the night of the party, that he was the one who ran over Charlie and Rebekah knew the entire time, pretending to be hurt and innocent when in reality she was just waiting for the perfect opportunity to take her revenge on him for getting away with what he did and breaking up with her, which she wasn’t going for. By the end of it all, Holden felt mentally exhausted. In hindsight, he should have listened to Danny when he first warned him about Rebekah, not to mention the warning signs that she was unstable. Stupid, stupid.

“So you’re telling me this girl came up with this elaborate scheme to blackmail and stalk you and your friends out of revenge for running over her ex?”

“Yes. I know, it sounds completely ridiculous.”

“So, was she right—are you responsible for hitting Charlie with your car?”

Holden sucked in a deep breathe. “Yes, Dad. It was me.”

“Well, you know you have to do the right thing and turn yourself into the police.”

Holden fought back tears. “Dad, I’m scared.”

“Don’t worry, I have a great lawyer on retainer and I’ll make sure you never see a day in court. You made a mistake and you don’t need to ruin your life over it. But before I do, is there any other skeletons I need to know about?”

“No, I think I’m fresh out of secrets.”

Just then a nurse came in to check his stitches and make sure there was no infection. When he had her seal of approval, they sat and talked some more until his dad made a revelation of his own. “Against the advice of my neurosurgeon, I’m going to be spending the next few weeks in Canada.”

“For what? Is your disease getting worse? You look okay to me.”

“I look okay but mentally I’m slowly losing it. Yesterday I lost my train of thought in the middle of a business meeting with an important client and I can’t afford to do that anymore. Anyway, there’s a program in Canada that has a trial for an experimental drug that could help treat my symptoms. It’s kind of a last ditch effort to fight back.”

“Does mom know?”

“No, I still haven’t told her yet. She thinks I’m going to a conference.”

“Dad, I think you should tell her. I think I’m living proof that secrets always come back to bite you in the ass.”

By the time Holden was released from the hospital, he was looking forward to some peace and quiet at home before he turned himself into the police, but as he exited the hospital there were a ton of reporters hounded him to tell his side of the story about what happened on the night Rebekah pulled her gun on him. Thanks to his dad, he was able to dodge them for the time being. The first thing he did when he was home was to get his story straight. His father wasted no time getting a lawyer over to the house, which was a fun surprise when he discovered he was going to be represented by Danny’s father. Even when he explained everything, he left Danny and Nate out of the equation. No point in dragging them down for his mess.

Siting at the table, Danny’s father jotted down notes and when Holden was finished explaining, he seemed content. “Okay, so it seems to me like you did the right thing and called the cops according to the phone records we retrieved.” He looked over his pictures he’d taken of Holden’s car. “The damage is minimal and consistent with your story that you didn’t have time to stop when Charlie appeared out of nowhere. This is good. We have a good defense.”

Holden tried to keep still, even as Danny’s father advised him to turn himself in to the police, again to show that he was trying to right the situation. Getting finger printed and having his picture taken made him feel like the criminal that he was. He held back his tears refused to let anyone see him weak. He was placed in a holding cell for a few hours.

It seemed like it took forever for his bail to be posted, which really was only a couple of hours unable to eat or keep anything down. Days passed before he was told that things had took a turn for the worse.

Sitting in front of him, Danny’s father said, “Charlie has succumb to his injuries, which means this has gone from a felony to hit and run.”

“Wait. How did that happen? I mean, last I heard he wasn’t that bad.”

“Yeah, well, he had a brain bleed.”

“Okay, well technically that doesn’t mean I did it on purpose. It was still an accident. I—”

“Calm down, Holden. I talked to the D.A. and it’s not looking great.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m dealing with a real bitch. A hit and run under normal circumstance carry sentence of twelve to fifteen years—but seeing as you’re a first offender, she’s pushing for seven.”

“What? Are you serious?” snapped Holden’s father. “What the hell am I paying you for?”

“Don’t worry I got this.”

Hours later Danny’s father came to the house smiling from ear to ear. “Turns out Charlie wasn’t such a little goody two shoes.”

Holden scoffed. “I could have told you that. I mean it doesn’t make him a bad guy…”

“Regardless, I did some investigating and found out that Charlie was in the wrong.”

“How so?”

“I’ll save you the legal jargon. The night of the accident, Charlie was high as a kite and decided he wanted to be a bad ass—he was caught stealing from a pawn shop. He was fleeing the scene when you hit him.”

Holden’s father nodded. “In other words, Charlie caused the accident.”

Danny’s father beamed. “Yes! See, a felony hit and run hinges on a lack of contributory negligence. Since Charlie Wyatt was fleeing from a crime scene, he put himself in harm’s way.”

“Seriously? None of this was released to the public.”

“That’s because his family didn’t want any of this to tarnish his memory. Anyways, this means you cannot be legally held responsible for Charlie’s death.”

Holden took a deep breath, a big weight lifted from his shoulders. His father squeezed his shoulder.

Danny’s father went on, “What happens next is I will let the D.A. know you’ll plead guilty to misdemeanor leaving a scene but that’s it. You’ll have to pay a fine but as long as they accept the terms, you’re in the clear.”

Holden breathed a sigh of relief.

 

 

“So what does this mean?” asked Danny a couple of hours later. “Are you off the hook?”

“Well, not yet. Your dad says he’s waiting for the D.A. to accept the lesser charges in light of the new info. So yeah, it looks like this thing will be over soon.”

“Cool. Wanna smoke some weed to celebrate?”

“No. What is your problem?”

“I was only joking.” Danny laughed. “Jeez, relax.”

Holden was ready to finally move on once and for all. He had to put this thing behind him. The day finally came when Mr. Vanderbilt arrived in the evening with some paperwork—and a huge grin stretched across his face.

He handed Holden the paperwork and a pen. “Guess what? The D.A. took into account your spotless record and saw that you are a kid who made a mistake and you’re rectifying it.”

“Am I going to jail?”

“No way. The D.A. accepted the deal! All you have to do is sign these papers and you can brush this whole thing under the rug where it belongs. You’re a good kid with your whole life ahead of you.”

Holden smiled relieved. “So that’s it. Really?”

“Well, technically I after you sign a judge has to sign off and then it’ll be officially over.”

Holden collapsed on his bed, exhausted. “Man, this could have all been avoided if I would have stayed my butt home that night. I swear I have the worst luck ever.”

“Don’t beat yourself up too much, kid. Go out and have some fun. While you’re at it, keep an eye out on that son of mine. He may be reformed but he needs a good role model like you to keep him out of trouble.”

“I’ll try my best.”

Later that evening Holden got together with Danny and Nate, where they decided to celebrate narrowly escaping Rebekah’s wrath and Holden nearly facing jail time. They went to the beach and rented a villa.

“I still can’t believe you turned yourself in,” said Danny. “That was a big risk.”

Holden stared out onto the beach, looked up at the dark sky. He still had to pinch himself, just to be sure he wasn’t dreaming. He could be in juvenile hall, sharing a tiny cell with a delinquent far worse than himself. He deserved to be here, with his friends. He didn’t need to feel guilty anymore about what he did the night that started everything. He turned to Danny and said, “Yeah, but it was worth it. No more looking over my shoulders. Wondering when and if the cops are going to show up at my door.”

“Dude, Rebekah’s crazy ass is locked up for good. We’re all in the clear.”

“Exactly,” agreed Nate. “And thanks for not mentioning us as accomplices, I mean, I love you like a brother but no way in hell would I have forgiven you.”

Danny laughed out loud.

“Really?” said Holden. “I thought we were way past that? I was the driver so it was my cross to bear.”

Nate snickered. “You know, I’m shocked at you Danny. I thought for sure your ass was going to jail after the cops busted you.”

Danny smirked. “Shit, me too! I was freaking out the whole time I was being questioned. That bitch Rebekah was a sociopath, but a smart one. She pushed me into a corner and I had to do something.”

They were quiet for a while. Nate cleared his throat and said, “Well, at least we have the rest of senior year to look forward to and then college.” He turned to Holden and said, “Next time you meet a girl, make sure she doesn’t secretly have a grudge against any of us. ‘Kay?”

Holden laughed out loud. “I’ll try.”

Danny grabbed a bottle he had been nursing all night and raised it in the air. “Here’s to a Rebekah-free senior year! We are free!”

Nate raised his bottle. “I’ll drink to that!”

Holden raised his bottle and clinked it with the others. “Hells yeah!”

Holden danced with his friends around the bonfire and as the wind blew, he looked around and told himself to ignore the sensation that made his flesh crawl. He had nothing to fear.

He had no reason to worry. There was no one peering at him from the distance. It had to be his mind playing tricks on him.

Right?

 

 

 

 

Shake It Up

 

 

There’s a girl with a heart of gold but you don’t know it yet because all you can see is what she wants you to see. She walks around the place with her head high; she’s a social butterfly and everybody like hers. The boys drool and the girls all want to be her friend because she has a smile that lights up the entire room. No one knows or cares where she came from because really, they’re all here for the same reason. After all, you have to be pretty special to wind up at Redwood Hospital for the criminally insane.

She walks into the room and ignores everyone there until she finds him. When he sees her, he feels a connection and it’s instant. She’s got a juicy secret and he’s the person to share it with. She sits next to him and says, “I like you. I think we have something in common.”

He smiles, his green eyes locked on hers. “Yeah, we do—we’re both crazy.” He winks.

She winks back with a giggle. “Yup.” She extends a hand. “I’m Bekah.”

A smile spreads across his handsome face as he holds her hand. “What do you say we shake things up a bit?”

She throws her dark hair over her shoulder. “Meeting you changes everything. I love it!”

About the Author

Malcolm B. Lambert is a lifelong Floridian. When he isn’t writing young adult fiction, he is either reading too much or obsessing over peanut butter and chocolate.

 

Find him on social media:

Twitter:@MalcolmBLambert

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Blog: MalcolmBLambert.blogspot.com

If you enjoyed the book by this author please consider leaving a review at Shakespir, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads.

 


Treacherous

It was the end of summer party and Holden just wanted to let loose with his buddies Nate and Danny, but on the way home, they cover up an accident. Just when they think it’s over, they all receive haunting threats in the mail from an anonymous source who intends to make them pay. Holden distracts himself by striking up a friendship that could prove treacherous to his perfect academic record if he isn’t careful… Danny may be the smartest drug dealer on campus but with the latest OD on Adderall, the principal is cracking down—and he’s not the only one watching Danny’s every move. Nate just wants to be a Navy man. It doesn’t matter that his heart flutters for Alec every time he walks in a room—even if he’s dating his best friend. What will it take to keep their secrets in the dark? Who’s demented enough to want to see them harmed, frightened—or worse?

  • ISBN: 9781370761326
  • Author: Malcolm B. Lambert
  • Published: 2016-12-23 21:50:20
  • Words: 70338
Treacherous Treacherous