A code. Magnolia wrote to me in code? I studied those emails for months and months leading up to this. But a code? Why hadn’t I picked up on the mistakes before? Simple spelling mistakes I thought were a slip of the hand. Crap. I can hack into the Whitehouse, but can’t crack my best friend’s code? I’m a failure. Utter, complete freaking failure.
“Seek my allies? Trust them?” I ask again, taking my phone from Zepp’s hands. My eyes scan the saved emails over and over.
“That’s what it spells out.” He says, leaning his head back onto the couch. The sun outside sinks in the sky, sending sneak peeks of pink through the windows. Covering our faces and the decorated walls with its gorgeous hue. “That’s every double letter in the emails after she realized what was happening.”
I groan and slam my head into the back of the couch, “How the hell didn’t I know that they tracked every email and read them?”
“Don’t beat yourself up too much. Who would expect that?” Zepp says, patting my arm with his hand, moving in soothing circles. Goosebumps prickled up my arm at the contact with him, sending pleasant shivers up my spine. “That’s an invasion of privacy in anyone’s eyes.” He says thoughtfully, trying to soothe away the guilt churning in my stomach.
“But in the eyes of the fucking Elitest bastards who run this joint, it’s not. They want to make sure their students aren’t sending out fake shit.” Seger grumbles.
“Mags said she got in trouble one day, sent to the office, was it?....”
“Exactly. It was the first month she was here. Kids started going after her, the school officials said she was staining the school’s image. They placed her on some sort of internet probation kind of thing.” Zepp says, running a hand over his forehead.
“Fuck,” I grumble, putting my hands over my face. “I should have noticed! She was so excited that first month... and then her emails changed…..” My voice trails off as the guilt burrows deeper like a parasite in my brain. I should have noticed the change in her emails. I should have noticed the change in her period.
“Like you could have fucking known. Seriously.” Seger growls at me, laying out on the opposite couch with his arm over his eyes, shielding out the setting sun.
“I wish she would have had a way to tell me these things, but her stupid step-dad took her phone away.” My hands slam back into the couch. The frustration builds like magma inside of me, seeping out of the cracks of my body. I’m not sure how many more blows I can take without landing on my ass and not getting up.
“He did?” Zepp asks, raising his eyebrows. I nod.
“Yeah... she told me in her email that he took away her phone so she would focus on studying better.” I shrug, I mean it made sense. Crowe had control issues. Major control issues. He had a serious case of OCD with Addi and Mags. Anything they did. He watched over them with a scowl on his face and an eagle eye. Practically yelling at them to get it done right, or he’d show them how to do it. At least, that’s how Magnolia made it seem.
“He controlled her like that?” Zepp asks, rubbing his chin, and I nod again.
“He was an OCD freak. He expected everything to be perfect. He was always nice to me, but Mags told me some wild stories about him trying to get her to vacuum three times a day or dust. He seemed to control her every move.” I sigh at the thought of him and Dr. Addi.
“Fucking why?” Seger groans from the other couch. “What’s the fucking point in that?” He asks again, sounding more exhausted than I felt.
“No idea,” I say with a shrug, looking down at the time on my phone. “He always seemed so weird with Dr. Addi, too. But seemed to treat them well? I don’t know.”
“Dr. Addi?” Zepp asks with a raised brow.
“Her mom. She was good friends with my mom for a while. She even named me after her. I don’t know what happened to them. They stopped talking suddenly.” I sigh again, a yawn erupting from my mouth. Zepp nods at the statement, eyes zeroing in on my drooping eyelids. Just as another yawn rushes through me. This day zapped me more than I thought. The more I sink into the comfortable couch, the more I want to lay my head on Zepp’s shoulder and snooze. Yeah—that sounds nice. A little nap snuggled up to Zepp’s warm body.
“Let me walk you to your apartment? You're tired.” I nod, no sense in arguing, but I stop in the middle of the room, turning to face both of them.
“This…. this stays between us. What we’re doing and who I am. Right?” They both nod in agreement, a serious expression settling on their identical faces.
“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Seger snorts from the couch, crossing a finger over his chest.
“Stick a needle in my eye.” I finish with a smile. “I’m really trusting you two….” I try to lay it on thick, I need them to understand how important it is for me to stay anonymous. I can’t have anyone else finding out my plan to lure a murderer out of hiding and expose them. They’d probably kill me faster than they already were with this bullying crap.
“You have our word,” Zepp reassures me with a nod. “We will figure this out together, especially now we have more to go on. We always thought……”
“Yeah—I know. You and everyone else, except…. Except for Piper. She told me the first day to stay away from Ainsley.” The boys roll their eyes, throwing their heads back to look up at the ceiling.
“We should steal that psycho’s phone too. She seems like the type of crazy to stab someone in the back.” Seger grumbles, looking more asleep than alive.
“You think she’d hurt someone?” I ask as Zepp and I walk through the front door together.
The night air engulfs us, the sun finally disappeared as we walk side by side. Heading through the tall hedges of the maze toward the entrance, silence surrounds us for once. Finally escaping the moans and groans from frisky students taking advantage of the lack of security. Thank God. The last thing I needed was to walk by someone bumping uglies while walking with Zepp. Hmm — I wonder what he’s like to kiss or — you know. Probably the dominant type. In control when under presser, never letting his feelings show through his expression. Yeah—that’s probably what he’s like. And Seger. Well, Seger is probably wild. I’ve seen him eat food. He devours it like an animal, and that can only mean—
“She hurts herself,” He says, looking toward the ground. A shiver runs through me at the thoughts of the two of them I just had. “Piper puts on a hell of a show for everyone, but we’ve seen her break down. She went to the hospital for some time to get some help.” We walk through the rest of the maze, Zepp leading the way, and finally make it through the mouth. The rest of the campus is dead. The other students must have settled into their homework or dinner by now. So it’s just me and Zepp walking down the dimly lit sidewalk, side by side.
“But why? What made her lose it?” I ask side-eyeing Zepp, as he rubs the back of his neck.
“Her parent’s divorce. It was shortly after that she learned the truth.” He says cryptically, not giving me any more clues than that. Bastard, I hate fishing.
“And that is?” I ask, trying to push him for information. His eyes dart around the abandoned space around us, looking around campus with wide eyes. His burning gaze returns to me, leaning in, letting his breaths brush against my ear.
“Her father wasn’t her father. That’s why she lost it. Her mom lied to her, her whole life.” I stop dead in my tracks, looking up at him like he just revealed he was the Pope in the flesh. My jaw hits the floor while my brain scrambles with way too many theories.
“Who is her father?” Zepp sighs at my question, ushering me on toward my apartment building, shaking his head.
“No idea,” Zepp finally says, stopping outside the entrance to my building.
“Any rumors?” I plead, trying to get a lead on something. That could be the ticket I was looking for. Something real on Piper, because from where I stand. She’s a ghost. No wonder her father—or not father — cut her out of his life like she didn’t matter. In his eyes, they lied to him his entire life.
He sighs, “Absolutely none. They’ve stayed tight-lipped about the whole thing. The only thing I know is, whoever he is, fucked Piper up.” I only nod as we make our way through the dry grass of the cool fall night.
The moon’s imperfections stare back at me. “So—breakfast tomorrow?” Zepp asks through a small smile.
“Pancakes?” I say lighting up, folding my hands together. They don’t compare to my Aunt CeCe’s pancakes, nothing compares to her homemade cakes. But the small taste I got from the cafe’s, they were good. So good. With sprinkles and whipped cream on top—mmm. I’d been scrounging for breakfast since that fateful day they denied me access, and now the gates of heaven opened for me in the form of food. Delicious food. Yum.
“Pancakes it is. Come to the house, I’ll bring it there. Since we don’t have to keep guard anymore. Just uh---be careful. I don’t want anyone to see you coming and going. They might get the wrong idea.” I nod my head at his statement. “And—uh, please be safe.” He adds dipping his head again, his face turning deadly serious at the thought of my safety.
“Of course,” I say through a sigh. I must be careful with whatever I do from here on out. They’re out for my blood or my heart on a platter. But thankfully from here on out, I have two allies who will help me search for a killer and I can cross them off my list of suspects. Them and Chase, although he hasn’t been present as of late. I wonder what Ainsley’s actual role in all this is? Maybe she was a loyal friend to Magnolia.
“Here,” Zepp says, handing me the little jar of cream he used earlier. “For your,” he points to under my eyes were the bruises pulse with pain. A smile crosses my lips at the concern in his forest green eyes, as they examine the damage on my face again. His finger ghosts over the damage with a sigh. We wave goodbye until the darkness swallows his form.
Filing up the stairs at a tiring rate, I make my way towards my apartment. Since the bullying started, I’ve been avoiding the elevators. Kids are mean and all and might make me plummet to my death or duct tape me to the walls. You know — bullying crap I’d rather avoid. This entire day has been draining. Draining on my mind, my body, and mostly on my shattered soul. From the assault on my face, to finally opening up to someone about Magnolia, I’m spent. Utterly and completely spent. If the rest of the night comprising nothing but a hot bath and hot cocoa, I wouldn’t complain.
Tension locks my muscles as I unlock my front door and step inside. As soon as I step over the threshold, the tension bleeds out with my sigh of relief. My sanctuary. My paradise. Home. Peering around my space, inspecting every corner, like I do every time I come back here. Nothing is amiss. Everything is in its perfect place where I left it. The distinct sound of a picture-snapping is music to my ears. My computers capture every ounce of movement when I’m gone and when I come back. A smile spreads across my lips. The simple security measure makes me feel ten times better about leaving this place. No one will ever sneak in here again undocumented.
I set my backpack down onto my bed and sit in my computer chair. The camera from my ceiling blinks on my desk, staring back at me, and I realize. I never had time to look at it again after class. Tracing it back to its original address completed while I was away. With clicking fingers and excitement thrumming through my veins, I check the trace. My heart pounds against my ribs. My entire body leans into the computer screen awaiting the treasure it’s about to leave me.
44 Rosebud Drive, East Point Bluff, California. The world keeps spinning around me, but I’ve finally found the answer I was looking for. I take out my phone and snort.
Tristan: Met the woman of my dreams today. You have some competition now.
Me: Snort. Oh, lord. I feel bad for her.
Tristan: ouch... that hurts my heart.
Me: I finally got a trace back. Would I win your heart if I told you, you were a genius. I could kiss you right now.
Tristan: I’ll be outside your door in five seconds. Say it again, my ego loves to be stroked….
Me: among other things, right?
Tristan: ohhhhhhh you’re on fire today aren’t you. hot fucking damn. but seriously…
Me: You’re a goddamned genius. And I will kiss you!
Tristan: you name the place... and I’ll be there awaiting this kiss.
I snort as we go back and forth a little more. My heart flutters at the thought of kissing him. Maybe one day…..one day I will meet this mysterious man who has accompanied me on life’s journey over the past two years.
The need to find out who put this stupid camera in my air vent fuels me to google. I type the address into maps, crossing my fingers for a close-by address, and then wait. The little circle spins and spins on the screen. Tapping my foot, I click again. And nothing. Google pops up with an error message, stating the address I’m looking for does not exist or hasn’t existed for quite some time. The fuck? My heart sinks into my stomach. The camera goes back to the ridiculous Apocalyptic name, and now? Now it goes back to some bogus address too? How am I supposed to move on when none of this makes sense? Maybe I am in over my head. Fuck. My. Luck.
With defeat, I blacken the screen. My bathtub calls my name, reeling me in like a siren at sea. Singing me the sweetest song it can muster to submerge me in the depths of the water. But it doesn’t have to try too hard, because I willingly enter the tub. Just for one dose of normalcy for a change. My body aches from head to toe from the pounding Harlow gave me earlier. My nose pulsates from the water flowing over it when I splash my face. Almost like tiny bees stinging across the flesh, working their way towards the bruising under my eyes. But I endure it. This is the pain I need, the pain I expected coming into this fight alone. They can beat me. They can shove gross shit into my locker. But they’ll never get all of me. I will find out who did this. No. Matter. What.
Stepping out of the bath felt more like cleansing everything. Not just my body. I cleansed the shitty day from my soul and brought forth a brighter day. The dirt and the grime from the floor vanish down the drain, along with the blackness from the marker on my forehead. In the mirror, the slightest hint of the marker smudged over my skin remains. It’s just another battle scar in my fight to avenge Magnolia.
Me: Play some AW?
Tristan: can’t tonight, maybe tomorrow? Gotta study. Winter break is coming soon. If I don’t make the grades…
me: ahh—step monster will win again, huh?
Tristan: LOL Yeah... can’t have that! Ttyl babe.
My body slumps in my computer chair. He and I haven’t been connecting as much as we used to. We are both busy; I get that, but I miss him. We used to talk every day and now it’s spaced out. I guess that’s what happens with internet friendships, though. We aren’t physically together, so staying in touch is even more difficult. The last few years have been a dream with him constantly in my life. Maybe everything has run its course, or maybe I’m overreacting. It’s tough to miss someone when you don’t know who they really are.
Instead of bringing up a single-player game, I pour over Magnolia’s emails again. Zepp looked over the emails twice and noticed the pattern. I had looked over them a million times and thought they were spelling mistakes. Was there anything else I had missed? A different pattern she used to spell something out to me. The way she misspelled words with two letters was genius. Obviously whoever watched over the email of the school didn’t catch on to what she had to say. But I needed more. If everyone she mentioned in the emails is my ally then who were her enemies? Did she want me to depend on Zepp and Seger for answers?
Worth a shot.
Seger: Left, Right, Left, Right, Straight, Right, Straight, left, House. Just don’t detour or you might lose your fucking innocence.
After a long night’s sleep, the first in a long time, I make my way to the maze house. With the directions firmly in my grasp, I stare down into the mouth of the maze. The cooler fall air descended on the land a few days ago. Although for us a little chilly is 60 degrees, as opposed to the Midwest or even the East coast. Winter there is too bitter for me, I’d never survive snowstorms.
I make my way through the maze, following Seger’s instructions to a T. It’s odd to hear the moaning and groaning so early in the morning, but I guess they need to get their rocks off early. Or they stayed under the stars with whoever they brought here. Chase’s warning from the first day’s here rings through my mind. ‘Don’t go into the maze unless you want to get lost or fucked’. I try to stay away from the heavy breathing, but of course, I’m on the path that takes me right by it. Carter’s unmistakable rumblings come from a bush over. I can only imagine who that nasty man has beneath him at this time of day.
Finally, after what seems like forever, the hedges give way to the looming Victorian-style house. Situated in the middle of the maze, surrounded by its grassy lawn. And what a sight it is to see in the cool morning. Red solo cups and half-naked people litter the cold, dewy lawn. My face twists at the unconscious people lounging in front of their house, lying in the grass like it’s a bed. So much for no one seeing me come this way. I just marched into the lion’s den with a million hungry animals eyeing me.
The feeling of eyes on me has me hurrying up the steps towards the front door. My knuckles bang against the door once, before I’m pulled into the house like a rag doll. Seger grumbles at the sight of me shutting the door tight, after pushing me inside. He grumbles more, wiping at his shut eyes and dear God, he doesn’t have a shirt on. Oh hell. What a sight to see, like a Greek tattooed God standing in front of me. I try to hold in my drool at the sight of his naked, ink-covered chest. But I’m too stunned to move. How on earth does a 17-year-old boy get that much ink?
“I think your chin dropped,” Seger snickers from the couch, in a husky, unused voice. His arm lounges over his eyes and his feet propped up on the armrest. He wiggles into the couch, getting comfortable, but I can’t take my eyes off his body.
Heat fills my cheeks and I wave him off. “How’d you get so many tattoos?” I ask, sitting down in an old recliner next to his propped-up feet.
“A needle,” he smirks back, lifting his arm to peek an eye at me. I snort, smartass.
“Well duh, a needle. But you’re 17, how did you get them.. and so many?” My eyes trail up his torso, taking in the myriad of strange tattoos.
Symbols I’ve never seen line his arms and stomach. A face takes up real estate on his shoulder. A woman smiling, her hair cut into a short bob. A tall forest starts from below his jean line, which thankfully he has on, and grows toward his defined pecks. A fox, wolf, and smaller forest animals sit below his belly button. The little ‘A’ I’ve seen on his wrist before is on full display, surrounded by the Angel Warrior wings. No wonder I’ve seen it before. Hot damn, football is so good to their bodies. Like — really good. I’m practically drooling by the time I make back to Seger’s amused, but heated eyes. He’s been watching me this whole time, checking him out. Unfamiliar butterflies flutter to life in my stomach, dropping below to my core, which is practically purring at the thought of taming this wild man in front of me. I haven’t been this turned on since my adventures with Eli. If Seger keeps this up, I might just climb him like a tree. No—fuck. I shake my head. Get out of the gutter, Kaycee. You have business to attend to. But as Jack Torrance once said: All work, and no play makes Kaycee a dull girl.
“I’ve never had a girl look at me like that,” He growls playfully, pointing in my direction. For the second time this morning, a red blush heats my face, and I force myself to look away from the sexiness in front of me. He’s like every girl’s rockstar wet dream. All he needs is a guitar in his hand and a voice to knock my underwear off. Crap. I’m doomed. Send help.
“And what look is that?” I mutter, forcing myself to stare at the bare wood floors. I can’t look at him anymore with these horny thoughts running through my brain.
“Like I’m that delicious fucking pancake she can’t stop talking about. I can pour some syrup on me, will that make you come over here and---”
“Ugh. Enough. Leave her alone.” Thank fuck for Zepp’s interruption. Like thank fuck or maybe it’s double trouble for me. Crap. Crap. Crap. My thoughts are too bad today. Maybe I should leave and just hightail it back to my room for a while.
“Oh thank fuck,” I groan, standing to my feet. Thankfully, Zepp has his school uniform on, as he makes his way towards us. The last thing I need is another half-naked twin wandering around the house. Zepp places three pancake breakfasts on the coffee table. “I’ve missed these so much,” I practically pant like a dog in heat, digging a fork into the pancakes in front of me.
“Maybe you really should pour some syrup on me,” Seger mumbles with heat behind his words, as I moan into the delicious sweetness filling my mouth.
“If you’re as good as this pancake maybe I will,” I groan again, closing my eyes to savor the flavor I’ve missed so much. When my eyes finally peel open, both the boys are staring at me. I scowl, cutting into another bite of pancake. “Shh—I don’t want to hear it,” I say, holding up my fork and shoving more food into my mouth.
“Yeah—I can’t eat around her, I swear.” Seger groans, digging into his own food. He wiggles in his seat a little, looking mildly uncomfortable. “But to answer your nosy question, it helps when you pay a lot of money, and it feels even better to piss off the old man.” He says casually, shoving more food into his mouth like the savage he is.
I nod, groaning into my own food. “He a bastard?” I ask, staring between the two. Zepp nearly spits his pancakes out at the force of his laugh.
“Something like that,” Seger says through a grin.
“How so?” I ask, taking another bite.
“You should become a fucking detective or something with the way you ask questions.” Seger snorts at me. I purse my lips.
“I’ve been told it’ll get me killed one day,” I say with a shrug, taking the last bite of my pancakes with a groan.
“Well, whoever fucking told you that ain’t wrong,” Seger says, pushing his tray away. He leans back into the couch, leaning his head on the back of it, showing off every inch of his tattooed chest to me. I can’t help but stare at the black ink telling a story before my eyes. My head tilts on its own, taking in more of the symbols, my fingers ache to run over the art. To feel his flesh beneath my fingers and explore — everywhere.
“Well, it’s just a part of my condition, who I am….” I say again without thinking. When my eyes connect with theirs again, I see the understanding in their eyes. There’s no pity like normal, just understanding.
“Well, no matter what it is, it makes you awesome,” Seger says through a lazy wink, not even bothering to lift his weary head from the couch.
Zepp rubs his chin, looking over at me with respect. But curiosity peaks through and I can tell he’s desperate to ask me, to understand everything about me. “I was 8,” I say staring into his eyes. His whole body tenses, fingers stopping their journey over his jaw. “I remember I had such a hard time paying attention.”
Zepp snorts, “So that didn’t change, huh?” A small smile pulls at his lips and I nod, smiling too.
“The doctors were convinced I had ADHD or something like that. I impressed them with my intelligence. I don’t excel at everything, grammar especially. But math, math I get. The numbers speak to me.”
“Hence the hacking?” Zepp asks and I nod in agreement.
“Coding, breaking through firewalls, and getting into people's personal stuff has always come easy. I used to delete my sibling's gross gossip photos when I was 14. I love it,” A dopey lovesick smile passes across my lips, making them laugh. “But when all the tests pointed to something else, my doctors confirmed it, I am autistic. Level 1. I won’t lie, I went through therapies to help my behavior, because believe it or not, I was a lot more spacey back then. I learned how to rein it in. But I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I have. I am what I am, and I’m happy with it.” I shrug, finally looking over at them.
Zepp nods his head, while Seger gives me a silent thumbs up. “That’s all you can fucking be, New girl.” Zepp rolls his eyes at Seger’s brashness but holds his hands under his chin.
“You are who you are and we happen to like you like this,” Zepp says through a panty-melting smile, making me sigh. Seger makes a gagging noise, eyes still closed. His finger points down his throat, while his tongue sticks out.
“By the way, I got you something, New girl. It’ll be like Christmas morning for you.” With his eyes still closed, he pushes his hand into the creases of the couch. Searching beside him and under him, he finally flings two solid objects at me. I put my hands up with a yelp, as they clamor to the floor with a thud.
“Smooth,” Zepp deadpans, crouching down to hand me two touch screen cell phones. Seger waves a hand in the air, grumbling.
“Like we talked about. Harlow.. and hell, even Oscar,” Seger says through satisfaction, a smile pulling at his lips. My heart sputters in my chest.
“It was like...12 freakin’ hours ago how the fuck did you?” I gape at the phones in my hands, pressing the buttons on the sides to light them up. Harlow’s phone is most definitely hers. Sparkly pink and a photo of her as her background. Oscar’s phone is a plain background, with no identifying features. Which seems to suit him.
Zepp snorts, “You saw the lawn?” He questions and I nod my head.
“Yeah, they’re still out there, half-naked. Ugh, I even heard people in the maze.” I shudder at the thought of Carter again. All naked, grunting, and — My hormones are running the show today, apparently. I can’t keep my head on straight with all this alpha testosterone poisoning the air.
“But wait—how did you get Harlow’s without her noticing? You didn’t—you know?” My horny green-eyed monster rears her ugly head.
“Ohhh, New girl, are you jealous? You sound jealous.” He cackles, rubbing his hands together in victory. My blush deepens. Damn these boys and their flirty ways.
“No,” I huff.
“I wouldn’t sleep with that hag, even if my dick was about to fall off and she was the cure. She just got a lot to drink... had fun.. and since I saw some smart ass girl pick a pocket, I thought I could do the same. She didn’t even notice and stumbled away.” He shrugs his shoulders like it was no big deal.
“I’m so proud,” I snort, staring at the phone. I look at the time and sigh. “I must run back now and start the process with both of them. With any luck, within an hour, it’ll be done and I can dump them somewhere. I don’t want the cult getting suspicious.” I stand still, staring at the phones, tucking them into my backpack.
“New girl has a good idea, I think I’ll rest for another hour or so. Go to class... when I feel like it.” Seger says through a yawn, wiping a hand over his eyes. He settles into the couch further, like he’s about to fall asleep.
“Uh, no,” I say in a firm voice, putting my hands on my hips. I march toward Seger and hit his bare chest. His eyes fly open as I stare down at him. “Your grades can’t take it.” He frowns.
“What are you my mother now?” He groans, poking me in the center of my still blackened forehead. Zepp snorts from across the room, slinging his backpack over his shoulder.
“Someone needs to keep you in line, might as well be her. She could probably kick your ass.” Zepp says, trying hard to keep back his laugh.
“I do have a mean nut kick.” I grin in victory as Seger sits up straight in his seat, placing his hands protectively over his groin.
“Fine, Mommy, I’ll go put my uniform on.” He grumbles as I get out of his way.
“I’ll walk you back to your apartment,” Zepp says, gesturing for the door. “I can even cover for you if you want.” He says, running a hand on the back of his neck.
I nod as we head out the door. “That would be great, I need to get these hooked up ASAP,” I say, making our way out on the front lawn, toward the maze. The naked bodies that littered the lawn have left, leaving trash in their wake.
“Anyone clean?” I ask, pointing toward the trash. Zepp smiles.
“It’ll get cleaned,” He says.
Zepp walked me back to my apartment thirty minutes ago and sent a text confirming he covered for me. He flexed his own computer skills by doctoring a note stating I was with the doctor and could be back. Which suited me just fine, because breaking into two phones is a process.
Harlow’s phone proved easier than Oscar’s. Her’s didn’t have the AntiEyes installed, much to my surprise. So every message, every email, and every phone call stayed on her phone. She didn’t have as many messages from Alpha on her phone, leading me to believe it was a hierarchy. The more you proved yourself, somehow, the higher up you got. The only thing Harlow’s phone proved was she was Omega. The lowest of the low. Alpha praised her in the text messages repeatedly for breaking my nose. Prick.
Oscar’s phone proved more difficult. Just like Carter’s. AntiEyes hid everything until I could break through it. He was on the same text chains as Carter and after confirming back and forth between the phones. I confirmed Carter was Beta Alpha’s second in command. And Oscar? Delta. Whatever he is in charge of, it places him right up there with Carter and Alpha. But who the fuck is Alpha? And the rest of them? Tracing both phones back to their origins leads me back to what Carter’s did. The Apocalypse. No address. No real name. Even the numbers associated with their phones lead back to the end of the world.
The moon rose into the sky by the time I was finished. So much for actually going to class today. I rattle off a text to Seger and Zepp, letting them know I’m on my way for my sushi dinner. I holed up in my room for the entire day, going through Oscar’s phone until everything disappeared from the screen. It seemed to me someone discovered their phone disappeared and panicked. Although AntiEyes would keep normal people out, it didn’t keep me. Thankfully, I had gotten everything I needed to see before it went blank. The only downside? No mirroring could happen if I didn’t physically have his new phone. So on my way towards the maze, I dump his phone on the ground. Like he had lost it at the party. As I make my way through the mouth of the maze, I throw Harlow’s phone through the bushes. Hoping she’ll find it later, thinking she dropped while drunkenly stumbling around. I cross my finger she’ll find it instead of buying a new one. Harlow’s phone got very special treatment from me. Very special. Tons and tons of unnecessary viruses and porns now bog down her phone. She’s so low ranked, I’m confident nothing super important will come through to just her. I see it all through Carter’s phone, anyway.
I walk into the house like I own it, only giving a small knock before entering. Seger is in the same place I left him this morning. Shirt still off, but now, fuck no, he’s in a pair of tight jogging shorts. Showing off his tattooed, muscular legs, and no shoes or socks. I take back the wet dream from before. This is even better. Damn, my hormones sure didn’t cool their jets. Instead, I’m hornier than I was before. Apparently, I need some action that I haven’t craved in years.
“Don’t worry, Mom, I went to class.” He says through a grin, staring at me with the same intensity as this morning. Bruises line his inked chest and a fresh cut bleeds down his cheek. I stand over him, dotting a tissue across the bleeding gash, furrowing my brows.
“What happened?” I whisper, looking over the cut intently.
“Just football,” Zepp says, entering the room from the kitchen carrying a plate for me.
I take the plate and sit next to Seger’s unmoving body, biting into the sushi he brought me. “Do you ever tire of beating the shit out of people?” Seger snorts, swiping a piece off of my plate.
“Nah—it’s too enjoyable.” He licks each finger and goes back to sitting back looking like a dead man.
“So?” Zepp asks in anticipation. We decided not to text, email, or say anything outside of these walls in case of spies.
“Confirmed,” I nod, taking another moaning bite.
“Urghhh, New Girl, don’t do that beside me unless you want me to throw you on my bed,” Seger grumbles half asleep. I smile at the thought and flick his exposed nipple.
“In your dreams, handsome.” He yelps, covering his chest with his hand.
“So both of them? Seriously?” Zepp asks, sitting back in the chair. I nod my head, going on to explain to them their names and how much was on each phone.
“You don’t think they suspect something, do you? His screen just went black in the middle of snooping like someone flicked a kill switch.”
“As long as you’re protected on your end and they can’t trace it back to you. It should be fine.” He says with a shrug.
“All this nerd talk is making me tired. Peace out, beautiful.” Seger looks over at me with a wink and stumbles to his feet, ruffling my hair. I slap his hand away as he laughs, heading toward a door across the room.
“You sleep here?” I ask with a raised brow.
“Only occasionally,” Zepp says, falling back into the couch. His fingers rub along his eyebrows, trailing down his drooping face.
“Thanks for dinner, again,” I say making my way into the kitchen, setting the plate into the sink. There’s more than a sink full of dirty, smelly dishes before me. Caked with old food and even some mold. I sigh, turn on the water, and find an old scrub brush.
“You don’t have to do that, we have someone who takes care of it,” Zepp says waving a hand above his head.
“Clearly,” I huff, finding a dishwasher beside me. Cobwebs cover the front of the buttons and it is bone dry on the inside. From the looks of it, it hasn’t been used in years, but today, it’ll get its fill. They brought me dinner, so I’ll repay them with someone I don’t mind doing. As I get into the groove of washing dishes, occasionally gagging at the mold sticking to plates, a soft melody plays from behind me. The soft strumming of taut strings, plucking between fingers, takes me away from the dirty dishes.
“You play?” I ask, turning off the water. Zepp just nods, adjusting the guitar on his knee, continuing to pluck the strings between his fingers. He sits on a tiny kitchen table, resting his foot on the chair in front of him. Every worry. Every ounce of stress melts from his face. Like it has transformed him into a better land, where none of this exists. His body sways back and forth with the soft melody echoing through the kitchen.
“It’s beautiful,” I whisper, watching his every move. It’s always been amazing to me how beautiful music can be. I may not be the best judge of music in general, but it’s always fascinated me. Bodhi tried to play the guitar once and tried to teach me too. But I never understood it. It didn’t click in my brain. Just one of those things, I'm not good at.
Zepp continues to play for me as I do the dishes. I’m still not convinced anyone comes and cleans for them, but it’s the least I can do now. They bring me every meal, as long as I meet them here. And doing the dishes has never bothered me. Although—these dishes are close to making me puke. When all the dishes are in the working dishwasher, I lean back against the counter. Zepp starts into a faster-paced song, moving his fingers quickly along the strings. Strumming like his life depends on it. I could watch him get lost in his music forever. The melody he plays sends goosebumps down my arms and a shiver down my spine. The way he sways as he plucks the strings with both hands hypnotizes me like a metronome’s needle. Where Seger looks like a rockstar, Zepp plays like one. Ugh.
“You want me to walk you home again?” Zepp asks, lifting his eyes to mine. A soft smile explodes on his face, probably taking in the dopey love-sick look in my eyes. I nod. I definitely don’t feel safe walking the dark campus by myself. Or even going through the maze alone. Every time I come through it, hearing the groans from other students, I feel eyes on me. Watching my every move. Right now, that’s the last thing I need.
Zepp and I make our way across campus, successfully slipping through the maze with no incidents. “My dad tried to get me to play family business B.S.” Zepp shrugs, running a hand on the back of his neck.
“Ahh, right? He expects you guys to take over his studio?” He nods, lips peeling back.
“Not exactly our type of future, but what can we do? We’re being handed a multi-billion dollar company. Anyone would be happy with that, right?” His head hangs.
“Well—if my dad tried to hand over what he did, I’d say no.” Zepp smiles at that, a slight blush taking over his cheeks.
“You mean to tell me, you don’t want to take over the erotica scene?” I snort, pushing on his shoulder, nearly knocking him over.
“God no. I wouldn’t do that.” I say through a laugh. “I’ll leave that to my dad.”
“You going to become a detective then? FBI? They could always use a brain like yours.” He pokes a finger into the side of my head, lightly tapping. I shrug.
“Nah—I…. I’m not sure what I want to do with my life. But it certainly isn’t what my parents are doing.” He nods at that, our steps faltering in front of my apartment, hiding in the shadows of the night.
“What do you want to do with your life, Zepp?” My body turns towards his, looking up into his wide eyes. His lips part, like no one, has ever asked him before.
“I... I don’t know….” He stammers. “I’ve never... thought about it.” My face falls at his admission. Never? Ever? Why wouldn’t he think about it? Isn’t that what every kid dreamed about?
I swallow hard, “Well, think about it.” I whisper. “And then let me know. Let me know what you love to do.” I smile, stepping back away from him. The shadows consume him again, my steps continuing backward.
Ah geez, I mentioned this was super slow burn right? 😂😂😂 I mean...we are getting there...her little harem is slowly assembling. lol.