And then there were shadows

"Don't worry, Jess… he'll show." Mick assured her as he pulled Monique back onto the dance floor by her slim wrist. Monique's face held a fake smile which she only donned to make her boyfriend happy. Jessica knew she was absolutely pissed off with John. And more then a little upset that Jessica wasn't.

Welcome to the Junior Prom! Lights, balloons, loud music, beautiful girls in their long dresses with their dates… and then there was Jessica Taking. Standing alone, next to the spiked punch. Dateless.

And when I say dateless, I really only mean presently. She had a date. Her dream date: John Hannigan. God, he was gorgeous. Tall, chiseled form, clear, pale skin, square jaw, silvery gray eyes, platinum blonde hair… he was the Draco Malfoy to her dorky, sixteen year old fantasies. Unfortunately, he'd never shown the slightest interest in her. Not until, that is, the Monday before the Junior Prom; when he'd asked her to be his date.

At the time, she'd assumed he'd had no other choice, beautiful and popular as he was. Then, she let her imagination play with him. He was in love with her. He wanted to ask her out, marry her, and whisk her away to spend a lifetime together- with as much hot sex as was humanly possible. Now, still alone, she was beginning to think it had been a dare from one of his hot, popular friends. To amuse themselves with the freaky class virgin. It didn't sit well with her nerves.

She drew an anxious breath, the tight waistband of her dress poking her as she did so. It was a beautiful, strapless, black and red gown that fanned out around her knees and spun out around her when she moved. A thin, black, lace layer covered the black satin and red trim and came down a little farther than the one under it. It was also damn uncomfortable. She'd picked it out herself. At the time, she'd pictured the star-struck look on John's face as he gazed at her… she'd even pictured him taking it off of her, slowly, later on that night.

Wow, she was stupid.

She stood there, against the folding table, and glanced at the lit clock on the gym wall. 11:00. The damn thing would be ending in an hour. Where the hell was John? He was supposed to make his presence known four hours ago, and here it was, almost time to leave, when all the best making out was taking place, and he had neglected to make her one of the people playing tonsil hockey in the middle of the gym floor.

She sighed deeply and crossed her arms over her chest, which made her boobs come dangerously close to the seam, but who cared? As long as the guys' eyes (not to mention the better parts) were all over their dates, what did she have to worry about?

She saw Monique dancing with Mick, a loving look in her deep, blue eyes. Mick was a senior, and he would be going away to college next year, leaving his girlfriend behind. He had been seeing Monique for three years now, ever since they hit it off in her freshman year. She was her best friend in the world. Whenever Jessica needed some one resilient and strong, Monique was there. And Monique was careful. She knew what to say and what not to say.

But now, no one could say anything. Except, maybe, "What the hell is wrong with you?".

A hand wound around her waist, and she got shivers. She turned sideways and looked into John's eyes. His glazed over, bloodshot eyes.

"Hey babe… sorry I'm late. Daddy got all tied up." He murmured, burying his head in the crook of her neck. He was currently leaning over the table of refreshments and hooked onto her neck and waist like a baby monkey. Happy as she was to see him, she pushed him off and gave him a death glare. The empty glasses shook as he backed up.

"Where the hell have you been? The dance ends in a half hour, John." She whispered, but it wasn't as calm as she would have liked. She'd panted for a week over this night. She'd made arrangements to sleep over Monique's house (as far as her father was concerned). She'd done herself up, worn this uncomfortable death trap of a dress, and for what?! An hour of dancing? Worse, he smelled like weed.

"Listen… babe… I want you, now. Okay? And if that's not a good enough line to get you into the back seat of my Porsche… then… umm… just do it 'cause I said so."

His words stunned her. He was supposed to sweep her off her feet and drag her away breathless! Get in the back of my Porsche…. PLEASE! She felt her heart breaking, as well as her resolve.

"Are you kidding me? What makes you think you can walk in here, drool all over me, and some how get me into your car? To fuck me! You're crazy if you think I'm having anything to do with you. You're fucking wasted."

Her slippered feet smacked the floor sending her down the hotel hallway with much momentum. She was going as fast as she thought was possible, but then he was there.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" he asked and grabbed her arm, breathing heavily.

"HOME," she yelled in his face, pulling her arm out of his grasp.

"I don't think so, babe. You're my date. Remember?" He said coldly, and picked her up, slinging her over his shoulder.

"JOHN. FUCKING PUT ME DOWN, NOW!!" She screamed, but he did no such thing. He burst through the double school doors. A techno version of Madonna's ''Like a Prayer'' could still be distantly heard from the dance floor where the happy couples were making with the smoochie.

"John, no!" she screamed, when she heard the alarm of his car go off.

"Shut up," he said, pushing her into the back seat as he fumbled to stop the alarm.

"JOHN. DON'T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME! ASSHOLE!!!" She screeched, thrashing out at him.

"You just don't get it, do you, Jess? No one can hear you above that music… no one. Just moan and scream into my ear, baby." She thrust her fist forward, ripping at him. She managed to take a chunk out of his neck with her nails and he roared at her.

"SHUT UP, BITCH!" he yelled, slapping her face.

"GET THE FUCK OFF ME!" She screamed, tears rushing to her eyes from the sting. He pushed her onto her back and climbed into the truck. She kicked him between the legs and he grunted, falling forwards onto her. She took it to her advantaged and began slamming into all areas of the truck. She closed her eyes and let out a loud, echoing scream. A click forced her eyes open, and she stared down the barrel of a gun. Her heart stopped.

"Stop that fucking screaming or I'll blow you away," he hissed at her. She sobbed, silently.

"John, please! You don't wanna do this! My father, he's a cop! He'll-"

"He'll what? Arrest me?"

He laughed, relaxing his gun wielding arm on her heaving chest.

"Shut up, you dumb cunt," he said reaching under her skirt and pulling her panties off, tossing them to the bottom of the truck. He pulled at her long hair, forcing her mouth upwards, and kissed her. This was not the soft candlelight that she wanted her first time to be surrounded in. This was not her Knight in shining armor, who had come from far away to whisk her from her solemn life. Well, actually, it was. But he wasn't the man she thought he was. He was a bastard, a traitor, a sadistic rapist!

Chills consumed her. But then there was only pain as he shoved himself into the dry folds of her. She felt her flesh tear and bleed, giving him moisture. She felt him shift out and then plunge back into her, killing her innocence. She screamed and cried, but he was right… no one could hear her. And if they could, they didn't care. More than anything, she wished for death, as she felt the unquenchable need to curl into the fetal position and cry. But she held strong as she felt him climax on top of her, shooting his evil seed deep into her. He hadn't even used a condom.

She felt panic on top of panic, and she started compulsively shaking as he kneaded her flesh and sank onto the floor beside her.

"You're a terrible fuck," He whispered, and she gasped at the pain as her vision swam. Her mind furiously told her to get out of the car, but her lower body was in so much pain… and the blood was streaming. She forced herself to get up and even though she was sobbing with the pain, she made it out, falling onto the concrete. He climbed out and shut the door, furiously. She felt him moving towards her and she squeaked, shaking. He pulled her by her hair upwards and lowered his mouth to her ear.

"Tell anyone… and you're gonna be more than just fucked, Taking."

She squirmed as he dropped her, and let her head hit the ground. She heard the slam of his car door, and him speed away. She cried her longest cry, right there, outside of The Monde Hotel, Richman, Virginia. And she cried hard. She let the events pour out of her body through her tears. She watched as one fell off of her skin and slowly onto the concrete, splashing and fading into the stone.

She tried to stand, grasping but her knees were shaky.

Please, God… I just wanna go home… I just wanna go home...

But she was unmoving. She finally received the motivation to move. She caught a glimpse of herself in the rear-view mirror of a parked car. Her make up was running. Her hair was falling out on one side, and ripped out from its beautiful braid on the other. Her dress was wrinkled and bloody. There were tearstains down her face. And there were ribbons of blood running down her legs.

She forced a shaky breath and lurched forward. Soon, the pain became oblivious to her. She just kept moving. Eventually, she was in front of her house. She walked past the front door, knowing it would be locked, and around back to the fenced in yard. She dropped to her knees and crawled to the tarp tying down her father's bike equipment. She crawled underneath it and folded it back around her body. The soft soil beneath her felt good against her bruised hips and thighs. The sounds of crickets chirping in the silence slowed her breathing and quieted her nerves. And as she began to lull into sleep, she thought of Monique and Mick, and their flawless relationship… and knew that nothing like that could ever happen to her….

Because she used to be Jessica Taking: outgoing, lovable, freaky school virgin. Now, she was Taking: cold, shaking, scared out of her mind, hopeless, undesirable slut.

She passed out.

Jessica opened her eyes and looked about her cramped bedroom. Amongst the many band posters of Fall Out Boy and the All-America Rejects, her eyes found her Family Guy calendar with an X on every day leading up to August Fifth. August Fifth… it was her birthday already?

She stretched on her back and sat up on the mattress. In her wild sleep, she had thrown all her blankets to the floor where they lay in a disgruntled heap. She stood up and blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes. Licking her dry lips, she reached for a stick of gum from her bedside table. Her knuckle knocked against the old picture of her mother when she had been seventeen (her own age, today). She picked it up and gently fingered the black and white curve of her mother's face. She looked away, and set it back down on the little table. She ran her hands through her hair and headed for the bathroom.

About an hour later, her teeth were brushed, her hair was washed, and she was wearing a new set of clothes for the day. She sat down on the bed and pulled her black and white converse on over her hot pink socks. She made her bed and rearranged the pillows the way she wanted them with the one resembling a magic-eight-ball out in front. She bent over to fix her bed skirt, and her cell phone started singing, "Getting Jiggy With It". She reached into her jeans pocket and looked at the caller ID. With a smile, she answered the phone.

"Yes, this is Marvin's House of Chicken," she said in a masculine voice. Monique's laughter echoed through the phone.

"Yes, um… I'd like to place an order. How big are your breasts?" She asked and paused purposely. "Yes, this is Fez…" she said, imitating Fez, from That 70's Show's shrill voice.

Jess laughed and plopped back down on her newly made bed.

"Hi Moaner," she said, and Monique made grunted into the phone.

"I told you, that was NEVER to leave Jillian's. I was drunk, and you were… sexy," she said and Jessica started laughing again.

"Psh, Damn RIGHT I was sexy, Moaner. You better believe it." Monique brushed the comment away.

"Okay, so, first things first… HAPPY FUCKING BIRTHDAY, JESSICAAAA!!" she yelled into the receiver. Jessica held the phone at arms length and rolled her eyes.

"Um… thanks, Monique," she said, returning the phone. Monique laughed.

"Dat's right. I know you love me," she said. Jessica stretched out on her bed, drawing the eight-ball pillow onto her chest.

"What can I do for you, today?"

"You can tell me that you will go to Jillian's with me tonight, shweety!" Jessica's heart skipped a beat.

Jillian's was a night club on the other side of town that she and Monique had been infamous for sneaking into. They had an under 21 night, sure, but that was no fun. They hid the alcohol on those nights. They went for the dancing, not the booze, but the booze added some fun, there was no denying that.

They'd been going since they were 14; ever since Jessica slept over Monique's house and her foster parents went bowling… until 3 in the morning. Monique had suggested it. They'd had the most fun they'd ever had in their lives. Since then, they'd made it a monthly visit. It was tricky though. The cops were getting more aware of minors in the bars, and they were cracking down (which she knew because her father was one). Not to mention the fact that she used to go in the hopes that the boy of her dreams would be there….

A boy she desperately wanted to forget.

"Umm, I can't," she said and Monique gasped exasperatedly.

"Come on!" she cried. "I know you aren't doing anything else!"

"How can you possibly-"

"Well I AM the best friend! And it is clearly stated in the Best Friend Clause that best friends get rights over all other friends and possible boyfriends on the birthday of the receiving best friend in question!"

Jessica bit her bottom lip and shook her head as Monique carried on.

"I'm sorry Monique, I just… I don't really… I just can't." Monique let out a long, low breath.

"Come on, Jessica, I mean, you've scarcely gone out since-"

"I know Monique, and I'm sorry, okay? But it's hard for me to trust guys now."

"I know. You still haven't forgiven John for standing you up… but not all guys are like that. You have to give them a chance." Jessica closed her eyes as flashes of that night restored in her head. She choked back the impulse to scream.

"You know, I gotta go, Mon. My dad wants to take me school shopping for my birthday."

"Well… all right. Listen, I'll give ya a call when I'm approximately three seconds from your drive way so you can't hide from me, okay? LATER, BABE!" Jessica heard the line click dead and frowned.

"Damn her," she said, shutting the flip phone and sticking into her back pocket.

She opened the door to her room and crossed the second floor hallway. Approaching the stairs, she looked in through the crack in her brother's open door. Craig was sitting on his bed with one leg crossed over the other, playing his acoustic guitar softly so no one would hear. He'd been secretly (or not so secretly) teaching himself to play for a few months now.

"That's sexy, Craig. You gonna impress a chick with all that depressed crap?" She questioned, ducking as he jumped up and through one of his DC's at her. It bounced off the door and closed it the remainder of the way.

"Shut the hell up, Jessica!" He shouted through the closed pane. She went down the stairs with a smile on her face, triumphant with her success. She loved pissing her brother off….

She walked into the bright kitchen and over to the pot of coffee that her father made every morning. He was sitting at the table smoking a butt and reading the paper.

"Morning dad." She said, pouring herself a cup of French vanilla bliss.

"Hey, birthday girl. How are we feeling this morning, at the bright age of seventeen?" He asked and she shrugged.

"About the same, I guess." She said and he smiled.

"You know… seventeen years from today, I was sitting in the waiting room of the Hospital with your brother… and he was asking me what the baby would be like. I told him that you would be soft and cute and kind of loud… and then he asked if you would get some of your mom's brain, or if you would grow your own… and then he started crying. And we spent the rest of the day with the Hospital shrink, because he couldn't believe that mom wasn't going to be retarded." He said, taking a gulp from his copy. Jessica scrunched up her face and turned away.

"Touching." She said.

"Well, he was young." He said, putting out the cigarette and folding up the paper. "He didn't know any better. Anyways, what are we doing for your birthday?"

"I figured what we always do."

"Oh god… the mall… clothes… boys." He said, and put his head in his hands.

"Shut up dad, you know I don't obsess over guys."

"That's fair, I guess. You never have been one to sneak out and scuffle around with boys."

"Dad, if I was sneaking out, how would you know?"

He didn't answer her. He just grinned at her over the paper.

"Maybe you're a Lesbian," he said, bluntly. Her jaw fell open.

"Fuck you, dad!" He laughed at her, lifting his mug and offering it to her in a toast.

"To bisexuality, then!"

She blushed, rolling her eyes.

"I like… men."

"What ever you say. So, we're hitting up the Mall, then?" He asked. She nodded.

"Well then, just let me get the car." He said and walked around to the back of the house.

Jessica waited at the table; expecting him to return with the keys to the ford, pick up truck. He came back and set the keys down before her. The word Chevy was emblazed on the black end of a key.

"Who's are these?" she asked and he smiled.

"What? Those are the keys to the car." He said and she stood. She rapidly walked over to the door window saying, "No way…" under her breath.

"Oh… my… god…" She said, looking out the window at a silver, 2000 model, Chevy, blazer. She just turned to her father and smiled, before opening the door and hopping down the steps, over to the door of her cute little car.

"The car's from me, the tire case is from Craig." He said, opening the passenger side door and climbing inside. With a puzzled expression, she walked to the back of the car and looked with amusement at the black tire case reading, "Jeep, Jeep!" with an orange cat on it, jumping around.

"Wow." Jessica said, opening her door and listening to the little chiming noise that ensued when she did so. She carefully got in and shut the door, before sucking in her lips and turning to her father. "Thanks…" She breathed and he laughed, handing her the keys.

"You almost forget these. You know, these are the most important part of the car. I mean, sure, you can't program their horn to yell 'Fuck off and Die'… but you can't even use the car without the keys." He said, and she started the car, before daring to bang on the horn. It didn't surprise her, however, that the horn just made a catchy, "Beep!"

Four hours and three hundred dollars later, Jessica had a trunk full of new school clothes and a smile on her face. She was upstairs, putting her clothes away, when her cell phone, for the second time that day, began singing "Getting Jiggy With It"

"What's up, Monique?" She asked and Monique made a little noise.

"I have news, birthday girl!"

"Oh no…" Jessica said and Monique sighed.

"Shut up, ya whiner."

"Okay then, what?" She asked and sat down on the bed, preparing for the worst.

"You and I are so going to Jillian's tonight, and we are going to be sexy and hot, and we will dance our asses off… and Craig is going to come."

"What?!" She asked and Monique made a noise.

"Well, you're older, but you're not any 21, man." she said. Jessica groaned.

"But Craig?"

"He'll be my date, and we'll let you in through the back door!"

"Why can't we use your cousin again, like the old days?"

"Because Olivia went off to College about a week ago. It will be fine, Jess… really. He won't even really hang with us. Come on… please?"

Craig wasn't the issue. She'd actually rather that he was there. Craig was tall, muscular, and he could be nasty as fuck when he wanted to be. Jessica was a LOT more comfortable with Craig around. She had never told Monique about what had happened between her and John at the Junior Prom, and she didn't intend to. There was no reason to. She was taking that one to her grave. But Craig was her brother, and he didn't even like guys looking at her wrong, never mind pushing her into something she didn't want to do, (to put it lightly).

"Well… I'll see if he has other plans," she started and looked at the clock. It was 6. "Okay, so come and get me around 7. My dad will be heading off to work around 6:30, so come and we'll hang for a bit, and then we can go.

"Okay, that sounds good. Remember what I said about Craig though. Because we only have one fake ID, and you used it last time. It's my turn.

"But it's my birthday-"

"If you use it, you'll be Craig's date."

"Point taken. Seven?"

"Yes. See you, babe."

"Bye." Jessica said and heard the little click momentarily before shutting her own phone and looking into the mirror.

Well, maybe if I wear pants and a shirt, I'll seem more casual than sexy. Then I'll be safe. Just because Craig's there doesn't mean that he won't find a girl to chase. And I'd really rather not find the raw end of that….

She thought as she pulled out a pair of new, hip hugger, light blue jeans from the closet and pulled off the ones that she presently wore. She pulled the new ones on and examined them. They were loose but cute and she slid her low rising converse back on. She then clipped the top half of her hair back behind her head. Her brown and yellow curls fell back over her head and she applied some clear lip gloss.

She settled back down onto her back and picked up the book that lay next to her mother's photo on her bedside table. "Embrace the Twilight."

She was completely engrossed in it, and was therefore quite startled when Monique walked into the room and through a pile of clothes at her.

"Ah!!" She yelled, dropping her book onto the floor and catching a skirt.

"Put 'em on, girly." She said and checked her reflection in the mirror.

"What's all this?" She asked as she scoped out the clothes. They consisted of a jean mini skirt, a gold, silk tank top with only one strap that adorned a silver clasp on the on the bottom part of it, connecting it to the shirt itself, and a pair of silver high heels with little fake diamonds running up the middle. The outfit screamed class and sexiness, not too preppy, not too over done, but very sexy, and very, very revealing. Especially the skirt.

"Monique, I can't wear these. They're not me at all."

"Oh no?" She asked and flipped the hem of the skirt up a bit. Jessica's name was written over the tag.

"Seems to me that they were ''you'' only a short time ago, Jesse…" She said and Jessica stared down at the tag in amazement.

She was right. Jessica had worn the skirt when they had all taken their junior trip to New York in May… just a month before the dance.

"Jessica if something is wrong, you can tell me. I'm here… I'll listen. You haven't been the same for months. Tell me what's wrong. What happened to you?" She asked, sitting down on the bed in front of Jessica.

"Nothing happened, Monique. Don't you think that I'd tell you? Wow… I mean, I know that I've been a bit off lately, but that's part of growing up, you know? I'm seventeen now, and that's kind of a big deal. And we only have one more year of high school left before it's the real deal. That just scares me a little." She lied and Monique softened.

"Yeah, but locking yourself away from people isn't going to make you any younger. In fact, it's just going to make the last of your glory days seem worthless and wasted. Here, put these on and forget all that. I'll go and get Craig while you get ready." She said and left the room.

"How you gonna convince him?" she asked as her friend opened the door. Monique looked over her shoulder and slapped her ass.

"I'm sure we can come to an agreement."

Jessica took a deep breath and pulled off the new jeans. She dragged herself into the mini skirt and then the gold shirt. Lastly, she put on the shoes and gained an inch in height. She looked at the mirror and tugged the skirt down a bit.

Wow this is short…

She thought as she looked at her reflection. But never the less, she let her hair down and straightened it with her fingers a bit. It swept over her shoulders in dark swoops. She put a barrette in it that matched the clasp on the shirt as well as the fake jewels on the shoes and she stepped into the hall.

"Oh yeah, here she comes… the Birthday girl, WOOO!!" Monique whooped and Craig rolled his eyes.

'Whatever. I'll drive." He said, holding out his hand. Jessica tossed him the keys to her baby and Monique gave her a wide-eyed stare.

"You have a car?!" She asked and Jessica nodded.

"IS IT A FERRARRI???" She yelled and ran out the front door.

She came back in a bit slower and said, "OMG, its an SUV. It's so not a Ferrari… it's cute, though." She said and climbed into the front seat.

"It's not an SUV, it's a blazer!" Jessica corrected defensively. Monique rolled her eyes and rolled her window down.

Craig got into the driver's seat and Jessica looked between the two.

"No… way…" She said and opened Monique's door.

"Oh come ON, Jess! You gotta get into the back to help us create the illusion that we're a couple, okay?"

"No!" She said, but Craig's arm pushed her into the back anyways.

"Shut up and get in there, Jess. And crouch down so that your head doesn't give us away. Oh, and happy birthday," he said, putting the car into Drive.

From the back of the car, Jessica could be heard muttering : Happy birthday to me… happy birthday to me… Happy birthday dear yucky girl… Happy birthday to me….