Chapter 19

Sunday morning. The Williams household was in a flurry of action, trying to get ready and out of the house in time to get to church. As usual, Julia couldn't remember a thing about the sermon, except for something about God's love and something else she couldn't remember at the moment. Church sermons were the perfect medium to daydream, the monotone voice of the pastor luring insomniacs to sleep.

Afterwards, her father Rhett introduced her to a tall, dark haired man with a black beard. "This is Reverend Kendall from Western Baptist Church," he said.

The man grinned. He appeared well groomed, but there was something unusual about him; she couldn't peg quite what it was. All she knew was a suit and tie was not his native outfit. Black would have suited him much better. "I'm Reverend Rob Kendall." He ushered his teenage son forward. "And this is my son, Justin."

"Nice to meet you," she shyly said. "I'm Julia."

The boy grinned. He looked rather innocent, unlike his father who looked rather wily upon first glance. The reverend had a warrior's face, eyes a bit creased, wary of any possible attacks.

Justin didn't seem to want to listen to any of the small talk his father had to say to Julia's father, so he asked Julia if she wanted to go out on a walk while they nattered. She took him up on his offer gladly.

"So why is your dad here today?" Julia asked.

"Actually, he's trying to get people to attend a seminar this evening."

"Seminar?" asked Julia. "On what?"

The boy groaned. He wasn't exactly a boy, but the harsh lines of complete manhood eluded his face too. He was about two inches shorter than Julia, with jet black hair that Julia suspected was the hue of his father's hair before it turned a dull, dark silver. "Something of the utmost terrible nature," he said.

"Well?" asked Julia. "What is it?"

"The church down the street," he pointed to the Methodist church, "is planning on holding same sex unions this evening."

"That's terrible!" Julia cried out. "Do they not know that is an abomination upon the Lord?"

"Oh sure they do," Justin said, putting his hands in his pockets. He lacked the suaveness that her ex-boyfriend Luke had, but he also seemed to be more honest and down-to-earth than Luke too. "They just don't bother to care that they are violating God's word."

"People these days," Julia hissed through her teeth. "So, what's the seminar about?"

"We're going to picket it."

"Picket it?" Her eyes lit up. "Like that one Kansas preacher?"

"Fred Phelps?" Justin answered. "Yeah. We're not as wacky as he is, though. Ever been to his website?"


"I don't think I'd go as far as going to the trouble of making a picture of Matthew Shepard's heads bouncing in Hell's flames, personally," Justin said. "That's overkill."

"I'm sure my dad wouldn't mind if you came over and helped us make signs for this evening," Justin offered.

"I'll ask my dad if it's okay," Julia replied. "He may have something else planned for this afternoon."

They had made a circle back to the church lobby, where Rhett Williams and Rev. Rob Kendall were finishing up their conversation. "Ready, Justin?" Rob asked.

"May Julia come over and help us make signs?" he asked.

"I have no problem with it. Ask her father."

Rhett shook his head. "I have no problems with it."

"I'll see you this evening, Dad. Bye!" Julia said, giving her father a kiss on the cheek before leaving.

"Now I think I remember seeing Fred Phelps on TV," Julia said, a big black marker in hand as she wrote out the words for the posters. She had recognized the rather cliche sayings such as "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," "God Hates Fags" and other inflammatory quotes of the like.

"He's gotten some really big publicity as of late," Justin said, inking in where the marker missed the first time.

Julia shot a worried brow. "Um...Justin?"

"Hmm?" the boy asked, stopping and sitting up from his hunched over position, his eyes capturing hers. "What is it?"

"You think we're going to garner that type of publicity?"

The kid shrugged. "I don't know. Probably locally if something goes awry."

"Awry? What can go awry?"

"Many things," Justin said, hunching over to work on his poster. "We could have an unruly crowd, someone could squeal to the police, we could have a counter protest, to name a few."

"The police? Justin, that's scary."

"We will not budge an inch."

"But what if they arrest us?"

"You keep calm, and don't resist. But you don't move, either."

Trouble is not good. "Um, okay."

Silently they continued to work on the signs for the confrontation later tonight.

They were ready, signs in place, waiting outside the church, Reverend Kendall perched on the stairs to lead his flock of sheep in their coordinated effort to scream the word of the Lord to those dirty heathens inside the Methodist church. Reverend Kendall wasn't in the blazer and tie he was wearing earlier, but had exchanged it for a soft jersey knit navy polo and khaki cargo shorts. He gripped his megaphone, taking it to his mouth several times but bringing it back before speaking, his clipboard clenched in his other hand.

"Okay, guys," he finally spoke over the speaker. "Let's sing the first hymn on our list."

Loudly they sung, trying to disturb the ceremonies inside. If they could get them to take note, perhaps they'd stop defiling the church with the blasphemous ceremony. Hymn through hymn, Psalm through Psalm (especially Psalm number five), they tried to rouse the lost to the window but they were ignoring their efforts. A little boy finally wandered over to the window, his mother picking him up and grabbing him out of sight as quickly as the little boy had appeared in the window in the first place.

"People are pretty stupid," Justin muttered offhandedly to Julia, as it became apparent that it was not working. Did Phelp's protests have any effect? Did they ever make an impression on anyone? Or did it just serve as the butt of lots of Christian jokes at school the next day?

The minister came outside. "Folks, I appreciate your concern, but please leave." He went inside before anyone could object.

"I think this is escalating," Julia said, nervous, her palms sweating.

Justin laughed. "Julia, nothing's happened yet!"

"I'm scared."

"Je-sus, lover of my soul..." Justin hummed, Julia joining in. The humming soothed her frayed nerves, but she could not help but worry. The lack of action after the minister coming out and politely asking her to leave made her antsy. What if they are calling the cops as we stand out here? As sitting ducks?

She heard a car door slam, and shoved her fear down her esophagus. They're not the cops, they're not the cops, she tried to reassure herself.

A middle aged cop shouted at the crowd to disperse because they were disturbing the peace. "Stay still," Justin said to her.

Stay still? Are you crazy?

"I asked, please disperse," the frazzled cop demanded, but his words were having no effect on the crowd. She really couldn't see through the throng of protestors, but she didn't hear any more requests from the policeman.

Another car door. Then another, and two more. He called backup. We're screwed! Julia frantically thought to herself.

"Here, take my hand," Justin said, grabbing hers. "We need to form a human chain."

"Okay," she mewled, terrified, her eyes glazing over with fear as she was able to get a glimpse of the officers approaching the line.

"Disperse immediately!" a deep, angry voice barked over the megaphone. Julia cowered further, but Justin squeezed her hand, reassuring her.

What happened next Julia wasn't sure of, but her eyes were stinging and the protestors were running in all directions, frantic, clawing at their eyes. She whipped around to see where the police were, to see more backup had come, clothed in riot gear. Nearby, predatory cameramen were perched, watching the whole chaotic scene unfold. For all anyone cares, this could be France after a World Cup soccer game.

She felt an hand on her arm; whirling about she saw someone with an upraised stick; without thinking, she kneed him in the crotch and ran like a scared deer through the forest.

Run, run, run...

People as frightened as her kept running into each other, trampling gardens in people's yards as they sought to escape the police. Old and young, man and woman, they had one goal: to run.

She stopped three blocks later, wheezing hard and unable to slow her breath, eyes hollowed out with a vacant look.

"Julia?" a voice asked. She turned her head, not flinching her eyes. It was Justin. "Are the police coming this way?"

She tried to swallow some spit so she could speak. It took a few gasps before she could utter, "No."

He clamored out of the bushes, badly scraped and clothes torn. "Those damn policemen!"

"What happened to your clothes?"

"They sicced the canine on me!"

Julia dropped her jaw. "They didn't follow you?"

"Nah, they smelled tastier blood," Justin gasped, sitting back down on the grass, dazed.

"I...I think I kneed one in the crotch."

Justin quirked a brow but said nothing, the riot's noise off in the distance. It was dark three blocks away in the residential neighborhood, the occasional car passing by absentmindedly, unaware of the momentous chaos that awaited them three intersections away. He spoke, "What happened?"

"I saw this big stick arching over my head---I...I swore he was going to bash my brains in."

Justin gently grasped her hand, gave it a squeeze, then resumed it to wrapping it around his knees, upon which he rested his head, shutting his eyes.

"Justin, where are you bleeding?"

"I'm fine, really," he tiredly said.

"No you aren't," she said, getting up, but he caught her.

"Yes I am," he mumbled. She continued to get up, turning about and walking up the driveway. She swallowed her fears and knocked on the door. Would they open it and hear her? What would happen if...

A man opened the door. "What do you want?" he snarled.

"Could you call 911?" A woman appeared beside him.

"What's going on?" she asked. Much shorter than her burly balding husband, and much friendly in disposition, Julia could tell by her stance.

His face softened as he saw it the young man curled up on the grass. He turned to his wife, saying, "Call 911," then went outside with Julia to check up on Justin.

He had passed out cold on the grass not long after Julia went for help.

"I'm a sovereign citizen, damn it!" Reverend Rob Kendall kept hollering as the officer fingerprinted his thumb. "You can't do this to me, you Constitution defiling fascist! I'm going to get the ACLU and sue your sorry asses off for violating my First amendment rights you..."

"Enough, Rob," Rhett said, tired of his tirade. He felt shamed, his hands cuffed together in humiliation. What had gone wrong? Rhett wondered. Some role model I am. His mind wandered to others at the protest. I hope Julia is alright. The officer jerked his hand up, slamming his thumb on the fingerprint card, then shooed him off to the next step in processing before being jailed for the night.

Jail was a lonely place, the halls bare and echoing every footstep the guard on night duty took. The benches upon where he was supposed to sleep was hard, the blankets rough, the pillow non-existent. The toilets lacked privacy, everything lacked privacy. At least he was holed up with another member from the church, not some street criminal that might sodomize him in the middle of the night.

He shut his eyes, squirming when the guard flashed his flashlight beam upon his face to make sure his ward was in bed.

"Go to sleep," the guard growled when he saw Rhett flinch.

I hope I get out in time for work tomorrow, Rhett thought. I have dishonored myself completely. To be jailed as a criminal. Unable to sleep, he flicked his eyes to survey the other cells, alike in their plain avocado green stench. I am not fit to be seen in public.

He let his eyes wander to the cell next to him, where the mercurial Reverend slept. I will not join your crusades any longer. Going to these lengths to protelyze is ridiculous---both from the civic viewpoint and God's viewpoint. As long as I can speak, I will speak, but by Jehovah, I will speak without getting arrested for it!

You're failing the cause, the inner missionary mocked. Many martyrs died and you're too chicken to go out and continue where they tragically left off.

He winced, rolling over and groaning softly to himself. It wasn't my idea to get involved in this whole damn church deal in the first place!!!

Truth be told, it was originally Julia's idea. Until she turned fifteen, none of the Williams family went to church. Although traditionally conservative, sending Daniel off to Abeline Christian, they didn't go to church; not until Julia started hanging out with a group of Jesus Freaks at her school. She clung with tenacity to the theorem of Fundamentalism even as they moved off, scattering; she found another even more fanatical group of friends everyone called the Fundamentalist Four.

She had cajoled the family into going back to church after citing the famous Revelations line: "I wish you were either hot or you were cold, but since you're lukewarm I will have to vomit you out of my mouth." She begged and pleaded them to come, she couldn't bear to think of her parents burning in Hell for not being faithful enough to The Cause...

Rhett didn't want to see his little girl cry. Within a short time he had made enough connections within the church that boosted his dying business immensely. It was like a drug: no church, no business. No church, no business. But how am I supposed to maintain my dignity and morals without running afoul the church?

Rolling over again, he sighed. Sacrifices will have to be made; God, may you guide my hand.

Chapter 20

Monday morning, the twilight of the Moon's day. To be such a curse upon mankind one must consider that perhaps the Great Goddess didn't intend mankind to work upon her day but to hold it sacred; but mankind must have forgotten in the midst of patriarchal defilation, for the only way She could remind them was through her primal form, Chaos.

"Hey, Jessie," Kelsey greeted.

"Good morning," Jessie replied. "Did you watch the news last night?"

Kelsey cocked her head. "You can answer that one yourself, silly. Remember, 9:00 bedtime? Hello!"

Jessie laughed, lightly knocking herself on her forehead with her palm. "Yeah, duh."

"So, what was so juicy for you to bring it up?" Kelsey prodded.

"Western Baptist picketed the Methodist church and it got out of hand."

"Pickets?" Kelsey laughed. "I thought that happened only in Kansas."

"I think we have a copycat here," Jessie sighed.

"One dumb question: why did they picket the Methodist church?"

"They were holding same sex ceremonies."

"Um..." Kelsey scratched her brow. "Hmm, didn't know they could do that in that church."

"I don't think they can," Jessie said. "All I know is it's talk of the school right now."

"Yeah? Who was involved?"

"That geek Justin and..."

"And whom?" Kelsey said, looking into her friend's brown eyes. "Not surely Julia, she goes to a different church....if that's what you're thinking..."

"I could have sworn I caught of glimpse of her running when they sprayed the tear gas in the crowd."

Kelsey's jaw dropped. "Goddess I pray it was not her."

"Well, there's Julia," Jessie pointed out. "Let's go talk to her."

"Don't you dare bring up your suspicions," Kelsey snarled.

"I won't," Jessie said, directly.

The morning was a blur to Julia. Her sides ached from where people accidentally elbowed her in their frantic attempts of escape from the policemen. To be honest, she was black and blue but not wanting to further panic her frazzled mother, who got a call in the wee hours that her husband was in jail for the night, she kept it to herself.

She was caught in a perpetual circle of guilt. She felt awful about getting her dad involved--look where he was now! Probably housed with some true crook sans morals! She winced at the possibility of what she had just subjected him to. I'm sorry, Daddy, I didn't know... she silently sobbed to herself.

She remembered vaguely how badly Justin was mauled by the police canines. I hope he's doing okay, she prayed.

She wandered about campus before the morning bell, dazed and lost, her eyes unfocused. She passed by Jessie and Kelsey, not recognizing them, lost in a whirlwind daze.

They were picketing beside the aisle where the bride and groom were supposed to descend down. Noisy, shaking their posters and leering at the unfortunate couple as they made their way past. A very brave couple, they didn't flinch at the picketers, they were used to the usual ruckus that seemed to follow them every step of their lives. A pair of tough birds now, Julia sighed.

It was getting to be her turn to scapegoat the bride and groom. The bride's dress was a luxurious heavenly cream white, modest yet startlingly beautiful. She began to wonder what the entire ruckus was about, it was a normal couple getting married...

Until she looked at the groom. Short sand blonde hair, sunstreaked at top, a shaggy cut that was very deceptive of the groom's true nature. Despite all the attempts to cover up the identity, breasts still struggled to betray their owner, hips tried to cry out the true profession of the groom.

She let her eyes wander over the groom's clothes--a white tuxedo, very neatly pressed, a white vest and bow tie. The woman had taste and a penchant for neatness, another sure giveaway it was actually a woman.

The steel-nerved couple came within leering and screaming distance of her aisle. She shook the picketing poster with a fierce tremor, screaming like a banshee at the couple. She knew not why she was doing this; in the midst of her confusion she couldn't come up with any handy insults or slurs to curse the bride and groom.

She caught a good glimpse of the groom, and her heart sank, her stomach threatening to rebel. Sweet Kelsey, her face unflinching, hard, weathered with a certain air of jadedness in the eyes. She eyed the bride---not all that pretty of a woman. What the hell did Kelsey see in her?

You're jealous, Julia. And she ran, dropping her sign, running out of the church to cry in the garden.

"Julia!" someone cried her name. Tall, dark and lost finally heard her name being called, and stopped.

"Julia, you okay?" Jessie asked, wrapping a paw around her friend.

"Fine, leave me alone," she snarled, escaping the grasp of the paw. But the paw caught her again.

"Julia..." the voice pleaded.


"Something's bothering you. I can see it in your eyes."

"Nightmares," she uttered. Well, it was true.

"Want to talk about it?"

She answered firmly, "No."

Jessie shrugged. "Suit yourself," she said, sadly. "But don't wander around campus, please?"

She didn't feel like fighting. "Okay," she sighed, trying to tag behind but Jessie and Kelsey wouldn't let her get out of sight.

Luke didn't say much to Julia anymore, just when he caught a glimpse he looked away, eyes down. He was a funny study--a macho male in need of a an idol to worship.

"So, Julia," Cassie spat like bacon grease over a hot fire, "how did it feel to be caught on tape in that protest last night?"

Julia ferally snarled, a lopsided snarl that brought out the ice tones in her eyes. It was a surprise to see such pale eyes in someone with such dark hair and a rather tanned complexion---a contradiction upon Nature herself.

"Feeling guilty about befriending the fag at camp?" Cassie poked further, like bacon grease splattering upon the cook's arms.

"Enough," Mr. Eldon growled, his voice growing hoarse as a result of fighting off a cold.

"I don't feel guilty about anything so.." Julia began to hiss back.

"Julia, pay her no heed, she isn't worth it," Kelsey said, trying to detract her very annoyed friend.

"Enough," Mr. Eldon growled louder, his voice even hoarser.

She was pretty infamous across campus now. In a bittersweet way, she had finally managed to differentiate herself from her hotshot ex-boyfriend, but she had hoped to do so in a more positive, honorable way. Not as the girl who was picketing the Methodist church Sunday night.

A light drizzle poured upon the tennis court, but the coach wasn't about to call off practice. She huddled her nylon jacket around her shoulders, taking her racket out of her case and twisting it around a few times to warm up her wrists.

She instinctively knew the snickers from her teammates were about her, because they'd cast a look her way, then huddle amongst themselves and giggle. It was very humiliating, but Julia just tucked it inside, exuding a tough outer shell that no one could pierce. A tough outer shell that scared everyone into keeping the comments to themselves at least.

She let her arms rip the tennis ball across the court in the warm up, backhands, forearms, and over the head, gracefully extending her long limbs to reach the balls that eluded her smaller teammates. Slipping in a crouch, her shoes slipping a bit on the cement court, stretching for the backhand that was the perfect shot and flinging it over the net into the shallow part of the court. Stumbling up, prepared for either direction, and slamming the ball into a little pocket where her opponent least expected it.

It was a shameful feeling of exhilaration to get onto the court and let loose her aggression she worked so carefully to conceal during the day. What aggression? She was supposed to forgive the boorish miscreant that rudely shoved his way through the crowd, knocking her on her sore ribs. She was supposed to be a dainty little doll too stupid to know what jibes Cassie had up her sleeve earlier.

Ah, Lindsay's turn to face the Terminator, Julia saw, and grinned. She let the little hellcat serve first, and it was fun to watch the lithe brunette's body contort in such awful positions to return the devilish counterattacks. Oh, and the glee when she saw Lindsay's face turn red as she effortlessly smacked the impossible back in her court!!! Such fun ought to be sinful, Julia deduced, arching her arms up and smashing the tennis ball into the shallow end of Lindsay's court in a dramatic overhand. The weeble didn't stand a chance.

"I HATE YOU!" Lindsay screamed through the steadily increasing rain, her hair plastered down in a mixture of sweat and rainwater, water running down her cheeks. "YOU MAKE THIS LOOK SO FUCKING EASY!"

Julia laughed, grabbing a pair of tennis balls and awaiting Lindsay to quit her tirade and play the next set. "Love-Love." Lindsay was still pacing around. "Are you going to play or not?"

Lindsay bared her teeth, but said not a word, pacing outside the court, shaking her head. She meandered back to the court, ready to play.

The returns were a little harder than usual, but a bobcat isn't nearly as powerful as a panther. With a swipe of a powerful tanned paw, Lindsay's aggressive attacks were easily deflected.

"You don't play fair," Lindsay growled after the first game was over. "You're possessed."

The brunette walked away. "Possessed?" Julia asked herself. "That's hilarious!"

She heard the rain outside her bedroom window, and groaned. It had escalated from the drizzle this afternoon to a loud downpour by sunset; luckily, the sturdy roof absorbed most of the noise, else she wouldn't be able to sleep that night.

Julia connected to the internet, opened her ICQ panel, and checked her Hotmail account. "Porno mail, delete," she hissed, sick of seeing the unwanted XXX ads that somehow managed to find their way into her mailbox. Cursed Microsoft, other mail servers don't do such "courtesy" services to their "valued" customers!

"Dylan?" she said, after deleting the unwanted emails. "I didn't think he'd write back." She clicked on the link, a mixture of dread, relief, and guilt flowing through her veins.

Hey Julia,
Sorry I didn't write back earlier, busy week. What'cha been up to? Nothing much here, we've had a winning season in football though. They say I might beat the school's record for sacks this year.

Gotta go, keep in touch,

Julia smiled---relief. She hit the reply button, writing:

I wasn't too terribly prompt in writing back either. Hope you do set a new school record :)

Tennis is coming to a close, we're going to playoffs but no one in our school cares about the other sports besides football. It's pretty degrading to be unrecognized.


She clicked on send and let the message go its merry way. Truth be told, she was being very modest--she didn't mention she was ranked number one in the league--despite her outstanding status no one had an inkling who she was.

That was degrading. Maybe it was better that way. Possessed. In a league of her own. Untouchable. Only Julia Williams make tennis look like ballet.

She saw the message icon blink in her icon tray at the bottom right of her screen. She didn't recognize the handle, but was relieved that it wasn't yet another porno spam message. Then she became curious---who was this mystery person?

She wasn't about to fool around. She hit reply and demanded he identify himself.


Julia grinned. Duh. The handle made sense now. She hit reply. I didn't recognize you.

No problem, he replied. What'cha doing?

She typed back, Checking my email.

He sent her a link. Julia stared at it--she knew what it was. Feeling her conscious tear within, she felt she was going to burst. One of these days I could use someone understanding like Jessie on my ICQ list.

I don't know, Justin, I can't in good conscience promote hatred like that, and she hit the send button before she could chicken out.

Hate? Justin wrote back, surprised. What's hateful about supporting prosecution of homosexuals? We prosecute rapists, right? No one complains that is hate.

Julia felt her heart tear further. On one side was the stern frau who thrived on persecuting others and most notably, herself. And on the other side was the untended caring person that struggled to free herself of the lies the frau told her.

Unlike homosexuality, there is nothing consensual about rape. She hit the send. I am pushing it.

It's still wrong. The Bible says so. She stared at the screen, wondering why she bothered to argue about it. He was going to stick by his convictions...and...what about hers?

Not tonight, she thought with a sad despairing sigh. Gotta go.

Chapter 21

The sun was just beginning to set when Jessie got out of volleyball practice. She changed into dry, warmer clothes and met Kelsey outside the gym. "Hey," she greeted her smaller friend.

"Hey," Kelsey said, eyes wandering in the dim darkness.

"Kelsey?" Jessie said, noting her friend's wandering eyes, as if they were searching for something within her mind. "Something going on?"

"Just thinking about how you mentioned Julia was in that picket last night and how non-responsive she was today."

Jessie nodded. "Brainwashed bit by bit by those radicals," she sighed.

Kelsey's eyes fell , defeated. "I guess it's me," she muttered.

"What? What about you?"

Kelsey looked over her shoulder, to see everyone else walking the other way. "Er," she grumbled. "Me. The almighty evil homosexual! Does that clarify things?!" Kelsey lashed. Seeing Jessie jump a bit, she softened her disposition. "Sorry."

The tall brunette wrapped an arm around her smaller friend. "No, I'm sorry," she whispered back. With a pained voice, she continued, "It just hurts so bad to see a conscience develop only for the 'good, compassionate' church to smash it back to smithereens."

"I just can't figure out why no one else gives a damn about her sanity," Kelsey softly said in exasperation. "If you give look in her eyes you can see the war within. I guess I'm the only one who can tell though."

Jessie shrugged. "No, people are just too damn shallow to care about others, Kelsey."

"You just nailed it on the head, my friend."

"Say, let's go get something to eat. I don't feel like going home and wondering what type of mystery crap my mother's fixed for dinner."

"Sounds good," Kelsey replied, getting the keys out of her pocket and unlocking the door on the Datsun. She leaned over and unlocked the passenger side, then started it. "By Artemis, it started on the first try!"

Jessie laughed, as she slung her backpack in the back, and climbing in the front. "Miracles do happen!"

The idle kicked down. "Where do you want to eat?"

Jessie became very still. "I don't care, Kelsey, let's just get the hell out of here!" she frightfully jabbered.

Kelsey's eyes flinched to where Jessie's were a moment before. An unshaven man with a dark navy beanie on his head scowled at them, his frame leaning against the side of the pole, his arms crossed. Instinct took over, and she threw the stick into first and got out of the parking lot pronto.

Heart racing fearfully, Kelsey kept looking behind to make sure the man wasn't following them. Jessie had her hands clutched, unusually quiet and rather tense.

"Uh...that's just...too..." Jessie whimpered.

"You think he is too," Kelsey weakly mewled, trying to keep under the speed limit although every nerve on her body screamed to hit the accelerator.

"Yes," Jessie said. "In ten years he hasn't changed."

An errant tear ran down her face. "I'm scared, Jessie. He has been stalking me."

They contented themselves on Chinese takeout, Kelsey happily munching on a bowl of Teriyaki. "Despite what they say, food actually does make me feel better."

Jessie gave her a sad look. "I'm sorry about what happened. If you want to stay the night at my place you're welcome to."

"Thanks. Um...I'll think about it." She scooped up another spoonful of rice and chewed on it. Jessie preferred chow mein, twirling her fork to catch the long strings of steaming hot noodles and bean sprouts. "I just don't want to leave my mother alone."

"Then I could come over," Jessie offered.

"I'm not about to place you in that war zone," Kelsey said gravely, spearing a piece of beef with her fork.

She didn't want to go home alone, not after the stalking. She didn't dare confess that weakness to Jessie, although she knew her friend could read it off her expression anyways. What are best friends for, anyways? They could nearly always read beyond the facade others couldn't recognize at face value.



"You shouldn't have to go through that alone."

Next Morning.

"Julia!" a male voice hollered. The tall, dark haired girl whirled about to see who called her.

"Hey, Justin---how'd you find me?"

The boy shrugged. "Chance?" he said, with a grin. "Where you headed?"

"To the center," she replied, walking that way, Justin trailing. "Good morning," she greeted Kelsey and Jessie.

"Feeling better?" Jessie asked.

"Yeah, the nightmares ceased for the night," Julia admitted. Nothing too specific.

"That's good."

Justin watched the scene, and shook his finger. "You're Jessie, aren't you?"

The tall brunette saw the boy---she hadn't realized he had trailed along. "Yes, why?"

"Jessie Vilmos, the campus slut."

"Sounds like someone else bit the poisoned bait, Jessie," Kelsey said in a monotone.

Justin continued. "They say you're into witchcraft."

"So?" Uh oh... A confession or even a hint was not the wisest thing for Jessie to do at this inopportune moment.

"And you aborted your baby at a black mass."

Kelsey's attempt at humor earlier on was old news. Jessie was just going to let this son of a bitch walk all over her...

Julia wasn't either. "Where'd you find this out?"

"That's what her ex said."

"Jeremy's full of shit, he tends to be real bitter when a woman actually has morals not to sleep with him," Kelsey hissed.

I need to get him away from them, Julia realized. "Hey, where do you usually hang out in the mornings?"

"Wherever," he said.

She bit back a snarl---he was a nice boy but was being a real pain in the ass this morning. "One thing's clear: all those rumors are false, Justin. Without basis."

He seemed to take her word for it and kept to himself.

Kelsey was pretty shaken up after being called in by her counselor second period. She had resisted the prodding from Jessie to talk to one of the counselors on campus---she suspected Jessie had expressed her concerns to one of the counselors despite her wishes, but she couldn't quite confirm, that information was confidential.

To be honest, it was a relief to get the story off her shoulders for the time being. She didn't sleep too well the previous night, swearing every smallest noise was her father creeping about, preparing to strike like a cobra, fangs outstretched.

She badly wanted to bite off Justin's head, the way he addressed Jessie like she wasn't there infuriated her, plus the lack of sleep made her very cranky. How do insomniacs function?

Brunch. She met Jessie at one of the hallway intersections. They were about to mosey over to the center when Kelsey saw a flier posted down one of the hallways where the preps and nerds usually hung out. Curious, she ventured down, and took a good look at the flier.

"NO GSA!!! Tell your student council representative today," Kelsey read aloud.

"What's a GSA?"

"Gay Straight Alliance."

"I didn't know we had one," Jessie said.

"I didn't know we had anyone interested," Kelsey added. "Smells like the work of someone we know."

They looked at each other, and in unison groaned, "Luke and Cassie."

"I wonder what this 'Luke 9:13' underneath in scrawl is supposed to mean," Jessie asked.

"I dunno, but I suspect it is a code word for discrimination in the name of religion," Kelsey growled. "Fuck religion, I.."

Jessie steered her irritable friend away from the offensive material. "We'll bring it up to the principal, okay?"

Kelsey shrugged. "Like he's going to give a damn."

Patience had run out long ago third period, as Cassie kept whining and snarling in successive turns, crying everyone was out to get her, and when everyone's back was turned, trying to demoralize Jessie before her peers. Kelsey felt the exhaustion from the lack of sleep get to her, and snapped.

"Cassie, you shut your hole before I cram it up with the shit that's been spewing out it!" she snarled back in a fury, adding a few gestures to make herself heard.

Cassie laughed sadistically. "Oh look, little miss angel is losing her patience."

"Don't patronize me."

"I wasn't patronizing you."

"We all know better than to believe your 'innocent me' bullshit," Natasha added in. She couldn't resist jumping into an argument or a fight...

"Go take your coven of witches elsewhere," Luke growled.

Kelsey laughed. "If those are fighting words you are going to have to do better."

"Enough," growled Mr. Eldon. "Everyone return to your seat."

"Enjoy rotting in hell, sinner," Cassie mouthed as she returned to her seat.

"It's your Hell, YOU BURN IN IT!" Natasha screamed across the classroom.

Mr. Eldon smacked his hand on the podium, ringing in the classroom. "ENOUGH! NO TALKING!"

"Yeah, she cancelled volleyball practice," Jessie said. "That's a first, trust me."

"Well, the tennis team is hosting a game. Let's go watch," Kelsey suggested.

Uh huh. I can see why. And you claim not to have a crush on her, right? "Good idea."

They walked over to the tennis courts, watching Julia warm up. Jessie had heard some wayward remarks about what a whirlwind Julia was, and personally she was curious to see the enigma in action.

The visiting coach sent the first victim to face Julia in the first court. Kelsey and Jessie sat outside, watching Julia grab a handful of tennis balls and setting most of them outside the court, save the one she was going to serve.

The victim looked rather self assured, racket ready for any onslaught that perchance would come her way. Julia squared her shoulders towards the opposite corner. "Love-love," then she tossed the ball in the air and arched her body, using the muscles in her torso to smash the ball into the other side of the court.

With unerring accuracy, the ball landed in the corner of the opposite court, and the formerly composed victim was dashing crazily trying to keep up with the demon's returns.

A flick into Julia's court made the agile panther scramble, and with a backhand motion, flinged it back. Not expecting Julia to have returned it, the opponent dashed to return the ball. It was a sad lob, which Julia snuck up on and batted lightly in the opposite shallow end from where her opponent was.

Game over. Her opponent shook her hand in a sportsman like manner, then Julia returned to the bench to find out what game she was to play next.

"Julia, you okay? You look pale," Lindsay said.

"Fine," she said, struggling to get the words out her mouth.

Jessie and Kelsey walked around, congratulating her. "That was an awesome game!"

"Thanks," she said, trailing to a whisper.

"Julia, you okay?" Kelsey asked.

"I don't think..." Jessie said, as the girl passed out and she rushed to catch her. The coach, alarmed to see his top singles player pass out, rushed over. "Get an ambulance!"

[ Chapters 22-24 ]

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