“Come on,” Zoe says, grabbing my hand. I’m too numb, thoughts consuming me. “Don’t back down now, Kaycee. Show them you’re brave. Show them they can’t bring you down.” She drags me towards the door of the bathroom. I don’t fight her. I don’t even fight when she pulls me into Calc class.
Before I look around, their gazes burn into me. Staring at the word marking my face. “Don’t back down now,” Zoe whispers, walking calmly to her desk.
I peer behind her, looking for my desk. Still missing. Although we have a new teacher, my desk is still missing. My shoulders slump. My bravado is taking a hit, melting faster than an ice cream cone on the fourth of July. I am a tough girl. I can take hits and name-calling and anything else. But today? It’s all hitting me at once. Laughing erupts from the class, fingers point in my direction. “Dumbass Freak”, spills from the lips in whispers, as I make my way to my perch.
“Miss Cole, I presume?” The teacher stands at the front of the class. Her brown eyes narrow in on me sitting on the window seal and I nod.
“That’s me,” I give my strongest voice, but who am I kidding? A girl can only handle so much. Her eyes check around the classroom, brows dropping in confusion.
“There seems to be a desk shortage,” she mutters to herself, running her fingers through her long black hair.
“There’s not a shortage, Miss Pascal,” I glare back at Carter’s stupid fucking smug face. “Dumbass freak is not allowed in a fucking chair, hence the little birdy perch she’s on.” The new teacher scowls at his vulgar language, putting her hands on her hips.
“Now listen here, Mr. Cunningham, I will not have you speaking to me or anyone else like that in my classroom.” She points a haughty finger at him, trying to sound as authoritative as she can. He rolls his eyes, takes out his phone, and sends something. Her eyebrows raise up as she checks the smartwatch on her wrist. Her tan skin pales and she falls back against the teacher’s desk.
“You wanna rephrase that, teach?” Carter asks, sitting back. Satisfaction roars through him at the sight of her panicked state. Her chest heaves under the hand securing her beating heart. Her brown eyes stare ahead and she shakes her head, lips quivering as she speaks.
“There’s no more room for desks,” She whispers. And that was the last nail in my metaphorical coffin. There will not be a desk for me here.
I sigh, resigned with my fate. I can deal with the invisibility. I can deal with a dildo in my locker and name-calling. But I just can’t deal with today. I look around the room as the teacher starts her lesson. It’s like she’s been in the atmosphere all along. Ignoring me when she asks questions, eyes skipping right over my raised hand. If I needed help with this subject, I’d be fucked. Super duper fucked. A deep sadness settles in my guts, slowly churning into a blazing rage ready to burst free. They’re messing with my education. They’re messing with everything. Taunting me, excluding me from everything. Bullshit.
Chase slumps over his notes, listening intently to the teacher. Every inch of his uniform has wrinkles. His blonde hair is a greasy, disheveled mess. Like he hasn’t touched a shower, let alone soap, for a solid week. From the first time I saw him, up until this past week, he always presented himself as put together. Never like this. Never a mess. But seeing him now, with grey skin and a sloppy appearance, has me wondering what on earth has gotten into him?
The class goes on for what seems like forever. The new Calc teacher is excellent at her job, but I drone out her voice. My mind wanders over to Chase again. He was so kind and caring for the first week of school. He tried to woo me, which was a ridiculous request on my part. I never in a million years expected him to do any of those kind things for me. So now, It’s my turn.
Class dismisses at the bell, and I take my time grabbing my things. No sense in rushing when the kids will just be assholes, anyway. So—I slowly jump off my perch after the last kid leaves, making my way out.
“Miss Cole? Kaycee?” My footsteps falter at the sound of her voice. I stop, turning to look at Miss Pascal. Her tongue darts out of her mouth, covering the length of her lips. Her eyes trained on the other kids in the hallway. “Here,” she whispers, handing over a small package. “It’ll help get that vile word off your skin. I’m... I’m so sorry…” She whispers again, going back to shuffling through papers students turned in as they left. Looking down at the tiny wipe, my eyebrows furrow with confusion. She just... saved me from the humiliation of the day.
I walk to the girl’s bathroom again, taking the little packet of alcohol wipes with me. I smudge the word as best I can and leave the room. I still have a black, inky smudge all over my forehead and two black eyes and a swollen nose. I head to my locker, rolling my eyes. They tapped a white paper to my locker, my medical information on display.
‘Kaycee Addison Cole, Age 8, Autism Level 1, requires support. Suggestions: behavior therapy to support and to develop positive behaviors.’
Crumpling up the piece of paper I’ve seen a million times, I throw it across the hall without care. Fuck these people. I may be a little different than most, but I’m still the same. What I lack in socialization skills, I make up for in computer skills. I don’t require constant conversations, in fact, I loathe them. And it’s ok with me. They may think they got to me by trying to demean me with an actual medical diagnosis. A serious medical diagnosis. But they haven’t. I may feel sad and beaten and I’ll give myself a day to wallow in self-pity. After that? I’m still strong, smart, and I’ll fuck these fuckers over.
Me: no bullshit? I got in a fight.
Me: everyone here is a jerk….. I’m ready to transfer.
I’d never admit that to anyone around me, but Tristan isn’t around here. I need someone to vent to and I can’t do it to anyone around here. I already feel the heaviness of spilling my guts about Magnolia to Zoe.
Tristan: Addi, I swear……. I’ll come to where you are... I’ll kill them all. Did u at least get them back?
Me: errrrrr...I kinda started it.
Tristan: you badass! Fists?
Me: eh…. may have dug some information out of the internet…. and posted it...
Tristan: even more BA. stay safe, stupid.
Me: right back at you, dummy.
I smile down at my phone. Umph! My face hits a very hard back with an umph. Nearly knocking the breaths from my lungs. A hundred bees sting my nose and under my eyes
“Sorry,” I mutter, putting my phone into my backpack. Water forms in my eyes, leaking down my cheeks from the minor collision.
“Kaycee,” my eyes meet the grey of his. Concern leaps through his fallen face at the sight of my purple under eyes, the evidence of my assault this morning.
He stares me down, his hand coming up towards my cheeks. The ghost of his touch whispers along my flesh, down my jaw, and up towards my broken features. I swallow hard, frozen in place, afraid if I move, I’ll spook him away.
Chase licks his lips, eyes wide. His head swings left and then right before he pulls me away with him. He races down an empty hallway with me reluctantly on his heels, fingers digging into my flesh. Finally, he pulls me through a small doorway, into a darkened room, and slams the door shut. A single lightbulb swings above us, illuminating the small space he’s shoved us into.
His grey eyes stare down at me again, concern brewing in his features. His fingertips brush against the purple bruises, taking over under my eyes with a heavy exhale. “Kaycee, are you ok?” He whispers into the small space. My eyes dive toward our shoes, shoulders lifting.
“As ok as I’m ever going to be,” I whisper back through a low, pain-filled voice.
“This — this is…..” His words trail off, eyes burning into the top of my head. His fingers clutch the bottom of my chin, lifting my eyes to his. “It’s so wrong. You need... you need….. to leave. They’re going to tear you apart…” My lips curl in toward my mouth, trying to keep all my emotions at bay.
“I can’t leave, Chase. They can’t beat me down….”
“They’ll murder you,” he says, eyes going wide. “They will tear you apart! Look at your face! Look at this!” His voice escalates into almost yells, until I put my hand over his lips, stopping his outburst.
“I know,” I whisper. “I’ll be ok though, I promise. I’m tougher than I look.” I give him a wobbly smile and I’m not sure if I’m convincing him I’ll be ok with quivering lips. But he has to believe me, there’s no way in hell I’m leaving until I have the answers I’m looking for.
His hand runs down his face, head shaking back and forth. “Are you ok?” I ask, leaving my hand to rest on his chest. His heart hammers against my palm, body turning stiff beneath me.
“What? Me? Yeah---I’m fine.” He says in disbelief that I would even ask such a thing.
“You’ve been missing for a few days, I didn’t see you. I just....” His smile turns sad, as his warm hand comes to rest against mine on his chest.
“I’m fine, I promise. Just... dealing with things.” His shoulders shrug like it’s no big deal. But by the glossy look in his grey eyes, I know it’s something.
“I know... I’m not the best person to say this. But if you need anything, I’m here for you. I-I like you, Chase.” His eyes snap up to mine and despite the situation, he gives me a small smile.
“I like you too.” He whispers, leaning into my touch like he doesn’t want to let me go. “Thank you, Kaycee.” He sighs through his nose, wiping his hand down his face again. “I—uh—I need my iPod back.” He says with his eyebrows raised, holding out his hand. Mischief sparks in his eyes and for some reason, I don’t think this is the last I’ll see of it. I don’t really want to give it back to him, I like this piece of him. Through the music he loaded on there for me, he showed me his likes. His heart.
“Of course,” I give him a small, sad smile, reaching into my backpack and hand it over. “For the record, I really did like the Hartbrakers. Zoe is an amazing drummer... and her---”
“Singing is off the charts! Right?! Just don’t tell her I said that….” We both chuckle together as he tucks the iPod into the back of his jeans. “I uh---should get going. Class and all. I hope…. your face feels better, looks like it hurts and shit. Put some ice on it? That should help.” I give him a knowing nod, standing my ground, as he makes his way towards the door.
“What do they have on you, Chase?” I ask right about the time his fingers wrap around the doorknob. His gaze snaps back to mine, lips parting in surprise.
“How do you….?” He whispers, eyes darting up toward the ceiling, and all around the room looking for the cameras.
“There’s none in here,” I say, pointing around the room. “Dead zone.” I shrug as he nods.
“Just keep your nose clean, Kase. Promise me you’ll stay out of trouble…. and be safe, please.”
I roll my eyes at that, “you know I can’t make a promise like that. A wise man once told me trouble finds me.” A smile breaks out on his face as he nods.
“That it does. I’ll see you later, New girl.” Who knew that one little nickname would bring back the butterflies brewing in my stomach, as his form retreats from the small janitor’s closet. I stay leaned against the wall, looking around the room. Chemicals line the shelves and the smell of bleach permeates the room. What a perfect little nook to hide away in when the world becomes too much on the outside.
I remain against the cold, cement wall for as long as I can. Hidden away from the bustling bullies lurking outside in the hallways, gives me time to think, to regroup. Today has been a bitch. An utter bitch, one I can’t wait to get over with. But I still have four more classes to go to today, and I can’t let them know they almost won. I can’t let them even think they’ve pulled a fast one over on me. So what... I’m Autistic. Yes. It’s me. I have trouble socializing. I have trouble with social cues and relationships. But I’m Kaycee fucking Cole, and I will not idly stand by and let these people try to ruin me for whatever sick game they’re playing.
I make it through the rest of the day without incidence. Floating through the halls like the ghost they wish I was. Invisible, until they want to hurl insults or paper at me. A black smudge sits on my forehead, almost like the red A pinned to my top. I raise my chin in their faces and focus on what I need to do.
By the time classes are over and food is in my belly, it’s tutoring time again. When I walk into the library, Seger immediately pulls me into the biggest hug I’ve ever felt. His arms squeeze around my body, my face resting on his hard chest. A deep breath expands his chest, inhaling the scent of my hair.
“Happy to see me?” I quip. His chuckle vibrates through my body and any ounce of anxiety disappears. I lean into him, maybe needing the closeness he’s offering right now. Even I need hugs every once in a while, and Seger’s hug is the best I’ve felt in a long time. I never want to leave this solid embrace.
“Fuck, New Girl.” He whispers, holding me closer, concern lurking in his voice. My nose tingles with protest from the crushing he’s giving my face, but I can’t bring myself to step away. “First off,” He says, finally pulling away, his eyes examining my bruised face with sadness. Taking in the ugly bruises from the wicked knee I took. “I hope you kick that bitch’s ass and second off, I got a fucking A on a pop quiz today. All thanks to you.” He smiles down at me with such joy and appreciation, my heart leaps from my chest.
“I’m so happy for you,” I whisper, returning his infectious smile. “I suppose you won’t need me now, will you?” I ask playfully, as his eyes roll up to the ceiling.
“Don’t fucking say that. You know, I need you more than ever now. You got me a fucking an A! Where have you been all my life?” He teases as we make our way toward our study table. The library falls into silence as he takes his paper out. There aren’t many study groups in the library today, in fact, there aren’t many people around. I think most study groups have met somewhere else, leaving me and Seger to study, just the two of us.
My heart sputters in my chest at the thought. Just the two of us. His warm body, my warm body…. Man, that hug. I want to slip back into his embrace, just for today. Where the hell is my mind going with this? Stop it. Although, he looks good today with his tattoos peeking out from under his sleeves. The tiny set of white wings has the letter A on display on his wrist. Huh. I wonder what the ‘A’ stands for? At least I can see the encryption now.
“So an A, that’s amazing,” I say taking my books out and put them on the table.
“Here,” Seger says, pushing over the most delicious looking cupcake I’ve ever seen. With purple frosting stacked on the chocolate goodness, it even has sprinkles. Ugh. My stomach turns at the thought of sprinkles. “It’s cupcake day in the cafe, I thought you might want a treat since….” His voice trails off as he runs a hand down his falling features.
“These aren’t laxatives, are they?” I ask, my eyebrows furrowing at the thought of Seger slipping laxatives into a perfect cupcake.
His head jerks back like I’ve slapped him, lips popping open. “Laxatives? In the fucking sprinkles? That’s a fucking crime. Did---oh on.” His voice drops off a cliff, nose-diving into a low rumbling. “They didn’t? Please tell me…” I frown.
“In my pancakes,” my hand instantly goes to my gurgling stomach. It turns like a title wave thinking about the hours I spent wasting away on the toilet.
Seger really, really tries to hold back. Even with his fist covering the grin peeking out from behind it, a laugh bubbles in his throat. He turns his head, trying to stop it from coming out more. His cheeks flame and finally, a throaty laugh fills the library, accompanied by his fist slamming onto the table.
“Oh, oh, no,” he wheezes. “They did not. Oh, oh, God. I’m so sorry, New girl. Oh, fuck.” I cross my arms over my chest, leaning back into the seat. Trying to show him with my frown and deep crinkles in my forehead how unfunny this is. But the more he laughs and pounds into the table, the more I want to join in. When finally the first laugh I’ve let out in a week comes bubbling out.
“It’s really not that funny, you know?” I chuckle, looking at the cupcake again. “Seriously, though, no laxatives, right?” He shakes his head, coughing into his fist, coming down from his fit of laughter.
“Fuck no. I just wanted to bring you something nice, since—you know?” He straightens in his seat, all signs of laughter leaving. He waves a hand toward it, gesturing for me to eat it.
I stare down at the daunting sprinkles. They mock me with their innocence and deliciousness. “Fine,” I narrow my eyes in on his innocent-looking face. “But if I die in the bathroom later….” He snorts, covering his face again.
“Scouts honor, New Girl.” He puts three fingers in the air and the other covers his heart.
I unwrap the paper from the cupcake and take a teeny tiny bite, but I can’t help the tiny moan that escapes. The sweetness fills my mouth like a mind-altering orgasm spilling onto my tastebuds. Seger groans from across from me.
“Fucking hell, noises like that, coming from you, should be fucking illegal.” He bites into his fist, gazing at me. My tongue darts out, licking the purple frosting from my lips, teasing him. Secretly loving the lustful reaction he’s giving me.
I smile, licking more frosting from the cupcake. Letting the tip of my tongue scoop the purple frosting straight into my mouth. All the while, Seger watches with lust dripping in his eyes. I giggle, covering my mouth with my hand.
“Do they have these every day?” He nods, eyes locked on my lips.
“Yeah,” he says through a breath, hands balling into fists on the table.
“Will you bring me one every day?” I ask with pleading eyes, batting my eyelashes at him.
His eyes narrow instantly as he leans forward on his elbows. “Only if you make those noises for me,” his voice dips an octave below his normal voice. My cheeks heat under his scrutiny, but I just nod. Because let’s face it, I enjoy his attention. Before the bullying shit started, we were getting somewhere in that department. Actually, with all of them, I was getting somewhere. Chase was chasing me, sending me gifts, and sharing his music. Seger and I had a connection. Even Zepp and I had a connection. Although they were the prime suspects on my list, the more I got to know them, the less I thought they were capable. It’s just a shame someone is holding something over their heads.
I take another bite of the cupcake, moaning again because I can’t help myself. I point to a few papers on the desk and urge Seger to get to work. “Ohhh now she wants me to work.” He quips, flipping through the pages.
A hand falls on my shoulder, causing my body to stiffen and fall back. I stare up at Oscar, one of Trey’s friends, and blink. “Don’t touch me,” I spit out, peeling his fingers back. “Don’t fucking touch me,” I hiss out again, through a pained voice.
“You think if I brought you something like that, you’d moan for me too?” A disgusting grin spreads across his twisting face. A light shines in his eyes at the prospect of making those noises fall from my throat. But I don’t have time to defend myself.
“The fuck?” Seger asks, dropping his pencil onto the table with a thud. He drags himself up from the chair, eyes dripping in a fiery rage straight from the depths of hell. I almost expect Lucifer's wings to burst from his back along with a twisted tail. His fists clench and unclench at his sides as he stares him down. Ready to pounce on Oscar where he stands.
Seger never has time to take a step, when Zepp comes out of nowhere. Hands on Oscar’s chest, pushing him completely from me. Oscar’s back collides with a small bookshelf, almost knocking some books over with the force. His smile dissolves from his face immediately. An evil morphs Oscar’s face, as he points a finger into Zepp’s chest.
“Step back,” Oscar growls in his face. But Zepp doesn’t step back, instead, he pushes his solid chest into Oscar’s.
Searing pain enveloped my shoulder where he touched and held me. Panic flares through my mind. Dirty hands. Gross hands. Unfamiliar touch. My fingernails dig into my flesh, scratching at the flaring burn on my skin. I know the burn doesn’t exist, but the weight of his hand still sits on my shoulder. When Seger hugged me it felt nice, but Oscar... Oscar flayed me open.
Seger grips my wrist harshly, yanking my nails away from my reddened skin. I swallow hard, closing my eyes. My mind conjures ocean waves crashing against the shore. Like the time we spent on the beach on vacation years ago. One breath in. One breath out.
“Hey,” Seger whispers, his breaths tickling my ear. “You ok?” His grip loosens on my wrist, but his touch grounds me to the spot. My anxiety evaporates into thin air. The heaviness pushing my shoulders down relaxes in an instant.
“You’ll regret that,” Oscar growls, pointing a finger toward the ceiling. “Fucking regret that. Sticking up for her? Dumbass freak?” His chest heaves, face reddening with every word he spouts through clenched teeth. “Watch your back, West. Both of you.” He takes a step toward the boys.
“Fuck off, Sanchez. You’re ruining my tutoring session.” Seger releases my wrist, waving Oscar on.
“And don’t let me hear you talking to another girl like that, especially her.” Zepp heaves out in the calmest tone I think I’ve ever heard an enraged man say. Oscar slowly walks away, dragging his feet against the carpet. He throws his head back, laughing wildly.
“Whatcha gonna do about it?” He says through a laugh, pointing toward the ceiling again. “Good luck, Westies, they’ll eat that shit up.” He giggles more before walking out of the library.
My entire body snaps up straight. ‘They’ll eat that shit up.’ Oh no. The cameras, they’re everywhere here, and they saw. Apparently, no one may protect me or defend me? Seem a bit, odd.
“Are you ok, Kaycee?” Zepp whispers, sitting down next to me. He swallows hard, looking up at the ceiling, and then back at me.
“I could have handled him,” I say with a shrug, staring back down at my half-eaten cupcake.
“Like you handled, Harlow?” He asks, pointing toward my face. I wince at his words, my brain suddenly remembering the bruises on my face.
“Yeah—something like that,” I say, shrugging my shoulders. I could tell him I started it. But I like to keep my skills up my sleeve and not for show. Having Carter know is bad enough, I can’t let these guys know too.
“Well fuck them,” Seger says, looking down at his paper. “Fuck all of them. I’m so done playing these stupid fucking games.“ He mutters into his papers. Continually writing answers down to his extra math problems.
I tilt my head, catching Zepp’s murderous glare towards his brother. He rubs a hand down his face. “What do they have on you two?” I ask, running my eyes between the twins.
Zepp’s entire body stiffens at my questions, eyes bugging out of his ridiculously attractive head. Seger manages not to drop his pencil, as he lifts his head in slow motion.
“Not here,” Zepp says, holding out a finger in Seger’s direction.
“Fuck, but how---”
“I said not here,” Zepp snaps again, covering his brother’s mouth, muffling his explicit words.
“Fucking fine,” Seger mumbles out from beneath Zepp’s palm.
They both stand without warning, gathering their things. “Come on,” Seger grumbles, snatching my cupcake off the table.
“I’m not done with that!” I retort, grabbing my things in a hurry, throwing them in my bag, and taking off after them.
“Then hurry, or I’ll eat it.” Seger doesn’t even turn around to taunt me, he holds the cupcake above his head. Dangling it back and forth, taunting me with its deliciousness.
“Bastard,” I mutter, making two distinct chuckles erupt in front of me. “Double bastards,” I mutter again, falling in step behind them. Their eyes dart around our surroundings bodies tense and taught while walking.
I can’t seem to keep my eyes off their backsides. What the fuck is wrong with me, today? But their butts, they’re so nice and ample. Their wide shoulders compliment them in every way. Ugh. I’m supposed to hate them. When did all this get turned upside down? When you discovered Magnolia might not have told the truth, for some reason. Why would she lie though? Why mention this group of friends, making up stories about how they tormented her, and lie about it all? What’s the point in that?
I huff and puff behind the boys still. Seger keeps a tight hold on to my cupcake until we manage to zig-zag through the maze. Left. Right. Left. Left. Right. And finally, we sit down on two stone benches, next to a flowing fountain. Moss covers every inch of the rock fountain, with weeds and grass coming up around it. It seems no one has taken care of this place in a very, very long time.
I sit across from the boys, only a few feet between us. Our eyes stare at each other, waiting for someone to break into conversation.
“What do they have on you two?” I ask, leaning my elbows on my knees. Zepp narrows his eyes in on me, mimicking my movements.
“The fuck?” Seger mutters, swiping a hand down his face. “How the fuck do you know that?” He asks in shock. “I mean... seriously? How the fuck?” He looks to his brother, who is still staring at me.
“What did you do with Cruel’s phone?” Zepp asks, pursing his lips.
“I asked you a question first,” I state, not giving him an answer. Seger snorts, hitting his hand across Zepp’s shoulder.
“I think you finally found your match, asshole.” Zepp stares dagger’s into Seger’s head but then turns his attention back to me.
“What did you find?” Zepp asks again.
“I want pancakes on Mondays and the French toast on Tuesday’s. I want the bacon, egg, and sausage hash on Wednesday’s…. and the sushi.” I tap my chin.
“Food? You’re thinking of food right now?” Seger asks in exasperation. “Seriously?”
Zepp nods, “a compromise.” He states.
“Biscuits and gravy on Thursdays and Fridays, in fact, I want cafe food every day. And those cupcakes.” I smile, looking over to Seger who perpetually rolls his eyes at my words.
“Fine,” Seger spits. “Fine, fucking, fine. Since your fine ass can’t come into the cafe, we’ll get you some.” I grin at that, rubbing my hands together. Even though it’s their fault I can’t come in, I don’t blame them. Whoever is pulling the strings is responsible for everything. Someone is holding something terrible over their heads to bend them to their will.
“I’ve missed it so much,” I breathe, looking towards the clouds. They’re puffier today, resembling a cat chasing yarn in the sky.
“What did you do with Carter’s phone?” Zepp asks again, breaking through my drifting mind.
“I mirrored it,” I say, still looking up at the clouds until a choking noise brings me back to the two boys in front of me. Seger looks utterly confused with a twisted up expression. But Zepp? Oh — Zepp looks like he wants to drop on one knee to propose.
“You, what now?” Seger asks, throwing his hands all around.
“You’re a genius. And what did you find?” Zepp asks, leaning in toward me further now.
“Nothing,” I say through a shrug, looking back towards the sky.
“Nothing?” Zepp asks, defeat filling his voice.
“Yeah—nothing, until I broke through his AntiEyes.” Seger sighs dramatically.
“Fucking computer nerds. What the fuck does that even mean?”
“It means Cruel had a program on his phone to hide anything and everything he did from the naked eye. But Kaycee broke through it.” Zepp breathes, barely above a whisper.
“You fucking what?” Seger asks with concern. “Jesus, he’s going to kill you, more than kill you.” He shakes his head.
“He already tried,” I say nonchalantly, with a shrug.
“But you mirrored it?” Zepp asks again, bringing me back to the conversation. A wide grin spreads across his face.
“Mirrored? What the fuck does that mean? I’m so fucking lost.” Seger whines beside his brother, tossing his arms about still like a child.
Zepp throws a hand onto Seger’s chest, “go get our dinner.” He demands, without breaking eye contact with me.
“What? Dinner? Really? Why me?” He groans, throwing his head back.
“Bring me back another cupcake,” I plead, folding my hands together, begging him to comply with this one, tiny request. Seger slumps to his feet, shoulders slouched.
“Fine. I’ll get lunch and a cupcake for my pretty little princess.” He grumbles, ruffling my hair as he walks through the hedges, and disappears. “But don’t you dare say anything else until I get back!” He yells through the hedges, making a laugh bubble out of my throat.
“I have something for that,” Zepp points at the bruises on my face. “It’s in the house. Seger likes to hit and ask questions later.” He gets to his feet, holding out his hand for me to take.
I purse my lips, staring at his awaiting hand. “Once he gets back with our dinner, I’ll tell you what they have on us.” He says in a low voice, shame filling his tone. “But it involves Seger too, so he has to be on board.” I nod, putting my hand into his.
“Is it bad?” I ask, following him through hedges, utterly lost behind him. He looks at me over his shoulder and shrugs.
“What do you think?” He asks, raising a brow.
“Well, it must be bad if you’re consistently being told to deny me access to the cafe and actually doing it,” I grumble as we finally make it to the middle of the maze. The house is still in the same condition as before.
“We needed somewhere to get away to. So our dad had a talk with the school and if we repair it and take care of it, it’s our domain and they won’t interfere… We just wanted somewhere to escape prying eyes.”
“Where they couldn’t see you, right?” I look over at Zepp as we stand in front of the house. He nods at my questions, running a hand across the back of his neck. “The cameras are down around here and two more spaces, is that your doing?” I look toward the sky, trying to find the dead camera that had access to the maze.
“Signal blocker,” Zepp says, pointing toward the house. “I got it for this year, so we could have more privacy here…..” He trails off with his words.
“Why this year?” I ask, tilting my head to the side. His tongue pokes out to wet his lips, and he shakes his head.
“Just because….” He shakes his head, closing his lips uptight.
“Because of last year?” His gaze snaps to mine, eyes blinking rapidly. He peeks around, grabs my arm, and hauls me inside the house.
“What about last year?” He paces the room now, just having shut the front door. But I can’t keep my eyes focused on his moving form. I’m stuck gawking at the interior of the house. The walls are gray, with decorations hanging on the walls. A fireplace sits in the middle of the living room with charred logs sitting on the inside. A tiny kitchen sits off the living room, stocked full with appliances and dirty dishes. It looks like their father dragged an interior decorator here and let her go to town.
“Kaycee?” He snaps his fingers in front of my face, again pulling me from looking around.
“I heard about a girl….. they bullied her terrible and…” I swallow the lump in my throat at the thought of her. Every time I tried to talk about her or mention her name, it brings back the ghost of my past. I wasn’t running from her by any means, in fact, I was trying to solve her murder. But her. Even mentioning her, it brought back the pain that made me collapse back then.
“Maggie,” he whispers, voice cracking at the mention of her name. “She was….was so great. So nice, we loved her.” He looks away from me, biting the tips of his fingernails.
“Loved her?” I remember the emails about her dates, she mentioned no names. One went bad, but one. One date went so well she saw them again and again.
He waves a hand, pacing the room. “No, not like that. She was special to us, fit into our group so flawlessly it’s like she should have been here all along. Her and Ainsley were inseparable until…….” He swallows hard again, connecting our eyes.
“Until they threatened you, right?” I ask, taking a step toward him. He nods.
“Yeah — hey, here’s that cream for your bruises. It’ll take away the stinging pain and help reduce the purple….” He holds up a tiny white jar, shaking it a bit. He waves me over, undoing the lid. I stand before him as he dips his fingers into the white cream. With precision and a soft touch, he wipes the cream under my eyes. A hiss escapes my mouth at the coolness of the cream. Much like aloe, a nice coolness spreads across the bruises flesh, bringing much-needed pain relief.
“What happened to Mags?” I whisper, as his finger travels across the other side, soothing the bruise under my eye. He shakes his head back and forth.
“We couldn’t save her,” he whispers painfully. “We couldn’t protect her.” He whispers again, hanging his head. Tears burn at the back of my eyes. Shame fills every inch of him and he can’t stand to look at me while he thinks about everything that happened. But nothing makes sense to me anymore. I thought, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought she had laid everything out for me so I could find her harassers. But what if she didn’t? I just don’t understand.
I lick my lips, wrapping my fingers around his wrist. “And me?” I whisper. “Is it like before?” He raises his head back up slowly, moisture collecting in his eyes.
“Worse,” he whispers. “If we couldn’t save her…... How are we supposed to live with this?” He shakes his head, cupping my face with both his hands.
“I can handle myself,” I whisper, as a laugh erupts from behind me.
“That’s fucking rich. Handle yourself? You got your ass kicked by Harlow in the fucking hallway while she scribbled bullshit onto your forehead. Handle yourself? Fucking joking, right?” Seger scoffs, tossing our dinner onto a coffee table in front of the beat-up couches.
I glower at him, tightening my face. “I have my ways.” I stomp my foot, advancing on him.
“Like fucking what? Stealing a fucking psychopath’s cell phone?” Seger crosses his arms across his chest, advancing on me too. He towers over me, staring me down with the nastiest look he can conjure.
I pout, “amongst other things. I stole his wallet too and his keys.” I shrug, but Seger scoffs at me, waving a hand.
“And you’re fucking lucky, you short little shit, that he didn’t murder you on the god-damned spot! If you’re not careful, you’re going to get yourself fucking killed and I won’t stand for it!” He yells in my face, spit flying everywhere.
“You can’t take Carter on, Kaycee. We’re serious, he’s dangerous.” Zepp says directly behind me.
“I know,” I shout. “I know he’s dangerous! He held my head underwater. I’ve lived through it! But you know what? He’s the only person in this fucking place to give me answers!” I shout right back, letting every frustration bubble to the surface.
“And why the fuck do you need answers?” Seger growls, getting in my face. “Why do you have to come here and stir shit up? Why can’t you go through school and LIVE!!” He screams at me, pulling at his hair.
“Because my best friend was fucking murdered and someone at this damn school is responsible! I WILL FIND THEM!” I yell out of breath and then stop. Oh fuck. Oh no. There it is. I just spilled my guts without knowing it. Letting my stupid tongue work faster than my brain. There are suspects, no matter how well they act. They still could have been responsible for her murder. I swallow hard, slipping out from between them. “I gotta go,” I spit out before I break out into a run towards the front door. But my wonder twins are by far faster than me.
Zepp grabs me around the waist, hoisting me off the floor, as Seger comes to rest in front of me. His eyes are wide, concern sparking through them. “What are you saying?” He whispers as I fall limp in Zepp’s arms. I lean my head back onto his shoulder, forcing my eyes up toward the ceiling.
“Kaycee,” Zepp says directly into my ear.
“It’s a sex tape,” Seger says out of know where. Zepp huffs in my ear, staring his brother down.
“A sex tape?” I ask, looking over at Seger who shrugs his shoulders. “What’s so bad about that?” I ask in confusion.
“The both of us,” Zepp says in my ear. My face blooms red at the thought of them…. together, someone in between them, on tape, but wait.
“Together?” I ask, raising a brow. “Like Game of Thrones together?” I ask, looking between the two of them. Seger rolls his eyes toward the ceiling.
“Well, fucking not like that. I told you, New girl…”
“We share everything,” Zepp whispers in my ear, still holding me tight to him. My feet dangle off the floor. Realization dawns on me.
“Oh... oh... the both of you and..”
“A very fucking lucky lady,” Seger nods his head. “Yeah... no Game of Thrones shit here... just……”
“A twin sandwich?” I ask with a weak smile.
Zepp snorts, “a friggin twin sandwich, she says.”
“Jesus, what other kinds of things will come out of your fucking mouth. So there….. that’s what they have on us. That bitch recorded every second….” Seger grumbles.
“Who was it?” They hesitate for only a moment, having a weird twin-eye conversation. Seger finally throws his hands in the air, huffing and puffing like the big dangerous wolf.
“Fucking Harlow Lacey. Dirty bitch thinks she owns us or something…” He grumbles again, but I shake my head.
“Fucking Omega,” I say going back to her words when she beat my ass. She’s a part of that fucked up group.
“Omega?” Zepp asks, finally setting me back onto my feet.
I shake my head and assume Zepp’s position of pacing the floor. “You asked me earlier what I did with Carter’s phone?”
“You mirrored it,” Zepp said, watching me with a close eye. “Yeah…..” His eyes lit up like a Christmas Tree. “You can see everything he says?” He asks breathlessly.
“Everything,” I confirm with a nod. “Every text, every email, every number that calls him. It all comes through to my computer.”
“Ok, so you are some weird fucking computer geniuses, cool, cool. But you—uh — care to explain to the fucking simpleton over here, what the fuck are you talking about?” Seger asks again, breaking through my rampant thoughts.
I stop pacing and face Serger, “I can see everything Carter does on his phone, it’s linked to my computer. When I stole his phone, I hacked into it, creating a link to my computer in real-time.” Seger nods.
“You gonna marry her?” Seger asks Zepp through a smile, pointing a finger towards me. “Because uh.. she’s like your perfect fucking match. Computer nerds and all.” Zepp snorts, wiping a hand across his lips.
“I’m not the marrying type,” I retort quickly.
“So... what did you find?” Zepp asks, after sharing a weird look with his brother. Seger takes out his phone, ignoring our conversation, and types something out.
“They—they have weird names. They’re like... a cult or something. There’s 7 of them, but I don’t know who they are. They pull the strings.” I whisper, praying to God these two are a part of this fucked up cult of weirdos demanding my blood.
“What do they call themselves?” Zepp asks with furrowed brows.
I lick my lips, debating how to put all their names. “Alpha, Omega, Beta, and Delta. There are a few more names, but they’re odd….” I trail off, not really wanting to get into it. “But, that’s not the weirdest part,” I say, twisting my fingers together.
“Fucking what?” Seger asks with raised brows. “There’s more weird shit?” He asks, running fingers through his hair. Zepp waves a hand for me to continue.
“I traced all their names,” I say, tilting my head as Zepp’s eyes go wide.
“You really need to fucking marry her now!” Seger quips. “Or I will. I need a genius on my side every once in a while.” He snorts as Zepp glares daggers into him.
“Were you able to trace them to anyone in particular?” Zepp asks through a calm tone, despite the ocean crashing in his dark green eyes.
“Just one name,” I whisper. “Every name goes back to the name The Apocalypse,” I whisper and I swear you could hear a pin drop in the middle of the room.
“Well, that’s just fucking great, now isn’t it? A fucking weird-ass cult all going back to the Apocalypse, that’s cool, cool. You know what? I need a fucking drink.” Seger groans as he walks toward the kitchen.
“It’s too early, Seg, you can’t---” Seger holds up a finger, eyes narrowing in on his duplicate.
“I just learned we’re being blackmailed by a weird-ass cult probably headed up by ‘ole fucking Cruel. I deserve a drink.” He says, but stops his movements, looking back at me.
“Wait the fuck up,” He says, stepping away from the open cabinet. “You said your friend was murdered….. here?” He asks as I nod. Stupid. Stupid. Big mouth of mine.
“Yeah,” I say, licking my lips. “They made it look like a suicide.”
“No, no. no,” Zepp says, shaking his head. “God no... don’t tell me--”
“For a fucking genius you sure got yourself knee-deep in some bullshit,” Seger says stalking towards me. “Tell me her goddamn name, Kaycee, so I can spank your ass.” He growls at me, placing his hands on my shoulders. Fire burns in his eyes.
I frown. “I’m not an idiot. Someone hurt her repeatedly, and no one did anything to stop it!” I shout in his face, as a redness takes over his cheeks.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Zepp says calmly. “We protected her every step of the way..”
“Until they used your sex tape against you, right? Then you bailed on her? Where were you when they tried to drown her the first time? Where were you when they tied her up on the football field? Where were you when they mocked her and ridiculed her? Where were you all?!” I shout, body shaking in a fury like I’ve never felt before.
“Who the fuck do you think untied her? Who the fuck do you think brought her lunch in her room and made her laugh again? Who the fuck do you think stopped her ass from getting drowned?” Seger hisses between clenched teeth.
“They tied our hands, Kaycee, you have to understand,” Zepp says, stepping towards us.
“Just like now, right?” I bite out, bitterness filling every inch of me.
“If the fucking press gets wind of our sex tape, we lose everything. Do you know why I have to get fucking tutored?” Seger brings my attention back to his furious face.
“Yeah.. our fucking stepmom. We step one toe out of fucking line or bring any negative fucking bullshit on the family. Dad disowns us like the others. They all brought 'shame’ to the fucking West name and look at them. They’re all living in some bullshit poverty life while my dad wipes his ass with $1,000.00 bills.”
“So if that tape hits….”
“We lose everything. We’re 17, but our dad doesn’t care. He has our stepmom... and he has our little brother there. But she…. she makes it 10x worse because she’s waiting for any excuse to remove us from the company and the will….” Zepp takes a deep breath. “Money isn’t everything, but we need it to survive until we can grow up.” I take a deep breath and nod my head.
“Look, I get it, but I have to find out…... I need to know who did this to her….” I whisper, looking toward the floor. “Magnolia was my best friend,” I whisper again, finally letting my emotions get the best of me. “And I wasn’t here. They moved her away from me……” Seger pulls me into a tight hug, kissing the top of my head.
“Well, you sure walked straight into fucked up Ville.” He whispers against my hair.
“But we’ll figure this out,” Zepp says, pacing the room again. “We’ll find out who did this.” He says again with confidence and stops again. “You came here to investigate. Do you have suspects?” He asks, watching my every move. I swallow hard and nod.
“Yeah, well, I thought I did,” I whisper, holding tighter to Seger. My mind whirls with emotions, the heaviness in my chest finally lifting.
“Who are they, Kaycee?” Zepp asks in a sharp tone, coming closer to us. I swallow hard, it’s now or never. Seger pulls away, keeping me at arm’s length. Both sets of eyes bore into me, as I prepare to tell them everything.
“Magnolia wrote me emails every week. She let me know everything that happened….” I look between the two of them, their faces falling. “Your names, Chase, and especially Ainsley showed up a lot. She mentioned Carter and Piper once or twice, but your names……. they were there again and again and it wasn’t good.” I swallow when they finally realize it. “The way she made it seem, it was all of you who did everything to her.” Seger’s face twists in a rage, as he stalks out of the house. Slamming the door behind him, rattling every window in its wake.
I look to Zepp, who stands still. His body seems like a statue, as his brain mulls over the words I just said. “Zepp, I---”
“What we said earlier? We meant it. We loved Maggie. She was our friend and no matter what they held over our heads, we tried to help.”
“I’ve come to realize that. Unless you’re amazing actors.”
“Not actors. We cared for her, much as you did. But…. there’s one thing.” Zepp says finally turning towards me. “Why do you think they murdered her? She…. she finally…”
“They changed the autopsy report within the first day. Magnolia had over 30 stab wounds on her body. She may have died from drowning, but it was the stab wounds that made her unable to swim. The last email she sent me, she was on her way to a boat party and that was the last thing I heard.” Zepp shakes his head back and forth, his skin turning grey.
“She—she did. We all went. We told her not to go, but Ainsley said she’d be fine. It was her party….. she wanted her there. They were so close. I can’t believe…. she…. she suffered so much…. and we couldn’t do anything.”
“We may not have been able to fucking do nothing then, but now, we’re going to fucking do something about it. New Girl, I have an idea.” Seger says, storming through the house again., “A fantastic fucking idea.” Zepp stops completely, turning towards me.
“Can I read them?” Zepp asks, folding his hands together.
“Read them?” I ask, horror filling me. My most precious possessions. Words straight from her fingertips.
“Yes, the emails. You said she sent them every week?” I nod, twisting my fingers together.
“Yeah, every week. But…. you might not like what they say. She.. she talks about you guys a lot.. and it’s not flattering.” I lick my lips, trying to find an ounce of moisture.
“Let Sherlock Holmes read the damn emails and then ask me about my fucking brilliant idea,” Seger says, ripping his teeth into a sub sandwich.
Zepp bats his damn eyelashes, pleads with me more, and finally, I hand them over. I’ve never felt like they were a threat. They got under my skin and made me feel secure. They had just defended me in the library too. But letting him in on her most personal thoughts makes bile rise in my throat.
“I swear, Kaycee, I’m not your enemy,” Zepp says, placing a hand on my forearm. “We want to figure this out. But we were there with her last year… let us help?” I nod again, as he sits back on the couch, diving into the months of ideas.
“So no one? No one’s going to fucking ask me about my idea? It’s pretty fucking brilliant. I may not be a nerdy computer genius, but you know.” I snort at Seger’s shoulder shrug, as he continues to murder the sandwich in his hand. I sit next to him as he hands over the dinner he brought me. Sushi. The sushi I love and two more cupcakes.
“What’s your idea?” I ask, moaning into the sushi. They both stop what they’re doing and stare at me.
“See, I fucking told you,” he waves a hand at me. “It’s so fucking illegal coming from her.” Zepp’s eyes heat as he stares at me, retorting with a snort. His nose dives back into the emails.
“You have your suspects? I have my sweet-talking. I’ll get you phones and you hack through them.” he shrugs like it’s simple.
“You’d do that for me?” I whisper through a mouth full of salmon sushi.
“I’ll get Harlow’s, that’ll be easy. That bitch has been trying to get back into our good graces for a year. Who else?” I bit my lip. Trent’s pale face next to my shit-filled locker floats by.
“Trent. He filled my locker with shit and slipped up, saying he did it. If he’s one of them….” Seger nods, taking in my suggestion.
“He’ll be a little harder to get to. Seger can’t flirt his way into his good graces, but I might be able to lift it in class. He’s my lab partner in chem.” Zepp doesn’t even look up from the emails he’s staring at, but with all this talk, hope blossoms in my chest.
“And Oscar?” I ask, looking between the two.
“We’ll figure it out, Princess. Now eat your damn cupcake.” He smirks at me, basically shoving it in my face. We continue like that for an hour. Seger and I end up studying more, while Zepp reads through the emails, studying them like a test.
“Kaycee,” Zepp breathes through the silence. Looking at me with his jaw hanging open and eyes wide. “Maggie didn’t give you a complete list of enemies.” He says. “I don’t know why I didn’t catch on. But it’s so obvious the second time through.” He says thrusting a finger into the air.
“Care to elaborate?” Seger asks with a bored tone.
“She didn’t give you a list of her enemies, no. Fuck, Kaycee. Magnolia gave you a list of your allies.” He breathes. “She knew…. she knew the emails were tracked and read…. she was careful…... she knew what she was doing. She set you up to find us…… She wrote to you in code.”
ANNNDDDDDD There it is. Zepp found the code, can you? Because yes, oh yes, they're there. So crack that code, kids. :).