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Prudence, Chapter 4

All the lights in the house were on when he pulled up in the drive, but as he opened the door, they all went out, leaving him in total darkness. Not even the VCR was blinking. Mark sighed, and grabbed a flashlight to find the circuit breakers.

It didn't work.

The muted sound of sobbing was audible from upstairs. He frowned, and dug out a candle. It took three tries to get the candle to light, and even then, the flame was small and flickering.

The sound grew louder as he climbed. It wasn't coming from his bedroom, but from the small, empty room next to it. He could hear a baby crying quietly, too, as he came closer.

When he opened the door, he discovered that the room had been transformed. Instead of an empty room, what he saw was a lovingly decorated nursery. Smiling cherubs were painted on the walls, and there was an abundance of pink satin and white lace. There were dozens of stuffed toys. There was a rocking chair in the corner by the expensive looking crib. Sitting in the rocking chair was a woman holding a baby, both of them crying.

She looked very much alive, but somehow he knew she wasn't. She was heart-breakingly beautiful; her honey-gold hair and sapphire blue eyes made her look like an angel come to earth.

"Tell me how to help you," he said.

She looked up at him. "You can't. Only he can." The baby waved an arm and she held out a finger for it to grasp, fresh tears welling from her eyes. "She's always with me. I wish she wasn't. Look at her..." She uncovered the baby and held her up for him to see. She had her mothers glorious golden hair, but her eyes were a deep brown. "Her daddy's eyes. How could he doubt that she was his?" She clutched the baby to her chest. "Only he can free me."

"Who is he, and how do I get him to free you?"

"He was wrong. He was so wrong, but he'll never admit it. No one could ever get him to admit it."

"Who is he? What does he have to do to free you?"

The baby started to fuss more loudly. "You must go now, young man. She's hungry. I have to nurse her."

"Please, tell me before I have to go."

She started to unbutton her blouse, and power returned to the house suddenly, the bright light revealing only an empty room.

Mark sighed, looking around, and decided he might as well go to bed. His dreams that night were less erotic, though still full of Kristen. They were more disturbing, though. The setting was different, and clearer than in previous dreams. At one point, he realized that they were making love in the nursery, and that the cherubs on the walls were crying.

Mark drug himself out of bed in the morning, feeling slightly better than the day before since he'd gotten more sleep. The ghost made him coffee again. Unfortunately, it tasted like decaffeinated.

Like most teachers, he'd made a habit of leaning against the wall by his door in the morning. This let him watch the hallway. Technically, he was watching all of the hallway, and could spot misbehaving students. This was why most teachers did it. Mark, however, couldn't resist keeping an eye on his girlfriend. She didn't seem to realize he was watching her this morning, however.

She was smiling when she opened her locker, but frowned when she reached inside it. He saw her pull out a sheet of paper, read it, and go pale.

He tried not to be obvious, but he couldn't help but make his way towards her when he saw her face. He hadn't made it quite halfway there when Aaron, the young man who was beaten up for taking typing and so transferred into his chem class, stopped by her, frowned, and tapped her on the shoulder, asking something. She jumped a couple of feet in the air and dropped the note. He caught the piece of paper as it fell, and smiling and obviously saying something teasing, started to hand it back to her, glancing at it reflexively.

His hand gripped the piece of paper tightly, and he suddenly looked angry as hell. Mark could hear him arguing with her, and she was shaking her head. As he come closer he could make out what Aaron was saying.

"Look, you have got to tell someone. This is not a joke, Kristen."

Mark stepped up behind him. "Miss Davis, Mr. LaRoux, is there a problem?"

Kristen jumped guiltily and tugged at the piece of paper. "No."

Aaron didn't let go of the paper, and spoke at the same time, "Yes."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "I think the two of you had best come with me." He motioned them towards the teachers lounge.

Kristen frowned and glanced at him like he'd gone totally insane; Mark simply raised the other eyebrow, and waited for her to start moving.

Once in the lounge, he asked, "What seems to be the problem?"

"Tell him, Kris."

"Miss Davis?"

Kristen sighed. "It's just someone playing a prank, Mr. H. No big deal."

"Mr. LaRoux?"

"I don't think so. I think it's a threat, a real one."

Mark held out his hand for the paper.

With an apologetic look at Kristen, Aaron handed it to him. "Sorry, Kris, but you can't ignore this."

It read, "It's too late to play innocent, slut. You're going to start putting out way or the other." It was typed, no signature.

Kristen watched him anxiously as he read the note.

Mark paled slightly, and set his jaw. "I'm afraid he's right, Miss Davis. This will have to go to the principal." He glanced at Aaron, then looked at her. "I'll say something here that perhaps I shouldn't. I may be new to the town, but I do know your reputation. I also found out about the change you seem to have made on Monday. I can tell you that I have yet to hear from a teacher who doesn't support your choice."

Kristen blushed and looked at her hands.

"Speaking personally, I'm glad you've decided to take control of your life. If you have any trouble from...louts who won't accept no, any of the teachers will help you, you know."

Kristen said quietly, "I don't think there will be any trouble, sir."

"Bullshit." Aaron snorted.

Mark raised an eyebrow at Kristen. "You are telling me that the quality of teenage male has improved so dramatically since I was in school?"

Aaron snorts. "Quantity maybe, but not quality. We could do with some population control around here. Mr. H, Dirk had her pinned in the girl's john for half an hour Tuesday. It's just a good thing he's too dumb to think about going in a girls' room."

"So that was you, Miss Davis. I'd wondered. This means we've already had one incident. Come, let's go talk to the principal."

"M..Mr. H, Dirk is harmless. He didn't mean anything, really." Kristen's face was completely red.

Mark shook his head. "I'm afraid we can't take that risk, Miss Davis.

"I really don't think this is serious. They're just mad and trying to scare me. I don't want to overreact." Kristen mumbled. "This is embarrassing enough."

Mark glanced at Aaron, his gaze lingering on the fading black eye. "I think it is serious, Miss Davis." He motioned to the door. "Let's go."

Kristen's shoulders slumped in defeat. Aaron reached over and squeezed her shoulder when he didn't think Mark was looking.

Mark led them to the office, again going in to talk to the principal before bringing them in. "This was in Kristen Davis' locker this morning." Mark handed him the note.

Dr. Ward read the note, frowning. "Do you think this is serious, or just a threat, Mark?"

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Assuming Aaron was right when he said Dirk had her trapped in a bathroom yesterday, I'd say it's serious." He sighed. "I'd also say we have to treat it as if it was, no matter what. After Columbine..." He hesitated. "Not to mention, in the high school I went to, there was a girl with a reputation for being easy who decided to stop. She ended up gang-raped, and killed herself. And she didn't have half the reputation that Miss Davis does."

"I know you're right, son, but I will be damned if I know what to do about it. I can't suspend the girl for keeping her legs closed. I can't keep the entire male student body in detention. And anything I do to draw attention to it is just going to make the problem worse and probably humiliate the poor child. I can call an assembly and have Angie give a lecture on sexual harassment and the law. That might do something."

Mark sighed. "I know. Although..." He looked thoughtful. "If I remember correctly, we can legally set up surveillance cameras. I've got a couple of those wireless X-10 cameras at home that I never got around to doing anything with. I could set them up to cover her locker, and at least we could find out who's leaving the notes. And I suspect that if we quietly let David and Kevin know they wouldn't be considered tardy for walking her to and from her classes...."

"Hmmm. Yes, I think we can keep her safe here at school, but she walks home. Hell, she walks everywhere, she's known for it. And that father of hers leaves her alone in that house more often than not." He looked seriously worried.

Mark frowned. "Do any teachers live near her? If so, maybe one of them would volunteer to act as a safe house for her?"

He shook his head. "Mark, you're the closest one to her. I think you can see the problem with that."

Mark winced. "Good lord. The rumors that would get started..."

"Exactly. You wouldn't even have to so much as look at her. And the next closest is me, and damn it, there already are rumors."

"Of course there were. You're male. Hell, I'm surprised there aren't rumors about the female teachers, the way people talk about her." Mark sighed. "I don't know what to do. I'd hate to see her end trouble."

David sighed. "I almost wish she would change her mind. It'd be much easier. And you didn't hear that."

Mark shook his head. "I don't. Maybe pick a few boys she did want to sleep didn't hear that either." He frowned. "How much trouble did you have with the rumors?"

"Not that much. Basic gist was that I never paddled her because I was doing other things to her sweet little bottom. Frankly, I never paddled her because she never got in that much provable trouble. And...well, to avoid worse rumors."

Mark chuckled. "I can just imagine." He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. "Maria -- the girl I told you about -- was a friend of mine. I've always felt that...well, I should have been able to do something. I'd be willing to put up with some rumors to help her, but there's a big difference between rumors and having someone shoot at you, or fire bomb your house, or losing your job and career."

David sighed again. "I understand, Mark. If we could persuade the girl to pick out one guy to date on a serious basis, preferably one of the big ones, then probably the others would leave her alone. If her father were a more responsible parent, he never would have let his daughter get in this situation. Still...I suppose he does need to be informed of the situation. Wanna volunteer for that one?"

Mark made a face, then sighed. "Shit. Yeah, I will. And I'll try to get those cameras set up before I go home tonight -- if it's okay, I'll run home at lunch and get them."

"Fine by me, as long as you come back. I don't want to have to teach that damned advanced chem class of yours. Those kids scare me."

Mark chuckled. "Oh, you could just get Kayla to teach it."

"Probably. don't think that rumor's true, is it?"

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Which one?"

"You hadn't heard it? The one that suggests that the reason Ms. Davis isn't interested in our fine young gentlemen is that she's fallen for our studious young lady?"

Mark choked a bit, then laughed. "I rather doubt it. I assume you heard about my demonstrations at the party they held the day before school started?"

"Oh yeah. From many different viewpoints." He grinned broadly.

Mark grinned back. "Well, shortly before I left the party, Miss Davis danced. It was a...most impressive sight. Several of the girls did pay more attention than you might think, but Kayla wasn't one of them."

"Ah. Pity. Kayla would make a good vengeful, jealous girlfriend with corrosive chemicals."

Mark looked thoughtful. "I wonder if she's a good actor..."

"Not worth it to either girl unless it's true, Mark. They'd catch hell for it, literally. I was just joking."

Mark grinned. "So was I. Still, the thought of Kayla chasing Dirk down the hall with a beaker of something in her hands..." He chuckled. "I'll let Kristen and Aaron in now, and we can talk to her."

"Wait...Aaron? What's he got to do with this? He might just be the only guy in the school who hasn't lost anything from Kristen's new chastity."

"He saw the note when she dropped it. That's what caught my attention in the first place -- he was trying to talk her into telling someone. She, of course, doesn't want to think it could be serious."

Ward rubbed his brow. "Right. Okay, bring them in."

"And why hasn't he lost anything? Surely she hasn't slept with all the other guys?"

"Likely she has Mark. I've only been here two years, but it's pretty much a confirmed fact that she started making her way through them before she was twelve."

Mark shook his head. "My." He moved to the door, and let the two in. Kristen entered reluctantly, followed by Aaron.

"Have a seat kids. Dr. Hasseran showed me the note, Kristen. I agree with him that it is not something you can take lightly. We've discussed the matter, and there are some steps that we'll be taking to ensure your safety here at school. We'll need your cooperation, as well, young lady."

Kristen mumbled, "Yessir."

"Aaron, you were right to insist that Kristen tell an adult about this. Therefore, you will be part of a group of students who are charged with...discreetly...making sure she doesn't walk to class alone, particularly if it's a class not in the main building. You will not be considered tardy for doing'll still receive a tardy slip and have to have it signed, but it will not go on your report card or reflect on your grades."

"Yes, Sir!"

"Kristen, please wait for your escorts, dear. Whether you want to believe anyone would hurt you or not, the fact is that people can be extremely stupid, and extremely cruel."

Kristen sighed. "Yessir."

"If the threats persist, we may have to take more obvious measures to discourage the perpetrators. We will be attempting to discover their identity, and if we do so, steps will be taken. Finally, you would be well advised to be more cautious outside of school as well. Always lock your door, curtail your long rambling walks for a while. Dr. Hasseran will be talking to your father about this situation, Kristen, I'm sorry, but it's necessary."

"What?!" Kristen exclaimed. "No it's not! I'll be careful, I promise!"

Mark made a face. "I assure you, Kristen, there are any number of things I'd prefer to do than talk to one of my students' father about something like this. But I'm afraid that it does have to be done. I'm sorry."

Kristen moaned and covered her face with her hands. Without raising her head, she asked, "Is there anything else?"

"I think that's all for now, Ms. Davis. Dr. Hasseran?"

Mark nodded. "I think so."

"You may go to class now, children. You have choir this period, Kristen?" She nodded. "Then Aaron will accompany you to the music building."

"C'mon Kris, it'll be okay." Aaron helped her up and ushered her out the door.

"Interesting," Dr. Ward observed after they left. "I would have bet good money that the rumors about Aaron were true, but he seems quite taken with her, doesn't he?"


"I do not believe you haven't heard those, Mark. After all, they're the reason the young man transferred into your class."

"Oh, those rumors. I usually ignore any rumor saying that a young man is gay. I was friends with the guy who had the most rumors like that about him in my school. In band, in choir, didn't play a sport. I stopped wondering once he mentioned to me that the cheerleaders rode on the band bus...and tended to change clothes _on the bus_. In fact, I considered joining the choir. "

David laughed. "Understandable. Ah well, best go curtail your freshmen. Stop by and tell Angie to step in here? She should be in her office."

Mark nodded. "I will."

Mrs. Angellina Veronica Sloan, 'Ms. Angie' to all the students, was vaguely familiar to Mark, though he'd never met her personally. She was young and attractive in a blond, icy sort of way. Her office was extremely well organized, no piles of loose paper anywhere. She looked up at his knock and smiled. "Yes? Dr. Hasseran isn't it? I haven't had a chance to say hello to all the new teachers this year yet."

Mark nodded. "Dr. Ward would like you to stop by his office."

"Of course, thanks."

The day was relatively uneventful after that. Dr. Ward obviously talked with David and Kevin, because Kristen didn't show up to any of her classes alone. This made it convenient for her to slip off with one of them at lunchtime as well. She seemed to have given in to the necessity, though she was still not happy about it.

"Hey, Mr. H, my bike's busted, and I'm not as fond of walking as some people. Can you give me and Kristen a ride to her house after school?" Kayla asked you in the hall.

Mark nodded. "Sure, Kayla, but I've got a few things I've got to take care of before I'll be able to leave."

"No prob. We need to copy a couple of things from the library before we can work on our report anyway. Holler at us when you're ready to go."

"I will."

It took him about an hour to get the camera's installed, half of which was waiting for the halls to empty out so that he could do it when no one was looking.

When he arrived in the library, they appeared to be studying and didn't notice him come in.

"Y'all ready?"

Both girls jumped. "Oh. Yeah." They grabbed their books and followed him out of the building. Kristen sighed.

"What's wrong?" Mark asked.

"I really do like walking, y'know. I don't do it just as an excuse to meet people for sex. It's relaxing. Soothing."

"I know. Hopefully this will blow over soon."

"You can't drive me home every day though. And why did you tell him you'd talk to my dad?!"

Mark sighed. "I ended up trapped. There was no way I could get out of it without raising questions. I am not looking forward to this."

"It's dangerous Mark. There's got to be some way out of it. Tell him...tell him you thought about it and maybe a woman would be a better choice to talk to him."

Mark raised an eyebrow, thoughtfully. "Ok, that's a good idea. I'll try it. I can also try the 'got cold feet about talking to a father about his daughter's sex life' routine."

"I don't know why he'd think that was possible. You don't have any trouble talking to him about my sex life!"

Kayla muttered, very quietly, 'uhoh' and tried to pretend she didn't exist in the back seat.

"Actually, Kristen, I haven't talked to him about your sex life -- just the effects it is having on the school. And I would love to have avoided those conversations. But I'm not willing to risk your safety. Would you want me to be?"

Kristen stared out the window. "I don't know. I just"

Mark sighed. "I'm sorry. I wish there was a way to avoid it. But I can't think of one that keeps you safe."

"How bout I pretend to jump off a cliff into the sea and then live in your basement?" She sounded halfway wistful, as if she wished she could be serious.

"Sorry. I don't think it would work. Be nice, though."

Kristen stared out the window for the rest of the drive, glum.

Mark pulled up in Kristen's driveway. "Could you give us a couple of minutes, Kayla?"

Kayla hopped out of the car. "Sure." She pulled a book from her backpack and wandered up the drive and sat in the porch swing, turning her back to them.

"Want to help me play a practical joke?"

"Oh?" Kristen asked.

"I owe Kayla one. She got me good last night -- but if you help I can turn it around on her."

"Got you how?"

Mark explained about the 'You could have sex with me' comment. "She's lucky I didn't think she was serious, or I might have run off the road. But if later you tell her -- dead serious -- that you've thought about it and you'll loan me to her since she's being so good about helping us..." He grinned. "But make sure I can see her face when you do."

Kristen blinked. " know, that's almost exactly what I said to you...and I was serious. How do you know she wasn't?"

"Well, for one thing she said she was just kidding."

"Mark, if you weren't interested, of course she'd say that." Kristen glared at him, as if annoyed that he wouldn't realize that.

Mark blinked. "Uhhhhh...oh. I hadn't even considered that she might be serious."

Kristen looked at him disbelievingly. "Mark, half the female population of the school and a couple of the guys already have serious crushes on you."

"Say what?!"

"You mean you didn't know? How could you not know? I mean, with Karen the Bitch taking every possible opportunity to drop her damned pencil in front of you?"

Mark blushed. "I hadn't noticed. Oh." He paused. "Shit. What if she was serious?" He sounded panicked.

"And if Susan squeals and says, 'Oh, Mr. H! You're so smart!' while hugging your arm like that one more time, I'm going to kill her." She paused. "I don't know, Mark." She says quietly, "What do you think?"

"Gods. I hope I didn't hurt her feelings. Help me out here, Kristen. I never considered she might be serious."

Kristen sighed. "First decide what you want to answer if she was serious, Mark."

"Well, I think that would depend first of all on you, Kristen."

"I don't see why."

"I guess we should clear that up, shouldn't we? What do you want for us, Kristen? Are we just lovers, or is it more?"

Kristen swallowed hard. "That's...that's up to you Mark. However you want it."

"I'd like us to be more. I'm already falling in love with you. Which means that you do have a say in what my answer would be."

"Not really. It wouldn't be fair if I did."

"Emotions don't know about fair, Kristen. How would you feel if I slept with her? Not, 'how do you think you should feel', but 'how would you feel'?"

"I'm not sure. It would hurt, but I've really got no right for it to. And it would hurt worse if you didn't do it if you really wanted to, because you aren't jealous."

Mark sighed. "It's a shame she's not bi. I won't deny she's attractive, Kristen, but you do have first claim. Especially because you tried to give up something that was a physical need for me. How can I do less?"

"It's so confusing. I don't know what to think. On top of everything....I do owe her. We do. Big time. And I trust her. But...okay...the answer is, I couldn't handle it. Not right now. Maybe not ever, but I can't say for sure."

Mark nodded. "Ok. Then I won't. But...shit. I do need to find out if she was serious, and I do need to talk to her about it, if she was, don't I?"

Kristen sighed again. "No. I do. She would not tell you."

"Ok. You do. And if she was, I'll talk to her." He sighed. "How would you feel about suddenly getting nervous about being here, and wanting to be over at my place?" He looked thoughtful for a moment. "But I still want to get her back, just in case. How about the original plan, but instead of loaning me to her, you tell her you'll sleep with her?"

"Mark...what if she says 'okay!' ? It's not nice to offer something you're not going to give."

"She told me the other night that she's not a lesbian."

"Um. Neither am I. That doesn't mean I haven't slept with women."

Mark blinked. "Oh. I assumed she meant she wasn't bi either. Was I wrong?"

"I don't know. That's the point. But all 'I'm not a lesbian' means is 'I like boys'. It doesn't necessarily mean, 'I don't like girls'."

"Oh. What if she did say okay?"

"Aren't our lives already complicated enough?"

"Yes. But still -- if she did say okay, would you want to?"

Kristen blushed. "I guess. I think. Look, you know I have trouble saying no, even to people I don't really like, and I actually like Kayla."

Mark nodded. "And you know I don't mind you sleeping with anyone you want to." He paused. "If she was serious about what she said, and she was interested in would you feel about that?"

"God, am I supposed to know that? I'd need more than five minutes to figure it out, y'know?"

Mark nodded. "Okay. It's something you should be thinking about, though, since I'm not capable of...of...Damn. I have no idea how to put it that doesn't sound bad. 'Providing enough'? That just sounds bad. But you know what I mean, right?"

" are. You would be. Once at lunch is all I need. If we could, safely...I wouldn't need anyone else."

"I know. But we can't, safely, and what happens if I get sick or something, and we can't for several days?"

Kristen looked vaguely ill herself. "I'll have to go back to blowjobs between every class again. This is so stupid! Why shouldn't we be able to do what we want? You're not hurting me. You're not using me...if anything it's the other way around. I hate hiding like this."

"So do I, love. So do I."

"If I got parental consent to date you, do you think that would be enough?"

Mark shook his head. "No. The law would still apply. We'd have to get married, and...that would be more than a little tricky."


"Not that...well, I was serious the other day, you know."

" thought I was pregnant. It was a desperate situation."

Mark nodded. "Yes, it was. But I got to thinking about it."


"I'd still be willing."

"Honey...that's not something you should rush into. You should think about it. I mean, not just because of my age, too. I would adore having the legal right to be with you, but I won't chain you to me for life to do so."

"I know. But...I do believe in love at first sight. I've got proof. Our situation isn't ordinary, by any means. Besides, we're already tangled up together, remember?"

"Oh, Mark, you are you."

Mark grinned. "Yup. But I can't imagine being any less devastated if you left me tomorrow than if you left me a decade from now."

Kristen licked her lips. "I won't leave you, Mark. That's not why I said no. You don't have to ever marry me, and I won't leave you."

"But that's not why I want to. I want to make that commitment to you."

Kristen trembled. "But what if you change your mind?"

Mark shook his head. "I don't think I will, Kristen. I don't think I will, any more than you think you will."

"That's different. You're special, wonderful, the best I could ever dream of. I'm something that will always be dangerous, always be a burden, always risk embarrassing you."

He raised an eyebrow. "Dangerous how? A burden -- you are good enough, artistically, you could end up worth far more than I ever am. And why would you risk embarrassing me?"

"Dangerous to your career. Respectable teachers don't marry the school slut. Embarrassing if someone found out your wife was sleeping around. I would be so proud to be seen with you, but I can't imagine you actually taking me anywhere in public."

Mark shook his head. "Kristen, don't you understand? I don't care -- no, that's not right. I do care who else you sleep with. I want them to be people who make you happy. People you enjoy being around. I want you to enjoy sleeping with them. I wish I could take you out in public."

"Mark...don't you know what people would say about you? How could you not be ashamed of me?"

"Kristen, I don't care what they say. And I don't think what you are doing is wrong, so what is there to be ashamed of?"

Kristen looked at him, stunned.

"I don't!" he insisted.

She blinked back tears. "I've never been on a date, you know. Not a real one. Not even one."

"Oh, gods, Kristen. I wish I could take you out. I really do."

"No one wanted to be seen with me...not in a way where their friends might think they were serious, anyway. And now, who have so much to lose, say you don't care what people would say." She swallowed. "As if, if I said 'yes', you really would marry me, and to hell with them all."

"I don't. If it wouldn't cost me my job, my freedom, and my life -- and my chance to ever see you again -- I'd take you out tomorrow night and let everyone see us."

"And I've already given you everything I can. You can't possibly get more from me by saying these things, there'd be no reason for you to. I'd take you on whatever terms you offered me. If you wanted to keep me a secret while you went on real dates and got married and had a couple of kids with someone else...I would." She sounded like she was trying to understand something.

"I'm telling you the truth."

"I'm scared."

"Of what?"

"Believing you."

"You can. It's the truth," he said.

"I've been wrong before."

"Do you really think I'm not being honest with you? What does it feel like?"

"I don't trust my feelings. I've been wrong before. I want to, so bad. But if I did, I don't think I could survive being wrong again."

Mark spread his hands. "How do I prove it?" He paused, then asked, "Kristen, will you marry me? Not right this instant, but at some point, when we can do so safely...will you?"

Kristen trembled violently. "I'm so scared. I swore I'd never...Oh god."


She took a deep breath. "I swore I'd never fall in love. Because it gives them too much power over you. Or if I did...I'd never, ever let him know."

Mark waited, not trying to influence her.

Kristen wrapped her arms around her as if she was chilled in the warm night air. "Mark ...please god, oh please... Yes."

He looked around, making sure no one was near, and leaned over, kissing her gently. "Thank you."

"I love you," she whispered.

"I love you, too." He caressed her cheek, wishing he could wipe the fear from her face. Why don't you go get Kayla, and we'll go to my house?"

Kristen nodded, still looking more than a little bit dazed.

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