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Introduction:

Jessica learns that there really is evil in the world.
“Now I get it.” Corey said, looking from Jessica to her men, to everyone else. “Now I understand what she did to you.” He said to the men. “It’s nothing you can help.” He said to Jessica when she started to look panicked and as if she desperately wanted to defend herself but couldn’t find a way. “Nothing that should be helped either. There’s nothing to forgive Jessica. Just keep doing what you’re doing. I’ve gotta go home to get my favorite shirt. Just remember that you told me to wear it.” He said pointing at Jessica. “Anyone else need to go home too?”
Everyone who lived at Sean’s place had to go.
“We’ll be back in a couple of hours.” Leah said kissing Jessica on the head.
“Hey, before you go.” Riley said, “I think the fact that the SWAT team isn’t all over us tells me what I need to know, but things went okay with the neighbors?”
“Yeah. No issues. We told them that some teenagers snuck on your land and set off firecrackers.” Sean said.
“Your closest neighbor here …” Corey said tilting his head to the south, “had like twenty cars in front of the house, dark as night, and some little old lady opens the door a crack and looks at me like I’m the devil. You have weird neighbors.” He added, shaking his head while he followed the others out the front door.
“Rick and I’ll have to go to town.” Abe said, brushing Jessica’s hair out of her eyes when she looked up at him. “I think we may push our luck if we show up at Paul’s today. “
“And,” Rick said, “you’ll be happy to know that Hawaiian shirts have never been my thing …”
“Yeah, I can’t see you in a Hawaiian shirt.” Jessica said, “neither of you. And um, Abe, I know you went to the trouble of making this but I can’t eat anymore. I’ll save it for later, ‘k?”
“I’ll put it in the fridge.” Abe said and took the plate. A few minutes later Rick and Abe were gone. Jessica and the men sat around the table in silence, observing one another.
“Corey said I did something to you. Did I?” Jessica asked, wondering if Corey’s statement was in reference to the reason that the men kept looking at her in odd ways.
“Made us into human beings.” Riley said, “No biggy.” Riley got up and went to squat next to Jessica. “Jess you haven’t done anything wrong. Don’t worry, okay?”
“If I haven’t done anything wrong, why do you keep looking at me in a weird way? You look … angry. Or disappointed …”
“Maybe we are angry and disappointed.” Jim said, taking Jessica’s hand, “But trust me, it’s not with you.”
“But nothing about last night is your fault!” Jessica stammered.
“It’s just a feeling Jess.” Josh said, “It’ll pass.”
“I’ve gotta feed the dogs, wanna come?” Riley asked Jessica. Jessica’s face brightened, successfully distracted, as was hoped.
Hours later the men stood in the suits they’d worn for the first date night, facing Jessica in the dress from the first date night. Everything about the moment seemed to Jessica to be beyond perfect. It was sunny and beautiful. Her men looked beyond handsome, and incredibly happy. Even the looks of complete and utter devotion on their faces, that had used to concern Jessica, now made Jessica melt inside. They had their family with them … seated on chairs in front of the pool house and Jessica and her men stood facing them. Sean stood between Jessica and the men in a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt. And Jessica had to giggle when she looked out over the audience and saw them wearing a mishmash of clothing. From baggy track pants and torn shirts on the men to colorful spring dresses on the women. They seemed relaxed, and as excited about the wedding as she and her men were.

“Before we read the oath, we’ve each prepared something we want to say to you.” Scott said to Jessica, indicating the other men with a nod of his head. “We drew straws to determine the order we go in, and I got first.” Sean moved back so the men and Jessica could move closer to one another. Dropping to one knee Scott took Jessica’s hands in his and looked up at her with so much love she thought she was going to melt. “Jess. You changed everything in my life. I used to live life from one day to the next thinking I was happy. But I never knew what real happiness was until you came along. I never knew what being in love was. I’ve never been in love before. Not only are you my perfect sexual match, but you are also my life match. I’ve never felt as close to anyone as I feel to you. You’re my lover and my friend and I can’t imagine life without you. I will cherish and belong to you forever. I’m in love with you Jess … Are you crying?”

Jessica nodded and threw her arms around Scott’s neck, burying her face in the top of this head.

“That’s so sweet.” She sniffed between sobs. She lifted her head and looked down at Scott.

He cupped her face and used his thumbs to wipe the tears from her eyes. “I really didn’t mean to make you cry …”

“I’m crying because I’m happy.” Jessica sniffed. “I love you too Scott. You’ve brought a lot of joy into my life. You’ve awaken me to the sexual part of me that I never would have known without you, and it’s helped lead us here. But there’s so much more to us than sex. You taught me intimacy, and how a man and women should be together. Trusting, experimenting, playing. You were willing to include me in the realization of your horseback riding dream, you have no idea how much that means to me. And in addition to the sex and the intimacy, you’ve been my friend. I’ll be yours forever.” She kissed his lips tenderly and when she pulled back to look at Scott her knees went weak. His brown eyes were moist and so filled with want for her, need for her, love for her that Jessica melted inside. She lent in to him and kissed him more fully, with all of her emotion and Scott responded in kind. And for once they were both left breathless, not from the lust of the kiss but from the emotion of it.

“You’ve made me the happiest man alive.” Scott whispered against her lips. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. And I intend to use that time proving to you how much I love you.” Scott kissed her again and then righted her on her feet, nodding to Angus who was waiting next to Scott. Sniffling, Jessica turned to Angus.

“Jess.” Angus said, holding his hand out to her. Jessica took it and Angus lowered onto his knee. “I have been the biggest asshole. No one here has hurt you, as much as I have. But still, you’ve forgotten all of that. You’ve done the bravest thing I’ve ever heard of and risked more abuse in order to try and make things work between us. You gave me my humanity back Jess … words can never express how much that means to me. I’ll always be grateful for that. I’m in love with you Jess, no words can express how much. I promise to love you, cherish you, honor you, for the rest of my life. I’ll never be that asshole again.” Angus looked up at Jessica as he spoke, with an expression that melted her heart. He reminded her of a little boy. So vulnerable, so repentant, and so afraid that he wouldn’t be loved. Tears ran down her cheeks again.

“Angus,” she sniffled. “The way we came to know one another and everything that happened then is in our past and the only reason I ever think about it is to be thankful that as awful as things were then, at least it brought us together. Ever since then Angus you’ve made me so happy. I love you. I promise to honor and cherish you forever.”

Angus lent in and kissed her belly. Jessica felt like a blanket of love had settle over her as she ran her fingers through his hair. A minute later Angus got to his feet and towered over her, pulling her in for a long and deep kiss. He’d never kissed her so tenderly before. Never. And Jessica kissed back. Putting all the love she could into it for the little boy in Angus. By the time they’d parted, they clung to one another, knees weak. Angus brought his lips to her ear and whispered, “Riley is waiting.” Jessica nodded and giving Angus a final kiss she turned to Riley.

“Jessica.” He began, his voice cracking with emotion. The look on Riley’s face right then … the rawness of his emotions, the struggle he made to maintain control of himself, made Jessica feel a clenching deep within her. Deep in the pit of her stomach, there was an emotion so strong and all consuming Jessica didn’t know what to do with it. It felt like it would tear her apart. She wanted nothing more than to let Riley know that she felt the same way but she was speechless and her body was failing her. So when Riley sank to his knee, Jessica went with him. Leaning in to him. He tilted her face up. “You’ve brought joy into my life. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel like this. I feel ten years younger, and so eager to live. Jess, I’ve never wanted to experience life as much as I do now, with you. I hope I can return the favor and make your life everything you could possibly want, and more. I love you so much. I need you so much. I promise to take care of you. To love you. To cherish and protect you. Forever.” Riley managed the last word and got choked up again.

“Riley. I love you too.” Jessica gave up on trying to dry the tears that ran down her face in a steady stream. She balanced on his bent knee and ran the fingers of both hands through his hair caressing him. “I don’t think you could ever really know how much. I want you to be happy and you make me so happy. I am in love with you. I will honor , love, and cherish you for the rest of our lives.” Riley smiled and kissed her cheek, his thumbs stroking both her cheeks in a bid to stem the flow of tears. He continued with small kisses, his hot breath tickling her skin, as he kissed his way along her jaw line to her mouth. Slipping his tongue into her mouth, slowly, deeply, caressing her tongue as he pulled her in, tight against him, Riley poured all of this feelings, hopes, dreams, love, into the kiss Jessica felt all the way to her toes. Neither one could talk when they finally pulled away, Jessica resting her forehead against Riley’s panting. It took all of Riley’s wherewithal to manage a nod toward Josh.

Jessica tried to get up but she couldn’t. Josh had sunk to his knee next to Riley and recognizing Jessica’s struggle, Josh shifted her from Riley’s bent knee to his saying, “Don’t get up Jess, it’s good like this.” They kissed. Soft little kisses, foreheads pressed together. “Jess …” Josh said, looking up at her. Jessica felt her heart squeeze. Josh looked like a devoted puppy who wanted nothing more than to please.

Jessica slid her fingers into his hair on either side of his head.

“My Prince aushoJ, “ Jessica said and leaned in to him.

“My Princess acisseJ.” He murmured against her mouth. They hugged for a long time without saying anything. “I love you Jess.” Josh finally said.

“I know you do.” She said quietly. “And though I’m glad that I’m not digitally challenged … everything else in the story, every feeling that Princess acisse… that I have in that story, is true. I’ve fallen in love with you … we come from the same world now.”

A whispered, “Prince and Princess who?” By one of the girls was the only indication that they had an audience. They had been so quiet in fact that Jessica had forgotten that they weren’t alone. She was so full of love for Josh right then that even the prospect of the others reading the comic and seeing some of their most intimate moments, didn’t faze her.

“Thank you. Thank you for giving me a chance after what I did to you. Both when I was awake, and when I wasn’t. You’ve made me so happy. I never thought life could be like this.” Josh whispered. “I love you Jessica, with all of my heart. Thanks for bringing happiness to my life. I will never hurt you again. I just want your life to be as happy as mine has become. I promise to love, cherish and honor you always.”

“Josh. I love you too. My life is happy and so much of it is because of you. I love how romantic you are. From early on you expressed your feelings for me through the comic and that has made me feel special and loved. I will love, cherish and honor you forever.” Jessica wiped the tears from her eyes as she leaned even harder against Josh and kissed him. Josh ran his hands down her back and pulled her closer as their kiss deepened. Their tongues entwined and caressed and stroked one another. By the time Josh pulled back to give Jim his turn Jessica was rendered senseless. It wasn’t until she saw Jim, standing quietly, looking so sexy in his suit, observing her with pure love and devotion radiating from his blue eyes and lopsided grin, that she had the wherewithal to feel her heart squeeze hard. She struggled to breath as tears flowed down her cheeks.

Jim held his hand out to her and Jessica took it. Josh helped her stand and move into Jim’s arms. “Jessica.” Jim said, his voice was full of emotion, and he couldn’t go on.

They clutched one another, faces pressed together and it was easy to tell that Jessica sobs weren’t Jessica’s alone.

“Jessica,” Jim said again, “you are my life. You’re my best friend, my true soul mate. I will love you forever. And as long as you are by my side, my life will be complete. Thank you for making my life so full of happiness and love.”

“J..J…Jimmy,” Jessica finally managed between gasps for breath, “I love you. Thank you for getting us here. For never giving up, for enduring so much to make our marriage happen. I will love, cherish, and honor you forever.” She managed before another round of sobs shook her. Quiet minutes passed as Jessica and Jim clung to one another. When the sobbing subsided Jim tilted Jessica’s face up and they kissed. Slow and deep they explored one another with their tongues. Jim sliding his fingers in Jessica’s hair and gently but firmly holding her in place, Jessica wrapping her arms around his neck and melting her body against him. When Jim finally pulled back Jessica was overwhelmed by the depth of the love and devotion reflected in his deep blue eyes as they held hers. “Let’s make it officially baby.” He finally said. The other men moved closer, each finding a part of Jessica to lay a hand on and as she gazed across the faces of each one of them, she thought she was going to explode with emotion.

She blinked up at the men … her eyes wet. She’d never seen them so overcome by emotion before. Her melted a thousand times over. She tried to speak but no words would come out.

“It’s okay Jess.” Jim said when it was clear she was completely overwhelmed. “You don’t have to say anything, we know how you feel. You show us every day.”

Josh nodded, “And our mission is to show you every day, just how much we love you.”

“Both inside and outside of the bedroom.” Scott said. Jessica expected his eyes to twinkle with mischief as his sexy mouth twisted into a lopsided grin before he leered provocatively at her, but they didn’t. His eyes were brown pools of emotion, and his face very serious when he added, “We want you to know just how much we love you with our hearts, not just our bodies. If your heart isn’t bursting with love each and every day, we’re not doing our jobs.”

“And Jess, we vow that you will never hurt again.” Riley said, “We will do whatever it takes to keep you happy.”

“No one will ever hurt you again Jess.” Angus added, “I … we … will do whatever … whatever … it takes to ensure that. I swear to you on my life.”

Jessica nodded, sniffling. “I promise the same to you.

“We’re the luckiest men on the face of the planet.” Riley said, his voice choked with emotion.

“I’m the luckiest woman on the face of the planet.” Jessica managed to say before renewed sobs of joy stole her voice again. The men moved in closer hugging her between them.

After a few minutes Riley said, “Let’s say our oath baby. I don’t want to wait another minute for our friends to witness the confirmation of our marriage.”

The men moved back into a semi-circle around Jessica facing the seated audience.

“I made copies of the oath.” Sean said extending a paper to Jessica and five to the men.

“Thank you Sean, but I know it by heart.” Jessica said, smiling at the men.

“So do we.” Jim said, smiling back so much his face hurt.

“Please recite your oath.” Sean said, shuffling the papers into a neat pile. Jessica and the men began the oath. They said it slowly, clearly, and with so much emotion that Leah, Sara, Amanda and Justine had to dab their eyes with tissues.

“Please exchange the rings.” Sean directed when the oath was completed. Riley pulled the rings out of his suit pocket. Jessica held her hand out and the men each took a turn sliding her wedding band onto her shaking finger.

“This is forever Jess.” Josh said, being the last one to slip it on her finger and grasping her trembling hand in his two strong hands. Jessica nodded, her eyes locked on his.
“Forever.” She agreed. And then it was her turn to slip Josh’s wedding band on his finger, then Jim’s, Scott’s, Angus’ and Riley’s.
“I now confirm that you are men and wife.” Sean said and the men swarmed Jessica for a kiss. Jessica was radiant, despite the lack of sleep. Leah had brought a camera and pictures were taken. And it didn’t take long before the bathing suits were donned and the swimming and partying began.
“Rum and coke?” Quinn asked when Jessica was momentarily alone on a lawn chair.
Jessica looked at him in surprise as he took a seat on the lawn chair next to her.
“Thanks … how’d you know?”
“I asked Riley.” Quinn said and lifted his glass to hers in a salute. “Congratulations on the official wedding.”
“Thanks.”
“You look really happy.” He said observing her.
“I am. How are you?”
“Me? Fine.” Quinn said clearly pleased by Jessica’s interest.
“Um, Quinn. I think you need to be careful. I’ve seen Stan giving you looks. Not nice ones either.”
Quinn nodded. “I have too. Don and Caleb mentioned it too. I think the only person who hasn’t noticed is Amanda …”
“She doesn’t believe you?”
“She doesn’t want to believe any of us. This treating us equally thing seems a lot more complicated than I thought it would be.”
“My men had an advantage over you Stan, Don and Caleb.” Jessica said, “They had a history. A common history. They were family. It’ll take longer for you four to feel that way and until you do, it’ll always feel like Amanda favors one of you over the other. But that’s not your biggest problem.”
“It’s not?”
“No. Stan obviously isn’t committed to this. You’re going to have to deal with that.”
Quinn nodded and got to his feet. “When you’ve got a wrap or some kind of clothing on, save a dance for me, okay?” he looked her up and down in the bikini, winked and walked over to Amanda.
“Rum and coke?” Stan asked. Jessica looked up at him with surprise. She looked at her half full glass from Quinn, but took Stan’s in her other hand.
“Thanks.”
“Pretty boy’s been over here complaining to you …” Stan stated as he sat where Quinn had been.
“Why don’t you like him?” Jessica asked.
“I don’t know. I want to … it’s too complicated otherwise, but I just can’t.”
“You know, you could have an arrangement like Justine, Chris and Mark … have specific days together.” She added when Stan looked clueless. “We did that for a long time.” She added when he’d started to shake his head.
“You did?” he asked in surprise.
“The current arrangement is quite recent. Since we took the oath. Before that I had a specific night with each of the men. I think that was an advantage. Everyone had guaranteed one on one time. No sharing.”
“Really …” Stan said, seeming to consider it.
“Do you want some of this rum and coke?” Jessica asked him, “I don’t think I can drink it all.”
“Sure …” he said and reached for the glass he’d given her but Jessica pulled it away and handed him the glass Quinn had given her. She took a long sip from the glass she’d kept.
“This is really good, thanks.”
Stan stared at her for a minute before smiling. “You’re really a natural at this fairness thing. You’re welcome … and thank you.” He said raising the half empty glass and then tossing it back in one gulp. “You planning on motorbiking later?” he asked, standing.
Jessica nodded.
“Save a race for me.” He said before stalking away.
Jessica lay back on the lawn chair, closed her eyes and enjoyed the sun until something blocked it. Opening her eyes she squinted at the shapes before her. Caleb and Don.
“We thought you might want a water and juice.” Don said.
“If you drink a rum and coke every time one of us comes to complain to you, you’ll have alcohol poisoning.” Caleb added when Jessica looked confused.
“Thanks.” Jessica said taking the bottle of water and glass of juice from Don.
“So, we take it that you’re fully aware of the situation?” Don asked while he and Caleb sat.
“I think so.” Jessica said.
“And?” Caleb asked.
“And I suggested to both Quinn and Stan that you change the agreement of your relationship. Go to specific one on one nights with Amanda. It guarantees everyone attention. I think it’s the best move at this point.”
They nodded their heads, “Hadn’t thought of that.” Don said.
“Now for something fun.” Don said, “I think you’ve spent far too much time and energy working on world peace … we brought some guitars.” He said reaching behind him and lifting two guitars, handing one to Jessica. Caleb produced one too. “Want to jam a bit?”
“Do I ever.” Jessica said. Pretty soon everyone had migrated over and sang along. It was great fun except her men were still looking at her with that expression. She didn’t understand how all five of them could look at her in exactly the same way. And somehow the look had intensified. At least now she could recognize love and devotion in it. She realized that Jim was right. The anger and disappointment she saw in their faces was self-directed. She had to change that. She would change that.
And later that night she made her first full blown step in that direction. As a wedding gift she’d asked the men to let her pleasure them on their wedding night. It was clear they weren’t thrilled about it, but they didn’t argue. And that scared her. They tried a few times to take over but Jessica just had to remind them about the agreement and they all but tied their hands behind their backs.
She worked like a demon. And hours later they passed out from sheer exhaustion. But despite her own fatigue, nightmares plagued Jessica. After the third one, Jessica let the men hold her until they fell to sleep. Then she carefully extricated herself from their limbs, put on a house coat and went out to the living room. No one was going to get any sleep if she kept trying to sleep… she pulled out her calculus and started studying.
“Jess?”
Jessica turned to the hallway and found the men, half asleep and completely disheveled making their way into the living room.
“I can’t sleep.” She said, “Go back to bed …”
“You can’t sleep so you came out here? Like this will help somehow?” Angus asked.
“Calculus.” Jim said from behind the sofa, looking over her shoulder, “Well, that might work.”
“You should go back to bed, get some sleep.” She said looking at Angus and Scott while each sat on either side of her. Jim came around to sit beside Scott. Riley fell into the armchair and Josh dragged a kitchen chair to the sofa. “I’m just going to keep you awake.”
“You obviously have no idea how often we wake up during the night.” Josh said, “Practically every hour. Just to check on you, pull you closer … there’s no way we weren’t going to notice that you were gone Jess. We can’t sleep without you there.”
“I can’t sleep without you either.” Jessica said, “Though now it seems like I can’t sleep at all. And I don’t understand why. I didn’t have these problems after Daryl.”
“You were drugged up after Daryl.” Riley said, “You probably slept through it all.”
Jessica shook her head. “It doesn’t feel any different. I honestly believe that both situations were self-defense. I shouldn’t be having nightmares.”
“Maybe the other night reminds you of what happened to your family.” Jim said. “There are a lot of similarities.”
“And, you flashed back for a moment …” Scott said, dread evident in his tone.
“I did?” Jessica asked. Suddenly all that guilt the men were feeling made sense.
Josh nodded, “On stage, with Paul. You said you had to find your family.”
“Yes, I did.” Jessica said, “But I meant you … and the others. I don’t know that I really like calling us a … clan. But family is better. It’s what you are to me.”
“Us. You called us your family …” Angus said.
Jessica nodded. “I mean, doesn’t it feel like that to you? Obviously we,” she swept her hand to indicate herself and the men, “are a family. We’re married. But Sean, Corey, Caleb, Mark, Don, Stan, Chris, Quinn, Leah, Justine, Amanda, Sara, Rick and Abe feel like family. We’ve been through a lot together.”
“So, you weren’t wigging out? On stage?” Riley asked.
“Oh I was wigging out because I wanted to find you. All of you. Oh!” Jessica suddenly realized that the men and the others lost real family members to her biological family. Maybe calling them a family was painful in some way. “If you think the term family might upset someone we can stick with clan.”
“I suspect ‘family’ will more than do.” Riley said, intertwining his feet with hers.
“So something else has to be causing your nightmares.” Jim said.
“What do you dream about, exactly?” Scott asked.
“I don’t know.” Jessica said, “I don’t remember. I just know that I have this awful feeling that you’ll all be dead. You … and the others, and Stasia. Everyone will be gone and I’ll be alone. I just feel so, powerless.”
“You know, I’ve been having nightmares too.” Riley said.
“You have?” Jessica asked.
Riley nodded. “I keep remembering when I saw you chase Paul out of the pool house. When you blocked him … I thought he was going to kill you. No matter how fast I tried to move I couldn’t seem to get to you. Both last night, and in my dreams. We were all trying to get to you.” He looked at the other men, “I keep dreaming about everything that could have gone wrong. You end up dead in a million different ways … and none of us could help you. I think the dreams will have to fade with our fears. It’ll just take time.”
Jessica nodded.
“Maybe … just to take the edge off, Jess should have a drink … or some of the pills from Doc.” Josh suggested.
“Before we get ahead of ourselves and raid the medicine cabinet, I can think of way better ways to tire Jess out.” Scott said. “Jess, I know sex marathons may be getting a little old. But we can help in different ways too. Massages are great for relaxing. Warm baths, lullabies, bed time stories …”
“Scott, sex marathons will never get old. They’re my favorite things … ever. But, um, are you sure you’re up for it?” Jessica asked, smiling at the men, proud of her double entendre. “It’s been a long day … and night already …”
“Oh, we’re up for it little girl.” Angus said, trying to sound insulted as he ran his hand from Jessica’s knee to her crotch, “But your wedding gift is over. This time it’s all us fucking you. Got it? These …” he said reaching for her wrists, “and this …” he said kissing her, “stay out of the way. Got it?”
“Yes master.” Jessica said. And that was the last straw. Angus scooped Jessica up and took her to their room. The men following. Jessica’s screams of pleasure were followed hours later by Jessica’s screams of terror as Jessica had nightmare after nightmare. Again.
The next morning the men dragged themselves into the living room while Jessica showered.
“Is she okay?” Amanda asked. She sat slouched on the sofa between Quinn and Caleb. Everyone was scattered around the living room, and they all looked as tired as the men felt.
“I don’t think so.” Jim said and nodded his appreciation when Rick handed him a coffee.
“We’ll have to get meds from doc tonight.” Riley said.
Everyone nodded in silent agreement.
“That non-violence thing was for real.” Quinn said looking around the room, “She couldn’t have forgiven us if we’d killed anyone and now she can’t forgive herself.”
“Shit, shit, shit.” Angus said, and kicked an empty chair.
“One things for sure.” Sean said, “We can’t kill anyone else. She can’t kill anyone else. The violence ends now, for real. Or she’ll never recover.”
“She needs a distraction.” Leah said.
Jim nodded. “She should go to the bar. I’ve been texting with some of the band and they said Beth hasn’t been around in a while. I don’t think she’ll run into her there, and it’ll get her mind off of things.”
“Good idea.” Angus agreed just as Jessica appeared.
“I’m so sorry …” she said, scanning the room and seeing so many exhausted faces.
“Sorry!” Leah bellowed, ran to Jessica and pulled her into her arms, “For what? Come on you crazy girl, let’s get some breakfast into you.” And she started pulling Jessica to the kitchen.
“We should get started on the chores.” Corey said heading for the door when suddenly a barrage of bullets chewed through the door, the walls, the window. Everyone dropped to the floor. Leah, on top of Jessica.
“Are you okay?” Abe asked as he and Josh converged on Leah and Jessica.
“Yes, what about Corey?” Jessica asked, lifting her head to see bullets ripping the furniture to shreds, the TV shattered everywhere. Everyone was crawling to the gun rack on the wall.
“I’m fine.” Corey called out, “Grazed my head.”
Don reached the gun rack, tossed a gun to Corey, and then began handing them back. Eventually Abe, Josh, Leah and Jessica had guns too.
“Take this you lying sacks of shit!” a voice yelled from outside and another volley of gunfire sprayed the house.
“It’s Tom!” Abe hissed.
“And we’re surrounded.” Angus said coming back down the hall.
“Jess, we’re going to have to fire back … defend ourselves.” Riley yelled over the noise of the bullets chewing up the furniture.
“I know.” Jessica said, but she felt despair seize her. More blood. But then she had an idea. “Hold on, hold on.” She said and crawled to the basement door. “Shoot back but try not to kill anyone. Just for a few minutes. Leah, Justine, Sara, Amanda, come with me.”
“What’s she doing?” Caleb demanded as he watched the girls disappear downstairs. He fired a few burst of gun fire through the window. “It won’t be long before they come in here.”
“It’s probably safer for them down there anyway.” Stan said.
“The fucking window!” Angus shouted and crawled for the basement door.
“Shit!” Riley hissed and followed him. Moments later several shots rang out and then there was silence.
“Come out!” Jessica yelled from outside, “And don’t shoot us …”
“Go, go , go!” Riley said, pointing at the door.
“I’ll go out the back.” Angus said and went down the hall, gun held in front of him.
“We’re coming out the front and back doors.” Angus yelled.
“Okay.” Justine replied from the back of the house.
Corey nozzled the front door open with the gun.
“I count five …” he said, “they have their hands in the air.”
As everyone made their way down the front porch they found Leah and Sara pointing their guns at Tom and four others. Blood ran down their legs, and their guns had been kicked aside.
From the side of the house came some men with their hands behind their heads, limping. Jessica followed the first two, gun trained on their backs. Amanda and Justine behind two more and Angus was shoving a fifth.
“Sit down you assholes.” Angus muttered as the five dropped next to the first five.
“Is everyone okay?” Jessica asked, looking around at the men and the others.
“Yes.” Riley said, “And apparently so is the enemy. Jess, what are we supposed to do with them?”
“What you do so well.” Tom piped in, his face and voice filled with hatred, “Shoot us and throw us in a pit in your field. Just like you did to Daryl and his kin.”
“We didn’t …” Jim began.
“Oh yes you did. We saw it. The hole filled with bodies. Fresh ones too. I guess Daryl’s at the bottom of it somewhere. You yellow bellied mother fuckers … first you double cross Daryl and then when he calls you on it you kill him.”
“A pit?” Jessica asked, looking up at Riley. She looked like she’d vomit.
“The bodies had to go somewhere Jess. There were too many to take elsewhere …”
“So you admit it.” The man next to Tom said. “Good. Now hurry up and kill us. Get it over with.”
“Shut up.” Sean said.
“Or what?” the man said with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a bigger bunch of back stabbers.”
“I said shut up!” Sean yelled.
“Just shoot us and put us in that pit of yours …” the man said, but his voice was starting to take on a note of hysteria. Obviously the situation was beginning to dawn on him. And the others. They started to look scared.
“Shut the fuck up!” Sean yelled and bashed him on the head with the butt of his rifle. The man fell over, and Jessica turned around and vomited. And she didn’t stop.
“Jess?” Angus asked, standing next to her and rubbing her back as all the remaining contents of her stomach projectiled out of her and eventually she was left dry heaving so hard she began to cry from the pain.
“I’m sorry Jess.” Sean kept saying, over and over, “Look, he’s alright.” He finally said when Jessica seemed to stop dry heaving and knelt on the ground crying. Sean walked over and dragged the guy up by his arm. “Tell her. Tell her you’re alright. Now!”
“Lady, lady, I’m alright, I’m fine. Just a bruise on the head …” the man said urgently. Jessica turned around and dropped onto her butt. Angus kneeling beside her, still rubbing her back. Her eyes were full of tears, snot covered her face, but she looked over where Sean was holding the gun to the guy’s head. It was under duress but the man was okay.
“Here.” Angus said pulling his shirt off and handing it to Jessica. She took it and wiped her face.
“Thanks.” She said and sat looking at the group of ten men sitting cross legged on the ground.
Riley came and crouched next to Jessica.
“Jess,” he whispered. “What are we going to do with them?”
“Why did they attack us?” she croaked, her throat sore from puking.
“Why did you attack us?” Riley asked, standing.
“Why do you think you son of a …” Tom spat but thought better of continuing.
“You called and told me that you believed that we didn’t kill Daryl, and now, days later, you’re here trying to kill us. What changed your mind?”
Tom looked around, at his men, at the men and women standing around them with guns, and at the woman who’d puked. Something felt off. Why didn’t they kill them. They could have, easily. And it didn’t escape his notice that they still could. Probably would.
“Does it matter?” he asked.
“Yes.” Riley said, but didn’t seem convinced.
“We got a tip. About the pit.” Tom said.
“We didn’t kill Daryl.” Riley said.
“Yes. You did.” Tom replied.
“No. He didn’t.” Jessica croaked. “I did. I killed all of them.”
“Yeah, right” Tom said with a disgusted laugh. His men laughed too. “Is this going to be your story? That some weepy eyed little … girl, killed a bunch of armed men”
“You listen to me!” Jessica croaked forcefully, moving too fast for Angus to register that she was gone, she crawled right into the group of men sitting on the ground, right up to Tom and stuck her face in his. “Your group of yellow bellied … your men, they showed up here. Snuck up on the men. Tied them up, beat them, and went around looking for me so they could rape me in front of them. When they couldn’t find me they gave up and decided to execute them … beginning with the baby. So Riley could watch all of his family die one by one. If I hadn’t killed them, we’d all be dead. And just because Daryl was too stubborn to hear what Riley kept telling him. Riley told him over and over that they would not be at the attack. Why didn’t Daryl listen?”
“He never said that. Never.” Tom said, staring at the face that was pushed so close to his. It was hard to tell her age. She could have been a kid … a teen, or a very young looking woman. She was pretty, no doubt about that. Pretty and disarming. She was so close he could do any number of things before the guns that were now trained on him could kill him. He could spit in her face, head butt her, bite her, kiss her … but he didn’t want to do any of them. And not because of the certain death that would follow, but because she seemed to really believe what she was saying.
“Yes he did. I heard him.” She said.
“So did I.” Tom replied.
Suddenly she was gone. One of the men … Scott, he was pretty sure his name was Scott, had picked her up by her waist and carted her off to safety. For a second Scott stood looking down at her, hanging in his arms, and looked undecided as to what to do with her. But eventually he put her on her feet.
“Stay away from them Jess. Please.” He said into her ear. She nodded and leaned in to him. Jessica opened her mouth to apologize when Tom’s answer stopped her.
“What do you mean, that you heard him?” Jessica asked.
“Exactly that. I heard him,” Tom planted his eyes on Riley, “Reassure Daryl that he and his men would be at the rendezvous.”
“That’s impossible.” Riley stammered.
“Paul also made it clear that we weren’t going.” Jim said when Riley seemed dumbfounded.
That took Tom by surprise. “No, Paul guaranteed that you would be there.”
Everyone stood looking at one another.
“That son of a bitch!” Angus thundered and turned to Rick and Abe.
“We had no idea.” Rick said, and to both Rick and Abe’s credit they lowered their guns rather than raised them.
“You’re in his clan … why would he do that to you?” The man next to Tom asked.
“That’s something we’ll have to ask him.” Riley said.
“Better hurry up, if I have my way he won’t be alive for long.” Tom muttered but then his situation came back to him. “If I had my way.” He corrected.
“Riley, are you really able to go to war with Paul right now?” Leah asked and nodded her head toward Jessica who stood leaning against Scott, head lowered, chewing on her lip.
“Jess.” Riley said. He had to repeat it a few times, and walk over and tilt her head up so she’d look at him before he had her attention.
“Hmmm?”
“Think out loud time …” Riley said.
“Oh, right, sorry.” Jessica said and turned to look at Tom. “When did you get the hint about the … pit?”
“A couple of days ago.” Tom said.
“A couple of days?” Josh asked.
“You’re sure?” Quinn asked.
“Not last night?” Abe demanded.
Tom looked around. “No, a couple of days … it took us that long to get here.”
“After we asked for immunity but before … the pit.” Stan said.
“All this time Paul’s been trying to get us mad … fighting mad. He wanted us to attack him … go to war with him.” Angus said.
“But why?” Chris asked.
“To justify killing us.” Angus replied. “Rest of the clan couldn’t complain if we attacked first.”
“But he miscalculated.” Jim said and became confused when by the smile on Justine’s face. She nodded at Jessica. Jessica was busy chewing on her lip again. He sighed, “Out loud Jess …” he prompted.
Jessica looked up at Tom again. “So, your beef with us is …?”
“Over.” Tom said, “I’m not happy you killed them …but it seems we were manipulated into the situation.”
“Okay. Let them go.” Jessica and started walking toward the house.
“What?” We can’t just let them go Jess.” Angus grumbled.
“You’re right.” Jessica stopped, looking at the men on the ground. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking. Um, Rick and Abe, you have your first aid kits, right? I’ll help you patch up their wounds. It’ll only be temporary.” Jessica said, moving back into the group of men, crouching and looking at the bullet wound in Tom’s leg. “Just enough for you to get back to your doctor. And um, we were just about to have breakfast. If you haven’t eaten there should be plenty. Abe always makes enough for an army … and Sean, maybe you should go to the neighbor’s again? More fire crackers I guess?”
“Shit the neighbors.” Sean said.
“You get the weird ones this time.” Corey said.
Mark laughed as he and Caleb followed Sean and Corey to the cars.
“Jessica … we can’t let them go, and we can’t feed them breakfast.” Angus said with a mixture of exasperation and dread.
“I guess breakfast got all shot up …” Jessica said looking toward the house, “And the poor house …” she looked at the window and the walls all riddled with bullets.
“I can make more, and we can fix the house.” Abe said quietly and watched as Riley walked in between the men, scooped Jessica into his arms and carried her out.
“I think I’ll hold you for a while.” Riley said when Jessica clearly expected to be put down.
“We won’t come after you again.” Tom said. “You have my word.”
“Your word. Your word.” Angus muttered, “Well, that’s just great. Paul gave us his word and took it back, he’s part of our clan. You hate us, and we’re supposed to trust your word?”
“You can keep a hostage.” Tom said, “If it makes you feel better.”
“Hostage?” Jessica asked in horror, “No hostages …”
The men looked at one another. “Jess, if we’re going to let them go we need some assurances that they won’t attack us again. Tom would be more like our guest than a hostage … really.” Jim said.
“I’m only a little winged … I can help rebuild the house.” Tom said.
“Two helpers are better than one.” The man next to Tom said. “I volunteer to help too.”
“This is a complication we don’t need.” Angus said.
“How do we know that we can trust you?” Riley asked Tom. “Never mind the men who leave, you two can pull a gun and kill us any time.”
“We’ll join your clan.” Tom said. That brought everyone up short.
“We’re all that’s left of our clan.” Tom said, indicating the other nine men. “I’m not leader material, none of us are. And we’re tired of being alone. It seems like we’re being attacked from all sides, all the time.”
“You don’t know us .. why would want to join up with us?” Jim asked.
“I know you didn’t kill us. That’s enough for me.” Tom said.
“Paul considers us to be part of his clan.” Riley said. “And he’s been doing his best to get us killed.”
“Are you? Part of his clan?”
“For the time being, yes.” Riley said.
“And there is the matter of the pit.” Angus said.
Tom nodded. “But we’re still alive. Currently. That’s something.”
Riley looked at the men on the ground.
“Jesus Jess, what are you getting us into?” he asked.
Jessica looked at the men on the ground and then at Riley. “That’s the last of Daryl’s family.”
They looked at one another for a while. And then Riley began to nod.
“I’ll make breakfast.” Don said laying a hand on Abe’s shoulder, “You guys fix them up.”
“Let’s get you guys onto the lawn chairs.” Rick said. He, Abe, and the other’s began to help the wounded onto the lawn chairs.
“What are we doing?” Angus asked. Riley was still holding Jessica. Jim, Scott and Josh moved to stand next to them.
“It seems like we’ve adopted the remains of Daryl’s family.” Riley said.
Jessica beamed at Riley and then the others.
“We’ve become the pound?” Angus asked.
“No, an orphanage.” Jessica said reaching out to cup Angus’ face and rubbing her thumb on his cheek until the scowl disappeared.
“They are surprisingly young.” Josh said looking at the injured.
“The oldest can’t be more than twenty.” Scott said, “And there are a couple that could be fourteen or younger.”
“And they look kind of relieved.” Jim added.
“No one complained about joining, that’s for sure.” Angus added.
“Jess, out loud …” Scott said.
Jessica paused, nibbled her lip again and then looked up at Scott.
“Just trying to figure out how to get ten more immunities.”
“And, what did you come up with?” Jim asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Nothing yet.” Jessica said.
“Jess!” Rick called, “We need your help!”
“I should go and help.” Jessica said, patting Riley’s chest.
“Do you think that will keep you busy? Too busy to think?” Riley asked.
Jessica nodded and smiled, “I promise that if I get any ideas I will bring them to you first.” She said, kissing him, and then the others.
“What the fuck Riley.” Angus grumbled as they stood and watched Jessica go to Rick.
“Was killing them an option?” Riley asked. “I didn’t think so.” He added when Angus hung his head.

A couple of hours later the wounds were dressed, bellies were fed and the clean-up started.
“They’re so quiet.” Leah said observing the newcomers work. “Barely got any names out of them.”
“Probably still expecting a bullet to the head.” Angus grumbled. “Sorry Jess, that was a bad joke.” He said when Jessica gasped, looked at him in horror and then pouted. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her to him.
“Jess, why don’t you take a break and go to the bar?” Jim asked after casting Angus a dirty look.
Jessica got excited, took a look around at the mess that was left to clean, and forced herself to calm down. “I can go later, once we’re done here.”
“No, you can go now. Get.” Jim said.
Jessica still looked unsure.
“If it makes you feel any better,” Josh said, “We’ll leave you a pile of glass to clean up or something.”
“Are you coming too?” she asked Jim, after sticking her tongue out at Josh.
“No. I’ll go next time. You go ahead.”
Jessica looked hesitant.
“Go ahead. And you’d better hurry. Angus is starting to get that horny look to him. Any minute now he’s going to take you to the bedroom and we’ll all be into a sex marathon of hours and hours.” Jim said.
Jessica looked at Angus in surprise. Jim elbowed Angus, who also looked surprised. After a second prompt from Jim Angus clued in, squinted his eyes at Jessica and started growling.
Jessica laughed but went to change.
“Nice Jim, why don't you just tattoo sex fiend on my forehead?” Angus asked.
“I think someone beat me to it.” Jim said and laughed with Leah and Josh.

Half an hour later Jessica was on her way to the bar when she saw a car pulled over on the side of the road. Slowing she noticed Quinn leaning against it and when he noticed her he waved her down.
“What happened?” Jessica asked as he climbed in the passenger seat of the SUV.
“Nothing. I’ve been waiting for a chance like this … your friend Beth, do you want to help her get away from the clan?”
“Yes.” Jessica said in surprise.
“Then let’s go.” Quinn said. “What’s wrong?” he asked when Jessica sat looking at him.
“Um, Quinn. I appreciate this, I do. But I promised the men that I’d stay away from Beth. Maybe I should call them …”
“Don’t worry. You don’t have to go near her. I will. Look, my family … they all left the clan.”
“What? How?” Jessica asked.
Quinn leaned forward and said, “Plastic surgery.”
“Plastic surgery?”
Quinn nodded, “And false identities. They’re impossible to find.”
“That’s … perfect. Why didn’t you go?” Jessica asked.
“I wasn’t sure at first … about going. I helped my folks. My younger brother and sister. But by the time I decided to join them my clan had figured it out. I pretended to not know anything about what my family did to leave. And after some … persuasion, the clan finally believed me.”
“Persuasion?” Jessica asked.
“Let’s just say that I have a high pain tolerance.”
“Your own clan tortured you?” Jessica asked in horror.
Quinn nodded. “They forgot though that they’d trained me to withstand interrogation. In the end we came to a mutual understanding. They’d get nothing from me and in return, they’d give me nothing.”
“You were an outcast?” Jessica asked.
“Let’s just say it wasn’t a stretch for me to come here, to your clan.”
“You know just what Beth feels like.” Jessica said.
“And how to get her free.”
“So, what are we going to do?” Jessica asked.
“I can set-up a meet between her and the surgeon. Here, text her this info.” He said holding out a business card.
“I can’t Quinn. If Paul finds out that I’ve contacted her in any way …”
“Okay. I’ll text her.” Quinn said reaching into his inside pocket. Surprise registered on his face. He patted his jacket. “Must have left my phone in the car, be right back.” He said and spent several minutes at his car.
“It’s not there. I guess I left it at home.” He said back in the passenger seat.
“I have an idea. I’ll call Tracy at the bar and get Beth’s address. We can go there and you can give her the card.”
“That works.”
Jessica called Tracy, assured her that she’d be visiting soon, and asked for contact info for Beth.
Tracy was very worried about Beth. Apparently Beth had told her that she had an ex-husband that was out to get her. But in the end she agreed to text Jessica her address and to call her and let her know Jessica was coming to see her.
“I’m surprised she’s still alive.” Quinn said when Jessica got off the phone. “I’m just stating a fact …” he added quickly when Jessica looked like he’d just kicked her dog. “The clan specializes in tracking people down and they will torture and kill anyone that will lead them to the person they’re looking for. Beth has put Tracy and probably everyone at that bar at risk.”
“Great.” Jessica said. “They can’t all get plastic surgery and fake lives.”
“No. They can’t.”
“So what are we going to do?” Jessica asked. “Quinn?” she added when it looked like he had an idea.
“Right now we have to go talk to Beth. I’ll try and think of something for her friends.”
Jessica nodded and started the car. “You know, my men can help with that. I’m sure they’ll have some good ideas.”
“I’m sure they could.” Quinn said, “But unless you want to put their lives in danger you should keep this to yourself.”
Jessica cast glances at Quinn while she drove. “You shouldn’t have told me any of this Quinn.”
“Yeah. I guess I’ve put your life in danger now too. Sorry about that.”
“That’s not what I meant. But I ... I have to tell the men everything. It’s part of our oath.”
“But something like this … Come on Jessica, you can make judgment calls. They don’t need to know something they can be tortured or killed over.”
“I have to tell them.” Jessica said firmly. “But if you don’t give me a lot of detail then they won’t know much. All I can say at this point is that Beth may get plastic surgery done and get a fake id. That’s not much.”
Quinn stared at her. “Are you afraid of them? Is that why you have to tell them?”
“No.” Jessica said, “No, not at all. But I promised them to tell them everything just like they tell me everything. Without honesty and trust we have nothing.”
Quinn blinked at her a few times.
“And what if I asked you to not tell them?”
Jessica looked at Quinn. “Why would you do that?”
“Why do you think?”
Jessica looked back and forth between him and the road a few times.
“You don’t trust them.”
“Not completely.”
“But they want to leave the clan. We’re all leaving the clan, why would they care about … this? Quinn?” she prompted but he seemed at a loss for something to say.
“What are you doing?” Quinn asked when Jessica slowed, pulled on to the side of the road and pulled a u turn.
“This isn’t going to work. I’ll take you back to your car. Thanks for offering to help Beth but it’s just too dangerous. For everybody, especially you.” She glanced at Quinn, “I can understand why you would be weary of people from the clan knowing about the plastic surgeon. Being tortured by your own people once is bad enough, why take the risk of it happening again?”
“But what about Beth?” Quinn demanded.
“Don’t worry. My men will figure something out. They’ll get her out safely and protect the people at the bar.”
When they reached Quinn’s car Jessica did a u turn again and pulled up behind it.
“Thanks again Quinn. And just to be clear, please don’t tell me anything that you don’t want my men to know. I’ll see you back at home later. ‘K?” she asked and waited for him to get out. But he didn’t.
“So that’s it? You’re going to pass on a chance to help your friend just because you’d have to omit some information to your husbands?” Quinn demanded.
“Yes. But it doesn’t sound very nice when you put it that way.”
“That’s because it’s not very nice. It’s insane.”
Jessica crossed her arms over her chest. “You can get out any time now.”
“I’m sorry.” Quinn said, “I just don’t understand. How can they own you so much that you have to tell them every time you breathe?”
“That’s between me and my men.” Jessica said, “But if I promised you that I wouldn’t tell the men about this you’d expect me to keep that promise. In fact, you’d live your life on the premise that I wasn’t going to tell them. Well, the men and I live our lives expecting that we know everything about one another. And if that still doesn’t make sense to you … too bad. You don’t have to like it, it’s just the way it is. Now, go please. I’ll see you later.”
Quinn reached for the door handle but hesitated.
“Okay. Fine. You can tell them.”
“Why do you want to help Beth so badly? I mean, it’s nice of you… is she a friend of yours?”
“No. I just want to help someone in trouble, that’s all.”
“You know, you could go and see her without me even knowing.” Jessica said, “You have her address.”
“I doubt she’d see me. She’s not answering Jim’s texts, and she knows him. If she knows that I’m with you, she’ll talk to me, I’m sure of it.”
“Okay. If you’re sure you don’t mind the men knowing.”
Quinn nodded.
Jessica pulled out on the road and headed toward town again.
The silence in the car dragged on. Finally Quinn cleared his throat. “So, new clan members. Didn’t see that coming.”
“Me neither.” Jessica said. “Is it just me, or do they seem kind of … sad, to you?”
“They nearly got thrown in the pit, that could account for a certain lack of levity.” Quinn said.
“I guess.” Jessica said. “And they kept calling me ma’am. Do I look like a ma’am to you?” Jessica demanded when Quinn laughed. “And they seem to be afraid to look at anyone.” Jessica shook her head, “Young boys shouldn’t look so broken.”
Quinn’s laugh trailed off and so did his smile. “What exactly is a ma’am supposed to look like?”
Jessica shrugged. “Like my mom. She was a ma’am.”
“She was a senator, right? Strong, powerful, a champion for the weak?”
Jessica nodded.
“Very similar to someone who saves you from ending up in a pit?”
“I didn’t …”
“Yes you did. They wouldn’t have survived the attack much less the questioning if you weren’t there. Now here they are. They have a home. Someone to watch out for them. After what those boys have been through, it’ll be a long while, if ever, before they’re anything but broken.”
“Why, what happened to them?”
“You don’t know?”
Jessica shook her head.
“They come from an arm of the clan that’s commonly known as ‘The Outcasts’. They’re out in the red neck parts of the country. Mostly keep to themselves. And that’s mostly because the rest of us can’t stand them. They’re generally vile people. The vilest of them is Earl. That man has no limits to what he’ll do. You know the saying, ‘he’d sell his own mother to get ahead’? Well, he did. Really. I’m not kidding.” Quinn emphasized when Jessica looked like she didn’t believe him in any way.
“So, Daryl and his folk had the misfortune of being part of Earl’s clan.” Quinn continued, “Daryl tried to protect his family as much as he could but that turned out to be very little. Earl, his kin, friends, business associates, they’d show up at Daryl’s whenever they felt like it and do some really awful things.”
“Like what?” Jessica in a quiet voice.
“Awful things. I don’t know that you need to know the gory details.”
“Like what Quinn?”
“Your men are going to kill me for upsetting you with this.”
“I’m going to kill you for not telling me … what did they do?”
“Rape. Any one. Every one. Any age, any size, any gender. Even Daryl. They’d threaten the life of their babies if brothers didn’t rape sisters, father’s didn’t rape sons, daughters. Kids didn’t rape their fathers. There was no end to their depravity. There’s a lot of inbreeding in those boys. Eventually Earl found a way to get rich. He came by one day, scooped up all the women, girls, really young boys and sold them on the black market. Made a mint. Hey …hey, you okay? Better pull over.”
Jessica just had time to pull over and fling the door open before she vomited. The vomit just kept coming. Quinn turned the car off and waited.
“You got any tissues in here?” he asked when Jessica finally calmed down.
“In the back. Thanks.” She said taking the tissues Quinn offered her and wiping up. “How do you know all of this?”
“Daryl. The man had several redeeming qualities. One was that he sucked up the shame that came with these kind of abuses and made some noise. He went to all the clans. Told what was happening, asked for help. He wanted all the clans to help him take Earl out. For a while he had no takers. Like I said, the Outlanders were more an embarrassment than any real concern for the clans. But then Earl started getting out of hand. Calling attention to himself with the authorities. Beginning to attack clans that were not Outlanders. Daryl finally had people’s attention, and he finally got his wish.”
“The attack. That the men were supposed to be at …” Jessica whispered. “But they promised me they wouldn’t kill any more.”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it Jessica. It turned out that the other clans copped out. They showed up to look like they were helping but it was Daryl’s clan that took the main offensive. Daryl’s clan that got annihilated. Most everyone else fired off a few shots and left. Your men got the blame for the slaughter.”
“So is Earl dead?”
“Nope. Him and most of his clan walked away unharmed. As far as I know he’s up to his old tricks again … wouldn’t be surprised if he’s visited the boys a few times.”
Jessica shuddered, and threw up again.
“How can the boys be normal?” Jessica asked while wiping her mouth.
“They can’t. But now they have another clan to protect them. That’s something.”
Jessica nodded.
“Maybe we should stop and get you cleaned up before going to see Beth. One look at you and she may run for the hills.”
“Thanks … nice …” Jessica said but laughed.
“Do you want me to drive?” Quinn asked.
Jessica nodded. Once they’d switched seats Jessica opened her phone and entered Beth’s address into her onboard GPS.
“Remind me to delete this after we get to her place.” Jessica said.
Quinn pulled into a gas station. Jessica cleaned up in the restroom and fifteen minutes later they were sitting in the driveway of a tiny little red bricked house. The curtain in the window shifted.
“Tell her why I can’t contact her, okay?” Jessica asked Quinn when he got out of the car.
“Sure.”
Quinn walked up to the door slowly, hands out to the side.
Beth opened the door and looked out.
Jessica leaned forward and waved at Beth. Beth waved back and Jessica watched while Quinn spoke with her. He handed her the business card for the surgeon, and then came back to the SUV.
Beth watched as they pulled out of the driveway. Jessica waved goodbye and really wished she could have at least hugged her.
“So, where to?” Quinn asked.
Jessica looked at the clock. Five o’clock. “I have time to go the bar for a bit. Do you want to come?”
“Better not.” Quinn said. “I’ve got to stop at Paul’s and get some meds from Doc, to help you sleep. I promised Riley. So just drop me off at the same gas station we stopped at on the way in and I’ll get one of Paul’s goons to pick me up.”
“Um. Is that a good idea?” Jessica asked, “I’m not sure you can trust Paul’s goons. I can take you.”
“Oh no, no, no, no. In the history of bad ideas, that one takes the prize. You’re going nowhere near Paul’s place. I’ll be fine. Maybe I’ll ask Terry to come get me. He’ll give me a lift home too.”
“Okay. See you in a bit. I won’t stay long, an hour maybe.”
“I’ll beat you home for sure. Just getting the pills that’s it.”
“Okay. See you.” Jessica said and left Quinn at the station.

Jessica pulled into the driveway at the house. She had to admit that she felt pretty good after the visit to the bar. She’d spent over an hour regaling everyone with stories of the renewal of her marriage vows with her ‘husband’. She took a lot of the real life birthday party that she’d had with the men, and the wedding ceremony and mutated it into a trip abroad with her husband and family.
It was quarter to seven but the sun was still pretty high and it was still pretty hot out. She wondered if everyone would be up for a swim. The newest members of the clan probably would enjoy that. She walked by Quinn’s car, secretly glad that he’d gone to get medication from Doc. She was tired. Really tired, but had absolutely no desire to sleep. Not unless she was knocked out beyond the dreaming.
As she neared the house she heard a noise from the barn. She stopped to listen. It had sounded like scuffling and hushed voices. And then one of the horses whinnied and kicked the stall wall. Jessica listened some more. No more sounds but she felt compelled to check on the horses. As she began to move toward the barn the front door of the house opened and Jim stuck his head out, “Jess. Come in.”
“I heard something at the barn. We should go check.”
Jim barely looked at the barn as he jogged down the front steps, wrapped his arm around Jessica and moved her toward the house. “We’ve got something to show you.”
“Okay.” Jessica said, studying Jim’s face. He seemed tense. Odd for Jim especially in the absence of the other men. Inside the house things seemed stranger. It was quiet. Deathly quiet, yet everyone was there. That wasn’t true, Jessica realized scanning the room, Sean, Don, Stan, Caleb, Amanda, and Quinn were missing. But everyone else was there including the ten new members. The room looked overly full and at once Jessica felt like she was at a funeral. She’d attended a few with her family and they were always full of people but disturbingly quiet.
Jessica looked at her men. They were upset about something, that was for sure. Maybe Quinn told them about her visit to Beth. Maybe they were upset that she hadn’t called them.
“I should have called you, I know.” Jessica said. She looked at her men, ending with Jim, “I can explain … kind of. You have every right to be mad …” But Jim was looking at her with a clearly confused expression. Jessica glanced around the room again and she noticed one of the boys casting glances at Tom and the other boy who’d been vocal earlier in the day. He’d said his name was Leo. They were standing off to the side, where the TV used to be. They looked freaked out. And from behind them Jessica noticed the slightest bit of movement.
“Who’s behind you?” Jessica asked. Neither Tom or Leo made an attempt to speak but a head peaked out from behind Tom and then another from behind Leo.
“We have a couple more members.” Riley said and his voice was strained. “We were getting them setup in the studio and they snuck these two in. I’m not really sure how they thought we wouldn’t notice.” He added with a glare at Tom and Leo.
“These are our youngest brothers.” Tom said. “We couldn’t bring them to the … attack. But we can’t leave them alone.”
Jessica was bent over, trying to see around Tom and Leo when Tom’s voice brought her up short.
“What happened to your voice?” she asked straightening. Tom lowered his head. “It’s gone up about twenty octaves.” She looked around at everyone else and no one was making eye contact with her, not her men or the girls, Rick, Abe, Corey, Chris or Mark.
“I lowered it.” Tom finally said in the deep voice he’d used earlier, “To make myself seem older.”
“How old are you?” Jessica asked.
“Seventeen.” And he looked down at his feet.
“And you?” she asked Leo.
“Seventeen ma’am.” He said and his voice was significantly higher than it had been earlier too.
“And the rest of you?” Jessica asked scanning the other eight boys who sat on the floor, knees drawn up to their chins.
“Max is twelve.” Tom said when all the boys would do is stare up Jessica in silence. He pointed to the boy nearest him.
“Twelve?” Jessica exclaimed. She looked him over again. These were big boys. Tall, muscular, it was easy to see how with the right clothing, lowered voices, they could be mistaken for sixteen or seventeen year olds. Tom and Leo for young men. But with their guards down, anger and hatred wiped from their faces, nothing could disguise the scared faces of children staring back at her.
“Erik and Chad too.” Tom continued pointing at two boys at the other end of the group. “Elliot, Frank and Casey are fourteen, Tim and Reese are fifteen.” Tom said finishing off the boys on the floor, “And Brett and Nate are ten. They’re twins.” Tom said pulling Brett out from behind him, Leo pulling Nate out. They were so small, and so scared. She remember what Quinn told her about Earl and she could see the brokenness in them. She squatted down to eye level with Brett and Nate.
“Hi.” She said. “It’s okay. No one’s going to hurt you here. I promise.”
Brett flicked his eyes over to Riley and Angus. When Jessica did also she could see why he’d be worried. Neither one of them looked very friendly.
“Guess what honey.” Angus said in a tone that accentuated his displeasure, “We’ve got kids.”
Jessica stood up and looked around at everyone again. Everyone was tense, upset. Jessica had a hard time comprehending why having these kids with them now was such a horrible thing.
“Have … have they eaten anything?” she asked, trying to think of a way to make this okay with everyone.
“Our house and home.” Riley said in a tone angry enough to rival Angus’. But when the blood drained from Jessica’s face Riley sighed. “But it’s okay Jess. We can get more food.”
That threw Jessica off. So the boys weren’t a problem, or at least not the problem that everyone was upset about. She wondered vaguely, why Rick, Abe, Corey and the others would be so upset about her going to see Beth. But then she realized how dangerous it was for everyone. Paul wouldn’t see only her connection to Beth, he’d see it as a family connection.
“Okay, I’m sorry.” Jessica said looking around at everyone. “I shouldn’t have done it. I should have just called you … what’s going on?” Jessica said when furtive looks were given to the front door. Jessica looked at the door and then scanned everyone again. “Where’s Sean? And the others?” Jessica asked suddenly realizing that their absence was probably not a good thing.
“Jim? What’s going on?” Jessica asked clutching his arm in a panic.
She noticed Angus, Riley, Josh and Scott starting to move toward her and they all wore the same expression as Jim. Desperate.
“It’s not Sean’s fault!” Sara suddenly screeched. Tears filled her eyes. Leah wrapped her arm around Sara and looked at Jessica.
“He made it very clear. Everyone knew the consequences.” Leah said.
“The consequences of what?” Jessica whispered. She knew it was bad when none of her men would look at her. “The consequences of what?” she demanded, raising her voice. “Riley?”
Riley’s forced himself to look at Jessica. “There’s been a development. With Quinn.”
“Quinn?” Jessica asked in surprise. “Where is he? Where is he!” she repeated, grabbing Riley’s shirt in her fist and pounding on Riley’s chest.
“He called Paul’s place.” Rick said stepping forward. “Abe and I were there to pick up our things so luckily I answered. He asked for Paul, I told him he wasn’t there, asked if there was a message. And Quinn said the message was that Riley’s clan was leaving. Leaving the clan. Jessica, Quinn ratted us out.”
Jessica stepped back. She felt like she’d been punched in the stomach. Actually felt the air whoosh out of her lungs.
It felt like forever before she could find her voice but finally she managed a shaky, “No he didn’t.”
“I had a hard time believing it too.” Rick said, “But I heard it. I heard him.”
“When, when did he call?” Jessica demanded.
Rick shrugged, looked at Abe.
“Probably around four.” Abe said, “We were back here by five.”
“That’s not possible.” Jessica said.
“Jess,” Angus said reaching out and pulling her into his arms, “Quinn couldn’t account for himself. He said he went to Paul’s to get your meds but he wasn’t there when Abe and Rick were. He couldn’t explain where he was all afternoon.”
“What are the consequences?” Jessica asked planting her hands on Angus’ chest and pushing far enough back that she could see his face, see the other’s faces.
“Josh?” Jessica pleaded when he was the only one making eye contact.
“Death.” Scott answered for Josh.
“Where’d they go?” Jessica demanded panic overwhelming her. Suddenly she felt like vomiting again but there was no time. No one answered but the expressions on the men’s faces gave her the answer. “The pit!” she choked out and then she was running. The sound at the barn suddenly made sense. They had to get to the pit didn’t they? Jessica barely noticed flying through the door, nor the pounding of feet behind her, the yelling of her name. She’d already decided to forgo the saddle and bridle on Ebony. There was no time, but as she slid around the corner of the barn she found Quinn kneeling, Stan holding a gun to Quinn’s head, Sean, Don and Caleb guns partially raised, pointing at Stan and Amanda kneeling beside Quinn staring up at Stan tears running down her face and repeating “Please don’t, please don’t, please don’t” over and over again.
Jessica’s hands reflexively went to the gun tucked in the back of her pants. Driving around town by herself unarmed was not an option and Jessica had a second to be glad that she’d thought of taking the gun with her when she got home.
She pointed the gun at Stan and yelled, “Stop!”
Reflexively Sean, Don and Caleb lifted their guns but when they realized it was Jessica they lowered them. Stan looked over his shoulder, saw her and laughed.
“Finally, somebody that I know isn’t going to shoot me. Put your gun away Jessica. I’m doing us all a favor.” He added as he cocked the gun.
“I won’t kill you Stan, but I will shoot you.” Jessica said, “Ask the boys.” She added when the last few boys limped around the corner. Everyone else had joined them just as Jessica pulled her gun and now, out of the corner of her eye , she could see them all holding their guns but not in any particular direction.
“You’ll thank me later …” Stan said. A shot rang out, Amanda screamed, everyone flinched. Quinn was frozen, eyes shut, Stan lay on the ground grabbing his leg.
“You shot me. You fucking shot me!” he yelled staring at Jessica in shock which quickly turned to anger. “You fucking bitch. This guy tries to get us all killed, and you shoot me?”
Jessica nodded at Sean who picked up Stan’s gun. And then she went to Quinn, kneeling down in front of him.
“Are you okay?”
“I pissed myself. No really.” Quinn said when Jessica began to laugh. A quick whiff of the air proved Quinn right.
“I guess we make quite the pair today … as far as expelling bodily fluids.” Jessica said when Quinn looked at her like she was crazy. Then she crawled over to Stan, who tried to push her away when she tried to look at his wound. “I warned you …” she said. Stan paused, looked at her, and then flopped back bringing his hand to his head.
“Yeah, I guess you did.” He said and groaned while Jessica felt around the wound in his thigh. She looked up at Abe, “Can you get your first aid kit?”
Abe nodded before turning back to the house.
Silence ensued while Jessica borrowed a pocket knife from Corey, cut open Stan’s pant leg and inspected the wound.
“Jessica …” Riley said.
“Hmmm?” she asked looking up at him and finding not only him but pretty much everyone else looking confused. Riley had a good dose of frustration mixed in to his expression.
“You’re thinking again. The rest of us need an explanation for … this.” He said raising one hand in Quinn’s direction, the other in Stan’s.
“Right.” Jessica said standing when Abe came to take her place. Wiping her hands on her pants Jessica stepped forward, looking at Quinn, who was still kneeling, Amanda glued to his side, and staring at Jessica in disbelief. “Actually, so do I.” Jessica said. “Quinn, why didn’t you tell them where you were this afternoon?”
Quinn shook his head but didn’t’ say anything.
“Do you know where he was?” Sean asked.
Jessica nodded, noticed her gun on the ground near Quinn, where she’d dropped it. Picking it up she tucked it back into her waistband.
“He was with me. The whole afternoon … mostly.” Jessica said and didn’t miss the fact that Stan, who had been lifting his head to watch Abe work, suddenly froze. No one else missed it either. “That’s right.” She said to Stan. “He didn’t make any call to Paul. Not at three o’clock, not at four o’clock and not at five o’clock. Yup.” She added, “I’m his alibi … although for some reason Quinn doesn’t want to use me.”
Quinn looked at Jessica like she was crazy, then looked past her and froze.
“And just why were you with Quinn all afternoon?” Angus demanded. Jessica turned. Angus’ voice had been strained but to Jessica’s relief he looked concerned more than angry. Her other men too. But clearly their expressions meant something completely different to everyone else. The twins whimpered and hid behind Tom and Leo again. Everyone else seemed to want to disappear.
“That is a great question …” Jessica began. She tried to think of a graceful way to explain everything but quickly decided just to put it all out there. She began with Quinn flagging her down on the side of the road and by the time she got to the part about dropping him off at the gas station she was completely repentant in both her tone and body language. She’d half bent over to the side, made strange flailing movements with her hands and was looking up at them with a sheepish expression that made it abundantly clear that she was ashamed of herself.
“I went to the bar for a bit, Quinn went to Paul’s for the meds. That was around five. I was with, or had my eye on him the whole time. And besides, he couldn’t find his cell phone. It wasn’t on him and it wasn’t in his car. So. That’s, that. There is no more.” She said when no one said anything. Her men stared at her. “Except for an apology for not calling you. I should have. I’m sorry. Really, really, sorry.” She added and went into Angus’ arms. Kissed him, hugged him, put her hands out to the other men who had been moving closer and kissed and hugged them.
“Do you forgive me?” Jessica asked, looking up at her men.
“Of course.” Scott said with a sigh.
“But I have a few … things … to take up with you later. When we’re in private.” Angus grumbled, sweeping the other men with his eyes before pinning Jessica with them. His eyes left little doubt about the form in which things were going to be discussed. Jessica shivered in anticipation and was about to kiss Angus when Corey’s voice broke the silence.
“It was you.” He said, clearly surprised. Jessica turned to find Corey talking to Quinn. “You were the one who framed Tyler … said he organized the plastic surgeon for your family.”
“Tyler?” Jessica asked, her heart dropping when Quinn nodded and hung his head.
“Tyler was Beth’s father.” Angus said.
“And someone told Tristan that it was Tyler who did it. Next thing we knew, Tyler was dead.” Sean spat out the words. He was looking at Quinn like he was going to go ahead and shoot him.
“I didn’t mean to. They named Tyler … I didn’t argue.” Quinn said quietly. “I’m so sorry.”
“That’s why you want to help Beth.” Jessica said.
Quinn nodded.
“You bastard!” Leah said. “Do you know how much pain you caused Beth? She was never the same after her father’s death.”
Jessica looked around. The expression on Angus’ face made her wonder if that was part of the problem between him and Beth.
“They tortured him.” Jessica said when guns started coming up again, and pointing at Quinn. “Tristan tortured him.”
“I just wanted it to stop.” Quinn said. “I’m sorry.”
“Likely story.” Stan jumped in when it looked like this latest twist in the situation wasn’t going to lead to Quinn’s death after all. Jessica couldn’t help but notice how hopeful he’d looked. Apparently others noticed to because Caleb looked at Stan with disdain when he said, “He has scars. On his back. Wouldn’t tell us how he got them.”
“This is bullshit.” Stan finally said, getting his anger back. “He turned us in.”
“You’ve been trying to get rid of me since I got here.” Quinn snarled and Jessica was glad to see that he was finally standing up for himself. “I’m not the only one who’s noticed. Jessica, Don, Caleb …”
“That’s brilliant!” Stan said in a tone straining to sound impressed, “So this is some far-fetched plot of mine to make you look guilty? I somehow called Paul with your phone, used your voice, and ratted everyone out? Never mind the fact that if Paul came down on us, I would get caught in the shit storm too?”
“How the hell are we supposed to figure this out?” Sean asked in exasperation. “We have no proof either way. Except that Quinn was with Jessica this afternoon.”
Suddenly a ring tone rang out.
It rang several times before it became clear that it was coming from Stan, and he was staring at Angus in horror.
Jessica followed Stan’s gaze and realized that Angus was holding a cell phone to his ear.
“You have Quinn’s phone.” Angus said.
Chaos erupted. Everyone started talking at once. All guns were trained on Stan. With the exception of Jessica, Quinn or the boys everyone looked at Stan down the barrel of a gun.
“But what about Quinn’s voice?” Mark asked, “Rick said it was definitely Quinn’s voice.”
“That wouldn’t be hard to do with a recorder and really good recording studio …” Don said.
“You son of a bitch!” Jim exclaimed.
Stan seemed to believe the jig was up because he gave up all pretenses of innocence. Fury and hatred, twisted his face into an ugly snarl.
“You cunt!” he exploded, spraying spit in Amanda’s direction. “You self-absorbed, pretentious bitch! We weren’t good enough for you?” he demanded tilting his head toward Don and Caleb. “Why didn’t you just say so? Why didn’t you just say you’d never love us and all you wanted was Quinn? You could have gone to his clan and we’d never have to see or think of you again. Instead you brought this chicken shit bastard here and rubbed our faces in your love for him every fucking day! Well, I hope you’re happy. Now you know what a low life he is. He had Tyler killed. Not such a catch now, is he?”
“Can you stand?” Don asked Quinn when Stan flopped onto the ground panting from the effort of his tirade.
“My legs are numb.” Quinn said. Don nodded, bent his head under Quinn’s arm and hauled him up. Caleb pulled a hysterical Amanda up.
“It’s not true …” Amanda said and threw herself around Caleb, “I do love you. I love you all, I do!”
“I know Amanda, I know.” Caleb said holding her tight against him.
“I can only deal with one thing at a time.” Sean said shaking his head. “Jessica, I made it clear to everyone in my clan that if they double crossed us the penalty would be death. Stan double crossed us. I know you probably won’t like me very much after this. But I hope you can forgive me, eventually. I’ll do it somewhere else though. Corey, Chris, help me get him to the car.”
“Sean.” Jessica said moving forward, grabbing his hand as Chris and Corey grabbed Stan by an arm each. “I totally understand that you feel responsible for this. That you said something and now you need to follow through. But things have changed, and you’re not going to kill him.”
“Jessica …” Sean said in the same exasperated tone that Riley and Angus always used.
“No, listen. ‘Sean’s clan’ no longer exists. Just like a ‘Riley’s clan’ no longer exists. In fact, there’s no Sean and Riley’s clan either. We’re not a clan anymore. We’re a family. And family members don’t go killing other family members …” here Jessica paused for a moment, considering her last words, “for the most part.” She added. “With the exception of the mafia, the clan apparently, and a few other outliers, family members don’t kill one another. And more importantly, in this family, family members don’t kill one another.”
Stan started to laugh. Supported between Chris and Corey Stan looked insanely happy, “She’s going to lead you straight to hell. Keep listening to her pacifist dribble and you may as well start digging your own graves.”
“That’s funny.” Jessica said, “Since I’m trying to keep you out of yours.”
That wiped the smirk off Stan’s face.
Jessica looked back at Sean who was studying her very intently.
“Please. Just give me a chance. There’s a solution here that will satisfy everyone. I know there is.”
“Okay.” Sean said, “I’m listening.”
Jessica exhaled, looked at Stan and then around at everyone else. Her men looked as curious as Sean and the others. The boys looked miserable. All of them, even Tom and Leo. Jessica dropped her head.
“Out loud Jessica.” Sean said. He was starting to do some really good imitations of her men. He had the just the right combination of exasperation, affection and resignation to his tone.
Jessica nodded, looked around again and said, “We have to let him go.”
That led to another round of chaos, one that Quinn and the boys stayed out of, but everyone else was talking at once, Stan was laughing.
“That would be insane.” Mark said louder than everyone else. Despite Jessica’s concern about consistently being linked to insanity in some form or another she couldn’t help but notice the look Chris gave Mark. Chris whole heartedly agreed with Mark. At least it seemed that some relationships were being worked out. “He’s going to run right to Paul, or attack us, or both.”
Jessica nodded, considering what Mark said and then scanned everyone again. “Out loud, I know, sorry.” She said when their expressions clearly showed their displeasure with the fact that she’d begun chewing her lip again. “That’s not likely.” She said to Mark. Which caused another round of chaos.
“I never said it wouldn’t happen.” Jessica said when it was clear that she’d been misheard, “I said it was not likely. And let me tell you why …” that shut everyone up.
“Because. Because …” she repeated as the idea finally took shape, “Don is going to go in the house, get on the laptop … which hopefully wasn’t shot to bits earlier, and transfer the rest of the emergency funds out of the clan account and into … where did you put Daryl’s money?” Jessica asked Don.
“An account in the Cayman Islands.” Don said.
“Right. Into the Cayman Islands. This account will be in Stan’s name.” she said turning to Stan, “Stan has a passport … you have a passport, right?” she asked him. Stan nodded. “Perfect. How much does it cost to fly somewhere foreign. Far away?“ Jessica asked the general group. Everyone shrugged.
“No idea.” Was the general consensus.
“Let’s say a thousand dollars. Anyone have a thousand dollars on them?”
“A thousand? Right now?” Josh asked reaching for his wallet. Jessica nodded while everyone except Stan and the boys pulled out their wallets.
“Our purses are in the house.” Leah said moving toward the house.
“Don’t worry about it.” Jim said counting a huge stack of bills in his hand, “Between the five of us and Caleb and Sean, we’ve got a thousand.”
“Okay, give it to him.” Jessica said pointing at Stan.
“What?” Jim demanded.
“Stan is going to take this money, his car and passport and he’s going to leave. If he’s smart he’ll leave the country. And he’s going to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder for Paul …” Jessica snapped her fingers and turned to Don, “Can you drain Paul’s account too?”
Don nodded. He was smiling. “Do you want me to throw in money from all clan heads? It will take a little longer, but I can do it.”
“Perfect!” Jessica said, and high fived Don.
“Wait a minute.” Scott said, “So Stan double crosses us, tries to get Quinn killed, and then we send him on vacation? That doesn’t sound right Jess.”
Jessica slipped into Scott’s arms and kissed him before hugging him.
“This will be anything but a vacation Scott, trust me. Aside from the cash Stan is holding in his hands right now he won’t receive a single penny from that account. He’ll have to survive on his own, if he’s smart he’ll do it in some other country.”
Scott smiled, “Well, that’s perfect.”
“Not really.” Jessica said looking at Stan who now looked deflated. “Perfect would have been working this out so Stan could stay. You broke our trust Stan. Without trust we have nothing.”
“I’ll go get the money transferred.” Don said.
“We’ll escort him to his car.” Corey and Chris said.
“Before you go.” Quinn said. “It’s alright …” he said to Amanda who gasped ‘no’ and threw herself on him. “I knew Jessica believed in trust and honesty, I just didn’t realize how much.” He looked at Riley, Angus, Scott, Josh and Jim, “Jessica wanted to call you and have you come with me to see Beth. I convinced her that she wasn’t breaking any promises so long as she didn’t talk to Beth. I didn’t want anyone to know about the plastic surgeon because I knew you’d figure things out and I was afraid you’d be mad and kick me out … or kill me … should’ve known better.” He added with a chuckle and shook his head at Jessica. “Anyway, she refused. Turned the car around even. Said she couldn’t lie to you and that as much as she wanted to help Beth she wouldn’t sacrifice your trust for it. I finally agreed to let her tell you, that’s why we went. Please don’t be mad at her. And, I hope you can find a way to forgive me for Tyler. It wasn’t on purpose … I didn’t hurt him on purpose.” His voice cracked.
Scott squeezed Jessica. “Thanks for keeping the oath” Scott said. The other men rubbed or squeezed whatever part of her they could find and muttered agreement with Scott.
“We appreciate that.” Riley said to Quinn. “And I think you’ll be okay here. So long as you don’t keep anything else from us.”
Quinn nodded.
“Money is transferred.” Don said returning. “I’ll transfer the other accounts tonight.”
“Okay Stan.” Chris said yanking him toward the cars, “Time for your vacation to begin.” Sean followed them.
Everyone watched in silence as Stan shuffled away. Jessica buried her head in Scott’s chest.
“One more thing.” Angus said once Stan was out of sight. “What was this bodily fluid comment about?”
“Yeah, it’s not what it sounds like.” Quinn stammered. “I pissed myself …” he waved his hands at his crotch, “And Jessica puked on the side of the road.”
“You puked? Again?” Josh asked bringing his hand to Jessica’s cheek and tilting her head up so he could look at her.
“My fault again …” Quinn said.
“But, um, something we should talk about later …” Jessica said, casting her eyes up and to the right over and over again. Finally the men looked behind her and found the boys watching them in a weary way.
“Right. You must be starving. Let’s get some food in you.” Scott said to Jessica “And you can tell us about this later.”
With the possibility of food in their future the boys brightened.
“I’ll go get something together for supper.” Abe said.
“Come on boys.” Leah said, throwing one arm around Max another around Erik, “Let’s go fill those hollow legs of yours.”
Jessica watched in surprise as Sara followed Leah’s lead wrapping an arm around Chad and Reese, Justine with Elliot and Casey, Amanda, still sniffling, took over the ten year olds, Brett and Nathan. The others, Tom, Leo, Frank and Tim following behind.
“Wow, they’ve gotten friendly.” Jessica said.
“Yes. Annoyingly so.” Riley said, “Those boys are feeding right into the girls’ love of gossiping. They’ve been locked in q and a’s all afternoon. They seem particularly interested in you.”
“Me?” Jessica asked, falling in step with Riley who had one arm around her and Josh who had the other as they all walked back to the house.
“Yup. Who you are. Hold old you are. Where you came from. Who you’re married too. Leah at least has the good sense to keep certain details to herself … given their ages. But that seems to have resulted in our relationship looking like some love story.” Scott said.
“It is a love story.” Jessica said as they walked into the house.
“I know, but a different kind of love story. One that’s way more kind to us …” Scott said indicating the men, “than it should be. I’ve already caught the little ones staring at me like … like …”
“Like we’re their heroes.” Angus said. “The girls are definitely embellishing us. You, they seem to be down playing by comparison.” He said to Jessica, “But judging from how the boys look at you … even the older ones, that’s probably a good thing. They’re going to expect you to walk on water next.”
“I don’t think you need to worry about that.” Jessica said. “Every time I make eye contact with one of the boys, they look away”.
“Trust me, they look up to you. And if the girls keep going like this, I’m expecting our marriage to turn into some fairy tale. You can be Little Red Riding hood and we’ll be the five dwarves.” Angus grumbled.
“Yes Grumpy.” Jim said, “And Jess would be Sleeping Beauty not Little Red Riding Hood. You’ve got your stories screwed up.”
Angus rolled his eyes at Jim.
“Beauty, check.” Riley said squeezing Jessica’s shoulder, “and thanks to Quinn, tonight we’ll get the sleeping back. We’ve got meds for you.”
Jessica smiled at Riley and then looked back at the commotion in the house. Older boys sat with the girls and Sean, Corey, Chris, Caleb, Mark, Quinn and Rick on the sofa and chairs talking. The two ten year olds were racing around the living room chasing one another. Abe was in the kitchen cooking, Don was on the laptop stealing.
“Let’s go to the studio. We can hide out there until supper.” Angus suggested.
“We should do chores.” Riley said, “with all the clean up today we didn’t do much else.”
“Wait.” Jessica said when the men started moving toward the door. “We have a roomful of able … mostly able, bodied boys in here. With way too much energy and time on their hands. They need to be doing something. Take them to do chores with you.”
“What?” Riley and Angus grumbled at the same time. Jessica couldn’t help but laugh.
“Some heroes you two are. Honey, we got kids? Remember?” Jessica said. “Take them, bond. But most of all, tire them out. Please.”
“Ah crap Jess, do we really have to?” Riley groaned.
“Yes.” She said smacking a kiss on their lips, “I’ll help Abe get dinner ready. Attention, attention …” she said clapping her hands and walking into the living room. Everyone stopped to look at her.
“Chore time. Please follow Riley, Angus, Scott, Josh and Jim outside and they’ll get you working on … something. Come on, come on, let’s go … I know you’re hungry …” she said when the little ones started to complain, “but you’ll have plenty to eat later. Go, go, go.”
Sean, Corey and the others went too and once the door was closed with only the buzzing of voices on the other side Jessica exhaled.
“Well done.” Abe said with a laugh. “We’re going to need a bigger house.”
“You’re not kidding.” Jessica turned, “How can I help with dinner?”
**********************************************************
“They’re not a bad bunch of kids.” Riley said. Jessica smiled at him. Chores and dinner had finished. Given the TV was broken, entertainment took the path of a huge game of poker. Riley, Angus, Scott, Josh, Jim and Jessica had all lost and now sat cuddled together on kitchen chairs, watching the huge group on the sofa, floor, recliner, and folding chairs continue to play.
“But they’re a bunch of card sharks.” Jim said in mock anger. Jessica was on Jim’s lap. She slid down low onto his legs and stretched out, her head resting on his stomach. Scott was on the floor, resting his head on her stomach, Angus and Riley on either side of her and Jim. Josh sat on the floor at her feet, rubbing them.
Everyone erupted into laughter when Max won Caleb’s money.
“Given what they’ve been through it’s a miracle that they are. And that they know how to laugh.” Jessica said.
“You know about that?” Riley asked, looking down at her in surprise.
“Yeah. Quinn told me.”
“Is that why you puked?” Josh asked.
Jessica nodded.
“Yeah. Makes me want to puke too.” Angus said.
Another round of guffaws from the game and Tom got up. Clearly he’d lost. He stepped back from the group, looked over at the men and Jessica, and then back at the group. He did this several more times, fidgeted and then looked at the ceiling.
“Get the feeling someone wants to talk to us?” Jim asked.
“Tom.” Scott said, “Hey kid, Tom pssst.” Scott called until Tom looked at him. Scott motioned him over with his head.
“Grab a seat.” Scott said indicating one of the few free chairs available.
Tom took it, sat in front of them, his back to the living room. His eyes skipped around all of them.
“Tom, you can tell us anything. You know that, right?” Jessica asked.
“Yes, yes, ma’am.” Tom muttered, had a hard time looking at any of them again and finally fixed his eyes on Jessica’s feet watching Josh rub them.
“You can just call me Jess.”
“Yes ma’am.”
Scott silently laughed at Jessica when it was clear she didn’t like the term ma’am.
Jessica stuck her tongue out at Scott before turning her attention back to Tom.
“Would you be more comfortable if I left?” she asked, “I can go do something for a while if you want to talk to the men.”
“No!” Tom almost shouted, raising his eyes to Jessica, “I mean … I’d like you to stay.” He lowered his head when he realized how surprised Jessica and the men were by his reaction. “I’m sorry ma’am, sirs. I’m just not good at … this thing about trust. I have to tell you something but I’m afraid you’ll get mad. Maybe kick us out even.”
Suddenly the room was silent. Jessica looked up to see everyone in the living room watching and listening.
Tom noticed the silence too but struggled to not look over his shoulder.
“What is it?” Riley asked, no longer relaxed but tense and leaning toward Tom. The other men did the same, Jim rearranging Jessica to sit upright on his lap.
“Well?” Angus prompted.
“There’s this man named Earl …” Tom spoke with dread and at the mention of the name Earl there was a group moan from the boys. Brett and Nathan crawled onto Leo and Reese’s laps and hid their faces.
“We’ve heard about him.” Jessica said gently, sliding off of Jim’s lap and crouching before Tom she took his hand. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”
“But that’s just it.” Tom said and tears pooled in his eyes, “He can. He’s been chasing us around. Everywhere. We can never seem to get away from him. I’m afraid … I’m afraid he’ll come here next.”
Silence hung in the air. Jessica couldn’t help but shiver, several times.
“Jesus Christ.” Angus said and pulled Jessica onto his lap, rubbing her arms to combat the constant shivers that quivered through her. But while the friction from the rubbing warmed her Jessica’s fear continued to grow as she saw the fear settling onto Angus’ face. And the face of every other adult in the room.
“We can leave.” Tom said standing, “I’m sorry we brought this curse here … hopefully it’s not already too late. If he hasn’t found this place yet … hasn’t’ seen any of you, then you’re okay.”
Tom moved in stiff, rigid, motions as he turned to the other boys and motioned them out of the house. Slowly, as if there had never been another option, they began to move.
Jessica gripped Riley and Scott’s hands in a panic.
“You’re not going anywhere.” Riley said after glancing at Jessica.
“It’s better that we do.” Tom said.
“No.” Riley said standing, “You’re not going anywhere.”
Rick slid in front of the door holding it shut, blocking Leo from reaching it, and shook his head.
The boys looked between Rick and Riley in what could only be described as pure terror.
“Rick and Riley are not going to hurt you.” Jessica said getting up. “No one is going to hurt you, ever again. We promise.”
The boys didn’t seem convinced.
“Look.” Jessica said. “Rick is going to move, he’ll even open the door. If you really want to go, even just to step outside and see that you can, go. We’re not going to hold you prisoner, we’re not going to … do … things to you. You can decide on your own.” She nodded at Rick opened the door and stepped aside.
“Go ahead.” Leah said when the boys really looked like they wanted to go, “You can go, but that door will always be open if you want to come back.”
The boys looked at the door, looked around the room, looked at each other.
“But Earl is going to come.” Leo said, “He always does. And you,” he looked at Jessica, “don’t like violence. But he brings violence. Violence, and pain. If you don’t fight him, he’ll hurt you. Especially you.” He said to Jessica in a slow monotonous voice, “He’ll really like hurting you. He’ll hurt your men. He’ll hurt you. He’ll make you hurt your men and them hurt you. By the time he’s done you’ll be nothing but hurt.”
“Oh Christ.” Sean said.
“Jess, we have to kill this bastard. You have to agree with that.” Leah said.
Jessica started to consider all the possibilities available to them when she realized that she was chewing her lip.
“I’m sorry …” she said looking up at everyone, “It’s just a habit … to think in my head.” She shook her head, “Defensively, of course we need to kill him.” The sigh of relief in the room was cut short when Jessica added, “But offensively, not at all.”
“You can’t be serious!” Quinn said, but even as he said it he knew she was. Glancing around the room, everyone knew she was. Riley, Angus, Scott, Jim and Josh didn’t even look phased. They were so relaxed about it they almost looked bored.
“What are we going to do?” Scott asked.
“First off, we need patrols again.” Jessica said. Rick and Sean reached for the rifles on the wall.
“We’ll take the first shift.” Sean said.
“Next. It’s time the younger boys get cleaned up and go to bed. I know you wanted them in the studio but I think it’s safer here in the house.”
“They can sleep with Corey and I.” Leah said much to Corey’s surprise. But he nodded.
“I know this will be painful.” Jessica said to the older boys, “but tonight you need to tell us everything about Earl. Everything. We’ll need to record it.” She said looking at Don, who nodded. “Okay, let’s get them to bed …” Jessica said when no one had moved.
Leah and Corey herded the boys to the bathroom. It was evident that they weren’t happy about being left out of the discussion, or being treated like babies, but they didn’t argue.
“I need a drink.” Angus said. “You’ll need a drink.” He said to Jessica. She nodded. “But if you drink you can’t take those meds.”
“I’ll try to hold off.” Jessica said.
By the time they were half way through the night everyone was in tears, and everyone had a few drinks. Even the boys. Mindful of having to be sober enough to patrol everyone struggled to dull the pain growing in all of them. The boys stories were hard to listen to. People went on patrol often. People got up and left for a break. Except Jessica. The only time she left was to go to the bathroom to vomit. And she made them stop until she came back. She listened to everything, scratched indecipherable notes on paper, and looked more and more destroyed by the information.
Everyone tried at least once to get her to take a break, or stop for the night, but Jessica refused and by the time the sun came up the next morning half the boys were passed out on the sofa, the other half on the floor.
“Can we stop now?” Riley asked when Tom finally couldn’t keep his eyes open.
Jessica nodded so Riley scooped her up and took her to their room, the other men following.
“Jess.” Scott asked when they were all on the bed, “Do you want the meds?”
“No, I’ll try without them.”
“You think you’ll be okay without sex?” Scott asked. When Jessica nodded and Scott sighed in relief they all looked at him in surprise. “After hearing all of that I just can’t … you know. Sorry Jess.”
“Neither can I.” Jess mumbled and fell to sleep. For about fifteen minutes before the screaming began.
After the third time, and after the boys were reassured that Jessica was fine … actually coming in to see her, the men almost convinced her to take the medication. That was until it became apparent that Jessica wasn’t the only one with nightmares. The boys screamed and cried just as much as she did.
“Give them the meds.” Jessica said. “Their nightmares have to be ten thousand times worse than mine.”
Once the boys were knocked out, and seemed to be for good, Scott slid under the blanket and used his mouth and fingers to produce a different scream from Jessica.
“We’ll have to find a way to keep you quiet when the boys aren’t drugged.” Josh whispered into her ear as he pumped into her. Angus behind her, thrusting into her anus, Riley and Scott, plying her breasts, Jim intermittently slapping her butt cheek.
“If I had my mouth and hands full, I’d be quieter.” Jessica said, still upset that they wouldn’t let her please them.
“You will … don’t worry.” Jim said as another scream escaped, her another orgasm sucking her energy away.
But no amount of orgasms could keep the dreams at bay.
The next morning she looked awful. Bags under her eyes, pale, tired. The men didn’t look much better.
“Are you sick because of us?” Max asked, standing in front of Jessica. She’d fallen to sleep at the table. No one disturbed her in the hopes that she’d get sleep where she could but when she bolted up in the chair, Max was there.
“No sweetie, not at all.” Jessica said and reached out to touch his shoulder. To her surprise he threw himself at her. She wrapped her arms around him and patted his back. “I’m fine really. My dreams have nothing to do with you.”
“You can have my medications tonight.” Tom said, “You need them more than I do.”
Jessica was going to argue but could see by the looks on his, Riley and Scott’s faces that she wouldn’t win.
“Everyone’s out doing chores.” Riley said looking at the cup of coffee in his hand and debating whether it was a good idea to let Jessica have it. When she looked up at him and her eyes actually rolled in her head, Riley handed her the coffee. “When they come in they’ll be asking about your plan for Earl. They already were … do you have any ideas?”
Jessica nodded but her head lolled to the side, she almost dropped the coffee.
“Hold on Jess,” Scott said taking the cup from her. Riley scooped her up, carried her to the sofa and lay down with her on top of him.
“What’s that Jess?” Riley asked when she whispered something. He leaned closer to her head.
“What did she say?” Scott asked.
Riley looked up at Scott, clearly surprised, “She said she knows exactly what we’re going to do. And now she’s asleep.”
“Max, go tell everybody to stay out of here for a while. We’ll see how long she can sleep.” Scott said.
Max nodded and ran out the door.
“You okay Tom?” Riley asked when he stood staring at Jessica.
“I knew it.” He said, suddenly looking up at Riley and Scott with a rare smile, “I knew she’d save us. I’ve gotta tell the others.” He added and then disappeared out the door.
“Shit.” Scott said when Tom was gone.
“Yeah, shit. No added pressure or anything. Like Jessica won’t rise to the challenge of keeping the boys safe at all costs.” Riley added. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight.
Jessica slept for two hours. When she woke up she looked much better and looked after Riley in surprise when he rolled her off of him, kissed her, and then ran for the bathroom.
“I think he’s had to pee for the past two hours.” Jim said dropping onto the sofa next to her and hugging her. “You look a lot better.”
“I feel a lot better.” Jessica said. “Where is everyone?”
“Outside. We wanted you to get some sleep. But I can get Abe in here to make something to eat …” Scott said, sitting on Jessica’s other side and laughing when her stomach growled really loud.
Jessica nodded, “I’m starving.”
“She’s awake!” Nathan yelled from the door and suddenly he and Brett were clamoring to sit on Jessica’s lap.
“Careful there boys …” Scott said, laughing as they finally arranged themselves each one on one of Jessica’s legs.
“You have bad dreams too.” Brett said in quiet voice, looking up at Jessica.
Jessica nodded. “Just like you. But I have good news.” She added when they looked so sad Jessica thought she’d cry. She looked up as the other boys came in, everyone but Angus and Corey, who were on patrol. “I used to have bad dreams a long long time ago. And then they went away. Your dreams will go away too, some day.”
“But yours came back.” Frank said.
“Not the same dreams.” Jessica said. “Trust me, yours will go away.”
“I don’t remember ever not having the dreams.” Leo said.
“I know.” Jessica said. When silence fell and everyone stood looking at Jessica expectantly she nodded, “The plan. Okay. We need the following … stun guns, one for each of us. Rope, tape, and the location of the nearest police station.”
**********************************************************
Silence followed her explanation.
“Well, that’s …” Chris started but couldn’t think of a suitable ending.
“Novel?” Quinn finished for him.
Chris shrugged, that was a good enough word for it.
“But not very satisfying.” Mark said. “Jess, where’s the revenge? How do the boys get back at them for everything that’s been done to them?”
“Yeah, Jess you heard the same stuff that we did. All night. Doesn’t that make you want to kill them? Want to punish them?” Leah asked.
Jessica nodded. Brett and Nathan had relaxed against her. Hugging them tighter she looked over at the other boys. “I can certainly understand that you may want to kill them.” She said. Sean and Caleb had gone out to relieve Angus and Corey. Jessica registered Angus and Corey coming in the door but was not expecting to see them watching her intently. Angus was leaning against the wall, arms folded and she had a definite feeling that she and he were going to be having a conversation shortly. Corey looked equally put out but neither of them interrupted so Jessica turned her attention back to the boys.
“And if in the end that’s what you do, that’s okay. I won’t hold it against you in any way. But, killing them and punishing them are not the same thing. So long as you’re aware of that, and okay with it, then there’s nothing more to say.”
Jessica rested her chin on top of Nathan’s head and brought her hand up to rub Brett’s head. When it became clear that she wasn’t going to say anything else, the boys looked at one another.
“What’s the difference?” Erik asked. “Between killing and punishing?” He added when Jessica looked up at him.
“Killing is giving them the easy way out. It’s too quick, too final. But punishing … that hurts. A lot. Often for a long time.”
“But Jess, are you serious about this?” Angus asked, “Tie them up in a pretty fucking bow and hand them over to the cops?”
Jessica nodded. “And that reminds me, Don?”
“Yes ma’am.” Don springing from the chair he’d been slouching in to stand at attention. “I mean, Jessica.” He corrected when the boys laughed. “All of the money has been moved to our account in the Cayman Islands. Stan has a lot of really pissed of clan heads coming after him.”
“That’s good. Thanks,” but Jessica looked anything but thrilled. “I’ve got something new for you to do. The boys mentioned that Earl and his … friends … videod their assaults on the boys and their families. Right?” she confirmed with Tom and Leo who nodded. “Let’s hope they were stupid enough to post them online. This won’t be pleasant. If you’d rather not do it, I can, but I need you to search on line and find as many pictures, videos, posts, that can incriminate Earl and the others as you can.”
“I can do it.” Don said, “I’m on it.” And he dropped back into his chair and turned to the laptop.
“So,” she said turning back to Angus and the boys, “Have you ever heard the saying, ‘What goes around, comes around”?”
The boys shook their heads, Angus shook his head. Jessica looked around the room but no one seemed to have heard of it.
“It basically means that whatever you do in life, it will come back and be done to you. So, we find evidence, we hand it and them over to the cops, they end-up in prison. And in prison child molesters are the lowest of the low. It’s kind of sick but prisoners tend to dish out their own form of justice to child molesters.”
“So they’ll get it back.” Sara said. “Every sick thing they’ve ever done, they’ll have done to them.”
There was a murmur and then the smiles began to appear.
“That’s diabolical.” Corey said.
“Yeah, it is.” Angus said. Jessica could tell that there was still going to be a conversation but now she wasn’t sure what it would be about. He’d caulked his head in a few different angles while studying her but then moved to sit on a chair next to the sofa. Casey had been sitting in it but he slid onto the floor when Angus started in that direction.
“What do you make of this?” Angus asked Riley.
“I believe this is our first step toward being tolerated by the state.” Riley said.
Jessica looked up and smiled at Riley.
“Holy shit Jess.” Jim said from beside her
“Tolerated by the state?” Justine asked.
“Jessica is positioning us for our new lives.” Scott said.
“Okay …” Justine said but clearly didn’t understand what he was talking about.
“Dinners ready.” Abe said coming into the living room. “Boys, go wash up.”
He didn’t have to say that twice.
“Here Jess.” He handed her a plate of food once the twins vacated her lap to run down the hall to the bathroom.
“Thanks Abe.” Jessica said, taking the plate and balancing it while Scott pulled her onto his lap.
“And tomorrow we have to start training again.” Jessica said after swallowing her food, “With the boys. In case anything goes wrong.” She added when all she got were blank stares.
“No arguments from me.” Amanda said, “Those bastards scare the shit out of me.”
“Found it.” Don said coming over, face pale.
“Videos?” Jessica asked.
Don nodded. “Tons of them, and you can tell exactly who is doing what to who. Excuse me.” Don suddenly said and practically ran outside.
“They must be bad.” Quinn said.
“So you’re not watching them.” Angus said pointing at Jessica. “You don’t need anything else keeping you up at night.”
Jessica nodded.
“We’ll go to town tomorrow and get those supplies.” Mark said.
“And then we’re all set.” Riley said.
“We have to get Earl to find us …” Jessica said, “then we’re all set.”
The whimper from Brett and Nathan seemed to vocalize the general shiver that went around the room.
“Come on boys.” Leah said directing them to the table. “Everything will be okay. Eat up now.”
“This has to be the quietest dinner ever.” Jim observed. The boys ate silently. They didn’t look quite scared, but they were tense.
“Can one of you finish this for me?” Jessica asked holding her plate up, not even half of it gone.
“You have to eat more than that." Angus said.
“I’m not hungry.” Jessica said. “If you can’t eat it, then save it for me. Please?”
“I’ll put it in the fridge.” Angus said, “Do you feel okay?” he asked holding his hand to her forehead.
“Fine thanks. But, um,” she said looking around the room. “could we go to the studio of a while?”
“It is pretty busy in here …” Scott said, “Let’s go.”
“Back in a little while.” Jessica said when the boys lifted weary eyes as Jessica and the men stood up.
When they entered the studio, Jessica automatically slid one hand into Angus’ hand and the other into Scott’s.
“It feels like it’s been weeks since we were in here for your birthday even though it’s only been a few days.” Riley said.
Jessica automatically gravitated to the instruments towing Angus and Scott with her. When Jessica slipped her hands free and picked up the guitar Angus dropped his back against the wall next to her and exchanged knowing smiles with the other men. Jessica’s reverent love for her instruments was reflected in the way she looked at the guitar, ran her hands over the guitar, gently strummed the strings. Scott hovered near her on her left, Jim, Josh and Riley fanned out in a semi-circle around Jessica and along with Angus planted against the wall, they just watched.
“You know. We should write our own songs. Then we could record them.” Jessica said.
“Hmmm, that could be interesting.” Scott said.
“I already have some ideas. I’ve been writing them in my calculus book.” Jessica said.
“In your calculus book?” Jim asked, “I’m not sure you’ve grasped the full concept of calculus.”
“Maybe not.” Jessica said with a laugh, putting the guitar back in its holder. She meandered over to Angus, leaned in to him folding her arms on his chest, placing her chin on her arms, and staring at him with a goofy smile.
“What’s going on?” Angus asked, surprised. He brought his hands up to rest on Jessica’s waist.
“I’m ready.” She said.
“Ready for what?”
“For our talk … about how uncomfortable you are with the idea of involving the police.”
“I was uncomfortable with it until you explained it..” Angus said.
“You’re okay now?” Jessica asked.
Angus nodded. “But while we’re on the topic, we,” he flashed his eyes at the other men, “do have a backlog of things to ‘talk’ to you about.”
Jessica laughed, nodded, and looked around at the other men.
“Before we get to the backlog, there are a couple of things I’d like to discuss.”
“Okay.” Angus nodded.
“I understand why you don’t want me to watch the videos. I really don’t want to anyway. But there are some answers we’re going to need that we may only get from the videos.”
“You’re not watching them Jessica.” Angus grumbled.
“Agreed. But somebody will have to, and I don’t want it to be you … or you.” She said looking at Angus and Josh. “I’d prefer it wasn’t any of you really.” She added looking at Riley, Scott and Jim, “there is a houseful of other adults.” She motioned her head toward the house. “But it can’t all be up to Don and I’m not sure if there will be any other volunteers.”
“Why us?” Angus demanded. Jessica looked from him to Josh and then back again. Josh looked resigned to something but Angus was clearly upset.
Jessica held a hand out to Josh, who took it and moved in and wrapped his arms around her from the behind. Jessica cupped Angus’ cheek with her hand.
“Because you two seem to be the most … fragile, when it comes to the topic of rape. I’ve already told you what I think about you and me, and what happened between us in that other life. But I’m not sure that you’ve fully accepted what I’m telling you and what’s on those videos is not going to make you any more accepting of the past. I want you to stay the way you are. Do you understand?”
Josh hugged Jessica tighter but Angus only stood and looked at her for a long time.
“Okay.” He finally said but there was a subtle shift in the way he looked at her that worried Jessica. It was the kind of shift that she’d been trying to avoid by keeping him away from the videos. Jessica pulled back and studied him more intently. Had she inadvertently done what she’d been trying to avoid? But then Angus seemed to do a double take too. Blinked, and then forced a smile. “Okay Jess, if that’s what you want.”
Jessica studied him some more. Maybe she’d imagined the shift in his expression but as she looked it was difficult to know for sure. Sometimes it seemed to be there, other times it seemed to fade.
“Anything else?” Angus asked.
Jessica brought a hand up to Josh’s cheek. His head was burrowed into the side of hers.
“Do you understand Josh?”
Josh nodded. “Whatever you want Jess. Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
Josh’s tone and words sounded dangerously close to the say he spoke when he’d cracked early on. When Jessica tried to look up at him he held her tighter so she couldn’t move. Jessica decided that to belabour this point was only going to make things worse so it was time to move on.
“Okay … the next thing,” Jessica said trying not to let the panic building inside express itself.
“Jess.” Angus interrupted, “Don’t worry. Josh and I are fine. Really.” He added and made his smile bigger. Like bigger meant better.
“What’s the next thing?” Josh mumbled in her ear.
Jessica tried to look around at the other men but Josh had her firmly in place.
“Josh, why don’t you take her to the sofa?” Jim suggested. “Hold her on your lap?”
No sooner did he say that than Jessica was swept up in Josh’s arms, and moments later deposited on his lap on the sofa, pressed hard against his body in a bear hug. She still couldn’t move but at least she could see everyone. Scott and Riley sat on either side of her and Josh. Angus and Jim pulled up chairs.
“I wonder how Earl and his clan managed to force adults into doing all of those awful things. I mean, how could he, time and again, show-up and hurt them? Wouldn’t they fight?”
“I was wondering that myself.” Riley said. “They must have drugged them. It wouldn’t be hard to taint their water supply if they were on a well. Which they likely were.”
Realization hit them all at once.
“Bottled water from now on.” Riley said.
“But you’d think Daryl’s clan would have figured that out too.” Scott said.
“They could taser them, like we plan to.” Jim said, “Or gas them.”
Another round of stunned stares at one another.
“Gas masks.” Riley stated.
A shiver ran through Jessica. And then another. And then they just kept coming.
“Jess …” Josh asked, leaning forward to look at her face.
“Do you think Earl is the devil?” Jessica asked in a small shaky voice. She pulled her knees up onto the sofa, curling into a ball and burying into Josh as much as she could. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone as evil as him.”
“Are you cold?” Jim asked sliding off the chair, kneeling in front of her and rubbing his hands on her thigh to create friction.
“Do you think she has a fever?” Angus asked now standing and watching Scott and Riley touch her cheeks and forehead.
“I don’t know, I don’t think so.” Scott said.
“We need a goddamn thermometer, ours is broken.” Riley said. ‘I’ve gotta write down everything we’re buying. Is there a paper and pen around here?”
“There should be some over by the synthesizer.” Jim said.
“Um …” Jessica said while Riley started to scribble the list of items. “We’ll get the boys to work and train with us so they have a fighting chance, but the idea is that when Earl shows up they run. I mean, they’ll have guns and tasers, but the main idea is for them to run, right?”
“That is the idea Jess.” Riley said, “But the last person we gave that plan to had some issues with the execution. Not that we can really complain since it saved our lives.” He added when Jessica blinked at him.
“Don’t worry Jess,” Jim said when Jessica looked doubly worried, “No one can predict what exactly will happen. The best we can do is plan. If you had run away as planned …”
“You’re trying to make her feel better, right?” Josh asked.
“I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make.” Jessica said between chattering teeth, “I promised the boys no one would ever hurt them again. That was kind of stupid. I can’t guarantee that.”
“No, no one can.” Riley said, “But we’re covering all possibilities. Bottled water, gas masks, stun guns, guns, training. We increase the odds of keeping them safe by a lot this way.”
Jessica nodded.
“What’s wrong Jess?” Scott asked when it was obvious a new thought had occurred to her and even more obvious that she didn’t like it.
“Um, we haven’t planned everything yet.” She said in a quiet voice. She had a haunted look to her, like she couldn’t believe she’d thought of the idea much less that she was going to voice it. “If things go horribly, horribly wrong, the boys should have a way out.”
Jim nodded. “We have the cars, the horses, the motorbikes. They’ll have a lot of ways to get away Jess.”
“That’s great, but not what I meant. If they get captured, they should have a way out of the suffering. No one should have to go through what Earl does. Especially not children.”
“By a way out you mean …” Angus began.
“Poison?” Riley finished.
Jessica nodded.
“Shit …” Josh whispered.
“I don’t know where we could get cyanide but I’ll ask Abe and Caleb.” Riley said.
.... continued in 8g
1 comments

Anonymous readerReport

2014-07-16 02:37:59
Next part please

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