“Are you ready for this?” Zepp asks, tucking his laptop under his arm. He stifles a yawn with his free hand, working his fingers over his drooping eyes.
“I think so,” I say, shaking my head. “I just feel like there’s no point to this. He’s in on it, I’m telling you.” I grab onto two cups of coffee, leading him to our table where the other guys are all waiting. I smirk at Seger’s slumping form, sunglasses sit over his eyes. Chase looks beat to shit. And they didn’t stay up as late as Zepp and me. We poured and poured over hours of footage to get the assholes who ruined our cars. They protected their identities by the ridiculous black hoods once again. Black masks covered their faces, and it was impossible to pick them out. They must have learned from entering my room the last time to not go unprepared.
Zepp also got into the coroner’s office but found nothing. Yet. We’ve decided to set up shop in the maze house after school to find out some more answers. But first thing this morning we are meeting with Headmaster Shaw to discuss my room and to report our cars. Zepp even has the footage downloaded to his laptop so he can prove to him that someone else did it.
“Rise and shine, sunshine,” I chirp in Seger’s ear, rousing him from a grumpy sleep.
“Fuck off, Princess,” he grumbles, burying his face into the crook of his elbow.
“Not nice, asshole,” Chase says, throwing a strip of waffle at Seger’s head.
“Fucker!” Seger bolts up in his seat, throwing the waffle back at Chase, who dodges it with ease.
“Well, now that you’re awake, you want some coffee?” I ask with a smile, sliding the tall glass toward Seger.
“I take back that fuck off, now fuck on,” he quips, pulling me down into his lap. I squeal as he buries his tired face into my neck. “Don’t make me school today, I’m too sleepy. Let me carry you back to bed,” he grumbles against my neck, pulling me into his body.
“As much as she wishes she could, she has a meeting. We have a meeting about our cars.” Zepp says, shoving a small bite into his mouth.
“But beddddd,” he whines like a child, squeezing my body.
“Bed sounds nice, but he’s right. They summoned me. And besides, you have to go to class... I’m still your tutor and all.” I try to sound as stern as I can with him grumbling into my neck, but it’s hard. Especially when he peppers kisses along my neck, tickling me.
"Fine. I'll go to class. But as my tutor, I expect you tonight."
"Mr. West, I wasn't expecting you," Headmaster Shaw says, frowning as we sit together in his office.
"Yes, well, I came here to discuss business with Kaycee." He affirms, placing his laptop in his lap. Mr. Shaw squirms in his seat, adjusting his tie, and finally settles.
"Well, it's certainly unnecessary for you to be in this particular meeting, I'm going to have to ask you--"
"With all due respect, sir, no." He says in a firm and final tone, leaving no questions. Mr. Shaw’s face drops again, anger painting his features. A sharp hint of rage brews behind his eyes, but he’s quick to nod his head.
“Very well then, Miss Cole, I’ve called you here about your room.” He looks down at another piece of paper. His fingers skim over it, barely touching it with his fingertips. Almost painting a picture on it.
“And?” I ask, shifting in my seat.
“And I’m very disappointed, Miss Cole. I thought the last time we had a talk about this with your door art, I made myself very clear. Vandalizing school property is a big no-no.” Zepp narrows his eyes on Mr. Shaw, barely suppressing the anger simmering under his skin. He opens his mouth to speak and defend me, but I don’t let him. I grab his hand, squeezing with reassurance.
“Ah—right, we’re back to this whole blaming me thing again.” Although my voice is even and calm on the outside, there’s a fire of raging, burning in my gut. I want to open my mouth and explode, telling him exactly what I think about his blaming me, but I let my proof do the talking.
“Miss Cole, please--” I slam down over 50 large pictures onto his desk. Each displaying the culprits breaking apart my room. His face pales as he takes them into his hands, flipping through them with wide eyes.
“I have photographic proof I wasn’t responsible for the destruction of my apartment.” He swallows a lump, shaking his head. He places the photos down onto his desk upside down.
“Miss Cole,” his fingers fold together as he leans forward. More rage bristles through him. “It’s desperate and low to blame others, isn’t it? Petty and childish to photoshop pictures of your innocent classmates to frame them for one of your tantrums.” Zepp growls beside me, barely holding it together. His demeanor is usually so soft-spoken and non-confrontational, but now, he wants to rip this guy’s head off.
“You think I made fifty different pictures of them on my own time to cover myself up? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, with all due respect, sir.” I spit the sir out like it’s poison, but he doesn’t notice. His eyes turn to slits, examining me, and he nods.
“Here is your 5,000.00 fine for the damages you caused,” he slides the paper over the desk. “And It goes without saying, Miss Cole, if another incident such as this happens, I will revoke your apartment privileges. Each student earns the right to live on campus and alone, but if this continues, you’ll lose it.” There’s a finality in his words, as his arms crossed over his chest. Victory rings in his eyes and he knows he has me over a barrel. But why? Why would they kick me out? Is that their goal? Hurt me so much I leave? Well, I have news for them….
Zepp begins his discussion with Mr. Shaw about our vehicles. He shows him his video proof, paling the old man even more. And as he yaps on, apologizing for the inconvenience, my eyes wander around the office. They once again land on the photograph hanging on the wall, displaying the four identical-looking boys at Christmas. There’s something about them that seems familiar. I sneak a peek at Mr. Shaw, trying to identify which one he is, if at all. The brown eyes, the blonde hair, and the pointed chin give me the impression he’s the youngest in the middle. Holding a firetruck in his hands and a smile on his face. But who are the other two? And what’s up with the grumpy looking old lady behind them? She stares at the boys like it’s the worst day of her life when Christmas should be the happiest.
Out of the corner of my eye, Zepp stands abruptly, leaning over to shake Shaw’s hand. They exchange a few more words, but my eyes are back on that photo. I wonder if the back of it would give me any more help in identifying them. Usually, old photos have names, dates, and descriptions written on them.
Zepp takes my hand, pulling me up from the chair. I trail behind him, taking in the doorknob of Shaw’s office, confirming my suspicions.
“I lost you again,” Zepp says, squeezing my hand. We weave through the hallways towards our lockers.
“You got plans tonight?” I ask, taking in the jabs and sneers aimed at me. People walk by, shoulder checking me, and calling me names. I’m so used to it by now, it doesn’t even register with me anymore.
“Beyond trying to get into the reports about that missing kid again, no, why?” He halts, narrowing in his eyes at me.
I smile as sweetly as I can, gripping his hand tight. “Wanna do a B and E?” I whisper, taking a step forward. Our chests brush against each other and he groans.
“Seriously?” He whisper-shouts. “Where?” He asks, leveling me with a dangerous look.
“Where we just came from,” I whisper, trying to keep the plan away from the camera’s looking at us. His eyes dart around, looking up at the cameras, and sighs.
“We’ll discuss that later today when we’re studying.” He smirks at that word and I nod. I grab my books as he hangs around, waiting for Chase to come and get me.
“For the record though,” I say, turning towards him as he leans against the lockers. “If you say no, I’m still doing it, anyway.” I shrug, as Chase comes up behind me, and wraps his entire body around my back. He peppers my cheek and neck with kisses, making me laugh.
“Why’re you so broody?” Chase finally asks Zepp’s frowning face.
He grunts, gesturing towards me. “Ask your thieving girlfriend.” I frown.
“No, no, it’s not thieving. It’s for information. It’s just a little B and E.” Chase stiffens behind me, staring between the two of us.
“Ohhhhhh, where?” Chase asks with a little too much excitement.
Zepp shakes his head, “later, asshole. We’re meeting at the clubhouse and then we can discuss where and why and ugh. I can’t believe I might agree to it.” He shakes his head, stalking off into the crowd.
“He’s kind of a party pooper,” Chase grumbles into my neck.
“Just a worrier,” I say, patting his hands on my stomach. “Come on, escort, we’ve got class.” He snorts.
“Finally! You’ve called me by the proper title. Your escort awaits!” He laughs again, picking me up and taking me to class.
“I can walk, ya know?” I say squealing as he drags me down the hallway.
“I’d be a shitty escort if I let you walk,” he laughs.
We make it through the day, experiencing the same old bullshit. Sneers, name-calling, and even some food in my hair. They’ve gotten a lot milder, but it worries me about what’s up their sleeves. For shit’s sake, they locked me in a dumpster. What was about to come? They saw that the name-calling and everything else didn’t seem to bother me.
Seger’s grumpy, sleepy ass walks me through the maze. I don’t even think his eyes are open anymore. He’s leaning on me like a crutch, grumbling every time his body bounces off a hedge. Each time I come through here, I notice the other kids less and less. The moans and groans are still there somewhere, but it doesn’t bother me as much.
“You’re going to have to wake up, ya know?” I say, poking him in the side. He grumbles and leans on me more, throwing me off balance.
“Bastard,” I grumble back, righting him again. “You’re like a huge drunk coming back from the bar. Are your eyes even open?” He sighs.
“You kept me up last night and not in the fucking sexy way. Well, I mean your hacking is a major turn on, but still. I’m so damn tired, I barely made it through history. That boring bastard droned on and on and on, I’m pretty sure I was snoring.” He grumbles, tightening his fingers on my waist.
“You want me to wake you up?” I smile to myself, knowing exactly what to say to get him to perk up.
“Hmm, Kace, please,” he groans, holding me against him, so sleepy.
“Fine, I’ll---” I shriek, as Seger pulls me into the bushes, covering us from prying eyes.
“You were saying?” He asks, rolling us onto the ground. His body hovers above mine. There’s a shit-eating grin planted on his lips, hovering an inch above mine.
“I was going to offer some coffee, but now there're leaves in my hair,” I grin. His warm lips kiss the corners of my mouth.
“I can bathe you later,” he teases, kissing down my jaw.
“Bathe, huh?” My murmur turns to a groan. The warmth of his tongue slides over my ear lobe, clenching my stomach. Every time these guys get me in this position, the hungrier I become. The needier. The wetter, the more I want. I want to give in to their touches and advancements because I want them as bad as they want me.
“You’re so delicious,” he groans in my ear, grinding his growing hard-on into my core. My school skirt falls open as my legs widen for him. Electricity crackles against my flesh, my pussy convulsing with need. I want to bury his face in me again. I want to feel his tongue slide between my folds. Again and again. “So fucking deliciously perfect, you are so fucking…” My eyes pop open at the sound of a very familiar ringtone spilling out of my messenger bag. Worst timing ever.
“Seger,” I rasp, putting a hand onto his chest. Pushing just a little so he backs off, which he does immediately. Relief spills through me as he lifts his head. His eyebrows are high into his longer locks, checking me over.
“You ok? I didn’t go too far, did I? I fucking..” My finger lands on his lips, shaking my head.
“You’re perfect and you just proved it even more.” A smile falls on my lips as I reach up and peck his lips. “I’m just getting... a phone call, and I have a feeling it will not be an enjoyable experience.” I sigh. He nods his head but does not move. In fact, he reaches into my bag himself and stares at the screen, swallowing hard.
“For the record, I’ve seen this guy before, and he’s fucking scary. What the fuck is he going to do when he meets me? Us? Oh God, he’s going to fucking murder us, isn’t he?” His eyes widened in horror at the thought of meeting my father and to be honest, I never thought about it. How would my father react if this relationship with them progressed further and I, in fact, brought three guys home? Like ‘hey dad, these are my boyfriends.’ Huh. Boyfriends…
Seger doesn’t move an inch as I bring the phone up to my ear and cringe. My father’s deep, authoritative voice echoes through the phone. “Kaycee, what the hell is going on now?” He bellows in my ear.
“First you get a fine for a drawing on your door you insisted you didn’t do, and now this? What happened?” His anger seeps through the line, my body tensing. It’s as if he’s in the same room as me, pacing, staring me down, and handing out the punishment in person.
“Someone broke into my room,” I say, looking up and staring into Seger’s eyes. I’m not sure why, but staring up at him, and feeling the pressure of his body on mine, is comforting. It’s like a weighted blanket for my anxiety and instead of drowning in my fear, I’m soaring in comfort. Seger’s like a cloud absorbing my hurt.
“Someone broke into your room….. And destroyed it?” My father asks, trying to build a better picture of what happened.
“Yes, that’s exactly what happened. I even caught them on camera, dad. I tried to tell the headmaster that, but he accused me of photoshopping them.” My dad huffs in anger on the other line.
“Accused you? I’m thinking that prick has it out for you and this fine? That’s five-thousand dollars, Kaycee Addison.” He snarls into the phone like it’s my fault. But I know my father. He’s only working these thoughts out loud, he’s not laying blame on me. “I’m going to pull you out of that shit hole school. If that principal thinks he can pull this shit on the Cole’s, he’s sorely mistaken.” He growls into the phone again and I can feel it in my head.
“NO!” I shout, jarring Seger, as he holds onto me tighter. His eyebrows drawn and smile forced into a frown. “Please, just—don’t pull me out. I have friends here,” I search Seger’s eyes, easing some worry roaring through them. “I like it here,” I whisper into the phone, rearing my vulnerability.
“You—you like it there?” He hesitates, cursing under his breath. “They’ve vandalized your room, your door,....” Fuck me, I forgot about my car.
“My car too,” I grumble, making matters worse for myself.
“And you want to stay? That seems... just….” He’s biting his tongue, he knows how I am. He knows how I work, although he doesn’t always understand it. He knows how I feel about major changes, but most importantly, he knows how I am in the friend’s department. “I’m coming to that campus and I’m going to have an endless discussion with that piece of trash man who calls himself an educator. Lucas will assist me too, I’ll let you know when I’m there, and then we can have a very long meeting.” I agree with him, knowing this is the only way to get him to back off, and he lets me know he’ll be there in a few days once everything is in order. Plus, having his trusted lawyer Lucas at his side makes me feel better about it.
“If my father can’t fix this situation, he’s going to pull me.” Seger cups my face, shaking his head like it’s the worst possible idea I’ve ever had.
“Fuck that, if all four of us gang up on him, it’ll be impossible. Besides, I’ll lock you in my secret basement and never let you go.” What I could interpret as a sinister smile crosses his lips.
“Secret basement, huh?” I ask, shifting a little. The grass underneath my body becomes uncomfortable.
“Yeah—secret, hence why I’ve never shown you. But if that big bad wolf thinks he’s about to come to take my lamb away, he’s in for a shocker.” He grins again, pecking my lips, and stands up. He doesn’t waste a second, tossing me over his shoulder before I can protest.
“Seger!” I hiss, slamming a fist into his kidney. He grunts, but takes off through the maze, letting the blood rush to my head.
“Secret basement, babe, it’s time,” he laughs, slightly jogging towards the house in the distance.
Seger dumps my flailing body onto the couch with a grin plastered on his face, looking more awake than he did ten minutes ago.
"What are you doing?" Zepp asks, looking up from his laptop.
"I'm locking our girl in the secret basement so she can't run away," Seger says, crawling over me on the couch, settling himself back down on me. Zepp snorts.
"We don't have a secret basement, asshole." He says and then snaps his eyes towards me. "But why would she run?" Concern laces his tone, and he sets his laptop down, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.
"My dad found out about my newest fine," Seger snuggles his face into my hair, breathing deep as our closeness settles him down. I wrap my arms around him, running my fingers through the longer ends of his hair.
"He threatened to take her away, so I threatened to lock her up and keep her." He grunts into my hair, holding me tighter.
"He'll figure it out, he's just a hothead." I soothe my hand down his back. His muscles relax under my touch, almost like it's a tiny reassurance for his racing mind. "I don't plan on going anywhere, I promise. I'll fight him tooth and nail." I whisper just for Seger. His head bobs up and down against me, his grip still strong. A tiny whimper escapes his throat for just me, and I sigh. It’s weird to think he’d be that broken up if I left. Would they all? This whole thing between us is so new, but—it’s been good.
“I---” Zepp looks up from his opened laptop again, leaning back in his seat. A deep frown burns onto his face, his eyes dropping towards the screen. “Would it be a bad thing if you left?” His face falls at the words and his eyes won’t meet mine. I know exactly why he’s saying this to me.
“I get it,” I say, trying to think with my brain using logic and not with my aching heart. Pounding against my chest at his rejection, but it wasn’t rejection. It was protection. He wanted to keep me safe from whatever was going on around here.
“Just...to protect you, I don’t want you to leave,” Zepp says, bringing his forest green eyes back to mine. Pain emanates from them. “But if you’re gone….”
“Then they can’t hurt me,” I agree, nodding my head. “I won’t though, you understand that, right?” Zepp nods, going back to work on his computer with slumping shoulders.
“Am I a selfish bastard if I don’t want you to ever leave?” Seger mumbles against my neck.
“Hmm—no, because I don’t want to leave you either.” My fingers stroke through his hair.
“Who is leaving?” Chase asks, barrelling through the front door with a bang. He looks over at me and a dejected Seger frowning.
"Kaycee's dad threatened to kidnap her from here," Seger mutters.
"Errr—it’s not kidnapping if it's her father. Right? That's definitely not a thing. But why would he want to take you away? You can't leave!" Chase protests, jumping on top of me too. Seger grunts from the added weight, but shifts so they're on my sides. They each have a leg draped over mine.
"I'm not leaving," I say again, running my fingers through his thick, blond hair. "I have too much investigating to do still. I don't feel any closer to answers.” And I can't leave them. My boys. My everything? They’re turning into important people in my life. But I don’t tell them. Not right now. I sigh. We've taken so many strides forward, but so many backward too.
"Found something," Zepp says with his nose buried in his laptop. "They finally uploaded the autopsy of that kid. Plus, I found a backdoor to all the autopsy pictures and the police report."
"Smartypants," Seger grumbles into my neck, half asleep. I chuckle, swatting his back playfully.
"What's it say?" My heart beats against my chest. This could be our next clue.
"Ligature marks around his neck show suicide." Zepp breathes. "But there are pictures here too, and they don't look like just a hanging. There's old and new bruises, handprints around his arms, and…." He swallows hard, looking towards me.
"Don't be so dramatic, dude, what is it?" Chase grumbles.
"One cingular stab wound in his abdomen," Zepp says, rubbing his forehead. "How can they put that in a report and put it as asphyxiation? And they ruled suicide. How?"
"Money talks," Seger says, shaking his head. "If they want to cover it up, they probably paid them to just put that shit down."
"But why? Why this kid? Why take him?" I ask the ceiling above me, sighing. Why is any of this happening at all? Why can't it be simple anymore?
"I don't know, we'll have to look into him, I guess? Maybe we can go back through and find a link between everyone?" Zepp suggests. His fingers move across the keyboard as fast as mine.
"This is crazy," Chase breathes into my neck, finding a comfortable position half on top of me, which makes me smile. Here are two huge football players, cuddling with me, together comfortably.
"Crap," Zepp exhales, running a finger along his eyebrow, soothing himself. "This kid went to Talon Prep, just a town over."
"Good, one of our rivals is gone," Seger mutters, gaining a punch from Chase in the ribs. Seger grunts from the fist in his gut.
"Not cool, he had a family, maybe," Chase says, earning the middle finger.
"Yeah—he did. A little sister, parents, even his grandparents. Looks like he moved from…. wait, Kace, where did you go to school before?" My heart pounds in my chest at his hesitation. I didn't have many friends at Latham, but I didn't want anyone dead. Not even the girl who called me stupid or her group of friends who teased me. No. No one deserved to die in such a brutal fashion.
"Latham?" I question, looking over at him. He nods, running a hand down his jawline like he usually does when he’s deep in thought.
"Yeah, that's where he went, like two years ago, and then he moved." My breaths constrict in my lungs at the possibility. But no, no, he moved farther away than Talon. Or so I thought. He said he wouldn't be in contact….
"What's his name?" My throat thickens, weighing my drying tongue down like a weight. Both the boys cuddling with me raise their heads, brows furrowing at my blanching skin.
"Hmm — Elijah Porter." The room spins. Invisible, tiny ants crawl up my arms, tickling my flesh, increasing my need to dig my nails in. Scratch. I need to scratch, but hands hold my wrists. Eli. Eli. My Eli. The Eli I gave most of my firsts to. We didn’t part on good terms. No. The worst terms possible. Screaming. Yelling. Words I couldn’t take back. Words he couldn’t take back. He wanted more, but he was moving. I felt too young to do a long-distance type of situation. And now? Now he died under suspicious circumstances. And I never got to say goodbye. I never got to thank him, for everything helped me get through. Fuck. Eli.
"Fuck," Seger says, holding his palm against my forehead. "Breath, babe, breath. Focus on me and then count out loud. 1, 2, 3, 4," I nod, my breaths laboring with every heave. Tightening. My chest tightens like a vice is squeezing the breaths from my lungs. Burning. My eyes focus on Seger’s, getting lost in the mossy green looking back at me. His eyebrows furrow, concern leaking from every pour. Burning. Every fiber in my lungs burns. Fire. They’re on fire. My lips pop open, sucking in all the oxygen I can get. Panic. Bubbling. "Look around, uh — uh — 5 things you can see, 4 things you can uhh — fuck! I forgot!" His big green eyes meet mine, taking my face in his hands. His forehead presses against mine, making me focus. Focus. Focus on the boy in front of you. On the boy beside you. Focus. Focus. My panic comes down a notch. Tick. Tick. Tick. Oxygen flows through my lungs, easing the pressure on my chest. The vice loosens its grip on me, releasing me from its deadly grip.
"You, you…" A small smile spreads across my lips. I lose my mind in the boy in front of me, those eyes staring down at me with such concern. If my breath hadn’t just left me, it’d leave me again. Every ounce of feelings he has dripped from his eyes. His soul on display for me to touch.
"Yeah," Seger whispered. "After that one time.. I uhh wanted to help more. I wanted to learn what to do for you or anyone...you know. It's no biggie." But it was. He didn't realize the impact his memory made on me. He took those small incidents and stored them away to help me cope in my times of overwhelming anxiety.
I ran my fingers along his cheek, running over the hint of stubble on his jaw. "Thank you." A sheepish smile crossed his lips, a hint of red taking over his cheeks.
"No big deal, babe," he whispers with hesitation, laying his warm lips on my cheek in a lingering kiss. Electricity flickers from his kiss, buzzing through my body.
"You good?" Chase whispers in the calmest voice he's ever used, stroking a hand up my arm. Goosebumps spread across my flesh from his contact, buzzing around me. I nod. Adrenaline pumps through my veins, the aftereffects of the attack roaring through me. My heavy heart pounds against my chest, lungs burning with my breaths. But it’s better. It’s getting so much better with them touching me, grounding me to the spot.
"I will be," I say. "Just have to wait out the aftershocks of my attack." Chase nods in understanding.
"And the counting?" Chase asks with confusion, trying to piece the puzzle together.
“It eases the symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack. It’s a grounding technique.” Zepp says, making my head jerk to the side. He’s kneeling beside me, staring down with concern in his eyes. His fingers run through my hair, gently massaging my scalp. “Who was he, Kace?” He whispers, running a hand through my hair. I sigh, feeling their bodies around me, caging me in. But the caging is calming. Completing. Warming. Life lifting. With their hands on me… they bring me back to the land of the living. I’m no longer falling through the darkness in the endless abyss of anxiety.
“Eli and I went to school with each other, he was my best friend in middle school and into freshman year. He knew about...my touch sensitivity and we fooled around a few times. He—uhh---helped me work through some issues. He wanted a relationship with me, but I couldn’t do it. He was moving away. And then I never saw him again.” My throat bobs as I swallow the painful lump in my throat. We may have left on a sour note, but I didn’t want him to die. Not like that. So young and innocent, he would have graduated just like Magnolia would have. And now he won’t. She won’t. Whoever is doing this is striking people down. People I care about. People others care about. They’re taking this too damn far.
“We have to find out who did this,” I choke out, clamping my eyes shut, trying to hold back the tears burning in my eyes.
“We will,” Zepp says in a stern voice, running his fingers through my hair again. Soothing me. “We will find out who is doing this to him, to all of them, and who did it to Maggie. We will get them, I promise.” The other’s nod with him, easing the mounting tension in my cracking chest.
“So, what about the other people who have been found this year?” Seger asks, perking up from his sleepy state. “What the hell do they have in common with Him and Maggie?” I shake my head.
“Let’s find out,” I say to Zepp and he nods. We move our little party after dinner to my room. Zepp brings his laptop, proving to me that he and I are on the same level. We look into every newspaper report, every autopsy report we can get our hands-on. Chase and Seger rest on my couch, aimlessly watching Netflix while we work. They even fetch us drinks and bring us dinner from the dining hall until we’ve gathered as much information as we can.
“There’s nothing connecting any of them. The only pattern I can find is they’re all under the age of 22. The first girl was 18, the next guy 19, the next guy 21, the fourth guy 22, the next girl was 18, and Eli was still 17 and if we toss Mags in there, she was the youngest at 16.” I shake my head, running my fingers through my hair. “What the hell do they have to do with each other?”
“If it’s even connected?” Seger asks, downing the last of a beer. “What if some of them really are offing themselves? I mean—it’s not unheard of.” He says through a grimace, hating the words on his tongue.
Zepp shakes his head back and forth, swiping a hand down his face, groaning. “No... they’re connected, they have to be. I’ve just poured through all their original autopsy reports, all of them say suicide, but how can that be that many in such a short time? It doesn’t make sense and the pictures don't fit the cause of death.” He shakes his head.
“How can you tell they’re all connected?” I ask, leaning over, as he opens every report in front of me, clicking on the pictures.
“Right here,” he says, pointing to each abdominal shot. “They may have all died from different causes, according to the reports. Asphyxiation, blood loss from self-inflicted wounds, electrocution, drowning, overdose, but there’s something they all have.” He turns to look at us all, in all his dramatic Zeppelin fashion, rubbing his chin.
“You and your shitty dramatics, on with it, dude,” Chase says waving a hand.
Zepp sighs, bringing each picture up side by side until the wound is staring us all in the face. My jaw drops at each picture, instantly turning my stomach at the sight of it. “They each have an unhealed stab wound to the abdomen….”
“In the same place….” Chase leans over us, staring at the screen. His skin turns a nasty shade of green before he backs away, covering his mouth.
“Except Magnolia,” I whisper, fighting my stomach, acid churning like a hurricane brewing inside of me. “She had over thirty,” I motion to her picture, averting my eyes. I can barely look at a normal picture of her, let alone her report.
“And there’s nothing in the report about those wounds, are there?” Seger seethes from above me. “They got away with fucking murder, pulling the wool over on all of us.” He growls now, white-knuckling the back of my chair. “This is bullshit!” He shouts, turning on the ball of his feet, and storms out my apartment door, slamming it in his wake. My eyes shoot to Zepp, who holds out his hands.
“Just let him cool off, he’ll come back.” He reassures me, grabbing onto my hand, squeezing my fingers with his.
“Yeah—talk about a hothead. Fair warning, he’ll probably come back bloody. Every time he’s that fired up, he goes and beats the shit out of someone.” Chase shrugs, sitting back in his seat. Reminding me of the time I saw him in the alley with Carter, beating his face in with his fists.
“So--- we can officially say a crazy serial killer is going around town picking off young adults…”
“With every city official in their back pocket to cover it up…”
“Isn’t that fantastic?” Chase quips from the couch, slumping in his seat. “How great is that? A frigging serial killer running around one of the richest areas in America. Hurrrayyyy.” He waves a finger in the air, frowning at the thought.
“Great,” I grumble. “Now we have fewer answers and a million more questions. How the hell are we going to figure this out?”
"I need a drink," Chase groans from my couch, flopping so he's laying down. "Got any whiskey?" He grumbles, throwing an arm over his tired eyes.
I laugh at Chase, telling the poor soul I don't. "You think Shaw's in on this school thing?" I ask Zepp, staring ahead at my blank computer screen. A moment of silence passes between us, as Zepp considers my question.
"How the hell does this all connect then, I mean, Maggie? How'd they even get a crack at her? If it was them?" Chase asks from the couch, voice dripping in concern.
"I don't know," Zepp finally says, looking between the two of us. "To either of those…. this... this is overwhelming." He runs a hand down his face, sighing heavily. I'd have to agree with him. This whole situation is overwhelming and too much for teenagers to do. If the grown-ups, the ones who protect us and guide us, are the bad guys. Then who will stop this? Who will put an end to the suffering? "I'll look into the victims more, maybe Kace can take a look, and we'll figure it out." I nod, barely listening as my fingers move against the keys.
"And she's off," Chase snorts in an announcer's voice. I grunt with acknowledgment but continue in pursuit of an idea tickling my brain.
"Damn it," I groan, sitting back, wiping a hand across my forehead.
"Who's computer?" Zepp asks, nodding towards my coded screen flashing red.
"You know, I've gotten into every nook and cranny of this campus's technology, but this? I'm blocked." Just like the damn camera I had Tristan look into. I wonder if he'd be able to help again. Although, we hadn't talked in a while or played Angel Warrior.
"I can try," Zepp says, reading my code. He turns to his laptop and begins his frantic fingerings.
"If you two ever have kids, they're going to be super brainiacs or something." Chase yawns, burrowing further into the couch with his eyes closed.
Zepp receives the same red flashing screen I did. "No such luck?" I ask as small snores echo through the room coming from my couch. I sneak a look at Chase, with his arms folded over his chest. His blonde hair is sticking up, but his face. His face looks as peaceful as an angel, making a smile cross my lips.
“No,” Zepp sighs, thrusting himself back in his seat. “It must be blocked. Are you going to tell me whose it is?”
“Remember that B and E I suggested earlier?” I attempt to access one more time, hoping a second method would grant me access, but the computer flashes red once again. Showing me something important is on that computer.
“Why do I feel you’ve done this before?” Zepp huffs, running a hand through his hair. My smile widens at the thought. Had I done it before? Oh, yes—but only once and she deserved it.
My body jumps when my apartment door is ripped open in an angry huff. I leap from my chair and rush over to Seger. There’s blood painting his knuckles and running out of his nose. Sweat pours from his forehead and body, making his tight shirt stick to his skin. “I’m fine,” he grunts out, wiping some blood from his nose.
“But what about the other guy?” My hands roam over his face, his features softening at my concern. He flinches when my fingers graze over his bruised nose and busted lip.
“I’m fine, Princess, I promise. And as for the other guy, he’s walking it off.” He shrugs like it’s no big deal, but I’ve seen what he can do. For whatever reason, I wrap my arms around him, burying my face into his sweaty chest. But I don’t care. My heart breaks to see him injured in any way, but I know he’s injured because he’s hurting on the inside. Hurting because some asshole killed our friend and is somehow getting away with it with no one knowing.
He sighs, resting his chin on top of my head. Gently his lips kiss against my hair, his body relaxing against mine. “You sure you’re ok?” I mutter against his chest. A rumbling laugh vibrates against my cheek as his arms tighten around me.
“I will be,” he whispers back. “This is just how I process this whole…..”
“Crappy situation?” I finish for him. He nods, pulling me tighter.
“Our girlfriend wants to break in somewhere,” Zepp says from across the room, amusement clouding his tone.
“Break in?” Seger pulls me away from his body, cupping my cheeks. “Seriously?” He asks again, raising an eyebrow. “Where?” My smile grows wide at the look in his eyes. Intrigue. Mischief. It all sparks in his devious eyes.
“Headmaster Shaw’s office,” I state as both the boys curse in unison.
“You have a death wish,” Zepp says, pacing the room now. “A serious death wish.” He grumbles again. “And let me guess his computer?” He points toward the screen, still shaking his head in disbelief.
“What are we waiting for?” Seger says through a grin matching mine. “Whatever she wants, she gets.” My partner in crime.
“You two are unbelievable. How the hell is she going to get into his office undetected? If it’s impossible to access his computer from here, how the hell do you expect to get into his actual office?” Zepp asks, throwing his hands all around.
“I have my ways,” Is all I said, as I stared into the eyes of the man about to accompany me on an important mission. And he just smiles back, fully prepared to go to the ends of the earth with me.
Seger's a good partner in crime....just wait 🤣🤣🤣.
Hope you're all still enjoying! ❤❤