The lab wasn't the most comfortable of love nests, but it was, at least, private. Kristen still seemed to experience some pain from taking energy at first, but nothing near the level of that morning. By the end of the lunch period, she was looking much better.
Mark smoothed a brush through her soft curls and kissed the back of her neck as Kayla and Aaron finished dressing. "We do need to talk," he said, looking over her shoulder at Kayla. "Can y'all come over for a while tonight?"
They both nodded. "I've got to run home for a little bit, but can be there around five," Kayla said. "I want that explanation, Mark!"
Aaron also needed to run home, to check for messages from his dad, but promised to be there as well.
As he unlocked the door, Mark had another thought. "Oh, Kayla -- ah, do you want to tell your parents the news, or would it go over better coming from me?"
"Um. Hmm," she said. "I'll tell them, I think."
"Whatever you think is best," he said. "Is this likely to... cause problems?"
She shook her head. "I just think they'd be more comfortable hearing it from me. I'm pretty sure they'll take it okay, though, Mark. Don't worry."
He did, of course, but tried to hide it.
The rest of the day was easier. It seemed that what he'd told each class during the day had made its way through the population during lunch. There were still a couple of questions each class, of course, and he still got a fair number of hostile glares from quite a few boys, but overall things seemed to be settling down.
The teachers were still mostly avoiding him, though. The history teacher next door, who usually leaned against his door-frame and chatted between classes had stayed at his desk all day, even. A couple of them exhibited different attitudes, though: the Ag teacher didn't actually talk to him, but he did give him a huge grin and a somewhat leering wink in passing, and the elderly typing teacher -- the one who chewed Dirk up one side and down the other when he'd trapped Kristen in the bathroom -- seemed more than a bit amused by everything, and went out of her way to congratulate him publicly.
The principal, not surprisingly, stayed in his office all day.
It certainly could have been worse. Still, by the time the final bell rang, he was more than ready to get out of there.
It wasn't more than a mile or so to Chastity's house, but by the time he got there, Kristen was asleep, her head tilted back over the seat. He lifted her hand and kissed it, and she just murmured sleepily and smiled at him without opening her eyes.
"All right, love," he said softly. "You wait here, then, and I'll take care of this." A soft sigh was his only answer, and he shrugged out of his jacket and tucked it around her before getting out of the car and heading up the walkway.
The house was a small, clean, little wooden frame house, painted white, with neatly kept flowerbeds all around, and a pretty white wooden fence around the large yard. There was one rather old but extremely clean car in the drive.
The door was answered by a woman in her mid-forties. She was dressed in a faded but neat ankle length dress and had greying hair pulled back into a firm bun. She smiled. "Yes, can I help you?"
"Yes." He returned the smile. "I'm Mark Hasseran, one of Chastity's teachers. Could I speak to her for a moment?"
Her eyes widened with recognition and she glanced towards the car, where Kristen's curls were visible against the window. Her pinched frown brought out lines in her face that hadn't been visible when she was smiling, making her look at least a decade older. "I can't imagine why you'd need to speak to my Chastity, Mr. Hasseran," she said.
With a touch of effort, he kept his smile. "She did me a good turn today, ma'am, and I'd like to thank her, for myself and on behalf of my wife, Kristen."
Her jaw clenched, and her nostrils flared. "I'll speak plainly, Mr. Hasseran," she snapped. "I'm a simple woman. A god-fearing woman. It's hard trying to bring up a girl right alone, in a world such as this. But my Chastity is a good girl, and I don't approve of her being exposed to such goings on."
Mark frowned, but kept his tone mild, with only a slight touch of reproach. "Ma'am, I'm not sure what you've heard, but Kristen is my wife, and I love her. I know there are rumors going around... well. We knew there would be rumors. We just hoped people would believe what they see, and not the rumors."
"The Reverend was right!" She stared at him, her face reflecting disbelief. "You're not the least bit ashamed!"
He shook his head, looking confused. "Why should I be ashamed for loving my wife?"
"Your wife is a child!"
He shook his head again. "With all due respect, ma'am, she's not. A hundred years ago, when this area was just being settled, she'd have been worried about becoming an old maid. I didn't choose to fall in love with her; it was something... out of the blue. Had her father refused his permission, I'd have waited the three years for her, faithfully. What's wrong with that?"
"Faithfully?!" she sneered. "As if the likes of her would know what that means! Really, people like you have no place in a decent town like Prudence!"
"Jesus, Mom!" Chastity hopped off of her bicycle, having just pulled into the yard in time to hear her mother's last words. "You're worse than Karen. Lay off, would you?"
"Don't you blaspheme at me young lady!"
Chastity rolled her eyes, then sighed. "Yeah. Fine. Sorry, Mom, but you're acting crazy. I've never seen you so rude to anyone. Get ahold of yourself, huh? It's embarrassing."
The woman stood there, sputtering incoherently, for a second or two, then found her voice. "My own daughter! Ooooooh!" Then she slammed the door, and Mark could hear her stomping away.
"Aw fuck," Chastity muttered.
Mark looked at her. "Sorry," he said. "I stopped by because I wanted to thank you for the warning. I'm sorry if we caused problems."
Chastity sighed. "S'okay. She's been like that lately. Weird."
"A lot of that going around, lately," he said, then sighed himself. "Do you really think Karen would do it?" he asked, then looked around as Kristen came up and slid under his arm, looking tousled and sleepy. He pulled her close to his side.
Chastity sighed again, then nodded reluctantly. "Yeah. I wish I didn't, but yeah, I do," she said. "Karen's gone off the deep end, Mr. H. I don't know what's gotten into her."
"Chastity... I know she's your friend," Mark said, "but this really bothers me. Would you be willing to help me?"
She glanced at the closed door. "Um... what would I have to do?"
"Is she still talking about it?" he asked.
"I don't know, to be honest," she said. "She was at third period. I haven't talked to her since then. We're not talking to each other."
Kristen trembled against his side, and he rubbed his hand up and down her waist as he reached into his pocket with the other and pulled out the little recorder. "Is there any way you could catch her talking about it on this?" he asked. "If you can, I can talk to her parents... maybe they could get her some help. But I doubt they'd believe me without proof."
She nibbled thoughtfully on her lip. "I could, yeah, but... Mr. H, her parents wouldn't do anything. They're real jackasses. They'd probably be proud of her. I'm sorry."
He frowned. "That's bad, but if they won't do anything on their own, then maybe there's something legal that can be done to ensure she at least gets counseling. Not dealing with something like this would be pretty obviously failing at parental duties. And if they're that bad... she probably needs the help." He sighed. "I just wish I knew why she was doing this."
Chastity shook her head. "I tell you, she's gone nuts," she said. "I mean, she's always been a bit of a cat... even if she was my best friend... but this year she's just gone totally overboard. It's like she's a whole different person. A really cruel person. She's always been thoughtless, yeah, but she never went out of her way to hurt people. She never seemed to enjoy hurting people so much before. I just don't know."
"Did something happen to her over the summer?" he asked.
"Not that I know of," she said. "She spent a couple weeks at the beginning with me, then she was at bible camp for a month, and then we got together a couple more times before school started and she never mentioned anything. We always told each other everything." She looked away, blinking back tears. "I mean, we really trusted each other. I thought I knew her. She wasn't perfect, but now she's such a bitch..."
"When did she change?"
"I'm not sure, exactly," Chastity said. "Not during the time she stayed with me. But it wasn't an overnight thing, I don't think."
"Did anything else change over the summer that would, I don't know, have hurt her?" he asked.
She shook her head, looking frustrated. "No. That's the thing... there's no reason for it."
"I don't know, then," he said. "I'm sorry. If you can get the recording, I can go to the counselor and she could at least talk to her, maybe arrange some other kind of help."
"Well, I'll get it for you," Chastity said. "I just don't want you to expect any kind of help from her parents."
"Thanks for the warning," he said.
"Yeah, well, someone needed to tell you." She glanced at the house. "I gotta go in, before Mom has a coronary. See ya tomorrow."
Mark heard raised voices as soon as she closed the door behind her, but it sounded as if the girl were holding her own. He sighed, shaking his head and wondering if half the parents in Prudence were insane.
Kristen was extremely quiet on the drive home. He looked over a few times to see if she'd fallen back asleep, but she was awake. Just staring silently out the window, her green eyes huge and sad.
"Love? You okay?" he finally asked.
She shook her head, not looking at him. "I can't believe someone would kill a baby just because I happened to be the one carrying it."
"I know," he said with a sigh. "Maybe we can get her some help. It sounds like she's become... unbalanced."
"Yeah," she said, softly. "I mean... I can understand someone wanting to hurt me, but that's just sick."
"It sounds like she's not rational on the subject," he said. "Honestly... if it had been a sudden change, I'd suspect she'd been raped or something."
"No one is being rational," she said, rolling her eyes. "I mean, they can't make up their minds whether to be shocked at you seducing an innocent child or instead to be offended at 'that slut' trapping a respectable young man. And they don't seem to even see any conflict in doing both!"
He laughed. "I know, love. But I honestly think that's a good thing. Once things settle down, I think the reactions will average out."
She sighed tiredly and closed her eyes again. "I guess so."
"We'll make it, love. I promise."
She turned her head to look at him, opening her eyes to look at him lovingly. "I know," she said softly.
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