|Primary Characters:||Veronica, Wallace|
|Warning:||adult themes, non-con sex, m/m sex, rape|
|Description:||Wallace is attacked. That’s bad enough, but soon Veronica learns that he was targeted because of her. They find evidence indicating Logan and Duncan were responsible for what happened to Veronica last year.|
Wallace was on his way home from Veronica’s place. Her dad was away on a job in New Mexico, and he’d stayed on as late as he dared. His mom would have his hide if he spent the night with a friend, on a school night. Technically, it wasn’t a school night, but he was supposed to do some volunteer work at school on Saturday, so his mom naturally assumed he’d have to spend Friday night studying for exams or something. Veronica would have driven him, but her dad’s car was at the repair shop and so he’d borrowed hers for his long drive.
It wasn’t all that far anyway. He could run there and still be back in time for his mom’s curfew. There were people out, going to or from parties or bars and clubs. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, except for him. He was making a face, dwelling on his bad luck, when he became aware of someone walking behind him. There was no reason why he should be walking all alone, so he thought nothing of it until he realized that there were more people catching up. At least three were walking behind him. It was beginning to unnerve him slightly, so he tried casting a look over his shoulder. Some guys were walking behind him, their faces hidden by the hoods of their jackets.
He felt a chill going down his back. Still, there was no reason to assume those guys weren’t just out having a good time like everyone else. Except now, he saw three similarly dressed guys standing in his way. Barring his way. He glanced to his side. There was a building on his right, and a street on his left. This stretch of the street was more or less empty and the house on his right was bare and offered no hiding places. He thought of running across the street. On the other side of it, were parking lots and a little further on a playground. If he could make it there –
Now the guys were moving in, closing him in. Wallace felt his breathing pick up and he wished he’d ignored his mom’s orders and spent the night on Veronica’s couch. Her house was safe, or at least he liked to think so. She had a dog. No one would have been able to get to him there.
The guys herding him in between them still hadn’t said a word. Wallace’s throat constricted and he tried to make a run for it. One of the guys grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. The others closed in, leaving him only a small space in between them for walking. Walking where? Apparently in whatever direction they wanted him to take.
It seemed they were herding him towards the playground, or one of the parking lots. But they were well lit, and he didn’t think they’d want him there, whatever they wanted him for.
No one came by, and he suspected that in Neptune, the rich kids would only look the other way, if a black kid was attacked. Or they’d come and watch and cheer. Not that they just disliked blacks. Anyone not like themselves were considered outsiders and so not worthy of their consideration.
Wallace panicked and threw himself at one of the guys to try and push him aside. It was like running into a brick wall. He bounced back and they kept herding him where they wanted him. It turned out he’d been right in his guess where they’d be taking him. This time, he wouldn’t have minded being wrong. They entered the playground and now they were pushing and shoving him.
“You want my wallet? Take it. My cell phone? Go on. It’s yours. Here. Take my watch too. Do you want my sneakers? Whatever you want, just take it. Just leave me alone.”
They didn’t show any reaction to his outburst. Now one of them pulled out a gun and aimed it straight at Wallace’s head. He blinked in disbelief. This wasn’t happening. His next thought was – am I going to die like this? But the guy didn’t pull the trigger, though he released the safety. Another guy moved forward and stood before Wallace, dispassionately watching him from the shadowy depths of his hood. He grabbed Wallace and pushed him down to his knees. The guy with the gun never broke his aim.
Heart pounding desperately, Wallace complied.
When another one of them moved forward to stand before him, he flinched involuntarily, fearing a blow or kick. Nothing happened. Or rather, nothing like what he’d expected happened. Instead, the guy was fumbling with his belt, opening it and unzipping his pants.
Wallace stared in disbelief. His eyes widened in horror. He began to hyperventilate and would have blacked out, if the guy hadn’t leaned down and slapped his face hard. The pain made his head clear for a moment. He glanced around, hoping that this would just be the final stage of some game of intimidation, not an actual threat. Everyone seemed to be waiting.
Now the guy with the gun raised it and moved it closer to Wallace’s head. A whimper, like from a wounded animal escaped Wallace’s lips. His head cleared, but somehow, his reason went and he had only partial memories of the next half hour or so. He did recall that they all took turns.
When they were done, they left him lying face down, in his own vomit, sobbing noiselessly into the sand.
He faded in and out, for what seemed like forever. Finally, he came to, sensing that not as much time had gone by as he’d expected. It was still dark outside, and the noises of traffic from further away, had dropped to a low murmur. He couldn’t hear any laughter or shouts from the street outside. It had to be sometime in the middle of the night.
Struggling to get to his feet, Wallace tried to make out the figures on his watch, but his eyes couldn’t focus properly. Eventually, he managed to get up. He was swaying back and forth for a while, until he stabilized. His one thought was getting away from the playground. He had no idea where he wanted to go, if he wanted to go anywhere. There didn’t seem to be any safe place to be. Or perhaps there was one place.
Without making a conscious decision, he began to walk back in the direction he’d come, how many hours ago? In all the time it took him to get back, he only ran into two people, and they looked away, perhaps thinking he was drunk or stoned.
By the time he found himself on Veronica’s doorstep, he thought he saw the first traces of dawn on the sky, but he wasn’t really paying attention.
He sank down on the front steps, too numb to move any further. The sounds of a dog barking, made him look up. He could see the lights go on inside the house. Someone – Veronica – was calling something through the locked door.
“Is anyone there?”
He reached out his hand and knocked on the door.
“Hey. Who is it? I have a dog in here.”
Wallace felt, rather than saw the door begin to open, just a crack. He was lying across the door’s path and almost at once it hit him, preventing it from moving any further. The door pressed into him and he tried to pull back a little. Light from inside got in his eyes and he squinted.
Veronica’s voice broke and she sounded like a scared ten-year-old. Wallace almost laughed. If he hadn’t been hurting so much and feeling – empty inside – he would have thought it funny. Right now, all he could think about was that he didn’t want Veronica to see him like this. He didn’t want her to know what he’d done.
She vanished back inside and despite what he’d been thinking seconds before, he wanted to shout at her to come back and not leave him alone.
When she returned, the dog wasn’t with her. She bent down and tried to examine his face in the dim light. Her fingers brushed his face and he cowered away, whimpering.
“Wallace, what happened to you?”
Veronica’s voice sounded as if she was close to tears. She reached for his hands and tried to help him stand, but he wouldn’t let her touch him. Eventually, she gave up and sat down beside him. He could hear her crying now and he wanted to reach out to her and tell her not to. Not over him. But he couldn’t find the words.
“Please let me help you inside so I can see what’s wrong with you.”
He didn’t want her to look at him, though part of him knew that she wouldn’t see any traces of what had happened. In the end, it was her crying that did it. He just couldn’t bear to hear her sounding like that, so – desolate.
It took all his willpower to reach for her and let her help him to his feet. She pulled Wallace inside the house, then shut the door behind them and pushed him towards the couch.
“What happened to you?”
His throat was so dry, he couldn’t have answered her, even if he’d been able to think of a reply. Instead, he sank down into the soft pillows, giving up his struggle to stay conscious. As he drifted away, he still heard her talking to him, cajoling him.
He came to with a start, crying out incoherently, wailing and whimpering. A familiar voice began to talk consolingly to him, sounding so – reassuring, that he opened his eyes and looked at her. Veronica. She was wearing just a short t-shirt and not much else, from what he could see.
“Wallace, please tell me what’s wrong. I’d have called an ambulance but I didn’t want to leave you alone. You were so – ”
The thought of doctors and nurses examining him, asking questions, trying to make him tell what was wrong, made him panic again. He wasn’t far from hyperventilating again, but somehow Veronica’s voice pulled him back from the edge of hysteria.
“Wallace, it’s ok. No one’s going to hurt you now. Just tell me what happened and I’ll -”
“NO. Don’t call anyone. I’m ok, I swear. Please don’t tell anyone.”
He was babbling and he realized Veronica was looking at him, concern etched into her somber face.
In the end, he only managed a toneless whisper.
“Why not? Wallace, you can tell me. Just tell me so I know what I can do to help.”
“No. It’s nothing. Just leave me alone. Please.”
“No. Wallace. I can’t. Did someone -”
She paused to find a word, that wouldn’t set him off again. This was only too familiar. It was like finding herself back in a nightmare she’d thought she’d woken from, over a year ago. Wallace just couldn’t have been –
“Please. Just tell me if I’m right. Did someone – assault you?”
She bit her lower lip. Assault – as in sexual assault. Then why couldn’t she just ask him? Judging from his reaction, she was pretty sure she was right in her guess, but how did she ask him out loud? She hadn’t even been able to tell him what had happened to her more than a year ago.
In any case, he didn’t reply. She could see that he was conscious and looking at her. He knew what she was asking, but would he reply?
“Wallace – about a year ago – something happened to me. I don’t know who did it, and – I guess I’ll never know, but afterwards, I felt about the same way you seem to be feeling right now. If I tell you what happened, will you tell me if – something like that happened to you too?”
Why should he? Did her saying it first make it any easier admitting to it? She didn’t think so.
“Wallace – someone – probably more than one person – raped me. Is that what happened to you? Say no, if I’m wrong.”
She watched him anxiously, listening for a reply, but none came. So it was true. Her eyes filled with tears again. No. She didn’t wish this on her worst enemy. Well, maybe she did, but certainly not anyone else. Not Wallace.
“Ok. Where are you injured? Will you let me examine you? If – it’s not too bad, maybe I won’t have to call an ambulance.”
Still no reply and she placed her hand on Wallace’s cheek, expecting him to pull back, violently. Instead, his eyes fastened on her gaze and held on to it. He was trusting her to do this. She felt overwhelmed with emotion when she realized how much trust in her this implied.
Her fingers gently probed his chin, cheekbones and finally his temples. He didn’t seem to be injured, but what did she know? She wasn’t a doctor.
“Are you dizzy? Do you feel sick? I mean, do you think you might have a concussion?”
For a while, she thought he wasn’t going to reply, but finally he shook his head, ever so slightly. For what it was worth, that seemed like a good sign.
Only now, did she register the fact that he was still fully dressed. Nothing seemed to be missing. That too, had to be a good sign, but he might have put them back on again. She studied them intently. They were covered with dirt but seemed more or less intact. Again, that might not mean anything.
“Could you take off the t-shirt?”
He inhaled, gathering his strength to – tell her – but in the end all he managed was a whisper.
“Not necessary. They didn’t – I mean – it wasn’t like that.”
Ok. She thought she knew what he was referring to. Then how was it?
“They didn’t – take off my clothes.”
The thoughts raced inside her mind, working out the implications of what he’d just said. She swallowed hard, to stop the bile from rising in her throat. So that was it. Poor Wallace. Confused snatches of ideas came and went inside her brain. DNA. Could they find out who had done it? And would Wallace agree to be tested?
As if referring to it at all, had made it a little easier, Wallace began to talk.
“They had a gun.”
So that explained the lack of injuries. He wouldn’t have had any choice but to – She caught herself when she realized that three times now, he’d said ‘they’. Plural. More than one attacker.
“How many of them were there?”
“Did you – recognize any of them? Or could you describe them -”
“No. They were wearing hooded jackets and I – didn’t see their faces.”
“Ok. Are you – injured somewhere? Did they hit you?”
“No. Yes. A slap or two. That’s all.”
“Veronica – please let me stay here. I don’t want my mom to – see me now.”
“She’ll be wondering where you are. In fact, I’m wondering why she hasn’t called me to ask about you.”
“I – told her I’d be at my other friend’s house.”
“The imaginary one?”
“Did you give her a phone number for him?”
“Yes, but it’s not a real one. I just made it up. I never thought she’d call him.”
“Oh. That could be a problem.”
“But she might not know I’m – not home. She was going to come back late tonight and if she just assumed I was in -”
“That’s a big if. Wallace – you can stay as long as you like, as far as I’m concerned, but your mom -”
“She – I can’t tell her. She can’t stand -”
“If she thought I was -”
“If she knew what I’d done, she’d disown me.”
“What you’ve done? What are you talking about?”
“If she knew that I’d -”
“Hey. Are you saying she’d blame you? They held a gun to your head. It doesn’t get any clearer than that, does it?”
“She’d never look at me the same way again.”
“Wallace – I understand that you don’t want her to know. My dad doesn’t know about – what happened to me either – but she’s your mom. She loves you. This wasn’t your fault.”
“She wouldn’t see it that way. All that stuff is – wrong.”
“Sure, what they did was wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’s your fault.”
“It wouldn’t matter. I’ll still have done it.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying this. Your mom couldn’t -”
“I know her. You don’t.”
“Ok. Never mind. You don’t have to tell her. I never told my dad either. But – if she’s called the police to find out where you are -”
“I don’t want to see her.”
Veronica could tell that Wallace wasn’t thinking straight. She had to make him calm down before she could make a decision about what to do.
“Ok, sure. You can sleep here. No problem. We’ll figure out what to do about your mom later.”
Wallace suddenly ran past her into the bathroom and doubled up over the toilet bowl, he vomited until his stomach must have been empty. For a while, he kept retching, bringing up nothing. Again, she thought of DNA, but wasn’t sure if she could bring the topic up. Except she had to. She knew time was an issue. If they wanted to find out who was responsible, they had to move fast.
“Wallace – we should think about going to a doctor. You know – they might be able to find out who did it.”
His eyes were misty with tears as he looked back at her, seemingly without understanding what she was saying.
“Come on. Let’s go into my room. You can sleep on my bed.”
“No. I’d like to – shower and stuff.”
“That’s not a good idea. If they’ve left DNA -”
“No. They didn’t.”
“How do you know?”
Wallace stared wildly at her and she backed off a little to give him some space.
“Because – they were – they had -”
Veronica was quiet as she tried to put two and two together. Was Wallace saying what she thought he was saying? Had the attackers used – That reminded her uncomfortably of the time when she’d –
“They used -”
“Yes. It was so odd, but they all had them.”
“So they wouldn’t leave any traces of DNA. You’re right. That’s odd.”
Her mind was already working on the implications, but Wallace wasn’t finished.
“You – do believe me, don’t you? I wouldn’t make anything like this up.”
“Of course not. It has to mean that – they didn’t want to leave any traces of DNA. Six of them. It sounds like it had all been planned out. Where did they – attack you?”
“In the playground -”
“But I think I’d heard them for a while before they – showed themselves. In the street, earlier. Before they herded me into the playground.”
“So they’d been following you around. I think they must have picked you especially. Why? I don’t get it.”
“Can I use your bathroom?”
Veronica hesitated. If they hadn’t left any DNA, a shower couldn’t do any harm, but part of her just didn’t want to let Wallace out of her sight. Not when he was this upset. He could do something – rash. The way he’d reacted when he’d talked about his mother just wasn’t the way someone in a normal state of mind would act. She opened the medicine cupboard and made sure her dad hadn’t left any razors or pills in there that Wallace could get his hands on. Finally, she nodded.
“Ok. There’s stuff in there, that you can borrow. A new toothbrush, soap – you know – all that stuff.”
He was shivering uncontrollably and his teeth were clattering so badly she had a hard time understanding him. Veronica had an idea that he was going into shock. If they really hadn’t removed his clothes, there shouldn’t be any need for a shower, not really. It had to be an emotional reaction.
“You don’t need to shower, do you? I mean – they didn’t -”
“No. Can I just do it anyway?”
“Of course. Just hurry up. I’d like you to put on some clothes, so you don’t get cold.”
She went into her own room and considered her clothes. None of them would fit Wallace. She went into her dad’s room and picked up a sweatshirt and some sweatpants. All far too wide for Wallace, not to mention too short, but they would have to do.
She returned to her own room and dug up some extra pillows for herself, then went back to the living room to make up the couch for herself. By the time she was done, Wallace still hadn’t come out of the bathroom and she was beginning to feel concerned.
She opened the door and walked in. Wallace was sitting on the floor staring at nothing. Gasping, she knelt beside him and tried to get his attention.
“Hey. Come on. That’s enough. You’re clean now. Let’s get you to bed.”
He didn’t reply, but he turned his head slightly to look at her. Veronica got up to find a towel and wrapped it around him. With some difficulty, she was able to get him to stand up. She then towed him into the bedroom and made him lie down. Patiently, as if she was dressing doll or a very young child, she pulled the sweatshirt over his head, and managed to get his arms into the sleeves. The pants were more difficult, but eventually, she was successful. She pulled the covers up over him and sat down on the side of the bed.
“Ok, I’ll sit here. No problem.”
His hand felt so cold. It was ridiculous. Their air conditioning wasn’t very good. It was stuffy to the point of hot inside their house, so Wallace shouldn’t have been so cold.
“Are you feeling cold?”
Again, she noted how his teeth were clattering. He was cold. Or going into shock. She went to get another blanket, one that they hardly ever used. It never got that chilly, not in their dump of a house.
After wrapping the blanket around Wallace, she began to think of something else to do. Could she get him something to drink? Eat? Yeah, right. As if food had been high on her list of priorities back when – At that time, all she’d wanted was to get as far away from other people as possible, but at the same time, she’d missed someone to hold her. Mom. Lilly. And they hadn’t been there for her.
But he was still shivering and curled up like that, he looked like a scared little boy, That helped her decide. If he’d let her, she’d get in there beside him and hold him.
“Wallace, if you like, I’ll lie here too. To keep you warm. Is that ok?”
The look in his eyes still expressed the depth of his trust in her. So she crawled in under the covers with him and put her arms around him. His body tensed up and she was beginning to think it was a bad idea, when he suddenly slumped down with his head on her shoulder, snuggling close. She pulled him as close as she could and settled down. He really was cold all over. It took her ages to warm him up, but eventually, he relaxed and began to breathe easier.
She allowed herself to relax a little too, though what had happened tonight was still eating away at her. It was a painful reminder of what she’d been through, but she had a hunch that it was going to hit Wallace even harder. Especially if his mom was as homophobic as Wallace thought she was. It was so unfair of her. Even if Wallace had been gay, this wouldn’t have been his fault and as it was –
Eventually, she dozed off, but woke up to hear the phone ringing. She gently pulled herself free of Wallace, trying not to wake him and took a look at her cell phone. It wasn’t the one ringing, but she noticed that it was eleven twenty three am. Amazing that she’d managed to sleep this long, considering.
She ran to pick up the phone, expecting to hear her father’s voice. Instead, it was Alicia Fennel, Wallace mom. She forced herself to remain calm and speak normally.
“Hello, this is Alicia Fennel, Wallace’s mother. Is this Veronica?”
“Yes. Hello, mrs Fennel. How are you?”
“I’m fine. It’s just that when I woke up this morning, quite late, as it happened – I was out late last night – Wallace had already gone out. I was wondering if he’s there with you.”
Veronica knew she couldn’t hesitate, so she fell back on years of experience of lying, in the line of duty, as it were.
“Yes. He’s here. Showed up bright and early. Would you like me to get him?”
“No, that’s ok. He must have forgotten about the volunteer work at school.”
“Oh, was that today? Maybe they called and cancelled? I could go and ask him.”
“No, never mind. Let him be. I’ll talk to him when he gets back. Say hi to your dad for me, please.”
“I will. Bye, mrs Fennel.”
Veronica heard footsteps behind her and turned to face Wallace, still looking almost as stricken as last night.
“Was it my mom?”
“Yes. I told her you’re here.”
“What did she say?”
“Nothing. It’s ok. She got in late and didn’t check on you and she assumed you’d gone out early. I told her you got here early so -”
“But you’ll have to see her some time. If you stay here, she’ll just come and look for you.”
“I’ll – wash your clothes.”
Wallace stared blankly at the garments strewn across the living room, not really seeing them.
“Come on. Sit down. I’ll take care of it.”
She ran back and forth, picking up clothes, tidying up, using the housework as an excuse not to think too much about what had happened. It was too late for breakfast, so she made lunch, but neither of them had any appetite. Late in the afternoon, they were still sitting around, not knowing what to do.
The phone rang, and this time it was Veronica’s dad. He’d been delayed and wouldn’t be back until Monday morning. Veronica assured him she’d be fine on her own and reassured, he hung up. Towards evening, Veronica reminded Wallace that he’d be expected at home any time. He looked up, startled.
“Can I spend the night, please?”
“You know you can, if it’s up to me. But your mom – You’d have to call her yourself and ask.”
He sounded resigned somehow, as if he’d come to terms with having to hear his mother’s voice.
Veronica listened anxiously as he spoke to his mom. She kept expecting his mom to object, to realize something was wrong. In fact, she wouldn’t have been surprised if mrs Fennel would come over here right away to take a look at her son in person. But in the end, Wallace hung up and told her his mom had agreed. He had lied about the volunteer work, which meant she’d need to do something about school, in case his mom thought to call them to check.
They spent another miserable night together, but in the afternoon, Wallace agreed to go back home. He seemed determined not to do anything to make his mom wonder. Veronica watched him leave, filled with concern. He wasn’t in any shape to be alone. Someone should have been watching over him.
The week went by, with Wallace walking around like a ghost of himself, but nothing else happened. Veronica forced herself not to keep asking how he was. He was trying his best to put the incident behind him and she wasn’t going to make things harder.
On Thursday evening, she received an anonymous email. At first she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, thinking it just more spam, but one of the words in it caught her eye. She read through it and realized there were attachments. A hard knot formed at the pit of her stomach making it hard to breathe.
There were two images. One of her lying on the bed she’d woken up in, the day after that party. When she’d realized what had happened to her. It must have been taken just moments before she woke up. She didn’t want to look at it, and not at the other one either, but she forced herself to open it anyway.
This image made her feel sick to the stomach. It showed Wallace, on his knees in front of some tall guy. The email told her it had been no accident Wallace had been singled out that night. He’d been targeted because of her, because of his friendship with her.
She couldn’t look at the computer screen anymore. Tears dimming her sight, she sank down to the floor, face buried in her hands.
That was how Wallace found her, an hour or so later.
His voice sounded startlingly normal, as if – it had all been a bad dream. Maybe it had. If she looked up now, would she find that mom was still here and Lilly stil alive and – No. Miracles didn’t happen. They never had.
“It’s just that – I got an email -”
Wallace automatically looked at the screen, and seeing the image of himself, he too, sank to the floor. After some hesitation, he put his arm around Veronica. She snuggled closer and buried her face against his shoulder. They didn’t move until the room was getting darker.
“It was my fault. They did it because of me. It must have been the same guys who -”
“Are you saying -”
“It was in the email. They picked you because you’re my friend.”
“It’s not your fault. They’re sick bastards, but that’s not your fault.”
“If I hadn’t -”
“No. Hush. Don’t blame yourself.”
When they got up at last, the room was in complete darkness and the phone was ringing.
“I’d better get it. Maybe it’s dad.”
But again, it was Wallace’s mom.
“Wallace – it’s for you. Your mom.”
“Sorry. I’ve been invited to dinner here. Can I stay with Veronica and eat?”
In the end, it seemed mrs Fennel gave her consent and Wallace hung up.
She pulled herself free and tried to get up. They moved over to the couch and sat down again.
“I’d better get started on that dinner you’ve been invited to.”
“Oh. I had to say something. Never mind. I’m not hungry.”
“Me neither. I’ll have to do something to trace those images and the email.”
“Do you think you could find out who’s behind them?”
“I hope so.”
Wallace looked as if he was bracing himself, nerving himself to say something.
“I’ll help you. If we work together -”
“No. I won’t let you get dragged into this mess. It’s my problem and I’ll -”
“It’s my problem too now. Let me help you. I want to find those bastards as much as you do.”
“Ok. Just promise you’ll do as I tell you. I – know this business and -”
“Yeah, yeah, do your stuff, Sherlock. I’ll be Watson.”
Veronica nodded seriously. From now on, they’d be partners. Wallace was right. He had a right to be in on the chase. After what they’d done to him, it was his problem too.
The emails with the images would naturally be a job for Mac, but under the circumstances, Veronica hesitated to ask her friend. It might not come as a surprise to any student at Neptune High that something had happened to Veronica last year, other than losing her best friend and her mother, but Wallace’s involvement was something else. If he hadn’t been involved, Veronica thought she might have gone ahead and told Mac about that night, but as it was, she couldn’t be that open about it.
Would it be fair to ask Mac to help, not knowing the background? And would there even be a point in that? Mac would need to see the actual email, and the computer it had been sent to. Or – Veronica decided to take a chance and call Mac and see what she could tell her just over the phone.
Mac’s voice sounded a little distant, as if her mind was occupied elsewhere, but when she heard Veronica’s voice, she snapped to attention.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“I got an anonymous email tonight. One with – some photos in it which were – well, really horrid. I was wondering what I could do to trace it.”
“It kind of depends on what kind of software we’re talking about. At worst, it might be impossible.”
Veronica had had a feeling it wouldn’t be easy. Would she just find herself running up against a blank wall again? She hadn’t really expected to find the ones responsible for that – incident. Actually, she’d always thought it was just a bunch of guys high on testosterone, cheap booze and pills who’d seen her passed out and just jumped at the chance. Now it seemed even that had been part of the mystery surrounding Lilly’s death and mom’s disappearance.
“I see. If I wanted to have a go anyway, what do you recommend I do?”
“Well, you could try your ISP. They might have records of email traffic. But they’re not exactly going to give you that info up front, not even to your dad, I think. Or I could try. I’d need to see the computer and the email of course. Is it your laptop?”
Veronica hesitated. Mac would sense something was wrong and she’d know there was something she wasn’t being told.
“Uh – yes. It’s just that the photos – well, they’re really -”
“What is it? I mean, how bad could it be? Kiddie porn?”
Well, sort of, if you thought about it. She and Wallace were minors so technically – Not that you saw any details in the pics. Basically just who they were and what had happened to them.
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and when she spoke again, Mac sounded different somehow, as if she had a hunch what the pics would depict.
“Is it something to do with the Lilly Kane murder?”
Veronice felt a sudden icy stab of suspicion. What did Mac know about that? But she sternly told herself not to be paranoid. She had to trust someone, and she knew Mac was ok.
“Well, sort of. Indirectly.”
“Ok. Veronica, you don’t want me to see the pics, right? It’s ok. I’m sure you have your reasons. Right. I could try to talk you through it, but perhaps we’d better not do it on the phone. Can we meet somewhere? Like my place or yours?”
“Tomorrow. After school? Here?”
“Ok. See you then.”
After she had hung up, Veronica watched Wallace thoughtfully. Perhaps she could delete the image of him, and show the other one to Mac. She’d be ok about it. But deleting one piece of the evidence might ruin the whole thing. It might mean they never found the ones responsible.
“Wallace – I’m thinking about letting Mac see the pic of me. I won’t show her the one of you, but – I don’t know, what do you think?”
“I don’t know either. It’s like – well, I can’t stand the idea of someone seeing it, knowing what happened. On the other hand, I’d really like to get the bastards who did it.”
“Wallace – if we did get them, there’d be a trial. I think I could live with that, even if – I never told my dad about it, but would you -”
Wallace’s face paled and the haunted look in his eyes once again felt like a silent accusation. Veronica reached out and put her hand on his, squeezing it reassuringly.
“I guess I thought – well, that you could sic Eli on them, or something. Mac could – I don’t know – empty their bank accounts.”
“Yes. We could try to handle it on our own. It’s not as if any punishment could take away what happened. Nothing will ever make me the same person I was before. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing though. I’m not sure you’d have liked me back then.”
Wallace smiled sadly.
“I might have, but you wouldn’t have liked me.”
“I would, but I guess I wouldn’t have really gotten to know you.”
“Veronica – I can’t go through a trial. My mom would disown me. I’d never see her or my brother again.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do know that. She’s – I can’t explain it, but I know she wouldn’t be able to look at me again. She’d feel that I was -”
“Wallace, if that’s true, she’s wrong. It doesn’t change who you are.”
“Yes, it does. I’ll never feel the same way again. I’ll never feel safe. And I can’t -”
Wallace’s eyes darkened and he looked away. She could tell he was crying and didn’t want her to see. Again, all she could do was to reach out and squeeze his hand. It wasn’t enough. She’d have to do better than that, if she wanted to get the bastards who had done this to him.
“It gets better. At first I couldn’t stand to see myself in the mirror. I – didn’t want to dress in a short skirt or skimpy tops. It made me feel – exposed. But – as you can see, I got over that. It’s my body again. I took it back. You can do it too.”
“No. I’m not saying it’s any less serious, because you’re a girl, it’s just that – I’m a guy. They were guys.”
“I know. And you were awake when it happened. I don’t remember anything. Of course that doesn’t make such a big difference. I felt it. When I woke up, I just knew. But you can take it back. Maybe you’ll never be the same guy again, but I guarantee that one day – you’ll feel like a human being again.”
Veronica felt a sudden need to – reach out to Wallace, to hold him, to stop him from looking so – crushed. She pulled him closer and into her arms. He tensed up and she pulled back again, feeling guilty. She should have known he wouldn’t be ready for physical contact yet. He began to whimper and hunched over, his face in his hands. She really couldn’t stand to see him like that. Gently, she began to stroke his hair, making sure she didn’t crowd him.
He looked up and suddenly, he startled her by throwing himself into her arms, burying his face against her chest. She held on to him and hunched over him, gently rocking him in her arms. This was no good. She should be out somewhere, on a stakeout or something. Instead, she was bawling her eyes out, again, like she’d sworn she’d never do again.
Eventually, they calmed down, and feeling somehow – ashamed – they pulled apart. Trying to appear businesslike, Veronica got up and sat down in front of the computer. She saved the email to a file and made a copy of it. In the copy, she deleted the pic of Wallace, leaving the other one in.
“I’m going to let her see the pic of me. The other one is in this file. I’ll just show Mac the copy with one pic. Ok?”
“Thanks. You’re – I don’t know how I would have survived without you. Sometimes I think I should just – kill myself and get it over with. I don’t think I’ll ever feel – normal again.”
“No. Please don’t even think about that. That would mean letting them win. We’re going to get them, one way or another. Even if it takes the rest of my life, I’ll -”
“No. That’s not good either. If you do spend the rest of your life obsessing over this – then it will take over. It will be who you are. And I know that’s not true. You’re so much more than – that.”
“So are you. You know that, don’t you? I mean, you’ve helped me so much, by just being there for me. All the time. Bringing my homework over when I get suspended. Snooping around for me. And just always being there to listen to me ranting and raving about all my obsessions.”
Wallace looked taken aback at all that praise. And Veronica had the satisfaction of seeing the look in his eyes return to normal.
“Yeah. I guess – I’ll try to hang in a little longer.”
Awkwardly, and self-consciously he placed his arm around her and pulled her closer. The smile wasn’t the way it used to, but Veronica was happy to see any sign of improvement.
“You’ll have to. I mean, where would Sherlock be without Watson?”
“Oh. That’s true. So, Sherlock, what next?”
“Nothing. I don’t think I can take this any further right now. We’ll just have to wait for Mac.”
“I should probably go home. On the way, I’ll have to think of what sort of dinner we had, in case she asks.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that. Come on, we’ll see what’s available. We’ll have to eat something.”
Wallace didn’t sound enthusiastic at the thought of food, but he dutifully followed her into the kitchen where they made quite a mess, and forgot about the basic food groups, but at least were able to fight down a morsel or two.
Mac followed them back from school and, making no comment about their somber demeanor, sat down and got to work on the laptop. She must have noticed one of the images were missing, but she didn’t refer to that either. Veronica had some difficulty explaining about the event last year, but Mac took it calmly enough.
“I see. I knew it was something. I’m really sorry. It was – even worse than I thought. Well, I guess I haven’t been missing out on much, by not being invited to their parties.”
“No. I could have done without – that.”
The email itself fortunately didn’t specify what treatment Wallace had been subjected to. She studied it closely, then moved on to do things Veronica only vaguely recognized. After a while, she leaned back and sighed in a way that sounded regretful.
“No. I can’t find anything useful.”
“Do you think it’s hopeless?”
“No, I’m not done yet. It’s just that – well, this would be more serious, if we got caught. Veronica, do you have a cell phone that can be used as a modem?”
“One that can’t be traced?”
Veronica hesitated. If she owned up to having one of those, she’d just admitted to a lot more than just owning one rather special phone. Even if it wasn’t illegal, the possession of such a phone usually meant you had your reasons not to want to be traced. But she was willing to risk confiding in Mac. Hadn’t she just done something even more scary by telling Mac what had happened to her last year?
“I thought so. Ok, if we use it as a modem, I might be able to hack into your ISP’s server. The records of the email traffic might be useful, but – since it was anonymous, that’s not enough. It might still be useful. I’ll have to see.”
“In what way?”
“Well, we can see when it was sent. And if many anonymous emails are being routed through their server. That won’t help much, I know, but it’s a start. That photo – it was taken with a cell phone camera and it has a signature. It’s an unusual brand, maybe that will help. Was the other one taken with a cell phone camera too?”
Wallace purposely avoided facing Mac. He felt as if she had to guess the pic had something to do with him. His hands began to feel clammy, and he was wondering if he could stand to sit here, as if nothing was wrong. Surely, she’d notice his reaction and begin to speculate?
Veronica had already checked that, so at least she wouldn’t have to look at the image again.
“Yes. It wasn’t the same brand though. Not as unusual.”
“Right. I suppose since you know when the pic was taken and where, that doesn’t help much either.”
Apparently, this was just another dead end. Veronica was beginning to regret ever having gotten Wallace’s hopes up about this. It would be just like before. There were times when she suspected she’d never know the truth behind Lilly’s murder. And would she really feel better if she could match a face to the vague knowledge of having been raped?
While she was brooding on that, she’d handed over the cell phone to Mac, and she had used it to check up on the ISP. Now, she whistled softly.
“I just found another anonymous email. Addressed to – Duncan Kane.”
Veronica felt her hackles rising. Always that name. It seemed it would haunt her forever.
“Can you open it?”
“Yes. Oh, there’s another one. To Logan Echolls.”
Veronica squeezed in beside Mac and stared at the screen, wondering what she’d learn. She watched intently, as Mac opened the first email. The message in the email was similar to the one addressed to her, except this time it threatened to expose Duncan – for what – unless he kept on not remembering.
Mac turned to look at Veronica wondering what to make of her friend’s tense, white face.
“Hey, are you sure you want to do this? If it’s another one of those – nasty ones, maybe it’s better to -”
“You know that sometimes you just have to – bite the bullet.”
Mac nodded feelingly.
“I know. Ok. Ready?”
She clicked the attachment and waited.
Both girls gasped in unison, forcing Wallace to stare back at the screen, his heart pounding unpleasantly. What –
The image was almost the same as the first one of Veronica, except in this one, she wasn’t alone. Duncan Kane was lying on top of her.
Sensing Veronica’s reaction, Wallace put his arm around her and held her. Mac’s eyes were filled with sympathy.
Again, Veronica’s eyes burned with tears and she felt sick. If Wallace hadn’t been holding on to her, she would have run off to find a corner somewhere to hide. If she hadn’t known there was nowhere to hide.
Mac’s voice sounded brittle and husky when she spoke again.
“Do you – want me to open the other one?”
Veronica had to swallow hard to find her voice again.
“Yes. Go on. I don’t think it could get any worse than this.”
Or could it? Would the image show someone else she cared about in a horrible situation? Or someone else at the same time.
The image jumped at her, showing the same view of her, unconscious uncerneath – Logan Echolls this time. Well, at least it wasn’t any worse than the first one.
Wallace was filled with sudden rage. Those sick bastards. At that time, Duncan had been – or had just been – Veronica’s boyfriend. How could he have – and to let his friend be a part of that – atrocity. He wanted to confront Duncan Kane and beat his snotty, rich white face into a bloody pulp. The thought of Veronica, unconscious, helpless, at the mercy of those lowlives made him feel weak.
Mac coughed to clear her throat.
“I think – well, for one, who took the photos?”
“They could have taken turns -”
Veronica immediately regretted her choice of words. If they could believe these photos, then they had definitely taken turns.
“Ok. They might have. But look at them. They’re just lying there, not looking at the camera, at least not really looking. Don’t you think they would have if they’d just taken the pics for their own fun?”
Mac looked as if she too regretted her choice of words, but didn’t offer any apology.
Veronica forced her numb mind to work again. She’d better cover all bases, before she confronted Duncan and Logan.
“You’re absolutely sure they’re not fake? Montages?”
“Well, no. I’d need to look at them in some pretty advanced photo editing software. Anything’s possible. But if these are fakes, then they’d have to be professional quality. Nothing blurry or – look at the shadows from the lamp overhead. It looks exactly as it should be if – Well, you know.”
“Right. I just had to ask. Come on. Let’s go and find them. If we take them by surprise, we might be able to push them into confessing.”
“Confessing? What more proof do you need?”
Wallace’s voice had a note of outrage in it.
“I mean, they’d have to tell me why.”
Suddenly, she knew she had to find out why. Why had they felt they wanted to do this to her? What had she done to deserve – that?
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“No. But I need to talk to them. They owe me an explanation.”
“Ok. I’ll go with you. You know I’d go anywhere with you.”
“I’m in too. It just feels so wrong. He was your boyfriend.”
“I know. But people get abused by their boyfriends or husbands all the time, right?”
“Yes, but -”
In the end, they all crowded into Mac’s fancy new car and drove over to the Echolls residence. Veronica wasn’t sure she’d be received at the Kane house, and besides, she wasn’t ready to face Duncan yet. It never occurred to her that they might both be out, as most guys from Neptune High on a Friday night.
But when they got to the Echolls house, Logan was in, and Duncan was with him. Veronica felt a hard knot form at the pit of her stomach and her resolve wavered. It suddenly occurred to her that all this time, Duncan and Logan had known exactly what she’d been through. Every time they’d talked to her or seen her in the hall at school, they must have had that image of her in their mind’s eyes. Stripped of her dignity. Used like an object. She took a deep breath and forced herself to push on. Wallace was right behind her and she knew Mac followed too.
Logan sounded surprised and not quite as arrogant as he usually was these days.
“Can we come in? There’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”
“If this has anything to do with Lilly -”
“No. Not Lilly.”
“Well, we were just – ”
“Great. It won’t take that long.”
Head held high, Veronica walked ahead of them towards Logan’s room. If Wallace and Mac hadn’t been with her, she wouldn’t have felt nearly as confident, going into a guy’s room like this. But she had backup. For a second, she wished Eli could have been with her too. That would really have left Logan and Duncan at a serious disadvantage.
“I’m glad you’re here, too, Duncan.”
She was lying about the glad part, but at least his being there saved time.
Once inside the room, Veronica asked Logan to close the door. He glanced at her, with a look in his eyes, that she could have sworn hinted at concern, but she didn’t have time to worry about that.
She pulled out the printouts and placed them on Logan’s desk, one in front of Logan, the other one on Duncan’s side of it. Making sure they’d seen and registered what was in the photos, she caught and held their gazes.
Logan looked decidedly uneasy now and Duncan – Veronica was almost frightened at her ex’s reaction. His face lost all color and he staggered over to Logan’s bed and sank down on it, looking as stricken as she felt, or even as she’d felt that morning. For a second, she couldn’t repress the sudden flare of sympathy, but she deadened herself to it. After what he’d done to her, he was beyond pity.
Logan glanced anxiously at his friend, then back at Veronica. His face had a pallid tinge to it, that told her he too was troubled by the sight of those photos. Well, he had reason to be. If she decided to press charges – he’d be in such a bad jam, not even his dad would be able to extricate him from it.
“I know how this looks, but I swear we didn’t – we weren’t the ones who -”
“What? Took the pictures? I can see that. At least not the one you were in yourself.”
“Veronica – I’m sorry. I guess – you have no reason to trust me but – I’d never do something like that. Not even -”
“Not even to me? Do you think I’m stupid? Or blind? Is that you or not?”
“Yes. It’s me. But I didn’t – I didn’t do anything.”
“Then why – this may be a stupid question – but humor me, ok – why were you there?”
“They forced us.”
“Veronica – when you disappeared, Duncan wanted to go look for you to make sure you were ok. We walked right in and caught them -”
“I don’t know who they were. They had masks on. I know how this sounds, but it’s true. There were six of them. One of them pulled out a gun.”
All this was making Wallace feel more uncomfortable by the minute. Six of them. Masked. With a gun. It sounded a lot like the men who had attacked him. If the email had been telling the truth, it was the same men.”
Veronica’s voice didn’t give anything away, beyond the fact that she was tense, so tense Wallace was beginning to think she’d pass out. He pulled out the chair behind the desk and pushed Veronica towards it. She sank down on it, without even thinking. He placed himself between her and Logan. After a moment’s hesitation, Mac walked over and stood by her right shoulder.
“They aimed the gun at us and – two of them grabbed Duncan and pushed him towards you. He – just stood there, not understanding what they were trying to make him do. Then they pushed him down, on top of you and held him down. The guy with the gun waved at him when he tried to get up, so in the end, he just stayed down. He just lay there. And they – snapped some pics of him. Then they pulled him up and pushed him away. And – they did the same thing to me. I swear we didn’t do anything. We just lay there. With our clothes on.”
Something in Logan’s voice made Veronica believe him. His desperation had a note of truth in it, that couldn’t just be her imagination. It wasn’t just wishful thinking. Somehow, this made her feel at least a little relieved. Some of the claustrophobic feeling disappeared and she could breathe easier.
When she caught sight of her ex, she almost gasped. His face was so white, she thought he was about to pass out. The look in his eyes was so – confused, she feared he’d gone into shock. Again, she felt a touch of sympathy stir inside her. He looked so – devastated. And if Logan had been telling the truth, then they’d both been subjected to some kind of trauma. Perhaps not as serious as hers, but bad enough.
His teeth were chattering and it looked as if he had trouble forming the words. Logan sat down beside him and his hand hovered hesitantly above his shoulder, not quite daring to touch it. Instead, he began to speak comfortingly to his friend. Duncan appeared to ignore him. His eyes were fastened on Veronica, beseechingly.
“Veronica – I’d forgotten about it until I stopped taking my anti-depressants. Before that, I hoped it was just a bad dream. I’d heard the rumors about you and I thought I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was so – I’m sorry. I’d never do anything to hurt you. It’s as Logan was saying. We never did anything. It was – already over when we got there.”
Now Duncan began to cry painfully, quietly. Veronica felt all her rage evaporate, leaving her feeling empty and worn out. Yes, Duncan had been scarred by the incident too, she could see that. She got up and walked over to the bed and bent down over Duncan.
“I believe you.”
“I wish – I wish we could have done something. Called for help – I don’t know. But they had a gun. I was scared.”
“Of course. It’s ok, Duncan, it wasn’t your fault.”
Logan’s eyes bore into her, and he opened his mouth to say something. Veronica sighed. She and Logan weren’t exactly close, not anymore, but she didn’t think he would have wished this on her.
“I just want you to know that I would never have – I know we’re not friends anymore, but I really wish we could have done something to help.”
“Ok. I believe you, Logan. Can you tell me anything about them?”
“Well, they were tall. Big. Wore masks. Ordinary clothes.”
“Can you tell what age they were?”
Logan hesitated. He really didn’t know anything, but there had been just an impression. Veronica’s question had jogged his memory.
“Older than us, I think. I’m not sure why I got that impression, but I think they were more – bulky – than most kids our age. And it was the way they were breathing. It sounded heavy, like, I don’t know, they were older.”
Veronica recalled the odd detail about Wallace’s attackers, but she already knew there had been no DNA present in her body that day, so she really didn’t need to ask about anything that – intimate.
“Were they wearing gloves?”
Logan looked startled.
“Are you – beginning to remember?”
“No. I don’t remember anything other than waking up -”
She really didn’t want to dwell on that moment.
“Then how -”
“The gloves? They didn’t want to leave any prints. But – placing you in that position, made sure that they weren’t even reported.”
Logan looked away. He interpreted Veronica’s words as reproach. Despite himself, he felt guilty, though he knew that the gun had scared him too badly to really dare to talk about it to anyone. And if that wasn’t enough, there were the photos they’d taken of him and Duncan. Not just the ones Veronica had. The ones he was hoping no one would ever see. With him and Duncan lying entwined together, on the floor, as if – He felt sick. Those guys had been laughing at them, he knew they had, even though he hadn’t heard anything. In a way, he’d been glad that Duncan didn’t seem to remember anything. And Veronica had been totally out of things. She couldn’t possibly have known.
Veronica awkwardly put a hand on Duncan’s shoulder, making him look up and meet her gaze. His eyes expressed such torment, she wished things had been like before and that she’d have been able to hold him and tell him everything would be ok. But if everything had been like before, he wouldn’t even have been in this condition.
“Duncan – do you remember anything at all that could be useful in identifying those men?”
“I still only remember snatches of it. Just the gun and that there were six of them.”
Veronica nodded. Duncan’s amnesia interested her, but she knew she couldn’t bring up what she’d overheard in the counsellor’s office. That would mean giving away the fact that she’d bugged a public place. Instead she faced Logan again.
“Do you have any idea how they could get in?”
“Do you know how they left?”
“They just walked out through the door. It was dark by that time, so I doubt if anyone saw them. We would have heard if anyone had seen any intruders.”
“Ok, thanks. Well, I guess we should get going. Thanks for telling me this.”
She made sure she had both printouts with her. If they received the emails they’d get copies of them, but she doubted they were interested in looking at them. The thought of the emails made her think of something else.
“You’ll get an email, both of you, with a threat, to keep quiet about this. With these images attached. So, I think you should be careful. They’re probably keeping tabs on you.”
Logan paled slightly at this, but only nodded.
Veronica left the room with her friends in tow. She couldn’t help casting one last look back at Duncan. He still seemed shocked and disoriented, but there was nothing she could do about that. Besides, Logan was with him.
She felt both relieved and disappointed. At least Duncan and Logan were out of the picture now. On the other hand, beyond that she’d learned very little that was useful. She was grateful for her friends and the support they’d given her. Without them backing her up, she’d never have dared to face Logan and Duncan. And after all this they still weren’t any closer to finding the men who had attacked her and Wallace. Suddenly, it occurred to her that Mac might be in danger too.
“Mac – I’m sorry I dragged you into this. I’m afraid the people who did this to me – and Duncan and Logan – might go after you too. Please be careful.”
“I don’t think they’ll bother with me. People never notice us geeks. It’s like we’re part of the hardware. Just tools, really. But I’ll keep an eye out. After what those bastards did to you, I’m just glad to be of help. Don’t worry about me.”
“Well, I really appreciate your help, but from now on, I’ll try to handle it on my own. Thanks. Both of you. I’d never have dared to face them if it hadn’t been for you.”
Mac and Wallace smiled back at her, looking a little embarrassed at all the praise. Even if she never learned the truth behind the mystery, at least she had these two really great friends. She had her dad and – even if she never had Duncan back, or Logan – as a friend – at least they hadn’t raped her. They were still just two guys, not those faceless monsters who haunted her in her dreams. She’d get through this somehow. Those men wouldn’t win.