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Prudence, Chapter 9

*BEEP* *BEEP*

Mark yawned, stretching, and reached over to silence the strident demand of the alarm. "Time to get up, love," he said, looking to see if she still glowed. He wasn't terribly surprised to see that she did, though faintly.

Kristen snuggled closer to him, burrowing beneath the covers. "Mmmm...do we have to?" She blinked at him sleepily, her hair draped over half her face.

He nodded, cursing himself for his work ethic and trying to figure out if her glow would be visible in the light. As she sighed and reluctantly pushed back the covers, he was forced to conclude that it would.

"I don't think you'll be able to go to school today, love. Almost. If we had another three or four hours...probably. But not as is."

"Oh. But...what if it wears out during the day?" she asked worriedly.

He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I don't think it will, love. Even immediately after having sex with one of the other boys, you never glowed, and they would have lasted you till I got home."

She hopped up happily. "Oh! You really think so?"

He grinned at her exuberance. "I do. Want to shower with me?"

Kristen giggled. "THat'll make you late to school, too."

He looked at the clock and sighed regretfully. "You're right. Damn."

With an impish smile, she leaned against the foot of the bed, laying back on her elbows and shaking her hair down behind her. She stretched, arching her back.

Mark stuck his tongue out at her and then stood up quickly before he gave in to her temptation. "Mean." He retreated hastily to the bathroom.

Not five minutes into his shower, the bathroom door opened and slammed and Kristen practically jumped into the shower with him.

"Love?" he asked, alarmed, as she wrapped her trembling arms around him.

"Mark . . . I heard a baby crying in your closet!"

He held her, stroking her hair soothingly. "Oh, that's the ghost."

She shuddered. "It's horrible."

He squeezed her tight, in complete agreement. "Come on, get washed," he coaxed, trying to distract her, "And I'll drop you off at your house before I go to school."

Kristen sniffed, tears trickling down her cheeks. "Poor little thing."

He nodded sadly, taking the washcloth and gently soaping her still-shaking body.

She sniffed again. "Wh . . . why do you think it was in the closet?" she asked, sounding as if she were terrified of actually hearing the answer.

He looked at her. "You know what happened here, love," he reminded gently.

Swallowing hard, she buried her face in his chest. "Oh, God," she whispered. "How can you live here? It's so sad . . . "

He hugged her tightly. "I know, love. I wish I could do something about it but . . . she says I can't."

"Who says?"

"The woman. I've seen her a couple of times. She says only 'he' can release her."

"Oh. It must be her husband, then. "

"I think so," Mark nodded, "But I don't know what he would have to do, though. I don't even know if he's still alive."

"What about the baby? Does he have to release it, too?"

"I'd assume so. She says he didn't believe it was his baby."

"What a bastard," she muttered heatedly.

"I have to agree." He finished washing her, letting his hands and the warm water soothe away her fears.

Still, she stayed close to him as they got ready to leave.

---

The drive to Kristen's house was uneventful. Though, to avoid being seen, she spent the ride crouching in the back seat. Mark didn't like it, but was unable to think of a better solution.

They pulled into the drive with a few minutes to spare. Mark reached for her hand as she slipped out the door, tugging her to his window. "Ok, love, I've got to go. I'll call you if I can. You be careful, ok?"

"I will. You'll come after school?"

"I will. If I haven't after a while, call my house, ok? In case something comes up? I can't imagine anything, but just in case . . . "

"Okay."

He looked at her for a few more seconds, hating the fact that he had to leave her. "I love you."

"Love you, too." Biting her lip to keep from begging him to stay, Kristen turned and ran up the walkway. She ducked into the house and Mark heard the beep as she armed the security system.

He sighed and headed to work.

---

The day dragged on and on and on. Mark watched Kayla sureptitiously during class that morning, worried that she might be upset or embarrassed about what happened the night before. She seemed perfectly fine, however. He should have known that the unshakable little brunette would have no regrets once she made a decision.

When the bell rang for lunch, Kayla lingered in his class room, laying her open textbook on his desk and bending over it as if asking a question about the day's lesson. "She okay?" she asked quietly.

"She's fine. I talked to her last night. She was worried that you'd be uncomfortable." He paused. "Talked to her about the polyamoury thing, too. She surprised me. Her take is that she's been in a bad 237-way relationship for three and a half years. I do think I got it through her head that it won't bother me if she falls in love with someone else."

"Ah . . . o-kay," Kayla said, bemused. "I guess that is one way to look at it. So she's still not toned down enough to come to school is all?"

Mark shook his head. "We . . . ah . . . one more time. Mind-blowing. Unbelievable. And she was a night-light when we went to bed. If she'd had another two or three hours . . . probably. But not as was."

"Hmm. That could be a problem. I mean, if the glow means she's not hungry, then she can only come out in public when she's starving? That's not fair at all."

"I think, maybe, it only shows up when she's, well, stuffed. Metaphorically speaking. And not that metaphor, Kayla, get your mind out of the gutter." He grinned. "It's blocking my periscope."

Kayla snickered. "Still . . . best solution is to find some way to tone it down and keep her well-fed all the damned time. I dunno...have to think about it. Maybe industrial strength makeup or something."

Mark nodded. "Maybe so. You'll figure out something, I'm sure."

"Me?!"

Mark nodded again, totally straight-faced. "I've got faith in you."

"Ooooooh . . . maybe I AM a lesbian!"

Mark glanced around to make sure nobody could hear. The classroom was empty, everyone gone to lunch, but he still lowered his voice, "I dunno, Kayla. You sure liked my tongue on your clit last night, if you are a lesbian."

Kayla replied just as quietly, "Oh, I don't know...using a vibrator doesn't make one mechanically inclined."

He grinned. "Touche. Still . . . honestly, Kayla . . . you are the best bet to figure it out. I don't know makeup. And you are probably smarter than Kristen." He paused again. "She told me something last night that made me rethink some things. Apparently, that's the first time in four years that she's been able to think without being extremely distracted. And she's still been an average student."

She looked at him oddly. "Mark, what makes you think she's an 'average' student?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Ok, no worse than average? Oh, I don't know about test scores, but she doesn't seem to be any worse than average on picking up on things. Why?"

"She's not good at math, which makes most science difficult for her. She's never made less than an A in any non-math-related class." Kayla grinned. "People would pay good money to have her write their english papers if she'd do it."

He stared at her, shocked. "My god. She was able to do that well while being that distracted?"

"Yup. Promiscuous does not equal stupid, despite common assumptions." She glared at him defensively. "I bet you couldn't do that well if you were starving to death in the middle of a gourmet restaurant!" She thought a moment about the quality of highschool boys. "Okay, a MacDonald's, anyway."

Mark nodded emphatically. "Damn straight. Good lord, just how smart is she?" he asked, voice full of wonder. "Bet she starts to get A's in math, too. How well could you do math if you were starving?"

"Depends on the math. If it's '25 term papers, multiplied by $10 each equals $175 cheeseburgers at Wanda's', pretty good." Her eyes sparkled. "Doubt she'll get A's in math, though. That she really does suck at. Always has."

"Are you going to be jealous?" he asked curiously.

Kayla wrinkled her brow in confusion. "Of what?"

"If she was doing that well, starving, she might well be smarter than you are. You've always been the smartest around here."

"Oh, that. So? Besides, I am good at math. Wish she'd relax about those English papers, though, talk about booooooring."

She grinned slightly, and Mark chuckled, not entirely sure she was joking. "Just checking. Are you coming over tonight?"

"Can't," Kayla answered with a disgusted snort. "Mom's got a hair up her ass. 'You're never home anymore, we never have dinner anymore, let's watch a movie, you never talk to me!' Blech. So I've got to be familial tonight. There will probably be . . . " She shuddered, "Smores."

Mark surpressed a laugh. "Too bad. Maybe tomorrow or Sunday?"

"I fucking hope so. I hate family togetherness. Not that I don't love em, don't get me wrong, but inevitably, she and Aunt Ellen will want to Do Something With Kayla's Hair. And then they'll bring out the Makeup Kit of Doom." The capital letters dropped into place like lead weights. "Life sucks."

He smirked. "But I bet you'd love to have Kristen Doing Something with your hair -- not like that, either! I heard that!"

"Heh. Well, not if it involves an iron or hair spray, thanks. Gotta run, food is one of those necessary things."

"Bye." Mark followed her out, heading to his car to call Kristen on his cellphone.

---

As Mark pulled up to Kristen's house after school, he was surprised to see another car pulling into the long drive. Black. Expensive.

He uttered a soft, but heartily felt, "Fuck," as he cut the engine and opened the door. Thinking quickly, he strides up the stairs and rings the doorbell as if he hadn't seen the other car. When it was close enough to the house that the engine noise was impossible to miss, he turned, a carefully neutral expression on his face.

A tall, handsome man with reddish brown hair emerged from the car. "Hello?" he called. "Can I help you?" He took the stairs energetically, almost bouncing.

Mark smiled inquisitively. "Ah, would you be Mr. Davis?"

"Yes, I'm Steven Davis, and you are?" He held out his hand.

Mark took the proferred hand and shook it firmly. "Mark Hasseran. I'm one of your daughter's teachers at school. I was actually hoping to talk to you."

Steven tapped out a code on the panel by the door. "Ah, okay. C'mon in. I'm just getting home from a long business trip. School called and said Kristen had called in sick again, so I wrapped things up early. She must be asleep or she'd have answered the door."

Steven led him into the living room. "Have a seat Mr. Hasseran. Something to drink?"

Mark nodded. "Please." He sat on the sofa, trying not to appear too nervous.

"Beer, soda, this nasty oversweetened fruit juice stuff my daughter likes?" Steven asked, "Or is it a straight vodka on the rocks kinda problem?"

"Probably," Mark answered ruefully. "I've . . . well, to be honest, Mr. Davis, I'd prefer not to be having this talk with you, but Dr. Ward has seniority, so he gets to dump it off on me."

Kristen's father frowned at that, pouring two generous drinks. He handed one to Mark and took a seat across from him. "Call me Steven. Go ahead and spit it out, I won't shoot the messenger."

Mark studied the drink in his hand reflectively. "Mr. Davis -- Steven, I'm not trying to be offensive here, but I'm not going to beat around the bush, either. I'm a blunt kind of man. It's about your daughter's sex life. You know she was promiscuous, yes?"

Steven's eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm her father, not her jailer, Mr. Hasseran. She's a smart girl and knows how to be safe."

"Ah. Yes, she is, and I'm sure she does. But . . . well, starting Monday, something changed. She started telling the boys no. All of them." He paused, watching for a reaction.

Steven paled and set his drink on the table abruptly. "Excuse me for a moment, I'd like to check on my daughter," he said, a bit too fast. He hopped from the couch and hurried up the stairs. "Kristen! Kris, honey? Are you up there?"

Mark nodded to himself at the frightened tinge to Steven's voice. "Thought so," he murmured quietly.

"Daddy? You're home early. I was asleep." Kristen appeared at the top of the stairs, dressed in an oversized t-shirt and rubbing her eyes sleepily. Mark noted, with some relief, that she was no longer glowing. "That's okay, sweetheart." Steven smiled lovingly at his daughter, visibly relaxing. "I came home because the school said you were sick. You go on back to bed."

"I think I will. Did you win?"

"Sure did, hon. Don't I always? You feeling okay? Vanessa said you looked all right when she left you tuesday . . . "

Behind Steven's back, Mark frowned. Kristen had looked like shit when he saw her Tuesday. There was no way in hell that anyone would honestly think she looked "all right".

"Yeah, just a little stomach bug," Kristen assured her father. "I guess I just wasn't quite over it. Oh, hi Mr. H . . . did you bring my homework?" Mark shook his head. "No, Kristen, I stopped by to talk to your father. About that note you got."

"Oh. Um. Okay. I'm going back to bed, then. Maybe I'll call Kayla and see if I can come over and study with her tomorrow. Night." She yawned and retreated.

Steven returned calmly and sat down. "Sorry, just suddenly was worried that she hadn't heard us come in. She's usually very alert. You were saying?"

"Well, Monday she apparently decided to become completely celibate. And, no offense, Steven, but if your secretary thought she looked okay when she dropped her off on Tuesday, she needs her eyes checked. I saw her at school, and dropped off some homework for her that night, and she looked like death warmed over."

Steven frowned, puzzled. "The doctor I spoke with said that everything was fine, she was just exhausted and probably had a minor virus. And . . . to be blunt, Mark, I seriously doubt my daughter is ever likely to become completely celibate, though she might have simply decided to be more discreet about things. However, if she did, I really can't see that that's any business of anyone but her," he added defensively.

"It wouldn't be, and I wouldn't be having this conversation with you -- which I'm sure you realize would be my preference -- if it wasn't for the problems it was causing. And the threats."

Steven's green eyes narrowed dangerously. "Threats." He scowled. "What threats?"

"She received a note in her locker. It was . . . quite vulgar and insulting, so I won't repeat it verbatim, but in effect it told her that she'd stop being celibate. By choice or, by implication, by force. We're doing what we can to keep her safe at school. We can't, however, do anything about her outside of school."

"Those obnoxious little shits!" Steven exploded, leaping to his feet. "Goddamned fucking testosterone-soaked teenage bastards!" He started pacing the length of the couch, snarling with rage.

Mark smiled tightly. "Obviously, Steven, I can't agree, being a school teacher. Hypothetically speaking, however, I could make suggestions involving baseball bats." He paused. "For what it's worth, she and her friend Kayla have been studying at my house the past couple of nights. Kayla's turning into something of an astronomer, and Kristen seems fascinated by the pictures the Hubble telescope has taken. But there are limits to the refuge I can provide without causing rumors."

Steven stopped pacing, a thoughtful look on his face. "Kayla, huh? Same Kayla she said she might go study with?"

Mark nodded "Yes, but if you are jumping to the same conclusions that seem to be going around the school, I can tell you that I haven't seen any signs of such while they are studying."

"Well, they'd hardly jump on each other in front of one of their teachers, now would they?" Steven asked with a noticably relieved sigh.

"No. But I'm fairly perceptive, and I didn't see any of the signs I would expect." He decided to take a gamble. "Not that I'd object, Steven. I hope that doesn't offend you, but quite frankly, Kayla would be better than just about any of the boys. But I don't think she's gone and fallen in love with her."

Steven sighed. "Mr. Hasseran, I'll tell you true, I hate teenage boys. I used to be one. They are a waste of air."

Mark chuckled. "I don't blame you. Some of them are ok. Others are . . . well."

The older man sat down again, running a hand through his hair and frowning. "I can make sure someone picks her up from school every day until this blows over. And I can refuse any court appearances for a while. But my daughter should not have to live like a prisoner because she decided to reduce her . . . activities. And if I find who is making threats against her, I will take all possible legal action."

"I've set up a couple of cameras to cover her locker," Mark offered. "Hopefully we will find out." He sighed. "I'd like to offer my house as a safehouse, say she can come over any time she wants, for whatever reason. But if I do that, people will see, and rumors will get started. Frankly, I don't need a teenage girl's father coming after me for a gun just because he thinks . . . well. I'm sure you understand."

Steven looked at Mark for a moment, a speculative gleam in his eyes.

The young teacher sighed again, looking glum. "I hate this, Steven, I really do. She should have the right to decide what she wants to do, without threats. There was a girl in the school I grew up in . . . she tried to change. She ended up gang-raped. Killed herself. I always thought . . . well. She was my friend, and I felt like I should have been able to do something."

"How old are you, Mark, out of curiosity?" Steven asked quietly, still with that same look on his face.

"26, why?" Mark answered cautiously.

"Curious. You're new this year, right? The new science teacher?"

"Yes, I am."

"Went to school in Dallas? Houston?"

"Dallas," Mark said, shifting uneasily on the couch.

"Grow up there? This your first time in a small town?"

"Pretty much, yes. It's . . . an experience."

Steven grinned. "I imagine. Well, one thing you oughta know; when a new, young, good-looking male teacher moves into the house less than two miles from the most notorious girl in the school, there are going to be rumors. That's just the way folks out here are. You could be gay and there would still be rumors. I've never felt the need to take a shotgun to rumors. And if I don't make an issue of things, nobody else is likely to. Now . . . "

Steven hesitated a moment. "I know my little girl is a bit wild. She doesn't always let me know exactly where she'll be, but she always comes home and she is a smart girl. And if she says 'I was nowhere near person X on night Y, Daddy, but they say I was,' then I'm going to be prepared to go along with her and say, 'of course you weren't sweetie, we were home watching a movie together that night.'"

Mark stared at his drink, contemplatively. He was not at all sure that he was really hearing what he thought he was hearing. Surely Steven wasn't implying that . . . of course he wasn't! Was he? _Aw, fuck it!_ Mark gave in; he just had to ask.

"Steven, to be really blunt, it sounds like you are trying to insinuate something here. Something that . . . well, I've heard about the Wilsons. Something that could maybe get me killed if people thought it was happening, and whether it was or not wouldn't make a difference." He looks up. "That makes me nervous. I won't deny . . . well, yes, your daughter is attractive. But she's underage, and that could cost me my life, or at a minimum my career. Even if there was no truth to it. You're a lawyer, you should know better than anyone that a school teacher, a male one, can't fight such accusations."

"It is a small town, son. Some things are more acceptable to people than others. I'm not implying anything, but if she feels safe at your house, then that's fine with me. And if there's trouble about her being there, then she never was."

Mark furrowed his brow. "Uhm. Steven, you seem to be saying that if I was sleeping with her, people would accept that? I have a very hard time believing that. I mean . . . this place makes Attila the Hun look liberal. No offense."

"Yes, it does." Steven smiled bitterly. "Unfortunately, it also has the attitude that a woman has a certain place. Why educate them? They can figure out how to change a diaper, cain't they? Oh, they'd expect me to make you marry her if she got pregnant, of course, but I'd have to prove it was yours before they'd condemn you for trying to get out of it."

Mark's jaw dropped, and he just sat there, staring. "You are kidding me, right?"

"Welcome to the country, kid." Steven said with an ironic smile. "Just good ol' boys, y'know? Awful, isn't it?"

Still stunned, Mark just shook his head. He couldn't get over the implication that there might actually be a possibility that he could date Kristen openly.

Steven looked at him, his eyes half-closed. Mark was a bit uncomfortable to realize that Steven had the exact same eyes as his daughter.

Too casually, Steven went on, "Oh, they'd still cause some trouble if someone were dating an underage girl openly . . . that'd be 'rubbing it in our faces' and they'd give her hell and him the cold shoulder. But as long as they think you're sneaking around . . . " He shrugged. "Likely if anyone believed those rumors, the most trouble you'd have would be too many rednecks wanting to buy you beers."

Mark looked at him in disbelief, wishing he could tell the other man the truth, wanting desperately to trust him, but he just couldn't bring himself to make the first move, just couldn't risk it.

"Salt of the earth, eh?" Steven asked bitterly. "Good, solid, God-fearing Christians. And they raise their boys so that they think they can rape my daughter if she tells them no. Fuck them." Angrily, he tossed back the rest of his drink and slammed the empty glass down on the coffee table.

Mark shook his head, slowly. "Damn." He took a big swallow of his drink. "You realize, anywhere else, the hint of a teacher sleeping with one of the students would get him lynched?" He took another swallow, still bemused.

"Hah. Prudence isn't that different from any other little country town. Just more hypocritical." Steven poured himself another glass of vodka.

"You're telling me that if I was sleeping with her, and you approved, nobody else would mind, as long as we weren't blatant. Paid lip service to the law."

"Pretty much."

Tense down to his bones, Mark tried to look relaxed as he looked at Steven curiously. "And, forgive me, but you don't sound like you'd mind if I was? I don't get it." He held his breath, terrified he'd gone too far, but totally unable to stop himself, to stand not knowing any longer.

Steven's face went blank. "I didn't say that. I wouldn't encourage anyone to break the law." He took a long swallow from his glass, then grinned evilly. "Why, are you?"

Somehow managing to maintain his composure, Mark finished his vodka with carefully faked calm, then looked at Steven wistfully. "Well, if I was, it'd be nice to be able to tell you, that's for sure." His own grin was a mirror of the one Steven had just given him. "I mean, if I'd asked her to marry me, it'd be nice to be able to tell her father."

Caught just as he took a drink, Steven spewed vodka all over the coffee table. He looked at Mark with naked horror. "She can't get married, it would kill her!" His face went pale as he realized what he'd just said, and he closed his eyes. "Crap. You little bastard."

Mentally exulting, Mark sat quietly, waiting.

Steven sighed, opening his eyes. He wiped the vodka off his face and the table with what looked to be about a hundred dollar silk tie, then tossed it at the fireplace.

Mark made a decision. "Fuck it. I'm going to take a gamble here, and if I end up in jail . . . fuck it. You know what she is, don't you? That's why you never objected." He tried to take a sip of his vodka, forgetting it was empty. "But I think we've found something you don't know."

Steven passed him the bottle. "I know better than you do what she is, son."

"I'm assuming her mother was the same?" Mark asked, sipping the fresh glass. "At least, you don't look like the male equivalent. What we've discovered, though . . . shit. Can you let me talk to her for a second? I think maybe she'd better be involved in this conversation, unless you are too uncomfortable to have it with her present."

"I'm uncomfortable with it, period, so she might as well be here. Go on and get her, son."

Mark nodded, and headed up the stairs, sipping his vodka. He shook his head wonderingly and called, "Love? You asleep?"

Kristen cracked her bedroom door. "What are you doing?" she hissed.

He grinned. "You were right. He figured it out. He doesn't mind." He smiled at her look of disbelief, and took another, deliberate, sip of his vodka. "And he spit vodka all over the table when I indirectly mentioned I'd proposed." She moaned, stepping away from the door. He walked into the room, and she sat down, putting her face in her hands. "Oh, god, I'm gonna die." She looked back up at him. "So what didn't you tell him?"

Mark shook his head. "Come on. We're going to talk about this. Well, he thinks you'll die if you get married, so we need to reassure him. I don't think we want mention who we discovered things with last night, but . . . shit. He'll figure it out. I really don't want to out her like that, though." He sighed.

"I am going to die," Kristen moaned, "Really, truly, die. I cannot believe this is happening." She grabbed a battered flannel pillow off the bed and followed him out the door and back downstairs.



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