Chapter One-

It wasn't until junior year that I finally ended up making a couple of friends.

Naturally, since Derek hated me with a blinding passion he just had to be someone that everyone else looked up to, that everybody thought was cool. He acted like he didn't care about his popularity but there was no denying that he had it. Derek was unlike anyone I had ever met before, but after observing him in school—with his somewhat quiet demeanor, his brooding silences, the way girls would always stop what they were doing to watch him walk by, then sigh a little—I realized that it somehow seemed familiar to me.

One night I was reading back in my mother's journals, as I did quite often, and I found the passage I was thinking about.

It drives me crazy the way everyone somehow respects Mike, looks up to him. He doesn't even have to try, he's just somehow so cool that every girl thinks he's sexy, every guy looks up to him and wants to be like him. His very attention seems to be coveted, and everybody talks about Mike with the utmost respect, even when he isn't around.

He was teasing me today, and of course, like always, he playfully accused me of doing something dirty that I didn't do- I was just getting ice. Then he remarked, "Aw, I'll tell everybody. I'll be like, 'Yeah, you think she's so bookish and innocent, do you know what she did to me back there?'"

I wasn't really irritated, because even though reminders that he still thinks of me that way are a bit painful, I'm still glad he does. Instead I simply smiled and replied, "You can't do that. I didn't do anything."

"I know," he replied, giving me that smile with those twinkling blue eyes of his. "But if I tell them you did, they'll all believe me."

And the worst part is, it's completely true. He could tell everyone, "Hey, we had sex in the break room," and I could deny it until my face turned blue, but they would still believe him over me. And it would be entirely my fault that he cheated on his girlfriend, because for some reason, Mike can do no wrong in anybody's eyes. He's invincible.

Honestly, it's kind of annoying...

I could sympathize with my mother, because Derek seemed to be gifted with the same invincibility his father had been gifted with. If Derek hated me, nobody else dared to like me, for fear of being hated for it.

In the beginning of my junior year, however, I met a different kind of boy named Andy. He was a little taller than me, with light brown hair and warm brown eyes, but more importantly, he was an incredibly nice boy. Whether he just didn't realize that I was supposed to be avoided like the plague, or he just didn't care, Andy sat next to me in several classes, and when we had to partner up in chemistry –partner projects being something I had always dreaded, since no one ever wanted to be my partner—he never even asked anyone else, just came over to me and asked me to be his partner.

As the year passed by, I did start to notice that Andy liked me more than a friend should like you—even a good friend. When he finally got up the nerve to ask me out, I replied, "Are you sure?" He said he was, and I agreed to go out with him.

I wasn't at all attracted to Andy. I was never romantically interested in him at all, even to the tiniest degree, and at first I couldn't imagine kissing him, because he was just so good and pure; I felt like I would soil him. Andy went to church every Wednesday and Sunday, he donated 10 percent of his paychecks to charity, he was close to his mother and father (they were still happily married), and he would actually do things like escort elderly ladies to the bank or the grocery store; one time I actually saw him help an old woman cross the street. He was completely perfect, but for some reason, I felt less than nothing for him, I simply enjoyed having someone who didn't hate me, and it helped knowing that that person was safe. Something about him reminded me of my grandmother, which wasn't altogether appealing. I loved my grandmother, but I used to hate the way she would always put my mother down. It was clear that even though she knew that my mother's feelings for Mike had run deeply, she had no idea the constant pain my mother went through because of it.

That was the main reason I liked dating Andy.

My mother had taught me that passion was pain. I knew she couldn't see it, because she was blinded by her love for Mike, but as I read her journals over the years, I found it easy to realize her mistakes, and I promised myself that I would never repeat them. Yes, my mother and Mike had passion, desire, those dark, appealing emotions everybody thinks they want, but I knew those feelings were like poison, seeping into every part of your life, slowly killing you as they did my mother.

I knew I would never allow myself to want someone so much that it seeped into my very soul, that he became my obsession. That kind of passion terrified me like nothing else, and I wanted no part of it. As far as I was concerned, that kind of passion killed my mother.

So I continued to date Andy, and although I was surprised, I was kind of happy that he never even tried to kiss me through our whole junior year. He would touch me on the arm or affectionately around the waist, but whenever he would give me an affectionate squeeze, I would always recoil, remembering very clearly that my mother had said that was one of her favorite things Mike did to show his affection for her. Any hint of affection was unwelcome, although Andy didn't seem to realize this. But that didn't matter, because despite my lack of attraction to him I knew he would never hurt me—he didn't have the ability even if he wanted to. He was convenient, and if he woke up one day and decided he didn't want anything more to do with me, I would only be sad because I would no longer have a partner in chemistry or someone to sit with at lunch. Since I had been forced to live my life as a loner, I knew I would be fine, and knowing that gave me comfort.

My only other friend was a pretty blonde girl named Stephanie Miller, who was friends with most of Derek's friends, so she would have been one of the last people whose friendship I might have hoped to gain. Circumstances threw us together when near the end of my junior year, Alex lost his job as a server at Red Lobster, and while he immediately started looking for a new job, he asked me to find one too until he got settled into a new one. I applied everywhere in town except for Burger King, because I knew Mike had made it to assistant manager there, and I certainly couldn't work under him. Our local Wendy's ended up calling me back, and coincidentally, Stephanie worked there. We started talking at work and occasionally hanging out afterwards, then she even started talking to me in school. Before long she became my best friend, and she considered me a good friend, although her best friend spot was reserved for some other girl named Katie, also in Derek's little crowd (although if you asked him, he would completely deny having a "crowd" at all).

That ended up being pretty much the best summer of my adolescent life. I had a boyfriend and a best friend, which was more friendship than I had ever had in my whole life. I liked working because I liked bringing in some money, and Alex ended up getting another job, so then we had two incomes.

Over the summer I tried to pick up more hours at Wendy's, and since I was a good worker they started giving me around 35 hours a week, which allowed me to save some money. Alex told me that if I wanted to, he would give me $100 toward getting myself a car, and I could save the rest. Personally, I had no use for a car since Andy took me everywhere, and if he couldn't I used Alex's car or walked. I was, however, reluctant to pass up money, so I asked if he would consider letting me save the money for my post high school plans, which may or may not include community college. I hadn't completely decided yet. Alex agreed, so I opened up a savings account, and I ended up having a pretty productive summer.

When the end of August rolled around, I wasn't excited to return to school. Going back to school for me just meant less money and more misery. The only good thing was that I had Stephanie and Andy, and they didn't care what my mother had done, they just liked me for me. Not to mention I would be a senior, so I would never have to go back to that school again.

It was shortly after school started that I ended up making what I considered at the time to be the stupidest decision of my life.

One day on the way to class Stephanie told me that her parents were going out of town, and she kind of wanted to have a party since that's what you were supposed to do when your parents left you the house to yourself, but she didn't want to have a wild and crazy party that left her house trashed.

"Aw, don't worry," I assured her. "We'll only invite a few of Hell's Angels, and we'll cut back to two kegs, so you know we'll be good to go."

"Will you come?" Steph asked.

"Of course I will, as long as you're not afraid I might scare off your other guests."

She smiled. "If you would scare them off, I don't want them there anyway." But then she seemed to think of something, and she frowned a little. "Oh."

"What?" I asked, glancing over at her.

"Well... you know I would invite Katie, of course..." she began.

"Of course," I acknowledged, not quite seeing the problem.

"Well, Katie sort of just started seeing Derek, and I know she would expect me to invite him..."

"Ah," I say with a nod, finally seeing the predicament.

"Yeah," she said, watching me.

"Well, despite the fact that we hate each other, we could probably manage to be in the same house for an hour or so. I don't know, honestly, he's the one you would have to ask, he's the one with the problem."

"He may not even show," she reasoned. "He usually blows things like this off."

"Especially once he finds out I'll be there," I added with a nod.

Steph decided to have the party, and she told me I could invite Andy, but I knew before I asked him that he wouldn't be interested. There would be alcohol for sure, possibly even a little bit of weed, and Andy didn't go for parties like that. Honestly, he probably didn't even approve of me going, he just knew better than to say much about it since Steph was my best friend.

I helped her pick the music, snacks and drinks to offer, and my own father was the one who agreed to get the alcohol for us as long as we gave him the money. He wasn't very parental in general, but since he had had started drinking much younger than we were, it didn't seem to bother him. In fact, he had always found it a little strange—and I suspect he didn't actually believe me—when I claimed I had never had alcohol before. I hadn't, but Steph asked me while we were planning the party if I would have a couple drinks with her at the party since I was staying the night and wouldn't have to worry about getting home. Since I had never tried it and it seemed safe enough, I agreed.

The night of the party rolled around before we knew it. We were both excited as we set up bowls of chips, dips, cheese, crackers and other assorted snack foods. In an attempt to keep her house unbroken, we decided to put away anything valuable or breakable before anyone else got there, and Steph set up the guest room for me when I decided to go to bed.

I was relieved that people actually did show up, even though I was there, they just made sure to avoid me as much as possible, which I didn't really care about. As long as they came for Steph, I would be fine. I never wanted her to be punished for being my friend.

Of course Derek Noble arrived with his friend rather than Katie, and he decided to show up an hour late, because he was just that special.

Katie arrived on time, so as soon as Derek got there she went running over to his side, her white and silver strapless top flattering her fake-tanned skin and her dark brown hair, which fell straight down her back like a waterfall. I had to admit, as much as I hated Derek—and didn't truly care much for Katie either—they made a beautiful couple.

By the time Derek got there I had already finished two drinks, so I was pretty happy with the world; even his presence didn't bother me. He seemed a little let down when he came over to sarcastically say, "Hi, Nikki," knowing that it annoyed me, and I simply smiled, held up my bottle and said pleasantly, "Hi, Derek. Enjoying the party?"

He frowned at me, as if my pleasant attitude had ruined his mood, and he murmured, "No, but I will be once I've had a drink."

That was the closest to civil conversation that we had ever come, and I think it made him uncomfortable

As the night passed by I had two more drinks, and by the time I finished those and whatever shot that last kid convinced me to try, I could barely stand up, let alone walk. Poor Andy called, but I didn't notice until I felt my phone vibrate later alerting me of a missed the call. He was definitely in bed by the time I got it at 1:30, so I didn't bother calling back.

The party started to wind down, and I told everyone with a giggle that I thought it was time for me to begin my dangerous trek up the stairs, but someone shoved a drink into my hand, telling me I hadn't finished it. I was certain I had finished my last drink, but I took their word for it, taking the drink and not even realizing it was Derek who handed it to me. I might not have noticed anyway, because for the first time in my life he was being nice to me. If I would have been sober, I would have definitely been suspicious, but I was too drunk and I just assumed that alcohol made him as cheerful and friendly as it made me.

When I finished that half empty bottle, I couldn't even make it over to the garbage can to throw the bottle away. I tried, but I fell, and luckily Derek was there to come to my rescue and pick me back up, throwing the bottle away for me and gently guiding me toward the stairs so I didn't lose my way.

"Mm, you know, you're nice," I told him pleasantly, leaning against him so he would support some of my weight.

"Oh yeah, I'm a regular boy scout," he responded, wrapping his arm around my waist.

For some stupid reason, this made me giggle.

He kindly told me to watch my step when we got to the top of the stairs, and I figured since I had made it safely to the top he would go back downstairs, but instead he followed me.

I thought it was awfully nice of him to walk me right to my door, and being a bold, outspoken drunk, I had no problem telling him so. I helped him find my guest bedroom, then I opened my door, thanking him again for helping me up the stairs, but he just put his hand on the small of my back and prompted me to walk inside.

"I think I can take it from here," I said, but walked in with him anyway.

He shut the door behind him, and I know in my proper state of mind I would have definitely put my foot down then, and if not then, certainly when I saw him slowly turn the lock. But in my drunken state of mind, I apparently didn't have a care in the world.

After watching him lock us both in the room, I simply flopped down on the bed and made some ridiculous remark about how limber I was when I was drunk, because it amazed me that I could just move like a piece of spaghetti. To demonstrate, I believe I raised my leg up and put my foot behind my ear, then I giggled, dropping my foot, and I just stared up at the ceiling, feeling absurdly happy for no apparent reason.

When I think of this night, I only allow myself to think past that moment when he sat down on the edge of the bed with me as a blur. A big, drunken blur. I do remember bits and pieces, bits and pieces that I try not to remember, but I do. I remember that although I'm not sure how or when I got back off the bed, I did, because for some reason I had the overwhelming desire to dance, to let loose, and I did, but I didn't dance to any sort of music or do any sort of dancing that anyone could witness. My dancing was apparently just for him, and I know I ended up in his lap, because I remember sitting on his lap, taking out his pony tail, telling him that his hair was sexy, and running my fingers through his golden locks.

The only thing I admitted to remembering was waking up in the middle of the night, completely naked in the bed, and realizing I sure as hell wasn't alone. I rolled over to look in horror at Derek, who was lying there awake, his head propped up on his elbow.

"Oh no," I said.

A smile slowly spread across his face and his blue eyes twinkled. "Oh yes," he countered.

"Oh no," I groaned, hiding my face in my hands.

"Oh yes," he mocked, lazily reaching a hand over to give me a little caress.

I smacked his hand away immediately. "Don't touch me!"

He shrugged. "Too late," he replied simply.

"I didn't... sleep with you, right? There's some other explanation for us lying here... naked... together?" I asked, hoping he would indeed have some other explanation.

"Nope. Pretty much the only reason is that we had sex," he replied.

"Oh my gosh," I said miserably, closing my eyes. "Why?" I asked.

"Well, I brought you up here and you started dancing provocatively and sitting in my lap, then you did a little striptease for me-"

"I did not!" I cried, thinking I would never do such a thing, especially not for him.

"Oh, if you don't believe me, I have proof," he said, his smile so cocky that it kind of worried me.

I swallowed, a feeling of unease settling in my stomach as I imagined a hickey or some other form of reminder of that night. "What do you mean, you have proof?" I asked a little uneasily.

His smile widened. "Well, Nikki, I taped you."

"You taped me?" I repeated in disbelief.

"Yeah. I even asked for your permission first just to be a gentleman. Actually, you were pretty into it. You're definitely a freak in the sheets," he said, reaching over and tracing a line down my chest, my stomach, lower until I grabbed his hand and glared at him.

"Don't even think about it," I stated, his comment angering me even more.

"Now, now, now, is that any way to talk to the guy who has a very inappropriate video of you? I mean, if I wanted to, I could share this video with everyone."

"I don't believe you," I told him. "I want to see it."

"Do I look that stupid?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied without hesitation.

That caused him to laugh a little. "Well, I guess looks can be deceiving then," he said.

I realized then that I didn't have to put up with him, that he was in Stephanie's house and I could kick him out. "You know what, I don't need this; get out of my bed and get out my room."

"Not until we've decided when we'll do this again."

"Oh, right," I said brightly. "Try never."

"Oh no, never is not an option," he stated.

"Want to bet?" I replied.

"Yep," he replied, his tone warning me that he was serious.

I swallowed, frowning at him in the dark. "You c-can't be serious," I stuttered a little, hoping this was his most elaborate trick yet. "You hate me!" I reminded him.

"That may be so," he agreed, "but you're still damn good in bed. I wouldn't believe this was your first time if I wouldn't have seen the evidence myself."

"You're with Katie," I stated, ignoring the rest of his comment.

"I've gone out with her a couple times. Anyway, it doesn't matter. I don't care what or who you're doing in the meantime, just like you don't get to care what or who I'm doing in my spare time. We don't care about each other, we don't even like each other—"

"Damn right," I said, cutting him off, "and you've got me mistaken if you think I'm ever doing this with you again."

"Okay," he said, rolling off the bed.

Immediately suspicious that he let it go that easily, I grabbed the blanket up to my chest and sat down. "You... don't care?" I asked.

"No," he said, picking his boxers up off the floor. "If you want everyone to see exactly what you did last night, that's no problem. You never know, you might have a future in the porn career, this can get you going. I mean, yeah, it's going to give you one hell of a reputation, but I guess that doesn't concern you." He paused thoughtfully as he pulled on his jeans. "I think I do have some footage of you giving me head, too. Won't that be nice? Every time somebody looks at you they'll imagine you with my dick in your mouth."

I felt my stomach sink, and I realized he probably did hate me enough to do exactly what he was threatening. Yet I couldn't bring myself to say anything. He pulled his shirt on and was headed toward the door before I finally said, "Derek, wait."

He paused, glancing back over his shoulder. "Yes?"

"You aren't really going to show that video, are you?"

"Oh, I will, Nikki. Don't doubt that."

"You can't," I said frantically. "Don't just think about hurting me, Derek, think of all the other people you'll hurt if you do that."

He turned toward me, his eyes narrowed and he sneered, "Aw, imagine, a Harmon girl thinking about how her actions might hurt someone else."

I had to ignore that subtle insult to my mother, because I had to appeal to his humanity. "Think of Katie."

"Don't care," he said.

"And I-I have a boyfriend, he will be completely crushed and humiliated beyond belief if you do that."

"I care even less about that," he said, turning back around and placing his hand on the door knob. "See you Monday at school."

I jumped out of the bed, dragging the blanket with me and made a desperate grab at his shoulder. "Derek, please. If you have any decency in you at all, will you please... compromise with me or something."

"Nikki, the whole point of having the Trump card is so that you don't have to compromise. I told you my terms, if you don't want to go along with them, that's okay, it'll probably be more entertaining to completely ruin your reputation anyway."

I briefly remembered how I felt back in the trailer park when I had my undeserved bad reputation, and the thought of how much worse it would be in high school made me shudder, imagining the comments people would call out to me, the fact that Stephanie would probably stop talking to me for causing her best friend's boyfriend to cheat on her, the look of devastation on Andy's face when he found out.

I swallowed. "What, specifically, are you asking me for? If I... have sex with you again, will you give me the tape or whatever it is you claim to have?"

"No, I'll be keeping that."

I scowled at him. "You can't do that! Then how do I know that you won't just show the tape to everyone after you sleep with me?"

"As long as we're sleeping together, you'll just have to take my word that I won't tell anyone or show it to anyone."

I shook my head. "No way. For all I know- If you're just going to keep the video, you could make me sell myself to you for the rest of my life."

"Don't flatter yourself," he said dismissively. "I'm sure I'll get tired of you within the month, and once I'm done with you I will let you destroy the evidence, that way I can't show anybody the video after you've paid the price."

I could still do nothing but shake my head, completely disbelieving that this could be happening to me, that even Derek could be so cruel. "This is blackmail, you know," I informed him.

"I suppose it is," he said with a nod.

"That's illegal," I added. "Plus I'm a minor; even with my permission, you're not allowed to make a pornographic video of me. Everything you're doing right now is highly illegal."

"So is smoking weed, but I still do that from time to time."

I couldn't keep from wrinkling my nose up in disgust and muttering, "I guess the rotten apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

This comment seemed to shorten his patience, and he said, "I have better places to be right now, Nikki. Do you accept my terms or not?"

My mind raced, trying to think of some other way, of some other offer I might be able to give him, but my mind drew a blank. "So... basically you want me to... what? Just be your little sex slave, available at your every beck and call?" I asked disdainfully.

Derek pretended to think for a moment, then he said, "Yep, pretty much."

"You are despicable," I spat.

He shrugged, seemingly unconcerned with my opinion of him. "Maybe, but I'm not the one who cheated on my oh-so-devoted boyfriend with my worst enemy tonight."

My shoulders slumped and I realized with a sinking heart that he was right. He was disgusting and cruel, but I wasn't much better.

Poor Andy.

Without realizing it, I said aloud, "I am such a whore."

"Yeah," he agreed, nodding his head at me. "But hey, at least now we know it is hereditary."

My eyes narrowed, my blood heated and I went to lunge after him, planning to give him a few scratches to explain to Katie, but he already guessed my intentions so he quickly slipped out the door and held onto the door knob so I couldn't even twist it open. I growled angrily and released the knob, turning away from the door and looking at the disheveled bed.

My shoulders slumped again, and I thought about what must have happened in that bed. Bits and pieces kept floating into my mind, images of him above me, his hair falling down into my face, me smiling as I tangled my hands into it and pulled, causing him to growl and thrust harder.

"Oh God," I muttered, sinking down onto the floor and hiding my face in my hands. "I'm never drinking again."