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Prudence, Chapter 20

After a bit of consideration, Mark decided that it was as safe to have Kristen hidden at his house as it was to have his jeep hidden at Steven's. So, after dropping off Kayla, he drove them home to spend their second married night in their own house. Despite the pleasure of having her with him and the energy expended making love a couple of times before going to bed, he slept restlessly, his dreams full of vague nightmares that fled from his memory upon waking. Kristen didn't sleep well, either, instead she tossed and turned through most of the night.

He woke early and switched off the alarm, preferring to kiss his young, gently glowing bride awake. She smiled sleepily up at him, twining her arms around his neck. "I've never been so tempted to skip school in my life," she said wistfully. "It just doesn't seem fair, y'know?"

He kissed her again, smiling. "Yeah, I know. On the other hand, you can go to school and not be distracted, for a change."

"That's true... but I'd rather spend a week or so really distracted with my sweet, new husband." Her eyes, as she looked up at him were sad, and he pulled her all the way into his arm, kissing her tenderly.

"Just wait for Christmas break, love," he said, trying to comfort her. "It's not that long."

She smiled and tugged him out of bed to shower with her, the slippery, teasing, fun chasing away her melancholy mood. Afterwards, while she was drying her hair, he took a minute to walk out to the mailbox and was surprised to find a thick envelope, addressed to him, from Kristen's father. Opening it, he found the deed to the house he'd been renting and the 10 acres surrounding it.

Mark stared down at the papers, shocked, then picked up the phone and called Steven.

He answered on the third ring. "Good morning?"

"Steven, this is Mark. I just got some most interesting mail."

"Ah." Mark could hear the smile in Steven's voice. "That would be your wedding present."

"I... I don't know what to say, Steven. Thank you." As he talked, Mark walked over to tap on the bathroom door, waving at Kristen to come out.

"Can't have my baby going hungry because the school doesn't pay worth a damn," Steven said. "Besides, I've been looking through my accounting records. There's a fuck-load of things I'm betting Kris went without over the past ten years."

Kristen shut off the dryer and peeked out the door, very fluffy, and Mark handed her the deed, and she looked at it, confused.

He mouthed, 'Your dad,' then said, out loud to Steven, "I wouldn't be surprised."

She looked back down at it, blinking, then said, quietly, "Oh. My."

He nodded and pointed inquisitively at the phone, and she nodded. Meanwhile, Steven was saying, "Yes, apparently Kristen is a very expensive young lady. I have about 180K worth of entries just labeled 'Kristen'. And I had a peek in her closet. If anything, she has way less clothing and stuff than even a moderately poor teenager should have."

"So she was embezzling?" Mark asked. "Kristen thought she was putting it back into the account."

"Not that I've found any evidence of," Steven said. "Lots of money coming out, none going back in."

"I see," Mark said. "Hold on... " He handed the phone to Kristen, whispering "Wedding present," into her ear.

She took it with a smile. "Hi, Daddy. You know you didn't have to... uh huh. Well, yeah, but... Awwww! Well, um, thank you then. Love you, too." With a bemused shake of her head and another smile, she handed the phone back to Mark and went to finish getting ready for school.

Mark said, "Well, I can't say thanks enough, Steven, but... thanks."

"No problem. Frankly, it was dirt cheap. You might consider putting a new house on the land at some point, if you decide to stay in this area."

"Yeah, I might. Though that partly depends on things like where she wants to go to college."

"Point," Steven said. "Well, I'm going to have to head back into Dallas, probably for a couple of days. I need to find an accountant and see if I can't get this shit straightened out. Feel free to use my house if you want. There's a guest bedroom upstairs that can be refurnished for you and Kristen anytime. You have my cell-phone number if you need me for anything." "Thanks, Steven." They headed to school, Mark still playing the roll of "teacher condemned by overprotective father to escort child safely to school".

The next three weeks were rather nice. Kayla came over frequently, usually spending at least one night on the weekend. Kristen almost never felt hungry enough during the day to require additional intake, though Mark did notice her and Kayla hurrying to fifth period a bit late one day, looking decidedly mussed. The cellphones he ordered for Kristen and Kayla came in, and even had a fairly good signal for out in the middle of nowhere. Steven began the long process of discovering the damage done by Vanessa; It turned out that she'd extracted, over the past ten years, close to $200,000 "for Kristen's expenses", of which Kristen had benefit of, at most, about a tenth. She had, since being fired, disappeared, likely scared to death she was going to be arrested.

The school was calming down, too. An assembly on sexual harassment, initiated by the school counselor, seemed to have actually helped. The fact that quite a few of the more aggressive boys were still firmly convinced that Mark would beat the shit out of them if they touched Kristen had also helped.

However, both Mark and Kristen were having a lot of nightmares. His, as best he could tell because they were very disorienting, revolved around the events in his house 20 years ago, usually from the viewpoint of Emma Barnes, the woman who was killed.

Kristen's were all disturbingly repetitive. They involved her being stalked by an unseen man, someone who she felt, instinctively, hated her and intended to kill her. The method varied, but somehow he always managed to capture her, after which he raped her and then killed her slowly with a large knife.

The dreams worried Mark to the point where he started doing some research, trying to figure out what happened to Mr. Barnes. It turned out that, after murdering his wife and baby, he was never found, so there was no reason to assume he was dead and haunting the house. That was little comfort, though, so Mark called Steven to find out if Kris' mother had ever evinced any signs of precognition.

To his knowledge, she hadn't, so Mark told him about the dreams, about how vivid and repetitive they were, and about his suspicions that it was either precognitive, or some sort of warning... that wasn't how Emma was killed. By the end of their conversation, Steven was as worried as Mark was. He extracted Mark's promise to be extremely careful, of course, and persuaded him to get a carry permit and start going armed. He also warned him not to let Kristen just brush off his concerns. Mark agreed completely, and started the process to get the permit the very next day.

Pretty much as Steven predicted, Kristen thought his fears were rather paranoid. She thought it was just stress, and possibly living in a haunted house that had her frazzled. That, plus the death threat she got in her locker that one time were, she considered, a perfectly adequate explanation for stress and nightmares. But at his insistence, she still agreed to be very, very careful.

Towards the end of September, there was another threat in her locker: "You haven't been forgotten. Have you come to your senses yet? Time is running out." The hidden cameras showed, around 3am the previous night, an average sized figure wearing black sweat-pants, black sweater, black gloves, and a black ski-mask. Subsequent examination found a broken windowpane in one of the classrooms. The form was probably too big to be a freshman, but that was about all that could be eliminated. Mark's suspicions turned immediately to the principal... nobody else knew about the cameras, and he doubted that they would have been naturally that paranoid... but he didn't say anything. Yet. He bought Kristen another cellphone, the very smallest he could find, to carry hidden on her person at all times and kept secret from everyone but him, Kayla, and Steven.

Kristen was rather freaked out to be receiving a threat after things had apparently calmed down. She was noticeably jumpy after that. Mark set up hidden cameras around their house, as well as down at the pond, and at Steven's house, and tried to hide his own nervousness from her, but he felt increasingly uncomfortable when she was out of his sight.

The first Friday in October, Mark was leaning outside his classroom, talking with the teacher next door (the PE coach who, amazingly, was also a damned fine History teacher) when the sound of Kristen's scream jolted like lightning down his spine. He looked up to see her, about 30 feet away down the hall, fallen against the wall and Dirk, the boy who'd kept her trapped in the bathroom, tightly gripping her arm.

His heart pounded wildly, and his vision went red for a moment. His immediate impulse was to eviscerate the boy. Literally. By the time he took his first running step towards them, he was already picturing the entrails. The extreme violence of the reaction shocked him, but the shock didn't dispel it. He snarled, "Let go of her, Dirk, NOW!" Concealed carry permit or not, the law didn't allow guns on school grounds. Mark wasn't sure whether he was disappointed or grateful, but he knew that it was damned lucky for Dirk.

Dirk, looking seriously confused and somewhat harassed, didn't move away from Kristen or let her go. She was crying as if in severe pain, and the sound was sending surges of protective rage through Mark, tensing his muscles into knots. Gritting his teeth, though, he managed to get ahold of himself enough to notice that she wasn't trying to get away and was holding one foot off the ground. He stared at the foot for a second, trying to cool his brain enough to grasp the meaning, then finally looked back at Dirk. "Sorry. It looked like... well, never mind." He moved around to her other side and slipped his arm around her waist, holding her up. "What happened, Kristen?"

"I fell," she said, trying not to sob. "Someone... bumped into me, and I t..twisted my ankle." Every word was through gritted teeth, and she couldn't stop the tears that trickled down her cheeks, or the shudders of pain. "I can't stand on it."

He frowned. "I think we'd better get you to the nurse."

"I could carry her," Dirk offered.

Mark suppressed another surge of absolutely unreasonable, unjustifiable rage and scooped her up. "I've got her, Dirk, but thanks." He offered something resembling a smile. "I don't want her dad thinking I'm not doing my best to protect her." The boy looked disappointed, but headed off, resigned, to class.

Mark asked quietly, as he carried her to the nurse's office, "Did you see who it was?"

She sniffed, biting her lip. "He really didn't do anything -- ow! -- y..you know. He just caught me when I was falling."

He nodded. "I know. But that's not what it looked like. It looked like he'd grabbed you and was hurting you," he said tightly. "Did you see who bumped into you?"

She shook her head. "No, it was totally unexpected."

"Damn. It could have been an accident, but..."

"Oh fuck it hurts," Kristen moaned, then shook her head. "I'm sure it was an accident, Mark. Why wouldn't it be?"

He just raised an eyebrow as he carried her out the door. The nurse's office was in the elementary building, across the campus.

"They're not threatening to hurt me," she protested. "Just screw me. These halls are crowded. Things happen."

He growled, his arms tightening around her. "I'm not sure that last threat was just to rape you, love. But maybe it was just an accident. Still... I don't like it. A broken ankle would make you a lot more vulnerable, wouldn't it?"

She frowned and shivered. "Yeah," she whispered, suddenly looking scared. He squeezed her to his chest and hurried as best he could.

Unfortunately, the nurse couldn't do much. Ice and elevation. Tylenol. She shook her head, looking worried, and Mark asked, "Is it broken, do you think?"

"I'm thinking it might be. She needs to go to a hospital and have it x-rayed."

Mark sighed. "Where's the nearest hospital?"

"About an hour, hour and a half from here, in Parkerton."

"I'll drive her," Mark said. "Tell Dr. Ward for me?"

The nurse frowned, shaking her head. "Usually the principal will drive an injured student for emergency care. He's on his way right now.

Over my dead body, Mark thought, and shook his head. "Her father... " He glanced quickly at Kristen. "Her father is holding me personally responsible for her safety," he said, just as Dr. Ward barged into the office.

"What happened here?" the principal asked.

Mark said, "Someone bumped into her in the hall. Her foot may be broken."

Ward nodded. "I'll drive her to the hospital, Mark, and let you get back to your class."

Mark sighed. "And her father told me, quote, 'If she has to go to the hospital, son, I'd best see you there when I get there. And you'd best have a damned good reason for her being there.'" He looked at the principal helplessly.

Dr. Ward frowned. "This is highly irregular. It was simply an accident. Surely the man can't hold you accountable for a turned ankle in a crowded hall!"

Mark just raised an eyebrow at him.

He shook his head. "I'll explain it to him. Surely you don't think she'd come to any harm with me, do you?"

No more than I think the sky is blue, Mark sneered inwardly, then made a show of looking thoughtful. "Actually, maybe I don't have to worry about it at all. If he's home today, I can just call and tell him. Then I'm off the hook." To his great satisfaction, Dr. Ward paled when he mentioned calling her father.

Kristen, unaware of the tension, said, "Daddy's still in Dallas. He'll be back tonight."

Mark looked very unhappy. "Dr. Ward... he made his expectations very, very plain to me. It's not that I don't trust you, but well, he said... " Ward's face twitched, getting even paler, and Mark hid his triumphant look under the disguise of being afraid to let Kristen out of his sight.

Ward frowned. "Very well, Mr. Hasseran." His voice was clipped, tight. "This is highly irregular. I am not in the habit of having my teachers gone for half the day on the whim of a student's father, no matter who that father might be. However, this once, I will make an exception. Hopefully your lesson plans are up-to-date."

Mark nodded, doing a mental victory dance. "Thank you, Dr. Ward. They are up to date."

Kristen was in serious pain, deathly pale and looking like she might throw up. Mark scooped her back up. "I need to get her to the hospital as fast as possible, I think." Ward let him go, reluctantly, and the nurse gave him directions to the hospital. He carried her out to his car, strapping her into the seat-belt, wincing at her little whimpers of pain. As he was driving, he pulled out his phone to call Steven. Kristen curled against the door, eyes closed tightly, totally wrapped up in the pain.

"Davis here."

"Steven, this is Mark. Kristen stumbled in the hall and it looks like she broke her foot. I'm on the way to the hospital."

"Fuck. Was it an accident, Mark?"

Mark sighed. "I don't know. Someone bumped into her, but the halls were crowded, so... maybe. Maybe not. It occurs to me that she'd be a lot more vulnerable with a broken ankle." He paused. "On the other hand, if that's their plan, I may have an idea to help us..."

His idea was a small, high-powered homing device, the kind that only transmitted when it got a special signal, embedded in the cast. The batteries would last several months, and they could probably get a ten or twenty mile range on it. Dallas would have a store where Steven could pick one up. Mark remember specifically seeing a store advertising 'spy gear' while they were up there. Steven, after only a bit of thought, agreed, and promised to stop at the store and get to the hospital as fast as possible.

Mark hung up and looked over at Kristen. "Your dad's going to meet us there, honey." She looked at him, eyes glazed with pain, obviously oblivious to the conversation he'd had.

"Huh? Oh, okay," she said weakly.

He glanced down at her ankle. It looked broken... swollen and purple, resting at an odd, crooked angle. She squeezed her eyes shut and yelped as the jeep was jarred by an unavoidable bump in the country road. "Ohhh," she moaned. "I hate living out here."

He winced guiltily. "I'm sorry, love. I'm trying not to hit the bumps, but..."

"I know. Just go really fast."

He smiled at her, but drove exactly the speed limit.

She sniffed, chin trembling. "I'm not worth a speeding ticket?"

"No, love, it's just that if we get stopped it'll be... hmm..." He broke off, considering. Given her obvious injury, the police would probably just give him an escort to the hospital, so it wouldn't take longer, after all. "You're right," he said, and pressed down on the accelerator, going much, much faster.

Kristen leaned her head on her arm and tried to think happy thoughts that didn't involve throwing up from pain.

The hospital, fortunately, wasn't a very busy place once they actually made it there.

"Are you a parent or legal guardian?"

He shook his head. "I'm her teacher." It was frustrating, not being able to tell the truth, and he was deathly afraid they wouldn't let him stay with her, but... "Her father is supposed to be meeting us here."

The nurse looked down at the girl. "Poor little thing. We'll get her down to X-ray. I'm betting it's broken." To his relief, they had no problem with him waiting for her and staying with her once she got out of X-ray.

The ankle was broken, though not as badly as it could have been. Torn ligaments and a hairline fracture. As soon as Steven made it there to sign for it, they gave her a shot of pain medicine. It was soon discovered that demoral made Kristen very happy, very briefly, right before she passed out.

Thus, she was asleep when Steven explained to the doctor about the transmitter and got him to agree to it, even though a cast wasn't strictly necessary... One wouldn't hurt anything, and in his experience, teenagers had a tendency to not wear their damned splints.

The setting and application of the cast was easily accomplished, the little transmitter leaving not even a lump. The doctor turned to Steven. "She's to stay completely off of it for at least a week, then crutches for another two. After that, we'll switch it out for either a splint or a walking cast if she needs additional support and we'll see. Here's a scrip for pain meds. Any questions?"

Mark bit his lip, really, really hoping Steven would somehow ask about sex -- he couldn't.

"She's not a sedentary girl by nature, Doctor," Steven said, "Exactly how still do I have to keep her?"

"Well, gymnastics are right out, of course. She doesn't have to be perfectly still, but violent physical motion is going to come with a risk of making it worse. Of course, it'll also hurt like all hell. be careful when she's on pain meds, though, because she can hurt herself and not feel it until later."

Steven nodded. "Alright. The main thing to do is keep strain off her ankle, then, but she doesn't have to stay in bed if she doesn't want to?"

"Right." By the time she was signed out and ready to go home, she was vaguely, but not really, awake. She dozed throughout the trip as Mark, far more sedately, drove her home. When she was awake, she wasn't really awake, either. She slept right through his stop at the pharmacy to pick up her pain pills.

He pulled up to his house, and she blinked groggily.

"We're home," he said.

"We are? Okay," she said wuzzily, and opened the car door and started to step out.

"Wait!" he shouted, jumping out of the car and running around it.

"Hm?" she blinked, confused. "But I hafta go potty..."

He bent, lifting her and smiling down at her. "I know. I'll carry you in." He shoved the door closed with his hip and headed for the house.

"Ummmm... like, over the threshold thingy," she murmured. "You're so sweet."

He kissed her with a smile. "Well, that and you've got a broken ankle, remember?"

"Ohhh yeah, I forgot. We shoulda got a new one at the hopsital. Hostipal. Hoptisal. Fuck it. Place."

He laughed and sat her down on the toilet, pushing her skirt up for her, then began tugging down her pantyhose and underwear for her. She watched him in a drugged haze, then giggled. "Whatcha doin?"

"You needed to go potty, remember?" he asked.

"Oh, right," she said. "You have to leave, though. I can't go potty with you in the room."

Shaking his head and smiling, he walked over to the door and turned his back. "Okay," he said, and waited on her.

After a little bit, she said, "Okay. You can come back now. Because my ankle is broken."

He nodded. "Right. Broken," and scooped her up, kissing her nose and making her giggle as he carried her to the bed.

"I have some super-glue in my backpack," she offered helpfully.

"I don't think that would fix it," he said with a smile.

She looked disappointed. "Oh. Too bad. Can we have sex now?"

"Um... I think that would hurt your ankle, love. When you tensed all your muscles as you came... ouch."

Her lip quivered. "But... " Her eyes were big enough to rival any anime star's.

"You don't want to hurt yourself, do you?" he asked gently.

"I don't mind," she said, instantly, in a matter-of-fact tone, and he frowned.

"I do. I don't ever want to hurt you, love."

She sighed, but smiled at him. "Love you, too. Would you get me a glass of water?"

He nodded, and headed for the bathroom; since he had a well, tap water was quite drinkable and there were paper cups by the sink, and it was closest. He turned on the water, and then dropped the cup an the message scrawled in red across the mirror caught his eye. It hadn't been there before... he was certain. It read, "He is near. Beware."

Mark's blood ran cold. "Oh, fuck," he whispered, then pulled out his cellphone and dialed Steven.



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