Chapter 7

Luke started laughing, his stranglehold on Kyle still firm. "You expect me to believe that?"

Dylan raised a dark brow. "We come in all shapes, sizes, colors..."

"You're not a faggot. You look more like a football player."

"I am a football player. And I am gay."

Luke shook his head. "Why are you telling me this?"

"As ample warning. Now get your hands off Kyle. Now."

Luke grinned, then dropped his saccharine smile, letting Kyle go and backing a few feet away as a buffer. The skinny boy with the ponytail skittered to the side, out of the imaginary combatant circle.

The more Luke thought about it, the more he was infuriated. If Dylan was really a faggot, then he should pay, right? Right? Right??? He crossed into the circle.

"So, how does it feel to f*ck a guy?" he taunted. Julia's face grew ashen at the thought. "That's disgusting!" he growled loudly at Dylan. He stepped out of the circle again, spewing embers from his eyes. "You haven't heard the last from me, faggot." He turned away, to walk down the trail, his faithful harem behind him. As soon as Julia, the final one, turned her back to leave, Dylan, Kelsey, and Jessie started to roar.

"I have a feeling the joke was on us," Cassie hoarsely whispered.

Audrie sat on her bunk. "That run-in with Dylan was weird. You actually think he's gay?"

"He did have a rainbow necklace on," Cassie said. "Kind of out-of-place on him. Burly football player with a pansy necklace on."

"I'm so glad Luke didn't pick a fight with him," Julia said, her voice weary and tired.

"Me too," Cassie said. "He's in my activities group---man! He's strong!"

Worry crossed Julia's face. "I still think Luke plans on doing something stupid like challenging him, though."

A counselor came in. "Lights off."

"Goodnight everyone," Cassie hoarsely whispered.

"Goodnight," Audrie said.

Julia laid on her bunk, staring at the ceiling, her eyes vacant. Like my soul, she thought to herself. Something that I had haphazardly glued in fell out today. What was different today from every other day? Not much. Then why did it feel like her world fell apart, bursting at the seams?

Poor naive Julia. She had no words to describe an alien concept.

"Kelsey..." a husky voice purred in her ear. She felt hands rub against her body, along her side, and she could almost imagine whose hands it was. "Kelsey."

She fluttered her eyes, to see it was just Jessie. "You perv!" Kelsey growled, taking her pillow and bopping her tall friend on the head. "What the hell was that?"

The other three occupants of the cabin stirred at the commotion. "Um..." Jessie said, embarrassed.

"Keep your hands off my ass unless..."

"Unless what?" Jessie said, turning the tables. Kelsey turned bright red in turn, Jessie's blush fading. Brittany rolled over on her stomach and peered at them.

"What's going on?"

"You explain, Jessie," Kelsey retorted.

"Um, never mind," Jessie said, injecting her next sentence before someone could challenge her change of subject. "Today is the obstacle course. We hike on a marked trail, and there are four stations: rowing across a stream, crossing a rope bridge, climbing the cargo net, and finding our way out of a maze."

"In the groups again, I presume," Kelsey said, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

Jessie gave her a nervous, tense look. "Not the ones we had yesterday."

"Then who--"

"Wait for me to finish," Jessie said, putting her hand out. "The group from our school is teamed up with the team from Marlow High School."

"That'd be us," Brittany said.

Kelsey muttered to Brittany, "Cool," then focused on Jessie. "For being a straight girl you do an awfully lot of sapphic stuff," she grumbled. Jessie giggled. "You do terrible things to a girl's mind, you know that?" Jessie giggled more.

"What? You're thinking of marrying me?"

"Pul-leeze," Kelsey said, rolling her eyes. Jessie turned her wrist over and checked her watch.

"We all better move now if we are to get to the obstacle course on time."

"What about breakfast?"

"You all slept through it."

"Dammit, Jessie, you should have woken me up," Kelsey growled.

"Yeah," Brittany chimed. "Holly, wake up. Holly!" A disheveled blonde turned around and shot Brittany a dirty look. "Rise and shine."

Jessie folded her arms. "I tried, trust me."

"Who are those guys hanging out with Luke?" Kelsey asked Julia on the trail.

Julia shook her head. "I dunno---they're his basketball buddies."

"Why aren't you walking with him?" Kelsey prodded.

"They're a bunch of jerks," Julia said, shaking her head. "Kept whistling rather rudely at Audrie and I yesterday."

"Punks," Kelsey sputtered.

The trail narrowed as they winded through a narrow pass, a steep cliff shorn on one side and a deathly overhang bordering them on the other. "Oh, I hate heights," Julia moaned, clutching her stomach.

"Here, we'll walk single file. I'll go first." The smaller girl walked in front of Julia. Julia desperately wanted to latch on as if Kelsey was a lifeline but chastised herself at the last minute for being a total wuss before she gave in to her impulse.

The trail widened again, permitting room for two to walk abreast. "So, where is your man?"

Julia shrugged. "I don't know. I really don't care, either."


"Not at the moment, no," Julia said hastily, fearing she sounded like he was merely a dope. "Him and Cassie are probably off somewhere trying to taunt Natasha."

"And you're going to let them get away with it," Kelsey said, in a rather scolding voice.

"Let the children fight. I'm not their mother," Julia grumbled. "I'm sick of the whole thing."

"Can't blame you. I'm sick of Natasha trying to provoke them."

"She keeps saying it's our fault."

"It's both. They're equally guilty parties as far as I'm concerned," Kelsey muttered, readjusting the collar on her black shirt so it wouldn't stick up.

"Can I ask a stupid question?" Julia asked.

"Fire away."

"Why do you always wear a black shirt?"

Kelsey craned her neck to see. "Ah, yes." She searched for an answer. "I just like black."

"Does that have anything to do with the satanic stuff you guys are into?" Julia asked.

Kelsey turned her head, no humor in her face. Slowly, she moved her lips. "Who said we're satanists?"

"Well, you guys are always wearing those--" pointing to Kelsey's ankh "--and Natasha's always wearing that pentacle."

"We're not satanists," Kelsey corrected her.

"Then---then what are you?"


"What's the difference?"

Kelsey laughed. I could get really pissed off at her for her ignorance---but she's merely ignorant. Well, that's bullshit but it's a good excuse for now. I'm sure she really doesn't care what the difference is---all she sees is whether it's heterosexual Christian or not. "Pagans believe in multiple gods. Satanists---I think they believe in satan. Believe it or not, there's one heck of a difference."

Julia felt herself intrigued. Well, both are hellbound, but I can't help being curious. "Like what?"

Dylan, who had been quietly following Julia and Kelsey the whole time, interrupted. "Actually, satanists don't believe in a god. The principles are quite fascinating--"

Julia turned around. "Fascinating? Try demonic!"

Kelsey put a hand on Julia's shoulder. "Dylan, work with me. She's unenlightened at the moment."

"Wha---you're Luke's girlfriend, aren't you?" Dylan said.

"Yeah," Julia said, feeling a sense of shyness cross her.

Dylan came back to the subject. "They believe in survival of the fittest. Not necessarily in a kill or be killed fashion---but they don't believe in all the self-denial crap that---"

Kelsey immediately say where his words were going, and interrupted him. Whispering, she told him, "Julia's a conservative Christian."

Dylan flashed an embarrassed grin. "Oops." He scratched the budding goatee on his chin, and continued. "They believe in natural selection. Those who excel in society should be duly rewarded. Those who make society miserable, like criminals, should go out with the trash."

"You can't just give up on the unfortunate!" Julia cried out.

"In the end, we're all dead. What do our life accomplishments mean? To further the lives of the next generation and next..."

"What about after you're dead?"

"Death is death."

"Like Hell?"

"No--an eternal sleep."

Julia asked Dylan point blank: "Do you believe in God?"

It was a difficult question to answer without offending her. "As Dvoskesky said, God cannot be omnipotent and good."

"Why do you speak such blasphemy?" Julia said, restraining herself from yelling. After all, her religious beliefs were under attacks, weren't they?

"When you have to helplessly watch your best friend get kicked out of the house for being gay by the parents who raised and "loved" him since an infant, you cannot help but wonder. And when he found a knife and took his life on the streets three hundred miles away in the big city, where he had to fend for himself, you cannot help but ask, "Why did God let this happen?" Why? I cannot figure it out to this day."

Julia tried to erase her befuddled look of shock. "I'm sorry."

"I concluded there must be no God, or he would have done something to spare his life."

"Maybe if he repented---"

Kelsey bit her lip; she sensed trouble brewing between the nilhist Dylan and militant Christian Julia.

"He was an innocent boy!" Dylan roared.

"God meant it to be that way, then," Julia said.

Kelsey could practically feel the tension in Dylan, even from three feet away.

"Do you believe in predestination, Julia?" Kelsey asked, trying to break up the mounting tension.

"What's that?" she innocently asked, unaware of the hurt unleashing itself in red hot anger in Dylan.

Kelsey's eyes bugged out. "Forget I asked. We better switch the subject."

"Why?" Julia said, not really aware that she was actually hurting the poor lad.

"Don't argue," she authoritatively commanded. The guide came to a small lookout, where the group stopped. Being at the back of the group, she couldn't hear what the guide was saying, but in her peripheral vision she saw Dylan slip away, so she decided to track him down.

"Where are you going?" Julia inquired.

"Stay here, I'll be right back." She turned around and walked away, trying to find Dylan while his trail was still fresh.

Just over the rise from the lookout she found Dylan huddled next to a tree, his head hung. She almost missed him, he blended in very well with the brush, but he had moved his arm that moment, giving away his whereabouts. She rushed over to his side. "Dylan--" He had been crying. "Dylan, what happened?" She put an arm on his shoulder. "Whatever it was, it provoked bad memories for you."

He lifted his head, wiped his tears on his sleeve, and leaned back against the tree. "His name was Felix. Blond kid---real practical joker. Had one hell of an arm, too."

She could see where it was leading. "He was your boyfriend, wasn't he?"

"My first and only," Dylan said, his deep voice rumbling barely above a whisper. "It was more along the lines of platonic, but we loved each other greatly. He made the mistake of thinking he could trust telling his parents he was gay---"

Two fresh tears streamed down his face. "They kicked him out in the middle of the night, throwing all his possessions out the window and slamming the door in his face. He somehow managed to end up in the big city, he ended up resorting to prostitution to feed himself. He couldn't take it anymore, so he managed to shoplift a knife from a store. The cops were on his trail---when they found their little thief he was dead."

Kelsey sat next to him, shocked. "Oh gosh." She then looked into his eyes. "Are you out to your parents?"

"Hell no," he said, wiping the tears away with his hand. "After that, I really don't trust adults. They'll all out to f*ck you over somehow." He scratched his goatee. "What is the world? I don't know anymore, but I am its unwilling prisoner."

"I'm not out to my parents either."

Dylan gave her a weird look. " are too?"

Kelsey rolled her eyes. "Jessie knows, but I'm too afraid to tell anyone else. I swear, she's going to out me one of these days being such a smart ass..."

"Like how?"

"Oh, this morning she decided to wake me up by feeling my butt."

"Well!" Dylan said, his somber mood replaced by a hearty chuckle.

"And I was still asleep, dreaming in fact..."

"Who was the lucky girl in that dream?"

Kelsey gave him a guilty look, then whispered, "Julia."

"I think she likes you too," Dylan said, bluntly.

Kelsey started roaring. "Miz Conservative? That's the most hilarious thing I've heard!" She slapped her hands on her thighs. "You must be reading too much into these things, Dylan."

He shrugged. "Suit yourself. Thought you might appreciate the tip."

"Dylan," she growled. "Don't put ideas in my head. As long as I very well know she's unavailable, I'll forget about her. The moment I think she just might be available, I'll never get over her. You wouldn't want that, now would you?"

He grimaced. "Nope."

"I'm glad that's understood." She got up and offered him a hand. "We better head back or they'll leave without us."

Chapter 8

"What a beautiful blue lake!" Kelsey exclaimed, as the group walked out from around the parched golden hill to the clearing. She glanced at her taller companion---after her little moment of terror through the narrow pass she seemed to be quite fine.

Julia kept glancing at her smaller companion. Not for too long, mind you---Kelsey might catch her and think she was obsessed or something. She had tried to prod information out of Kelsey about what made Dylan upset but she remained rather tight lipped about the entire deal.

Kelsey misstepped, placing her weight under the foot on the loose gravel, and slipped, nearly falling down but Julia was right behind to keep her from completing the fall. "Sh---thanks," she said. Oh goddess---what I'd do just to be held, she felt inside, swallowing her regrets that her simple craving for human affection must be ignored.

"Got to watch your step, you know," Julia said, grinning. I feel so light headed, but I don't feel bad. It's kind of a good thing---hmm, I've never felt this way before. I just want to scream and shout for joy, I can't figure out why or what for. I just feel giddy.

Even the internal expression of joyful emotions asked for the controlling inner fundamentalist to surface and criticize. Don't shout and scream for joy, people will think you're crazy.

Her inner child would not go down without a fuss. I shall shout for joy, for my days are numbered and I shall enjoy them all.

Shout for joy, and you'll spend the remainder of your days in the insane asylum, her inner parent mocked. You are to be seen, not heard. Every emotion opens an avenue for attack.

Kelsey watched the scowls and grins cross her face. Well, that's weird. First she looks real pissed and then real happy. Oh, look, she's pouting now. Wonder what's going on in her head. "Penny for your thoughts."

Julia didn't respond until five seconds later. "Oh, sorry, what did you say?" she said, with as much ladylike charm she could muster to make up for her rudeness.

"Rather preoccupied, are you not?"

Julia laughed. "Well, yeah," she confessed.

"What bugs thee?" she said, being sure to poke a bit of fun out of Shakespearean coinage.

Cannot let the enemy get to my thoughts, the inner paranoid whispered. Enemy? her inner naive child cried out. She's not a Christian, for starters... the inner fundamentalist reminded her. "Just thinking how beautiful this land would look in a painting."

"Do you like drawing?" Kelsey asked.

Not again, Julia cried out inside, not wanting to deal with the torrent of conflicting voices in her head. "Yeah." And at the opportune moment, the guide led the group to the shore.

"Everyone is to get in teams of two and row across," he said. "Pair up, now."

"May I?" Julia said, suddenly becoming shy and frightened.

"Sure," Kelsey said, shrugging.

"Thank you," she said, relieved, as they grabbed a rowboat, life preservers, and oars. Each with a side of the boat in hand, they dragged the boat to the water, Kelsey anchoring the boat to the shore with her hand to let Julia hop in first, then herself.

"Sheesh, this water is so clear it's blinding!" Kelsey mumbled, squinting.

"That's what happens when you stick your head out of the city into the great outdoors," Julia said, rowing away like workhorse. Feels so natural. I forgot how much I like being outside, doing something fun, she silently thought to herself. The rhythm of the strokes of the oars cutting the water and whooshing it behind them lulled them into a quiet but steady groove.

Minutes elapsed; Kelsey decided she should say something just to break the monotonous silence. "Julia?"

Her dark haired companion turned around. "Yes?"

Kelsey wrinkled her forehead. "You look a little green," she said, worried.

"I forgot to mention seasickness," Julia said, with a self-depreciative laugh. "I promise not to barf on you." She turned around and continued rowing.

Kelsey continued rowing, too, for it was not fair for her strong companion to do all the work. Why did she feel so protective of Julia? She was only feeling a little green, but it provoked a rather motherly instinct long latent in her soul.

"One thing," Kelsey muttered offhandedly, "don't wear black on a nice sunny day."

Julia chuckled. "Oh no---" she then said gravely. Kelsey leaned forward, to help support Julia as she vomited over the side of the boat, holding her hair out of her face. "Ugh."

"We're just about on the other side," Kelsey said, trying to reassure the sick girl.

Julia nodded, faintly whispered, "Almost," as if it was reassurance. She had exhausted her breakfast, sitting hunched over clutching her stomach. Kelsey carefully let the hair fall back down over her shoulders, and rubbed small circles on her back, an unconscious effort to help make her friend feel better.

Julia shut her eyes---the simple gesture was oddly reassuring. You're not enjoying this, she's only being nice, her inner fundamentalist furiously growled in her ear. Julia winced as the voices threatened war again.

Oh oh... Kelsey reacted as she watched her companion flinch. What's that supposed to mean? Um....either she's feeling sick again or she's annoyed with me. Oops, there's my disobedient hand. Shame! She willed her hand to return, settling it with its mate in her lap.

"Well, the longer we stay here the worse it'll get," Julia hoarsely whispered.

"Right," and Kelsey started rowing again. Faster, faster, faster...

Julia managed to make it to the other end of the lake without vomiting again. She was quite relieved to get on solid ground, to say the least. Plain dirt was never so welcomed before...

"There's Cassie and Luke. Wonder what they're up to now?" Kelsey asked, pointing to them up ahead of them on the trail.

Julia, being taller, could see their target: Natasha; not like that was a big surprise. "Hmm...guess whom their stalking now."

Kelsey rolled her eyes. "Like beating a dead horse," she sighed. "You'd think they'd be sick of that game by now."

"They're as tenacious as bulldogs when they smell blood," Julia offered.

The group stopped for a rest, and Dylan managed to find his two friends. "Hey."

"Ah, there you are," Kelsey said, with a grin. "Wondered where you had wandered off to."

Dylan whipped his head to his left, and pointed to a group of two boys. "I'd be careful of them."

"What's going on?" asked Kelsey.

Julia recognized them. "Oh crap, the stalkers."

Kelsey's eyes bugged out. "Stalkers?"

"Yeah, one of them thinks I'm cute and the other thinks Audrie is a hottie," Julia explained.

Dylan stroked his black goatee. "I think it's only fair warning that you better not go anywhere alone without plenty of company."

Julia gave him a long look. "What are they saying about me?"

"They're both obsessed about you. You don't want to know what they were talking about."

Julia gave her smaller friend a helpless look. "I'm not all that pretty, I don't get it."

Kelsey wanted to laugh, it was so not true; but from the look on Julia's face, she seriously believed it. "Who said you weren't pretty?"

Julia shrugged. "No one said I was pretty, and anyways, my mother keeps saying what an embarrassment I am to her. So I must not be."

"Your mother needs glasses, then," Kelsey said.

Dylan jumped in. "You are a pretty girl, I don't get how you could say such a thing about yourself."

"I'm going to have to say 'ditto' with Dylan," Kelsey said. It was terrifying to admit that, but she felt circumstances were right to confess it. Chances were that Julia wouldn't catch on that it wasn't exactly platonic in meaning at this moment.

"Thanks guys for trying to flatter me," she said, earnestly.

Kelsey had a flashback to the previous day, where Julia only picked at her food. That was some argument. And she says she doesn't feel pretty, but an embarrassment. I'm beginning to see something here. Oh goddess....

Kelsey impulsively grabbed Julia's wrist. "What are you doing?" Julia asked, startled.

Kelsey rubbed the skin to show how little padding was between her skin and her bones. "Julia..."

Oh crap. I just gave her another piece of the puzzle. "What?" she said, trying to diplomatically pry Kelsey's hand off her wrist. The smaller girl only clutched harder. Dang! Yow...le' go!

"Does this have anything to do with the fact you eat so little?"

Dylan raised a dark eyebrow, but kept silent.

"No, it doesn't. Get your hand off me," Julia growled.

Oh shit, I blew that. Kelsey reluctantly loosened her hold on Julia's wrist; she wanted to slap herself hard for butting in like that but thought better of it. Get a hold of yourself, she doesn't want you interrupting her life. Really. Yes, really, shithead! Argh!! she mentally chastised herself.

The guide called everyone to hit the trail once more. Dylan offered a hand to each of the ladies and helped them up. "What a gentleman, too bad you play on the other side of the fence," Kelsey said, giving Dylan a silly grin afterwards.

"Too bad," Dylan said, catching onto her inside joke.

"Why is it that the nicest guys always turn out to be gay?" Julia asked in a despairing tone.

"Luke's a nice guy, am I not wrong?" Dylan asked. "Not that I've been like, um..." His blush was rather adorable.

"I get what you're saying. Luke's nice and all that---I dunno, they talk about love and sparks and all that and I don't know what the big deal is."

Oh crap, I don't think I wanted to hear that. I mean---it makes her sound like she doesn't love him and I might have a chance and----dammit! You have no chance! Just because Luke isn't Mr. Right for her doesn't automatically mean she's gay!

"You okay?" Julia asked, Dylan's curious face peering over her shoulder.

"Um, dandy." Then she grinned to cover up her sad, anxious thoughts. "Oh look, a rope bridge."

Three pairs of eyes peered ahead to see a precarious rope bridge spanning over a steep gorge. "Oh no," Julia despaired. "Not again."

"Afraid of heights?" asked Dylan.

"Definitely," Julia replied.

"We'll be with you. I'll go ahead, Kelsey will follow. Deal?"

Julia offered a weak grin. "Okay," she said quietly. "Let's go."

The rope bridge kept swaying in the wind, and many times Julia wanted to scream "NO MORE!" but she let the tears quietly stream down her face, gritted her teeth, and pressed on. Wouldn't want to disappoint them.

Dylan made his way across and turned around to greet her. "See, it wasn't so bad," he said, trying to look chipper. Julia reached the end of the rope bridge, and Dylan offered her a hand onto solid land. "Um...need a hug?"

Julia went ahead and took the offer. He's a guy, I'm safe with a hug. They broke off their embrace, and saw Kelsey had joined up with them. "How tall are you?" Dylan said, noticing Julia wasn't much shorter than him.

"Six foot even," she replied.

"You're quite the tall one."

"Jessie is two inches taller," Kelsey interjected.

"Jessie, Jessie," Dylan said, snapping his fingers. "Oh yeah. She makes football players look like ants," he said, chuckling.

"Another obstacle already?" Kelsey said, pointing to the cargo net.

"We just already had an ordeal," Julia growled.

Chapter 9

They sat under the tree, resting under the afternoon shade. "I can't believe Luke laughed at me," Julia said, sputtering fire.

"That was so callous to laugh your fears off," Kelsey said sympathetically. "And then he goes play basketball with them."

"Well, he's in the doghouse with me now," Julia said, crossing her arms. "Hello, Jessie," she said to Kelsey's approaching friend.

Jessie sat beside them. "You know my name. Well!" she said, smiling. "They found her."

"Is she okay?" Kelsey asked.

"What happened?" Dylan and Julia asked.

"Natasha got lost trying to run from Luke and Cassie," Jessie informed them. "I'm so sick of their petty fights," she sighed. "I'd be happy if all three were kicked out of student council." Three mumbles echoed her sentiments. Jessie continued, "She fell off a bluff and is a bit scratched up but nothing major like broken bones or stitches, luckily."

"That's good," Kelsey murmured. "Hey, let's walk around, I don't want to stand here all afternoon."

"Yeah," Dylan echoed. Strolling about the grounds, they passed by the basketball court where Luke and his two new friends played three-on-three.

Luke left his buddies abruptly and ran over to the tall dark girl. "Julia!" he said, a chipper note in his voice.

"Talk to me later," she growled, walking on.

"What'd I do?" Luke cried out, his arms flayed out in indignation. "JULIA!!"

She turned around and narrowed one eye, scowling, then turned around, walking as if nothing happened at all. "Let's go to the field and see who else is out there."

"Good idea."

"Yeah, maybe we can join in on one of the games there," Dylan mentioned. "Kelsey, you into sports?"

"Soccer," she said. "Halfback, to be precise."

Dylan nodded his head. "Lot of running then. And you, Julia?" Their tall dark companion gazed vacantly into the field, wincing and shaking her head.

"Julia?" Kelsey softly asked. "Julia!"

The dark head turned. "What?" she asked, confused. "Sorry," she said, with an apologetic grin.

"Everything okay?" Kelsey asked, concern deeply etched in her face.

"Dandy," she said, laughing. God, I hurt so much. Why does my world seem to be falling apart? There is no rhyme nor reason to it. The inner fundamentalist decided to jump in. You didn't go to church on The Lord's Day, that's why. Shame! Julia winced. It must be these voices. They're going to drive me insane!!! Wait---maybe I am insane.

Kelsey instinctively grabbed Julia's wrist. "Don't play games with me."

Julia scrunched her eyebrows. She knows it's a big lie. She must have x-ray vision or something. That's not too pleasant of a thought. "I can play games as I very well please, but I confess to nothing!" she said, in a low guttural growl.

Kelsey immediately released the wrist she inadvertently grabbed moments before and took three steps back, stumbling on a sprinkler head in the grass. "Shit!!!" she cursed as she landed on her rear. "And the lawn is wet."

Dylan couldn't help but laugh. "At least your jeans are dark, no one will ever figure out you peed your pants."

Kelsey deliberately lifted her hand, retracting all but one finger to give him the bird salute. "Mock me, why don't you?"

Julia couldn't help but laugh. I should be mad at her for being so crude---but I can't seem to get mad at her for that. She heard the familiar unwelcome voice again. You've hung around the sinners too long. They've corrupted you. She wanted to scream so bad, but she bit her lip and grimaced, clenching her fists, her knuckles turning white.

Kelsey had gotten up just in time to watch her bite her lip. Julia, I wish I could take away your pain, your demons---you hurt so bad but you seem so afraid to confess it. Julia turned away, scanning the large field, missing her smaller companion's concerned face.

Audrie. Maybe I can get these two away from me for a while, I need time to think. "There's Audrie. Later," Julia said, waving at them.

Dylan gave Kelsey a worried glance. "What's going on?" he sadly asked, his dark eyebrows contorted.

She whispered, "I wish I knew. All I know is I seem to provoke them," the last said with somber regret and hooded eyes.

Dylan put an arm around her. "Don't blame yourself, Kelsey. It's obvious she's been troubled long before you came into the picture," he said.

Kelsey couldn't take the stress of the worry and let an errant tear fall. "Why do you say that? Whenever I'm around she winces, grimaces, and her eyes darken with a deep, covert pain that she obviously doesn't want me to see into."

He rumbled in response, "But you're the only one she laughs with, too."

Kelsey looked up at him. "Really?"

Dylan replied, "Really."

Kelsey shook her head. "Bullshit, she laughs with her friends."

"True, true---but she only gives them a superficial laugh. Almost artificial, perhaps. But she lets it come from her heart," he said, taking his free hand and placing it over his own heart, "only around you."

"You're trying to set us up, aren't you?" Kelsey angrily lashed, moving away from him.

"No!" Dylan hastily defended. "Not at all!" He took a calming breath, and continued, "I wish you wouldn't be so hard on yourself."

"I still can't help but feel I'm the cause of all this."

"Remember that comment about how skinny she was?"

"She gets so pissed off. Yeah," Kelsey said, putting an arm around his waist again. "I swear, she's hiding something."

Dylan snapped his fingers. "My point exactly---this has been going on long before you came into the scene. You're only bringing it to the surface so she can deal with it. Sure she'll resist it, she doesn't want to deal with her baggage, but she can't hide it in the closet forever. The stuff is about to overflow, and she's mad at you for remind her it's about to go critical."

"Thanks," she said, giving him a hug.

"No problem," Dylan said. "Look, there's Jessie."

Jessie turned her head. "There you are, rascal," she said, walking over and giving her smaller companion a friendly punch. "How's it going?" She saw the dried tear on her friend's face. "Kelsey, what's wrong?"

"I don't want to rehash it," Kelsey said, closing the venue to further conversation on the topic of her endless worry.

"It's Julia, isn't it?" Jessie said, not an ounce of humor on her face.

"As I said, don't rehash it."

Jessie nodded. "Okay. But if you need to talk about it, I'm here."

"Thanks," she said, giving Jessie a pat on the arm. "Let's walk around a little, I'm wound up tighter than a two dollar watch."

"Okay," said Jessie. Dylan merely nodded. A group of boys stampeding left a large trailing dust cloud behind them, leaving the three to cough on the particles.

"Idiots," Kelsey grumbled between coughing fits.

"Dammit, I have asthma!" Jessie said, pulling her shirt over her nose to keep the pollution out.

When the dust cleared Kelsey and Jessie could see just beyond the bend that Julia and Audrie were face to face with the two punk boys Dylan pointed out earlier. "I don't like the looks of this."

Dylan stormed towards them. "Get lost!" he growled at them.

One of the punks turned to face him. "This doesn't involve you."

Dylan arched a brow. "Really." He narrowed his eyes. "It involves a friend and I've watched you the entire time. Get lost."

"Fuck off."

"Like hell."

Julia gave them the glare. "You heard the man. Get lost, boys."

Begrudgingly, they turned around, tucking their tails beneath, and disappeared.

"Julia, you ready?" Audrie asked, opening the restroom door with a clatter. Her tall friend shyly turned around to face her.

"Do I look okay?" she anxiously asked her petite friend.

"You look dazzling, girl. Let's go or we'll be late."

"Okay," Julia said. "I'm nervous about this dance, aren't you?"

Audrie shrugged. "Not really. Flirt with the guys, it's all harmless fun." She saw the glimmer of a bracelet, the one Luke gave her when he asked her out. "Unless you have certain, um, obligations."

Julia shrugged. "Hmph." She glanced at her watch. "We better hurry." They made it to the dining hall, nicely decorated for the camp dance. "Hey, Luke."

"Wow," Luke said, rather speechless. "You are so beautiful."

Julia laughed. "Of course, your opinion is rather biased," she said, with a wink, taking his arm and threading it with hers. Why does this feel awkward? Because every eye is staring at me like a hawk, waiting for me to screw up.

Luke gazed at her, a look of adoration across his face. I don't know how I managed to get so lucky. I have no clue why you don't ditch me for someone much more handsome. Heaven knows, you could have me at your mercy at a whim.

I wonder where Kelsey is. She scanned the crowd, it was rather dark in the dining hall , which meant no one really noticed her not paying attention, but she couldn't see much, either, without having to gaze longer.

Her attention was brought back to the dance at hand when she felt Luke's loafers bump into her shoes. Oops. "Sorry," she said, trying to make up for it with a dazzling smile.

"No problem," Luke said, giving her hand a slight squeeze.

Julia winced when she felt the voices coming again. You don't give a damn where Kelsey is. The caretaker protested. And why not? The fundamentalist retorted, She's not your date, right? Then why do you give a care? Julia winced again, wincing until she felt the voices go away. "Whew," she quietly whispered.

Luke arched a blonde brow. "Pardon?"

Oops, I said that aloud. "Oh, nothing." She turned her head for a moment, missing the look of concern etched upon his brow. Wincing seems to work---but it gets everyone's attention. Drats. Back to the drawing board. Or am I truly that desperate? Never mind, scratch that. I have the idea, just need to execute it in a more subtle way.

Luke took a step back and stumbled a little. Turning around, he saw he ran into Audrie. "Sorry--"

The petite girl smiled. "So, what's up?" she asked both of them.

"Nothing much," Luke said. "Oh God, it's disco."

"The Hustle, if I'm not mistaken," Audrie said, mocking disco gestures. She glanced over to Julia, wondering why she seemed a little quieter than usual. "Julia?" she asked, putting a small hand on her companion's powerful wrist.

Her nightmare returned, in a violent flashback. The mirrors amplified the hue of the red coppery blood in the air, a pulsing throbbing as if it were her own blood filling the air with every beat of her heart.

"Julia...." the voice cried out, twisted with pain and a sadness from the bottom of her soul, " me...."

"I can't!" Julia cried. "I am dying too..."

"Then could we at least share our misery?" The voice asked, reaching a hand through the red mist. Before Julia could grab it, the hand was sucked away, into a vortex that cleared the air and left a dark void save one dull grey-brown star.

"No..." Julia cried. "Don't leave me!"

"Julia!" Audrie yelled at her through the din, squeezing her wrist. Julia's eyes, which had rolled back, returned to their normal position, and struggled to focus on the present scene. She opened her mouth, then shut it, trying to return to normal. The mirrors were threatening to do her in again, though...

"Luke, get me out of here, the lights are making me sick," Julia said, her voice green, as the disco ball rotated, its many mirrors reflecting light in random order, a white light forest to navigate through.

"Excuse us for a moment," Luke said, taking Julia by the arm and shoving his way through the crowd. "Excuse me! Coming through!"

It was not a moment too soon that they got outside. Julia tried to slow her rapid breaths, Luke's hand rubbing gentle circles on her back. "It's okay, Julia, it's okay."

She responded by burying her head on Luke's shoulder.

"Luke? Cassie?" Audrie asked, after the dance dismissed. "Where are you guys going?"

Cassie made a sour face. "Our resident drama queen is trying to set up another soap opera. We'll give her a soap opera all right!!"

"Give it a break," Audrie said, rolling her eyes. "I am sick of you guys picking a fight with her. Isn't chasing her off the bluff yesterday enough?"

"Well, it didn't stop her; why should it stop us, Audrie?" Luke retorted.

"Yeah, why don't you join in on the fun instead of lecturing us about why we shouldn't?" Cassie added.

"I am not going to prostitute myself to those means," Audrie said. "Are you coming, Julia?"

I need Luke right now,, I don't want to get involved in their little fights. "Yeah, I'm coming," Julia said, following Audrie.

"Prostitute? Prostitute?!" Cassie fumed, but Audrie and Julia ignored her cries of indignation. She was about to scream at them when Luke put his hand on her shoulder.

"If they insist on missing the fun, let them. Let's go stir up some trouble."

[ Chapters 10-12 ]

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