CHAPTER 2

"Hey," I heard him say. "Simon sent me a text during fourth hour. He wanted me to ask you if you wanted me to take you to our house after school."

I turned to face him. "Why would you do that for him?"

"He's my little brother," he murmured, running a hand back through his hair. "I have to be nice to him every now and then."

"Okay, sure. Where do you want me to meet you?"

"I'll swing by your locker," he said, and then he walked away.

"Um, bye." I muttered, although he was already out of earshot.

"I wish he'd talk to me!" Ellie complained. "I can't believe you get to ride home with him!"

"It's no big deal," I told her. "He'll just flirt with me and try to get me to cheat on Simon."

"I would kill to have him flirt with me!"

"Yeah, if his intentions were pure." I took a bite of my yogurt. "He's a jerk, Ellie. He doesn't respect anyone. The more time I spend around him, the more I learn that."

"All of his friends seem to love him."

"Well, yeah, because he's the leader. They have to love him."

"Just 'cause you don't like him doesn't mean he's a bad person," she told me.

"It's not so much that I don't like him... it's just I don't like the way he treats Simon."

I gazed across the lunchroom at him. He seemed to glow with confidence. He was the type of guy who never blended with a crowd, something about him that just made him stand out. It was more than just his good looks, it was the way he carried himself.

I spent the rest of the day dreading the car ride home with Jackson. I'd never ridden anywhere with him without Simon, so I was hoping it wouldn't be too awkward. At the end of seventh hour, I went to my locker to wait. Jackson met me after about five minutes. He grinned his usual easy grin and took my books from me.

"Hey, cupcake, how was your day?"

I raised my eyebrows at him and reached for my books. "I can carry those."

"So can I," he said, holding them way over my head.

"If people see you carrying those, they're going to get the wrong idea!" I muttered, looking around to see if anyone was staring.

"Well, think of what it would do for your popularity! Being seen with me will do wonders for your social life."

"My social life is just fine, thank you!" I said huffily. So what if I wasn't the queen bee of the school?! It wasn't as if I was a social hermit. I didn't need Jackson Sutterfield to make friends for me. I tried to get my books one last time, but I was only about 5'4, so he had about eight inches on me. I sighed in defeat and followed him out to his car.

Jackson's right-hand man, Scott Stevens, was leaning against the red Mustang when we got there. Jackson smiled at him.

"Parents are out of town and there's beer in the fridge. Comin' home with me?"

"Hell yeah." Scott gave Jackson a high-five, then glanced over at me. "Who's this little thing?"

I made a face at him and got into the backseat of the car. Scott was nowhere near as good-looking as Jackson, and he was a known sleaze. Why anyone, let alone someone as popular as Jackson, wanted to associate with him was beyond me. Then it occurred to me, he had money... lots of money.

"That's Sophie," Jackson said, after they had both gotten settled in the car. "She's Simon's girlfriend. She's a looker, isn't she?"

"Dammit Jackson!" I hissed. "I'm going to tell Mon (Simon's nickname) that you won't leave me alone!"

He and Scott shared a laugh.

"Ooh, Sophie, you know how terrified I am of my kid brother!"

I crossed my arms and gave him a pissy look. "You really are an ass, you know?"

"He knows, darling." Scott told me. "He just don't care."

I almost gagged. "Don't call me darling." I was silent for the rest of the ride. The two idiots up front went on and on about what "babes" they were gonna have over and what they were going to do with them. The minute we pulled into the driveway, I jumped out of the car and rushed into the house. If I heard Scott say "that's what I'm talking about" one more time I was going to go insane. Simon was on the couch, watching TV.

"Hey Simon!" I went over to the couch and kissed his forehead. "Aw, you're running a fever, huh? Why don't we go upstairs so you can get into bed?"

"Ah, Sophie, always trying to get me into bed." He winked. "Okay, let's go."

"So," Simon began, slipping under the covers. "Did Jackson behave himself the on the way over?"

I nodded. "He mostly just talked to Scott."

"Good. I'm really worried that he's gonna mess with you."

"Don't worry, I can handle myself."

We stayed up in his room for quite a while; I was reluctant to leave since I knew that Scott and Jackson would be lurking in the kitchen. We watched TV for a few hours, and then Simon's phone rang. He sighed.

"It's my mom," he told me, and then he answered. "Hello? Um… Scott and Sophie… Yeah, I know I'm sick; she's taking care of me… no, Mom, we're not doing anything. Good lord. You should be giving Jackson the third degree! You know that I stay out of trouble! Yeah, I'm feeling a bit better… my fever has gone down… I'll definitely be back at school by Monday… Have fun on your cruise, and don't worry about Jackson and I… We'll be good, Mom, I promise… Love you too… Bye." He hung up, shaking his head. "She always thinks you and I are up to no good."

I smiled. "Well, you're so darn charming I'm sure she can't believe I'd be able to keep my hands off you."

He chuckled, then winced. "My throat hurts a little."

"Do you want me to go get you a glass of water?"

"Would you?"

"Sure." I got off the bed and drifted towards the door. "But if Scott do so much glances at me, you owe me back massages for a month."

When I got to the top of the stairs I could already hear the voices of Jackson, Scott, and many other people. Mostly girls, of course. I suppressed a groan and hurried down the kitchen. While I was putting ice in Simon's glass of water, someone came up behind me and put his hands on my hips. I whipped around, ready to ream Jackson's ass. I was surprised, and disgusted, when I found myself face-to-face with Scott. He smelled of beer and sweat and his breath was warm against my cheek. He shut the freezer and then put his hand on me again. I struggled against him, which only made him hold on tighter. I wasn't really sure what he was going to do to me, I knew rape was a little extreme, since there were plenty of girls in the next room who would sleep with him willingly. Being this close to him made me sick to my stomach.

"Scott, what are you doing!?"

"Pretty little thing like you need something more than Simon. Let good old Scott take care of you."

"You sonofabitch, get lost!"

He laughed. "An hour with me and you'll be singing a different tune."

"What the fuck is going on here!? Scott, back off of her! That's my little brother's girl, man, what in the hell are you thinking!?" Jackson shouted. I jumped at the sound of his voice, since I'd known him, I'd never really heard him yell. He got angry, but when he chewed someone out, he always did it in a low, dangerous tone.

"You're the one talking about how you wanna do her, Jackson!" Scott growled, not moving away from me.

"This isn't about me! Let her go!" Jackson advanced on his friend. "I'm drunk, and I'm feeling mean. You don't wanna cross me."

Scott held his ground. I realized if I didn't do something things were going to get ugly very quickly and I was going to be right in the middle of it. Jackson's drunken rage was a thing of legend. I was not a big partier, so I rarely saw him when he was drinking, but when I knew he'd had a few, I kept my distance. Scott's hand crept to my ass, and I poured the glass of ice water all over him. He yelped in surprise and jumped back.

"Bastard," I snarled, heading towards the stairs.

"Sophie!" Jackson called after me.

"Just leave me alone."

He didn't come after me, and I was glad. I wasn't mad at Jackson, but I didn't want to deal with him when he was in such a foul mood. I went back into Simon's room, smoothing out my skirt where Scott had clutched the fabric. Simon was sitting up in bed, and his gaze drifted to my empty hands. I'd forgotten to get him more water after I'd dumped it all over the asshole downstairs.

"Sorry… there was a bit of a problem," I said, sighing.

"What's going on down there?" He asked. "I thought I heard Jackson yelling, I was just getting ready to come down and check on you."

"It was nothing, Jackson just has a few people over and I guess they were just getting rowdy."

"Well, where did the water go?"

"Uh…"

There was a knock on the bedroom door. I prayed that it wasn't Scott.

"Who is it?" Simon asked.

"Jackson."

"Door's unlocked."

Jackson came into the room, looking apologetic. He had a bottle of Nyquil in one hand and a glass of water in the other. "I brought you some cold medicine," he said, moving towards the bed. "Here you go."

Simon smiled slightly. "Did Mom call to tell you to bring me this?"

He nodded. "Um, Sophie, could I borrow you for a second?"

"Yeah, I guess," I muttered, standing up. "Be right back, babe."

Jackson led me down the hall to his bedroom. Even though Simon and I had been dating half a year, I'd never been into his brother's room. His door was always locked and we'd never had reason to go in. I looked around; it was surprisingly clean and organized for someone so unruly. The walls were dark blue and unadorned with the exception of a St. Louis Cardinals poster. His bedspread was blue and white checkered. It didn't match his wild personality, but maybe after a long night of partying he needed a place to just relax.

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