The three girls stared at me. I thought maybe they thought I was crazy or paranoid. Zoe spoke first. “You followed him alone?”
I nodded. “To the door, yeah.”
Her face flushed, and I didn’t think it was because she was too warm. “Are you mental? So all that stuff about traveling in groups doesn’t apply to you? Are you, like, Wonder Woman or something? What if he had grabbed you?”
I frowned at her. “I would’ve punched him in the throat.”
She shook her head. “You should’ve taken one of us with you.”
“I didn’t think of it, okay? I’m not used... It’s been a little while since anyone has cared what I do.”
The three of them exchanged glances. I shifted uncomfortably, not sure if they pitied me or thought I was lying.
“Don’t do it again, okay?” Zoe gave me a beseeching look. “If you don’t want to take one of us with you, at least let us know where you’re going so we can find you if you don’t come back right away.”
I nodded. “Okay. We’ll make a deal right now that whenever we’re together we’ll stay together.” But really, how often would we be together? It wasn’t like we were best friends. No one could replace Mags.
The girls smiled, and the heaviness inside me lightened a little. I wasn’t sure how to feel. Responsibility to another person was something I hadn’t had for months. And wasn’t Magda going off on her own one of the things that upset me so much? If she had told me where she was going, maybe I would’ve been able to help her. Instead I’d gone looking for her too late and found her in a bedroom, passed out with her panties wrapped around one ankle and condom wrappers on the floor.
I didn’t want anyone to ever find me that way.
I stuck close to my new friends after that. We all stuck together, moving as a group. I met a few more people who I didn’t really know that well and talked to some that I did. It felt weird, being social. Zoe told every girl we talked to about the self-defense course. A few of them seemed interested, though a couple wrinkled their noses at the idea of violence. I didn’t bother trying to convince them that the class was about protecting yourself rather than hurting someone. They obviously didn’t think anything bad would ever happen to them. I wasn’t going to be the one to tell them they were wrong.
Shortly before midnight I realized two things: one—Gabriel had obviously come to his senses and decided not to crash the party, and two—Jason had gone missing.
I glanced around the room, mentally counting female heads to see if anyone was absent. It was impossible to tell as the party took up most of the house.
Where was he? At least Drew and Adam were still visible. That didn’t mean that Jason and Brody weren’t raping a girl somewhere while they waited for their buddies to show up.
It made me anxious. I turned to Anna, who stood next to me, and yelled above the music, “I’m going to the bathroom.”
She nodded, then leaned closer to me. “There’s one upstairs. Use that. Someone puked in the one on this floor. If you’re not back in ten minutes, we’ll come looking for you.”
I smiled. It didn’t matter that I could probably take out one or two guys on my own. The three of them had decided that they were my protectors and that the four of us would protect each other. It was as comforting as it was annoying. I didn’t need to be fussed over. I didn’t want to be a girl who needed protection. I wanted to be the girl who kicked ass.
I took my soda with me out of paranoia. I moved through the crowd, which had gotten bigger in the last hour and made my way out to the foyer. As I climbed the stairs to the second floor, I couldn’t help but feel even more out of place. How did people get this wealthy? It was ridiculous.
My heart thumped against my ribs as I climbed. The house wasn’t evil, and it couldn’t hurt me, but every step I took away from the heart of the party, the more anxious I became. Would anyone hear me scream up here?
Every door on that floor was shut, except for one. I walked down the corridor toward it, my gaze traveling over paintings and framed photographs that hung on the walls. Some of the paintings looked old, and they had little gold tags at the bottom of their frames that had their names engraved on them. Every one of them I looked at was a Bentley.
I reached the partially open door and pushed it open. As soon as I looked inside, I knew it wasn’t the bathroom. It was a bedroom. The bedside lamp was on, and I could clearly see posters on the walls and a guitar in the corner.
I could also see Jason passed out on the bed.
There’s a moment—and I believe everyone’s had it—when you have to make a decision whether to act or retreat. I could back out of the room and continue my search for the restroom, or I could close the door behind me and take advantage of the fact that Jason was unconscious.
I knew that most people, decent people, would leave. A good person didn’t take advantage of someone who was too drunk to fight back. But Jason had already proved that he wasn’t a decent person. He and his friends had purposely drugged Magda so they could assault her.
I wasn’t a decent person.
I closed the door and locked it. I had no idea what I was going to do, or how I planned to do it. What if he woke up? Cautiously, I moved toward him. He was on his back, limbs splayed. I reached out with my left hand, keeping my right free in case I needed to hit him, and poked him hard in the leg. He didn’t even make a sound.
His cell phone was on the bed by his hand. I picked it up and pressed the button to wake it up. It didn’t ask for a password, but for a fingerprint. I knew Jason was left-handed from being in class with him, so I took his hand and turned it so that I could press his index finger to the right spot on the phone. Just like that, the phone was unlocked.
I scrolled through his pictures—there were a lot of photos of girls. One of them made my heart thump hard against my ribs and then fall still. Magda. It was a portrait of her, taken at school. I don’t think she knew he’d taken it, because she didn’t look self-conscious. The sight of her, smiling and happy, hurt to the point of physical pain. He’d taken that smile from her, just as he’d taken this photograph without her consent, and he’d been allowed to get away with both.
I stared at him through a veil of scorching tears. There had to be something I could do to make him pay, even just a little bit.
I couldn’t rape him. Even if it were possible, I wouldn’t. That kind of violation would make me as bad as him, and it would make him a victim. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. I wanted them to mock him and say the kinds of things to him that people had said to Magda after photos and video of her attack had gotten around. I wanted people to see him for what he was.
In my purse I had one of Magda’s lipsticks. Her skin was darker than mine, and she’d been able to wear some rich berry colors I envied. The one in my bag was a deep raspberry. I took it out and removed the cap.
I hovered over Jason for a moment, considering my next action. Chickening out wasn’t an option. I turned the lipstick and bent down. In block letters I wrote RAPIST on his forehead. I put the lipstick back in my bag and took out my phone. I removed the case first, because I didn’t want it to be identifiable. I brought up a Facebook photo of Magda and put my phone in Jason’s limp fingers. Then I picked up his phone and switched it to camera mode. I took a photo of him lying there, with his title on his forehead, and Magda’s photo right there, so everyone would know exactly who he had hurt. Then I uploaded the photo I’d taken to Jason’s social media with the hashtags #rapist #NoJusticeForMagda #GotAwayWithIt and #CarterHigh.
I wiped his phone down before putting it on the bed beside him, then I took back my own and went to the door. I peeked into the hall to make sure no one was there before stepping outside.
Another door down the hall was open, and the light on inside allowed me to see that it was the bathroom. I slipped in and did my business. My legs trembled as I washed my hands. I wasn’t sure what I’d just done, or what the consequences would be, but there was no taking it back now.
I dried my hands and opened the door. “Shit!” I cried when I saw someone standing there. I pulled back my fist, but a familiar voice said my name before I lashed out. It was Zoe. Behind her were Anna and Caitlin. They were wide-eyed as they stared at me.
“Have I been gone ten minutes?” I asked, embarrassed to be so on edge.
Anna blushed. “No, but I got worried.”
I smiled. “There was someone in here when I came up. I had to wait. Thank you for worrying.”
“It wasn’t all about you,” Zoe remarked with a grin. “I have to pee too.”
While we waited outside for her to finish, Caitlin fished her phone out of her purse. I watched as she tapped the screen with her finger, my pulse beating wildly.
“Oh my God!”
Anna whirled toward her. “What?” Caitlin showed her the screen, and her jaw dropped. “Holy shit!”
If I didn’t ask it would be weird, and I was already pushing it by having been upstairs when the picture was taken. “What is it?”
Anna couldn’t seem to decide if she wanted to laugh or cheer as Caitlin showed me the photo. It was the one I’d taken just minutes before.
I didn’t have to fake the laughter that poured out of me. The adrenaline of what I’d done hit hard, making me light-headed and giddy. “Was that taken tonight?” I asked.
Caitlin shrugged. “How should I know? I guess so.”
Anna’s gaze was bright as it met mine. “Who cares? It’s fabulous. Now everyone will know what he did.” It was exactly what I wanted to hear. “Whoever took it even left Magda’s picture beside him.”
On the other side of the door Zoe shouted, “What are you laughing at?” Then the toilet flushed, and we heard running water at the sink. A few seconds later the door opened. Zoe was still drying her hands.
“Check your phone,” Caitlin said.