I remember the smell of my mother's perfume. It was strong and abrasive. Not like the soft powdery perfume my Grandmother wears but something cheaper; more chemical than beautiful. All of her clothes had the smell clinging to it. I can't help but wonder if there was any amount of detergent strong enough to clean the perfume out of them.

I didn't see my mom much as a child and most of the time, when she was home, she was passed out on her bed. Or the couch. Sometimes even the floor. When she was awake, though, she was usually smiling. It wasn't until I grew older and thought about it more that I realized her smiles weren't always happy. Sometimes they were sad, shameful, full of regret, but she always tried to smile for me. It was her gift to me.

She might not have been able to buy me pretty new shoes or that doll with a pink dress and realistic blond hair that giggled when you tickled her but she at the very least tried to put on a brave face in my presence. If I only knew then what I knew now maybe I would have told her how much I appreciated the effort. I could tell her that I loved her anyway, no matter what or who she was. If only...


I was leaning over the pool table, the cue poised carefully under my hooked index finger, lining up a shot. The solid yellow was blocking my way so I inched to the right a bit, clearing the corner of the table. I could feel his eyes burning holes in the back of my jeans and it was incredibly distracting.

This whole game was distracting in a very sexual way. You have girls bending forward, sticking their butts out for the people behind them to ogle, their upper bodies positioned perfectly for a casual down-blouse moment for anyone standing across the table, and a long smooth stick sliding in and out between their fingers. It was almost pornographic and, as I tried to concentrate on lining up my shot, I finally understood why Ashley had been dead set on playing pool with the guys. It was the perfect tease, if you were aiming for that sort of thing. As for me, I was feeling extremely uncomfortable knowing my butt was sticking out for the world to see.

Aiming for the blue stripe near the corner pocket, I tapped the cue against the white ball with a little too much gusto. A deafening crack sounded from the white ball as it hit the stripe and shot it a little too far to the right. The stripe bounced off the wall and zoomed towards the center of the table, hiding in a herd of solids.

"Huh. Guess I figured you'd be better at this... since you beat the jockstrap off of Jackson upstairs," Tristen gave me a smug grin and, for the first time since I started my turn, tore his eyes away from my backside long enough to wink at me. I couldn't help but think of the many ways I could help him wink. Poking him in the eye with my finger, the pool cue... a red-hot poker maybe.

"Guess billiards just isn't my game," I replied dryly.

A flash of something passed over his eyes, almost like I was watching inspiration strike him right in front of me.

"Well I'm pretty good at pool, you know. If you want I can show you how to handle the stick and balls." UGH! Really?!

"I'm pretty confident you are an expert at handling a stick, but no thanks."

A snort erupted behind me and I glanced over my shoulder to see Ashley covering her mouth suddenly, Josh's arms wrapped around her waist. I could see the twinkle of laughter glittering her eyes but when she looked up to find Josh's disapproving frown at her laughing at his best friend's expense she wiped the smile from her lips and shook her head, feigning a cough.

"Sorry, allergies," she said with a fake choked up voice.

I smiled at her but it was short-lived as, once I looked back to Tristen, he was staring at me with a bemused grin. Maybe I had managed to piss him off. Well, kudos for me then! Without another word exchanged, Tristen took his turn. Naturally, he sank the ball with ease. And then another.

I took advantage of the small reprieve to grab another beer from the rec room fridge. Let him clear the table. That would just be less time I had to spend with him. Josh had already called winner so I knew as soon as he beat me the two of them would square off and maybe then I could take my leave. It was Ashley that wanted to be here after all. Not me. I could care less for the testosterone-overflow that was Tristen and his butt buddy. Boys weren't really my top priority at the moment. Not that I didn't find them fun to look at sometimes but I needed something more than a frat boy could offer. Sadly, something hardly any guy could offer. Understanding and acceptance only goes so far. What happens if I let myself fall in love and then decide to tell them what I am and what it is I do as a "hobby"? I would only end up in heartbreak and not the good romance novel kind of heartbreak that's followed by mind-blowing make up sex.

I returned to the table just in time to see Tristen hand his pool cue over to Josh. Finishing off a long draw of my beer, I set it down on the edge of the pool table and looked between the guys.

"Giving up already?"

"Asshole sank the fucking eight-ball. That's what he gets for trying to show off like a dumb ass," Josh said, first thing he's said to me all night, not that I'm complaining.

He gave Tristen a not so gentle but completely friendly shove to his shoulders. Dammit. I didn't want to play this asshole now. I gave a noncommittal shrug and rested my cue against the table.

"Alright, Ashley can play you then. Ashley?"

But she was nowhere to be seen.

"She went to the bathroom. I guess you really have no choice but to play," he laughed and began to rack up the pool balls. I really don't like being told what I have a choice on and what I don't. Doesn't sit well with me. "Unless you want to pussy out, that's fine. Guess some girls just can't hang with bad asses like us." My blood went hot in my skin. I hate men who think women are lesser beings than them almost as much as I hate being ridiculed and taunted over someone else's pride. Oh yes, Josh Burbank. You are chock full of foolish pride. What will your pride do for you when your six feet under? Not a damn thing. I should know.

I reluctantly grabbed the cue, drawing an approving "alright" from Josh as he sorted the balls in the triangle. I guess I had my own foolish pride to soothe as well. Just because I am what I am it doesn't mean I'm not immune to the same flaws and faults as other people. When he lifted the triangle I leaned over the end of the billiard table and took my shot. It was a good break, a decent scatter, and I even managed to knock in two balls. A solid and a stripe.

"I'm gonna see if I can't score us something better than beer," Tristen announced as he climbed the stairs. I glanced up at him and gave him a thin smile and nod, though I really didn't plan on staying down here to indulge with them. Ashley can kiss my ass. She abandoned me with these jackasses after making such a big deal about coming. She didn't even offer me the girl-standard invitation to join her that would allow me to escape this awkward feeling.

"Hurry back," this from Josh, "I don't think this is going to be a long game."

I rolled my eyes at the teasing grin he was shining in my direction. Just ignore him and focus on beating the crap out of him. Figuratively of course. Although...

The white ball smacked against the yellow solid and sank it perfectly. "Nope, not long at all," I said and smiled at the cue ball rolling back towards the center of the table and caught sight of another line up. If I could reach across the table enough then it would be a perfect shot. I'm not exactly tall, a mere 5'5'', so I would have to stretch a little awkwardly at the corner but I could reach it.

I stretched my left arm out in front of me, resting my elbow on the green felt and positioned the cue between my fingers. The edge of the table bit into my hip a little but it was a minor irritation compared to the one walking around the room right now. As I lowered my head to line up the cue, I suddenly felt a soft, feather-like brushing across the curve of my ass. I pulled my upper body off the table and twisted myself to look behind me.

Josh stood way too close. His grin stretched wider than I think I had ever seen. What the Hell was he thinking?

"Dude... back off."

His hands flew into the air in a gesture of surrender.

"Just trying to psyche you out, Duncan. No harm no foul," his eyes were glittering with lewd humor as he said it.

"Right," I said watching him step back from me, hands moving to his pockets. I turned back around to attempt my shot but now my hackles were raised. I tried to push-off the uneasy feeling by talking. Anything to keep him distracted enough to stay away. Guys like him couldn't do two things at one time, right?

"Just curious, have you ever tried to call anyone by something other than their last name? Or 'asshole'?"

I slid the cue backwards to the sound of his chuckling but as I moved to thrust it forward I felt hands grab roughly at my hips, something pressing hard against my rear. Not only did I miss the white ball altogether but I cracked the tip of the cue right into the eight-ball, sending it flying into a side pocket. Call me funny, but I really didn't care too much about that right now.

"What the fuck! Get off me, jackass!"

"You want me to say your name, Duncan? Is that it?" He laughed but there was nothing good-natured about it. I tried to twist my body around, to slip out from under him, but his hands moved from my hips to my forearms, grabbing them tightly and forcing them onto the table in front of me, my pool stick till gripped firmly in my hands.

"You scream my name, and I'll say yours. How about that?" His hips pressed against my backside hard and I could feel the rage building inside of me.

"I'm not going to tell you again..." I warned through my teeth.

"Don't I know it. I knew you wanted me," he let go of one arm and slid his hand greedily up my bicep, over my shoulder and down my back. When he cleared my hair and moved to the waistband of my jeans, I knew I had an opening.

I tightened my grip on the cue and kicked my foot backwards, aiming for the back of his groin. The pain-filled grunt and loosening of his hand on my arm told me I had made contact and I twisted my upper body, shoving the larger end of the cue straight into his adam's apple. His hands went straight for his throat gasping for air and I made my final blow by twisting back around and cracking him in the side of the head with the stick. As he began to fall to the side, a dark shadow blurred behind him, hands grasping his unconscious head under his chin and in his hair.

"NO!" I shouted, dropping the rest of the cue and holding my hand out in protest.

The movement ceased and the dark shadowy figure stilled, Josh's head still cradled in its hands, his neck twisted to an uncomfortable degree. My heart was thumping hard in my throat, my pulse pumping in my ears as we stood there staring at one another. Okay, so some might see what I had done as an overreaction but this? I didn't want him to die for being a horny asshole.

"You don't think he deserves this fate?" the voice, so dark and calculated that it sent a shiver up my arms and down my spine, asked me.

"No. I mean, he was drunk and he's just another stupid frat punk. I don't think he would've..." but I couldn't continue my defense for him. The truth was, I don't know what he would have been capable of. I didn't know him at all. Thoughts of what I might have just gotten myself into made my skin grow cold. You hear about it all the time, about such horrible things happening at parties like this, but you never think you could be a part of it. Was I about to become just another statistic?

Still, I couldn't face him dying because of me. I tried for another tactic.

"If you snap his neck, if you kill him... then I will be accused. There are two other people who know I was down here with him, minimum. If you leave his corpse here with me that will be it for me." I stared at the figure, his eyes shining through the darkness an impossible viridian, as if he were not only bathed in sunlight but had a spotlight shown on his eyes alone. There was no logical reason anyone should be able to see those green orbs in the cover of shadows, but since when had logic been a part of my life?

"Won't they still lock you away if he tells the authorities you assaulted him?"

"I know jerks like him. He's proud. Dangerously proud. He'll be too ashamed to admit he got his ass kicked by a girl, let alone risk telling the authorities that he got assaulted at a party when he's been smoking. He'll be kicked off the Rugby team if they find out he's on drugs. It's safe."

The silence stretched for eternity as if the shadow was contemplating my words. Why did it care? Why was he here at all worrying about my virtue or my record for that matter?

"As you wish," he said softly and before I could even see the figure move Josh's body fell limply to the side, crashing against the floor. He was breathing still, just knocked out, and he would certainly be hurting in the morning but he was alive. When I looked back to the spot he had stood, the figure was gone. I felt disappointment swell in my chest. Was I ever going to know who he was? I'd seen him before, if you could really call it 'seeing', but every time he would simply vanish.

Gathering my bearings I looked down at the sleeping body of one of the biggest jerks I had ever met and fought really hard to resist the urge to kick him again. Just once more for good measure. I had to tell myself that I was above things like that, even though I knew I really wasn't. I looked around for anything that might have ratted me out as being here when all this occurred and, finding nothing, I made my way up the stairs and into the bulk of the party. All I wanted was to go into my room and sleep through the rest of this night. Let the rest of the girls clean up the mess.

I managed to push my way through the crowd, which was thankfully thinning down, and head up the stairs leading up to the second story and all the bedrooms. The sounds coming from behind each of the closed doors could make a prostitute blush. It was lewd and disgusting. All of their inhibitions were cast to the wind and they did not care who heard it. My room was at the far end of hall so I had to walk, rather awkwardly, through all that moaning and groaning and giggling.

Just three more rooms and I could turn up my music, drown it all out, and go to bed. Just two more rooms and I could have enough peace to think about the mysterious entity that seemed to follow me but never showed himself. Just one more room...

A shrill, torturous scream erupted from behind one of the doors. Not just one of the doors, but my door. It was coming from my bedroom. My heart skipped a beat and I ran to it, unsure of what I was going to find or if I wanted to find it. Behind me I could hear other doors flinging open and people filling the hall behind me. I pushed my door open and found Ashley crumpled on the floor beside my bed, her clothes ransacked and ripped, buttons missing from her blouse. She lifted her face to me and all the perfection she had spent hours before trying to achieve was melted down her cheeks, mixing with tears and a stream of blood that trailed down her nose and under her chin. Her panties were torn on one side and hanging from one knee and there was no question what had happened here.

I felt my stomach tighten as nausea came to my mind. The desire to throw up the disgust I felt at seeing her in such a way. So broken, so violated. But there was something else in the room. Something else that called our attention behind her huddled form. I took a few steps into my room, my eyes wide with shock, and saw another body lying behind her. His head was hidden from sight but I recognized his shoes. Mostly because he couldn't stop talking about the expensive Vans he had worn all night.

Two girls rushed into the room and grabbed Ashley, taking her away from the body and that was when Tristen's head came into view. There was nothing natural about the way his neck was turned. It was twisted way too far back and there was a bulge pushing against the inside of his skin like his bones were trying to poke through. I was cold, in complete shock. I couldn't stop staring at his dead body, I was entranced. That was, until a breeze and the flicker of red and blue lights brought my attention to the open window beside him.