Ethan had little success. By the time he’d gone to the warehouse, it was empty. We weren’t sure if it had always been a temporary location or if my escape had somehow catalyzed their exit, but the Boss was gone. Our best lead was Sheagul’s work, which we knew the Boss would come after sooner or later. It was a waste of time to pursue vague hypotheses about him when we knew he’d show up.
“The Boss wants two things,” Ethan concluded. “Sheagul’s power source and you, Jamie. We know he’ll come after both, so we just have to be prepared.”
We were talking in Randy’s kitchen, which looked as if it didn’t get much use except maybe the microwave. I spun back and forth on a stool. “All I really have to do is go back to school and he’ll find me,” I said.
“He could send someone else after you like he did with Crystal,” Ethan pointed out. “That wouldn’t get us any closer to the Boss.”
“He’s not going to send any more high school students after me,” I replied. “I know what I’m dealing with. You’ll be on alert, ready to help if necessary. I need to get back to the library anyway. One more book, and we’ll have the complete manuscript.”
Randy cleared his throat. “Speaking of school, it starts in about fifteen minutes and Gary is going to kill me if I ditch again.”
“Alright, but I’m going to be near the campus. Send me a signal if he shows up,” Ethan said reluctantly.
Randy and I left immediately in his Lamborghini, arriving in the parking garage just as the warning bell rang. Our first two classes were not together. “If you need anything text me, okay?” I told him.
“Alright,” he said a bit nervously. I reached out and squeezed his hand, giving him a smile of encouragement. I walked him to his class and watched as he sat down in his seat. I made it to my class just as the bell rang, and only after sitting down did I realize that everyone was staring at me. I hadn’t had any makeup to cover up the bruises on my face.
Behind me the whispers spread like dandelion seeds and I could almost feel the eyes in my back. The teacher started the class, saw me, stopped talking, and walked back to his desk. He picked up the attendance sheet. “Jamie, you have missed a few days of school,” he said, pretending to consult the paper. “I hope everything is alright.”
“I was in a car accident,” I lied easily and looked down as if I was embarrassed, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed the teacher scrutinizing me. He didn’t believe it, probably because my injuries didn’t really look like the type you get from a car accident. At least he had the good sense not to press any harder. I ventured a look. He was writing on a sticky-note which he pressed onto the attendance before setting it out for pickup.
“Well, I’m glad you’re feeling a little better,” The teacher addressed me again. “Come see me after class, and I’ll get you all the assignments you missed.”
I nodded and class continued. I’d hope to touch bases with Randy in-between first and second period, but now I’d be stuck learning about make-up assignments. I studied Sheagul’s manuscript from the handwritten notes I’d taken last night while the teacher lectured since he couldn’t expect me to know any answers after having missed the last few days.
When the bell rang indicating class was over, I was still completely focused on Sheagul’s work, and had to quickly shove it back into my backpack so that no one noticed. While the teacher had spent the entire class not looking my direction, now he was staring at me as a reminder that I should stay after. As the other students hurried out the door I stiffly shuffled up to the front. I’m pretty sure I had a few cracked ribs.
The teacher continued to stare at me, and it was starting to make me feel weird. Not “I’m in high school” weird, but actual weird, like he knew I was hiding a lot more than just the source of my injuries. “Um, I’m here to get my make-up assignments,” I mumbled.
“Right, right,” he said jumping up from his chair to sort through the last week’s classwork. He began making a list and I stood shifting from foot to foot. “So a car accident, huh?” he asked trying to sound casual, but failing miserably.
“Uh-huh,” I responded shortly.
He continued to jot down notes as he glanced up quickly and back down. “It looks like you took a pretty good hit to the face.”
“From the airbag.” If he’d ever seen an airbag deployed he’d know that was a lie, but most people haven’t seen an airbag deploy.
“Hmmm. Well here’s the list of reading that covers the lectures. Test is next Friday, so you’ll want to catch up by then. Tomorrow an essay is due on chapter 9, but since you were…in an accident, I’ll give you until next week,” he said.
“Great, thanks.” I turned to go, wanting to get away as fast as possible, but the teacher reached out and grabbed my hand. I tensed. Could the Boss be recruiting faculty now?
“Jamie, if you ever need to—talk about anything, you can come to me, okay?” he said.
No, this guy wasn’t on the Boss’s payroll. I nodded, pulled my arm away from him and hurried out the door. I was almost late to the next class.
This class was biology, and the teacher didn’t even look up long enough to notice me, but all the students noticed. By now everyone in the whole school new about my puffy face. The teacher quickly outlined an assignment and we got to work. I couldn’t pull out Sheagul’s notes because we were supposed to be working with our lab group, so it would have to wait.
We were making a diagram of a plant cell. Apparently, they’d started yesterday, so I was behind. One of the students handed me a marker and told me to color the Styrofoam nucleus. I complied without a word as the others began shaping other essential organelles out of Styrofoam.
“So Jamie,” one of my lab members said. “I heard you were in a car accident.”
“Looks pretty nasty,” the boy commented.
“Well, it hurts if that’s what you mean.”
“Was the crash in Randy’s Lamborghini?” He asked as if he had just caught me red handed. I rolled my eyes.
“No, I saw Randy driving to school today and his car was fine,” one of the girls said. “But you were in the car too, Jamie.”
I rolled my eyes again. A car crash wasn’t anything to get excited about in high school. But a new couple hooking up, now that was juicy stuff. “He gave me a ride.”
“I heard you two were holding hands this morning,” the girl continued as if this significant piece of gossip was the last straw. I didn’t take the bait and continued coloring my nucleus. “Are you and Randy dating?” she asked, since I wasn’t going to pour out my heart.
I noticed the other lab groups surrounding us lean in closer as if they couldn’t bear to miss this revelation. I sighed. I wanted to keep Randy as uninvolved as possible, but it was a little late for that, and since everyone already thought we were dating, denying it would cause a bigger stir. “Yeah I guess we are now,” I answered. I really hoped this wasn’t going to come back and bite me.
“I knew it!” the girl said triumphantly and a ripple of whispers spread outward from our group. The teacher looked up and glared, but he was too late. Pretty soon the whole school would know that too.
Once I finished the nucleus I pulled out my phone and texted Randy. “Just told everyone we’re dating. Sorry?” I wrote. I hoped he was okay.
Once class ended I hurried away before I could be accosted by a bunch of high schoolers wanting to know about my new boyfriend. I wanted to get to Randy. He hadn’t responded to the text, and I wasn’t sure how he’d take it, or if he was even safe. Afterall, the Boss could show up at any minute.
I sped to our English class, dodging around students who, by the looks of it, had already heard the news. When I reached the door to the class room I practically ran into him in my hurry. When Randy saw me, a grin spread slowly across his face. Well, at least I didn’t have to worry about him being angry.
Randy’s grin made me realize, that someday when he grew more comfortable with his height and stopped slouching perpetually, found a few more classy clothing options, and cared a little less what people were thinking, that he’d be a good catch. Someday, some girl, somewhere was going to look up at Randy and he was going to grin like that and she would melt. They’d live happily ever.
But not today. “How are you doing?” I asked pointedly.
“Great,” he said. Then he leaned in close. “Should we hold hands or something to make it look more believable?” I reached out and laced my fingers into his. His hand tightened around mine.
“Everything normal today?” I asked pointedly again.
“Yep,” he said still grinning. We were blocking the door and causing a bit of a traffic jam, so Randy stepped inside gently pulling me after him. For a minute, I thought the whole situation was ridiculous. And for a minute, I wished I really could be Jamie. I wished I really could just be an anonymous girl in an average high school who now had her first boyfriend. I wished my biggest worry was our first kiss, not whether he was going to get murdered. For a minute, I wished my life was normal.
We sat down next to each other and I leaned in close and whispered in his ear. “We need to go to the library for lunch—“
One of the boys in the class walked by and slapped Randy jovially on the back “Hey, man. Nice!” Nevermind. High school is a nightmare of idiocracy.
I continued. “If we can get the last book, we can check it out and then in art class we can—“ I was interrupted again. Our teacher, a woman not much older than me, almost as small and regularly mistaken for a student stood over my desk. She was not one of those young teachers that was cool and hip. Instead she seemed intent on proving to everyone that she was the dictator of her classroom. The bell rang as I looked up at her. She was staring down at me with a look that was meant to scare me back into my chair. I suspected she was like this in high school as well, and if that was the case, why did she ever decide to teach?
“Jamie,” she said as if I was about to be led to my death. Given the circumstances, I’m sure she didn’t know how accurate that might prove to be.
“Hello Miss Jersack.”
“You are to report to the office immediately,” she handed me the summons. “Please take your belongings with you.”
The green slip indicated that I was to meet with the school counselor. I looked over at Randy, pointedly. Of course, I wasn’t sure all the other pointed things I’d done had sunk in, but hopefully this would.
“Well, get going before you interrupt the class,” Miss Jersack said.
I grabbed my bag, and stood up. “I’ll see you at lunch,” I whispered to Randy before turning and leaving the room. Miss Jersack waited in silence until I left. The halls were deserted and eerily quiet. I was hoping this was just a concerned counselor following up on a concerned teacher’s report and not something more sinister.
The office was on the other side of the school and I kept my eyes open, but I arrived without incident. When I handed my green slip to the secretary she told me to wait in the chair outside the counselor’s office. She stared at my face the whole time. I slumped into the chair as if I was a bored, uncaring teenager, but I stayed alert. Anything could happen.
It was five minutes before the counselor opened the door. “Jamie!” she exclaimed sympathetically. “Look at you honey. Do you need anything?”
“I’m fine,” I mumbled.
Mrs. Vallone was more like a kindergarten teacher than a high school counselor. She gushed over everyone, always talking in this voice that was louder than average but made you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Everyone loved her. Maybe kindergarteners aren’t that different from high school students. I don’t know. Because I was a “foster kid” I had to meet with the school counselor about once a month to “make sure everything was okay.” But this wasn’t a routine meeting.
“Come in my office, Jamie,” She said, helping me up gently as if I was a fragile old lady. “Let’s just chat for a bit okay?”
She ushered me into the office and closed the door. I sat down in the plump chair in front of the desk, and she sat as well. As was her custom, she smiled sympathetically in silence, hoping I would pour out my heart to her first. As was my custom, I remained stonily silent waiting for her to break first, which she always did. “I heard you’ve had a bit of an accident, Jamie,” she said finally.
“Car accident,” I clarified uselessly. For all her motherly concern and kindness, Mrs. Vallone was a trained social worker. She would know the signs of abuse even if they had been subtle. There was nothing subtle about the blows the Boss gave me. She looked at me with pity.
“Jamie, you can tell me anything,” she said. “I will keep our discussion confidential.”
“Except in certain circumstances where you are legally required to report it,” I snapped.
She was annoyed for an instant before the pity returned. “I am only looking out for your best interest Honey.” She paused again, hoping I would spill my guts. I pondered what she’d do if I actually poured out my heart and told her the truth. Probably get angry. Even a woman like Mrs. Vallone wouldn’t be patient enough to tolerate a story as crazy as the truth. “We both know it wasn’t a car accident, don’t we?”
I remained silent. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do. We both knew it wasn’t a car accident, but the problem was, I didn’t know who I could blame. Ethan, my supposed foster dad? Then they’d be after him, and I couldn’t have that. Randy? Obviously not. Another random high school boy? I couldn’t get a kid in trouble for something he didn’t do. With more time to think, maybe I could have created a believable story about being mugged or something, but I was distracted by the Wizard of Oz who was sitting on a shelf unprotected for anyone to take and the Boss who at this very moment might be setting a trap for me or Randy, or just stealing all the Sheagul documents. Oh and I hadn’t slept at all last night. And my injuries hurt. So I couldn’t at the moment think of a plausible reason why I looked like a human punching bag.
Mrs. Vallone sighed. “Jamie, I know this is hard, but I’ve got to ask, have you been to a doctor?” I shook my head no. Silence seemed to be working as well as anything. I decided to stick with it. “Do you have any other bruises? Maybe in places I can’t see?”
When I didn’t speak, the counselor leaned forward. In that moment I had no doubt that she was truly concerned for me. “Honey, you are not in trouble okay? You didn’t do anything wrong. I know this is really hard and you’re probably scared, but Jamie, I need you to tell me who did this to you.”
There was no way I could answer that, and I was worried she’d never let me go if I didn’t. If she didn’t let me go, I couldn’t get the book from the library. Randy would remain unprotected. Ethan wouldn’t know what was going on. I had to get out of here. The rising anxiety in my stomach wasn’t helping me think clearly, and Mrs. Vallone sensed it. She was about to try again when there was a knock on the door.
“I’m busy,” she called out loudly in a very un-kindergarteny voice.
“Ms. Vallone? I think this concerns the student you are speaking with,” the vice-principle called from behind the closed door. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise.
The counselor stood and walked to the door. “Just a second Hon, I’m so sorry about this,” she said kindly. She opened the door just enough to slip through and closed it leaving me alone. I had a feeling things were about to get messy.
Not even a minute passed before the door opened again. Mrs. Vallone came back looking a bit relieved, but I forgot all about her when I saw who followed. The Boss walked in confidently and closed the door definitively behind him. He smiled and I stood without thinking and backed away, stopping only when I reached the wall.
“Jamie, as I was just telling the lovely Mrs. Vallone, I’m from child services. The social worker you usually see wasn’t available so they sent me. I heard you’ve had a rough couple of days,” the Boss said.
I was feeling like a cornered cat, and the Boss could tell. He casually patted the side of his waist, an action the school counselor didn’t even notice, but he was sending me a message. I could just make out the bulge where the gun was hidden. If I made the wrong move he’d probably kill the counselor first, me second. I saw hatred and revenge simmering just below the surface of his cool eyes.
“Jamie, it’s okay, honey. Everyone here just wants what’s best for you,” Mrs. Vallone soothed.
The Boss’s grin grew at the irony of this statement and I wanted to laugh. And I wanted it kick him in the head, which perhaps is a thing a kindergartener would want to do, but maybe we’re all a lot more like kindergarteners than we’d like to admit. If I did get the chance, I’d make sure that kick really counted for something.
“You know you could help other kids from having to go through what you did,” Mrs. Vallone tried.
“Who’s hitting you Jamie?” the Boss asked bluntly.
When I was a freshmen in high school we had to read The Scarlet Letter. (Yes I did go to high school once upon a time.) At the moment the Boss asked me who had abused me I felt much as I imagine Hester Prynne did. When I read the book at the age of fifteen, I couldn’t really understand why Hester would stand silent while the very man who was guilty asked her to reveal her partner’s identity. I stood with the Boss and Mrs. Vallone, it occurred to me that whether Hester had loved the minister or not, she could not confess. No one would ever believe her. If I were to suddenly tell the truth, that the man claiming to be from child services had recently beaten me senseless, no one would believe me. He was asking me the question, knowing I could not answer. You never know when your study of the classics will come back to you with ironic helplessness.
Mrs. Vallone didn’t appreciate the Boss’s bluntness. She glared at him. But since I remained silent, and there was no more dancing around the issue, she took a blunt, though softer, approach as well. “Jamie, was it your foster father?”
I kept my mouth closed. The Boss’s end game was to get me out of here, away from the school so he could exact his revenge. I needed to try and prevent that.
The counselor tried again. “Was it your boyfriend, Jamie?” I flinched involuntarily, a fact that both adults noticed immediately. “Yes, I heard about you and Randy, honey.”
The Boss’s smile crept up. He, until this moment, had not known Randy was still involved. I wanted to whack Mrs. Vallone for destroying his safety. The Boss wasted no time in using the information. “Is that a boy at the school? Perhaps we should call him in and talk to him as well.”
“It wasn’t Randy, okay?” I growled. “He doesn’t know anything about it. He thinks it was a car accident just like I told you.”
“It’s okay, Jamie, alright,” Mrs. Vallone soothed. “We believe you, Hon.” She sensed my rising tension.
“I think we need to remove Jamie from the situation,” the Boss said in what was supposed to be thoughtfully sympathetic voice. Mrs. Vallone bought it. “At least until we can investigate further.”
“No! Please don’t,” I cried, trying to appeal to the counselor. “I like it here. Please.”
“We don’t know if she is safe in her current situation, and I can’t live with myself, knowing that I’m allowing her to be in danger,” the Boss continued. Mrs. Vallone was nodding.
“Just for a little while,” she agreed. “I’m sure once this gets cleared up, you’ll be able to come back.”
The Boss grinned evilly which should have been a dead give-away to anyone in the room, but Mrs. Vallone wasn’t looking at him. “It’s only temporary, Jamie,” he said with a little too much glee. “Will you please come with me.”
I was glowering, but I had no choice. The Boss would not hesitate to kill the school counselor, and I was cornered. He opened the door to the office and held out his arm indicating I should go in front. Reluctantly, I stepped out and as he stepped close behind me I felt the hard metal of the gun’s barrel brush against my back.
“Hopefully we’ll see you soon, Jamie,” Mrs. Vallone called. “Let me know how everything turns out?” she requested of the Boss.
He smiled. “Of course. This way Jamie. I’m parked in the visitor parking.”
We walked together across the hallway and out of the office, the metal barrel of the gun that was pressed against my spine invisible. In the hall outside the office, the Boss hissed quietly. “Don’t think I won’t shoot you Honey. Because I will. One wrong move and you are dead.”
I scowled but continued on. This was tricky. He had a gun to my back, and I had no doubt that his hand was on the trigger. Disarming someone isn’t difficult, but I had to keep the firearm from discharging, or there would be a firestorm on campus. Besides, an innocent bystander is always at risk in such situations. Third period was only about half over, and so I didn’t have to worry about crowds, but I’d have to act fast, when the Boss was not expecting it. If I could get the gun, just long enough to release the magazine, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to extract myself from the situation.
We reached the doors to the school, and I slowed and raised my arms to push them open, the Boss reach his free hand around me to hold the door so it didn’t slam in his face. I sprung around, grabbing the barrel of the gun and twisting it sideways, hoping both to aim it away from me and to wrench his finger far enough away from the trigger so that he couldn’t pull it. He let go of the door and grabbed my hair yanking it with the one hand, while pulling hard on the other, trying to gain control of the weapon. Before he could pull my body away by the hair, I kneed him in the groin. He released my hair, but not the gun. I used both hands to grasp the gun and release the mechanism even as he was attempting to get it aimed at me again. He pointed it at my chest and pulled the trigger just seconds after the magazine clattered to the floor.
Now that the gun was useless, I let it go and kicked the magazine away. He swiped me off my feet to the floor, and I hit with a painful thud that took my breath away. The Boss loomed over me seething and I pretended to be in too much pain to move. His foot swung back for a knock-out kick to the head, and I uncurled rapidly, grabbed his leg and used the momentum of the kick to twist and throw him off balance. He hit the floor and I jumped on his back, wrenched his arm behind him and then slammed his head against the ugly brown tile of the high school floor.
The hit was hard enough to daze him, and that’s all I had time for. I jumped up, grabbing the magazine for the gun and ran. The gun was under his body, and I couldn’t expect him to have come without spare ammunition, but there was no reason to leave him with all of it.
I ran through the hallways, twisting to avoid anyone and waiting for pursuit, but if the Boss was up and searching he’d been too slow to follow. After I’d turned enough to be sure I was temporarily safe I stopped, dodged into a supply closet, and hid.