Jeremiah Quick
herself
tighter against him, trying to escape the pain.
    She wanted to hit him, but knew if she
tried, she'd fall down, so she just stood there and concentrated on
breathing and silence and not-hitting him.
    After a few minutes she forgot about not
speaking, and sucked in a breath –
    "Shh," he said. "There's still twenty more,
you know."
    The horror of this made her bury her face in
his shirt for a minute, hitching in fast little breaths, but then
she remembered they were his fucking rules. No way would she
survive it. And absofuckinglutely no fucking way would she survive
it quietly. She took in another breath with the intention of
speaking, and he must have been waiting for it, because the next
thing she knew he'd spun her around so her whole back was on fire
against his shirt, and his hand was clamped over her mouth.
    "No voice," he growled against her ear, and
she felt the teeth in his breath and his words. "There have to be
rules to so you can fail and be punished. And the punishment has to
be awful so you try hard to follow the rules. You always liked that
I wanted to teach you things. Your eyes would widen and then light
right up when you realized I was fucking right and They were
fucking wrong, and that you got it , and then you always
wanted to know more. Because you never wanted to be one of Them,
and you knew it, since you were a child. I validated the little
voice inside of you that wanted to scream about how none of it,
ever, made any sense. I gave you understanding. I fucking taught
you critical thinking. I deserve a medal, for fuck's sake, for
being able to teach something of value to a spoiled little girl
named Pretty.
    "Because here's the thing… you knew there
was a whole lot of everything about your world that didn't make
sense. And yet… you accepted the free car, and accepted the free
ride to college, so long as you got home by curfew, and you were
mommy and daddy's good little rich girl for far longer than you
should have been. And when Chill blew his fucking brains out
because he was so fucking lonely, did you give a shit, little
Miss-got-it-so-goddamned-fucking-easy? Did you?"
    Pretty heard everything he said, and he was
right, he was so right, and she knew she was spoiled and something
within her cringed. But it wasn't till he said that about Chill
that she managed to react. She jerked her head from side to side,
trying to escape the hand still clamped across her face, and when
he didn't let go, she bit him. He jumped and swore and did let go
then, and she took the opportunity to shove herself away from him,
backing up on wobbly legs until she could boost herself onto the
table. Her instinct about the letters, Chill so lost and lonely,
asking for a friend. That. Just that. She’d ignored him, and worse,
thought badly of him for his need. But it wasn’t her fault. It
wasn’t. It wasn’t. She couldn’t have saved him, even if she wanted
to, right?
    Only maybe she could have. Maybe she was the
most spoiled, most self-centered person ever and there could never
be redemption.
    She shook her head from side to side,
letting her eyes plead with Jeremiah, but it wasn’t enough, she had
to speak, despite the consequences. "No. Jeremiah, no. Say it isn’t
true. Please."
    His whole face looked hollow for the next
minute, especially his eyes.
    "You'll take ten more, for Chill?"
    "I'll take twenty, if you promise me it
isn't true."
    He stared at her.
    And something slipped in his face then, his
eyes, something that revealed an even bigger truth that Pretty
didn't want to see – an ugliness too terrible for her to even know
what to call it. But whatever that ugliness was, it screamed at her
that one of them needed saving. But would he save her, or would she
save him?
    Because she knew somehow, right then, there
would be no saving each other.
    It felt like he stared at her for a hundred
years, before he shook his head.
    "Sorry, Sunshine, no can do."
    She sighed, sagged, and let her hand rest on
the table

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