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He promised to protect me, to come find me after he had talked to Hunter. He said he would take me away so we could be alone. I couldn’t help but think this was all such a good idea. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard Aria’s voice warning me that it was dangerous.

“You look like you’re waiting for someone,” said a voice.

I turned to see Hunter come toward me. I didn’t even know which way he had come from, having been so transfixed on watching Elias walk away.

“It’s dangerous,” he said. Then his smiled thinly. “Are you here to tell me off? Because, darling, that would be one of the worst things you could do. Well, worse than what you’re already doing.”

“I didn’t even know you’d be lurking,” I muttered, staring at the floor now.

“Don’t be shy.” He gripped my jaw again and stared at me, his blue eyes piercing. “I just want to make sure you’re not going to back out of our little agreement. I told you that if you did I would expose you.”

I took hold of his hand and pried it from my face, glaring at him. I rubbed my jaw and wondered whether or not it would be bruised tomorrow. He was still looking at me.

“What?” I snapped. “What the fuck did I ever do to you?”

His smile faded, then, and it was replaced by a frown; it was unusual to see on someone who prided themselves on blackmail and seemed so angry all the time. I opened my mouth to ask him what was wrong when he put his hand up.

“Look, it’s nothing personal,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not like I’m trying to be an asshole about this. This isn’t about you, Tate.”

His words processed slowly, especially the last bit.

“I’m going to need you to be quicker on the uptake,” he said, smirking. “It’s not that hard to understand. I pretty much spelled it out for you.”

“It’s not…sorry…I’m just not getting this.”

He rolled his eyes.

“No.” I tried again. “I get what you said. But why I don’t get is why. What does Elias have to do with this?”

“Consider this my payback to the bastard,” Hunter bit out, his eyes dark with rage. He was staring down the hallway closest to us.

My insides squirmed with uneasiness. I edged closer to him and put my hand against his cheek. He seemed to calm down, staring down at me; his hair fell into his eyes and he shook his head again. He didn’t look so scary anymore -- just vulnerable.

“What did he do?” I whispered.

“It’s okay,” he said, reaching up to touch my hand. His own was surprisingly warm against mine. “I’ll be okay.”

“I want to know,” I said.

He chuckled softly and used his other hand to brush the hair from my eyes. This small action ignited a flutter of images inside my brain. I frowned at him.

“You’re lying.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Am I? For all you know I could be as psychotic as people say. That’s your problem, Stewart, you’re ready to accept everything at full without question or concern. Well you should be concerned about him.”

“Psychotic?” I murmured. “But you just started here, like me.Why would anyone think that?”

He smiled, stepped away from me, and urged me to follow him. We walked toward the courtyard, which I was grateful for, because that’s where I had been headed. Once we were outside underneath the shade of the trees, he started to tell me his secret.

“Before he started here, Elias Mills was a teacher at my sister’s school. Hayley always had a hard time making friends because she always thought a little differently than everyone else. When she came home one day in a good mood, my mom and I were happy. We thought she met someone nice. We didn’t know she had developed a crush on a teacher.”

I stared at him, eyes wide. I shifted on the bench I sat on while he stared pacing. He said it helped him think.

“Anyway, when we found out who it was that had her so infatuated, my mom told Hayley to stop it. She said it wasn’t normal. But Hayley refused. Pretty soon her grades were slipping and she was skipping class to be with him. My dad found out and went ballistic. He went down to the school and got into a fight with Mr. Mills. He told him if he ever wanted to stay working in a school that he would pull Hayley from his class.”

I watched Hunter’s shoulders tremble as he looked at me, his eyes were glassy. When he whirled around and slammed his fist into the brick wall behind us, I flinched. He didn’t bother nursing his bloody hand as continued in an even voice, but it was starting to betray him.

“Elias claimed he didn’t do anything, that what Hayley was exhibiting was just a need to reach out and connect with another person. He said he didn’t mind that, that she was a sweet girl and she just wanted someone to listen to her.”

He sat beside me and touched his hand, wincing. He wiped his eyes with the back of his good hand and reached for mine, squeezing my fingers. I didn’t pull away.

“He had the fucking nerve to say that we didn’t pay attention to her.” There was a hitch in his words, like he was going to cry. “Maybe if we did we’d have seen what he did to her.” He caught my eye. “Not physically. He never touched her. But mentally and emotionally, he wrecked her naïve fourteen-year-old mind, and one day she just couldn’t take it anymore.”

I wound my fingers in his hair and stroked it lightly. Part of me wanted him to finish the story, but another part was terrified to hear the end. He turned his eyes on me and something more than pain flashed in them -- he felt remorse, anger, and rage over what happened. His next words stopped anything I was going to say or do.

“Tate, my sister killed herself because of that man. I want to make sure he gets what’s coming to him."

The End

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