Rachel stared out her bedroom window, hands lifted to rest on top of her head. The storm continued to worsen outside which was good news for her because it meant even if someone were in their home looking across the street at her window, they’d have a hard time knowing for certain they were seeing the naked torso of their neighbor’s older daughter. Behind her, Mr. Bennett finished his search of her bedroom and having found nothing of interest, he turned his attention back to her.
He said, “Take those panties the rest of the way off, you’ll be naked the rest of the weekend now. And then you can go back to doing what your mother told you to do in the first place.”
Rachel turned from the window and lowered her tired arms to her sides. She glared at her father, annoyed with him and not shy about him seeing the raw emotion in her eyes. He glared back with raw emotion of his own.
“Unless,” he said, “you want to bring me your hairbrush and spend another five minutes over my knee.”
Rachel didn’t answer. She leaned down and removed her panties, walked to her hamper and dropped them inside. Her eyes glanced at the dresser and her cellphone resting on top with its battery back in place. She could tell her father’s eyes were on her every move and so she avoided giving it too much of a glance as she walked out the door and went back to work on the stairs. Her father followed her out and returned downstairs, notably to Rachel, without her phone.
She busied herself with the toil of removing scuffs and dirt from each step. Working her way down, she was on the last step when the front door opened and Miles walked inside followed by Richard. Richard whistled. Rachel blushed, realizing just what he was seeing with her kneeling on the floor and bent down scrubbing on the step. It wasn’t a sight for siblings.
“Put some more elbow grease into it, wench,” Richard said.
Rachel sat back on her heels and looked up at her brother. “Yessir, right away sir. Just let me offer you a knuckle sandwich first.”
Richard patted her shoulder. “No, thanks, I’m not hungry, but if you want to do me a favor, my room could use some serious cleaning.”
Rachel shook her head. “I’ll just brush everything under your bed like you do, okay?”
Richard chuckled and said, “Works for me.”
Richard and Miles left her to finish her work and went to join their mother and Jennifer in the living room. A few minutes later, with her chore done, Rachel had nothing left to do but return to the living room herself and stand in her former spot next to the fireplace. Jennifer was working on her lines, sitting on her stool. Richard and their mother sat on the couch talking about the weather of all things. As if the constant drumming of the rain on the roof and occasional claps of thunder rattling the windows wasn’t enough reminder that it was cold and wet outdoors.
About an hour later, the front door clicked open and Rachel had do a double take recognizing the school librarian, Mr. Purdue following Michelle inside. They hardly paid a glance toward her as the entered the house and walked toward her father’s office, but Rachel was acutely aware of her nudity, especially the absence of the black panties she had been wearing the last time she’d seen Mr. Purdue, when she’d been out to fetch the mail.
A short while later, Mr. Purdue exited her father’s office. He waved at her before heading out the front door. A moment later, Michelle and Mr. Bennett left the office and convened in the living room with the rest of the family. Michelle lacked the look of being deep in trouble, but Rachel could figure no other reason for Mr. Purdue to have brought her home and spoke with her and their father privately as he did.
Michelle handed her phone to Miles. He stared at the screen and shook his head. His hand began to tremble and he looked up to Jennifer, sitting on her stool writing lines. Mrs. Bennett reached over and took the phone from Miles and her own eyes nearly exploded out of her head. Rachel wanted to see what was on that phone.
Miles said, “Well the evidence is here. I certainly hope this was blackmail and not your idea of a good time.”
Mrs. Bennett held the phone up with the screen toward Jennifer. Rachel leaned to her right to get a better look. The image on the display was dark and small, but it seemed clear the focal point was a naked, chained Jennifer, getting her butt strapped by a man Rachel recognized as a former high school jock from her year named, Brody. She knew Julian had planned to make Jennifer miserable, but this was going a bit too far. Still, Rachel kept quiet.
Jennifer said, “Oh yeah, it was a real good time and if you agree I imagine you’d like getting your dick caught in a paper shredder too.”
Miles ignored her quip and said, “So this jerk got you to participate in his private little fantasy? You let him wield power of you just because he could take your license away? And all of this because you crashed into Julian in Harper & Son’s parking lot? Am I getting this right?”
Jennifer rolled her eyes and almost fell off the stool. “More or less.”
“I’d like to hear the more,” Miles said.
“I’d like to win the fucking lottery,” Jennifer said.
From beside their mother, Richard said, “Me too.”
Rachel shook her head at him. “You’re not old enough.”
Miles hushed the room with a stern glare and a finger to his lips. “Let’s stay on topic here people,” he said and turned back to Jennifer. “I want to know what the connection is between Julian and this Brody.”
Jennifer shrugged. “They buy their leather at the same cheap ass store?”
“If you say so,” Miles said. “There is however a much more obvious one in the form of you.”
“If you already had the answer you wanted why did you make me guess?” Jennifer asked.
“Because I want you to stop lying and tell me the whole truth,” Miles said.
Jennifer said, “Are you sure? Cause the whole truth can be a lot like whole grain and we know that stuff gives you the shits.”
Miles huffed. “Would I get better results from you if I threaten to send these photos to your father?”
“Unlike some,” Jennifer threw a wicked glance in Rachel’s direction, “I don’t live under my parents’ roof anymore. What they think or don’t think of me, I really don’t give a damn.”
Richard said, “I got a pair of pliers up in my room. We can try pulling her fingernails out.”
Mrs. Bennett patted Richard on the knee and said, “That’s probably a little too extreme.”
Richard shrugged. “Well we could try a little pinch and twist on her nipples.”
Miles shook his head. “I’m not going to work up a sweat over this. What I know is someone has been feeding Julian our proprietary data and you, Jennifer, are the most likely suspect. If you don’t want to tell us what is really going on, why don’t you just get up and leave.”
“Hello?” Jennifer said gesturing at her naked body. “I’m not leaving without my fucking clothes.”
Richard laughed. “I thought naked was ‘fucking’ attire.”
The whole room laughed with the exception of Jennifer.
Miles said, “Look either tell me what the deal with Julian and Brody is or get up off that stool and leave. I’m done fooling around.”
“It’s about time,” Richard said.
Jennifer asked, “What make you even think there is a connection?”
Miles rolled his eyes. “Because if there wasn’t you’d have lost your license already. Julian has obviously been using Brody to make you do something, and the question I’m asking is what.”
Jennifer blinked at him. It was as if up until that moment, she had somehow believed no one could put any of the pieces together. Rachel began wondering herself just what exactly Julian had gotten out of Jennifer, besides a little money of course. The money wouldn’t have meant anything to him though. Her thoughts turned toward her own interactions with him and the analysis made her shiver like a light suddenly snapping on and illuminating all the dark corners she wanted to pretend were never there.
The words came from Jennifer, but Rachel could have said them as well and in fact, she had the missing pieces that Jennifer could only guess at.
Jennifer said, “He set me up, somehow he knew about my driving record, probably your sister, and he set me up.”
“Julian?” Miles asked.
She nodded. “He used the accident to get me hooked up with Brody and then Brody gave me instructions every so often, which if I didn’t do what he said, he would process the accident report and take my license. I didn’t have a choice.”
Mr. Bennett said, “You always have a choice, you just made the wrong one.”
“What did he make you do?” Miles asked. “Beyond the obvious ‘meet him in an abandoned warehouse and take off your clothes’.”
“At first it was just little stuff,” Jennifer said. “He would have me make a late delivery on an update or delete a message from a client.”
“And then later?” Miles prodded.
“He wanted me to get Rachel fired,” Jennifer said.
“And so you did,” Miles said. “Is that when you started siphoning off our legal data to him?”
Jennifer shook her head. “I never did that. I swear.”
Miles rolled his eyes. “Please don’t start lying again.”
“I’m not,” Jennifer said.
Miles climbed to his feet and shook his head at Jennifer. He turned from her, clearly too angry to deal with her anymore at that moment and he walked out of the living room in the direction of the kitchen. Jennifer called after him, but he didn’t come back. Richard took the phone from Mrs. Bennett and started looking through the pictures. Michelle joined him and started pointing out some of the details she had noticed, like Brody’s uniform shirt on the floor and the building’s address in the background. Mr. and Mrs. Bennett moved closer to the two and joined in looking at the photos, while Jennifer sat helpless on her stool.
Rachel told her parents she needed to use the restroom and slipped out of the living room. She crept upstairs, careful not to make too much noise, and once at the top, she made her way into her bedroom. On her dresser, her cellphone sat waiting, battery still in place, just as her father had left it. He must have been too annoyed when he found nothing else in her room to raise his suspicions. It was good though, because the call she wanted to make couldn’t wait.
She lifted the cellphone and called Julian Harper. He answered straight away with his usual charming voice. The calmness in his voice irritated her, knowing that he knew his web of lies were falling apart and yet he felt not even the tiniest bit of anxiety.
“Your game is up,” she said, loud enough for him to hear the anger in her tone but not so loud as to attract attention from her family downstairs, or so she hoped.
“Game? What game?” Julian asked.
“Don’t act stupid,” she said. “You’ve been playing Jennifer and me and now we know it.”
Julian chuckled. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“You expect me to believe it’s all a lie?” Rachel asked.
“If you don’t fill me in on the details, I’m afraid I can’t participate much in this conversation. You always have been a slave to your emotions,” Julian said.
“Michelle got pictures from your idiot partner’s little brother,” she said.
Julian laughed. “I’d like to see you say that to my father’s face and he doesn’t have a brother, little or otherwise.”
Rachel seethed at her phone. “I’m talking about your partner in scum, Brody.”
“Who?” Julian asked.
“You may think I’m an idiot and it’s probably true since I ever trusted you, but that will never happen again,” Rachel said, “Do you hear me? You will never, ever get another piece of my father’s software that you don’t pay for.”