Chapter Summary: "I need a dollar, dollar, dollar is all I need! Hey, hey!" But Latricia didn't say anything about that! She just said come, and I came... over. I came over. And that still didn't save Grace. No, it only made it worse. WARNING: Domestic violence. Coercion. Lots of it.


I got the call.

Not that night.

Not the next night.

I got it today.

"Hello," I said.

My phone said 'Grace Park.'

I had put her number in my contacts list: her name was easy enough to spell.

But I didn't say 'Hello, Grace?'

Because what if it weren't her?

It weren't.

Wasn't. I mean 'wasn't.'

"So," Latricia's voice was businesslike. "Have you been thinking about it?"

"Thinking about what?" I said, trying to recover that it wasn't Grace calling me after all, not even getting Latricia's question.

As if there were anything to get.

Latricia tsked.

"When you were over my place last week," Latricia said patiently, "I asked you if you wanted Grace to lick your pussy. Have you been thinking about that at all? Like I do, all the time?"

"Uh ... what?"

This was all going too fast, and was way too weird. I mean: seriously? You ever have a conversation like that?

Latricia sighed. "I'll let that one sink in for ya. And while you're putting the words together in your head, I'll text you links to two of my vines, I want you to watch them and then call me right back. I give you two minutes."

"Excuse me!" I demanded angrily, "how the hell do you get off telling me what to do?"

"I'm not," Latricia said.

"Oh, really?" I retorted.

"No," Latricia said evenly, "I'm not. I'm saying Grace's fate is in your hands."

"Huh? What?" I said, totally confused.

"Watch the vines," Latricia said. "Call me back in two minutes. If you don't, that's what happens to Grace, and more. If you do call me back ... well, we go from there."

"What the ..." I began angrily.

Latricia cut me off.

I glared furiously at my phone. The nerve! I thought.

And then a text came through. It had two links in it.

I put my phone down and thought about this.

I was totally playing Latricia's game, and I hated that. I felt tempted to cut off my phone. 'Oh, text? What text? My battery just died. Really.'

But that was a lie and a half. I couldn't even say it convincingly to myself, never mind Latricia.

And what if Grace asked about it, afterward? Would I straight-up be able to say that to her?

Grace's fate is in my hands.

I didn't like that. I didn't like that at all. But that's what Latricia had said to me. And I knew she meant it. The last time things didn't go Latricia's way, Grace was out of school for two days. What would happen to Grace this time?

I sighed and clicked on the first link.

It was their kitchen, or, more specifically, Latricia's kitchen table, I guessed, as it looked like her place. Grace was tied down, spread over it, her bare feet touching the linoleum floor, her face down. She was naked and gagged.

And she was in agony.

Her ass was a bright cherry red, and sweat poured down her face and sides.

Latricia stood over her, dressed casually in a white tee shirt and blue jeans, and she held a folded-over leather belt in her hand. She was sweating, too, breathing heavily.

She raised up the belt, and brought it down on Grace's ass with all her might, and if there were sound to the video, I imagined the belt hitting her ass would've been a thunderclap, and I winced in sympathy.

Grace didn't. Her whole body shook, and she threw her head up fully off the table. She screamed and screamed and screamed into her ball gag.

And then scene reset and repeated, over and over and over again.

It was a vine, so it was six seconds long, and captured that instant of agony, serving it on a loop, forever.

I cut it off. My hands were trembling. Actually, my whole body was. I never knew anybody could take that much agony that I saw Grace suffering. I never thought anybody could be so cruel as to give it, as Latricia did.

My hands shook as I picked the next vine.

I didn't think it could worse.

I was wrong, I guess.

Grace, still strapped down, her ass on fire, but it was like she was dead. She head was resting on the table, facing the camera. The ball gag had been removed, but her eyes, although opened, had no life in them.

At all.

Latricia had obviously been working on Grace for a while.

And Latricia stood behind Grace, still in the tee, now soaked, so she was obviously not wearing a bra, and her nipples were as hard as diamonds. She had stripped off her jeans and was wearing a pair of boy-shorts, not panties, but that didn't catch my attention.

She had a strap-on harness, and attached to the front, right over her pussy, was the biggest black cock I had ever seen, glistening in the bright, harsh kitchen light. It was easily twice as long as my brother's, and yes, I had seen it, things ... happen, you know, when you live under the same roof, and you have to go to the bathroom, and Da5id didn't even close the door, much less lock it, and there it was for me to see.

Da5id's dick, like, okay, was the opposite of magnificent. It was more like four or so inches, and no, I didn't measure it, okay, because I was so out of there then, so grossed out.

Latricia wore a big, thick cock that defied reality to my eyes.

And she had her hands on Grace's burning ass, and she pried open Grace's asshole, and, lining up the tip of the cock with it, ... Latricia pushed in.

And Grace's dead face lit up, not with joy, but with shock, and she jerked her head back hard, and moaned in agony, her face twisting up in pain and concentration, trying so hard to take it and not die, it looked like.

It looked like she couldn't take it.

I ...

The vine repeated.

I didn't know anything went up there like that. I knew, okay, shit came out, but ...

Okay, you fuck a girl's pussy, that's what it's for, I get that, but fuck her ass?

I cut off the vine as Grace's ass was being violated again, Grace so tensed up that I was surprised she didn't break her own bones with the tension, she was so scrunched up. And ... just a bit of that monster had been pushed in her, but already Grace was in terrible pain, it looked like, so there was no way any more of it could go in her.

No way. I mean, it didn't look like a fucking, an ass-fucking; it looked more like spinal-replacement surgery.

Two minutes. Two minutes was what Latricia said she'd give me before she'd start ... that.

Had two minutes passed? I didn't know.

I called Grace's number. Good thing it was in my contacts now. I don't think I could have managed entering the ten-digit number with my trembling hands.

"Well, hello, Rebekah Isaac!" Latricia's voice had a false cheeriness to it that I found grating.

After a second, Latricia said, "Hello?"

"You didn't .. you're not doing ... that ... to Grace, are you?" I asked quietly.

Latricia paused herself. "That depends," she said.

"Depends on what?" I asked, hating her for playing this game.

For playing me.

But Latricia's voice wasn't playful. It was serious.

"Well," Latricia said, "that depends on what you're gonna do. Have you been thinking about Grace eating you out at all since you last came over?"

"And you're beating her depends on my answer?" I asked incredulously.

"Just answer the question, please," Latricia said, annoyed. "That is why I called you."

"Well, then," I said honestly, "no, not really."

And I cringed. Should I have lied, and said, 'Oh, I think about Grace Park licking my pussy, like, all the time!'? Would that have made Latricia happy?

But the day I started worrying about Latricia Bailey's happiness ...

"And why not?" Latricia demanded.

I shrugged.

Does a shrug go through a phone? Why do people shrug and gesture all the time when they're on the phone? It's not like the other person can see them or anything.

So I explained. "I don't know, Latricia ... I mean, I've got school and practice and then, you know? Homework and dealing with stuff at home. I just never ..."

I shrugged again.

"Okay," Latricia said nonchalantly.

I didn't know if Latricia knew that I shrugged when I did, but I certainly could feel her shrug through the phone.

"What does that mean?" I asked sharply, not liking at all what I heard in her 'okay.'

"It means," Latricia said, "that you got your whole life that you have to take care of, as I thought, so that leaves me to take care of little Gracie, and, Rebekah," her tone became menacing, "I will. What you saw was just the start."

"Latricia," I said, "why? Do you get off on that, or something?"

"Oh, yeah!" Latricia's voice just oozed evil. "But it's not that, dearie." Okay, I did not like that. "I told you you had a choice, and you choose yourself. That's fine. The world is filled with people who are real good at taking care of themselves, but, Becca, taking care of number one? That makes us just as good as everybody else in the world, just another air-breathing consumer: a waste. You're only as good as the people you take care of, and if it's just you ... well, you can just fuck off and die for all I'm concerned, because that's exactly what you're gonna do."

Wow, I thought sarcastically, cool! I'm getting me my very own Life Lessons from Latricia.

She should write a self-help book or something, title it: Be Good or I'll Fuck Grace up the Ass.

G-d save me.

"I don't get it," I said angrily. "What do you care how I am or that Grace's, I don't know, well-being is important to me?"

"I don't care," Latricia said.

Okay, I thought. There were only so many ways for me to say I don't get it, right? I mean: right?

I guess I had to say it one more time.

At least Latricia was talking, and not beating the crap out of Grace.

At least there was that.

Those vines? Those were the most horrifying things I had ever seen a person do to another person. I thought nightmares like that only existed in those stupid 'kill-each-other-for-my-sick-pleasure' movies, but I guess I was wrong there.

How could anybody get off on hurting somebody else like that?

I didn't get it.

I didn't get a lot of things, I guess. I supposed I had been living a really sheltered life, and I thought drinking and sex were my two biggest hurdles to overcome before people didn't think of me as a kid anymore.

Latricia had passed those a long time ago, it looked like, and she was doing stuff I didn't ever dream of.

Stuff I didn't want to.

"I don't get it," I said softly, aware, now, how stupid I was to the ways of the world.

Latricia laughed. "See," she said, "it's like this. I think that you are a carer, you know? I think it's going to kill you to say 'no,' knowing what that will do to Grace, and that's what I'm banking on here, because you actually don't matter to me, but, see, Grace has been performing unsatisfactorily for me recently, and I've tried various methods, you know, but nothing. She's dying inside, and it's getting to be more of a pain in the ass for me to motivate her, than, for example, to let her fulfill her heart's desire and off herself so I can send off her skinny little body to the butcher shop to be processed as pork produce so I at least get something for my trouble."

I listened in horror to this.

"You have got to be joking!" I said.

"Why?" Latricia asked. "As soon as I cut this little shit off, ziiit, she offs herself. Isn't that right, Gracie?"

There was silence on the line for a second.

"Yeah," Latricia said, "that's Grace, dead, dead, boring dead, I swear to God, but the only little spark I saw recently, besides her begging, which I so love, was when she mentioned your name as somebody 'nice' and 'cute,' so I thought ... huh," Latricia said thoughtfully, "worth a try, I guess, so that's where you come in."

"Wow!" I said, getting it now. "That's just so ... marvy!"

I heard Latricia shrug through the phone again. "Like I said, your opinion? I could care less. But this is entirely your choice, see? You get your pussy licked, and it better be licked well, you hear me, Grace?" I guess she was talking to Grace for that order. "And maybe she livens up a bit. This is way better for Grace than the alternative if you don't come ... come over, that is. But, if that doesn't work out, I don't care, because Grace is going to get motivated, and not with the beating, that's not working anymore, so now I do it for fun. I've planned a new way to motivate her if you don't work out."

"What's that?" I asked, enthralled, and then regretted asking.

"We have an away game next Wednesday," Latricia said.

"Yeah ..." I said. We were playing T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.

"The football team and all you cheerleaders are being bussed there, but not everybody's taking the busses. Some of the senior guys are driving. I'm driving, and I'm taking Grace with me. I promised the guys after the game that I'd provide them a little something special at the Fairlington Pizza place after the game. If maybe a little bit of 'nice' and 'cute' variety doesn't spice Grace up, then maybe some dick, ... a lot of dick will. Or if it doesn't, and it's too much for her, maybe the threat of having to do that again the next game might get her properly motivated. We'll see."

I blinked. "That is ..."

"Brilliant?" Latricia finished for me. "Thanks, I'm rather pleased with the idea myself."

I was thinking more along the lines of atrocious or horrific.

"So," she said. "Your choice. Either you're here, in a half-hour from ... right now, or I go to Plan... beat-the-shit-out-of-Grace-and-I'm-not-kidding... 'B' with a side of Fairlington Grace Pizza for the Senior Guys Wednesday. What do you say?"

She asked that last question all chipper-like.

But I had another problem. "Half an hour? There's no way I could run to your place in that amount time, even if I tried!" I said.

I checked the time myself. It was 7:45 pm, which meant I had to be at Latricia's place at 8:15 pm. There was no way.

"Well, see," Latricia said. "That's your problem, not mine. Or ... actually that's Grace's problem. If you're not here in time, Grace will pay for it, and I'll love every minute of it. But, Grace? Maybe not so much. Think about that, little girl." Then she warned ominously: "But I wouldn't think about it too long, if I were you. Ta-ta!" She sang, cheerful again.

And hung up.

I looked at my phone: 7:46 pm.

No way.

... Wait.

Maybe a way.

I ran to Da5id's room.

"bb!" I shouted, storming into his room, his door slamming open hard against his wall.

He was on XBox, of course.

Thank G-d he wasn't masturbating! I did not need that image in my head, again.

... You learn to knock on your brother's door in this house. I learned that the hard way.

"Not now!" he said tightly.

"G-d-damn, Da5id," I said. "Pause the game. This is important!"

"Can't," he said, fully focused on his screen. "Online."

I looked at his LCD and saw him going toe-to-toe a megabot or whatever it's called.

He was playing Titanfall, of course. He lived and breathed that game now.

I looked at him, I looked at his screen.

Then I shut off his XBox.

You don't do that. Period.

Ever.

He screamed in shock.

"What the ..." he shouted. "Okay, the fuck's your problem, Becca?" he demanded, slamming down his controller and whipping off his headphones.

He looked like he was ready to kill me.

Good. Now that I had his attention...

"Da5id," I said, radiating intensity, matching his fury with my calm, "what do you want more than anything in the world? I'll give it to you, right now."

"Whaaa?" he said. "Look, what I wanted was to finish my game! With my friends! Hello?"

Friends. Yeah, right. The only friends he had were online, all over the world, and who knew who they actually were?

"Yeah," I said, "you want to finish this game, then play the next and the next and the next, right?"

He looked at me puzzled. "Yeah, ... so?"

Like that was the whole point in life, to play games. It was like crack for him. This game was good only because it led to the next game.

It's like a sickness, I think, for him.

"So," I said, "I'm talking, like, totally different. I'm talking, like, what do you want, Da5id, and I mean really want in life, you get me?" I said.

Da5id looked puzzled. "Uh, no," he said, "so ... are we done with this conversation? I have five teammates I have to apologize to now for quitting on them for no fucking reason that I can see, so ..."

And he turned his XBox back on and grabbed his headphones.

I turned the XBox right off again.

He screamed. "Oh, my G-d! Don't do that, Becca! You know how fragile these things are!"

"Uh, huh," I said. I knew how fragile his 'things' were. But we're not talking about 'things.' "Look, I don't have time to fuck around, and you don't want to lose another XBox, so just listen to me, okay? And I'll, like, I don't know, leave you alone for ... all of tomorrow, okay?"

Da5id paused considering, and I saw the wheels turning inside his brain.

Not have his little sister bug him for a whole day...? What kind of price could you put on that?

Let me tell you, the feeling was mutual ... but I still bugged him, every day, just to get under his skin as, you know, payback for him breathing and being the asshole big brother that he was all the time.

"So," he looked at me suspiciously, "what do you want?"

"Drive me over to 236 and Heritage, now," I said.

"Huh?" Da5id said, "All the way on the other side of town? Why?"

"Da5id," I said, "it's just, like, three miles."

I tried to down-play my request. The way he said 'other side of town,' ...

We lived on the nice-neighborhood side of town, and that area of town was the other side of town, meaning: the not-nice side of town. But, like, I was ... uncomfortable going there the first time, but nothing bad happened to me, so it wasn't all that bad, right?

That's what I tried to convey in my tone.

Looking at Da5id's face, I didn't do a very good job of convincing him. Or, I don't know, his face usually did look like he just ate something really sour, so that could just be his natural look, right?

"I don't know, sis," he said skeptically.

"C'mon, bb, it'll get you out in the open air away from your room," I said. I mean, the air in his room smelt stale, you know? Rank. Some fresh air would do him a world of good.

And let's not talk about his complexion. I mean, seriously.

"I don't want to go out," he said, unconvinced.

Yep, my brother: the dweeb.

"What do you want?" I demanded, my eye on the time. My heartbeat was counting each second I was trying to convince bb to take me by Latricia's house.

Time wasted? I hoped to G-d not.

"Nothing," he said, shrugging.

"Nothing? C'mon, Da5id! You have to want something!" I said in desperation.

"Hm," he said coolly, "yeah, in fact: I do. I want you to get out of my room and leave me alone. How's that sound, sis?"

I closed my eyes. "You're a virgin, right?" I said.

Da5id's eyes narrowed. "What?" he demanded coldly.

Yup. He's a virgin.

"Don't you want ..." I said.

Well, you know, teenage boy, right? What do they think of every seventeen seconds?

Sex.

"... you know," I finished weakly, "to ..." I shrugged, "... get laid, you know?"

Da5id looked at me like I was from an alien planet.

No. Strike that. If I were from an alien planet, Da5id probably would probably be the first one to jump in my landing craft and enthusiastically ask me to take him to my leader.

"Okay," Da5id said, "like, one, how do you ever see that happening, because, two, who would ever get so desperately drunk she's fall for this face, huh?"

He did have a point there.

A really good point.

It wasn't his face, really. There were guys a lot uglier. Da5id wasn't fugly, and he showered, occasionally, when he remembered.

But it was his attitude that stunk to high heaven.

"I could ..." I essayed, "... ask one of the cheerleaders, ... maybe."

Again, the incredulous look from Da5id. "And she'd say 'yes' just because you asked," he snorted, then added, "and because I'm so ..."

He looked at me expectantly.

Oh, I was supposed to supply something there.

"Smart?" I said.

He laughed. "And that has girls throwing themselves at me? Right."

"Um," I offered, "'cause you're so ... nice?"

Da5id just looked at me at that one.

"Yeah," he said, pissed now. "I'm so 'nice.' Right."

He picked up his headphones. "Swear to G-d, Becca, you touch my XBox again, I break your arm. Again."

He turned on his XBox, signed into Live, ... and zoned right out.

He was in another world now. He was gone.

I left his room. Pissed at the time I had wasted in this pointless convo.

Yes, he broke my arm before, when we were kids, we were wrestling, and he fell on top of me and ... snap, you know?

It was an accident, you know? But Da5id, after that...

He never forgave himself. That's when we stopped playing with each other, and ever since, Da5id's been withdrawn, and ... well, ... I let him.

Because I never forgave him, too.

He was my big brother. He's supposed to look out for me, you know? He's supposed to protect me, not hurt me.

And he messed up. He did hurt me, by accident, but he hurt me.

But now that I'm a cheerleader, and he's a ...

I don't know what Da5id is ... a nerd, that's what he is.

Now that he's a nerd, and yes, he was still bigger and older than me, but still, I think I could do some serious damage to him, because Grace had muscle tone?

I had muscle tone. Grace was a flyer, and she had to float there and be beautiful, but I was one of the bases, and I did the heavy lifting on the team.

Literately.

I could do some serious damage to Da5id, if I wanted to.

And I oh-so-wanted to do that right now.

I mean: there was just no reaching Da5id. He wasn't, like, a human being. He was just so totally unrelatable to people. He was more like a computer than a person, actually: a computer that did whatever he wanted, all the time.

Asshole.

But what would me and Da5id getting into a fight prove? It was just so juvenile! Of the two of us, I was the mature one. I guess it's true about girls maturing faster than boys, because Da5id was just so immature.

Besides, I didn't have time to waste on him anymore.

It was 8 pm. I had fifteen minutes to reach Latricia's place.

There was no way I could run that fast for that long. I'd have to run 4-5 minute miles all the way. It took me like a half-hour to reach home from her place last time, and I was jogging and running, but I was definitely winded. To get there in fifteen minutes from now?

Impossible.

Grace was, literally, screwed if I didn't think of something fast.

Think. Think. Think, G-d damn it, Becca! I screamed to myself.

Steal Da5id's car?

That would totally work. If I taught myself to drive on the way to Latricia's house. Didn't look like it was too hard. And every cop between here and there were asleep or at the Starbucks.

They don't go to Krispy Kreme, anymore; cops these days show up at Starbucks in the morning, just like everybody else.

So, yeah, that would so work. Steal Da5id's keys to his Volvo, smash up everything between here and there as I backed my way into another car whipping by our residential road, and ...

Fuck. I'm fucked if I do that, and Grace is fucked if I don't.

Fuck. What to do!

Wait!

Fucking waitaminit!

My bicycle!

I was running downstairs and into the garage full speed when I thought of this. I pushed the garage-door opener and listened to it groan open — it'd been years since anybody'd used the garage. Park your car in garage? Like: who does that? — and grabbed my kid bike that I hadn't ridden in years.

Pink. With handle streamers. Cuteness! I thought sarcastically.

The tires were flat. Shoot! Why do the tires have to be flat?

I grabbed the tire pump and wasted two precious minutes pumping up my tires, praying to G-d that they would stay inflated all the way — What? Why are you giving me that look? I'm a Jew, I can pray to G-d, even if I don't believe in Him. It's my G-d damn right! — then I mounted my bike and sped out the garage and down the driveway like a bat out of hell.

No helmet, casual clothes, shorts and a tee: if I fell, I'd be road pizza.

I didn't have time to think about that. I only had time to petal as hard and as fast as I could. I didn't have time to stop at traffic lights; I just had enough time to play chicken with a white Acura, a black Lexus and a beat-up old Ford F150 as I was blitzing through that Bradlick intersection, where a fatality happens every single day, literally taking my life into my hands as I blew through the light there.

And for what?

Do you believe in the Soul? I do. G-d made Man in His own image. That's right there at the beginning of your Bible. Do you know who wrote that passage? A Jew did.

I saw why Grace was so lifeless at school now: Latricia had killed her soul. And we Jews didn't have a Savior, like you Christians do. When you sinned, you sinned, and that was it. You could try to atone for your sin, but there was not 'reconciliation' or whatever. There was no Messiah for us Jews, not anymore; that was just a pipe-dream.

But Grace's soul was dead, or in grave peril of death, if I didn't save her now, somehow.

I just had to figure out how.

Me, a Jew, saving somebody's soul.

That would be funny if I had a second to spare to laugh at it. I didn't. I had time to peddle with all my might and play dodge'm cars, idiot drivers honking their horns at me for their reckless drivers.

The DC area? I swear to G-d, drivers here are intentionally insane. My dad the worst of them, redefining the term 'aggressive driver' to 'David Isaac, Sr.'

So, yeah: now you know why he's so G-d-damn proud of his son, and why I so don't exist on his radar.

I'm not the beloved first-born son.

I took my anger and self-hate and used it to push me forward faster.

But do you know what so many famous comediennes are Jewish? Because to be a Jewish woman is to be a realist. And to be a realist in this fucked up fantasy world everybody else is living in is so funny, isn't it?

I tried to make my legs peddle faster. You can actually will yourself to keep going, even after your body gives up, did you know that?

It took forever and three hours to reach the apartments where Latricia lived, and absolutely no time at all, because I don't remember one second of the harrowing trip getting there.

I just remember getting there, throwing my bike under the steps, praying that nobody would steal it, and running up the two flights of stairs and down the hall, full tilt to Latricia's door.

There.

I banged on the door, three times, hard and fast, trying to catch my breath.

"Latricia," I gasped, "it's me, Rebekah Isaac!"

After a few seconds, the door opened.

Latricia stood at the doorway, looking down at her phone.

"How long, Grace?" she called.

Faint from a distance, I heard Grace's voice call back. "Twenty-seven minutes?"

I stood there, panting and sweating, the adrenaline draining out of me, leaving behind a trembling muscle ache throughout my whole body.

Latricia looked back down at her phone and pursed her lips appreciatively.

"More like twenty-seven minutes, thirty-three seconds," she grumbled, displeased with Grace's inaccuracy. She looked back up at me, "But still good time. What did you do? Sprint the whole way from your house or something?"

I nodded, gulping in air. 'Or something' was the most accurate explanation, but I didn't have breath in my body to answer her.

I leaned against the wall and wiped the sweat from my eyes. "Thirsty," I gasped, "can I have a glass of water?"

Latricia smirked. "We can do that. C'mon in," and she opened the door fully for me.

I staggered in.

"Grace!" Latricia called, her voice thundering throughout the small apartment, "get our guest here a tall glass of water, ..." She paused and looked me up and down. "And a damp wash cloth."

"You should be in track," Latricia said appreciatively.

"Thanks," I gasped and collapsed on the lounge chair.

Grace sprinted from the back room to the kitchen, a flash of flesh streaking past my periphery.

Okay, but, wait ... was she naked?

I think I saw Grace run into the kitchen naked.

I didn't have to guess for long, because out came Grace, a tall glass of water, iced, in her hands, blushing like ... well, a bride on her wedding night.

Strike that, a virgin bride on her wedding night, ... who wasn't Jewish, and didn't have the whole night planned out already.

Naked.

My eyes must have been the size of saucers, because Latricia chuckled at me.

"I admire fine art," Latricia explained to me, "and, Grace," she said, "you are lookin' fine!"

Grace blushed, offering me the water silently.

"Plus," Latricia added, "I always like her primed and at the ready. Easy access, you know?"

Grace trembled at that statement, making the ice in the glass tinkle in sympathy.

I took the glass from Grace, to save her the mortifying embarrassment. She looked like she was actually about to explode from shame and shyness.

"Grace," Latricia said, "what do you say to Becca, huh?"

"Th-thank you for coming," Grace said quickly.

"Yeah," Latricia barked out a sharp laugh, ignoring Grace, as she talked to me. "'Cause you literally saved her ass! I had her all strapped down and everything, thinking you weren't going to show after all, and then knock-knock at the door. Surprised me. But you should have seen Grace: she almost peed herself in relief!"

Latricia returned her attention to Grace. "Is that what you mean by 'thank you,' huh, Grace?"

Grace bit her lip and looked at the ground.

Latricia chuckled, in a good mood. She looked almost jolly!

... Okay, 'jolly' was maybe going a bit too far for a 6-foot-plus defensive tackle for Annandale Atom's football team, every inch of her badass. But she was in a really good mood, you could tell.

"Well, where's the washcloth for Becca?" Latricia demanded.

Grace blanched. "I was just ... I was just going to get it," she said quickly.

"Well, don't stand there just simpering. Go, girl, go! Hop to it!" Latricia commanded.

Grace didn't actually 'hop,' but she scampered off down the hallway fast as a scared little bunny rabbit would: hop-hop-hop-scamper!

That's the image I had in my mind of Grace now: a scared little brown bunny. About the only thing she was good for was roadkill pizza, it seemed.

Grace raced back, washcloth in hand, and I wiped down my face and neck, grateful to get the sweat off me. It was stinging my eyes and burning my neck where the collar of my tee chafed it.

Couldn't do anything about my tee.

Or the bad wedgie. Ick.

"Now," Latricia said, taking charge. "Grace is glad you came, ..."

She paused and chuckled at her own joke.

I blinked, not getting it. Grace was silent.

Latricia frowned at us both. "But, Grace, I don't think you're showing proper deference and enthusiasm. Becca here just basically saved your ass, and all she gets for it is a mealy-mouthed 'thank you'?"

Grace blanched, and her whole body was rigid, paralyzed by fear.

"And you," Latricia turned her glare on me, "you sure know speak your mind, doncha, girl? And right to my face, too, in school on the phone, behind my back, I bet."

I snorted angrily. "No, Latricia, like you think you're worth my time me to talk behind your back?"

I was furious. I hate the rumor mill. One girl literally flipped out and was taken out on a stretcher because of it, and we never saw her again. Her parents pulled her from school, and I don't blame them.

I blame myself, though. Little blond, pale runt, what did she do to anybody but be nice and scared, and she got so picked on ...

And I so never stood up for her...

And one day, she was screaming and crying, and the paramedics came, and carted her away in the ambulance.

I don't talk behind people's back. If I have a problem with you, I say it to your face. And I don't let anybody talk to me about somebody else. I won't let that talk happen even near me.

In the girls' locker room? Is that possible? I wasn't the most popular cheerleader on the team, but everybody else got the hint, and right quick. Frosh, no frosh, I don't stand for that shit.

So Latricia's accusation stung me double.

But my counter-sting did nothing to her. She snorted. "Yeah, like that. You can just mouth off, and you think that doesn't have consequences. You think you can say what you want, and not pay for it?"

I glared at Latricia. "Last I checked, it's a free country."

Latricia smirked, getting that barb.

The Jews fled to this country, what were left of them, after the Holocaust, because it was a hell of a lot freer than being worked to death or gassed in the concentration camps in Germany, and Poland and France, or before that, being run down by the Cossacks with their pogroms.

Fuckers.

But the Blacks were brought here, and they weren't free, not even after the Civil War, not even a long time after it, with the Jim Crow laws and everything. Lots of Blacks are still waiting on their forty acres and a mule that they're supposed to get from the US Government but never will.

Jews were reduced to nothing but we scraped our way to the top in New York City and basically everywhere we go. Blacks, though, ... they make up how much of the country now? Thirty percent? More? Way more than Jews who aren't even a statistic we're so small of a population.

But the only place Blacks are overrepresented are in the prisons, and in menial jobs. School cafeteria, yes, but school administrator? Some places, maybe.

"It is," Latricia said darkly. "You can say whatever the fuck you want, 'cause it's a free country, but there are costs to that, see? You think you can just say anything you want to anybody, and there're no consequences? Well, guess what, sweet pea: I'm not just anybody you can mouth off to and get away with it. There's a price to pay for what you say, and guess who's gonna pay it?"

With that, her hand struck like lightning, grabbing Grace by the back of her hair.

"Ah!" Grace cried out, cringing, but she didn't struggle.

"Wait!" I said.

"Grace," Latricia said to her, ignoring me, "how many this time, you think? How many for you to pay for your passive shit and for this little shit's lip?"

Latricia nodded toward me as she said the latter 'little shit.'

"She doesn't have to ..." I began, but Grace shook her head at me in terror.

"F-five, Latricia," Grace whimpered, drawing Latricia's attention. "I-I can take five, please."

Latricia's lip curled with contempt. "Five, huh?" she said. "You're right about that, but only that much? Is that what your miserable little life is worth, huh? Just five?"

"P-please," Grace said. "I-I ..." she gasped. "I can't ... you're just too ... hard on me, I can't take any more than that, please, Latricia."

Latricia shook Grace slightly. "Do tou think I care what you can or can't take?"

Grace was silent, but a single tear fell from her eye.

"How's about," Latricia said, "I beat you until I'm convinced you want to step up your game with me, just a tad more, huh, Grace?"

"Mm-mm..." Grace began.

"And," Latricia added, cutting her off, "I'm convinced that one," she nodded at me again, "wants to play nice, too, huh, Gracie, what do you say to that?"

Grace didn't have anything to say to that. But she nodded her head in helpless jerks.

Latricia turned her attention to me. "So get this, Becca. Grace is going to suffer, and it's all because of you and your stuck-up attitude. Grace," she said to Grace, "every single stroke I administer? Becca's fault. So I want your eyes on her the whole time, got me?"

Grace bit her lip but nodded solemnly.

I was like ...

I was like ... how in the world is this my fault?

But I knew how. I stuck my nose where I shouldn't have. I stood up for Grace, and I should have just let her get run under the truck that is Latricia. That's what I should've done. I told myself that, but did I listen?

No.

I told myself it'd be weird accepting Grace's invitation in the first place. Did I listen?

No.

And now I'm sucked into this nightmare.

"Grace," Latricia commanded, "lie over the table."

Latricia let Grace go, and Grace meekly moved toward the kitchen.

"No, Grace," Latricia's voice stopped her. "Here," she said, pointing at the coffee table. "We're gonna do this right here."

Grace bit her lip, but she complied.

She was so low to the ground, her body over the coffee table, face down.

"Look at Becca, Grace," Latricia ordered.

Grace, helplessly, looked at me as Latricia removed her belt from her jeans with a practiced air. She whipped the belt off, holding it by the buckle, and let it dangle down onto Grace's butt.

Grace flinched.

Latricia looked at me. "Now, you're gonna see how this little Korean bitch gets brought into line. This is the only thing she understands. This is the only way to get this little shit to fucking hop to it when I say 'jump,' ..." Latricia smiled maliciously. "Or, 'hump,' as the case may be. This is the price you pay, so watch. Maybe you'll learn something."

Latricia folded her belt over onto itself, holding it in both hands for a second, then ...

CRACK!

The blow was so sudden and so vicious, I barely saw the swing, but I did see Latricia lean into the strike, putting her whole weight behind it.

"Ahhhhh!" Grace cried.

"Grace," WHACK! "shut" WHACK! "UP!" WHACK!

Grace's cry turned into a keening continuous wail, and she gripped onto the coffee table's legs with a death grip.

Latricia paused, panting and sweating after only four blows, but ... 'four blows'? What punishment could those words possibly convey? 'Four blows'? If Latricia were a blacksmith and she swung the hammer onto the anvil like this, I don't think the anvil would've lasted long.

I didn't see how Grace did. I couldn't. After the first blow, I looked away, wincing, not being able to take the agony that Grace did.

"Grace," Latricia said calmly, but breathing hard, "you want the cops to come again? Is that what you want?"

"N-n-noooooo," Grace moaned.

"You want to spend the night in jail, and have your parents pick you up there, huh?" Latricia demanded.

"N-no, no! Please, no," Grace begged.

"Then can you shut the fuck up, or do you want the fucking gag, Grace? You tell me, and you tell me true," Latricia snarled.

"I'll be ..." Grace gulped, "I'll be quiet, please, Trish. Not the gag, please. I'll be quiet. I swear."

Latricia snorted. "You're right about one thing, Grace," she said. "You will be quiet. Eventually."

She let her belt's bitter end fall onto Grace's ass again, and Grace flinched and nearly seized in terror.

Latricia's breath was returning to normal.

"Now, Grace," she said, "how many was that?"

"F-four," Grace said.

"Nope," Latricia's voice was gleeful, "guess again."

I looked back at them at that.

Tears were falling freely from Grace's eyes, and she was more at rest than when she was receiving the blows, but she looked terrified and betrayed. Her throat was working, as she looked helplessly at me.

"How many, Grace?" Latricia demanded.

"S-sss-s-ss-s-s-..." Grace hissed, not getting the word out.

"How many?" Latricia's voice was threatening now, and her belt snaked off Grace's ass and back, folded in half, into her hand.

"S-sss-z-ss-ze-zero, Latricia," Grace forced out.

And then she looked utterly forlorn.

"Yep," Latricia smirked.

"Huh?" I gasped.

She ignored me.

"You know why?" she asked Grace.

"'Cause I ... 'cause I disobeyed you," Grace whimpered and a tear fell off the tip of her nose onto the coffee table.

"How?" Latricia pressed.

"I-I ... screamed when you told me to sh-shut up," Grace gulped.

"Nope," Latricia said easily. Then ...

WHACK!

"Ahhhh! Ah-hah!" Grace cried out.

I flinched and looked away.

WHACK!

Grace moaned and whimpered, trying to bury the scream in her guts.

"That's why!" Latricia snarled.

WHACK!

"Ahhhh!" The scream didn't stay buried.

WHACK!

Now Grace screamed.

"That's why," Latricia's voice was calm, detached, and imperious, all at the same time.

Grace was panting. Latricia was panting.

And my fingernails were trying to press themselves into my palms. I stood there helplessly, wishing Latricia would stop, but not knowing how to make her stop.

"You disobeyed me, Grace," Latricia said calmly, "by not looking at Becca. I told you to do that, but you're not."

Grace whimpered and whined, and I looked back at them and a sound pulled itself from my guts. "Uhn?"

As far as I saw, Grace was looking at me the whole time!

Latricia smirked at me. "Grace can't look at you, and know you, Becca, ... you did this to her, if you're not looking back at her, now, can she?"

My eyes widened. "You ..."

"You got something to say to me, ... bitch?" Latricia demanded harshly.

And then she smiled, waiting.

My palms really hurt!

But I kept my mouth shut.

Latricia's smile turned gloating.

"Ya see, Becks," Latricia mentioned casually. "This is the only thing that Gracie understands: do what I say, make me happy, ... or else. She's not even a person. A person could figure this out on her own, but Grace? Noooo. You're not even an animal, Grace," she returned her attention to Grace again. "'Cause now you're not even getting the message at the end of my belt. You should be thanking me every second of your miserable existence that you're not outside on the street corner, right now, begging for quarters, or ... what do you slants say, 'five dallah, fuckie-suckie'? That's how low you've sunk, Grace, you cunt!" Latricia snarled that last word, and brought her belt down. Hard.

THWACK!

"Nooo-ahhhiiiiiya!" Grace tried to deny her lot, but her voice was cut off by her own scream as Latricia's belt connected with Grace's sore ass.

"Zero, Grace," Latricia remarked dryly. "You can thank Becca for that."

I had looked away again. I couldn't help myself.

"And, sweetie," she added darkly. "Not 'no.' Oh, no. In fact, this is your life, cunt. You're my filthy little yellow whore now, and you're going to beg me to say that, and then you're going to thank me afterward. And, Grace, you'd better thank me from the bottom of your heart for it, too, I swear to God!"

"Oh, God!" Grace breathed out. "Oh, God! Oh, God!"

Latricia smiled down a Grace kindly. "Good warm-up? You ready to get started?"

"Guaaaaah!" Grace moaned softly.

Latricia snickered. "Good," she said.

Then she looked at me. "This is how this works. You look away? You flinch? We start again, at zero. Got me?"

I bit my lip and glared hard at Latricia.

"And for that look, ..." she said.

THWACK!

"Aiiiiiiieeee!" Grace cried.

But I looked.

Latricia frowned and knelt beside Grace. "That was a free one for Miss Becca's high and mighty look, Grace, but it wouldn't have counted, away. I thought you said you could keep quiet, huh? Gag? 'Cause this screaming is really pissing me off, in a good way ... for me."

Grace was moaning.

"You keep quiet?" Latricia demanded.

Grace's eyes were leaking as she looked up to Latricia. She nodded her head jerkily.

Latricia smirked and stood again.

"She hates the gag," she explained to me, smiling. "She hates that by her not begging, I just really lose it on her. Without the gag, she gets the choice to beg, and I get to choose whether she's learned her lesson or not. With the gag, though, ..." Latricia shrugged.

"Well," she said, "I just keep going until I get bored." She shrugged again. "Ever beat a dead horse? No? It's borin' after a while."

WHACK!

"Oh, my God!" Grace whispered, her eyes round.

WHACK!

"Nnh," Grace grunted.

Latricia smiled, sweating.

WHACK!

Grace threw her head back, to the side of the table, closing her eyes.

"Grace," Latricia warned.

Grace opened her eyes again. It looked like she forced them open, moved her head back and looked at me.

I could count her ribs, she was just so wound up around the table, into herself.

WHACK!

Latricia didn't ease off at all. If anything, she leaned into even more, if that were possible.

"Ooooh, God!" Grace whimpered. "Ooooh! G-"

THWACK!

"Kk-kk!" Grace coughed. Her plea was cut-off by Latricia's strike, and she just choked out sounds now. She was openly crying.

"Got anything to say, Gracie?" Latricia panted, perspiring.

"Oh, my God! Please, oh, God! Latricia, stop!" Grace begged with all her heart.

"Wrong!" Latricia bellowed, and came down with a mighty blow this time.

WHACK!

"Aiiiieee!" Grace cried, not being able to hold in her scream anymore.

Latricia paused, panting.

"Please, ..." Grace whimpered.

I didn't know she said that, because my whole being was saying it for her.

Latricia let the belt fall on Grace's back. Grace was panting and crying. Latricia was panting and sweating hard.

"This isn't about you, Gracie-poo," Latricia talked down to Grace as if she were a child. "Don't you get it? I stop when Becks wants me to."

"What?" I said, shocked.

Grace looked at me with terror-filled eyes.

Latricia put her finger to her lips to me and returned attention to Grace. "You beg her to lick her sweet pussy, and she says 'yes,' I stop, she says 'no,' ..."

Whack!

A nice, soft, ... ground-shaking spank from Latricia's belt.

Grace's eyes nearly popped from her head.

"Oh, my Go.." I began, and stopped myself, bearing down. "Oh, my G-d! Yes!" I said. "Yes!"

Latricia openly laughed. "Grace didn't even ask the question yet, Beckers," she said gloating. "AND," she added, "Grace needs to pay her five for your lip first before anything you say matters, got me?"

I bore down, bit my lip, hard, and looked away, nodding.

Latricia chuckled, but there was an edge to it.

"Grace," she said, "you can beg all you want now. Just make sure you beg for the right thing, and sound convincing, huh? We don't want Becca to say 'no,' now, do we?"

"Please, ..." Grace whispered.

WHACK!

"Oh, my God!" Grace cried, "Please let me lick your pussy!"

"HA!" Latricia shouted, then ...

WHACK!

"Aiiiee!" Grace cried.

"You call that begging, Grace?" Latricia snarled. "That's what I call weak!"

WHACK!

"Oooh! Please! Becca," Grace wailed her efforts redoubled, "please-please-please let me lick your pussy! Oh, God, please, let me ..."

WHACK!

"Uhh!" The air forced itself from Grace. "Uhhh! Oh, God! Oh, God! Becca, please, oh, GOD! let me lick your pussy. God! I ... I so want to li-..."

THWACK!

Grace's entire body shook with that blow.

"Oh, God!" Grace whispered. "Oh, God!" she didn't even have strength to move, her head just resting on the coffee table. "Oh, God!"

She blinked — once, twice, three times — her eyes trying to focus.

They focused on me. "Please, Becca," she begged.

"Yes," I whispered to her, a lump on my throat so big that almost no sound came out.

"Please," she said, "please let me lick your pussy," she begged from the bottom of her heart. I saw it in her eyes. They weren't empty. They weren't pain-filled.

She wanted this.

I swallowed. "Yes," I said.

And I did, too.

"Great!" Latricia said brightly, panting.

I had forgotten she was even there, can you believe it?

"You got five dollars?" she asked me.

I blinked, reeling from the realization of how badly I wanted Grace, not even knowing it until just right now, reeling from what I just said, reeling from Latricia being there, seeing it all.

I didn't even understand her question at first.

But I was in short-shorts and a tee.

I didn't even bring keys to the house, I came here so fast.

Money? Did I have five dollars?

"Uh," I blinked. "Uh, no, actually."

Latricia looked down at Grace, beaten down into the table, and she looked back up at me and shook her head.

"Uh, oh!" she said ominously.

And she left the room.

Grace looked at me, her eyes hurting me, they looked so tired. She swallowed and coughed, and closed her eyes, tears spilling from them.

"Grace," I whispered, "what does that mean?"

"Ahhhhmmmh," She sighed a sigh from her very guts, then she tried valiantly to collect herself. "I don't ... I don't know," she whispered back.

That took everything she had left.

I fell back into the easy chair and took a big gulp of water from my glass.

I wanted to ask Grace if she wanted some, but she was out, her breaths swallow and even, drool dripping onto the coffee table already from her slightly opened mouth.

I watched Grace sleep like a baby.

She looked so G-d-damn cute and beautiful and innocent. So G-d-damn trusting in her sleep. So pure.

The poor kid, I thought. How the hell was I going to get her out of this nightmare?

I still had no G-d-damn idea. G-d damn it, Becca! I screamed to myself, fucking think of something NOW!

Silence in my empty head was my only response.

I was, after all, a brainless cheerleader, right? I put my head into my hands. Well, I thought of a bitter comfort, at least the zombies will leave me alone when World War Z starts or whatever.

That small consolation was no consolation at all, looking at all that remained of Grace's spirit: a weak shell of a body looking so much less solid than the coffee table it was draped over as she slept.


A/N: Who the hell writes this kind of shit? I asked myself, editing this chapter.

And I look in the mirror, and I see a girl who made liverwurst sandwiches with her nieces and watched Schoolhouse Rock videos with them, so we could learn about our Nation's independence.

Oh, ... never mind.

Well, okay. None of the characters are based off of anybody else's work. This scenario? I thought it all up myself. Maybe lived a little bit of it. Maybe not. I won't say. People say to me, all the time: 'But don't you want to write your own material instead of just fanfiction, `phfina?'

What's wrong with 'just fanfiction,' by the way, other than that you can't sell it, but you can, it's called Fifty Shades of Grey, and was a Twilight fanfic first before the author made millions off it. Millions.

Should I be proud, or ashamed, that this is what I come up with?

You tell me.

But whatever you say, I'm going to keep writing, I guess. My heart hurts too much for these girls not to.

... and now I'm off to Church.

Yeah. I'm not joking. Little `phfina's off to Church. Don't judge, huh? I mean: don't judge my church because I go there. Every barrel has its bad apples.

I wonder if they'd burn me at the stake if they knew? Or if they'd forgive me? I don't know which one would make me feel worse.

ps: The opening quote in the summary is from the song "I need a dollar" by Aloe Blacc, and the quote I was thinking the whole time I was writing this chapter was this: 'I can tell someone who has never lived in poverty because they always assume buying from/working for certain places is a "choice".' from MissMxMr or MxGlitterBitch on twitter. And I'm so blessed to have that choice, when so many people, even right here in the town I live in, don't.

Apology: Okay, I had to add this after reading a review for this chapter. I mean: why did I write this, huh? Here's my answer:

It's intense stuff, right? Welcome to `phfina's little mind. This is what I live with every day. Oh, well.

I think this chapter was the worst part of the story, 'cause after this either Becca figures something out to grab Grace (and ... what? They live happily ever after?), or she doesn't, and it's game over, right?

Anyway. Most stories, ITRW, are game over. Not violent like this story, just ... the opposite of violent. People just get stuck in their ... misery, be it poverty or abuse or ... whatever, you know? "How's it going, Pete?" "Same ol' same ol'" How many times does that conversation go that way every day, and around the whole world, too, huh?

In this chapter I make it very explicit how people are stuck, and it is ugly. No: it's not just 'ugly,' it's fugly, isn't it?

I see it every day for me, and most everybody I know: people aren't going places, they're just stuck there, and it's not even called 'fugly,' at all, it's called ... just nothing. Just going to your job or just living, or just getting by.

The anxiety is in the waiting, and the not doing anything about it.

So I have to ask myself: what am I doing today about it, me being stuck?

And most days I don't have any answer.

I understand why this chapter would be hard (impossible?) to read. I sure didn't want to write it. I did write it, though. I didn't like writing it, but I did, because it has something very important to say to me.

Now I just have to listen.

The next chapter is smexy, but it's not sweet, as you can probably imagine, and then ... what happens, happens after that.

Que sera, sera.

We'll see if we can get to a happy ending, right?

In the story, I mean.

The 'happy ending' for my life ...? Well, that's a work in progress. And when I work toward happiness, I progress. And when I don't work toward happiness, I bite my tongue, and say, 'same ol', same ol'' when I'm asked how's 'it' going, but I know exactly what that answer means, and exactly who's fault it is, too.