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Prudence, Chapter 62

Angie was quiet and reserved the next morning, and prone to frequent blushing from the time she woke up, right up to when Mark and Kristen dropped her off at her own house before heading to school. Mark would have thought that maybe she regretted her actions of the night before, except that, several times, he caught her watching Kristen with an expression that went well beyond tender. Adoring, awed, and full of wonder, it bordered on worshipful at times, and while her attempts at showing the girl her feelings were hesitant and somewhat awkward, their sincerity was impossible to doubt. He just wished she was more comfortable with him, and with the other parts of Kristen's life-- if she couldn't bring herself to accept them, to try and fit in, she'd only make herself miserable. Despite all that had happened, Mark didn't want that for her. Even if he had still been angry, Kristen was happier now, more complete now that the gaping wound on her soul had been healed. He wouldn't take that away from her for anything, much less something as petty as revenge.

Kristen seemed perfectly fine that morning. More than fine. She bounced around the house with even more than her normally obscene amount of bubbly energy, smiling constantly and occasionally singing sweet, happy love songs, and once twirled around in pure joyful exuberance, giggling like a little girl. No... he wouldn't do anything to take that away from her. As happy as he was to see her happy, though, it scared him. If Angie couldn't adapt to the lifestyle that Kristen needed, he was afraid it would hurt her badly-- and Angie had already hurt her quite enough.

The thought of just how badly his young wife had been hurt, and how close he'd come to losing her, still terrified him. One moment, he'd be watching her as she smiled sweetly at her new lover, or as she danced happily around the kitchen, and then the next he'd be reliving that horrible moment in the ICU. The shrill scream of the heart monitor, the doctor and nurses surrounding her, blocking her from his view as they worked frantically, the jackhammer thud of the defibrillator... and then the words that had torn his soul in two. We've lost her. He could hear them just as clearly as he had then, every time he thought about it-- and he couldn't keep from thinking about it-- and every time he did, it felt like a kick in the gut. His breath would freeze in his throat, and pain would shoot through his chest, like a hand of ice crushing his heart. In that moment of memory, he could hear nothing else, could see nothing else, and it was all he could do not to fall to his knees and sob. It was no wonder, then, that he hated the very thought of letting her out of his sight.

Even when she smiled understandingly at him, and assured him that she was fine, and gently chided him for "needless fussing", he still couldn't quite believe, on some level, that she really was safe now. Besides, had he spent the past day at the bedside of a young wife who'd nearly died from an allergic reaction, he'd be just as worried, so it didn't hurt anything for him to walk her to her first class, feel her forehead, or stroke her hair. It would be expected that he'd worry about her relapsing.

Kayla and Aaron hovered and fussed just as much, but fortunately that was also understandable. It was well known that they were her best friends, and the school was starting to consider them a "couple", as well, so only the dirtiest of minds would see something untoward about Aaron's quiet, gentle worry about "his girlfriend's best friend".

He hated to leave her to her first class, but knew that Kayla would watch her like a hawk for any signs of distress, and wouldn't hesitate to come get him if need be. He still lingered longer than he should, until finally Kristen laughed and pushed him out the door. A quick, sweet kiss, stolen in the hallway during a rare moment of emptiness, and then he finally found himself on the way to his own classroom.

He sat down with a sigh, and got to work grading a stack of papers that he really should have finished with a couple of days ago. Boring work, and reading the handwriting of teenagers was, as usual, tedious, so he didn't mind too terribly when a hesitant knock on the doorframe interrupted him.

Chastity stood there, wringing her hands nervously. "Hey, can I talk to you?"

He nodded, frowning, and waved at a chair. "Sure. What's up?"

The girl was jittery and anxious, perching on the edge of her chair and not meeting his eyes. "I talked to Karen," she said. "Um. She's not planning on pushing Kristen down the stairs anymore. She kinda thinks something like that is what happened last night. We all know that's bullshit, of course, but if she can't just see that, I don't think I can teach her, y'know?" When she finally looked up, she still looked worried, though, so Mark doubted that that was her only news.

"What's she planning now?" he asked.

"I don't know. I don't know if she is, not for sure." She looked at him, her face twisted with misery and confusion. "But if you'd threatened something like that, and then it actually happened, shouldn't you feel, y'know, guilty? At least a little bit, even if you don't like the person?"

He nodded slowly. "Yeah. It's not what happened, and she'll hear that soon enough. I think it was an allergic reaction to something, but the doctors didn't know what." The explanation was a lie, of course, but that didn't stop the memory of what had happened from making him shudder as he gave it. "It was... scary."

Chastity looked at him sympathetically. "Most people don't believe such dumb rumors, anyway. But Karen... she kept going on about God, of all things, Mr. H. How God always punishes sinners and shit like that. I mean, sure, we've all had it shoved at us, but she never cared about that kind of crap before." She sighed and shook her head. "Anyway, here's the tape. It really freaks me out. It's like she's been possessed or something."

That wasn't entirely out of the question, given some of the things Mark had seen since he'd moved to Prudence, and he frowned grimly. Even if it wasn't anything unnatural, though, a psychotic teenager fixated on 'punishing' his wife was quite bad enough. He wasn't about to dismiss the girl as harmless, not when he could still hear the scream of the heart monitor every time he closed his eyes. Not when he knew how easy it would be for her to have an 'accident'. "What's on here exactly? Any threats?" he asked.

"No, she seems to think that God will do it all on his own. Personally. It's weird!" Chastity said, tugging nervously on one of her ponytails. "I think she needs to be locked up in the loony bin."

Direct threats or no, it was still completely unacceptable. Besides, too many people over the centuries had got tired of waiting on their god to punish the 'sinners' and had taken it into their own hands. Or stirred up a witch hunt to help them out. In Prudence, he couldn't quite rule out the possibility, either. They might not do anything blatant, but to the person in the fire there wasn't much difference between being burned at the stake or burned in your own home, as the Wilsons had been. "Screw this," he muttered. "This has gone far enough. Where is she at this time of morning?"

"Um. She has band practice, over in the music building. Why?"

"I'm going to go talk to her, I think."

The girl looked skeptical. "Well, I guess it might help, but I doubt it. She needs drugs or something."

"Maybe. I'm going to see what I can do, anyway."

"Well, good luck," Chastity said. "Gotta get to class and finish my homework before the bell rings. See ya in Chem."

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