Come morning break, Michelle sat at one of the open round tables in the school library’s quiet zone. She laid her Civics textbook open to the chapter of her incomplete homework and pulled out the two-page worksheet that questioned her knowledge of the U.S. Supreme Court. The large amount of white empty space on the pages said all that needed to be said about her knowledge or rather her lack of it. Perhaps sleeping instead of staying up reading and finishing her homework had been a poor choice.
Ignoring the buzz of students taking refuge from the cold corridors, she thumbed through the pages of her text, searching for answers. Scribbling nonsense on the pages might have saved her time and effort, but it would only delay the inevitable with an “F” gaining her the same results as empty pages. The constant clash of fast-falling rain against the wall-sized window beside her sent dueling messages. Her subconscious urged her to take her time and remain patient while her nerves encouraged a more fast-paced approach. As a result, the masculine hand that appeared on her shoulder, squeezing into her tense muscles, nearly found itself ran through with a disposable ink pen.
“Hey!” Cody said, withdrawing his hand.
Michelle glanced over her shoulder and said, “Oh, sorry. I’m kind of busy right now.”
He planted both his hands on her shoulders and pulled her back into him until her head rested against his six-pack. “Weren’t we supposed to have a private interlude?” he asked.
Michelle groaned and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to extricate herself from his hold. “That was before you kept me up all night with your whining.”
He slipped his hands down the front of her blouse until they cupped her breasts. With his forefinger and thumb, he pinched at her nipples through the thin materials of her blouse and bra. Resting his head beside her face, Cody said, “You were begging me. Remember?”
“Stop it,” Michelle said. She slapped at his hands to no avail. Her eyes darted around the library as she prayed no one was watching. The masses all appeared oblivious, but she noticed enough smirks and glances to realize she was the center of attention. Her only relief was the absence of Nick.
“You don’t want those pics anymore?” Cody asked. It was a poorly veiled attempt to renegotiate their deal.
“Do you have them?” Michelle asked. She was betting he didn’t. If he did have them, it was going to complicate things. Cody, like his brother, lacked any sense of ethics. She needed the pics and he knew it well enough to use them against her if the opportunity presented itself. For her plan to work, he had to have the pictures at a time when his only access to her was via cellphone. If he had them already, matters were about to explode in her face.
Cody let go of her breasts and retrieved his phone. Waving it in front of her face, he said, “Maybe. Do you have the ones you promised me?”
She sensed he was bluffing. The tone of his voice, the taunting of his phone waving around, the quickness of his hot breath on her neck, all of it told her he was baiting her. “Oh, I’ve got mine,” she said, “but first, let’s see yours since you’ve already got your phone out.”
He pulled his phone away and said, “I didn’t say I had them. Brody sent me a text a little bit ago though and he swears I’ll have them by lunch. I think that’s good enough for a preview of yours, don’t you agree?”
Michelle smiled, relieved that she’d read him right. “You’ve already got plenty of previews from me and you’re not getting anything more until I get what you promised.”
Cody pushed his phone back in front of her face. The display held one of the supremely zoomed and fuzzy photos she had sent him the night before. It was just possible to recognize it as a naked nipple, but it could have belonged to anyone for all it showed. She forced herself to blush knowing that Cody would expect nothing less.
“These aren’t exactly mag quality, babe,” he said.
She swallowed the laughter threatening to burst forth from her gut and leave her rolling on the floor. If he only knew the irony of his statement, but of course if he did, he would never turn over the images she needed. “I promise you’ll be satisfied with the full images, but you aren’t getting them until I get what I want.”
Cody chuckled and lowered his head next to her cheek again. “Babe,” he said, “I won’t be satisfied until you’re down on your knees sucking me dry.”
‘I wouldn’t suck you dry if I was a vampire,’ Michelle thought. She said, “I only give as good as I get.”
Cody put his phone away and laid his hands on her shoulders once more. “Why do you want those pics so much anyway?”
“Don’t tell me they don’t make little Cody stiff,” Michelle said.
He leaned down closer to her. “Oh yeah,” he said, “but who needs pics when we could do the real thing, just you and me.”
“Easy boy,” Michelle said. “I’m not street trash. If you don’t think I’m worth the wait, maybe we should call the whole thing off.”
Cody’s grip tightened on her shoulders. “I can’t help it, babe. You make me not want to miss a thing,” he said and slipped a hand down from her shoulder to tickle the top of her breast.
Michelle leaned forward, revolted by his touch. More to herself than him, she said, “Funny, you make me feel the exact opposite.”
Cody brushed her hair back from her ear and licked it. “What did you say, babe?”
She shuddered and twisted, looking at him over her shoulder. “I said, you’re full of shit.”
Cody snickered. “I love it when you talk dirty.”
Michelle frowned at Cody, wondering how in the world she was going to get rid of him when every insult she threw his way went right over his head to the point he thought he was being complimented. She was so engrossed in her thoughts and trying to avoid his roving hands that she didn’t notice the approach of the school librarian, until he was a shadow over the table clearing his throat. She whipped her head around and caught her breath seeing the disappointed frown on Mr. Purdue’s lips as he towered over her. Cody stood up straight trying to be the taller man, but it was painfully obvious to Michelle that he was neither taller nor a man.
Mr. Purdue said, “Unlike Cody, I am not enamored with your filthy language. Perhaps I can impress upon you the benefits of more appropriate language after school, say around 3 o’clock this afternoon?”
Michelle blinked trying to comprehend the meaning behind Mr. Purdue’s words. He was well known for saying things in a manner that rivaled Shakespeare in its lack of clarity. At the heart of her confusion was whether or not he was asking her if she wanted to see him after school or telling her that she was going to being seeing him after school. Optimistically, she opted for the former and said, “I really shouldn’t be dallying around after school today. I mean with the storm and all my parents might worry if I don’t go straight home.”
Cody put his hand on Michelle’s shoulder. “Yeah, and I’m not too fond of my girl spending time alone with freaks.”
Mr. Purdue turned his head slightly from Michelle so that he could look more directly on Cody. “Slavery was abolished more than a century ago. Perhaps you should join us and study some history this afternoon. It could be a novel event for you might learn something, though I’m reticent to set my expectations so high.”
Refocusing his attention on Michelle, Mr. Purdue continued, “There is no need for your parents to worry, I am quite capable of telephoning them. I think an hour or so after school should be sufficient to give you pause before using such vulgarity on campus in the future.”
Cody rolled his eyes and stepped forward, inserting himself in the small space between Michelle and Mr. Purdue. “Get over yourself,” he said. “You’re not even a teacher and even they know better than to mess with me and my friends.”
Mr. Purdue stood his ground and looked lazily into Cody’s bold eyes. “Mr. Larson, I may not be able to assign you detention due to the administration’s infatuation with sports and winning, but Ms. Bennett has no such protection and I highly doubt you have sufficient clout to affect otherwise.”
Cody puffed his chest toward Mr. Purdue and said, “You’re a dick.”
“Perhaps,” Mr. Purdue said, “but this is my library and you are breaking my rules as well as disturbing the other students who are here to study. I suggest you exit now before I’m forced to call your coach and have him escort you out. No doubt your jock reputation would be forever tarnished having been caught in a library.”
Cody turned his back to Mr. Purdue and looked down at Michelle. “Come on, babe,” he said, “let’s get out of here and leave the nerds to their books.”
Michelle looked up at Cody, but she couldn’t help noticing Mr. Purdue standing behind him and the look in his eyes. Even if he wasn’t a neighbor and friends with her parents she wouldn’t have wanted to side against him with Cody. That she had homework to attend to and felt the need to apologize to Mr. Purdue only helped secure her conviction to stay behind despite the possibility Cody might decide to renege on their deal. She said, “I’m sorry, but I really have to finish this homework or detention will be the least of my worries.”
“Suit yourself, babe,” Cody said. He turned his back to her and pushed his way past Mr. Purdue, stalking toward the exit. Most everyone watched until he was out the double doors and gone from sight.
The passing bell rang, signalling the end of the break period. Michelle stared at her nearly blank homework pages and tears began to well in her eyes. It was beginning to feel like nothing was going to go right for the whole day. She slapped her book closed and noticed Mr. Purdue was still standing over her.
He said, “Let’s talk.”
Michelle looked from him to the double doors and watched her peers filing out. “About?”
He turned his head to the doors and waited until the last of the students exited and the doors slammed shut. “What’s going on with you? A month ago you wouldn’t have given an ape like Cody the time of the day let alone let him practically molest you in public.”
“It’s complicated,” Michelle said. “I’m going to be late.”
Mr. Purdue walk to the opposite side of the table from Michelle and sat down. “For Civics with Mr. Wolfe and it appears you’ve not finished your homework.”
“You’re not going to tell my dad are you?” Michelle asked. She knew from past experience he wasn’t the sort to run and tell her parents every little thing, but there were times when he felt it was just too important that they knew about things. She hoped this wasn’t one of those times.
“What would I tell him?” Mr. Purdue asked. “All I know is you are socializing with pond scum, not finishing your homework, and using language unbefitting a young woman your age. While I’m certain your father would discipline you for all of those things, I think it’s more important to understand what has brought on this sudden change in behavior first. Of course if you won’t talk to me, I suppose I haven’t much choice but to inform your father.”
Michelle considered her options. She could tell lies and half truths in the hopes she could satisfy his curiosity without endangering her well-being or she could tell him the truth and hope he would understand. He knew enough of the players that if anyone was going to understand what she was doing and why, it was going to be him. Though she might have decided differently had she given it more thought, she chose to trust him with the truth.
She said, “You know my brother’s girlfriend, Jennifer?”
Mr. Purdue nodded. “She attended here the same time as your sister.”
“Right,” Michelle said. “And I assume you also remember Cody’s brother, Brody?”
“Only too well,” Mr. Purdue said. “Cody is a joy by comparison.”
“A few weeks back, I was at the DMV for my driving test and I saw Jennifer there, talking with Brody,” she said.
Mr. Purdue said, “Nothing all that unusual, unless you’re wondering, as I sometimes do, how an imbecile gets a job at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I seem to recall he failed Driver’s Ed, twice.”
“Ironic doesn’t really cover that, does it?” Michelle said, shaking her head. “Actually the part I found unusual is when I mentioned to Jennifer I had seen her, she denied ever having been there.”
Mr. Purdue shrugged. “Maybe you were mistaken. It could have been someone with her hairstyle or similar facial features. If you didn’t talk to her on the spot, you can’t really be certain.”
Michelle nodded. “I’d have been inclined to agree with you and would have let the whole thing go except a short while later I overheard Cody talking to his brother in the parking lot about a girl named Jen and how she was so desperate to avoid losing her license she would do anything he asked of her.”
“I can understand how your curiosity would have been piqued,” Mr. Purdue said, “but eavesdropping can lead to no end in misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions.”
Thunder rattled the library’s windows causing Michelle to look out at the gray world of falling rain outside. The gray was illusion, she knew color was everywhere, requiring only the slightest attention to detail, but it was easy to get lost in the simplicity of clouds and rain.
Turning back to Mr. Purdue, she said, “You’re right of course. I immediately assumed they were talking about Jennifer because of her horrible driving record and I remember Miles saying something about her potentially losing her license if she was cited again. It all fit together and the more I thought about it the more convinced I was that Brody’s Jen was Jennifer.”
“But you were wrong,” Mr. Purdue said.
Michelle shook her head. “I wish I had been. I followed her, because I couldn’t shake my suspicions, and she went straight to the DMV and Brody.”
“Did you inform Miles?” Mr. Purdue asked.
“I tried,” she said. “He didn’t want to hear about it. It was bad timing because Dad had just fired Rachel for not doing her work and Rachel was blaming Jennifer which left Miles thinking I was siding with Rachel and trying to cast doubt on Jennifer with a ridiculous accusation.”
“So then you decided to do something stupid to get some sort of proof for your brother.” Mr. Purdue said.
“Exactly.” Michelle nodded. “Well, I didn’t think it was too stupid at the time, but maybe I could have come up with a better plan.”
“If you tell me you had sex with our steroid king to get proof out of his brother, I’m going to have to blister your butt and tell your father,” Mr. Purdue said.
Michelle nearly choked. “As if!”
Mr. Purdue wiped invisible sweat from his forehead.
She said, “I would sooner lay with a dead fish than Cody. I made a deal with him, pics for pics.”
“Pics?” Mr. Purdue raised an eyebrow.
“Sure,” Michelle said. “You see, Brody has a thing for tying up girls and whipping them with a leather strap while they’re dangling from the ceiling of some warehouse downtown. He blackmails a few every month for their license and apparently thinks he’ll never get caught because he records the whole thing with a digital camera.”
“No doubt Mensa will be beating down his door when they hear of this clever scheme,” Mr. Purdue said.
“More like the local police, but first I need those pics,” Michelle said.
“As soon as you learned of this, you should have reported this to an adult like your father or me or even called the police,” Mr. Purdue said. “Brody is mixed up in criminal activity here and if you’re not careful you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law for just knowing about this and not reporting it right away.”
“Nobody is going to believe me without proof,” Michelle said.
Mr. Purdue appeared to think for a moment and then asked, “When are you supposed to get these pics?”
“This afternoon if Cody comes through,” Michelle said.
“Alright,” Mr. Purdue nodded. “Now what pics are you exchanging for these?”
“Nothing that matters.” Michelle shrugged.
“I doubt that,” Mr. Purdue said. “Cody might have the intelligence of a rock, but he wouldn’t trade those sort of pics unless he thought he was getting something pretty valuable in return.”
“He thinks he’s getting something valuable, but he isn’t,” Michelle said.
Mr. Purdue frowned at her. “What does he think he’s getting?”
Michelle looked down and blushed. “Nudes of me.”
“What?” Mr. Purdue shouted.
“It’s not like I’m really giving him that,” Michelle said.
“What are you giving him?” Mr. Purdue asked.
“I found these pic online,” Michelle said.
“Porn?” Mr. Purdue’s eyes seemed ready to explode out of their sockets.
“They’re of a man,” Michelle said.
“And you don’t think he’ll notice it’s not you?” Mr. Purdue asked.
“I sent him some previews,” Michelle explained. “I zoomed in on them and blurred them a little so you can’t really tell what they are, but the imagination fills in the blanks.”
Mr. Purdue shook his head. “The boy really is an idiot.”
“I promised him the full monty after I get the pics of Jennifer and Brody,” Michelle said.
“And you really think he’s going to come through without seeing yours first?” Mr. Purdue asked.
Michelle nodded. “I think he knows he won’t get anything from me unless he comes through first and since he doesn’t think there is any harm in it, he’ll do it with just the threat of trashing my reputation if I don’t follow through.”
“I see,” Mr. Purdue said. “And I presume you have an endgame?”
Michelle smiled. “Of course. I’ll send him the full pics while he’s at practice and leave an anonymous message with the office about him having porn on his phone. I think his reputation will be sufficiently sullied by having ‘gay porn’ on his phone that anything he says about me will be about as believed as the Easter bunny.”
“I probably shouldn’t know about that part,” Mr. Purdue said while chuckling.
Michelle glanced at the clock on the wall behind the counter. “I should probably get to class.”
Mr. Purdue looked at the clock as well and said, “I’ll give you another fifteen minutes to finish your homework since that why you came in here today and your time was taken up by Cody talking to you in a no talking section. I should have tossed him out straight away, but I thought you were receptive to his company.”
Michelle blinked at him. “Seriously?”
“Fifteen, not a minute more and I’ll give you a pass,” Mr. Purdue said.
Michelle smiled. “You’re the best.”
“I’ll still be expecting you for after school detention,” he said. “Cody or not, I won’t tolerate vulgar language from you or anyone else in my library.”
Michelle nodded, still smiling. “I understand.”
Twenty minutes later Michelle arrived in her Civics classroom and handed Mr. Wolfe a note from Mr. Purdue along with her completed homework. She glanced at Nick in the desk next to hers as she took her seat. He looked vaguely surprised and almost disappointed. She whispered to him, “Looks like you won’t be seeing my panties today.”
Nick shook his head and said, “Believe it or not, I’m glad.”