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Prudence, Chapter 63

Mark found Karen in the band hall, warming up on a flute was just a bit more expensive looking, with a subtly different gleam, than those belonging to the other two girls already seated in the front row. She tossed it carelessly onto the chair beside her when he walked up and said he needed to talk to her.

She smiled as she stood up, then took a second to smooth her dress down, just incidentally stretching the already tight fabric across her substantial breasts in the process. She slithered between the music stands, an expression that could only be called 'predatory' on her face as she approached the out of the way corner where he waited.

He studied her for a long moment, wondering what was going on behind that smug, knowing smile, and wanting to make her speak first before he gave anything away.

She seemed more than happy to oblige. "Yes, Mr. Hasseran? You wanted to--" She paused significantly and trailed a finger down her chest, running it between her breasts. "--speak to me? Regret something you said, perhaps?"

The very bluntness of it took him by surprise. Kayla and Kris had both mentioned that many of the girls had been trying to attract his attention, but they'd never done so in any way that he'd actually noticed. This, however, was not subtle in the least, and he'd have to be blind and deaf to miss the girl's meaning. He hid his surprise, though, save for a raised eyebrow, and shook his head sadly. "You know, Karen, I thought you were a nice girl."

"I can be very nice, if I'm given a chance," she purred, leaning towards him and licking her lips. "Surely I deserve as much of a chance as... anyone. Don't I?"

He couldn't claim to know the girl well, but that seemed out of character. It was too extreme even for a slightly unstable teenager with an unrequited crush. Chastity's description of her as acting as if she'd been possessed suddenly didn't seem nearly as unlikely. How would a person go about finding out, though?

Mark hadn't never 'looked' at someone he wasn't already bonded to, before, and he wasn't certain that he even could, since all he'd 'seen' had been the lines connecting him to the others. It was worth a try, though, so he lowered his lashes slightly, letting his eyes go unfocused as he searched for Karen's mental (Magical? Spiritual? Psychic? He wasn't sure of that, either!) energy. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, though, so it took him a moment to 'see' the sickly green haze that flickered around the girl. As soon as he focused on it, though, it disappeared. He frowned, wishing he had some clue as to what that could mean.

"--now that you don't have to pretend anymore?" the girl was asking sweetly, when he returned his attention to her.

"Pretend what, Karen?"

"No more baby," she said with a nasty, satisfied smirk. "You can have the marriage annulled. And since everyone knows now that you're not as lily-white as you pretended to be before...." She slowly ran the pink tip of her tongue across her upper lip.

He shook his head, biting back the urge to snap at the girl. "Karen, I hate to burst your bubble," he said carefully, "but she wasn't pregnant, and she didn't have a miscarriage. They did a pregnancy test as a matter of course, in fact, and I could show you the negative result. I didn't marry her because I had to. I married her because I love her." He studied her face, hunting some clue, some explanation of her behavior. "Why does the idea of someone loving Kristen bother you so much?" A horrifying thought occurred to him, and he took another 'look' at her, this time searching for lines-- lifebond type lines-- trying to connect her to him.

He could see something. Not a lifebond, thankfully, but something else reaching out from her towards him. To his inner eye it looked wrong, twisted. There was no room for two-way flow, no give and take, just a sense of hunger, an intense desire for possession. Instinctively, he shoved at it, rejecting it, utterly revolted, just as Karen took a step towards him, her face ugly with rage. "She doesn't deserve your love!" she hissed. "She doesn't need it! She has everyone else's." The hungry force groped for him, sending out seeking tendrils that slithered along his shields and left dark, brittle spots wherever they touched.

Mark fed energy into his shields and reached out through his bonds with Kristen, Kayla, and Aaron, wordlessly asking for help. "Karen... are you that desperate for love? That you need to deny it to her?"

She glared at him petulantly. "Why did she have to decide she wanted you? She had everyone else. All she could want. But noooo, she just had to have the one thing I wanted, too!" She put her hands on her hips and stomped her foot. "She's so selfish! How could you possibly love her?" she demanded, her eyes wild and slightly unfocused.

He stared at her as he felt strength flow into him from the others. He could feel it, and could 'see' it patching the dark spots in his shield with emerald, gold, and silver. He could feel the wordless support and love that came along with it, and that steadied him as he looked at her crazed eyes, letting him make a decision.

Deliberately drawing on the bonds, and especially the healing energy that Kayla held, he reached mentally, trying to touch Karen. Not the Karen he saw, but the Karen that Chastity had described, trying to draw her back out from wherever she was hidden. He could see his effort, a solid blue rope of power with slashes of green, gold, and silver, reaching towards the girl. Then the alien presence lashed out, brushing against one of the gold patches, and he felt Kristen recoil in pain and nausea. The gold patch was left blackened and raw looking, as if it had been burned by the green mist. He was certain, then, that the sickly green wasn't just the girl's own power but something new, something added and likely controlling her. He urged Kristen back, feeling part of Kayla's healing power following her, wrapping around the 'burned' area, soothing and protecting. Then, working on instinct from lack of any real knowledge, he did his very best to attack the green mist, intending to burn it away from Karen.

The mist jerked back, singed, and then disappeared into the girl. A pink fog rose up and surrounded it protectively as Karen glared at him. He didn't let up, though, but kept trying to drive the green out without hurting the pink. "She hurts people," Karen snarled. "She makes people hurt each other. Can't you see that? Like you just hurt me?"

It was hard to keep up his attack and talk at the same time, but he managed it. "She's not selfish, Karen. She's probably the most unselfish person I know. She helps people," he said. "It wasn't me that hurt you."

She retreated a step, and the pink flared up, totally encapsulating the green, so that he'd have to burn through it to get to the other. "You don't think it hurts me that you'd choose her over me? That you give her whatever she wants, and won't even let me touch you? Are you so blind that you can't tell how I feel about you?"

The pink fog had thickened as she spoke, turning almost opaque, and there was no way he could get through it without harming it, so he pulled back. "You want something from me, but what are you willing to give? It's all about taking, and that's not love. Love starts with friendship." He held out his hand. "I can't be your lover, but I can be your friend. Which would you rather do; be my friend, or curl up in a hurt ball? You have to make a choice."

She reached out and grasped his hand, hording it tightly, then smiled, a mad light in her eyes. "Oh, I've made my choice, Mark," she said, softly. "Once I would have given you anything, you know. Anything. But you ignored me. Rejected me." Karen tightened her hand, her nails digging in and just barely breaking the skin. "Everything that happens now is because of your choice, remember that."

Without warning, she dropped his hand and shoved past him, running out the door before he could stop her.

His hand burned where she'd scratched him, and Mark looked down at it, startled. Bits of rot-green mist clung to the tiny wounds, and as he watched, the mist seemed to sink into his flesh and disappear. Cursing silently, he darted out the door after the girl, sparing only a split-second's thought to try to draw Kayla's attention to the cuts. Cool green energy brushed across the wounds and they closed almost instantly, taking the pain with them.

He made it out the door just in time to see Karen backing her little blue convertible out of its parking space, and before he could take more than a few steps, she'd already pulled away in a cloud of flung gravel. As she executed a tire-squealing left turn, he caught a glimpse of her face-- tear-streaked, wide-eyed, and twisted with bitterness.

With a tired sigh, he turned and ran for the main building.

***

Luckily, Angie had decided to come in to work that day. She was unlocking her office when he found her, and her eyes widened in alarm as she took in the look on his face.

"There's a problem," Mark said grimly. "Karen seems to have... snapped. She made threats against Kristen, and when the latest were brought to my attention, I went to talk to her. She told me I'd rejected her, and that, quote, 'Everything that happens now is because of your choice,' and then ran out and took off in her car like a bat out of hell. I don't think she's at all rational."

Angie closed her eyes briefly, then said with utmost conviction and sincerity, "Oh, fuck." Then she opened her eyes and gave him an exasperated look. "You sure do know how to complicate life, Mark Hasseran."

He nodded. "I've noticed. But, look... I'm worried about her. The way she was driving, I'm afraid she's going to end up dead." He glanced around, making sure the hall was still empty, then leaned forward to continue quietly, "And it's more complicated than you know. I could say, quite literally, that I don't think she's herself, if you understand what I mean. I don't know what's going on here. I thought, since you were the school's de facto guardian of the students' mental health, if you were to call the cops and tell them you have reason to think she's irrational, you could have her pulled over, maybe?"

She sighed and shook her head. "Mark, there are only two cops in the entire area. The likelihood of one of them being near enough to catch her is slim. I'm more worried that she'll hurt someone else, honestly."

"What do we do then?" He ran a hand through his hair, frustration rising fast.

"I don't know, I really don't," Angie said. "Do you think we need a... a priest or something? To perform an exorcism? If her parents gave a shit about her, I could call them. But I've talked to those useless bags of flesh before and... well, the only one whose opinion she's ever cared about is her best friend, Chastity, and those two haven't been talking to each other all week."

"Angie, I wouldn't trust the Reverend as far as I could throw him," he said, bluntly. "Shit. If Aaron's mother was anywhere near here, I'd say bring her in, but... damn it. Do we need to call the police? She's made threats, and what she said to me there seems to be another threat, so do we even have an option here?"

She shook her head slowly. "Not really. I hate to do it. She hasn't had an easy life, poor little thing," she said. "But... if she's threatened Kristen, I don't see a choice. Maybe if the police get brought in, she'll end up getting the help she needs. A court will order psychiatric evaluation and assistance for her. Her parents won't have a choice abut complying. Do it."

"Shit. Go find Chastity and tell Ward, then. I'll call the cops." Mark rubbed his forehead. "I hate to do this."

"I know. I do, too. But she needs help, Mark. And... and I won't let her hurt Kristen. I... I..." She swallowed, blinking back tears, and her voice quivered with shame. "I'd rather have her dead, Mark, than let that happen. I don't care how wrong it is."

He lay a hand on her shoulder. "Easy. I feel the same way. It's okay. Go on and let Ward know."

Calling the sheriff was easily done, since the number was still on his cellphone's memory. After two rings, the man picked up. "Sheriff Wilson," he said, in a neutral, professional tone, then, "Damn it, Hasseran! Your number just keeps showin' up on my phone all the damned time! What is it this time?"

"Sorry, Sheriff, but we've got a situation here at the school. One of the girls has been making threats against another student, and when I talked to her about it, she made what I think was another threat, then took off in her car. She didn't seem at all rational when she left, and isn't safe to be driving."

"Well, shit," Wilson gave an exhausted sigh, then asked, "Okay, who was it, and what's she driving?"

"Karen Bradshaw, and it was small, blue, and convertible."

"Right. I know what Karen drives. Seen her around town in her little Mustang. Anything else?"

"Just that she's not rational. The threats were against Kristen-- she's convinced I only married her because she's pregnant, and she was going to shove her down the stairs to make her miscarry. Then I'd divorce Kristen and be free for her. Nothing I said could convince her that Kris wasn't pregnant." Mark rubbed his head again, the sheer frustration at all of it almost overwhelming him. "Her last words were, 'Everything that happens now is because of your choice.' If that's not a threat, I don't know what is."

"Damn it. Okay. Are y'all gonna press changes, or do you just want me to try to talk to the girl?"

Mark was silent for a long moment before answering. "Sheriff, as Kristen's husband, I'd prefer you just talk to her. Kris doesn't want any more attention, and neither do I. But as a teacher, however-- I'm not sure we even have a choice not to."

"All right, then. Tell you what-- I'll talk to her first, and see what's up. But if necessary, I'll take the little girl in and let the courts deal with it. Might be that just the chance of that'll scare her straight, or jar those parents of hers into taking a proper hand."

"Her best friend is the one who told me about the threats," Mark said. "She says her personality has changed completely over the last couple of months. I think she needs to see a counselor."

"Sounds like it. I'll take care of it, and let you know."

"Thanks."



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