Chapter One!

Blood Money


"Did you hear?" Penny whispered, jabbing me sharply with her pencil.

I barely withheld a yelp, chomping down on my lip as I let loose a tiny squeak. Führer Holcomb glanced menacingly in my direction, looking for any excuse to dole out yet another unwarranted detention. As of second period, she had already handed out ten, double the amount of her usual sadistic quota. She was Bad Mood Central, probably on account of the fact that her fish had died the night before. Or perhaps 'committed suicide' would've been the more accurate phrase—but hey, given the option between death and Führer Holcomb's company, I would've gladly chosen the former.

Another sharp stab brought me back into reality. "Oakley!" she hissed, never one to give up so easily.

My eyes prickled with tears as a steady mantra of 'ignore her' repeated continuously in my head.

Dense as a brick, Penny was oblivious to my attempts at disregarding her presence. Under the impression that my thighs were made of rubber, my cousin gave me a stab fueled with as much strength as her scrawny little arms could muster. Which were stronger than they looked if the searing pain shooting up my leg was any indication. I was seeing twinkling stars where numbers and variables should've been.

Fearing the possibility that Penny could accidentally puncture an artery, I put down my pencil and turned to face her with a glare. "What?" I hissed once Führer Holcomb glanced away.

Penny gave me a shit-eating grin that showcased every single one of her straight, pearly teeth. "Drew broke up with Missy!" she said, as if it were the scandal of the century.

Which, to her, it probably was.

"Who are they?" I asked, not really caring. Even after a solid three months at Wakefield, I had yet to learn about all the niches of its social scene. Not that I had put in that much of an effort, truthfully; being already a junior with only a year and a half of school left between me and graduation, I didn't find remembering it to be all that important.

Penny gave me a look, as if to say 'You're joking, right?'

I merely shrugged.

With a pointed look, she said, "Drew's the star quarterback and Missy is his girlfriend. Or, that is, until he dumped her last night."

"Why?" I asked halfheartedly, deciding to oblige her. The sooner she got done with what she had to say, the more time I would have to finish up my worksheet. Precalculus was torture enough without the incentive of extra homework; Cavalieri's Principle was literally eff'ing me in the A.

Penny took a deep breath. "Well," she began, her voice at an extremely low octave. Even Penny, for all her faults and low IQ, knew better than to provoke Führer Holcomb. It was like kicking a bear and then not expecting to get mauled. "Rumor has it that Drew fucked Missy's mom because he caught her kissing Ken at Rachel's party."

Bullshit, I thought with a roll of my eyes. This is Wakefield, Connecticut, not fucking Degrassi.

"And get this," my cousin continued, her voice dropping even lower. It was as if she truly believed that the information she was about to convey was worthy of CIA attention. "She's pregnant!"

I wanted to snort but, with much effort, suppressed it. "Who?" I asked. "Missy?"

"No, her mom!"

With a sarcastic gasp, I whispered, "How scandalous!"

Penny nodded. "I know, right?"

Assuming that the conversation was finally over, I refocused my attention back to the task at hand.

"A shame," she sighed dramatically. "I had the hots for Drew Tanner, but the whole teenage pregnancy drama is so ABC Family."

Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints.

I almost wanted to cry from the sheer stupidity my cousin was spouting. To have her genes running through your blood was enough to make anyone contemplate suicide. A noise that was stuck in between a sob and a groan escaped from my throat. "Penny, you are one dumb—"

"WHO'S TALKING?" Führer Holcomb bellowed, her hawk-like eyes glaring frostily around the room. "Need I remind you of the consequences for needless chit-chat in my classroom?"

"Sir, no, sir," Danny called from the back, his army-brat upbringing extremely hard to suppress.

"Detention!" The Führer boomed without skipping a beat.

What a poor bastard, I thought, shaking my head.

"John Strognofe invented the first portable camera in 1685," Mrs. Tapper droned on. She had a monotonous voice set at one continuous volume: loud. Being old and senile, she had a bit of a hearing problem, and so talked well above an inside voice. She also had the tendency to repeat herself at least twice during a lecture, sometimes even forgetting to lecture altogether. Most class periods passed by in relative boredom while expensive cameras collected dust in our lockers.

Someone shoot me, I thought, repressing a yawn. Three months into the school year and my photography notebook had virtually been turned into a giant collection of doodles. There was even a full page dedicated to Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh! hybrid creatures named Exodachu and Kuribohsaur.

I was in the middle of shading in Sliferita's leaf mane when the clicking of heels interrupted Mrs. Tapper.

All eyes turned toward the doorway as she sauntered into the room, wearing her confidence like a genuine Prada bag. Her makeup and hair were immaculately done; there was not a blemish to be seen nor a hair out of place. Long, lean legs stretched out from beneath a flouncy pink skirt, naturally tanned as a result of weeks worth of sunbathing. This, I was certain, was the resident Queen Bee, Missy.

What's Malibu Barbie doing in Bumfuck, Connecticut? I thought meanly to myself.

You could practically hear the erections going through the room as a handful of guys gave Missy the lecherous once-over.

She seemed to revel in this attention as she meandered her way up front. A small smile played on the corners of her bubblegum lips as she handed Mrs. Tapper a neon pink slip. There were a few appreciative wolf whistles as Missy turned to leave. It didn't seem to phase her as she just continued on. Her exit was dramatic as she walked out of the door, only turning back to give some cute blonde in the front a coquettish wink goodbye.

Mrs. Tapper glanced briefly at the paper before lumbering over toward me. She handed me the slip before resuming her tired lesson. This catalyzed a mass exodus of side conversations as, one after another, students reached into their backpacks for their secret stash of Advil. Not even goodiest of two shoes could handle the pain of their throbbing, Mrs. Tapper-induced migraines. Not even Laura Phearson, who looked like a Duggar with her pastel sweater sets and khaki knee-length skirts. She was the reigning valedictorian and an animal activist to boot.

I read the neon note, my eyebrows furrowing as I wondered to myself, What does Mr. Larson want? Never before in my twelve years of public school education had the principal ever requested me for a meeting. As far as I knew, I wasn't failing any classes nor had I done anything particularly wrong in the past couple days. Perhaps Führer Holcomb had caught onto my plan of hiring her a hooker? There were many listings on Craigslist and the fee wasn't out of a school teacher's financial boundaries. So in my defense, the idea was formed out of the purest of intentions.

Quietly, I pushed in my chair and exited the classroom. No one paid me much attention.

As I was rounding the corner to get to the office, a french-manicured hand appeared out of nowhere, wrapping around my wrist with a vice-like grip. My heart thumped wildly in my chest as, wide-eyed, I tried to locate my assailant. The blood-curling scream that was on the tip of my tongue had effectively died the moment I realized that it wasn't some sketchy black man coming to take me away and have his rough and tough way with me.

"Missy?" I asked, not sure if that was her name or if my mind had just automatically come up with the most blonde name I could think of. I'm pretty sure it was Missy, though.

"Follow me," she instructed, not even sparing me a glance. Which was totally pointless, by the way, considering the fact that there was no following to be done. Her vice-like grip remained as she forcefully dragged me into the girl's bathroom in one of the more secluded hallways. A couple of mousy-looking freshmen were checking out their reflections in the mirror when we arrived. It took but one look from Missy before they went scampering off in the other direction.

Once alone, Missy practically slammed me into a sink.

"What's goin—"

"Shut up," she instructed. Then, as an afterthought, "please."

There was an awkward silence as Missy ran a hand through her hair, working out in her head exactly what to say. I waited for her to continue, feeling awfully cramped because I somehow ended up wedged in the space between two sinks and the faucet was beginning to dig into my thigh. The same one that was still sore from Penny's antics in math class that very same morning.

"Your name's Maple, right?"

I looked at her pointedly. I wasn't sure if that was supposed to be a joke or if she honestly didn't know. It really didn't matter either way, though, as I replied, "It's Oakley."

"Oh. Sorry," she said insincerely. "But that aside, I hear that your dad's some sort of famous photographer or something."

Not sure where she was going with this, I nodded. "Yeah, he's off in London somewhere for a photoshoot." Probably boozing it up and sleeping with all the models, I thought with a scowl. He had finally returned to his former manwhore glory. Mom was the only one in the world he had wanted to spend his life with and after she died, it was if he had just entirely stopped caring. He had given up on love and he had given up on me.

I suddenly felt very cold, shivering despite the inordinate amount of money Wakefield High spent on its indoor heating system.

Missy continued, "I also hear that you're pretty good at photography yourselff. Seeing as how, you know, it like runs in your blood or whatever."

I grunted noncommittally. Seriously, whoever Missy was hearing these things from, they were going to get shot.

"I have a proposition for you," the natural blonde said, with a sly sort of grin. I was temporarily stunned, surprised that she even knew the word 'proposition' much less used it properly in a sentence. "By now, you've probably heard about me and Drew."

I recalled that morning's conversation. "About how you kissed some guy at a party?"

"Bullshit," she said. "Those rumors are lies."

I was disappointed albeit unsurprised. "So Drew didn't screw your mom?"

"What? God no!"

"Then does that mean she isn't pregnant?"

"Shit, now that's going around?"

I nodded sagely. "Like herpes at a hooker convention."

"Well whatever else you might have heard about me is entirely untrue. Drew didn't break up with me because I'm some whore or whatever. Actually, I'm not sure why he broke up with me. He tells me it's because we're 'not working out' but that's dumb because we weren't even fighting or anything. He just kind of dumped me out of the blue. Of course, that probably means there's another girl, in which case, I'm fucking pissed as hell, but you know, that's beside the point."

"And what exactly is your point?" I asked, growing bored.

"The point is," Missy said, her eyes a pair of slits on her face, "Drew's cheating on me and I need proof."

"So what does this have to do with me?"

Her expression was irate. "You're going to get it for me, duh."

"Well no shit, Sherlock, but why can't you just get one of your friends to do it?"

"Because," Missy elaborated with a roll of her eyes. "They're all too conspicuous. I need someone that nobody notices and that would be you. No offense meant, of course, but it's true. You're such a wallflower that people actually have to make an effort to realize you're there."

Ouch, I thought, harsh. But I quickly got over it, though, because my loner status was, for the most part, self-inflicted.

"Valid point," I replied. "But what exactly am I supposed to do? Follow him around all day with a camera in hand?"

"Well . . . yeah. I mean, I want you to be stealthy about it and whatever."

"And if it turns out that he's not actually seeing someone else? That he's honestly not that into you?"

These were obviously the wrong words to say because Missy got pissed in 0.2 seconds flat. "Listen here, bitch. I'm Missy Clearwater. I've been a varsity soccer player since my freshman year and cheerleading captain for four years running. I'm the prettiest girl in this entire goddamned school and the reigning Homecoming Queen, also. Not to be egotistical, but there is not one guy in this school who wouldn't fuck me if given the chance. So excuse me if I'm a little skeptical that a guy like Drew broke up with me for some half-assed reason like 'it just wasn't working out.'"

A small part of me wanted to cower before the glowering blonde, but I pushed that craven side of me away. "Regardless, though, what's in it for me?"

Missy raised her eyebrows, as if surprised I had not yet soiled my pants. I could've sworn a flash of approval crossed her face but as quickly as it had surfaced, it had also disappeared.

"500 bucks, cash. I'll give you 250 upfront and the rest when you get me the pictures. Sound good to you?"

500 bucks was a steep price to pay for a couple of shots and, at most, maybe two days of work. But if Missy, the rich white girl, wanted to throw her cash away, then who was I to stop her?


Missy grinned, clapping her hands excitedly. "Oh goodie" she said, before something intelligent dawned on her. "Of course, the 500 bucks comes with a confidentiality clause. If Drew catches you stalking him, you're not allowed to tell him about our deal. You'll have to take the wrap for it, understand?"

For 500 dollars, hell yeah. It'd be a little embarrassing, trying to explain myself, but it would totally be worth it. I could finally upgrade to the new Canon EOS 5D from my crappy Nikon D7000. "Loud and clear."

"Good," Missy said, rummaging through her purse. From her wallet, she pulled out five 50 dollar bills. Cute old Ulysses S. Grant gave me a wink as Missy thrust him into my hands.

"Report back to me on Sunday. That's six days, so he's bound to meet up with his mystery slut at least once during that time frame."

As Missy made her exit, she paused. "I'll have you know," she said impishly, "I pay extra for any embarrassing pictures you might happen to take."

I nodded, giving her a grin but feeling just the tiniest bit of guilt.

Although following Drew around school didn't exactly constitute as murder, the bills in my hand still felt a whole lot like blood money.

Author's Note: My first attempt at a multi-chaptered story. Not sure how it's gonna go, to be honest. Now that baseball season is officially over, I'll have more time to dedicate to writing. That is, if Precalculus hasn't screwed me over by then. Stupid trigonometric identities and all your stupid complications. SOLVE YOUR OWN GODDAMNED PROBLEMS. Ugh. /endrant. I'm also getting my ears re-pierced tomorrow. I'm getting them done at Claire's so I'll probably end up with AIDS and die a week later from pneumonia seeing as how IT'S SNOWING IN FUCKING OCTOBER. This is some serious shit, guys. I feel as if Mother Nature is prepping us for the impending disaster that is 2012. Now I'm off to spend copious amounts of money on iTunes purchasing baseball games and hoping the Colts don't go 0-8 tomorrow against the Titans. I have no life. Review?