Chapter 28

Too awful to believe, the haunted voice still rang in her ears. Justin had called her in the middle of the night crying; she couldn't make any coherent sense out of what he was babbling but at the end she could make out something like "My dad's coming I have to go" and then silence.

He wasn't here today.

The arches that held up the hallways of the school arched into the sky like Catholic cathedrals, the hall of damnation where one knew they were at the mercy of an angry Lord God now. If she only knew what was happening to Justin. If only she knew now.

The people swirling around her were lost in the fog of her mind, mattering little in the whirlwind of fear. Oblivious fools! Clustered like maggots on a carcass.

"Julia!" a voice called. "Julia Williams!"

The tall girl turned around. "Oh, hey," she greeted Audrie.

"What's wrong?"

She swallowed. She couldn't speak of it now. She tried to utter, swallowed, and mewled, "Nothing."

"Uh huh," Audrie said, shaking her head. "I can see right through that."

"Maybe I just have a lot of things on my mind!" Julia snapped. "Homework! Tennis! I have to leave at lunch to go to the tennis playoffs!"

"Good luck."


"Problems with Justin?"

She set her jaw to tell a fib, but Audrie put her hand on Julia's arm. "Something's wrong."

"Nothing's wrong!" Julia protested. "I better go to class."

"But it doesn't start for another fifteen minutes," Audrie bumbled, watching Julia walk away in a huffy.

"Some attitude problem!" a blonde girl said.

"No," Audrie corrected her, "she's really worried about something and she's trying to bluff it. Julia's the quietest girl I've ever known."

"Really," the girl said. "Lindsay says she's the Queen Bitch of the tennis court."

"She does get a tad competitive on the court," Audrie sighed. "She's a good girl though."

"Lindsay doesn't hate just anyone. And Julia isn't just 'anyone.'"

Audrie couldn't help but laugh. "Okay, this is getting absurd. I have never heard anyone say something bad about her until now."

"I did see her on the tennis court one day. Once she stepped on that court, it was like she donned a panther skin---prowling the courts and viciously swiping the ball with an outstretched lethal claw."

"I ought to go see a game. Aren't one of the playoff games here?"

"Not this year."

"Dang," Audrie sighed, then wincing as the bell rang. "I'll see you later."

Brunch. What the hell had they studied in math? English? Julia couldn't answer that question. Not until the question of what happened to Justin was answered.

It was going to be a long while. I think I'm going to burst.

The tall, towering brunette and her shorter companion with the red hair passed by, and she swirled around in an instant, dogging them on their heels. "Jessie! Kelsey!"

"Oh, hey girl," Jessie greeted with a smile, then her face sobering up. "Okay. What's wrong?"

Julia puckered his lips. "Notice someone missing?"

"Justin?" Kelsey offered.

She whistled the stale air through her teeth, a hissing sound whooshing inside her mouth. "Yeah," she awkwardly confessed. "I got a call, I think it was two thirty and he was crying on the phone and by the time I could figure out what he was saying he said his dad was coming, had to go, and hung up."

Jessie put her hands on Julia's arms. "You think something happened to him?"

"Yeah, but--" ...I'm just being illogical, Julia said.

"But what?" Jessie asked.

"I'm sure it's all in my head," she said, about to turn away. Jessie squeezed her tighter.

"Never doubt a woman's intuition."

Blue eyes bored into brown. "No, it's in my head."

"No," Jessie said, "I think you need to go talk to one of the school counselors."

"This is so embarrassing. I'm so sorry I ever--"

"Stop it," Kelsey said. "Silence solves nothing."

Julia shook her head, but said not a word. Jaw quivering, she looked at them, an unspoken apology in her eyes. Then she cast them down, rolling in the saline solution of tears. "I...I think something's going on."

Jessie gave her a squeeze on the shoulder, of encouragement.

Julia continued, trembling: "My dad is acting like he's trying to hide something he knows but won't say. Like the rumor." She wiped her eyes. "And he hasn't been acting like himself. Lethargic. He won't even go to church on Sundays anymore. He ran out of the house the other night after arguing with Mother over church attendance. Dad never raises his voice to anyone. I..."

"Someone needs to intervene," Kelsey said. "Something is going on."

"What if I'm wrong?!" Julia exclaimed, flailing her arms. "I look like a total idiot! At best! I'll shame my dad! I'll be looked down upon at Western Baptist! I'll be--"

"Shush!" Jessie commanded. "You're inventing those scenarios in your head."

Julia sighed loudly, defeated. "I suppose," she said, the last syllable drained and feeble. "I wish I understood why."

"I know," Jessie said, a reference to the previous night's conversation. "I know." The bell rang. "Well, time to see what circus is up today in Student Council," Jessie laughed.

"Don't joke about it," Kelsey grumbled. Julia's face blanched.

"Sorry," she said.

"At least I don't think Cassie will be there today," Kelsey remarked.

Without the spitfire in attendance, the classroom was unnervingly quiet. Without his accomplice, Lucas Garner was rather powerless; Natasha had no one to instigate fights with; and Mr. Eldon thought that perchance he could save the last few gray hairs on his head from turning completely white this year.

Sign painting was always fun; usually Natasha and Cassie would get into some argument over something trivial and the next thing everyone knew, they were throwing water, or sometimes, paint, at each other. It was quite the spectacle to see; everyone mock cheering the combatants on, watching a safe distance away and ridiculing them out of earshot, although once Luke ridiculed Natasha within earshot and she went after him with a bottle of red paint that got in his sand blonde locks and all over his clothes. As of late, Mr. Eldon had not let Cassie nor Natasha out to paint to prevent melees and the fun was over.

It was more fun when they did get into fights, Kelsey sighed to herself. It gave something better for Natasha to complain about at lunch than the lousy sex she got last night. "Natasha, we're trying to eat!" was the angry retort many times growled at the lunch table. "Natasha, we don't want to hear how you caught your boyfriend jacking off to porno tape!" "Natasha, that is absolutely disgusting! Here, you can have my pizza pocket now." "I don't want your pizza pocket." "Well, I sure as hell don't want it now!" "And then..."

She supposed having to listen to the Queen Slut's escapades were a small price for Cassie being out of their hair.

"Where's Julia?" Jessie asked when the lunch bell rang.

Kelsey shrugged. "Tennis tournament."

"Tournament?" Jessie asked, befuddled. "Oh, yeah. Playoffs."

"So did you talk to the counselor?" Kelsey asked.

"Yes, I did. I hope they call her in and get something out of her. She's going to kill me for it though. Nevermind I'm supposedly anonymous."

"You've survived her wrath before," Kelsey said nonchalantly. "I wish I had your guts to confront problems, not merely sidestep them."

"It's never too late to acquire that skill, you know," Jessie said. "When you want to run, you plant your feet and---"

Kelsey stood rigid, her shoulders tensed and legs poised to spring. Jaw clenched, eyes wide open, nostrils flared, as if she had heard a bear in the woods.

"Kelsey?" Jessie asked worriedly. The redhead grabbed Jessie's wrist and led her away. "Where are we going?" No reply.

"Don't say anything, just follow me," Kelsey tersely said, in a rough whisper.

This could only mean one thing--but at school? Jessie asked herself, as Kelsey dragged them into the office.

"How may I help you?"

"My dad is here and he's not supposed to be," Kelsey said, trying to keep calm, gritting her teeth.

The lady looked through the visitor's sign in sheet. Kelsey pointed to the name.

Lee Slevin.

"I'll go contact my supervisor. One moment." She disappeared.

"Oh my gods, Kelsey," Jessie shakily said. He's on campus."

"Son of a bitch came on campus for me, I suppose."

"I can't figure out any other reason why he'd be here, Kelsey," Jessie said. "He's been stalking you."

"No shit." Kelsey saw a pile of hall passes, the fourth period room assignment scribbled out and fifth period being written in, the pen set aside when the lunch bell had rang, the job left undone. She fumbled through the passes, nervously glancing hoping not to be caught.

"What are you doing, Kelsey?" Jessie asked, clutching her friend's arm and trying to get her away from snooping. She jerked both of them back, sending the pile of hall passes astray on the floor and Kelsey off balance.

She had one hall pass clutched in her hand, a white one, the off-campus pass. "Kelsey, let's get all these gathered before they--"

The vice principal came in. "You say your dad is here and he's not supposed to be. Is there a restraining order on him?"


"I can't remove him from the premises," the vice principal said.

Kelsey held up a pass. "But he was going to sign me out and he doesn't have custody of me."

He shook his head, his dark brown hair untouched by gray strands, and a furrowed brow that gave him a menacing look. "Let me check the paperwork to see if your mother authorized him to or not then."

Silence. I damn well know my mom wouldn't let such a thing happen. She could feel his presence, the unmistakable unwelcome male presence she feared as a child, a feeling she had forgotten, but here it was again, resurfacing with a vengeance. She turned her head slightly to the right, Jessie looking the other way, and caught a glimpse of the man she hated.

Leaving the school grounds. Like the dirty rat should.

The vice principle came back. "It's unauthorized," he said, and ripped up the pass.

It had been a good day, Julia mused on the long trip home, the bus passing the barren, dry fields with a blur on the interstate. She rested her forehead on the cold window pane, her hooded sweater tightly wrapped around her head and neck to keep the draft out. Soon she'd be home; the church was going to have a midnight autumn bash after the hell house closed tonight. She was going to be a little late, but she had told them that earlier.

Maybe Justin would be there tonight. Or at least she'd know where he was.

Whoever said time was an absolute was wrong. An hour was an eternity--she recalled times when an hour was but a blur and determined time to be of an subjective nature. Watch how fast people age after a catastrophe in their lives and one too can determine time truly isn't a constant.

The bus pulled into the school parking lot, and deposited its burden at the gym, and roared away, belching blue gray diesel smoke that twisted its gnarled fingers into the blackening sky as Night made its appearance upon the world stage.

"Hey, Justin," she whispered, running over and giving him a hug when she saw that he was okay. "Why weren't you at school?"

The boy shrugged. "Had a protest."

"Protest? And I didn't know about it?"

"It was last minute. It was about six people, including Dad and I."

"That's not many."

"No, but better than none," Justin said. "So how'd the game go?"

"Won most of my games, except one."

"That's cool. How'd the rest of the team do?"

"Not so well."

"Sorry to hear that. You know, you are in a league of your own," Justin said, a grin on his face. Julia giggled, blushing. "No, really," he insisted. "You're like a goddess on that court."

Julia couldn't help but laugh. "I am no goddess!"

"Justin!" the Reverend's voice bellowed. "Get back to your station NOW!"

"Oh shit," he swore under his breath. "I better get back to work before--"

"Before what?"


"I don't nevermind well."

Justin simply left, his shoulders slumped as if he was fearing something. I have a feeling he's not telling the entire truth...

Chapter 29

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Kelsey cursed under her breath, sitting at the red light, waiting for it to turn green. "This is turning out to be a really shitty day."

She glanced in the rearview mirror once again. She couldn't believe her undying bad luck. Not him too. It sucked not seeing Julia around during lunch; now having to fend off the King of Bastards on top of that just seemed a bit much now.

Have to keep Mom and Shana safe. She decided to take a detour, switching lanes abruptly, earning the finger from the guy she cut off. She turned into the gas station adjacent to a major thoroughfare, pulled up to the pay phone, got out, locked the car, and clenched the keys, the edges glistening should the bastard ignore the fact she was in the public eye and proceed to attack her anyways.

The olive green rollerskate was nowhere to be seen. She jammed a quarter in the phone, and dialed home. "Mom?"

"Kelsey, why are you calling?"

"Listen, my father has been following me around all day."


"I don't want you or Shana getting hurt."

"I can defend myself. I'll send Shana out and you don't come home, you hear?"

"Mom, I can't leave you there alone--"

"You do as I say!" Then a dial tone; she gripped the phone, growling at it.

"Fuck." What do I do now? Slowly she returned it to the carriage, letting it go, gravity sliding it into place. Lifting her head up, she watched the cars go by, pondering whether to follow her mother's advice and let the monster do what he will, or try to stop him. A few strands of red hair dangled in her face. Mental note: get a trim, as she brushed the wayward red streaks out of her way.

She walked in the store, got herself a drink, fumbled for the right change, walked out, and leaned against the door of the yellow Datsun pickup, pondering. It's a no-win. Brushing her fingers through her short hair, she compared her two options. Whatever happens to Mom when I'm away I will feel guilty for, no matter what she tells me. She let out an audible, exasperated sigh. If I stay I might get raped too. Or killed.

Death might not be so bad. At least it would be in all honor... An image of Julia's beautiful face flashed before her eyes, threatening her stoic face with tears. It'd be better for her. She won't have some dyke with a secret crush pining away for her in silence any longer... The soda was gone, announced by the loud whoosh of air filtering through the straw. She walked over and threw it in the trash, then unlocked the truck, got in, started it, threw it in reverse, backed out, and left. Home.

"God damn it, Kelsey Loretta Slevin, I told you not to come home!!!" Mother Slevin yelled, pulling her daughter's ear. "You know you could get killed don't you?!!!"

"I can't just leave you here alone with the monster!" Kelsey retorted.

"I'm touched, but putting yourself in jeopardy isn't the wisest thing," Mother Slevin said, shaking her head. "Well, Shana's still here, drive her to church, could you?"

"Yes, Mom," Kelsey said. Got to keep Shana out of this. "Well, where is she?"


"SHANA, GET YOUR ASS DOWN HERE! YOU'RE GOING TO CHURCH!" she yelled up the stairs.

"Kelsey Loretta, you will not yell in my house!" Mother Slevin scolded.

Shana appeared at the top of the stairs. "Do I look okay? There's this guy Kyle who--"

"You look fine. Let's go."

"But you don't understand! He--"

"Let's go," Kelsey said more sternly. "You and I don't have time to spare."

"My mascara is smeared, isn't it? Let me go check-- "

"Damn it, Shana, you're such a pain in the ass!" she yelled, storming up the stairs after her, twisting the bathroom door knob only to find it locked. "Look, Mom's hobbling up the stairs to get you out of there."

"Are you serious?"

Kelsey growled to herself, then faced the door. "Yes, so get out."

She came out tenantively, to see Mother at the base of the stairs. "Get down now," Mother growled. Shana skulked down the stairs, Kelsey following.

"I love you, Mom," Kelsey whispered loudly to her mother.

"You too," she whispered back, Shana not aware of what was truly going on.

"Shana, what's your dyke sister doing here at church?" one of her friends asked.

"She gave me a lift here," Shana replied, cringing inside. God, her sister was such an embarrassment. Couldn't she just dress a little more feminine? Heaven forbid.

"Let's go try to cajole her into going to the Hell House with the group," another one of Shana's friends suggested. "Go scare the queer bullshit out of her."

"Yeah," the first friend suggested. "Hey, Kelsey, want to go to Western Baptist with us?"

"Where is she?" Shana's first friend asked.

"Yeah, your dyke sister," the second asked.

"Probably talking to Julia," Shana shrugged.

"And where would this 'Julia' be?"

"Somewhere backstage."

"Grr. She's supposed to be getting terrorized to death as part of the audience, not mingling with the actors."

"Let's go rectify the situation, guys."

They walked backstage, where Julia was on break, talking to Kelsey as predicted.

"Hey, we asked you to come watch the Hell House play with us, not mingle with the cast, Kelsey," Shana said.

"Bug off," Kelsey growled with a sharp, menacing look. She turned to Julia and asked, "What were you saying?"

"Why is it I have a feeling they're hovering around you like a pack of vultures?" Julia asked, ignoring them standing in a cluster, arms crossed, shooting them dirty looks until Kelsey would comply.

"Because they are," Kelsey sighed, shoving down the urge to flip each and every one of them off. If it wasn't for the fact Julia was right there, she would have, too.

"Wonder what their problem is?"

"I don't know, but they can stick it."

"Kelsey!!!" Julia scolded, but it got no reaction out of the rather detached redhead leaning against the stool.

"Sorry," she mumbled. "I'm sick of my sister antagonizing me all the time."

Julia gave her a sympathetic look. "Sorry."


Shana and her gang began to realize that scowling at Julia and Kelsey wasn't exactly working, so they stomped off in a snit. "So, what were we talking about?"

"Er...I don't remember," Julia said.

"Something about tennis," Kelsey reminded.

"Yeah. The referees in the next division are more liberal with the lines and boundaries."

"That sucks."

"Yeah, but I only lost one game because of it."

"That's good."

"So, how was your day?" Julia asked Kelsey.

"Do you really want to know?"

"Tell me."

"Er. Well, after you left, I saw my dad in the halls."

"Your dad..." Julia said, trying to put him and Kelsey's apprehension together. "Oh."

"And then he tried to follow me home afterwards!" Kelsey exclaimed.

Vague images of Mother Slevin scaring Jessie and her with the Glock flashed through her head. Mother Slevin, crippled and badly scarred, presumably because of him...

"Julia, I'm so scared," Kelsey whispered. "Shana's going to stay over at a friend's house tonight. She told me not to come home."

"You can come to my house if you need somewhere to stay..."

"I can't leave her alone, Julia."

The tall raven haired girl walked over and held Kelsey. "It's going to be okay, Kelsey," she tried to soothe her frightened friend.

"But I have no guarantees!" Kelsey protested. "The fucking bastard tried to kill her before, he'll surely try to kill her now that he's went to prison because he didn't finish the job the first go around!" She couldn't keep a straight face anymore, a few wayward tears streaming down her face.

"No one should have to shoulder that burden," Julia said, holding her tighter. Kelsey gave up trying to act brave and leaned into the embrace, sobbing. There was little Julia could do except be the shoulder for her friend to sob on, running long, strong, agile fingers through her red streaked hair. After a good cry, she sat up.

"I got your shirt wet."

"Don't worry," Julia said.

"I feel better, but--"

"But what?"

"I still have to that dilemma."

"You're not thinking about going home, are you?" Julia asked, more of a command than a question.

"Do I have a choice? A crippled woman and a toughened convict? No comparison! She's going to get killed, Julia! She's my mother, for Christ's sake!!!"

"A toughened convict and a sixteen year old girl--"


"Whatever. Who do you think is going to win? Think, Kelsey. If you're so convinced he's coming to kill your mom, what convinces you he won't kill you too?"

"At least it'd be a noble cause." Julia felt her heart clench at the very thought of losing Kelsey, her lifeless body being covered by a yellow tarp by the police the next morning...

"Who says he won't rape you? Look, God only knows what else he's done. This is a convict. You think raping his own flesh and blood is beyond him?"

Kelsey shrugged. "How am I expected to live with myself if something happens to my mom?"

"You are not going back there."

"Make me."

Oh, I see. You're going to take this as a challenge. You are just so stubborn at times! "There are times that I would let things slide, but, by God, letting yourself get killed will not be one of them!!!" Julia exclaimed boldly.

I bet you she just made my decision for me, Kelsey mused, watching Julia's face, the anger suddenly bursting forth like a busted dam.

Julia continued, "You stay at my house tonight."

"Is that a command or an option?"

Julia narrowed her eyes, but said not a word. "We'll swing by in the morning for you to get your books and some clothes."

Chapter 30

She felt the exhaustion draining from her face. Dealing with her stalker father was quite the emotional burden, especially knowing he was swimming around like a shark before a kill, literally. She felt her muscles twitch, her neck and shoulders aching from the tension and her eyes straining in their sockets, burning from lying awake but unable to close.

She heard the tall, dark haired goddess come out of the bathroom, only a towel around her torso and another one wrapped around her wet hair. She had a mesmerizing charm, Kelsey noted; she was a sweet, innocent school girl yet at the same time was the fabled femme fatale that could cause an accident in a parking lot. Contradictions swam around Julia Williams, little nuances no one understood.

For instance, the angry panther on the tennis court. She laughed when Audrie described in vivid, almost horrid detail the time Julia was so mad she took the tennis racket and smashed it on the ground, popping the tightly laced strings and bending the face into a very grotesque D-shape. She ended up winning the tennis match anyways, after getting another racket, all the fireworks for naught.

She unwrapped the towel from around her head and carefully dried her hair, shaking out what moisture she could from her raven locks. Kelsey tried to close her eyes, but like a cat on a live wire, just couldn't seem to be able to.

Then turn away. You know what's coming next. But before she could roll over, Julia had indiscreetly unwrapped the towel from around her torso and reached for her pajamas, her back facing Kelsey. Great. This is going to do wonders for my imagination. Fuck!

She silently slipped into her pajamas and crawled under her own blanket. She was about to close her eyes when she noticed Kelsey was still awake. "You okay?"

Kelsey murmured an incoherent sound, then mumbled, "I guess."

"You're not being honest with me."

"What? Of course I'm worried sick about my mother!"

"Want to talk about it?"

"There's nothing to talk about," Kelsey grumbled, turning over onto her other side.

"Suit yourself."

Julia shook her head as she got no response from her companion. "Kelsey..." she mewled.

"What?" Kelsey groaned back, in no mood to talk.

"Don't shut me out, okay?" Julia pleaded.

No response from Kelsey. Was she crying? What was running through her head? Julia wondered. Sometimes words just can't do the job. Tentatively, she moved closer, until she was within distance of Kelsey, and enveloped her in a bear hug, no more words said. Don't be alone, little one.

Where'd that come from?

She hated the mornings when she woke up to the roar of the alarm clock. She tended to beat it by a few minutes daily, in time to shut it off and haul herself out of bed to change, eat breakfast, and go to school.

Not this time, though. She was alarmed to find her arms around someone, but then remembered why they were there. Ruefully, she unwrapped her arms from around Kelsey's shoulders and waist and turned off the alarm clock. She felt an ache in her arms from where she was holding Kelsey only moments before, an odd sensation. Whenever Justin held me I never felt like that. Nor Luke. It just felt...right.

Fear coursed through her veins. I'm not homosexual!!!!!! She felt her eyes bug, watering until she blinked. Think I caught the gay germ from Kelsey?

Stop being so damn selfish. Take care of thy neighbor.

That did not happen. A vicious vision flew through her head.

Seventh grade. Or was it? Yes, seventh grade, when girls tend to be meanest towards each other, as each one struggles towards womanhood, to be noticed by Johnny Angel, to fit in a group and look "cool," which often meant one turned against their childhood friends just to be part of the "in" crowd.

She really didn't understand the whole gist, but since it was expected of her, she pretended to. Johnny Angel was no sexpot, he was just an awkward boy with a few scraggly hairs on his chin at best, whose voice squeaked. The girls went gaga over these boys who reminded her more of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt than Brad Pitt. What was the big deal? You'll understand soon enough. You're just a late bloomer like your mom.

Here comes Sweet Sixteen around the corner and I still don't understand. She pulled herself up out of bed, stretched and yawned. Gee, the way I was acting you'd think I was gay. Um... She wandered into the bathroom, turned on the tap, and splashed her face with water, taking the hand towel and patting her skin dry afterwards. I'm not gay, am I?

It was that year that a vicious rumor swept the girls locker room that the class bookworm was gay. They taunted her at every corner, screamed "Rug Muncher," "Dyke," "Queer," and the occasional "faggot" from a numbskull. Her locker was defaced, threatening notes left in inconspicuous places, and the school administration did little to help.

She never saw the girl again after she was hospitalized for trying to overdose on pills.

She felt her shoulders fall in defeat. No, no way she was gay. In a social sense she'd be out on a limb alone, and the thought alone terrified her. She glanced out the open bathroom door, to see Kelsey still asleep. She's had to deal with it. How does she cope with it? She wistfully watched her companion sleep, her back still turned towards her. I should probably wake her. She left the bathroom, padded across the hallway into her bedroom, covering the expanse in three long strides. She sat on the side of the bed, and spoke, "Kelsey, wake up, it's morning."

The red headed mumbled unintelligible utterances. Deciding a bolder course of action was needed, she began shaking her.

"What?" Kelsey muttered, more coherent. "Fuck, morning," she snarled at the daylight, rolling over to shield her eyes.

"Kelsey..." Julia sang. "Rise and shine."

"People who are bright and bushytailed in the morning make me sick," Kelsey grumbled.

"Don't be such a sour sport."

"Whatever," Kelsey moaned.

An evil smirk crossed Julia's face, unbeknownst to Kelsey who wasn't facing her. She reached out and started tickling Kelsey.

"Bah!" the redhead yelped. "Damn you!" She said, writhing and laughing. "Julia!"

"I'm going to keep doing this until you wake up," Julia said.

Like a shot, Kelsey slipped out of Julia's grasp, ran across the room, and with a thud locked herself in the bathroom.

"Err, I had to pee too," Julia sighed. "Guess I'll go downstairs."

She took the phone and dialed home. After three rings the phone was answered. "Hello?" the voice rasped.

"Hi Mom, it's Kelsey."

"Hi dear."

"Everything okay?"


"I'm relieved."

"But that Glock will always be at hand." Mother Slevin coughed. "Don't come home tonight. There was a mysterious call on the machine last night."

"What time?" asked Kelsey, Julia standing right behind her, able to hear snippets of conversation she knew better than to be eavesdropping on, but curiosity got the better of her.

"About quarter till twelve," Mother Slevin said. "Woke me up."

"What was said?"

"I needn't repeat that."

Kelsey swallowed, then said, "If it was a threatening phone call, Mom, report it to the police."

"Go to school dear. Don't be late."

"Yes, Mother." Pause. "I love you too." Pause. "Bye." She hung up, turning about to put the phone back in the cradle when she ran into Julia. "Mother of God! Julia, you sneak!"

The tall girl giggled. "We better head to school."


"Hey, Kelsey."

"Oh, hi, Jessie. Haven't seen you yet today."

"Busy, hectic day. You know, the usual." They strolled to the Student Store, where Kelsey got a cup of hot chocolate and Jessie got some coffee, mixing in liberal doses of cream and sugar until it tasted more like candy. "And you?"

"I'm dog tired."

"You look it," Jessie said, playfully ruffling her companion's hair. "I didn't see your Datsun in the parking lot today."

"Well, yeah, it's sitting in the church parking lot right now."

"Church parking lot? How the hell..?"

Kelsey yawned. "Well, the fucker tried to follow me home."

Jessie felt her guts clench and acid gurgle, but said not a word. But gods help that motherfucker if he ever laid hands on Kelsey...

"Mom told me not to come home, but I did anyways. I can't leave her alone with that monster lurking about!"

"You both need to get out."


"A woman's shelter."

"You know my mom," Kelsey sadly sighed. "She hates leaving the house."

"Yeah. She's too damn set in her own ways for her own good." Jessie took a sip. "You never answered my question though. How did your truck end up in a church parking lot?"

"I haven't finished," Kelsey retorted. "So she told me to take Shana to church. So I did, her friends talked me into going to the Hell House Western Baptist had, and Julia snatched my car keys and said no way in Hell was I going home last night."

"Oooh, someone's aggressive," Jessie said, with a wink.

"Fuck you," she said, swatting Jessie.

"Excuse me?"

"Sorry," Kelsey apologized. "A little hasty to defend, aren't I?"

"Obviously." Jessie took another sip. "I'm glad someone's looking out for your own good when you are too stubborn to do so yourself."

"Um, Jessie?"

The tall, broad shouldered brunette turned her head. "Yeah?"

"Think I could ask a favor of you?"

"Fire away."

"Mom told me not to come home again tonight. Think I could--"

"Yeah, you can stay at my house tonight."

"Thank you, you're a doll!"

Jessie chuckled. "Mi casa es su casa, chiquita."

As if the domestic situation with Kelsey wasn't enough on her mind, there was Justin. He was quiet as a mouse today and cringed a lot, skittish like a rabbit. He may not have been a macho guy like Luke but this behavior was completely neurotic on his behalf.

Second period, she was called into the counselor's office. Although she couldn't get the counselor to tell her who "turned" her in, she smelled it was the doing of either Jessie or Kelsey. The counselor was able to prod just enough to get her to bawl about how everyone around her was falling apart.

Kelsey. Justin. Jessie's run-in with the desk, and in general, her stressful, sleep deprived week, due to playoffs. "Feel better?" she asked after Julia cried.

"I guess," she said, clutching the Kleenex in her hand.

She wasn't too happy she had to leave at lunchtime to travel the other way for today's playoffs. Missing class equated to digging a pit homework wise. Inwardly, she groaned. With internet a constant distraction, it was hard to get it done at home.

She changed out of her school clothes and put her tennis shorts, polo shirt, and warm-ups on in the locker when a commotion broke out.

"You stupid dyke!" one of her teammates yelled at another.

"Fuck you, asshole, I'm straight as they come, bitch!" With every word her voice rose. "Get over it, Natalie, I'm straight, straight, straight! Hetero! Hetero! Hetero! Get that through your fucking thick skull, fuckface!"

A calm voice interjected. "Being so defensive being straight only points out to you having lesbian issues."

The girl pinned the teammate with the comments to the locker. "FUCK YOU, I SAID I WAS STRAIGHT!"

Listening to them act like kids irritated her. The panther whirled about, got up, and stalked over to the scene. "Get over it, guys, geez. Grow up."

"Get your hands off her, Trisha!" Natalie yelled at the bully who had the third teammate pinned to the lockers. Punches flew. Julia dove in, separating them.

"Stop it. We're teammates."

Trisha snorted. "Whatever."

She didn't see Natalie move to get another last punch in at Trisha, but she moved just in time to catch the full brunt of the blow in the nose. "FUCK!" she rumbled as the fist made contact. Everyone winced at the sound of the impact.

There was a frightened silence in the locker room as Julia pinned Natalie with her eyes. No one dare spoke lest her rage be redirected at them. They didn't even move, frozen like rabbits in a field when they sense a predator.

The tall panther touched her nose with her right hand, felt it was wet. No words came out of her mouth; she began to stealthily skulk towards Natalie, her intended victim taking baby steps back, knowing she'd eventually hit a wall and have to pay the piper. Paybacks are a bitch.

"Julia," someone dared to say. People carefully turned their pupils to see what brave soul ventured to say that to the powder keg. "Julia, I understand you are justifiably angry, but pulverizing her isn't going to do any good."

Julia turned around to see who said that, her icy eyes in search of the fool. Lindsay. That girl feared nothing.

Actually, Lindsay was shaking so badly it was hard to take a step, and she was going to have to go pee very badly after this little ordeal was over with. Someone had to do the dirty work though, and the rest of the team were pansies.

Julia hadn't lunged at her yet, so she took a few more steps. "It's okay to be mad. Take a deep breath."

Natalie was about to burst into tears, Lindsay could tell. She probably wasn't going to instigate any more fights with Trisha with her around, she figured.

"And exhale. Deep breath....exhale." She carefully watched Julia. "Deep breath...exhale." The icy glint was softening. "Think you could release Natalie?"

The tall girl nodded. Natalie took running out the locker room double doors like a bat out of hell, stumbling on the pavement, getting up, and running for her life. She was lucky. This time.

[ Chapters 31-33 ]

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