Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chapter Fifteen


His beige trench coat flapping in the cool autumn wind and a host of dark clouds swirling overhead, Dan marched toward the front entrance of Karla’s Cakery, prepared to be nauseated by the greasy, sweet smells that fill every slop-selling bakery in the world. As if his day hadn’t been annoying enough- heck, this whole week had been a pain in the butt, starting with his worry over his sister and self-torture over a student.

Monday had begun with low-rumbling thunder, his annoyance with poor study habits gripping him as soon as he’d revisited the grades on the Tess papers.

Kids like Rose could certainly do better. She was smart, so why the blankety-blank wouldn’t she apply herself?

Did people like Brian Cruise enjoy growing cobwebs on their brains while they engaged in immature behavior- like smashing donuts on young women’s heads?

He’d never understood kids like Brian but he wanted to. Despite fully deserving Rose’s punch in the nose…Oh, hell.

Dan pulled the glass door open.

Brian needed a swift kick in the butt, a slam against the wall and a bit of antagonizing.

Then, once he’d been beaten into submission, a good counselor.

But Dan didn’t usually work that way.

His hands in his pockets, he stopped beneath the dangling pumpkins and cardboard cut-outs of cherub-looking children dressed in various costumes. Thank God whoever had decorated this place had abandoned the typical Halloween décor for something more cheerful and innocent. He’d never been a horror fan, so the oodles of coffins, witches and werewolves displayed during this time of year only invoked the feeling of being forced through an endless haunted house.

Many of his fellow Christians deemed this time of year as being Satanic and rightfully so, given the background on the Halloween “holiday,” but most people didn’t celebrate for that reason. He understood the fun behind it, but must he participate in the ridiculous parties and other such nonsense?

He’d been asked to chaperone the school Halloween dance – no doubt because he was young and muscular- and he looked forward to that like he looked forward to a visit with his parents.

OK, so it might have been interesting to hang out with some of the kids, get to know them a little better. It might have been a nice break from sitting at home on the weekends, worrying about Allie; but he’d be subjected to more fake gore, the real horror of the party being the mountains of junk food.

Like the crap sitting inside the glass display case in front of him. Nothing but a bunch of sweet nightmares, guaranteed to eat holes in someone’s teeth and spike their blood sugar to unfathomable levels.

And feed bacteria.

He knew Ryan occasionally slipped stuff like this to Allie and it was all he could do not to go on a psychopathic tirade.
Most people hadn’t a clue how taxing this slop could be on the immune system, especially for someone like Allie.

Very few people understood that eating preposterous amounts of sugar was akin to swallowing slow poison.

Frustrating as hell.

How could anyone sell this stuff, let alone spend so much time making it appear artistic and beautiful? He’d readily admit the cake with the pumpkins and the farmhouse looked enticing. But knowing the main ingredients- lard and powdered sugar- he nearly gagged.


His chirping phone signaled that he’d received a text, so he ripped it from his side pouch. Normally he’d tune out Ryan’s messages at a time like this, but he’d been far too worried about Allie to ignore it.

The message on the screen had nothing to do with Allie, however: Hey, Bro, I’m inviting Rebekah over tonight. Cool with you?

Dan felt like he’d been stuck in a chemist’s tube and covered with a highly reactive chemical to test his volatability. As if he hadn’t been agitated enough, now Ryan wanted to invite Rose to the house.

Somehow his heart managed to flutter and the lump in his throat felt like it would burst through his larynx. Rose in my house, Lord, how can I possibly deal with that right now?

No doubt he’d been worried about her. Hadn’t seen or heard from her since Monday and Ryan refused to grant him any details of their visit, the little punk. He’d a good mind to say “no” just for that reason.

“Can…can I…help you?”

Dan looked up. Across from him, coffee gurgled into empty pots and slightly to the right of that was the entryway to the kitchen. A woman stood there, her long, golden-red spirals nearly identical to Kelly’s, her green eyes equally as striking. But apparently she wasn’t as bold, as she held her white frock closed in front of her and stepped timidly out of the back.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “The girl working lunch shift just left, so I was getting ready to man the front.”

“Not a problem.” Dan tilted his head as she peeked toward a man sitting in a booth by the west windows. The blond in the flannel shirt tossed her a wave and a smile, which she returned.

The woman, most likely Kelly’s older sister and legal guardian, stopped about a foot from the edge of the display case.

“Are you interested in something, or…” She glanced out the east window. “Are you…?”

You haven’t even introduced yourself. How can you possibly handle this, the way you’re feeling today?

“I’m sorry,” he said, extending his hand. “I’m Dan Shields, Kelly’s English teacher. I’m assuming you’re her sister…Grace?”

She nodded, gazing at his hand for several seconds before reaching to shake and then stepping back.

Weird, Dan thought but went on, “It looks like I picked the wrong time to drop in?”

“Well…yes, I guess so. I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone would be leaving today and thought we could talk.”

“It’s not a problem. If you have help arriving, I can wait a little while.” He fought a grimace because he hadn’t time to linger around this greasy-smelling though undeniably festive-looking joint. But he’d willingly pay for this woman’s classes if she’d learn to make her creations healthier.

“Is…Kelly in some sort of trouble?” she asked.

Dan took a breath, not willing to spew the whole story in front of the other patrons. But looking around, he realized the man by the window was the only one, and he’d begun writing furiously into a black leather notebook.

Turning to the Grace, he found her green eyes a deeper color than they’d appeared at first, yet enhanced by the light eyeliner that framed them. Her complexion was smooth and fair and he liked the way her full hair framed her oval face.

She stepped back as though uncomfortable with his gaze and he cleared his throat.

“There have been some issues,” Dan confessed and she clutched her frock more tightly in front of her. “But we can talk about it later, when you’re able to sit down.”

Rubbing her arms as though standing in a chill, she nodded choppily and glanced at the other man worriedly. “I’ll be back,” she said and disappeared into the kitchen.

Dan withheld a grumble. Allie had made him promise to take her to the mall today and he’d much rather have been tending to her needs and desires than sitting here.

If Kelly hadn’t been such a problem student- a flirt and a bully with average grades- he wouldn’t have even needed to make this trip.

He supposed he could have settled for phone conversations but had found it difficult to discuss in depth problems that way. Across the table seemed a much better way to handle it, because body language spoke volumes about the kids’ situations. If the parents slumped in their seats and stared out the window during a meeting, as was the case with
Bryson’s parents, Dan wondered if they even gave a big flip about their kids’ issues.

However, he could already tell that Grace cared. So did Kaye. Both women were a blessing in that regard.

He slid down and seated himself at the empty counter and glanced at his watch.

His phone chirped again and he suddenly wished he’d brought his Tums. Did this place sell anything remotely healthy, like herbal teas?

Wincing, he peeked down at his iPhone screen and read: Come on, Dan, she’ll only be here for a couple of hours. I want to take her to a movie tonight.

Ryan and Rose, sitting in a dark theater. How comfy and convenient.

How had Ryan managed to snag Rose’s interest? He couldn’t help wondering if it ultimately had something to do with Dan, and that raised concerns for Ryan’s emotional well-being. He doubted she’d purposely mess with his heart, but who knew? He’d believed her side of the Towers story almost without question, a sure sign that his brains had dropped below his belt. Pretty girls like her always had been one of his weaknesses and that needed to change.

That’s not the only reason you believed her- stop being so hard on yourself.

His jaws taut, he positioned his thick finger over the tiny keyboard and glanced toward the kitchen. Grace had no reason to spy on him and the flannel-wearing blond to his right had traded writing for traffic-watching.

Slowly, Dan typed: Not sure that’s a good idea.

Why hadn’t he been able to type an outright “NO!” He should have, for the love of all things sacred, and knowing Ryan
he’d take a mile with that proverbial inch.

A few moments later, Ryan returned: It’s not like she’s coming to visit you. Just remain scarce, Dan my man.

Not like she’s coming to visit you.

The tips of his fingers sank gently into his left temple and he wished Grace would at least bless him with a glass of ice water. What was taking her so long?

Why wouldn’t the drama ever end?

After sitting with his eyes closed a few more seconds, he once again placed his hand in position to write a text. The “no” would have been easy to type. Just an N and an O, but that didn’t mean Ryan would comply. Despite Dan’s reply, the kid would do whatever the heck he felt like doing.

For that reason, Dan sighed and typed: Fine. I’ll try to stay scarce.

As soon as he sent the message, he leaned back in the squeaky swivel chair, frowning as the screen faded to black.

Rose in his house.

What would she wear? How easy would it be to keep his distance, knowing she was right around the corner and doing
God only knew what with Ryan? And how could he resist lecturing her further about her grades?

Her grades? Dan snorted quietly.

“Can I get you some coffee or something?”

Dan raised his head. Grace had returned, having pulled her hair back to reveal the full beauty of her face. She’d tied her frock around her white cotton dress, showing off a somewhat chunky, hourglass figure.

Looking at her, Dan could almost forget that she sold garbage for a living.

Chapter Sixteen:

Friday, July 29, 2011


Bekah grasped the white pharmacy bag with the receipt stapled to the front and pursed her lips as Ryan stood grinning just inside the doorway. Holding up his index finger, he produced a second bag from behind his back- a bigger one that filled her nostrils with a slice of heaven. She inhaled deeply, recognizing the smell of fried rice and eggrolls.

“Chinese?” she asked and he nodded.

“I hope I struck gold with this. Please don’t tell me you’re not a Chinese fan.”

“I’m not.”

His smile must have smacked a hole in the floor when it hit. Although Bekah wasn’t sure what the heck she was doing with this guy, especially after everything that had happened today, she found herself grinning at his curled under lip and his knit brows. She’d picked up on his ornery sort of playfulness at the bowling alley and guessed he might be nice to have around- once in a while.

“OK, so I like Chinese,” she said. “You’re seriously trying to suck up to me, aren’t you?”

The spark returned to eyes the same color as his brother’s and he leaned in a little as he whispered, “You’d better believe it.”

Geez, she even smelled mint on his breath- another hint that he fully intended to impress the heck out of her- and all she’d done was wash her face, brush her teeth and comb her hair. No make-up, but that didn’t seem to faze him, just as it hadn’t the day he’d whistled at her in the school hall.

She waved for him to follow her toward the dining room, thankful that Alice had already been by with more vodka. Her mother would scream, no doubt and Shields might even have a cow, but the vodka had loosened her up enough for this visit and the pain pills would fill in after the vodka wore off.

Nix the throbbing in her broken knuckle, the throbbing in her mind and throbbing in her heart- though all three were still mildly detectable, the main problem she faced now was…standing right next to her, setting the bag on the table and gazing at her as flirtatiously as Ralph used to. The lust was just too obvious.

Or maybe it wasn’t lust, but…something.

Her chest bounced and a hiccup filled the room as loud and as obnoxiously as if she’d belched. If Dan had been standing here, she might have felt slightly embarrassed, but Ryan…just as she instantly knew he would, he laughed.

“Feeling OK tonight?” he asked. “Or do you need one of those pain pills right away?”

She shook her head profusely. As much as Teacher and Mommy worried, she was far from suicidal. “Not at the moment…I have a secret, see…”

He leaned in expectantly, cocking his head to allow her to whisper that secret into his ear. “Please tell, I’m listening.”

“I can’t because you’ll tell your brother.”

“Who me?” He pulled back, his hand resting defensively against his chest. “Trust me, I’m not telling him anything you don’t want him to know. He’s nosey enough, Woman, do you think I’m crazy?”

Had he just called her ‘Woman?’ What, was this a common pet name used by the Shields men?

“Not sure,” she said. “Maybe a little crazy.”

“You may be right there.” The way he narrowed his eyes and fell momentarily silent told her he’d probably guessed her secret. “So, tell me, Miss Rose, does your secret have anything to do with spirits?” He lifted his hand in a tipping motion toward his mouth- she guessed to communicate the drinking sort of spirits.

Laughing under her breath, she reached for the bag and pulled out the first box of Chinese food and sank onto a chair. She wanted to offer him a pop from the fridge, but suddenly the pumpkin in the center of the table seemed to have morphed into three. And then back to one.

“Does that laughter mean yes?” he asked and she strained to remember his question.

Oh, about the spirits.

She pinched her fingers together. “Maybe just a tad. Had to, Ryan. The pain was just too much.”

“Yeah, I guess it would be.” Sliding out a chair, he seated himself next to her, wiped his chin against his shoulder and then turned to her with one hand planted on his knee. That pose made him look older, like maybe he belonged in his brother’s shoes- and even the concern she found in his gaze gave her that impression.

Oh, no, do I detect a ‘Dan Junior?’

“Trust me,” he said. “I’m not exactly perfect when it comes to alcohol, but this might not be a good idea right now.”

“Your brother’s rubbed off on you that much, huh?”

Ryan chuckled. “Yes and no. He has more than I’ll admit to his face.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s a guy thing. You know, pride and all?” He winked. “Dan’s a good guy but I don’t agree with everything he says…so I don’t want to inflate his ego.”

“Ah. Definitely a guy thing.” Or not- she’d been the same way.

“I do agree that I need to knock it off with the drinking...and I do get a little worried when my friends start using it as a crutch.”

“It’s not a crutch.” Liar. “I just…I was in a lot of pain.”

“Were you the other night, too?”

She gawked. “He told you about that?”

“Yes, but actually my sister did first. Dan always tells her stuff before he tells me. They’ve always been like twins, even though she’s two years younger.” He snatched the second box out of the bag and Bekah opened hers- a trickier feat than usual with the splint on her right middle finger.

Nice that Shields liked to confide in his sister, but what exactly had he told them? Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been too bad or Ryan probably would have steered clear.

Shuffling her fork blindly into her food with her left hand, she admired Ryan’s squared jaws and handsome profile and slumped a little in her seat. Where the heck was all this leading and would she regret letting this dude help her tonight?

Deep down, she knew she’d only agreed because of Dan. The connection that getting close to his brother lent her.

But Ryan was charming enough on his own, she guessed.

Charming? Did you just think of him as ‘charming?’ You are drunk off your butt.

Drunk and tired. The Vodka always relaxed her, seemed to slow down her mind. Brian’s green eyes weren’t blazing in her brain every few seconds and the shock of literally knocking the snot out of him didn’t seem so horrid.

After all that time, wishing and wishing she could strike that creep, she’d felt like crap after she’d finally done it.

It was Shields’ fault, she guessed. He’d gotten her thinking about how she’d sinned and how people’s sins effect other people. What might have caused Towers to do what he’d done…what might have happened to Brian…?

She shook her head. All that nonsense was supposed to have disappeared down the hatch with the Coke and vodka.

Ryan opened his plastic silverware and tossed the wrapping aside as he glanced at her. “To be honest, I’d hoped to kiss you tonight. I don’t think I should take advantage, though. I might wind up with a black eye later on and that wouldn’t be fun at all, my pretty.”

Bekah snickered. “I’m not that easy drunk or not, Ryan. If you tried to kiss me tonight, I’m sure you’d regret it.”

“Oh, is that a fact?”

She wasn’t sure, actually. Smelling his cologne and feeling so relaxed by the alcohol, she feared she'd cave in his arms in an instant. It had been a long time since she’d dated anyone and she’d never dated anyone like him. Like his brother, he held a certain something. But it wasn’t the same something. They were alike but different and definitely both hot in their own ways.

Finally, she answered, “Only one way to find out, I guess.”

Why had she said that? Suddenly, she remembered the feel of Ralph’s arms around her waist and the way he’d pressed his lips against hers. He was sort of a tough biker type, so she’d been surprised by his gentleness.

What kind of a kisser might Ryan be? Maybe that’s what she needed was a good, long kiss, something to top off the alcohol and keep her fuzzy-brained for hours on end. If she were sober, she guessed she’d be sitting on the opposite side of the table from him, completely aware of how cute he looked in that white pullover but determined to keep her distance.

Yes, keep your friggin distance, you imbecile. You don’t need more of this craziness in your life, you’ve got enough!

She imagined Bugs Bunny chewing a carrot and saying to her cautious side, “Nyaaah, shaddup!”

Her breathy laughter swallowed by the palm of her hand, she looked to Ryan to find him smirking, having drawn a little closer so that his yummy cologne still managed to creep through her fingers and tickle her nose.

“Was that an invitation?” he asked. “Because I’m game.”

It took her a few seconds to recall her dingbat statement: “Only one way to find out.”

Her hand muffled her reply. “Already?”

He nodded and she could hear him swallow. “Just a kiss. Nothing more.”

“Are you sure about that?”

He closed one eye, appearing to think it over. “Yes. Because I don’t take advantage of drunken girls. I’d seriously hate myself in the morning.”

“Good boy.”

His smile small and pretty darn cute, if she did say so herself, he reached for her hand, pulling it down so that it remained tucked neatly inside of his. As he drew closer, the thumping in her chest became more pronounced and she was surprised by how much she’d missed a guy’s touch. She’d shoved the guys away after Towers, but before that whole pain in the butt fiasco, she’d been a flirt. Playful and willing to kiss any cute dude who was interested.

In short, she’d been bad. However, she’d never slept around like Alice did.

Ryan’s breath rushed against her mouth just a second before their lips connected. She shuddered and caught her breath when he pulled her close enough to feel his pounding heart.

Wow, he was bold. And a dang good kisser.


Ryan released her slowly, except for sweeping his hand into her soft hair. She’d washed out the curls and hadn’t even bothered to put on any make-up, which he found downright hot. Where he came from, the women were always encouraged to keep their “faces” on, hair styled like a celebrity’s, straightened up and moussed up or else curled with smooth perfection. They almost always wore tight, little clothes that showed off nothing but skinny, little bodies- no chest to speak of.

Rebekah was nice. Curvy. Intensely cute with big, warm eyes and a tough attitude to counter her aura of complete sweetness. Nice contrast, as his father would say, only Ryan meant it in a different way. Oliver had always used the phrase to refer to either a blond woman’s tan or to comment on a busty woman’s waist.

To Ryan, a beautiful girl who could defend herself, breaking her knuckle in the process and not even whining about it, won the trophy of the month.

He leaned closer to her, noting the absence of any perfume and kind of liking it. She wasn’t ashamed to let her mask down and be herself, unlike so many of the fakes he and Dan had dated, Denise being the first plastic bombshell to pop into his mind.

Of course, Dan knew nothing of Ryan’s short-lived fling with Denise and he intended to keep it that way. Not that it mattered, because those two were history.

Close to Rebekah’s ear, he inhaled deeply and managed to pick up the faint scent of her shampoo, smiling when she trailed her good hand up his arm and into his own, short coif. Maybe, despite being a bit topsy-turvey with too many ‘spirits,’ she felt as comforted by his touch as he felt by hers.

No sense shattering this big bang of a start by taking her to the bedroom. As it was, he figured she’d regret the kiss, but he hadn’t been able to resist it. As soon as she’d said, “only one way to find out,” he’d lost it, his temperature hotter than the Texas sun and his stomach dancing with fireflies. He might not have been granted a second chance to kiss her- the pretty girl from a rough neighborhood with a real heart.

Yeah, he could tell a lot about her already, not just based on what he’d seen but what he’d heard from Dan and how she’d treated Allie. Though the girls had spoken little, Rebekah had managed to keep even the slightest inkling of shock from her expression as she’d shaken Allie’s hand.

So, she’d acquired a bit of a drinking problem in the midst of what appeared to be mild depression. Ryan doubted her state of mind had dipped as far as Dan thought- she just didn’t strike him as the kind of girl to keep letting life push her over, but he could have been wrong.

Maybe his hormones and his desire for a normal, yet not-so-normal girl had allowed him to be fooled. But like that dude from the movie Shallow Hal, he didn’t care what everyone else perceived her to be, as long as she maintained her not-so-plain, tough girl image while in his presence.

No daintiness here, thank God, and according to Dan, her tongue could run away with her. Ryan had laughed when he’d confessed to being called a ‘nerd,’ among other things, which made her all the more appealing because it took guts to speak that way to a teacher.

But he suspected she already knew that she was only half right. Maybe Dan worried too much and could be an incredible stick in the mud, but he’d pulled himself together a lot better than Ryan had. At least he’d abandoned his stint with booze and women, while Ryan still struggled, for the most part with the booze.

As for the women- he’d been so sick of the rich snobs form his parents’ clubs that he’d gone haywire once they’d moved to Columbus, hitting bars with a fake ID and marveling over the wild and tasty morsels who’d dance about the floor and pull him by the collar to nice, dark corners. Talk about a fiery high. For a while, he thought he’d died and gone to Heaven, but like with any drug, the high had worn off, leaving him with nothing but emptiness and a desire to find someone who truly fit.

Maybe Rebekah would be the one.

Reaching for her arms, he gently pushed her hands into her lap, taking a few moments to admire her chest and waist in that tight t-shirt. If she hadn’t been drunk…

Nah, not yet. Too soon and he’d promised Dan he’d behave. Not that he always kept his promises, but this was an important one to keep. He’d sensed that Dan’s concern for this particular student had been on the rise and what exactly that meant, Ryan didn’t know. Resisting all those pretty eighteen-year-olds who batted their lashes at him day by day couldn’t be easy, and Rebekah appeared to be acutely different from most girls her age.  So it made sense that she’d stand out to a square like Dan.

Just something about the way she carried herself. And then her forwardness had no doubt become an intriguing challenge for a guy who was used to barking orders to younger siblings.

Ryan laughed inside because Dan needed to be challenged as much as possible. At only twenty-flipping-four years old, he acted like he was going on fifty, like the weight of the entire universe rested on his shoulders and that he was expected to fix any wounded bird that landed on his lap.

Well, he couldn’t ‘fix’ anyone. According to Dan, only his God could do that, yet he kept trying in his own might. With Allie, with Ryan, and now with his students.

What exactly drove him to act that way? At first, he’d guessed their father's controlling nature had rubbed off on Dan; but when he’d begun trying to convert Ryan and Allie to “Christ,” not to mention all of the sacrifices he’d made to pull them out of Indiana and establish them far away from the Supreme Power Monger’s presence, Ryan knew something deeper had grabbed a hold of his brother.

Maybe a god, maybe something else that Dan didn’t even understand.

Enough of that. Ryan had spent many hours trying to figure out his older brother and always ran into a brick wall. He supposed the whole mental exploration had begun again because…Ryan frowned and squeezed Rebekah’s hands, careful not to press too hard on her injury.

She raised her head, revealing half closed eyes and a little smile that spoke more of her intoxication from alcohol than from their kiss.

Man, she was troubled and here he was brooding about his brother. No matter how much he feigned ignorance of the truth,  he knew it already:  Dan was his rival here.  Rebekah’s lingering gazes in his leather-clad brother’s direction had spoken volumes at the bowling alley.

Dan was most likely attracted to her, she was attracted to him. Their relationship may have been taboo at the moment, but that wouldn’t last, especially if she bowed under his brother’s influence- toward soberness, toward faith, whatever else.

Ryan would try to steer her from the alcohol if their relationship survived past this night.

But what would happen then? Did he dare take a chance when his brother was his main rival? His muscle-bound, smart as hell brother whose care for others could easily win any girl’s heart?

His stomach churning, he released the pretty girl to pick at the broccoli and the carrots dispersed amidst the fried rice in his Styrofoam plate.

“Ryan?” she whispered softly, her head on his shoulder deflating the steam that had begun to build inside of him.

He exhaled slowly and asked, “Yeah, Rebekah?”

“I need to go to sleep.”

He smirked, not at all surprised. “Go for it. I’m not moving.”

Ch 15:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chapter Fourteen, Part One

Just a note: see my tab at the top labeled "editorial notes."  I'll be posting any changes I make there and will be sure to tell you when I do. I've got one listed there now.

Sorry about the spacing on this one- the site keeps messing me up.


Dan tossed the tube of ointment onto the nightstand and folded his arms.  His sister, sitting up on the bed and scowling at him with all the indignation of a two-year-old who couldn’t get her way, mirrored his stance.

“Dan, stop fussing over me, OK?  I’m fine!  If I find any boils, I’ll let you know.”

“You didn’t find the one on your arm- the nurse pointed it out as I recall.”

“And your point is?  The thing wasn’t big enough to draw my attention, so I’d say it was far from dangerous.”

“What you’re saying is that you’d rather wait until a really dangerous one develops and then call for help? Is that it, Allie?”

“No…just..Ugh, would just let me rest?”  She fell back on her stack of fluffy pillows, her elbow resting over her eyes reminding him of the position Rose had taken when she’d been awakened Saturday morning.

Only Allie wasn’t near as healthy looking as Rose.  She needed more fattening up as well as an alternative to the antibiotics, because antibiotics were quickly losing the war against the superbugs.

He checked his watch and reached for the roll of Tums in his pocket. These past three days had been a nightmare. Just when he’d thought Allie was on the mend, they’d found another spot on her arm.  Not only that, but he could have wound up losing his job if news of his late night visit to Rose’s ever reached the principal.

Thank God Kaye seemed to believe his side of the story- Rebekah had gotten drunk and phoned her teacher, falling asleep on the line so that he was forced to ride out to their house to awaken her mother.  God only knows what Rose could have done to herself and he doubted she’d been completely honest with anyone.

One common ground shared by Allie and Rebekah- they were both stubborn.
But Allie had never managed to slug any of her tormenters as Rose had done today in the hall.

That was the problem. Allie never fought hard enough. She hadn’t even finished the chicken salad sitting on the bedside tray.

“Allison, eat your dinner.  If I come back here and find this damned plate still full, I swear-“

"Don’t cuss at me!” She removed her arm from over her eyes.  “You’re not my father, so stop acting like it!”

“Dad never treated you the way he should, so who else was going to do it?  Who’s going to do it now, when you’ve retreated into this…space?”

She looked at him as though he’d just slapped her.  “I don’t know what you mean, but would you please leave me alone?”

“Fat chance, woman, I’ll be back.”  While relieved some of her spunk had returned, he was a bit surprised by her snotty remarks.  Allie usually fought with a soft touch.

“Stay gone.  Fantasize over that girl or whatever you want to do, but just-”

Dan whirled to face her again, her comment lingering in the air like a clap of thunder.  “What did you say?”

Allie, sitting up slowly and allowing her hair to fall over her shoulder, blinked dumfoundedly.  “Sheesh…” Swiping the back of her hand along her forehead, she added gently, “I’m sorry, Dan. I wasn’t thinking right.”

He stammered.  “Allie, I told you…nothing’s going to happen with her.”

“I know that, I know.”

“She’s still a kid in a lot of ways, and-”

Allie produced the same screwed-up look she’d given when he’d tried to serve her tofu casserole. 

Apparently she’d begun to worry about him, even though he’d already spent at least fifteen minutes explaining the situation to her:  he’d been amazed by Rose’s appearance and felt a bit concerned and curious about her- that was it.

Allie scooted toward the tray of food and began picking at the lettuce and the chicken with her fork.  She shrugged and the shoulder of her loose-fitting, pink sweater slid down her skeletal arm, managing to draw a cringe from him in his state of disbelief.

“She doesn’t look like a kid, Dan.” Peeking at him without raising her head, she added, “I’m sure you have to remind yourself.”

Dan pursed his lips. He’d no intention of discussing this any further with anyone.  He’d screwed up like the biggest imbecile on the planet but he wouldn’t be repeating the mistakes- if in fact they were mistakes.  The Old Dan apparently still dwelt close to the surface and perhaps, at times, took the wheel more than he’d like to admit. His past was filled with scheming, so it made sense he’d occasionally revert to it, whether he was completely aware of it or not.

One would question why, after Rose arrived at school looking like a model, he’d made the flip decision to meet her mother at the bowling alley. True, he’d no intention of making any moves on a student, but he’d hoped she’d show up. In fact, he’d half hoped the girl would call him after he’d given her his card.

God, what is wrong with me?

And then way he’d lusted over her…If he wasn’t bordering on predator status, he didn’t know who was. 

He caught himself shaking his head as he wiped a bit of sweat from his temple, a move which caused Allie to lower her fork.

Now his screw-ups were affecting his sister’s progress.

“Don’t, Allie,” he said sternly.  “I’ve got it under control.”

But she knew his past with beautiful girls.  Probably suspected he couldn’t handle it as much as he thought he could.

“Don’t let Dad’s influence get a hold of you again,” she said.

"I’m not, I told you that.  I’ve stepped back and everything’s fine.”

Though he couldn’t deny the swell of pride he’d felt upon learning that Rose had slugged Brian, nor could he deny wishing he’d been there to watch the gorgeous girl in action.  She may have crumbled afterward- a good sign that her heart was softer than he’d thought- but just imagining the whole thing-

Right now he needed to spend some time in prayer, but the stack of work on his desk continued to call his name.

“Eat up, Allie.  I’ll be back later..”

“Dan?” she said timidly as he began to turn. 

He nodded.

“I’m sorry…really, I am.  I don’t really think you’ll step out of line.”

He didn’t really think he would, either.  After spending Sunday morning in prayer and mentally beating himself for the past few days, he was determined to keep his eyes from roaming. If he could at least master that much, he wouldn’t act on foolish whims.  Of course, in order to act on anything, the opportunity needed to present itself, and he’d make sure it didn’t.

He sulked out of the room, knowing he’d failed to convince his sister of his internal strength, once again failed to set a good Christian example; but standing around feeling sorry for himself wouldn’t help a thing.

He jogged down the stairs, intending to first research some options for Allie on the internet…then head back upstairs to nag her into letting him check her for more wounds.  She didn’t need to remove all of her clothes, but for pete’s sake, someone needed to scan her back and other out-of-sight areas before she wound with a serious infection.

Her weakness seemed to be reclaiming her, no doubt thanks to their mother.  He’d yet to call the woman, but instead had phoned Richard, one of his father’s PI’s who occasionally helped Dan on the side. 

“Nothing’s going on here,” the man had insisted.  “If your mom begged you to come home, my guess is your dad has something to do with it. She seems prissy and on top of things as usual.”

Dan had sighed, his disappointment more than a little acute.  It seemed not even time nor space could extinguish his desire for his mother’s care.  “Thanks, Richard,” he’d said. “Keep an eye on her, though, OK?  Let me know if anything seems out of place.”

“Will do, my man.  You take care.”

With that, they’d hung up.

Dan had just entered his den when he heard Ryan laughing from the basement around the corner. The door stood wide open, so he leaned in to see if anyone had dropped by.

“You seriously punched this dude in the nose?” Ryan laughed again, his shadow dancing across the end of the stairway.

Dan felt deflated and leaned against the nearby wall.  Ryan had called her.

“Man, that must have been painful…do you need some company?”

Rose had been suspended for the remainder of the week and so had Brian, but he doubted she’d want any company.  Not only was she probably ticked at the unfairness of her treatment- again- but she struck him as the kind of girl who only allowed certain people in.  And as to whether Ryan had met the criteria-

“Sure, I can do that.  No, no, not a problem.  I’m there, just give me about an hour, OK?”

Dan frowned into the entryway and then peered down. His brother’s shadow had moved, his voice a little lower as he added, “Yeah, I just need your birth date, I think.  What pharmacy is it?”

Pharmacy?  Dan rolled his eyes as he realized the doctor had probably prescribed a pain pill- not the wisest thing to give a potentially suicidal girl.  She’d put on a good show after they’d awakened her, but he still wasn’t convinced of her stability, especially after today.  The powers that be continued to punish her for standing up for herself and she’d seemed extremely shaken by the fact that she’d once again snapped. 

The powers that be needed a slap in the chops and Rose needed a genuine friend to help her sort through this mess.  God, help him, it was hard not to reach out like he’d done for Allie and Ryan and Denise more times than he could count.  Forget his attraction to her, she needed help, but right now, Ryan seemed to be her only choice.

How could Dan discuss this with his brother without drawing suspicion?  Without giving away the fact that his emotions had begun to tip a little in the wrong direction?

For the life of him, he didn’t understand why they’d begun to tip.

She was a kid.  An eighteen year old with problems that he may have multiplied by allowing his attraction to show. As a matter of fact, he knew he’d added to her heartache. He’d seen the look on her face when he’d told her they needed to keep their distance.

How could he have been such a stinking, clumsy idiot?

He heard Ryan on the stairs and backed into his den, waited a few seconds and then came out. Running his hand through his hair, he stopped just as his brother reached the hallway that lead to the living room.

Wearing his typical, nutcase grin, he announced, “I get to go help the damsel in distress.”

Dan gnawed his inner cheek. “Excuse me?”

“Rebekah Rose.” He wiggled his brows.  “She told me she smashed some guy’s nose today.   She broke a knuckle and needs some medication from the pharmacy, so guess who gets to go pick it up?”

Dan forced his voice steady. “Where’s her mom?”

“Work. She didn’t have time to pick it up.”

“I think you’d better watch Rebekah with those pills.”

Ryan frowned. “Huh?”

“Are they pain pills?”

The kid nodded. “I do believe so, Daniel-San. What else would they prescribe for that?”

“Don’t leave the bottle with her. Give her one and keep the rest.”

“What the heck are you talking about? I’m trying to impress her, and how am I going to do that by acting like her babysitter?”

Ryan still had no clue what had happened the other night, but he supposed it best to fill him in a little. Rose probably would, anyway.

Dan explained how she’d called him drunk and depressed and that he’d paid a visit to her mother afterwards.  “She’s dealing with a lot of BS, Ry, and she doesn’t need anyone feeding her addictions or adding to her problems.”

“You saying I’d do that?”

“Don’t give her any alcohol, Ryan.”

“I’m not, would you relax?  She’s only eighteen, man, I’m not into intoxicating school girls.”

“Yeah, how about bedding her?” He hadn’t been able to stop the question and felt slightly out of line. Though he and Ryan regularly blurted offensive comments toward one another, this time Dan risked piquing his brother’s curiosity.

“Hey- she’s eighteen, I’m twenty. There’s no law agin’ that in these parts, Pilgrim!”

Dan’s head jerked up. “Ryan!”

“I’m not going to do it, I’m just saying.” He grinned. “Don’t worry, this is too early to try and bed her, anyway.  Gotta get to know her better.” With a wink, he turned away and reiterated, “Don’t worry, thou great and powerful Dan Almighty.  I’ve got it all under control!”

“Wait, Ry….”

His brother stalled at the end of the leather loveseat. 

“You be careful out there, man.  Her neighborhood-”

“Yeah, I know.” He waved his hand.  “She told me.  Don’t wait up, Bro.”

Dan listened as he gathered his jacket and left the house, and then stood at the edge of the hall, feeling like he’d just been snowed.  Ryan had barely reacted to the news of Rose’s drunkenness or her midnight call. 

Had he already known?  

He took a breath and turned back to his den. 

Just how the heck did Ryan plan on keeping this situation under control? The kid who hit the snooze button umpteen times every morning, hadn’t found a job because he was happy living off of his inheritance, and lived in a dreamland, thanks to his TV-watching addiction.  How might he influence Rebekah for good? 

Closing a folder filled with graded papers, he sat down in front of the computer and began rubbing his eyes, lamenting the fact that his stress load had just risen another twenty percent. Ryan in that neighborhood- Rose in that neighborhood.  Heck, he’d been tempted to slam twenty thousand dollars on Kaye’s dining room table just so they could find a safer place to live.

Lord, help them, he thought. Help Ryan, keep him safe and make sure he keeps his hands to himself. 

Rose didn’t need more confusion and Ryan needed to learn a thing or two about self control.

But enough of that.

Right now he needed to focus on Allie’s condition and then later he’d call Kelly’s parents.  He’d been distracted too much by Rose and it was time to shift the attention to other troubled kids.

Still, as he typed into the web browser, he glanced at his iPhone, which sat at the edge of his desk. 

No.  No, calling her was out of the question, no matter how concerned he was about the pain pills- or about the fact that she and Ryan would be alone in that little house with the bare walls and a sofa big enough…for just about anything.

Chapter Fourteen, Part Two:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chapter Thirteen

 Chapter one can be found here:


So, she was a sinner. Or whatever one chose to call it.  In short, she’d screwed up and brought the walls tumbling down on herself. Any problems not caused by her own stupidity could have been blamed on schmucks such as Brian Cruise, and maybe some of his problems could have been blamed on someone else.

Seemed like a reasonable train of thought, though giving Brian a break had never been high on her priority list.

But the possibility remained that Brian’s bad behavior could, at least to a degree, have been blamed on some other bad boy.

Teacher would be proud of the alliteration in her thoughts, but she wouldn’t be sharing them with him any time soon.

Bekah paused in front of the school’s bathroom mirror to check her sleek make-up job. The black eyeliner made her look evil, she decided, and rightfully so.

She snatched her purse from the counter and nearly twisted her ankle- again- in her borrowed boots, and made her way out the door. A group of freshman girls halted as though she'd smacked right into them. At least four sets of wide, innocent eyes stared back at her.

She rounded the girls, their whispers traipsing after her like a bunch of little puppy dogs, all bouncy and excitable: “Wow, she was really pretty…She looks like a model…” and other crazy talk.

Were they serious? Without her make-up and curled hair, she never received those types of reactions, and wondered if she should inform their naïve little selves that they’d been conned.

Just like her, the beauty they perceived was fake.

She picked up her pace. Judging by the scores of kids flooding into Shields’ room, she’d waited long enough to make her entrance. Normally, she arrived earlier than the others, but not anymore.

Shields and Mommy had hit it off way too well, sipping coffee at the dining room table and deciding for an eighteen-year-old student that she’d be seeing a counselor and receiving after-school tutoring- with Mrs. Cornwell. Shields obviously couldn’t do it, because he needed to rush home to Allie, and no doubt he’d prefer not to stir up any rumors. No male teacher in his right mind would spend after-school time with Cheap Rose.

Maybe that was the real reason he wanted to keep his distance.

With her student-hood ending in less than one year, the possibility of a relationship between them wasn’t so off-the-wall.

But no. He’d rather just cut off any possibilities and why that bothered her was a mystery.

His nerdiness exceeded his cool biker status, and now she could tack “Jesus Freak” onto all the other cruel tags she’d given him.

Her heart in her throat, her purse strap weighing on her shoulder, thanks to all the junk Alice had tossed in there, and her books smashing her chest, she huffed into the room, her desk by the window her goal for the morning. Without thinking, she returned Kevin’s wave and hunkered into the seat behind him. For a change, he didn’t turn around to ask for a summary of her weekend.

Good, maybe the makeover would keep his drooling sensors at bay, since he seemed to prefer the plain as paper version of herself.

Her stomach gurgled and the nausea she’d felt while dressing herself this morning returned. The reason for her upset moved to the chalkboard, seemingly equally unaware of her as she was of him. He could take a flying leap, for all she cared.

So, he’d driven a few good points home. Best to avoid any more trouble makers and get on with her life, already.

The chalk that had been slowly plodding across the board suddenly snapped, a big chunk plunking onto the floor. Most of the kids had seated themselves, but the chatter that still flurried about the room made it difficult to hear Bryson Colt’s comment to Shields. The teacher grinned as he bent to retrieve the chalk and seemed very careful not to even glance in Bekah’s direction.

Of course. We need to keep our distance.

Distant as the sun is from the center of the universe. No problemo, Creep.

As she sat there, fiddling with the corners of her notebook, the orange leaves outside the window stirred in a gust of wind. Jack-o-lanterns graced the front yards of the homes across the street and she felt just a tinge of the familiar, fall-time rush. Halloween had always been her favorite holiday, but this year, her father wouldn’t be there to make the house merry with lots of gory décor.

So much had changed in such short time.

Why she’d want to get mixed up with a teacher, no matter how cool and mysterious and cute-

She couldn’t even make up her mind what to think of him. One minute, he was a nerd and a creep and the next a strong, interesting man with…something. She couldn’t pinpoint it. Whatever she sensed may have been her imagination, but he seemed to be at least mildly loaded with good insight.

Regardless, crying over him was stupid and she wouldn’t allow it again.

But what else might she learn from him that he couldn’t teach in the class room? She was half tempted to read the Narnia books just to keep conversation going, but scratch that idea. She couldn’t keep up with her own school work, so adding more reading to the load seemed preposterous.

Just as she was about to rest her chin on her folded arms, Shields closed the door, as he did at the start of every class, and tugged his blue tie with the embroidered lighthouse. Crossing back to his desk he shushed everyone and announced, “I’m going to pass back your Tess papers and we’re going to go over a few things before we plunge into Lord of the Flies.”

Yippee Skippee.

She may as well have been a spider on the wall- completely invisible to him. After all that had happened this weekend, he seemed to have brushed her off far too easily.

So, the attraction that he’d mentioned- it had probably only been lust. Whereas she’d begun to see other things in him that she’d never admit to his face.

Stop, you’re just going round and round and round. What she wouldn’t give to just bury her face against her books.

Kevin spun as Shields began passing out papers. Smiling faintly, he whispered, “How was your weekend?”

A bit delayed today. Why would he wait until now to ask that?

She shrugged. “Weird.”

He frowned but turned a little more to face her and mouthed, “You OK?”

Why she suddenly felt like laying her head on the shoulder of his baby blue dress shirt and letting loose the whole sob story was beyond her.

Kevin’s a nice guy and you give him far too hard a time. In fact, he’s too nice for you.

Shields popped out of nowhere, holding a paper out to Kevin and glancing between the two of them. First acknowledgement of the day, but who was counting?

He stood there, shuffling through the rest of the papers after Kevin had snatched his, and looked a bit perturbed when he extended Bekah’s screwed-up excuse for an essay.

Shaking his head in obvious disappointment, he turned away. Bekah gaped at the 59% marked in thick, red ink at the top of her paper.

Jerk failed her, huh?

Who are you kidding, you didn’t even read the book. How are you supposed to write a decent essay when you didn’t even read the dumb book?

Who cared? She’d heard the class discussion on Tess of the D’Urbervilles and it didn’t seem like anything worth her while. Who wanted to read about a gorgeous girl who got knocked up and fell in love with some jerk who scorned her because she wasn’t a virgin? And then there was the bloody ending.

She stuffed the paper between her books and folded her hands atop the whole mess, and told her heart to stop beating like she’d just been caught robbing a bank. Nothing too horrible had taken place here.

Although she might have wound up failing this class if she didn’t straighten up. And failing Trig. And Physics. And all the other pain-in-the-butt classes she’d so stupidly selected. And if she failed them, she find her butt planted right back here next year.

So much for the idea of graduating and becoming fair game for Teacher.

Would you stop it? You are NOT allowed to think about him anymore! You have more important things to think about!

A thick fist knocked on her books. Bekah jumped, at first thinking Kevin had done it, but the hands were too big- and she recognized those fingers. Glancing up, she swallowed.

“I want a rewrite,” Shields said sternly but not so loudly that the whole room would hear him. “Read the book this time and if you don’t have one, come see me.”

Bekah bit her lower lip as he began to turn away for the second time. He paused, however, and asked, “Do you have an issue with that?”

What the heck was his problem? Suddenly he was treating her like the biggest snot in the school.

“No, Teacher,” she replied through gritted teeth, which apparently amused some of her classmates, because they began to snicker in the rows to her left.

Shields shook his head again and went to knock on another drifter’s desk. However, he didn’t sound quite so ticked when he said, “Try again, Chad.”

His shoes scuffed the floor as he hurried back to the front of the room and began tugging his tie, like he did every flipping day of the week. Why didn’t he just remove the dumb thing? Right now, she thought it might make a great noose.

What was his freaking problem?

It was tempting to ask him after class, but after he’d droned on for half an hour about a novel she’d no interest in, the bell rang and his desk became flooded with his groupies. Kelly, Ashley and a few other nitwits who batted their thickly painted-on eyelashes as they asked if he needed help grading papers.

“I’ve only got study hall next period,” Kelly said. “Can you write me an excuse and I can stay here?”

“Yeah, me too,” Robin Callahan chirped as Bekah gathered her books.

She slowed behind the brats to see Shields’ grin as he shook his head and began straightening the semi-mess that cluttered his desk. “Girls, you need to take advantage of your study hall. I don’t need any help today, but thank you.”

He stopped to look up, his smile fading when he spotted Bekah, who decided to move on. No sense asking about the attitude. Maybe he’d begun to detest her, and did she really need to know about that?

She hurried into the hallway. For all she cared, he could flirt with every girl in the school. No doubt she wasn’t the only one who’d turned his head, anyway. He could keep all of his God-talk, because obviously he was a hypocrite and the last thing she needed was another freaking  dishonest guy in her life.

Her father had seemed like the perfect man. For so many years, standing by her mother and working hard as a hospital janitor to earn the money to keep them fed and provide a little bit of fun in the midst of their horrific neighborhood. Now he was gone, leaving her mother stressed and too easily snowed by cute, young teachers.

She’d all but cried on Shields’ shoulder the other night, telling how hard everything had been on poor, lil Bekah. Basically a single parent now, how could Mommy ever keep up with everything? How could she ensure that her EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD daughter would stay out of trouble from now?

That’s when Teacher had suggested the after-school tutoring and the counseling.

Ugh, what was she, a baby?

Screw all of this. She felt like kicking the walls until Alice’s boots split in half.

She slipped between two Freshman nerds who were shuffling along like a pair of zombies and then pushed her way around a pack of giggling girls and a corner, mentally chanting, “Men cannot be trusted.”

She hugged her books and prepared to shove her way through the crowd and down the stairs.

“Hey, Bekah, going somewhere?”

Her foot had just hit the top step and she found herself framed by two tall bodies. Two tall, broad-shouldered bodies- green eyes glowing down at her from one side and blue eyes on the other. Brian, the green-eyed monster, had turned his ball cap backwards so that he’d look especially “cool,” while his jerky goon, Morris Welling wiggled a paper bag in front of her. Only it wasn’t just any paper bag. It brandished the name “Karla’s Cakery” in red on the front.

Not until she felt something squish on the top of her head did she recall Kelly’s doughnut from Friday morning. Laughter and hoots mingled with high fives over her head, and she stood frozen as a big dollop of cream hit the space below her. The other kids’ laughter filled her ears and the smell of the wickedly sweet pastry seemed to encompass her, her heart pounding harder than it had in a long time.

Brian was crossing his eyes at her like a Freshman geek and for some reason all she could think of was that kid from A Christmas Story. The famous lines swirled in her head: “We were trapped. There he stood, between us and the alley. Scott Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! So help me, God! Yellow eyes!”

And in typical bully fashion, Brian teased, “Aww, is Cheap Rose feeling cheaper now?”

Who the hell did he think he was?

“Do you honestly think the makeover is going to change anything?” he added in a roll of laughter.

The makeover? The makeover? For crap’s sakes, she’d gone through all of this, trying to attract him so that she could weasel out of him what he knew, but it had only made him nastier.

Why did he care so much about harassing her? What did she ever do to him personally that he couldn’t just drop the issues of the past and move on? What had crawled up his butt and died?

All this friggin’ teasing over a teacher who couldn’t keep his hands to himself, who Bekah had decked and received the blame for something she hadn’t totally invited. Brian may have known a little more than the other students, but didn’t he think she’d suffered enough for her mistakes?

Had she suffered enough?

Bekah’s books hit the floor and she could hear them flip-flopping down the steps. Her fists curled as Brian’s laughter slowly died. Bidding his dingbat friend goodbye, he patted Bekah on the shoulder.

“Lighten up, Bo-Bekah. We’re just having some fun at your expense. That’s all.”

Fun? Did this immature, idiotic, jail-bound jerk really want to see fun?

Bekah's breath, shaky and loud in her ears did nothing to dispel the tears stinging her eyes. Her jaws and lips protested her mean teeth as she formed a fist.

"What?” Brian bent toward her, an obnoxious grin smeared across his face. “Gonna cry?"

"No." Bekah’s fist felt so tight that the blood pulsed wickedly through her knuckles and fingertips, her face hot and the urge to act rising as forcefully as the urge to vomit. Swinging that same fist, she shouted, "You are!" And with that, his shiny, white nose cracked and ejected a stream of blood.

Shaking her hand, Bekah grimaced at the gore, which was hurriedly being patched by the jerkly jock's school jacket, his friends scrambling around him for support.

She stumbled backward, feeling hands around her waist and calling out for help. Her butt plopped onto the top stair and another scream for help died in her throat.

“Relax, Rebekah, it’s OK,” said one of the girls, whose voice she didn’t recognize.

Her fist continued throbbing, Brian was cursing, and the traffic on the stairway had halted. All around her, students gaped at the whole scene.

“You slut!” Brian roared as he leaned over the stairwell with his jacket shoved in his face. His friends' arms looped under his and they dragged him away as he cursed and shouted like Yosemite
Sam. Bekah felt like she should have been laughing, but nothing came.

Her breath raspy and her entire body trembling as though she’d just jumped off of the high-dive at the local pool, she straightened her skirt and smeared some blood along the front. Someone handed her a tissue. She snatched it and began wiping the blood furiously from her paw. More cream slid onto her lap.

Crème-filled. Your favorite.

Kelly…Kelly had either saved that dumb doughnut or had brought a fresh one at Brian’s request.


None of her plans would work.

Forget that now.

Judging by the shouting and the scurrying of the other students, some authority figures had finally found the mayhem. She recognized Mrs. Lola’s voice and Mr. Pierce, one of the history teachers.

Shields probably hadn’t a clue what had just happened. Wouldn’t matter, anyway. Wouldn’t matter.

“Are you OK?” A blond knelt in front of her, pursing her lips and wincing when one of the teachers told her to move on. “I’m Amy Winston- you don’t know me,” she whispered, “But it’s always ticked me off how those guys treat you. Be proud of yourself.”

Proud? Was Bekah proud of what she’d just done?

Amy grinned, handed Bekah a pack of tissues and hurried down the steps.

“Miss Rose?” Mr. Pierce sat down next to her, specks of gray standing out in his black beard.

Bekah had never noticed the gray and laughed choppily because it had struck her at a time like this.

The teacher frowned. “Are you OK, Dear?”

She shook her head and wiped her face, and then gawked at the shiny wetness she found on her palm. As someone handed her a wad of paper towels, she realized she’d been crying and yanked a couple more tissues out of the pack.

The paper towels fell over her boots and scattered a bit down the stairs, so Mrs. Lola bent down to pick them up. Turning, she announced her intent to help Bekah with her hair.

“My hair?” Bekah ran her hand into her curls, pulling out goop and crumbles. What she needed was some shampoo, not some dry towels.

She snickered into a tissue.

“Hey, Shields!” Pierce called over his shoulder and Bekah jerked so forcefully into an upright position that someone may as well have lassoed her.

“Can you snag the nurse for me?” Pierce asked and she heard Shields reply, “Sure thing, Man.”

Oh, my gosh, he knows. He probably thinks you’re nothing but a big bag of trouble.

What’s it matter?

For a few moments, she sat there hugging herself in the hazy light pouring from the nearby windows, while Shields sought unwanted help and Brian bled his butt off in some unknown corner of the school.

Mrs. Lola had gathered her books and squeezed her shoulder. “She’s shaking like a leaf,” she told someone behind her and Bekah thought she must have appeared like a complete nutcase to them all.

Goop in her hair, blood on her throbbing hand, shaking and hugging herself.

Get it together already. You’re not dying here.

The sunlight smacked her eyes when she attempted to lean forward and her head felt like it would explode. Had someone hit her over the head? Was she bleeding to death, was that why everyone was making such a big, freaking fuss over her?

Running her clean hand through her hair produced no blood. She grabbed her books.

This whole thing couldn’t have been real.

Pierce and Lola grabbed her by the elbows as she stood and once they’d turned, she could see the nurse jogging toward them and Shields stalling about ten feet away. She couldn’t read his expression and shook the teachers off of her arms.

“I’m OK,” she told them as the nurse bent to look in her eyes. “I’m OK…I just…I didn’t think I’d do that…I’ve never done that…” Not to Brian, anyway.

“Do what, Dear?” the nurse asked. “You’re bleeding.” She lifted Bekah’s hand and began to study it, pushing here and pushing there until Bekah let out a yelp.

If she’d thought her knuckles hurt before, now they were absolute hell. Her books slid down her front and she hugged them closely as she bent to keep them from pouring all over the place.

Before she knew it, she was being escorted down the hall and all she could do was peer helplessly over her shoulder.

Looking like a shadow with the light against his back, Shields stood at the corner near the staircase, hands in his pockets as he watched her being ushered away.

Chapter Fourteen, Part One

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chapter Twelve

Another shortie... I don't plan on showing the conversation with Kaye in "real time," because I feel it will just drag the story down and it needs to keep advancing. 


A cup of coffee warmed her hands, steam rising into her face and her head pounding.  Not only had her sleep been stolen but the vodka still weighed heavily on her mind and Mommy Dear wanted her to drink up the caffeine to clear it.

Teacher- wonderful, glorious Teacher, whom she’d so stupidly called in the middle of the night, sat diagonal from her right. Though she currently refused to look him in the eye, she could see his thick hands folded squarely between his leather-cloaked knees.  Still trying to look hot in the biker suit, huh?

She’d show him hot.  For involving her mother, she’d definitely show him hot.  She swirled the coffee in her mug as her mother’s peach-colored robe rippled past.  Mommy had been pacing for the past five minutes- quietly pacing and undoubtedly rehearsing in her mind how she intended to rip Bekah to shreds for intoxicating herself under her roof.

“Take a drink, Bekah,” her mother ordered from the opposite end of the coupon-covered coffee table. 

Bekah grimaced. How could she possibly drink black coffee?  No sugar, no milk, no chocolate of any kind added?  And drink it while Dan Shields sat there staring at her- probably with puppy dog eyes.

Her mother’s sigh could have popped a hole in the living room floor. “Rebekah….Honey…I’m going to change.  I hope by the time I get back, you’ll be ready to talk.”

She must have been talking to teacher when she added, “I shouldn’t be too long.  Help yourself to some coffee.”

Bye bye, Mommy Dearest. 

Bekah set her coffee down on the coupons and began rubbing her eyes. Why, oh why had this night turned into such a nightmare?  She smeared her hands on her jeans and hoped Dan would just leave her alone. Tomorrow, she’d probably be angry enough to tell him off. Right now, her heart and head felt too heavy to deal with him, not to mention the pounding in her temples.

“Rose?” He slid off of the couch and lifted her coffee as he planted himself on the table in front of her. Their knees nearly touched and his cologne still clung to his skin, mixed with what she believed to be perspiration.  After all, no young guy can run around in leather for hours and not sweat a bit, right?

But he’d removed his jacket, the show off. His forearms bulged as he set her cup on the floor next to her and then folded them across his lap.

Go away, Teacher. Just go away.  I never should have called you.

“Hey, look at me.” He nudged her chin with his index finger and quickly withdrew it. 

“Why should I?”

“Listen, I’m sorry if I humiliated you but short of calling a squad, I didn’t know what else to do.  For all I knew, you’d downed a bottle of pills and then lied about it.”

“Why would you think that?” She raised her head and glared into his searching, sad eyes.  “Have I ever struck you as suicidal?”

He shook his head. “Not exactly.  I’ve seen a lot of different things in you, but no, suicide isn’t one of them. But that doesn’t mean anything, does it?”

He seemed to be awaiting a reply, which she gave in the form of a minute shrug. 

“Eight years ago,” he went on, “no one would have guessed I was suicidal, but I came close more than once.”

“Why?” She had no idea why she’d allowed that question to slip.  Her heart urged her to shut up and never talk to the creep again, but something else seemed to be tugging on her.  Like…something deeper than the heart, urging her to listen.

What’s deeper than the heart?

He shifted so that she could no longer feel the heat of his knees across from hers.  Briefly he wiggled one leg and then shrugged. “I don’t think I should go into detail, but let’s say I’ve got some skeletons in my closet. God saved me from all of that.”

“God?”  Bekah frowned.  “What did He do, reach down and slap you upside the head or something?”

He stared evenly.  “Something like that.”

“So, now you’re going to preach to me about how I need God?  After pretending to be a friend and then coming over here to involve my mom in this whole-”


“Do you have any idea what my mom’s been through already?  I mean, with the whole Towers thing and Dad leaving and now she’s going to think I’m…”

Dan leaned forward, brows raised in expectancy.  Apparently he’d been waiting for her to spill the beans about all the freaking drama she’d been through, but no dice.  No doubt he’d heard some things about Towers and no doubt he knew about Dad leaving.  But that’s all he needed to know.

“Go on,” he prodded.

“Why should I?  I’m just saying…Mom’s been through enough and I don’t want her getting the wrong idea.”

At first he didn’t move or respond.  But as she sat there, she began to recognize the probing look often given when people are awaiting a certain reaction.

“What?” she asked.

He leaned forward a little more. “Would it really be a wrong idea?”

She bristled as heat washed over her face.  What was he trying to accuse her of?  “Don’t even think it, Shields.”

“Think what?  That…” He peeked over his shoulder to the dim hallway and then turned back to her, lowering his voice. “The attraction’s been obvious, hasn’t it?  And not just one-sided.”

“What?” She rubbed her arms despite feeling plenty warm enough, thank you. Never in any of her wacked out dreams had she imagined sitting here with a teacher, discussing their attraction.  What happened with Towers was a completely different story.

“You know,” he said. “I don’t have to spell it out for you, but I do know one thing.”

Did she dare ask what?  Her heart began to hammer as she awaited the rest of his statement, though she guessed she’d be wiser to take a flying leap out of here.

She could hear him swallow and his voice sounded a little hoarse when he finally hit the nail:  “We need to keep our distance.” 

With that, he peeked down the hallway again and reseated himself on the couch as his fingers slid through his thick, needing-to-be-cut waves. While he puffed his breath out in a long, steady stream, the gravely, goosebump-inducing laughter of a certain, knife-fingered fiend began to rattle her brains.

Unfortunately, there would be no more vodka to shut him up- not tonight and or for a very long time- thanks to Teacher. The same teacher who now planned on shoving her away like a nibbled sandwich. 

He’d shown interest, gotten to know her a tad, and now he was pulling back.

Just like that.

What did it matter, anyway?  Pulling back was the mature, smart, responsible thing to do, but she doubted he’d ever felt too attached to begin with. Like most men, he’d just been lusting.

Bekah shoved out of her chair, cursing the tears that kept knocking at the corners of her eyes. Somehow she managed to swallow them as she entered the kitchen and began digging in the refrigerator for a can of Coke. 

Anything beat sitting in that living room, feeling like a castaway or a troubled child.

The floor creaked behind her as soon as she opened the can, and then Teacher stood next to her with his hand propped on the counter top.  Watching her wearily with a curl peeping out from behind his ear and the collar of his black t-shirt drooping as though he’d stretched it too many times.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said.

“Who said I was hurt?” She took a long drink and the bubbles tickled her throat so much that she was forced to cough into her fist.  “I’m…” she coughed some more. “Fine.”

“There’s no sense in either one of us taking this to heart, Rebekah.”

Rebekah?  Not Rose anymore?


Stupid men.

“Attraction is one of the laws of nature, but we have to be careful how far we let it go.  I’m your teacher and a friend…a distant friend, and it needs to stay that way.  We both know that.”

Bekah pulled at the pop can tab, unsure how to take his forwardness.  Either he was playing the good teacher in order to snow her or he was serious…or…he was lying to himself. He wanted more than what he’d admit to, maybe?

“Have you read Narnia yet?” he asked and she nearly choked on her drink.

Why the heck did he keep bringing Narnia up and why the heck would he do it at a time like now?

Setting her can down on the counter, she plopped her hand on her hip and hoped to set him ablaze with a single sneer.  He didn’t look surprised, however, as he began feeling a faint layer of whiskers on his cheek.  Too relaxed a move for her taste- he should have shown at least a touch of annoyance.

What was his problem, drawing her close, then shoving her away, then bringing up stupid kiddie books?

“What is your hang up with Narnia?”

“Get Magician’s Nephew. Read and maybe you’ll understand why I keep bringing it up.”

“Why would you bring that up right now? Only a big nerd would do that, so congratulations. I think you’ve proven yourself a certified nerd.”

“And you’ve proven yourself to have a very bad attitude.  The more I get to know you, the more I realize that you absolutely do need counseling.”

“So now I’m just a nutcase?”

“I never said that. Don’t put words in my mouth.”

Her chest practically heaving as she considered throwing her Coke all over him, Bekah glanced toward the kitchen opening and hallway. She hadn’t heard her mother’s door, so she guessed she could squeeze in a few more snotty remarks.

“You never said it, but you’re thinking it, is that it?”

“No, that’s not it.” His frown countered hers and he finally dropped his hands to his hips. “I thought I was beginning to make myself clear in there.” He pointed to the living room. “But apparently you still don’t get it.”

“What? You mean your little confession?”

He nodded.

“Don’t give me any cheesy, ‘I’ve been there’ speeches, because I don’t need them. You haven’t been where I am and you never will be!”

“And vice versa, Rose, vice-versa.  You think my life has always been easy? Do you have any idea what I’ve been through with my parents, not to mention my sister?  I’ve practically grown an ulcer over her but you know what?”

Bekah pursed her lips, recalling how she’d scolded herself for giving him a hard time when Allie was sick.

“If it wasn’t for God in my life, I would have given up a long time ago.  When you’re in these situations, you need someone to hold onto, and if that someone is a mortal, you’re bound to be let down.  Do you get it?”

“It seems to me that…” She made quote marks with her fingers. “God’ is always letting people down. If He wasn’t, then explain all the misery in this wacked-out world.”

She thought she’d one-upped him, but his expression only became more solid as he leveled with her and said, “One word:  Sin.”

“Sin?  You’re saying I’ve sinned too much and so…” 

You have sinned- or whatever you want to call it.  You’re a liar and a drunk, among other things.

Besides, her problems hadn’t exactly been thrown at her.  She’d created them- or at least some of them.

She turned away to lean against the refrigerator.  She’d actually asked him about the rest of the world- not about herself. But she was beginning to see his point.  People screw up and create all sorts of problems, not just for themselves but for others. Just like she’d done to herself and to her mom.

She deserved the hell she’d been living in. Fully deserved it.

Suddenly the ticking of the clock on the dining room wall seemed louder than usual and her head began to pound even harder. Maybe more tears were coming or maybe the alcohol was now insisting that she lie down. Whatever.

She tucked her face against her palms, waiting for tears and wondering what Teacher was doing at that moment. Staring at her, frowning at her, reaching for her and pulling away?

It didn’t matter. 

It just didn’t flipping matter.

His warm hand covered her shoulder and she could hear his breathing as it slightly picked up.  “It’s OK, Rose,” he whispered.  “It’s going to be OK.  Just listen.”

She was listening, but unfortunately what she heard was her mother’s door opening down the hall.