The whore’s movie is coming out soon. He’s seen the trailer sneaks. He’s heard the buzz surrounding the movie. He know she’s going out on tour.
And he knows her schedule.
It’s one thing to go with no makeup to win an Academy Award, but it’s entirely another to go without clothes. Grandmother once lost out to an actress who did just that, of course, back then what was considered risqué is much different than what it is now.
His grandmother would be horrified of what Abby has become.
His anger and frustration of not being able to find his star is starting to bubble over. He decides that the warning letters aren’t enough. He needs something more concrete, more visual. Something that will upset her more than words.
He killed her first husband for her. He can certainly kill the next. And she needs to know it.
He takes a laptop to his shed behind Grandmother’s house, pulls on his gloves, and makes something special just for her—a video of Tommy getting shot, of his head getting blown off in a slow motion movie.
Abby can’t eat. She can’t sleep. She feels like she can barely function. Even though she knows Keatyn is somewhere safe, she misses her daughter terribly. And she feels responsible. She is responsible.
The guilt is overwhelming. And although she hasn’t told anyone, the letters from the stalker haven’t stopped since they sent Keatyn away. In fact, they keep getting worse. Darker, more threatening. He suggests that no one in her family is safe from him.
She has to protect her children.
So she comes up with a plan.
She needs to become the focus of his obsession, not her daughter. So she’s going to offer herself up to him. She’s going out on tour. She’s going to be highly visible.
Garrett and Tommy both have an absolute fit when she tells them she’s going on tour to promote her movie.
“But that’s the movie that set him over the edge,” Tommy argues.
“I can’t stop my career because of a stupid stalker. I won’t!” she says, not taking no for an answer.
She looks at Tommy and at her babies, who are all lined up on the couch with their puppy, watching a movie, and knows what she has to do. She was lucky that Keatyn got away from Vincent at her party. She knows next time, they won’t be so lucky.
So she has no choice.
She’s going to have to leave them.
She just has to let it play out in the press before she does, otherwise, somehow, he will figure out the truth. And if he does, she knows without a doubt that he will kill Tommy.
Vincent knows when Abby will be in New York. And he knows that’s where Lacy has to be. He knows she will see her daughter. This is too important of a job to leave to anyone else. He’s going to New York and he’ll follow Abby himself.
And once he’s reunited with Lacy, the whore must die.
Now that everyone has their dresses, we’re at a department store looking at jewelry, handbags, and shoes.
Katie, Maggie, and Annie rush over to Peyton and me. “I just heard one for the sales girls say that Abby Johnston is here. In THIS VERY STORE! Can you believe that?”
“Um, no, actually, I can’t.” My mom is here? Could that be true? Garrett did say she was taking a trip.
“We’re all going down to the cosmetics department. That’s where she’s supposed to be. We’re going to go stalk her and see if we can get a picture with her.”
Shit. I can’t go see her.
But I want to see her.
God, I want to see her.
They all take off, but Annie turns back around to look at me. I’m still standing here, frozen in my spot.
“Aren’t you coming?”
“Um, you guys go. I lived in LA. Seeing a celebrity isn’t that big of deal to me. I’m gonna go back and get that clutch I saw earlier. I think it would be perfect with my dress for the dance. I’ll meet up with you later.”
She runs off and I slink over to the second floor balcony, where I can see down to the cosmetics and perfume counters. I spot Mom right away. There are two men, Ryan and Craig, in black suits trailing closely behind her. James is not with her, which is surprising. He almost always accompanies Mom when Tommy doesn’t. It makes Tommy worry less.
Which means Mom made James stay with the girls. Which means she’s worried about them.
Which makes me worry.
I watch her stop to try on some perfume. She smiles graciously and takes a photo with a fan. I see my friends wandering through the cosmetics counters.
I pull my phone out and call her.
She puts her phone up to her ear just as Annie and Katie approach her. I watch her hold up a finger to them as she answers.
“Whatever you do, Mom, do not say my name out loud. I go to school with the girls who are standing in front of you. They want your autograph.”
“Yes. I’m hiding behind some clothes on the second floor balcony. I want to see you. Go ahead and sign the autographs. Annie is a huge fan. Then go upstairs to the lingerie department on the fifth floor, grab a couple things to try on, and I’ll be waiting in a dressing room.”
“Sounds good,” she says and hangs up.
I slowly back away from the balcony and almost knock over a rack.
“Can I help you?” a sales clerk asks me.
I jump. Look guilty. “Um, no.” I look at the escalators and decide I’d be better off going the back way. “Where’s the elevator?”
She points a finger toward the back of the store.
I quickly walk to the elevator and take it to the fifth floor. I grab the first four items I see and ask for a fitting room.
I shut the door and drop to the little stool.
I look at my hands. They’re shaking. I’m so excited and nervous to see Mom.
Pretty soon, I hear Ryan speaking. “Yes ma’am, that’s fine.”
“Keatyn?” Mom whispers.
I swing open the fitting room door. She rushes into the room, pulls me into a tight hug, and I immediately start crying.
She smells so good. Like lavender, honeysuckle, and the ocean.
We hug each other tightly and cry for a while before either one of us speaks.
Finally, Mom gently pushes me away and looks at me. “God, I’ve missed you. And look at you. You look grown up. Your outfit is adorable. You put it together yourself, didn’t you?”
I smile and wipe tears from my eyes.
“You were always better at fashion than me. I can’t put anything together without Kym. So you’re just here shopping with your friends?”
“Yeah. I got chosen for Homecoming Court, so I needed a dress.”
“Oh, honey, that’s great! I’m so proud of you! So, you’re doing well?”
“Yeah, I’m doing well. I actually really like school.”
“Does that have something to do with a certain boy?”
I grin, just thinking about him. “Yeah, it probably does. But all of it’s good. I’ve made some great friends. So why are you here in New York?”
“I’m doing a couple morning shows tomorrow and a couple interviews today. Pre-release buzz for To Maddie with Love.”
“How are the girls? I miss them so much.”
She holds up her phone and scrolls through pictures of the girls. I start crying harder. I’ve only been gone a month, but I can already tell they’ve grown.
But then she stops on one that causes me to start laughing through my tears.
It’s Gracie. She’s apparently moved on to cold weather gear from her usual swimsuits, princess gowns, and angel wings. She’s got on fuzzy multi-colored striped tights, ladybug rain boots, the pink tie-dyed tutu I was wearing the first time I met Tommy, and a long-sleeved T-shirt with pink hearts. Her hair is in pigtails and she’s holding a chalkboard with an arrow on it. The arrow is pointing to an adorable fluffy Golden Retriever puppy. The chalkboard has the words, Bad dog written next to the arrow. It’s so funny because the dog looks like an angel and you wonder if the dog should be holding a sign pointing to Gracie that says, Bad girl.
We hear Ryan cough. Then he says, “Abby, we need to get going. You have that interview with Vogue.”
“I can cancel it,” Mom says.
“No, it’s okay, Mom. My friends are going to wonder where I am.”
I hug her one more time.
“I love you, Mom.”
She smooths down the back of my hair and says, “I love you too. You should probably stay in here for a few minutes. Give me a head start so no one sees us together. I know people don’t recognize you, but if we were together, they might figure it out. There are a swarm of photographers out front.”
I sit down and waste ten minutes on Facebook. See Annie’s newsfeed photo of the girls with my mom.
I walk out of the fitting room, go through the lingerie department, and down the escalators. I’m just stepping on the escalator to the first floor when my phone buzzes.
Annie: Meet us on the second floor back by the dresses. Abby came off the elevator and was surrounded fans. We’re trying to get another picture.
Shit. Mom’s not gone yet.
I’m halfway down the escalator when all of a sudden I see Vincent step onto the up escalator.
My heart starts pounding.
I look around, trying to quickly assess the situation.
Trying to remember everything Garrett taught me.
Mom and her security are upstairs. I could go up there. But then my friends would know. Vincent would follow me. It’d be a mess.
Vincent is messing with his phone. His head is down and I pray that he doesn’t look up.
But just as I’m getting ready to pass him, he does.
Vincent is looking at his phone, riding up the escalator. He knows Abby is here based on the paparazzi outside. He just needs to find her. He glances up and sees her.
No security in tow. He reaches out to grab her hand. This is his chance.
Our eyes meet and his widen in shock. His look of shock is quickly replaced with a scary smirk.
He reaches out and tries to grab my hand, but I quickly pull it away.
He leaps up, hops across the escalator, and is now jogging down the stairs after me, yelling, “Abby, wait!”
Why is he calling me Abby?
As I get to the first level, I can see out the front door. Mom was right. There are a mess of photographers waiting for her.
A plan starts to form in my mind.
Can I use them to get away?
It’s the only thing I can think of.
I slip my big black sunglasses off the top of my head and down over my eyes.
I run fast out the front door as Vincent yells out again, practically on cue, “Abby, please wait!”
The cameras start flashing. I rush through them toward the street. They let me through then turn their backs to the store, huddling together.
Which blocks Vincent’s way.
I haven’t been photographed by them for a long time. They only seem to want pictures of cute little kids, not the gangly pre-teen that I used to be.
What used to sort of scare me when I was little seems very comforting right now.
They are protecting me from Vincent.
I put my hand in front of my face as I hear Vincent yell out again. “Abby!”
I turn around and see that he’s working his way through the crowd.
The driver that I hired for the day is parked in the parking garage. There’s no time to call him.
I spy a black town car idling at the curb. I dart toward it and open the door.
As I’m getting in, I hear one of the camera men say, “That’s not Abby, dude. It’s just some chick in a wig pretending to be. They do that sometimes. Send out a fake. A decoy.”
I run my hand through my soft hair wondering how he could have mistaken it for a nasty wig.
I must need a deep conditioning.
The driver yells at me. “I think you’ve got the wrong car.”
Vincent breaks through the crowd and lunges toward the car as I slam the door shut and yell, “Go!”
Vincent grabs for the door handle just as I slam down the lock.
He stops and stares at me through the dark glass.
The driver is telling me to get out of his car. Telling me he’s not going anywhere.
Vincent smirks again and lunges for the front passenger door.
I scream at the driver, “Go! Go! Go! Please just go!” I lean over the top of the passenger seat and slam down the lock.
The driver quickly pulls into traffic and says to me, “I got it. And in case you didn’t notice, we’re going.”
I didn’t realize I was still screaming.
“So where are we going?” he asks. Then he starts rambling. “You know, I could get fired for this. Who was the suit? Did you steal something from the store? I’m not going to get in trouble for transporting a thief, am I?”
I take a deep breath and slip off my sunglasses.
“Whoa,” he says under his breath.
He shakes his head and talks to me in the mirror. “Nothing, but, um, I think now we are being chased by a cab.”
I turn around and see a cab riding our ass. See Vincent in the front passenger seat, pointing toward me.
“Can you lose him?”
He rolls his eyes at me and starts talking to himself. “Can I lose him, she asks? Can I lose him?”
There’s a little space in traffic up ahead of us, so he stomps on the pedal, which causes me to be thrown back in my seat.
“Buckle up, buttercup,” he says, as he cranks up the radio and yells over the noise. “This is just like in the movies. I’m like that dude from Trinity, what’s his name?”
“Tommy Stevens,” I say with a grin. I turn around and see the cab weaving in and out of traffic. “I think they’re still after us.”
We had pulled away from them, but now we’re stuck at a light.
There are lots of people walking in front of us in the crosswalk. We can’t go anywhere.
The cab stops just two cars behind us.
I run scenarios through my brain. What will I do if they wreck us? What will I do if he has a gun and starts shooting? What will I do if aliens crash down in front of us?
I’m ridiculous. I have no idea what I’m going to do.
I close my eyes and try to think of a plan.
“Um, I think the dude just got out of the cab,” the driver tells me.
“What?!” I say, my eyes opening as I rip off my seatbelt and turn to look out the back window.
Vincent has gotten out of the cab in the middle of New York City traffic and is slowly walking toward me.
Not running like you would think he would be.
Or maybe everything just feels like it’s moving in slow motion.
“He’s getting closer!” I yell.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got this,” the driver says. “The light is going to turn green just about . . . now.”
I’m jostled as the driver cuts across traffic, but my eyes never leave Vincent.
Our eyes are locked on each other even though I know he can’t possibly see me through the tinted glass.
He knows I’m looking straight at him. I can feel it.
He mouths Abby then slowly puts his index finger up to his lips and kisses it. Then his hand forms a gun and he shoots the kiss at me.
I want to scream.
I put my hand over my mouth and shudder instead.
Vincent just did what Cush did to me that day at his soccer tournament when he scored. I remember thinking how adorable it was. How he stopped in front of everyone and shot me a kiss. There were no photos of me that day in the batch he sent after he tried to kidnap me, but now I know that he was there then too.
He was everywhere.
He’s chasing Abby in a cab. Yelling at the driver to go faster. To not lose that car. Throwing money at him, begging.
He can’t lose her.
She needs to take him to Lacy.
Their eyes lock. He can feel it, even though the windows of the car she’s in are tinted. But then he realizes that she’s getting away. She can run, but she can’t hide.
He raises his index finger to his mouth, kisses it, then forms a gun and blows it in her direction.
I cross my arms in front of me, grab my shoulders, and give myself a hug.
“I’m sure we lost them,” the driver says, breaking my thoughts. “Even if he gets back in the cab, they will cut over at the next block. But I doubled back the way we came from.”
“Back to the store?”
“Yeah. I have to pick up my ride.”
I realize I’ve been holding my breath and let it out in a whoosh.
“So what’s the deal? You don’t look like a thief. “
“I’m not a thief.”
“So why’s that guy after you?”
“Uh, bad breakup?” I say with a laugh.
But then I keep laughing. Uncontrollably laughing. Then I start laughing and crying at the same time. This guy’s gonna think I’m a lunatic. Probably will turn me over to Vincent himself.
I pull myself together. “I’m sorry. Thanks for getting away from him. You’re like my hero.”
He shrugs his shoulders in an aw-shucks way. “It’s okay. So, what do you do?”
“I’m a dancer,” I say wondering where the hell that lie came from.
He gives me a lascivious grin. “Oh, really? Exotic?”
“No, I’m a Rockette.”
He nods his head at me. “Damn, that’s cool.” He makes another turn and I can see we are back on the street in front of the store. I notice the cameras are gone, which means so is Mom.
I sigh with relief. Not only did I lose Vincent, Vincent lost Mom. He had to have been following her.
I get a call from Garrett.
“Are you okay?” he shouts.
“Yes. I think so.”
“Your mother just called me in a panic. Call her. Then call me back.”
I call her. “Mom!”
“The photographers told me that my decoy and the guy running after her out of the store yelling Abby didn’t work. Tell me that wasn’t you. And please tell me the guy running after you wasn’t Vincent!”
“It was him, but it’s okay. We lost him. I’m fine.”
I smile at my driver. “What’s your name?”
“Allan,” he says.
I say into the phone, “Allan just drove better than Tommy Stevens did in that car chase in Trinity.”
Allan beams at me.
Mom laughs uncomfortably, so I say, “I gotta go. Be safe.”
I hang up and say to the driver, “Do you think you could take me down to that coffee shop?”
I’m a little nervous about going back in the store, just in case Vincent would think to go back there.
“Sure,” he says.
I open my wallet. I have no cash.
Shit. I never have cash. “I want to pay you something, but I don’t have any cash.”
He shakes his head. “You don’t owe me anything. That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Unless, of course, you can get me a part in Tommy Stevens’ next movie. That’s the only thing that could top this.” He pauses. “Speaking of that, you do kinda resemble Abby Johnston. Did that guy mistake you for her?”
“Sorta. He has a thing for her. Thought I looked like her. Used to call me Abby. He’s a little off his rocker. One of those rich guys that thinks he can have anything he lays his eyes on.”
“But he couldn’t get you?”
“Not today, thanks to you.”
He studies my face again. “Yeah, I don’t see it. Like when you had your sunglasses on, you kinda resembled her, but as soon as you took them off, it’s easy to see your eyes are very different.”
“Do you have a card, Allan?”
“Sure.” He pulls a card out and hands it to me.
I read it. “Allan Broadmore, actor. Thanks.”
His phone buzzes with a text. “Obviously, not a full-time actor. That’s my boss. I’ve gotta get back there.”
“I didn’t catch your name.”
“Fun times, Maggie. Maybe I’ll come see your show sometime.”
“That’d be cool. I’ll be the one, um . . . kicking.”
I get out of the car and stand outside the coffee shop.
There’s a text from Annie and the girls asking where I am. I text back and ask them to meet me here.
I take a photo of Allan’s card and send it to Tommy with a text.
Me: Please call this guy and give him a job in your current endeavor. He has excellent driving skills. When you call him, tell him Maggie the Rockette suggested him.
Tom: That’s kind of a weird request, even for you.
Me: He may have just saved my life.
Tom: Hang on, your mom’s calling me.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, trying to slow down the adrenaline coursing through my body.
Then I say a prayer. Thank you for letting me get away. Please keep my mom safe. My family safe.
My phone buzzes.
I open my eyes and look down at it. It’s Tommy.
“Hey,” I say.
“We’re bringing you home. This isn’t working.”
“No, you aren’t. I’m sorry, but you’re not.”
“We can make you.”
“How? I’m emancipated, and I have my own money.”
“Don’t get smart with me.”
“Well, you try getting chased through the streets of New York City by a psycho and see what kind of mood you’re in.”
Tommy laughs just a little. “You know, I did that in Trinity.”
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I love you and Mom, but I love my sisters more. Vincent called me Abby today. He’s different. Worse, I think. Mom’s not safe either. You worry about them, and I’ll take care of me.”
I start to get tears in my eyes as I see my friends walking down the street toward me.
Tommy says, “We’ve got to do something.”
“I agree, but you’ll have to excuse me now, my friends are almost here and I have to go pretend to be a normal teenager.”
Garrett is calling me back, but I don’t answer.
I can’t deal with him right now. I can’t deal with any of them right now.
I have to act normal.
A normal Eastbrooke girl shopping in New York City with her friends.
Just breathe, Keatyn. It will be okay.
“Hey,” Peyton says. “You missed out on all the excitement.”
I actually, really laugh.
They have no idea the excitement I just had.
“I need some coffee,” I say.
What a stupid excuse.
“I need coffee too,” Maggie says. “So what’s up next?”
“We need cute pajamas for PJ day. I know a great lingerie store. Should we go there next?”
“That sounds fun!” Katie says. “I’m thinking I need some new lingerie too.”
“What for?” Maggie asks, nudging Katie with her elbow. “You planning to attack Dallas?”
Katie smirks. “Nope. I’m just going to look so hot that he won’t be able to resist me.”
After we all get coffees, I call our driver and we head to the lingerie store.
We all pick out fun pajamas to wear for PJ day.
“Let’s have a lingerie party tonight,” I suggest. “We’ll drink wine and wear something fabulously sophisticated.”
We have a great time giggling and trying on silky chemises, robes, camisoles, gowns, all sorts of stuff. Annie buys a gorgeous long silky gown.
She says, “Who cares if I didn’t make Court. I’d rather buy a gown like this. I feel like a movie star.”
We shop until we can’t shop anymore then head to my loft.
When I walk in my front door, I instantly feel safe.
While the girls check out the place and claim their bedrooms, I walk into my closet, sit on my chair, and finish my prayer.
Please let this be over soon.
Vincent is back in his hotel room. Even though he’s disgusted with the way Abby has been acting, seeing her in person today reminds him of how beautiful she is. He’s fondling himself thinking about his run-in with her. As he’s about to climax, he pictures her on the escalator and realizes for the first time that it wasn’t Abby.
That’s why there were no guards. It was Lacy. Or Keatyn.
Does it even matter anymore?
He remembers touching her hand. How warm it felt. The exhilaration of seeing her again.
Then he remembers losing her. It was Keatyn. She had been there to see her mom. She’s in New York.
And he needs to let the whore know he’s getting closer.
He doesn’t allow himself to finish, but rather stops what he’s doing to himself, and takes a photo out of his briefcase.
He stares at the photo of Lacy. It’s a still from the video he shot of her coming out of the water in a bikini and blowing him a kiss.
He smiles at her perfection. The way her eyes speak volumes to him.
“I’m sorry to do this to you, Lacy,” he says to the photo. “But it’s going to have to be part of our script.”
He allows the rage that’s been simmering inside since she pulled away to overcome him, and he repeatedly stabs the photo of her.
Then he tucks what’s left of Lacy’s face into an envelope.
He takes a hat out of his suitcase and tucks it under his arm. He walks down the hall and to the stairwell, where he puts on the hat and walks up a flight of stairs.
He slips the envelope under the whore’s hotel room door.
Then he goes down the elevator, catches a cab, and goes back to the hotel where he had checked in under his own name. In the safety of this room, he allows himself to finally have his release.
Katie and I are getting ready for bed when Garrett calls me.
“I just wanted to let you know that your mom cut her trip short and is safely back in Vancouver.”
“Why did she cut her trip short?”
Garrett sighs. “You told me that you want to know everything, right? Even if it’s rough to handle?”
“When she woke up this morning, there was an envelope pushed under her hotel room door.”
“And what was in it?”
“A photo of you. From that day on the beach when you let him take your picture. You were blowing a kiss.”
I shudder remembering the kiss he shot me yesterday and know that the photo was not really meant for Mom.
Is was meant for me.
I try to sound unaffected. “He already sent us that picture.”
“Yes, honey, but this one was different.”
“It was stabbed numerous times with a very sharp object. All that was left intact was your face.”
My stomach lurches and all I manage to say is, “Oh.”
Katie says to me, “Hey, I’m gonna hop in the shower.”
I nod to her, wait for the shower to turn on, and then say to Garrett, “Poor Mom.”
“Poor Mom? Poor you, if he finds you. You need to tell me everything that happened on Saturday.”
I give him the run down.
“So it was a completely chance encounter?”
“Yes. You told me Mom was planning a trip, but you didn’t tell me where she was going. I had no idea.”
“I didn’t tell you because I was afraid you’d try to see her.”
“I’m sorry about the Brooklyn thing, Garrett. I wouldn’t have gone to see her. You know what was really weird though? He didn’t call me Keatyn. He called me Abby. He’s never called me Abby before.”
“He’s getting worse. More out of touch with reality.”
“Did he leave when Mom did? Are you following him?”
“We were. We tracked down his hotel. He might be out of touch with reality, but he’s still not making any mistakes. He didn’t stay at the same hotel as your mom and he had what appeared to be a business dinner tonight. Since neither you or your mom are in the city, I saw no need to continue surveillance. He’s scheduled on a flight to LA tomorrow night at seven. We’ll make sure he’s on it.”
“Even though I know I’m safe here, I’ll feel better when he’s back in California.”
“You and me both.”
Keatyn is back in school when she gets called to the office. She knows Vincent is still in town. Granted, she’s in Connecticut and not New York, but she will feel much safer when he’s back across the country. Even though this scene turned out not to be Vincent, it was scary for her. And it helped Riley and her bond further, firmly cementing their long friendship.
I’m in history class with Riley when I get called to the office. I smile, grab my bag, and figure that Peyton got me out of class again.
When I get to the office though, I don’t see her.
Instead the Dean’s secretary says, “Miss Monroe, the dean will see you now.”
The dean will see me now? Why does the dean want to see me?
What did I do!?
I walk into his office.
Be calm, Keatyn. Don’t look guilty.
The dean looks up from his desk. “Sit down, Miss Monroe. There’s something we need to discuss.”
“Yes, sir,” I say as I fidget with the zipper on my handbag.
“This is a delicate situation,” he tells me. He’s got a little bead of sweat on the upper corner of his forehead, where his hairline just barely recedes.
Is he nervous?
“We pride ourselves on security here at Eastbrooke, but it appears that someone was in our office last night. We believe that your file was accessed.”
My eyes get huge, my thoughts immediately racing to the rehabs that were broken into. To Vincent being in New York City.
Vincent tracked me from New York.
He had me followed, and I didn’t know it.
He knows I’m here.
But if he knows I’m here, if he broke in last night, why didn’t he come and get me last night while I was sleeping?
Didn’t Garrett say Vincent was too smart to do it himself? That he probably hired someone.
Does that mean he’s on his way?
I clear my throat. It’s obvious that the dean expects me to respond. “Were there other files accessed?”
Please say yes.
“It appears to have been just yours.”
I try not to panic.
I need to know what Vincent knows. “What exactly is in my file?”
“The basics. Your school transcripts. Current class schedule. Parking pass. Dorm assignment. And, well, the financial arrangements regarding your tuition.”
That’s why he broke in. He knows I’m here, but he needs to know what dorm I’m in. Tonight, he’s coming to get me. Or maybe he’s waiting for me inside my car. Hiding in the backseat, waiting for me to drive off, then he’ll overtake me. Or maybe he wanted me to know he found me. Maybe he’ll make me wait. Make me crazy with wonder as to when he’s coming. Maybe he’s playing with me. Garrett said that stalking is all about control.
What am I going to do? Where am I going to go? I just started building a new life here.
“Thank you for letting me know, sir. Is there anything else?”
“No, we just needed to make you aware of the situation. Particularly since your financial data may have been compromised.”
“Thanks,” I say.
He has no idea. He’s worried about money. About getting sued.
I’m worried about someone grabbing me and never being seen again. I grab the locket around my neck and pray that whatever they installed in it actually works.
I think I’m going to need it.
“You should probably take a few minutes to check your account and then head back to class,” the dean says as he shoos me out of the relative safety of his office.
My mind is reeling.
I imagine Vincent waiting for me outside.
I remember Garrett telling me to go where people are.
I can’t go to my dorm room. He could be there. I can’t go to class. He knows my schedule. I have to be unpredictable. I have to do something he couldn’t have planned on.
I stand outside the school office, trying to think.
“Earth to Keatyn.”
“What?” Riley is standing in front of me. Big, strong Riley. The boy who said I’d need protecting.
“Did you get in trouble?”
“What? Oh, uh, no.”
He wraps his arm around me. “Then what’s wrong? You’re shaking. Is your family okay?”
My eyes get tears in them. I don’t know what to do.
Riley sees that I’m about to start crying.
“Come on, let’s go talk.” He tries to drag me down the hall.
“No! Wait!” I yell.
“Why? Tell me what’s got you so upset.”
“Just give me a minute!”
Think, Keatyn. Don’t stay in this building. Don’t go to dorm. Your car is out. Lots of people.
But then I think about the crazy people that come into classrooms with guns. No classrooms. I need to hide.
I remember Garrett telling me that Hawthorne House was next to my dorm. That it housed most of the school’s athletes. That I should go there if I was ever in trouble.
“Can we go to your room?”
Riley grins and raises an eyebrow at me sexily. “Baby, I thought you’d never ask.”
I don’t laugh at his joke. “I, uh, don’t want anyone to know. Can we sneak down there? Go the back way or something?”
“It’s gonna be a secret affair, huh? You want me to tie you up?”
My face goes a shade whiter. I think about what was in the van. Imagine being tied up in the back of it.
Riley looks at me closely. “Okay, you’re scaring me.”
“I’m sorry. I just . . .” I can’t even come up with a lie. I’m stuck in one spot. I thought if he ever came and got me, found me, I’d be all badass and fight him, but I’m not a badass. I’m a scared, freaked-out mess.
I’m paralyzed with fear.
Snap out of it and make a decision, Keatyn.
I look at Riley. He’s got on a hoodie over the tie-dyed shirt he’s wearing for 70s day today. “Can I have your jacket?”
He pulls it off and hands it to me. I put it on and pull the hood up over my head. I look over and see the big Lost and Found box. There are a pair of Cougar Athletics sweatpants lying right on the top. I grab them and pull them on over my skirt and fringed cowboy boots.
“What are you doing? You’re acting very strange. Are you on something?”
“What? No. I’m . . . I, uh, just thought that I shouldn’t walk in your dorm looking like a girl. It’s a disguise.”
“When we get there, you are going to tell me what the hell is going on.”
I nod my head and pull on his arm. The second bell already rang for the next period, so the hallways are empty. I peek around a corner to look outside. To survey the area. To see if Vincent or any other stranger is lurking there.
“Let’s sneak down by the trees.”
“No way. If we look like we’re doing something wrong, we’ll get caught. We’re walking straight down the pathway to the dorms. If anyone asks what we’re doing, we’ll say getting a paper out of my room, for class.”
I’m beyond logic but that sounds good. “Give me your sunglasses.”
“A hoodie, sweats, and sunglasses. Are you afraid Dawson will find out? I swear, I’ll never tell.”
He’s trying to make me laugh, I know.
But it’s not working.
We safely get to his dorm room without running into anyone.
I shut the door, slump against it, then slide down to the floor.
Riley kneels down next to me. “Okay. Tell me what the hell is going on.”
“Just give me a minute, okay? I need to think.”
I open the file copy the dean gave me and look through it. Look for any link between me and my old life.
A school I didn’t go to. A fake transcript from a fake school but with my actual classes and grades.
A fake mailing address for my fake parents in France.
My schedule. My activities. My parking pass.
The account that my tuition comes out of from the bank in Atlanta.
Nothing to connect me to my old life.
Except the picture on my school ID. If he saw that, he’d know it’s me.
I look up at Riley and tell him as much of the truth as I can. “Someone was in the school office last night and accessed my file. Only my file.”
“Why are you so upset about that? Jeez, I thought someone died or something.”
I think about me being the one to die.
“I just feel a bit violated, I guess. Why would someone do that?”
Please let there be a viable alternative to Vincent.
“Maybe it was just a prank?” Riley guesses.
I shake my head. “Why?”
He snaps his finger. “Maybe it was Whitney. Jake said that she was pissed about Peyton going shopping with you. About her weekend.”
“Whitney? Why would she do that?”
“Because she’s a bitch and she hates you. Maybe she was looking for dirt.” He grabs my printout. “Any dirt in here? Did you get kicked out of your last school? Do you have an illegitimate child? An affair with a teacher? Been to rehab?”
I listen to him rattle off all the fake life ideas my family came up with.
I throw my arms around him and hug him tightly. “Thanks for being my friend.”
He hugs me back, which causes me to start crying.
“Are you on the rag? What’s with all the tears?”
“I’m not sure.” I laugh.
He starts reading my file. “Wow. This is scandalous.”
“What is?” What did I miss?
“You got a B. Seriously?” He scans the pages. “You’ve only had one B in your life?”
I shrug. “Yeah.”
“Brains and beauty. It’s a deadly combination. No wonder my brother is crazy about you.”
“Do you see anything else that might come back to haunt me?”
“Well, you should probably call your bank and check your account. I bet that’s why the dean was freaking out. They have your whole account number on here. They aren’t supposed to do that.”
I nod at him. I know just the banker to call.
“You’re right. Let me call my financial guy real quick.”
I get out my cell and press Garrett’s number.
He answers. “Are you okay?”
“For the moment, yes. But I just got called to the dean’s office. Someone accessed my personal information last night. Only my information.”
Garrett is quiet. I wonder if the call dropped. “Are you still there?”
“Yes. I’m thinking. This sounds a lot like the rehabs.”
“That’s what I thought.”
I internally panic. Even Garrett thinks it’s him.
I let out a little cry.
Riley looks at me with concern. “What happened? Is your account okay? Is their fraud on it?”
“Who are you with?” Garrett asks.
“A friend. My file has my full bank account number in it.”
“I’m putting you on hold. Give me just a second. Do you feel safe right now?”
“Yes, and I’ll wait.” I point to the phone and tell Riley, “I’m on hold.”
“Tell me what’s really going on.”
Should I tell him? Can I trust him?
What I need to do is leave school. Now.
Get on a train to nowhere.
Garrett comes back on the line. “Your school has excellent security measures in place. Did he say the school was breeched or just the office?”
“Just the office, I think.”
“Keatyn, take a deep breath. Calm down for a minute. I’m almost positive that this was not Vincent.”
I turn to Riley. “Riley, will you excuse me, please?”
I walk out his door and down the hall.
“He was in New York City, Garrett. What if I didn’t lose him? What if I just thought I did? What if he followed me here? What if he didn’t know where to find me on campus and broke into the office to find out my dorm number. And what if he’s just waiting for me?”
“The timing is troubling and no security system is infallible. That and the rehabs getting broken into is too much of a coincidence to ignore. I’m sending a car for you. I want you out of there until we can locate Vincent. Until we’re certain it wasn’t him.”
“How long will that take?”
“About an hour.”
“An hour? Are you fucking kidding me? What happened to We’ll send in the cavalry? I thought if something happened to me, there’d be people here right away.” All of a sudden, it hits me. “There is no cavalry. You’re relying on the necklace, aren’t you?”
“Don’t bother sending a car. I’m going off campus, and I’m leaving the damn necklace here.”
“Keatyn, don’t. Don’t do anything stupid . . .”
“I’m not. I’m doing something smart. I’m getting the hell out of here.”
I hang up, go back to Riley’s room, take off my necklace, and lay it on his dresser.
Riley grabs me. “I want the truth. You’re shaking and scared to death. I can see it in your eyes.”
“The truth is I need to leave campus. Now.”
He shakes his head. “No way I’m letting you drive. I don’t know what’s going on, but you are in no shape to drive.” He gets on his cell. “Hey, Mom, can you call school and tell them I’m headed off campus? Yeah, everything’s fine. I just need to help out a friend. Tell them I have a dentist appointment. Thanks, Mom.” He nods at me and grabs his keys. “Let’s go.”
I get outside the dorm and feel completely exposed. Like I’m naked at the Super Bowl.
“Run!” I yell.
He grabs my hand and we sprint to his car. I dive into the backseat.
“I’m not checking out,” I tell him. “I don’t want anyone to know I’m gone.”
He starts his car, drives down to the entrance, checks out, and drives through the gates.
“Where do you want to go?” he asks.
I want to go see my mom and Tommy, I think.
Which causes an idea to pop into my head. “The movies,” I say. “Let’s go see a movie.”
I’ll hide out in the dark all day then call Garrett later to find out if Vincent got on his flight home.
I decide to text him.
Me: I’m sorry I yelled at you, but I assumed that if I needed help it would be there instantly. I know logically that’s not feasible. Please don’t call my mom. I don’t want to worry her. I left school with a friend. I didn’t sign out, so they don’t know I’m gone. I’m sure I’ll get in trouble later for skipping, but that’s the least of my worries. Please let me know if Vincent gets on his flight.
Garrett: I’m glad you left. I sent a man to his hotel, and he’s not there. It also appears that he did not spend the night.
Me: So he could have been here? He still might be here.
Garrett: Yes. Where are you?
Me: I’m going to the movies. Not the theaters by school. We’re driving to another town in my friend’s car. Mine is still at school. I hid in the backseat, so if anyone was watching, they wouldn’t have seen me.
Garrett: I’m very impressed with your quick thinking. I’ll keep you updated.
About twenty minutes later, Riley stops the car and says, “In case you’re wondering, we weren’t followed.”
I climb into the front passenger seat, but leave his sunglasses on and the hood up.
He looks at me seriously. “Let’s go inside. Then you’re going to tell me what has you so scared.”
I buy tickets to Mom and Tommy’s latest release. We go inside the theater, but since the movie doesn’t start for almost an hour, we sit on a bench out front.
“Okay,” he says.
I blow out a breath of air. “Remember my meltdown that day in my room?”
“My parents moving to France wasn’t the only reason I came here.”
“You did mention something about a guy.”
“I had a relationship, um, go bad.”
“Go bad? Like abusive? You don’t seem like you would put up with that shit.”
I shake my head. God, I hate lying to him.
Close to the truth, Keatyn. Close to the truth.
“I would never stay with a guy who hurt me. This was, um—look, you have to promise, swear to me, that you won’t tell anyone this—not even your brother.”
“I swear, baby.” He holds out his pinkie.
I laugh. Take it in mine and swear.
I close my eyes and think. About Vincent. About his grabbing my arm on the escalator. How I got away from him. How I know he’s found me.
But I have to tell him something. I may not ever be able to go back to school.
I may have to just up and leave like I did at home. I wouldn’t get to see Dawson anymore. Or Riley. Or my friends.
I’d be alone again.
I can’t help it. My body involuntarily shudders and tears start streaming down my face.
Riley wraps his strong arm around me, pulls me into his chest, and whispers, “You’ll feel better if you tell me. I need to know if I’m going to help you.”
I can’t look at him. I keep my head buried in his chest and start talking. “My mom has this, um, ex-boyfriend. And he sorta was stalking me.”
“Yes. Following me around when I didn’t know it. Coming to my soccer games. Showing up at restaurants I was at. He was even taking pictures of me.” Even though I’m lying about who Vincent is, I’m telling him a lot of the truth. And it feels good—like it did that day with Aiden in the chapel, so I keep going. “He was older, good looking, and he flirted with me. When I met him, I didn’t know he was, um, my mom’s ex-boyfriend.” I sit up and take a deep breath. This part isn’t a lie and it’s the part I’m most embarrassed about. “I was flattered by his attention. I was so stupid, Riley. I always thought I was a good judge of character but I’m not.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“He tried to kidnap me at my seventeenth birthday party. It was supposed to be this magical night. You should have seen my shoes. And my dress. He showed up. I think he caused a commotion. Then he grabbed me. I tried to fight, but he was strong. He was dragging me toward an exit.” I suck in a big breath of air. “He was opening the exit door when I got away. There was a van outside the exit that he was taking me to. Inside the van they found zip ties and drugs. He was going to. To . . . I don’t know for sure, but people think that it wouldn’t have ended well for me.”
“Was he arrested?”
“For about two seconds. There was no proof he did anything wrong. The van was a stolen rental. It was my word against his. And my word didn’t mean much since I invited him to the party because I didn’t know. After they released him, he sent some pictures he had been taking of me to my mom. He wanted her to know that he could hurt me anytime he wanted. At one point, he even put a note in my little sister’s backpack. That’s how close he got to her. I left mostly to keep them safe.”
“Even if they couldn’t prove the attempted kidnapping, stalking is illegal. Why isn’t he in jail?”
“Stalking is really hard to prove and it didn’t help that I thought we were friends. I had dinner with him one night. Let him videotape me on the beach. We couldn’t even get a restraining order. My family moved to France. I came here.”
“So that’s why you didn’t have a Facebook and why you only had like four numbers in your phone?”
“Yes. I just had to leave. Only a few people know what happened. There were rumors at my old school that my parents sent me to rehab. Not long after, the three rehab facilities—where people said I’d gone—were broken into. Their files accessed.”
Riley’s eyes get big. “And here, your file was accessed. Wow.”
“That’s why I’m freaking out. I know he’s found me.”
Riley shakes his head. “No. It’s not him. If it was, he would have broken into your dorm last night and surprised you.”
“You’re probably right. I don’t think he would have waited. But maybe he needed time to plan. Maybe he wasn’t sure I was there. Maybe he sent someone to break in. Either way, now he knows.”
“I keep going back to Whitney. I’m telling you, that girl is evil. I think she was looking for dirt.”
“I’m not worried about her. Hell, I used to be her. Kinda. At my old school.”
“You were Queen Bitch?”
“No. That job was taken by my best friend. But I could be mean sometimes. I got caught up in the whole popularity thing and I really didn’t like the person I was becoming. I swore to myself that when I came here that I wouldn’t be popular. That I would never sit at the popular table in the cafeteria.”
“And my brother has been dragging you straight to that table, hasn’t he?”
“Yeah, but I’ve realized it’s not the table that matters. Just because I sit there, doesn’t mean I have to be like Whitney.”
“You are nothing like her. So follow along with my reasoning here. We have major security at school. If this guy broke into the office, he had to get on the campus first. Our campus is extremely secure. If someone broke in, got past the guards, the whole school would have been on lockdown. That’s why I think it was done by someone who was already at school.”
What he says actually makes sense, but I’m not convinced. “I hope you’re right.”
“Come on, our movie is about to start. Let’s get some popcorn.”
We eat popcorn and I get to spend a couple of hours with my mom and Tommy.
Dawson: Where are you? I heard you get called to the office. Is everything okay?
I have similar texts from most of my friends.
“What am I going to tell them, Riley?”
“Maybe you should tell them the truth.”
“You won’t tell me the truth about Homecoming and why you got kicked out of school.”
“That’s cuz it’s embarrassing. Epic, but embarrassing.”
“It’s been two years.”
He give me a big dramatic sigh and then says, “Fine, I’ll tell you. So, freshman year, I come to school thinking I’m the shit. I’d had sex a few times that summer and felt like I was joining my brothers for what was going to be four years full of nothing but girls and sports. So Homecoming weekend rolls around. By this time, I’ve been with two older girls at school, which has done nothing but up my cockiness.
“You know, the Cave has traditionally been a place that only juniors and seniors get to go to. I talked Cam into letting me come to a party with him. He handed me a flask and told me to find someone to share it with. I shared it with this gorgeous junior. Maybe it was the combination of the fact that I was pretty big for my age and the alcohol we’d shared, but I had her convinced that I was Cam and Dawson’s older brother and a college freshman. That even though I had gone to a different school, my parents made me come to support my brothers.
She bought that and proceeded to tell me how she hated that her dad came to Homecoming. How she hated him showing her his old stomping grounds and telling her long, boring stories. She also mentioned she hated her dad, although I forget why. Then she told me she had the perfect revenge. She dragged me to every place he took her that night. The bleachers at the football stadium where he played in the band was the first place we had sex.
“There were about four more places, many of which I only vaguely remember. Which is a surprise because I remember thinking she needed to shut the fuck up about her dad because dads are sort of like cock-blocking.
“We drank more, lost our clothes, and screwed our way around school.
“One of the things her dad was the most proud of was the alumni band float. He always helped plan it. Came in early to work on it. Had even designed that year’s and would be riding on it.
“All I remember is her being really pissed at that point. About her telling me this was the place she wanted to defile. How awesome it would be to watch her dad ride on the float we’d done so many dirty things on. That’s all I remember until I was woken up that morning by her father, who had come down with some other band alumni to make some last minute adjustments to the float.”
“We were both completely naked and passed out on the float. The float was half trashed and I was in a whole lot of trouble. They threw us each a coat and dragged us to the dean’s office.”
“Talk about a walk of shame,” I say with a giggle.
He nods at me and continues. “I was somewhere between still drunk and majorly hung over. And if getting caught wasn’t already embarrassing enough, our parents sat in while the dean questioned us. By this time, most of our clothes had been recovered and turned in by various people. Granted, in retrospect, the girl was obviously pretty messed up and had some serious daddy issues but I was drunk and horny enough not to consider that at that time.
“She started crying. Thinking she’d get out of it that way. She told them all how I got her drunk and took advantage of her. When they seemed skeptical, she pulled out what she thought was her get out of jail free card. She told them that I was a nineteen-year-old college freshman and that she was underage. That I forced her. The dean stopped and looked at me. Sized me up. Glanced back at my dad. My dad and the dean were in the same graduating class, and I think they have plenty of their own stories because the dean sort of smirked at the girl when he informed her that I was actually a freshman at Eastbrooke.
“She just started going psycho. Yelling at her dad. Screaming at the dean. At me. She tried to attack her dad.
“My parents dragged me out of the room and told me they were extremely disappointed.
“My mom marched off, but Dad slapped me on the back and said, You know you’re going to be expelled.
“I was like, Really?
“And then he told me that was the best story he’s ever heard and how he hated her dad’s pompous ass.”
I’ve been trying to hold in the laughter, but I can’t anymore.
“See, you’re laughing.”
“Because it’s funny. My story isn’t funny-embarrassing it’s more scary-embarrassing.”
“At the time, it was pretty embarrassing. Can you imagine sitting in the dean’s office hung over as fuck, listening to the dean explain in detail your being naked on a float. I couldn’t even find my pants. I was half frozen.”
“I’m glad you told me your story, but I really don’t want to tell people mine. Maybe in a few years when it’s not so fresh. And if I’m still alive.”
“You really think he wants to kill you?”
“I think he will keep me for a while. But eventually, yes, I think he would.”
“So we’ve seen three movies and I’ve eaten two tubs full of popcorn, two boxes of candy, and three slushes. Do you think we can go back?”
I check my phone for the time. It’s after six o’clock. Vincent’s flight doesn’t leave until seven, but he should be there by now.
I text Garrett.
Me: Any word?
Garrett: He’s at the airport.
Me: Oh, good. That’s a relief.
Garrett: I’ll let you know when he’s on the plane.
“Am I going to get in trouble at school for skipping?”
“I think if you do, you should say you were upset about what the dean told you. That you left to handle some financial stuff. To check your account or something.”
“That’s a good idea. Can we go in the mall for a bit before we go back?”
“Are you dragging me to the shoe department?”
“We can go wherever you want. Do you want to look at clothes for you?”
“Not really. Let’s go with the shoes. They seem to make you happy.”
“That they do.”
I try on a bunch of shoes, buy a couple new pairs, and am paying for them when I get a text from Garrett.
Garrett: He boarded the plane, and we watched them close the doors and pull away from the gate. I really don’t think he knows where you are, Keatyn. If he did, he wouldn’t be going back to LA.
Me: That makes me feel a little better. But you said he’s a planner. What if he went back there to plan? What if he knows you’re watching him?
Garrett: What do you think?
Me: I don’t think he would wait.
Garrett: Me either, but still be cautious. Pay attention to your surroundings. Listen to your gut. If you feel danger, get somewhere safe. Just like you did this time. And please put the locket back on.
Me: I will.
I grab my packages and we head back to school.
When Riley drops me off at my dorm, he tells me, “I’m sleeping in your room for the next few nights, just to be safe.”
“I think I’ll be fine. He might have hired someone to break in, but I think the rest of it, he’ll want to do himself. And he just got on a plane back to LA.”
“Still, I’m sleeping in there.”
“Riley, he’s strong.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’d have the element of surprise. He wouldn’t expect a guy to be in there. What are we going to tell Katie?”
“We don’t have to say anything to Katie. That girl sleeps like a rock. Dawson has come over a couple times and she never even knows he’s been here.”
When Riley sneaks in my room a bit after midnight, he lays down on my fluffy rug.
“Riley, just come up here and sleep with me. I feel bad you’re on the floor.”
“Don’t feel bad. I love this rug. I just want to keep petting it, and I so want to do Ariela on this rug. That’s how you can pay me back. Lend me the rug.”