I wanted to say that sometimes pain was better than feeling nothing, but that was really so melodramatic. I shrugged. “It’s okay.” I didn’t know what I hoped to accomplish by going to that damn party. Maybe it was penance for letting Magda down. Maybe I wanted to show that I wasn’t afraid. Maybe I thought I could possibly stop another girl from being raped. Maybe I just didn’t want to sit home alone.
We walked up the flagstone path. Zoe had driven and promised me she wasn’t going to drink. It was a relief to know that I probably wouldn’t have to worry about her. Unfortunately, I still had to worry about pretty much every other girl there.
It was a warm night, and I was wearing cropped jeans and a blouse. I didn’t wear dresses or skirts anymore.
We rang the doorbell. We could hear the music inside the house. It was loud, but not so loud that the neighbors would call the police. Not that it would matter if they did. The Bentleys, the Weeks, the Henrys and the Carsons were important families, which apparently entitled them to behave in ways that would get the rest of us in trouble. They were exempt from any kind of responsibility, and that extended to their sons.
The door opened. Standing in the open frame in jeans and a T-shirt that probably cost more than my entire outfit was Jason. A year ago I would’ve described him as cute. I might’ve even wanted him to pay attention to me. Now his face had as much appeal as a bowl of maggots. If he ever touched me, I would probably take a cheese grater to the spot just to get rid of the taint.
He smiled when he saw us, though it faltered a little when he looked at me. “Hey,” he said, standing back so we could step inside. “Glad you could make it.”
I followed Zoe inside. She smiled and thanked him for inviting us. I couldn’t do anything more than nod.
“Do you want a soda or anything?” he asked, leading us deeper into the house. The floor looked like marble, and the staircase was wide enough to drive a car up.
“Sure,” Zoe said.
“Do you have anything in cans?” I asked. There was no way I was going to let him bring me a glass.
He shot me a glance as though he could read my mind. “Sure. Come into the kitchen.”
The kitchen was just as perfect as the rest of the house. There wasn’t even a crumb on the stove. A stack of pizza boxes sat on the counter, and I could smell the cheesy, tomatoey goodness.
I wasn’t going to eat anything, either.
Jason opened the wide, stainless-steel fridge. “Help yourself.”
Zoe took a can of Sprite. I reached in and grabbed a can of diet Dr Pepper. “Thanks.”
He closed the fridge door. The action made him step closer toward me. Instinctively I lurched backward, banging my hip against the counter in my effort to avoid contact.
Jason frowned. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I forced myself to meet his gaze. “You didn’t.” Scare me? No. Repulse me? Yes.
He looked as though he wanted to say something else, but then a small group of people burst into the kitchen. They were all in our class, though one of the girls was a junior.
“Hey, Jay, where’s the beer?” one of the guys asked.
Jason went to get it for them, and I took that as my opportunity to escape. Zoe and I followed the music and conversation downstairs into a large finished basement that had the biggest television I’ve ever seen and a pool table. Patio doors opened up to the backyard, where there was a pool and hot tub. There were kids in each.
Zoe turned to me. “This house is fricking amazing.”
“Yeah,” I agreed through clenched teeth. The house was gorgeous.
“Hey, there’s Anna and Caitlin. Want to go say hi?”
“Yeah.” I meant it. I was happy to see the two of them, and not just because there was safety in numbers.
The two girls looked just as happy to see us, and they immediately started talking about how they’d been practicing what they learned in class.
“I think my mother thought we were killing each other,” Anna joked. “We almost busted the lamp in my room.”
I laughed. I was glad they came. Having them there eased my anxiety. That anxiety came back, however, about an hour later when I saw Drew Carson hovering around the girl I’d recognized as a junior earlier, who was now so drunk she could barely stand up.
A hot prickly sensation ran up the back of my neck, followed by a shiver of ice down my spine. For months I’d thought about what I would do in that very situation. I’d imagined myself walking up to him and beating him stupid. I imagined myself being the girl’s savior. Once, I even imagined myself going full-on Kill Bill on them. Never had I imagined myself just standing there, frozen to the spot and shaking with anger. How could I just stand there and not do anything?
I couldn’t. With my can of soda in hand—because I was not about to set it down—I started walking toward them. Zoe, Caitlin and Anna were right behind me. Zoe said my name, but it sounded like she was talking to me from the far end of a tunnel.
What was I going to do? Smash my soda can into his face? Kick him? At that moment he hadn’t done anything wrong. Of course that was the moment I remembered Gabriel telling me I couldn’t fight all four of them.
Suddenly, my path was interrupted by Jason. I hadn’t even seen him approach. One second I had my sights set directly on Drew, and the next Jason was there, blocking me.
“You okay, Angie?” I heard him ask the girl.
“She’s had too much to drink,” Drew said with a smirk. “She just needs to lie down for a bit. She can use your room can’t she, Jay?”
I froze. This cannot be happening. Drew could not be planning to rape this poor drunk girl. Even though I knew him to be the worst kind of monster, I couldn’t believe how easily it seemed to come to him.
“Actually,” Jason said, glancing at me. “I think Angie needs to go home. I’m going to put her in a cab.” He took the girl by the arm and pulled her away from Drew, who had a stupefied look on his face.
The girls and I exchanged glances as Jason steered Angie past us. He had his cell phone to his ear. I heard him ask for a cab.
Drew had been cock-blocked by one of his best friends. His face twisted into a combination of anger, petulance and disappointment. It made me smile.
I followed Jay and Angie, needing to make sure he actually did send her home and didn’t take her upstairs instead.
I stood at the opposite end of the hall, near the stairs, and watched. Jason held the girl up, and when the cab arrived, he took her outside and put her in it. I moved closer to the open door so I could watch him pay the cabbie and close the car door.
He spotted me before I could duck away, so I stayed where I was rather than run, as I wanted. I watched him step inside the house, closing the door behind him.
He looked at me. “Did you follow me to make sure I sent her home?”
“Yes.” I had no trouble meeting his gaze.
His fists clenched at his sides. “I. Am. Not. A. Monster.”
I tilted my head as I looked at him. “Are you trying to convince me of that?” I asked. “Or yourself?” And then I turned on my heel and went back to my new friends. Just because he’d sent one girl home didn’t mean he and his friends didn’t have another victim picked out.
And it didn’t change what he’d done to Magda.
CHAPTER 6 (#u76b1cd3b-6dee-58c7-b48c-e3150851238a)
Jason began drinking shortly after our little chat. Every time I saw him he had a drink in his hand. As the evening went on, he became more drunk and obnoxious. More like Drew and his other buddies. The four of them were laughing and being loud, and despite that, girls still flocked around them. It disgusted me.
“What’s up with him?” Anna asked.
“Me,” I said. “I watched him put a girl in a cab earlier because I wanted to make sure he actually sent her home. He saw me. He knew why I was watching.”