A/N: I just want to say thank you so much for the reviews! I really enjoyed reading them, because you all are so well written and thoughtful. Many of you brought up points that I had ignored or completely forgotten about.
Now, here's the thing: Originally, I thought that I would go with whatever the majority wanted. But, as many people pointed out, the flaws of this plan were obvious. A ton of you said that I should do whatever I felt was right. As a result, I did tally up the votes, but in the end, I went with what I felt was the right choice.
I chose Option 4 because I felt like Andrea's rape was quite an unnecessary plot twist. This wasn't the direction that I was planning on taking but I kind of became caught up in my writing.
There were so many things in the reviews that I agreed with! I especially agreed with those who thought that rape would complicate the rest of the story – and if I didn't do a good job covering it, Andrea's rape would end up glossing over and desensitizing the horrible reality of abuse. Out of respect to those who have been raped, I decided to rewrite the chapter.
If I had written a different sort of story, Andrea's rape might have fit in better, and I could have written a story dealing with the issues surrounding rape. However, this was not the sort of story I was writing, and as a result, I felt like Chapter 7 did not fit in with the rest of the story at all.
The first part of the chapter will be the same as the original; the latter half will be rewritten.
Thank you so much for sharing your opinions with me, and I really appreciated the thoughtfulness that all of you put into them. I took every review into consideration.
Sorry for not updating for such a long time. I was at a complete standstill from July-September. It's going to be harder for me to update from now on – I'm filling out college applications, taking AP classes, working, it's all too much! But I'll do my best.
Okay, now that was a long author's note. If you have any questions, comments, etc. feel free to voice them, I'm always willing to listen.
Sam kept his hands on the wheel of the truck while turning his head to face me. "Was it off Main or Cypress?" he asked me, gesturing to the wrinkled piece of paper I held in my nervous hands.
I glanced at it even though I knew the answer already. "Main," I told him, wiping my sweaty hands on the seat. I don't know why I was nervous. It was just a book club meeting…but it was at my teacher's apartment.
Sam pulled up in front of a large brick building. It was ten floors high, with jutting balconies and landscaped terraces. Large floor-to-ceiling windows looked down onto the quieting street and a striped awning stood stiff against the slight breeze of early evening. It was a very artsy looking place, I could already tell, the kind of place where everybody lived in very minimalist lofts and were elegantly thin. I said goodbye to my brothers and rode up in the dark elevator by myself. I clutched The World According to Garp in my left hand; in my right, I carried a plate of covered brownies. When I got to Apartment 806, on the eighth floor, I could feel my heart speeding up and my breath was coming in short, sparse bursts.
Calm down, Goldstein, I told myself. You're just going here to talk about books. I knocked on the door hesitantly. Less than twenty seconds later, it was opened by Dan. He was talking noisily to other people but stopped when he saw me.
"Andrea! Great! You made it," he said. "Ooh, you made brownies, fabulous." He motioned for me to set the brownies down on a table filled with food.
Looking at the other snacks, I felt embarrassed. Everybody else had brought little cheeses, or thinly-cut gourmet crackers, or dainty bacon-wrapped asparagus appetizers. My plate of obviously homemade brownies looked out of place – as I'm sure I did, among the other book clubbers. Checking out the other members, I felt even more awkward. I had worn a dark, expensive skirt with a classy sweater in anticipation of the sophisticated members that I thought I was going to encounter. Everybody else was dressed in jeans and sweatshirts – and easily five to thirty years older than myself.
"Everybody, this is Andrea Goldstein, an outstanding student of mine and a promising young reader," Dan announced to the rest of the book club. They looked at me interestedly.
"She's cute," a male voice said from the back.
I blushed, and hurriedly sat down on the edge of a nearby couch.
"There'll be no flirting with Andrea tonight – got it?" Dan said good-naturedly.
"What about next time?" the male voice retorted and everybody laughed.
Oh God, just let me die now, I thought, trying not to make eye contact with anybody. Please just let this damn thing start.
Dan cleared his throat, took a seat on a plush chair and said, "All right, let's start, shall we?" He held up his book. "Are there any 'Ellen James' in our world today? Or, for that matter, any 'Ellen Jamisons'?"
I was taken aback slightly. The questions that Dan asked in class were standard, no-depth questions that anybody who had read the book could answer. But I quickly found out that he had a whole slew of involving, thought provoking questions about all the books that the club read.
Dan continued asking the main questions, while other answered and started lengthy, interesting discussions. Not all of the discussions related back to the story; at one point, we were talking about fetal alcohol syndrome and its effects.
I had a blast. Honestly, I had such a great time. Nobody seemed to care that I was under the age of 25 and I participated in the conversation to a great extent. At about 10:30, the conversation wrapped up and people migrated over to the refreshment table for some last-minute drinks. I was pouring myself a Diet Coke when a guy came up to me.
"Sorry for embarrassing you earlier," he said laughingly. "I was the one who called you cute." I looked up at him as I took a sip of my drink. He was a very cute Hispanic guy, probably in his late teens or early twenties. "I'm Arturo – but you can call me Arthur." He stuck out his hand for me to shake.
I shook it. "How long have you guys been meeting?"
"Ah, probably about two – maybe two and a half years now. A while, anyway." He shyly glanced at me out of the corner of his eyes. "You're very intelligent, you know."
"I am? I mean…thank you," I stammered, nearly spilling my drink. Arthur had incredibly intense dark eyes – I could barely see the pupil. He put his hand on my wrist and I paused, frozen.
"Maybe you'd like to have dinner with me before the next meeting?" Arthur asked softly, not taking his hand of my wrist. I was mesmerized – until Dan forcefully strode up.
"Excuse me, Arthur, but the girl isn't legal. Nothing's happening," Dan said bluntly, easily flicking Arthur's wrist off mine. He gave us both a friendly – but wary – grin. "Andrea, do you have a ride home?"
I looked at the clock; it was after 11. "Yeah. I can call my brothers. They'll come pick me up," I said.
"No, don't call them," Dan said. "I can drive you home…it's late, I wouldn't want to wake up your family."
I didn't think Sam and Lucas would be sleeping, in fact, I knew that they had been heading out to a party on McCaw Island after they dropped me off. Still, I didn't really want to accept a ride from my teacher. I mean, I knew he wasn't a stranger, but still—
"Or I could give you a ride," said Arthur slyly. "A ride home, of course." He laughed and poured himself a third glass of wine.
"Arthur, man, you're really in no condition to be driving anybody home; let alone yourself," said Dan humorously. "Here's what I'm going to do – I'm going to call a cab for you, Arthur, and then I'm going to drive Danielle home. Get it? Got it? Good."
Arthur protested but was silenced by the refilling of his glass. He was out of the apartment and into his cab in less than twenty minutes. While Dan walked Arthur downstairs to his cab, I was left alone in his apartment. Feeling creepy and slightly stalkerish, I poked around a little. Actually, I poked around a lot.
I looked through his cupboards (cereal, Chex Mix, cans of Budweiser), scanned his impressive collection of books (Chaucer, Dickens, lots of Irving, of course), took a guilty peek into his bedroom (king-sized bed, pictures of family, stacks of books that hadn't fit into the bookshelves in the living room) and ended my tour in his bathroom. Although I felt guilty, I opened his medicine cabinet. You can tell a lot about a person by what they have in their medicine cabinet. Mouthwash, three cases of floss, extra toothbrushes (cleanliness freak!), aspirin, condoms… Oh God. Condoms. I hurriedly slammed the cabinet shut and left the bathroom. A set of sliding doors was opened onto a small, angled balcony and I stepped outside, breathing in the fresh air.
I knew I shouldn't feel embarrassed about seeing the condoms, but still—! Dan was my English teacher, for crying out loud. This was beyond humiliating, but at least he didn't know I had snooped around.
I was sitting on a slightly rusty bench on the balcony when Dan poked his head through the open door. "Ready to go?" he asked gently. I nodded and he led me downstairs to a parking garage below the lobby. He drove a mildly battered but still very secure pale Volvo. I sat next to him and we listened to late-night jazz music as he drove across town, following my directions.
When we were within a few blocks of Lakeview Heights, Dan turned down the music. "You're a very special girl, you know that, right Andrea?" he asked softly.
I looked out the window and shrugged.
"I've been watching you in class for some time now," he told me. I heard the locks snap and I felt a burst of panic suddenly in my chest.
"Turn left here," I said, trying to ignore the quickened beating of my heart. God, please let me get home. Please don't let him do anything crazy. Please! And then – to my complete horror – he placed his hand gently on my thigh, right below the hemline of my skirt.
"You're so pretty," he whispered, slowing the car to practically a standstill. "My God, did you know that I have dreams about you?"
I was going to throw up. God, please! Are you listening? Please let me go. I'll be good. I promise! "Please, Mr. Matthews, I just—"
He jerked the car to a stop. "Call me Dan," he said in a low, dangerous voice. "Andrea, you're a big girl. You know what I want from you."
"No," I whispered, mortified.
He smiled. It was a big smile of his goddamn perfect white teeth – the smile that I had always thought was reassuring and authoritative. Now, it frightened me to no end. "Oh, I don't want that now. You'll know when the time is right." His hand crept up under my skirt as his fingers danced across the bare skin of my thigh. "Jesus, you're so beautiful."
I sat rigid, terrified and frozen to my seat. The door was locked. I was trapped. "Let me out!" I demanded in a wavering voice that didn't sound like my own. "Let me out right now!" I made the mistake of glancing over at him. He was staring intently at me, his hand underneath my skirt and an unmistakable erection forming a tent in his slacks. I wanted to cry, throw up, die.
"Is that what you want?" he asked me. "Is that what you really want?"
"Yes," I cried, throwing myself against the door.
He leaned over and brushed his thumb against a tear rolling down my cheek. Then, surprisingly, he leaned over and unlocked my door.
I jumped out of the car, landing on all fours. My knees immediately started bleeding but I got up and ran as fast as I could towards home. It was only a few blocks away. With a burst of newfound adrenaline, I ran faster than I ever ran before.
"See you tomorrow!" Dan called after me brightly.
And then I really did throw up. I threw up into a carefully pruned rosebush and then I kept on running. I ran until I reached home, crawled up the stairs, changed into the warmest pair of pajamas that I could find and lay rigidly in my bed, the sheets tucked tightly under my neck. I shivered and felt so incredibly cold.
The next morning, I rolled over and yawned. My alarm was blaring loudly and I reached out a hand to silence it when last night's events came washing over me. A cold wave of panic ran through my body and I froze under the sheets.
Mom came in a few minutes later. "Andrea, turn off that alarm!" she ordered. When I didn't move, she marched in and shut it off herself. "Get up, you're going to be late for school." She waved a hand in front of my unmoving face. "Are you sick?"
I nodded stiffly.
"Oh no! Well, I suppose you'll stay home today. Don't want you infecting everybody else. I'll bet it's that stomach bug going around. Mrs. Cratcher got it last week but she was over in a day. It's one of those twenty-four hour deals," Mom said, pulling up my covers. "I'm going to work but you can make yourself a can of chicken broth – it's in the pantry – if you feel hungry later." She kissed me on the forehead and added, "Feel better, dear."
I shivered momentarily as I heard the door slam shut behind Mom, and then later after Sam and Lucas. I curled up into a tight ball and stared at the wall, willing myself to fall asleep. I couldn't, though, and horrible thoughts kept running through my head.
Was this my fault? I knew that if I hadn't lost the weight, Mr. Matthews probably wouldn't have come onto me. It was my fault. I had willingly joined the book club. Had I been an idiot for going over to his apartment? It was my fault for being struck dumb by his good looks, for being blind to how odd he acted around me. I mean, the man had even cried in front of me! It definitely hadn't been a normal teacher-student interaction.
This was my fault, I decided, slipping out of bed. This was my own goddamn fault for ignoring the signs. I had practically invited him to force himself on me, hadn't I? I hated myself. I gingerly stepped into the bathroom. Grabbing an unopened package from the medicine cabinet, I sat down onto the closed lid of the toilet. I held a package of razor blades. I couldn't face my own guilt. I unwrapped the package and held one up to the light. It gleamed and sparkled under the fluorescent bulb.
"I hate myself," I whispered, pressing the blade against my skin. A drop of blood, dark and vivid, popped out at me. It surprised me; I hadn't expected it to be that dark against my pale skin. Suddenly, I felt like I was going to throw up. Discarding the blade, I knelt in front of the toilet and dry-heaved; there was nothing left to throw up. I couldn't do it. I couldn't cut myself. I wasn't that kind of a person…was I?
I returned to my bedroom and lay down on my bed, staring straight up at the ceiling. Suddenly, I heard the front door open. I sat up straight. Who was it? Mom and Dad were at work, Sam and Lucas were at school… I knew who it was. Mr. Matthews. I clutched at my blanket. Oh my god, I had to hide. And fast.
Searching around, I ducked out of my room and ran across the hallway. I heard footsteps coming upstairs and I braced myself against the wall. God, please don't let him touch me. I heard the footsteps turn the corner and I squeezed my eyes shut, praying silently.
I kept my eyes shut and stopped breathing. Go away, just go away. A hand touched my shoulder and I jumped to my feet.
"Andrea! What the hell—?"
It was Max. "Oh my god, Max," I gasped, my breathing returning to normal. "It's just you."
He looked puzzled. "Who were you expecting? Your brothers said you were home sick, so I decided to come over here after first period and see if you needed anything."
I smiled. "Thank you but I'm fine."
Max peered closely at me. "You don't look fine, Andy. You don't look like you have the stomach flu, but there's something else…"
I swallowed nervously. "There's nothing, Max," I told him as I started to edge down the stairs.
He leaned forward and grabbed my wrist. "Andy, stop. There's something wrong. I know, believe me." He led me back into my bedroom and sat me down on my bed. "Talk." He pulled up my desk chair across from me. Our knees were touching and he leaned forward intently, looking deep into my eyes. I took a deep breath and began. I explained about how excited I was about the book club, and how childish I had felt when I had first arrived. I described how Arthur had flirted with me and how Dan had frowned at him. I told him how I had snooped around Dan's apartment and found the condoms. Starting to cry, I explained how Dan had put his hand on my thigh and told me that he had dreams about me.
Max stared at me during all of this, slack jawed. As I finished, his mouth dropped open and he whispered, "Oh my god. No."
I nodded at him – It's true. Believe me.
His eyes narrowed and he looked absolutely furious. "I knew he was up to something! That bastard, that absolute—" Max muttered ferociously. He caught sight of my tear-stained face and broke off. "Oh, Andy, are you all right?"
I shook my head and told him, "Max, I'm terrified. I'm scared, I'm so incredibly scared. He said, 'You know what I want from you'…Max, he's going to come after me again!" The tears started once more and I hurriedly wiped my arm across my eyes.
"Oh my god, Andy. You know what we have to do, don't you?" Max asked, touching my shoulder gently.
"What?" I asked fearfully.
"Andy – we have to tell the school. That bastard can't be around students. And we have to do it soon. What if he's doing this to some other girl too?"
I shrunk away from his touch. "I can't, Max. I can't. I don't want to ever see him again. I'll die if I see him."
"He won't touch you again," Max promised me firmly. "We just have to tell the school right away. Hopefully the asshole will be locked up or something."
I felt dizzy. "I can't…you have to come with me, Max. I can't do it alone!"
Max nodded and put his arm around me. "We'll do it together."
In the car on the way to school, I was shaking uncontrollably. The fact that I hadn't eaten in almost a day wasn't helping either. "What if nobody cares?" I asked anxiously. "What if everyone says that it was my fault in the first place for going over to his apartment?" A new thought struck me. "What if nobody believes me? What if they all say that I must be lying – trying to get Mr. Matthews into trouble?"
Max kept his eyes on the road but placed a hand over my clenched fists. "Andy, everything is going to turn out all right. Believe me."
I shut my eyes, clutched the door handle and silently prayed to a god that may or may not have existed as Max drove the rest of the way to school. When we arrived, Max helped me into the school, leading me down the deserted hall to the principal's office. However, when we reached the office, I couldn't walk any further. I held myself against the cold brick wall and tried to hold the bile down.
"Andy, we have to do this, you know that, right?" Max asked me gently, placing his hand on top of mine.
"I know," I choked out. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to walk the five remaining steps into the office. Max followed directly behind me, his hand a gentle reassurance against my back.
The old secretary sitting at the desk looked up. "Can I help you?" she asked dryly.
I nodded but no words came out.
"We need to speak to Principal Dunaway," Max told her.
The secretary began typing on her computer with a bored expression on her face. "He's free at the moment, so go on in."
We stepped into Principal Dunaway's inner office, where the principal was writing down notes in a large notebook at his desk. The office had two windows looking out into a courtyard, and a window on the opposite wall that looked out into the hall of the main school building. He looked up from his desk as we approached. "Miss Goldstein and Mr. Williams, what a pleasure. Are you here together?"
"Yes, we need to talk to you about something important," Max said.
"Well, then, by all means, make yourselves comfortable," Dunaway said, motioning to the two easy chairs in front of the desk. He got up from his desk to lower the blinds on all three windows in the office so that we were afforded a private space. "So, what is this all about?"
I licked my lips nervously and suddenly became dry-mouthed. Like a fish, I opened and closed my mouth a few times but I couldn't get any words out. Max squeezed my hand softly and suddenly I was able to speak. "Mr. Matthews touched me. He told me that he watches me in class, and then he said that he wants something from me and I'll know when the time is right." I wiped my forearm across my eyes. Don't cry, Andrea. "He said that he had dreams about me."
Dunaway was watching me, his eyes widening every time I told him something else that Mr. Matthews had said or done. "Miss Goldstein, I want to make sure of something. I'm not doubting you for a second, but I just want to get the facts straight. Is this correct: Mr. Matthews was sexually harassing you?"
"And when did this incident occur? Or was it more than once?" Dunaway continued.
"Well, I talked to him a few times in his classroom after school but he never did anything there. He invited me to come to his book club at his apartment last night, and then he offered to drive me home. It was on the way home that he told me all of these things," I said, not meeting Dunaway's eyes. Instead, I focused on the intricate patterns of the carpet in the office.
"Miss Goldstein, you do realize that if these charges are true, this is immediate grounds for Mr. Matthew's suspension and possibly dismisal?"
I nodded again.
"All right," Dunaway said. He picked up the phone and spoke into it, "Please send Dan Matthews down to the office right away."
I gasped. "No! I mean, we don't have to—"
Max reached over and brushed his fingers against my arm. "He has to," he whispered to me. "Just hold on, Andy."
"Mr. Wilson, could you wait outside the office until Andrea is finished in here?" Dunaway asked Max.
Max shrugged. "Andrea, are you going to be okay?"
"Sure," I said, even though I knew that I wasn't. I watched Max leave the office and take a seat in the outer office and wished that I was sitting next to him. I swallowed nervously and waited. Within a few minutes, Mr. Matthews walked into the office. Seeing his piercing eyes and dark features produced a reaction within me; I felt like I was going to hurl on the floor of the office. I willed myself to take slow, deep breaths and just concentrate on getting through this.
Mr. Matthews looked at me with surprise. "What is this about?" he asked curiously, not showing any sign that he remembered what happened the night before.
Dunaway looked incredibly serious. "Please take a seat, Dan."
Taking a casual seat on the arm of the leather sofa, Mr. Matthews smiled at each of us. I wanted to maim him, I wanted to cut his eyeballs out of his head and kick him in the crotch. I wanted to put him in the same situation that he put me into. I wanted to kill him. And the fact that he was being so nonchalant about it was what really irked me.
"Mr. Matthews, Miss Goldstein here has made a very serious allegation against you. She says that you sexually harassed her last night. Is this true?"
Mr. Matthews coughed and raised one eyebrow. "Absolutely not," he declared.
"So, you didn't invite her over to your apartment, you didn't drive her home and you most certainly did not touch her and tell her that you dreamed about her?" Dunaway asked, getting progressively louder.
"Er…well…" Mr. Matthews said. I watched him closely as he began to flush under the direct questions of the principal.
"You do realize that it is completely against school policy to invite students over to your house, let alone driving them anywhere and then actually having contact with them?" Dunaway questioned.
"Uh…I didn't know that she wasn't allowed to come over," Mr. Matthews said, not looking at any of us. "I asked her if she would like to join a book club and she agreed. There was never any forced interaction."
"That's not the point, Dan," Dunaway said gruffly. "The point is that you had an underaged student over to your house and then you proceeded to sexually harass her. I need you to confirm this."
"Well…that part is true," Mr. Matthews said, lowering his head. "I think you should know, though, that she—"
"Shut up, Dan," shouted Dunaway. He turned to me and his face softened. "I am so sorry, Andrea. Right now, I would like you to wait outside the office with your friend, Mr. Wilson, and I will talk to you just as soon as I'm finished with Mr. Matthews. Thank you so much, my dear." Dunaway stood up and helped me out of the office so that I didn't have to look at Mr. Matthews at all.
I sank down onto the couch next to Max with visible relief.
"Are you okay, Andy?" Max asked, turning to face me.
"No," I said. "Maybe I will be later, though." Closing my eyes, I leaned against Max and promptly fell asleep.
I awoke some time later to find Max nudging me awake. We were still in the office. "What? Ugh," I yawned.
"Mr. Matthews just left," Max informed me. "And Dunaway is calling your brothers to come down to the office right now."
"My brothers? Why?" I asked.
Max shrugged. "I guess we'll find out."
Seconds later, Sam and Lucas burst through the doors of the office. "Andrea! What's wrong?" Sam asked worriedly.
"Dunaway asked us to come down to the office to talk about you, but he didn't say why," Lucas explained. "We thought you were staying home sick today."
I looked away. How could I tell my brothers, the guys that I loved best in the world, what had happened to me?
Dunaway emerged from his office. "Sam. Lucas. Thank you for coming down here." He turned to Max. "Mr. Wilson, you can either head to class or wait out here for a bit."
"I'll wait," Max said, leaning back in the sofa.
"All right then, will the three of you come into the office?" Dunaway asked.
Sam, Lucas and I followed Dunaway back into the inner office. Sam and Lucas pulled up chairs next to the desk and I seated myself in the chair that I had originally sat in. Dunaway rested his elbows on the table and said, "Sam and Lucas, Andrea has something to tell you."
I looked down at my hands.
"What? What happened, Andrea?" Lucas demanded. He put his hand over my own. "Are you okay? What happened?"
I coughed. "Um…well, you know the other night when I went to that book club at Mr. Matthew's apartment? And then he drove me home? Well, on the way home, um, he touched me. And then he told me that I was beautiful and that he had dreams about me…" I was crying again but I managed to finish, "And that he wanted something from me."
"Oh my god," whispered Lucas.
Sam's face turned green, like he was going to throw up, then pink and then a deep dark angry red.
Dunaway cleared his throat. "I made a sole decision to immediately fire Mr. Matthews from Franklin High School. As a result, he will not be permitted to teach in the district and he will have a hard time finding a job elsewhere, because this indiscretion will have a permanent place on his working file."
"Thank God," I breathed. It suddenly felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
Sam stood up, punching his fist into the palm of his hand. "What is the school planning to do about it?" he asked angrily. "My little sister has been tainted, my God, I want to kill that—"
Dunaway smoothly interrupted him. "Mr. Goldstein, we are willing to provide counseling for Andrea, but violence won't solve anything. I understand that you are feeling angry, and you have every right to be, but we must remember that we are lucky that nothing else happened to Andrea. Your sister was smart enough to come and tell me what happened, instead of letting it continue. This could have turned out a lot worse, if it wasn't for the courage of Miss Goldstein."
"The pervert touched her!" Sam shouted.
"And we're supposed to just be thankful that nothing else happened?" added Lucas. He stood up and moved over behind my chair, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. "What if there's other girls that he's doing this to?"
"Thank you for mentioning that," Dunaway said pleasantly. "As a matter of fact, I've already thought about it and we're going to start a thorough investigation tomorrow. Right now, I think it would be a good idea if you take Andrea home and make sure that she relaxes and doesn't stress about any of this. I couldn't get ahold of either of your parents earlier, which is why I called the two of you down to the office, but I left them a message about the whole thing, so they already know."
I turned to Dunaway as Lucas led me out of the office. "Thank you," I said sincerely.
"No, thank you, Miss Goldstein," Dunaway corrected me. "If it wasn't for your courage, Mr. Matthews would have gone on threatening you and possibly other people. Please don't hesitate to come to me if there are any problems in the future."
"If there are, then I'll kill—" Sam began to say, shaking his fist, but Lucas just shook his head at him and closed the office door behind us.
Later that night at around eight, I was laying in bed, watching my curtains flicker restlessly at the window. I wasn't sleeping; I was just thinking. I felt the calmest that I had felt in over twenty-four hours, even though I was still somewhat of a nervous wreck inside.
A thought struck me and I reached for my phone and dialed. "Hey, Max."
His voice came through on the other end. "Andy! How are you? Are you feeling okay? Is anything wrong? Do—"
I laughed, effectively stopping him. "Everything's fine. I was just wondering if we could meet up or something."
"Tonight? Like right now?"
"Yeah, it's nothing important…if you're not busy or anything."
"Nah, I'm always free when it comes to you, Andy."
I laughed again. "Haha, very funny. Anyway, want to meet up at Denny's?"
"Yeah. Fifteen minutes sound good?"
"Sure," I agreed as I hung up the phone. I put on a pair of jeans, grabbed a sweatshirt and headed to the car, smoothing my hair back into a ponytail on the way. Lucas was watching baseball on the television in the family room when I came in
Watching me take my keys out of my purse, he asked, "Where are you going?"
I shrugged on the sweatshirt and told him, "I'm meeting Max in town."
Lucas' eyes narrowed. "Are you going to be okay going out on your own? I mean, not to worry you or anything, but aren't you still a little scared?"
"Yeah, but I can't let that stop me," I said. I leaned over the couch and kissed Lucas' cheek. "You and Sam are the absolute best brothers in the entire world but you two are majorly overprotective. Don't worry. I can fend for myself."
Lucas crossed his arms over his chest and said gruffly, "You're our little sister. It's our job to worry about you."
"I know, and you're doing a great job. I'm only going to be out for less than an hour, okay?" I headed out the door and blew him a kiss. "See you!"
When I arrived at Denny's, Max was already sipping a cup of black coffee. I slid into the seat across the table from him and ordered a decaf. "Thanks for coming," I said.
"Like I said before, I'll drop anything for you, Andy," Max said, giving me a wry smile.
"Well, thanks," I replied, a little flustered. "I don't really have anything important to tell you. I just wanted to say thank you – thank you so fucking much – for making me tell Dunaway today. I couldn't have done it by myself. I just wanted you to know that."
Max set down his mug and looked steadily across the table at me. "Well, if we're exchanging thank-you's right now, then I want to tell you thanks for being brave enough to tell Dunaway. I know it was hard and you shouldn't have had to do anything like that ever, but I respect you so much for it."
"God, this is getting really corny," I said, laughing. My decaf coffee had arrived and I took a quick gulp, burning my mouth in the process. "Ouch, that's hot!"
"Andy, I just want to make sure of one thing, though…he didn't do anything else to you, right? Mr. Matthews, I mean."
I bit my lip, my heart racing as I thought about last night. "No, he just…he just touched my leg – my thigh. And he was…" I had to set my coffee down as I felt the bile rise in my throat. "He was…aroused, I guess."
"What? He had a boner?" Max asked incredulously. He threw back the rest of his coffee and slammed the mug down onto the table. "That bastard! I wish I could kill him. Honestly!"
I reached across the table to touch Max's hand. "Calm down, Max," I said, struggling for words. "Don't think that I don't want to kill him, too. I do, but I can't – we can't – do anything about it. You know that."
He took a deep breath. "Yeah. I guess you're right…" he trailed off as my cell phone began to ring.
I flipped it open and answered, "Hello."
"Hey, sweetheart, it's Phil," came the voice on the other line.
"Phil…" I had forgotten all about Phil completely in the last twenty-four hours.
"Are you okay, Andrea? I've been calling your house and your cell phone but nobody's been answering."
"It's been kind of…hectic…around here," I said slowly. "But things are getting better."
"Well, that's great," he said energetically. "I was just calling to see if you wanted to go to a party on Friday. This guy, Josh, had the biggest house I've ever seen and his parents are going to be gone for the weekend. There's going to be a ton of people from all the schools in the area. It's going to be great."
"Yeah, sure," I said. "Sounds like fun."
"Good. I'll pick you up at eight?"
"Sure," I said. I hung up and returned the cell phone to my purse. "Ready to go?" I asked Max, draining the rest of my coffee with a few swallows.
He stood up, draped his arm around my shoulder and walked with me out of the restaurant. "Who was that?"
"Eh, just Phil," I said, zipping up my sweatshirt. Fall was already starting and the evening air was brisk.
I felt his muscles tense and he asked roughly, "What did he want?"
"He just wanted to know if I could go to a party with him on Friday."
"Josh Meyer's party?" Max wanted to know.
"Yeah, I think he said it was a guy named Josh," I answered. We had reached my car and I unlocked it.
"Andy, that party's going to be completely out of control," Max told me.
I got into the car and snapped my seat belt on. "Well, then that will just make it more fun, won't it?"
"I guess…" Max said halfheartedly. He leaned over and kissed my cheek. "Be safe driving home."
I laughed, started the engine and honked the horn loud enough to make Max jump. "I will."