By mid-November, we'd fallen head-over-heels in hate with Alex Vanduesen. We promised we'd go anywhere, do anything, just to get a taste of him.

Now its summer. I'm sitting in back of a tented Ford pick-up, hugging my legs. Grimy metallic ridges press my shorts to my thighs and I have to peel off the fabric to let my skin air-dry. There's three of us in the back. Jeff and Erica are up front. So it's me, Lorrie, and Ryan. Well, if I don't count Alex. Alex is three feet away from my knees, belly-down, bound and gagged. We keep him low, shoved under the seat. The five of us are on an 'extended road trip' and Alex is permanent cargo.

Do we really think we can get away with this? Is it really that easy? Just tie him up with rope, cram some rags in his mouth, and drive off? Maybe we've got today covered, but what about tomorrow?

A sign reads Route 33. Glowing green lights turn red. I'm caught in a world between euphoria and panic. Petrified, invigorated, and strangely empowered. It gnaws at the pit of my stomach and eats holes in my reasoning. I think this must be how a psycho serial criminal feels. Is that why they do it? For this rush?

What'll I say if we get caught?

I guess I'll just introduce myself.

Hi, I'm Kristen Whitman, I'll say, and I helped plan and carry out the abduction of Alexander Vandeusen over the course of my senior year.

They'll want to know how we did it. Every detail, down in black and white. Another scar on the virgin record I used to keep before I got my taste for retribution.

My name is Kristen Whitman and I raped the Portway rapist.

Why did we do it?

Revenge.

Continue to do it?

It started sometime late August. Newspapers buzzed about girls' disappearances. I don't remember how many. Four girls reported, maybe. Two of them stayed missing and the other two turned up battered and disoriented. The investigators didn't have any leads at this point, although we thought we had a good one.

There were these two guys who liked to hang out at clubs and bars in our area and make trouble. We didn't know their names, but we knew one of them was an attorney's kid and that his family was suppose to be rich and well-to-do. He drove a yellow, striped Chevy Camaro, and all of us wondered why he wasted it on his grease-ball buddy. We never saw girls in the car, just those two yukking it up-- howling, swerving, screeching, barely stopping in time for red lights. They got complained about, but never with a case solid enough to rid us of them for good.

I'd once caught Mr. Camaro at the gas-station with some poor harassed girl. She stumbled out into the streets, hair matted and dress askew. She held her head and stomach like she couldn't decide which hurt worse, and Mr. Camaro followed her out with a woozy lurch and looked proud. He swished a half-drunk glass of liquor in one hand and watched the girl stumble around the parking lot. It only took looking at her to imagine what he'd done.

In those days, I did the only thing I thought I could do: keep walking and silently hate his guts, secretly wishing someone would appear to bang him up right back--even imagining just how. When I wanted to, I could make my eighteen-year-old high school mind go just as sadistic as any dipshit twenty-six-year-old kidnapper.

The disappearances carried into September. The school and the evening news kept vigil. Still no leads, despite that the Camaro guys got reported every week. We heard the police checked in on them, but they'd passed inspection with a clean slate.

One Friday morning, I came into class groggy and noticed students crowded around the windows. A wolf spider stood poised, and I flinched when I saw some kid coming at it with a book. Luckily, Jeff stood nearby and trapped the spider safely in a cup before the other kid could strike.

"Hey," he said. " We need this guy."

Jeff opened the window and set the spider free, then skulked back to his seat and resumed reading a novel he had hidden between the pages of our Biology textbook. I took a seat behind him. At first, he just kept reading, then, "There's gotta' be a way to use every type of person."

"Huh?" I blinked bleary eyes, too tired to figure out what prompted Jeff to say this.

"People," he said (he's one of those that can read and carry on a conversation.) "All types. There's got to be a way we could put 'em all to good use. At least, we could find someone else who doesn't mind all the crap they want to do, instead of a victim." He turned the page.

"Huh."

"Or, like, with murderers. Sex offenders. The ones who want a victim. How much outrage do you think there's be if we were to, say. . . give them a spare cell and let him have their way with other repeat offenders who just won't get the message?"

He laughed like he'd already spotted a million holes in his own proposal and it was all a big joke. "Sorry. That was dumb. 'n random. How are you?"

"Tired," I said. "You?"

"Engrossed," he whispered, but in a mock tone, like he hadn't decided what to think of his book.

"What're you reading?"

He chuckled and tossed the book over his head. I caught it.

Les 120 Journees de Sodome

Marquis de Sade

I gave Jeff a quizzical look and slid the book into his bag, between two binders.

"This is going in your backpack," I said. "Not mine."

Ryan lumbered in just then, pale and carp-eyed, like a zombie. Jeff looked as shocked as me to see our hurdle-hopping, track-running football star anything less than top-of-his-game.

"Those guys were at my house," Ryan said.

I blinked blearily. "What? Who was?"

"Those guys, those idiot guys who're always at Lily's. They were circling around our house."

"When?"

"Yesterday, after school." Ryan sank to his seat. "They went around like, five times before I called the police, but the shits were gone before anyone could spot them."

Jeff shrugged. "Wanna' stay with us?"

"Naw." Ryan sighed. "I can't just leave the house like that. But, thanks anyway, man."

We sat silent until Ryan put his head down on his desk and spat loudly, "Geez!" He slammed a fist on his desktop. "Are the cops just gonna' wait until Jenny's gone to get a clue? Those guys laugh about the news. Everyone's heard them." With his next sigh, Ryan's voice went weary. "They've got big heads now 'cause they know they're not being watched. Psh. I'm calling Dad. Tomorrow, we're switching up routes and maybe Jenny can stay with our aunt."

I frown. "What about you?"

"Ha. They don't want me. They're interested in Jenny, but it ain't gonna' happen."

A few silent minutes pass.

"You know." Jeff looked from my face to Ryan's. "It won't."

I looked at Jeff, puzzled and interested, but the bell rang, and Jeff had to leave it at: "Kristen, why don't you talk to Erica and Lorrie at lunch? After Ryan gets Jenny safe, we're going to meet up at my place and talk about this."

I briefed Lorrie and Erica on the way to Jeff's house the next day. We all sat in Jeff's room and exchanged stories. Both Lorrie and Erica already knew about the two guys. They fumed over an incident with a co-worker of Lorrie's (Lorrie worked part-time at Lily's.) We cooked up a plan to track the guys, to get some hard-boiled evidence that could link them to the crimes. A recording, maybe. Or a photograph. We needed to get closer without getting caught. But everything we did got ever more dangerous, reckless, and downright stupid.

We didn't know anything about the grease-ball friend. We only knew about the attorney's kid. Lorrie had swiped his debit card a bunch of times and we had his name: Alex Vandeusen.

No getting around to it: we stalked this guy. We learned his habits, learned his routes. We even pilfered his address and loitered around his house. I have no idea how we got away with it for three months, but we did. We'd split up and pool information, but nothing useful turned up, even between us. I guess it pretty naïve to think it would.

It was our game, and it was fun. Alex was the villain everyone straight-up hated and we were spies trying to get dirt on him. We imagined the gross stuff he did, made him our monster. We'd see him do things--normal things: get food, mow his lawn, wash his car. Once, I even spied him taking a shower and fixing his hair through a misty bathroom window. We'd get angry watching his 'stupid face!' do his normal things. We'd silently chant for stuff to go wrong for him--like, this one time, when he had a bad head cold. I'll never forget that. His bleary, red, miserable eyes. The thin glisten of cold sweat on his skin. I liked watching anything that made Alex look helpless. I loved his cough; it sent chills through me.

I wouldn't recognize this until later, but it turned me on.

Then, one night, we decided to stay out late and help Lorrie's friend with her shift at Lily's. She knew why we'd come and I could tell she thought we were stupid to do it. We stayed later than we'd intended, got a booth and sodas.

Erica and I stopped by the bathroom. Just us. Bad idea. We didn't notice Alex in the pub until we'd gone behind the nook to the bathrooms. He crept up on us, and a jolt went through me when I turned and saw his face.

"Hey, I've seen you around," he said.

His tone was smooth and cool. It was like I'd just been taken off guard by a celebrity--a sick, raping celebrity, albeit--and I had a weird sensation in my legs.

"I've seen you at Dartwell, and around town. . . and here. I think I've seen you around my neighborhood too."

I felt Erica's glance and knew both of us had picked up on the vibe in Alex's words. My heart raced. Was he on to us?

"You're cute," he said, and grinned. He leaned against the wall. "But, you know, I'd be careful hanging out here if I were you. I don't know if you've heard, but there's been trouble lately. The police haven't caught whoever's behind it. And some girls--they get cocky."

He nodded with faux-empathy, slow and condescending. His eyes glittered and kept constant contact with ours. "I'm just saying." He lurched off the wall. "He might have his eye on you. Maybe after he has some cute little blond that thinks she got away. So, you be careful. I'd hate to hear something bad happened to two pretty girls like you. . . ."

We hurried back to our table, told the others what happened, tried not to freak out, finished dinner, and got into Jeff's truck. Once we closed the doors, I stared pensively at the road and knew. "He's never going to stop until something takes him out."

I called Jeff the next day, asked him if I could come over. I had something crazy to discuss--something that felt serious, even though I figured it was just my letting off steam. Same way some outcast student might fantasize revenge against a grudge-mongering principal. Same way a kid would plot to get rid of some abusive stepparent--plan it out, down to the letter. Method. Execution. Escape.

I always thought Jeff and I would be good kids, but it happens fast; all quick and calculated, like swiping your finger through flame so fast you don't get burned. Once it starts, you can't stop.

Jeff had all the wherewithal: a truck, a place to stash him, an eye for detail. Erica had the drugs: she worked part-time as a veterinary assistant and said she could cover it. Ryan had brute force and anger. Lorrie was our actor. I was the schemer, and I'd become so narrow-sighted I couldn't see past my bad idea.

Jeff already lived on his own and was set to graduate early in December. Over two months, we gathered all we needed in small amounts from every place we could. When it came time, we got into Jeff's truck and said nothing until we got to Lily's Pub.

We chose a night based on Alex's habits. Lorrie arranged to cover somebody else's shift and the rest of us operated under various alibis: sleepovers, work, concerts. Lorrie would work a few hours. We would circle around and park in an inconspicuous patch near woods.

Alex showed up drowsy and friendless at about nine p.m. Lorrie said it wasn't unusual for him to turn up drunk, get more drunk, and lumber off to the bathroom within a scant two hours after his arrival. As the clock moved toward eleven p.m., we wondered how much he'd had to drink and crossed our fingers that no one would notice him looking a little more drunk than usual.

Lorrie was suppose to slip the ketamine in small doses. It would take longer and look less suspicious. We had to sweat it out until eleven forty-five, when Lorrie strolled out and gave us the signal.

Ryan eased out of the truck. He took a back exit that connected to a hall close to the restroom. We hoped it would look like he'd been in the pub all the time. We pulled the truck around just as the back door opened. I held my breath and stared when Ryan's shadow and an unwieldy extra weight emerged.

Swift. Fluid. Silent.

We picked up Ryan and Lorrie, locked the doors, and sped off. I waited until Jeff reached the highway to gaze wide-eyed at Ryan. "Is it really him?"

"See for yourself."

I tugged away Jeff's hoodie and looked at the face: pale and ashen: a zonked but unmistakable Alex Vandeusen.

I quickly tugged our cover back over Alex's face and felt my chest go tight. I stayed quiet and sat shell-shocked all the way to Jeff's house, and tried not to show my face to anyone who pulled up beside us on red lights. No going back now. There would be no washing my hands clean of this.

We did everything a typical movie kidnapper would do: split up, secured the house, double-checked everything and lugged Alex in quick before anyone could see. Jeff drew the shades. Ryan took the bulk of Alex's weight while I ambled after and Ryan unloaded Alex onto Jeff's bed.

The mattress creaked. Alex's eyes flickered. He moaned. I stood and stared, dumbfounded. Then Ryan hauled himself onto the bed and said, "Are we gonna' do this, or what?"

"Wh-what?"

Jeff dumped the contents of a plastic shopping bag onto the sheets: condoms, lots. Other stuff I couldn't make out.

"This sick bastard was going to rape my sister." Ryan's laced his fingers around Alex's collar and tightened. "No, not just. This bastard laughed about raping my sister, and we're going to do what we came to do. He should be awake and screaming for the real stuff. I say we get him good and sore, once for every girl he got drunk out of their head."

Jeff helped Ryan secure Alex, but I couldn't move.

"We can't do this half-way," Ryan muttered.

Ryan was clumsy. He fumbled with his own zipper. The only thing that stayed sure were his hands clamped tight. "Come ON!"

Ryan's bark made me jump.

"Can't back down now!"

Jeff betrayed no intention of going weak either.

Erica and Lorrie glanced at each other, then they climbed on top of the bed. I sucked in breath, steeled my will, and climbed after. We all had to put our mark on him. We all had to take a share of this burden.

It would be a lie to say I don't remember much of it. I remember, but in a foreign, out-of-body way. I remember Alex's group-rape in sensations more than in thoughts or words. It's etched into my mind as a floating blur. Ryan took the brunt, but I must have been brutal. When it was all over, I just sat there in a stupor, and didn't dare try to make out what I'd done.

We had time to clean ourselves up and to try to make our minds ignore the guilty aftermath. I showered. It happened that only Ryan and Jeff were in the room when Alex woke up.

"Who are you?"

I hear it from the other room. There's a moment's pause, and then muffled struggling noises.

"Who the hell are you!"

CRASH.

Erica, Lorrie, and I raced in. We found Ryan and Jeff on top of Alex while Alex attempted to head-butt Ryan, bite Jeff, and squeeze out of his binds. His thrashes got more agitated and desperate by the second, until he wailed: "WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?!"

Ryan grit his teeth. "Shut up."

"What the fuck did you do to me! What the--"

"Shut up!"

"What the HELL!"

"--Just shut the fuck UP!"

Ryan punched him. Alex made a horrible gurgling, choking noise and convulsed under our grip. Under the weight of five of us, it got harder for him to move, especially as his adrenaline wore off and a ketamine haze set in; but, that didn't stop him from hollering.

Ryan went red in the face. He didn't think; just hit. Over and over. Anything to shut Alex 'the fuck!' up. "We can do whatever the fuck we want to you, do you understand?"

Ryan twisted Alex's shoulder and came down on it hard. Alex thrashed, cried, and strained his wrists to get at Ryan. His face went scary, beet-bright red. But, then, Ryan made a sharp, twisting motion. It made an awful sinewy sound, like someone snapped the leg off a Thanksgiving turkey.

Alex howled. His mouth dropped open and he stared, dumbstruck, at Ryan. He heaved shallow breath as if asphyxiating, but he'd stopped struggling. His right arm lay motionless and bent.

"You're going to shut up," said Ryan. "And do just as we say. Or would you rather I break your other arm?"

Alex gave Ryan a caustic, death-gaze, but he eased flat onto his back in surrender. He winced, and Ryan littered his neck with passionless kisses. I heard Alex's disgusted murmur, "What are you doing to me? Fucking faggot."

"Yeah? You're not exactly a cakewalk yourself."

Alex muttered something--I didn't hear what. But, whatever it was, it sent Ryan into a frenzy. I flinched as our Ryan--straight-as-a-pole Ryan. Good student, good brother, and nicest guy you'd ever want to meet Ryan-- shot up and smacked Alex raw. Alex inhaled sharp, and thick glops of blood oozed from his nose.

Ryan's gaze cooled at the sight. "You're gonna shut up like I told you before, or can't you hear me? Nod if you can."

Alex nodded, but with a sarcastic edge. He'd gone into hard-ass mode and Ryan was in no mood for it.

Ryan met Alex's attitude with a grin ten times as edgy, and arched his back like a creeping panther in preparation for his kill. "Hey. Relax, huh? I thought you enjoyed this sort of thing."

Alex stilled. He kept that disgusted, sarcastic sneer, but his body stayed limp. Ryan went at it like he'd done it a hundred times, but I could tell he felt disgusted too. Each thrust against Alex made him wince a little, like it stabbed him back.

Ryan finished, wiped his hands on his trousers, and rolled off the bed.

Alex lowered his eyelids and looked around the room. He sized each of us up with venom in his stare. I can't imagine what he thought. Obvious repulsion glinted in his eyes, but there was also a kind of compliance, an acknowledgment. But of what? That he'd just been raped?

Blood clumped and crusted down his face. He let out a long breath and looked up at the ceiling. "Fuck."

Ryan stumbled off and muttered. I glanced back at Alex. He wasn't looking at us anymore. He looked exhausted, pained, resentful, and resigned; but it also looked for all the world he'd just roll over on his side and go to sleep.

We left the room.

"Need to tie him tighter," said Jeff, just outside the bedroom. "Make sure he can't get up."

"Someone's gotta' keep an eye on him tonight." Ryan appeared with a soda in hand. "And the day after that, and pretty much all the time while we're at school and away or whatever. Oh, yeah, and I've gotta' set the fucker's arm."

"I'll watch him," Jeff said. "That was the deal, right? I'm graduated, I'm all by lonesome. This place is officially Alex-prison."

"What if someone comes around?"

"I've got places to stash him, don't worry. You guys get some rest, go to school, come back when you can. I've got this covered."

"I'm staying tonight." Ryan popped open the soda. "I've already made arrangements and I'm not leaving you alone with this guy."

"Me neither," I said, quickly. "I'm set to be at a sleepover anyway, so I'll just sleepover here."

"I not going to be the only one to go home," said Lorrie.

Erica nodded. "Me neither, not tonight."

"Then you guys roll out the couch and get sleeping bags." Jeff motioned toward a nook behind the kitchen. "Everyone's on guard duty, okay?"

We slept fitfully. I turned up a mess at school the next day and tried to look normal. Inside, I fought the worst haze of my life. I talked to as few people as I could. At lunch, I sat with Lorrie and Erica while Ryan sat at another table and feigned interest in solitaire.

The worst part was having to check in at home: face my parents and act normal even though nothing about my world was right or sane. I had to be careful with excuses and make it seem like a lot was going on in my social life to justify all the time I'd spend away from the house. I wished for a secret portal that connected our houses: some way I could step through to an alternate dimension where no time passed and I could stay at Jeff's place.

It wasn't easy at first. Alex tried to escape four times in the next two weeks. When he wasn't trying to escape, he'd start trouble, and Jeff would have to call Ryan to help him subdue our captive. We kept our eye on the papers too. Eventually, news of Alex's disappearance did come out. The police investigated several scenarios about his possible drowning, or wandering off and hitchhiking, but Alex simmered nicely out of the limelight since the disappearance hadn't yet been ruled a kidnapping or homicide.

Alex was our secret. Whenever somebody brought up the Portway kidnappings, we felt a surge of energy. We got used to the idea of our own personal plaything who had to bend to the will of five clueless teenagers who hadn't known anything, who'd come into it as awkward and virginal as they come and were now sticking it to him like real hardened bastards. The only thing we still wondered about was Alex's absent friend.

Alex fought less as weeks wore on. We were gentler when he didn't struggle. I don't know why. After all, we'd set out to make him suffer. The point was never to make him docile--it was to put him in the place of his victims. But I got used to him. I've got this stunning image of him in my head where he's laying on his side, looking right at me; and, his eyes are wide and bare and crystal blue, stripped of all cover. His lips are swollen and pink with kisses I forced on them. He licks the edges gently, and my skin erupts with goose bumps.

Then, one day, Jeff came to me in private.

"Hey, have you noticed Alex's cough lately?"

"Yeah, he's had it for a little while now. Why?"

"It's gotten worse as of last night." Jeff gave me a look. "A lot worse."

I ran to the store that afternoon to buy over-the-counter medicine. I knew what worried Jeff. It worried me too. If Alex got sick enough to need help, it would expose us. If he needed help and didn't get it, he might get worse. . . and what if it got a lot worse? Enough, say, even, to die? What then? Would we turn ourselves in, or try to hide it? Would we then be murderers too?

All of us met at Jeff's house. At some point, everyone was busy and I was alone in the bedroom with Alex. Alex slept and wheezed. I peeled the plastic cap liner off the medicine I'd brought and heard a gurgled cough. Alex stirred.

"What are you doing?"

I showed him the bottle and a tablespoon. "I brought you medicine."

"You brought me medicine?" His voice cracked. He used the same tone an amused parent would use to repeat his child's unexpected announcement.

"You've got to take it every four to six hours."

He blinked the sleep out of his eyes. "Is it that bad?"

"Huh?"

"My cough's annoying you."

I got the spoon ready. "It's not annoying us, it just sounds awful."

"Oh." He stayed quiet and obedient while I extended the spoon, and he swallowed the medicine. A second later, he doubled over with deep, racking coughs.

I winced.

He recovered and peeked at me through one watery eye. "Ha." His faux-chuckle made him cough again. "Ha, ha. You look so concerned."

"Stop talking, okay?"

He laid back and groaned.

"Do you need anything else? Water?"

"No water, please. I've gotta piss bad enough as it is."

"Didn't Jeff let you go earlier?"

"Burns like hell." He rolled over, grimaced, and murmured as if on the verge of sleep. "Feels like my bladder's gonna' explode."

I touched his forehead. "Sound like a kidney infection. You need to drink water."

He opened an eye, but said nothing. He chuckled. It was weird, irritating, and amused-- but also kind of sad. He had passed his saturation point. He'd passed desperate. Now he was numbed.

"What is it? What?"

"So, I've got an annoying cough and a kidney infection. Who'd want to screw me now?" He laughed. "He's gonna' bare down so hard. Think he'd let me shove a towel in my mouth? I want to be a good bitch and not piss him off."

"What're you talking about?"

He didn't answer.

"Ryan?"

He grinned, dull. "So, am I gay now?"

"What?"

"Did he make me into a little fairy fag?" His eyes turned distant and weary. His smile left. Then he added, in a voice that dripped sarcasm, " . . .'m I bi now?"

After everything each of us did to him, he'd chosen to focus on this? Or maybe it ran so much deeper. So much, this was the most he could process. Maybe it was easier to say that he might have enjoyed it than to admit he'd been powerless. But he didn't say anything else about it.

"Is there anything else you need?"

He paused to consider. "I'd like to be clean."

"Do you want to take a shower?"

"Yeah, but I don't want to make him angry."

"Who? Jeff? He doesn't mind."

"Okay, then."

Jeff and I checked the bathroom for anything that could be used against us, then let Alex shower. I waited outside the bathroom with the door cracked, and Jeff in the next room. Alex took a while and I peeked in. He'd shaved with a cheap plastic single blade (as much as we dare give him,) and stood in front of the mirror. He swept his hair into place, tucked stray strands, then he stared, dismayed, at his dark circles. He looked insecure and totally displeased with what he saw.

When he came out, I pretended I hadn't seen anything. Jeff came in to tighten Alex's binds. Alex rolled over on his side, and when Jeff left to finish dinner, I returned to the bedside.

"Better?"

Alex nodded. He stretched and looked uncomfortable.

"You okay?"

"I'm cold," he said.

"I'll go turn up the thermostat."

"Wait."

I turned back.

"Sleep with me." He realized how that'd sounded and added, "I don't mean like that. Just sleep. Next to me. I'm serious. It works better than the heater."

I surprised myself and sank onto the bedside. At first, I only sat, to test his reaction, then I lied down. He gazed at me and I gazed back.

He murmured, "You're so fucking beautiful. . . ."

I didn't stop watching him, not sure what to make of his declaration.

His eyes traveled my face as though I were a painting. "I thought that the first time I saw you. Sometime in August, was it? No. 'fore that. I saw you before that. I saw all of you before."

Was he playing me?

"I'm so. . . sorry."

I didn't know what he meant: I'm sorry? I cleared my throat. "Let's not get too cozy, all right?"

His eyes widened and he shook his head, as if it'd just dawned on him how I could perceive this as a trick. "No. I'm not trying anything. 'm not. I was just thinking. I'm a good boy now. I'll be good. I won't try to get away."

"I'm just here to make sure you're okay. Obviously, we can't really take you the hospital if it gets worse." I sighed. "It'd 'cause a lot of problems."

"I wouldn't say a word."

I think he knew I couldn't believe him, yet he didn't break his earnest gaze. "I'd make an appointment with my doctor. Something quick and private. I'd get whatever I needed and I'd go home with you and I wouldn't say anything. Honest, I wouldn't."

I laughed, but gloomily. "Even if you're telling the truth and you wouldn't say anything, they're gonna' ask questions."

"I'd tell them I was drunk. I-I was. Drunk."

"And if they ask you about those kids you came with?"

"I'll say you guys found me in a ditch somewhere and brought me to the hospital."

"Why?" I didn't talk for a long time, just looked puzzled. "Why wouldn't you say anything?"

"Because I really don't mind."

"Why?" I shook my head. "You have every reason in the world to say something. Why wouldn't you?"

"Trust me, I'm better off here than I ever was."

He said it afraid and shamed, like he worried that if he admitted it, we'd take it all away from him. Before, I would have. Now, I'm not sure. It had become obvious we didn't want to kill him or he would have done it a long time ago.

"How?" I shook my head, this time, furiously. "What the hell? We--we kidnapped you! We raped you. What are you saying, you're better off?"

Alex hesitated and took a deep breath. "Listen, you could not have picked a better person to have drop off the fucking face of the planet. I'm the perfect choice. No shit.

I'm not good anywhere. I was my mom's dirty bastard secret. The guy who took us in, who--who was charitable enough, I guess, to let me call him 'father' fucking hates me. Everyone I ever met acted like I was some kind of disappointment and they didn't even know me. They all thought I should have more. Be more. That I should stop being a leech and be a multi-millionaire already. Nothing I ever did was worth anything. I had no job. I failed at everything I ever tried to do and I kept myself too fucked up to care."

He exhaled--long, hard, and ragged. "Then Rich came along."

"Rich?"

"Yeah. We used to hang out all the time."

I know who now. It's the other guy. The 'grease-ball' friend.

"We were both bored as hell and sick of it all, so it worked out well. He was something to do. I was an asset to him. We'd just do stuff. And I'd go along with whatever 'cause, hey, I'd take what I could get."

He saw my grimace and matched my gaze. "You wanted to know, right? Everybody did. That's why you guys cased my house, right? To see what it was I did? I don't think you were kidnapping people before me. You were worried about his sister?" --He means Jenny-- "You thought I was the Portway rapist."

"Alex." I stared into his eyes. "What did you do?"

He took his time; but, when he spoke, his tone was sincere. "I didn't rape anyone. Most I did was make out. Maybe touch their breasts. That's it. I helped while Rich fucked around. It wasn't my idea to start dragging people off. I was just messing. Rich was the one who decided to go all batshit on me and make things complicated."

"And you didn't stop him?"

"I don't know, okay? I'd just do stuff and I wouldn't ask. Finally, I left. We had a fallout, and I left him in some motel on East Street and that's the last time I saw him."

"What does he do with them? The girls? Where do they go?"

"I don't know. He takes them off somewhere? I don't know."

I closed my eyes and took a long breath. I realized I was trembling, so I filed the information away and decided I'd concentrate on staying calm instead.

"I'd help find him if I could," he said, and it took me off guard. "I'd bring those girls home. I'd turn myself in and tell everyone what I did. I'd let them tell everyone what I did. . . and didn't do. But I know I should be in jail right now."

He exhaled slow. "Then you guys show up, and for the first time, I'm not expected to be in control. You scared the crap out me, but I felt useful. Suddenly, there's a reason I'm a such a horny bastard. It's 'cause I need it. It's 'cause

there're five kids who get off on me and it's cute as hell. You guys keep me totally exhausted. I was never able to get like that before."

He shivered. I inched closer, enough that he would feel heat. He closed his eyes, leaned into me, and our foreheads met.

"You guys're so warm," he muttered. "Why are you so warm?"

"I'm not," I said. "You just say we are."

He smirked, then let it ease away. We stayed silent for a long time before he opened his eyes to look into mine. I felt him in my knees and I think he knew it.

"I don't mind," he whispered.

I kissed him, drew back and whispered to his lips, "I'm not a good thing, you know."

"Keep me," he breathed, just short of an interruption. "I was made for you. You, Jeff, Erica, Lorrie, and Ryan. . . ."

He'd learned our names--there was a significance to that. He contoured me like he hadn't before: like he'd learned my body and he knew what I liked and I disliked. He knew me all over, and I knew he was right and I want him so bad 'cause nobody nobody nobody does it for me like he does.

Summer rolled around.

We knew if we stayed in town, something would happen, so we planned a road trip. We told everyone we were going as a group: Jeff, Ryan, Erica, Lorrie, and me. We'd "take a break to see the country" before we started college and settled down with jobs.

We'd tour the country all right. We'd find an excuse to settle down far away and, maybe, while we were at it, we'd run into Rich.

We took Jeff's pick-up. Alex said it was okay to bind and gag him, even though he'd promised he would be such a good boy. I can't help but wonder if there will ever come a day we won't use the binds anymore, and he'll just be another one of us.

Where will we have gone? Where will we be?

I've got a picture in my head. It's of me years from now. I come home from a long day at work. Jeff, Ryan, Erica, Lorrie, and I have a place together--just like when we stayed over at Jeff's our senior year. I put down my briefcase and hang my jacket on a peg by the door. I smile and head into the main room, where Alex is seated on the couch. I ease onto the seat next to him and greet him with a long kiss.

Everything's calm and content.

The perfect crime.

End.