"Do It Clean"
The first time he has to lie about what he did for Her is on Wednesday back at school.
There is no hint of what is to come when he arrives at Westfield. His morning is a peaceful one, unmarred by incident or accusation. He passes through the now infamous corridor once on his way to English Lit. It's packed with curious observers but there's nothing left of the fire, nothing to interest him at least. A fresh lick of paint, lino flooring and a new row of bold, blue lockers is all it takes to cover over the evidence. The smell is still there however; it lingers in the air like an unwanted visitor.
But artificial forms can be duplicated, and scent too eventually fades; scars, however, run deep. His mark is a part of them now, forever carved and burned into their skin like the brand of a hellish beast. The injuries his peers sport are not excessive in his opinion- certainly not unlawful- not in light of the overall gains the firework incident has brought Her. From a tactician's standpoint, collateral damage is necessary.
Not everyone sees it this way of course. They're angry because they do not understand. It doesn't bother him, he doesn't need them to understand. What he needs is for them to believe in the human skin he hides in. For the most part, he is certain that they do. Their general lack of interest in him in the aftermath of the firework assures him that nothing will come of it, that it will take more than a haphazard witch hunt to catch him.
So when Principal Figgins asks him, as part of the school's ongoing inquires, for the reason why he was holding a lighter in the seconds before the explosion, his faith in human ignorance is shattered.
Immediately, he knows that he has reacted badly. A meaningful look passes between the two parent representatives of the board of governors. They turn to him with renewed interest, their pens lie abandoned, their hands, clasped before them in heavy fists. As panic begins to build in his chest, he reminds himself once more of all he has to lose.
So he sets his sights on the one board member who is not eyeing up him like a smoking gun, Principal Figgins. He gives the man a sheepish smile and then asks in polite, slightly incredulous disbelief if he would mind repeating himself. Figgins is more than happy to oblige. As he talks, his words are still as unaffected by suspicion as they were the first time he spoke. It's a comfort to know that he still believes him to be incapable of violence.
"I don't smoke," he tells him once he is done. Figgins nods distractedly and pats his glistening forehead with a spotted handkerchief.
"He never asked you that-" Mrs Mueller's eyes linger on Mr Greenwell's as she speaks. The man pushes backwards in his chair, his head cocked to the side as he eyes him up. "-We just want to know what you were doing with a lighter in your hand at the time."
"What would I be doing?"
"That's what we'd like to know, Tate," Mr Greenwell folds his arms across his gigantic chest with a sigh. "Nowanswer the damn question."
"Sorry..." He scratches the back of his neck. "I'm just confused. I mean, why would I have a lighter when I don't smoke? Coach'd kill me if he caught me with one. Did you hear what he did to Andrew Meyers when he caught him with matches last year?" he goes on quickly before any of them can speak. "It was a double period and it was raining. Coach made him run laps, nonstop, until the poor guy's legs gave out from underneath him. Andrew doesn't even play sports, can you imagine what he'd do to me?"
"Are you on the football team?" The skepticism in Mr Greenwell's voice is more amusing than insulting. "Reserves?"
He shakes his head. "I run Track."
"Tate is the star of Westfield's 3K," Principal Figgins pipes up rather proudly.
"A runner, eh?" The man gives him the once over once more, and decides he likes what he sees. "You've got that look about you alright. What's your personal best?"
"Em, seven minutes and twenty one seconds," he replies. Greenwell lets out a low whistle of approval. "Coach thinks I might qualify for the CIF State this year if I'm lucky."
"With that record, you'll more than qualify." Greenwell shoots him a broad, open smile, all of his former suspicion seemingly forgotten. "I played football in my time and my son, Kyle now plays quarterback for Westfield. He told me that Adamski is pretty hard on you Track and Field kids."
He nods. "Yeah, he's kind of a puritan- Don't get me wrong, he's a great guy. Really good at motivating you and all, but..." He flashes them a guilty smile. "He'd have me living on bread and water, and praying to Jesse Owens every night, know what I'm saying?" This time Greenwell laughs.
After that, the interrogation collapses into a relaxed discussion about sport. The two men in his audience listen keenly as he ensnares them with his illusion of the All American Boy. It doesn't take much to convince either him or Principal Figgins: One is a sports enthusiast, the other an administrator; their common interest lies in success.
But throughout his talk of trophies, strategies and training schedules, She is the only thing that is on his mind. Whoever snitched on him may have already spread the word around the school, but then again, this will not matter if he is able to convince the adults of his innocence. He's confident that Figgins will not shaft him; he is far too valuable an asset for Westfield to lose. What worries him however, is that She might reject him if or when She finds out about it. Now that he has Her, he doesn't know if he will be able to let Her go. He's not sure if he could cope.
"So you'll be bringing home that trophy for us next month then, Tate," Principle Figgins puts the lid back on his pen and closes over his notebook as he prepares to close the interview. "The meet against Crenshaw is on the 25th, isn't it?"
He nods in reply, and gives himself an invisible pat on the back. For the small price of looking like a sport's obsessed lunatic, he has successfully managed to deflect their question and completely derail the original topic.
"You still haven't answered the question."
Mrs Mueller's harsh, clear voice echos all the way up to the grey and blue banners hanging from the gym ceiling. Throughout his performance, her rakishly pencilled on eyebrows remained furrowed, her lips pursed in a thin, angry line. At one point, he'd even tried to flash her a smile but she did not return it. Her animosity perplexes him; he's usually good with women.
Greenwell rolls his eyes at the Principal who shrugs. "Weren't you listening?" he tells her. "The kid's got too much going for him. Do you really think he'd screw up his chances by pulling a stunt like that?"
She clicks her tongue off the top of her mouth and crosses her legs. "Since when have teenagers ever believed in consequences? Harry, you have boys yourself. You know as well as I do that they all go through a pyromania phase at sometime or another. The point of the matter is this, Mr Langdon, you were seen with a lighter in your hand."
"I've already explained it to you, I don't smoke. Is this because of my attack a few weeks ago?" he then asks with a suddenness that catches them all off guard. "Is that it? Is that why you think I'd have one? Listen, I-I-I know- I know what people are saying about me. I'm not deaf. Lately it's feels like everyone's been trying to pin stuff on me because of my... problem."
"No one's trying to pin anything on you!" Figgins reacts instantaneously. He watches with secret satisfaction as the man casts his female colleague a warning look. "Tate, we just want to know what happened...Tate? Are you okay?"
He pretends not to hear him. He sits there, miserable, staring down at his hands, his shoulders slumped. They are waiting for him to answer. He will not keep them waiting for long but delicate matters such as these rely on expert timing. Biting his lip, he runs his hands through his curly hair and mentally he begins to count backwards; Nine...eight...seven...six...five... four... three... two... one...And so the lie begins...
"I've got social anxiety disorder," He begins in a voice that has been broken by shame. "I get nervous even being in a room with people I don't know. It's pathetic, I know, but I can't help it. They've got me on medication for it, and usually I remember to take it, but that day I...," he gulps down a breath as the bloody weeping images threaten to swallow him whole. To see them again, unfurled across his memory like a roll of film is strangely cathartic. "I had to get outta there, you understand?" Slowly, he lifts his gaze to meet their faces. "I couldn't handle it. I freaked out."
It's probably the most honest thing he has said since entering the room. Principal Figgins regards him with a mixture of pity and understanding. Both Greenwell and Mueller are confused however, they look to the other man for an explanation.
"There was an incident a few weeks ago involving Tate and no one else," he tells them. "Unfortunately however, some people in this school have decided to give him a tough time over it. Kids, you know?"
"They blame me for everything-" It doesn't take much to get the crocodile tears going, all he has to do is imagine losing Her. "-Even this. I know that someone's been spreading a rumor around that I did it, but I didn't think that anyone would actually believe it-" Mrs Mueller wiggles uncomfortably in her chair. "-I get it, they don't know me and since, well, since the window- It's just, I helped carry Kevin Gedman outta there. Why would I help someone if I was guilty? I would have ran away and just left him there."
The sudden tenseness in the air when he finishes is suffocating. They don't look at him, instead they look to one another, their expressions twisted with shock and disbelief.
Something has changed.
Once more, panic rears its ugly head. His hands tremble, sweat trickles down the back of his neck. For a moment there he had them all, and now he has lost them again. He cannot believe it, his story was perfect, his delivery, sincere and unassuming. This is it for him, the end of the line; he is going to lose Her now for good.
"How come you never mentioned Kevin Gedmen before?" Mrs Mueller asks with renewed distrust.
And just like that, everything stops. All his scheming, all his lies, the persona, Track, even Her; It all simply vanishes from his mind. He stares at Mrs Mueller in genuine confusion, unsure of what to think or do or say.
"...Because you guys started asking me about some lighter I was supposedly holding before I could finish?" he offers.
"We've spoken to him already. He never mentioned it."
He wipes his face dry and leans back in his chair, his arms folded, his lower jaw jutted and defiant. "Well, I did. You can ask Amir Stanley if you like. The two of us carried him out to the ambulance. He was pretty messed up, so I'm not surprised that he didn't tell you. He probably can't even remember. When the locker door blew off, it hit 'em square in the forehead. He could barely walk straight, kept on talking about how he needed to tune his guitar."
"The lockers here are all made from recycled materials. I highly doubt they could cause any real damage-" Mr Greenwell lets out an angry grunt which she ignores. "-Did Kevin speak to you at all this morning? Have you seen him?"
"No," He arches an eyebrow. "Did something happen to him?"
She sucks in a sharp breath. "Do you know the identity of the person who reported you?"
It takes less than a second for him to piece it all together. "Huh? No. Wait! Are you saying that Kevin...?" he trails off in disbelief. "Are you serious? The guy was hit in the head!"
From across the table, Greenwell shoots him a grin.
"Carol," Principal Figgins sighs impatiently. "Kevin could have easily projected Tate's face onto the perpetrator because of his injury. I can vouch for Tate's character, as will any other member of the staff here at Westfield; We have never had a problem with him."
"I'm with Ben on this one," Mr Greenwell adds his voice to the mounting pressure. "For God's sake, do you have any idea just how serious a single knock to the head can be? I've seen what it does to people, even been on the receiving end of one once or twice. That Kevin kid told us himself that he had to get a CAT scan while he was in hospital. He ain't a reliable witness, Carol."
But she shakes her head. "Kevin swore that he remembers everything perfectly. I'm sure if we ask he for the results of his scan then-"
"Have you stopped to think that maybe your own personal interest in this might be clouding your overall judgement?" Figgins snaps. "There's more than one name on that list, remember that."
Her face goes very white.
He is let go not long after that. Greenwell gives him a handshake, along with a hearty promise to come and see him run. Mrs Mueller, on the other hand, refuses to look at him as he bids them goodbye. Despite his initial mistake, it all went very smoothly. He didn't even have to lie outwardly for them to believe him, they did all that work for themselves. After all, most people are willing to deceive, and in turn be deceived, for fear of what they might find lurking underneath.
The first time he lies to Her outrightly is on that very same Wednesday afternoon. He doesn't like doing it. He was hoping that he wouldn't have to, but circumstances demand it.
After he leaves the interview, he finds himself caught between a conflicting desire to smash Kevin Gedmen's face in, and his need to find Her. Luckily for Kevin, he runs into Her first.
They meet just as She is leaving Her Spanish class. To his great relief, nothing seems amiss when She sees him. In fact, She greets him with a beautiful smile and a kiss. He decides then and there not to tell Her about the interview, Mrs Mueller or even Kevin Gedmen. He doesn't want Her to worry, or worse, make Her hate him.
However, he does need to get Her away from the Westfield and its rumor mill. At least until he figures out who he is going to frame for the firework, and what he is going to do about Kevin. The longer the crime goes unpunished, the longer he will remain a suspect.
It doesn't take much to convince Her to ditch school. Like him, She is easily bored by its cruel monotony. All he has to do is offer to take Her to some secret place far away, one that She has never seen before.
It's late afternoon by the time they reach the Sunken City in San Pedro. Armed with cold bags of Chinese Take Away, they march over the lumpy grass, an arm clasped around one another's side, and out over the broken building foundations and buckled sidewalks that jut along the cliff edge.
It warm, despite it being late October. He ties his sweater around his waist and jumps from concrete slab to concrete slab, while She sits on the ground below, eating spring rolls and smoking like a caterpillar. They shoot sarcastic barbs and quotes at one another, and snigger at the barely legible graffiti and name tags that cover the crumbling face of the ruins.
It isn't long before he completely forgets all about his original reason for being there. It's not surprising, when he's with Her, all of his worries just fade into nothingness. He is free to relax and be a form of himself that he does not often show.
"I wish I had my camera," She laments for the umpteenth time. "You look like that gigantic statue of Jesus they have in Rio de Janeiro."
From on top of a slab that has been artfully deposited upon a boulder by the 1929 landslide, he spreads his arms out even wider, tilts his head back and bellows Tool into the wind, "I do uuun-to oth-eers, what has been done to me... I do uuun-to oth-eers, what has been done to me! That comes from the bible, you know that?" He turns his head to look at Her. "Matthew 7:12. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them". Old English makes everything sound way cooler."
"For poetry, maybe," She replies dryly. "But I doubt Prison Sex would have made quite as big an impact if it had been written Bill Shakespeare style."
Chuckling to himself, he takes a few steps back on the slab, runs, jumps into the air, and then lands in a crouched ball, beside Her on the sandy earth. She shoves him over, he catches Her arm, rice flies up into the air as he pulls Her down on top of him.
"Promise me that you'll never order Kung Pao anything ever again," She tells him when he pulls away from their kiss. "Your breath sinks like dog's breath-" He grins and deliberately blows in Her face, only to stop when She smacks him lightly.
After awhile She grows restless. She sits up and brushes the dust from Her red lace dress. "...You totally won't believe what someone said to me today," She casts him a quick glance from beneath Her dark eyelashes.
He sits up to full attention. "Who?" he asks, trying to keep his tone as natural as possible.
"Some moron," She shrugs. "I'm not sure what year he's in, probably yours. His name is Kevin. Anyway Steph and I were laughing about it for ages after-"
She nods once and his heart stops. "So he actually had the balls to come up to you and say it to your face?" She shakes Her head in disgust. "What a dick. I told him that he'd mistaken you for someone else. He didn't handle that too well, I can tell you."
"He didn't- He didn't hurt you, did he?" The monsters howl and rage against their confinements. If Kevin so much as touched Her, he will blow a crater in his skull.
"No- Tate, are you okay?" Her brow creases with concern. "You seem a little freaked."
"I'm fine," he winces at the harshness in his tone. "Sorry. Kevin's been pissing me off lately."
"You and me both." Without a word, She reaches over to him, shoves Her hand in his pocket and takes out his zippo. Suddenly he wishes he had thrown the damn thing away.
"Did he tell you that he was hit in the head during the blast?" His eyes dart nervously from Her frowning face to the offending item.
She flips back the lid and strikes down on the wheel once with Her thumb. There's a faint "zoomph" as the wick sparks into life. "No, but I figured as much. I saw the stitches," Then She looks at him with a smile. "I told him to go and check lost property for his brain. Pass my cigs, would you?"
Not only does he pass them to Her, he takes one out and gently places it between Her lips for Her to light. She takes Her usual half drag, snaps the zippo shut and hands it back to him.
"...You know that I wouldn't do something like that," he says after a pause. "Right?"
She tilts Her head to the side in an almost sympathetic gesture. "Of course," She assures him. "You're a good person. Good people don't go around blowing up lockers just for the hell of it-"
But he's not good, he's really not. It pains him to think that the same vulnerability he faked in front of the Board of Governors, comes so naturally to him when he's with Her. It's different though, it's not an act. He genuinely does become that boy. The one who's always quick to smile and light up Her cigarette, or simply be there to lead an ear whenever the world becomes too much. She brings out the best in him, the parts that have laid hidden for so long. The ones that he did not even know existed until She came along.
"-Besides," She goes on. "Everyone's saying that some guy by the name of Jason Mueller did it-What's so funny?" She demands as he doubles over, roaring with laughter.
It takes a few moments to compose himself, and when he does, he has a large grin on his face and a ingenious plan forming in his mind.
"Nothing," he lies. "Hey, whaddya say we come here next time there's a storm? We'll set up a lightning rod on top of the cliff. You can bring your camera along."
"Why don't we tie ourselves to a train track while we're at it?" She replies sarcastically.
She rolls Her eyes. With one hand, She tucks Her hair behind Her ears before lying down again, Her head resting on his stomach.
"We'll have to find out how much they cost," She warns. "I doubt they're cheap."
Smiling cheerfully to himself, he rubs his hand up and down Her arm. All things considered, maybe he can be a good person sometimes, but it's only when he's with Her. Soon though, he will have to do something bad again, something that She will not like, but then again, the only reason why he's going to do it is for Her...
So really, it can't be that bad after all.
The first time he meets the woman responsible for ruining Her family is at Doctor Harmon's office on the Thursday.
Initially, he thinks the Beverly Hills 90210 extra with the scrunchie bun auburn hair, fitted Levis and black blazer is just another one of the man's patients. This quickly charges however, when the girl leans in to give Doctor Harmon what looks to be a very one sided and awkward kiss.
But when the man does not push her away, the monster nearly rips right out of his chest and goes for him right then and there. It takes a few moments for him to calm it, to remind it that in this case an act of violent retribution might only make things worse. The woman, he assumes, is a new one, although he cannot say that he is too surprised by this discovery.
Then it hits him; this might be the ideal moment to tell Her about his connection to Her father. If anything, the news of his continuing extramarital affairs might distract Her, and therefore make Her less mad at him. But as he toys with the idea of finding the nearest pay phone, Doctor Harmon spots him.
"Ah Tate! You're early," says the man with no small amount of relief.
The woman casts an irritated glance over her shoulder. On closer inspection, he decides that her neat facial features and slender form are much akin to that of a harpy. Her face is all sweetness but her claws are showing.
"If you're busy, we can cancel." His eyes never once leave the woman's.
Doctor Harmon misinterprets the angry intensity of his stare for a desire to become acquainted with her. "This is-"
"I'm his wife," she cuts in.
"...Nice to meet you, Mrs Harmon."
She arches an eyebrow. "Do I look like I bake for the church fête? Please, call me Hayden."
The look of horror on Doctor Harmon's face is priceless. It's a wonder what might be going through the man's head as he stands there, trapped between the layers of his duel lives; the ghost of his past and the office of the new life he has painstakingly tried to patch together. From the confidence in her proclamation, it is clear that Hayden has no intention of exiting it quietly by the backstage door.
He gives her stomach a quick inspection, just to check if she is the same woman who was on the phone just days before, and then idly wonders to himself how hard it would be to frame Doctor Harmon for double homicide. The thought so vanishes when he remembers how sad She was when She spoke to him about Her still born brother.
"You'll miss your flight." says the man as he rubs a nervous hand across his lips.
Hayden does not leave, not immediately. She turns to face her lover with a look of pure adoration in her eyes that almost makes him want to heave.
"Don't I get a goodbye kiss? I won't see you for awhile."
"I have a patient waiting."
"...For real?" But when Doctor Harmon makes no move otherwise, she stomps her foot like an overgrown child. "Fine! I'll see you in four weeks."
"Bye Mrs Harmon— I mean Hayden!" he calls after her as she storms down the corridor.
Once inside the office, Doctor Harmon turns to him immediately.
"She's not my wife. She's...she's a very mixed up girl."
"I know that it's none of my business, but do your family know about her?" he asks casually. "You've got a wedding ring on your finger," he explains at the man's alarmed expression.
Doctor Harmon casts a distracted downward glance at the thick gold band. "Yes, I do... They know," he then adds hastily, as though he's trying to convince himself more than anything else. "She's— we're nothing. Not in that way. She's just projecting fantasies onto me— Have you been taking your medication?"
He lets it slide, because maybe, with the doctor's current guilty mindset, he might be able to make some ground breaking progress. So he abandons his thoughts of calling Her. He'll leave that for another day, or maybe he won't have to tell Her at all if everything goes according to plan.
He has, religiously. He doesn't want another incident to happen again. Now that they're dating, She might need him at any time and he cannot let Her down. But before the doctor can move on to the next question, he allows himself to say, "You really do have all types of crazies coming to you."
The man casts him a grateful smile, and he offers him a small, compassionate one in return. True, the monster's skills are not as sophisticated as the devil's. They are brutal creatures of blood and steel, lacking in the grace and finesse that only a former heavenly servant can possess. Still, their arts and allurements are much alike, for the monster must also prey on weakness, grab opportunities, and above all, keep its claws hidden beneath the cloak of humanity.
"Any suicidal thoughts?"
At the shake of his head, Doctor Harmon scribbles something down in his notes. With all his fanatical zeal about honor suicides lately, it is unsurprising to hear that the man assumes he is thinking about killing himself. Such an arrogant presumption annoys him however. Not only does it show that his best laid plans have so far failed, but that the doctor, for all his degrees and published Psychiatry books, does not understand a single thing about him. Not for the first time does he wonder what there is written about him in his file.
Doctor Harmon looks up, his face serious.
"...What about the other ones?"
"You mean the ones where I want kill people? No," he lies. So far this week, it is a sure tie between Kevin Gedmen and Hayden, not to mention the regulars. "Those pills you gave me must be really helping. These talks help too. I think you're right. I think I'm getting better."
The man's face breaks into a wide, encouraging smile. "I've said it once and I'll say it again; Anyone can get better, Tate. You just have to want to. So last week we continued to discuss your relationship with your father-" Once again, Doctor Harmon has drawn the wrong conclusion from their sessions. "-Do you want to continue exploring this aspect of your life, or is there something else you wish to talk about?"
Never before has the man given him an option to choose, at least he's never verbally mentioned it. Normally the doctor allows him to dictate the topic. He is just the fish that follows whatever stream of thought his patient wishes to explore. At most he will only try to steer it into deeper waters with a few carefully constructed questions. It is in this choice, that he finds his first real victory. The fact that the man is asking means that he is finally getting to him at long last.
Grinning inwardly, he settles back on the day bed, determined to make this one hour the most uncomfortable Doctor Harmon has ever experienced in his life.
"I remembered another thing this week," he begins with. "His kids, you know the twins I told you about? I've never seen them but I'm pretty sure that they turned ten this year. See, I reckon my Dad got that maid pregnant, and that's why he ran away with her. Honestly, I'm kinda relieved that it happened when I was six and not now, ten years later. Parents who've got teenage children and have affairs are just sick..."
A/N: Oh sweet Jesus! THANK GOD THAT IT OVER! I will fix any mistakes in the coming days, please bear with the typos for now. Seriously, this chapter made me want to cry with frustration.
Em.. Important news below so please read:
Sucker Love now has an audio version. Jandjsalmon recorded herself reading it and put it up online for everyone to hear. There's a direct link to it on my profile. I can take no credit for this as it was all her idea, so anyone who listens to it and loves it make sure to write a comment below the audio! Seriously, check it out! If anyone else wants to send me anything they've done with this in mind, let me know and I'll share it.
Now to answer two questions that I keep getting;
This story will be roughly twenty chapters long. Yeah. It's got a lot of different story lines running within it as you all can already see.
Everything will be told through Tate's perspective. Although the Violate pairing is one of the main focal points, first and foremost this story is about Tate.
Kevin and some other important characters will be coming in next chapter. I was going to originally introduce them in chapter seven but then WAAAAY too much would be going on so I decided to settle with set up instead. Sorry for taking so long but I really am a bit of a freak when it comes to depicting things. Next chapter won't be nearly half as long a wait, I swear!
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