I'm going to try and make this chapter at least two thousand words long, without counting my AN's at the beginning and end. Because I actually really do enjoy this story, I just forget about it, and writing long chapters is a good way to recharge my interest.

PS: Is Jake a fucking Gary/Marty stu or what? Like, damn the boy has no real flaws. Like, I mention his flaws in this chapter, but it's a case of "tell, don't show." To be fair, the boy was only in two chapters, so I didn't get any time to show them. Also, all the memories we're seeing of him are from Lezlie's POV, who at this point, has an increasingly idealized view of him.

Chapter 15

It's a year ago. Jake and I are sitting in a darkened movie theater, sharing a tub of overly salted popcorn between us, with two girls who were more mostly just classmates to us, but who we happened to bump into while coming into the towns only theater that night. When we first spotted them, just after we'd stood in line for what felt like forever, (though that might have just been from the chill creeping into our bones) they'd been holding hands, but for some reason, when they noticed us, they let go. It was odd, because Jake was already out at that time, so I would have thought they'd known they'd be safe with us. But maybe they thought we would tell someone, and maybe one or both of them had people they didn't want to know.

The movie we've gone to see is a scary movie that we've been anticipating for almost a year, hyping ourselves up for, keeping track of the long days, and going in, I'd been excited, and while I am enjoying the movie, I hadn't realized exactly how scary it was going to be. As a result, I'm hiding my face behind Jake for much of the movie, shrinking into him. He is unfazed. Scary movies were like Disney movies for him. They might as well have had musical numbers in them. A few times, I see him looking at me from the corner of his eyes and giggling, enjoying my fear.

But then there's a scene that scares me so bad that after I gasp in fear, I start to hyperventilate, just a little. It's so little in fact, that even I am not really concerned by it. But Jake catches wind of it, and immediately, he puts his hand on the back of my head and hugs me into his chest. Embarrassed, (but also touched) I whisper, "It's alright. I'm okay." I expect him to let go at my words, but he keeps me there for a few more seconds, until my breathing has evened. When it has, I pull gently away, and smile at him. Somehow, I know that the rest of the movie will not be so scary anymore. He had that affect on me. He's just a normal human, with flaws of his own. He was quick to fight bullies, quick to react, even though he could never win. He was really impatient, hating it when I kept him waiting even though he was just as bad. Which made him a hypocrite.

But non of that mattered, because we were friends, and we loved each other. I'm sure he had noticed all my flaws too, but was looking past them the same way.

"Thank you."

He smiles back, and it glows, bringing the only light in the dark of the theater.

*(*)

My beautiful dream, a dream of a time gone forever, is smashed abruptly by a loud shout of what sounds like a cocktail of surprise and pain. I'm sitting up before I am even aware I'm awake, looking around, the morning light invading my previously sleeping senses. Quiet echoes in the house now, for just a few lingering seconds, where I feel like the house itself breaths, before footsteps pound from all corners, running quickly in the direction of whoever was in distress. It was only after my footsteps had joined the rumbling that I noticed that Jake hadn't been in the room when I opened my eyes, and that indeed, the shout had sounded an awful lot like Jake.

"Jake!"

My voice was echoed by Lily and Francis, who were ahead of me on the stairs. We got down at the same time, and arrived in the kitchen. Jake was there, along with Marcus, Mi-chan, and Brady. Just as we arrived, Don and Lexi appeared from two separate spots, so that we were all gathered in the kitchen.

Jake was on the ground, holding his hands up to his face. Mi-chan and Marcus were both worriedly hovering around him, but Brady didn't look concerned at all. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what had happened.

"Are you alright!?" I gasped, kneeling beside him and checking him for any bad injuries. He shook his head quietly, and didn't offer any information. Not that anybody asked. Quite the opposite, the room was quiet and tense, with an almost visible anger in the air. Everyone knew that Brady hurt Jake, the same way he hurt everybody. And I'd seen the come to the aid of each other often, but this was different. Jake was like a guiding star to them, he was the one they all pictured when they thought of their hero. I was pretty sure of that. And nobody liked to witness their hero get hurt.

Brady seemed to sense the rigidity rippling through the air, and he looked at each of them, waiting.

"I'm alright." Jake says it out loud now, and even though it sounds like he's answering my question, we all now he's speaking to the others, signaling for them to back down. There's a few more anxious beats of silence before they all physically back off, taking steps away. I help Jake get up, though he most likely doesn't really need it. I take his hand, and lead him into the living room, away from Brady, who stays in the kitchen. I'm not sure if the others stay there too, or if they go back to hiding, but I'm willing to bet it's probably the latter.

I want to ask what happened, but I also know that he'd tell me if he wanted to, and since he doesn't, I don't either. Nothing is said. His leg jiggles up and down, and his eyes never stay still, moving across the room at a speed I could never accomplish. Quickly, I start to suspect that he's drugged up on something, but another part of me believes he might just be that frightened.

For probably the first time in their high school careers, or at least since I have known them, they are more than excited to get to school, gathering at the doorway as they wait for the others. We're waiting on Mi-chan, who can not find her other shoe, when Brady appears at the top of the stair case, looking down at us. His black hair is not up in its mohawk today, and his piercings are nowhere in sight. Neither is his shirt, but since water slides down his body, I know he's just come out of the shower. Mi-chan appears at almost the same time as he does, and manages a quick hello as she quickly makes her way down the stairs. Just as she joins us, and we turn to make our escape, Brady's voice cuts through us, stopping us like we've been paused.

"Jake, stay here with me today."

It's a horrible moment, where I, and I'm sure the others, feel my stomach sink.

Everyone's eyes turn to Brady, who has moved a few steps so that he is standing right at the top of the staircase, leaning against the wall, his arms folded over his naked chest. It wasn't a question, obviously, and Jake didn't treat it like one, stepping back away from us to show his intention to obey.

"Sure."

I grab his hand, and pull him closer for just a second, kissing him gently and quickly. Brady was clearly in some mood, (though really I think it was always his mood. But he just felt more pissed off than usual) and I wasn't sure what might set him off, as I didn't know him as well as the others. Jake mostly doesn't move a muscle, completely still, and I don't blame him a bit.

"Do you want us to stay?" I whisper, but I'm answered quickly, and not even by Jake.

"No." Francis says lowly, taking my hand gently and starting to pull me away, into the warmth (though I hadn't even been cold until seconds before) of their bodies. "He doesn't."

A second passes, where I wait for Jake to jump in with either an argument or agreement. But he isn't looking at us anymore, staring at the ground, his brows knitted together tightly, like he is thinking deeply.

All of this happens in the span of not even twenty seconds, but I guess it isn't fast enough for Brady, who takes a few steps down the stairs, and calls, "Jake!" The message is clear. He doesn't just want Jake to stay behind with him, he wants to get the show on the road.

"You guys have fun, okay?" Jake can't manage the smile he usually has, the one that says, we may be suffering, but we can still have happiness.

How can we have fun? Knowing he's here? Alone? How...how can I leave Jake behind? How can I leave, knowing what had happened? With my Jake, I had left, without a clue as to the things that will happen once I leave. But this...this I know. If I go, Jake will be raped.

Jake will be raped.

I'll be leaving him behind.

Again.

It isn't the same Jake, but it's still is the same.

I'm abandoning Jake when he needs me, leaving him to this horrible fate. And this time, I'm doing it knowingly. I want to scream. It builds up in my chest, like boiling water that is seconds from spilling over.

How could I just leave him behind!?

But Brady makes it clear he expects obedience, and so, moving at a pace slower than I've ever moved before, I go.

*(*)

We don't drink, we don't get high. If anybody had stumbled behind the theater that day, they would have found us completely sober. There is no making out, no laughter. Every hour or so, there are a few whispers that last maybe a few minutes, and then radio silence. I felt horribly whenever any of them are with Brady, and I can't enjoy myself then either. But this is even worse.

And I know they feel the same way.

It's then, when I have nothing but free time to dwell on my thoughts, that I remember how badly I want to know about them all. Why Lexi ran from her brother. Why it took Francis so long to find his. Why they'd both ran in the first place. And what about the others? What undoubtedly horrible circumstances had led to them finding there way here? All these questions burn hot in my mind, but I can't focus on them, thinking again about Jake every few seconds. Was he in a lot of pain? So far, I hadn't heard of anyone coming away from their time with Brady without experiencing pain.

Guilt consumes me at what I had done. I'd left Jake to his fate.

Finally, like an angel, the school bell saves us, ringing, it's loud, usually annoying alarm a blissful release. We get up, instantly, and run, our feet slapping the pavement hard as we run to the car, which Don had driven that morning. He drives it again now, and we tear out of the parking lot so fast, and so dangerously that I see people jumping out of the path of our car. I pray that a cop won't pull us over again. I'm not even sure Don would stop.

We make it to the house. It's silent, which doesn't reassure me, though I wouldn't have liked to have heard Jake's screams either. But silence is deadly, when it comes to people like Brady.

"Jake?" Marcus calls. We don't move from the doorway, even though we all want to charge in and find him. After a few seconds, a bedroom door opens. Jake steps out, looking down at us. His eyes are bloodshot. Drugs or tears? There are multiple bruises visible on his skin that weren't there when we left. He can barely stand, leaning on the wall, in the same spot Brady was earlier that same day. What had Brady done? And why had he done is so harshly? What had Jake done to deserve it? Did it have anything to do with whatever had happened this morning?

Jake, standing on wobbling legs, covered in bruises, and with even a few scratches on his arms and uncovered chest, smiles.

It propels us all into motion at the same time. We clamber past each other on the stairs, desperate to get to him. I reach him first, or perhaps they let me get to him first. I throw my arms around him, and, as the others smash their bodies into ours, clutching him, and by extension me, tightly, I begin to cry.

"Jake. Jake, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!"

"Lezlie, it's okay." he whispers into my ear, but I don't stop. "I'm sorry I left you, Jake, I'm sorry!"

He pauses, silent, as are the others. He knows that while this is about him, it also really isn't. He hugs me closer, and the others hold me tightly now, not Jake.

And they don't let go until I stop.

*(*)

Brady stays for so many days. Every day, he tells someone to stay behind with him. The day after Jake, it's Marcus, and then Don, and then Jake again. Francis, Mi-chan, Jake, me, Lily, Lily again, Jake the next three days running. Everyone gets a turn, and then everyone gets a second turn. Jake gets the most turns. It's week three, day four, then week four, day three. He's been here a month. Is he planning to stay!? We're all thinking it, but nobody is saying it, because if we say it...

We don't say it.

Brady is visibly on edge. Something isn't right. This much is obvious. But we can't do anything to change it. He spends his days watching us, and nothing is like it was. No movies, no stupid games, no real laughter. Still drinking, still drug. Before, they had been done to chase away the past. Now, we are doing it to chase away our present. Each morning, we work together to cook him breakfast, and on weekends, lunch, and always, dinner.

Each night, he takes someone, and they go into the chosen ones room, and the rest of us huddle in a different room, waiting, waiting for Brady to finish, to fall asleep, and for whoever was chosen to come into the room, joining us. We finally rest, (it doesn't feel like rest) and wake early, to start breakfast.

Jake seems to get chosen a lot. I wonder if it's normal, and ask Lily. She nods.

"Yeah, I suppose. He chooses Jake often."

And Jake never argues, never fights (no does really, but you'd expect more from the one chosen most) and we all know he's taking the bullet for us.

Finally...

Finally...

He goes home. We wake up, go downstairs, and cook breakfast. But Brady never comes down. Jake goes to look in after it gets suspicious, and when he looks out, the look on his face says it all.

I don't know why he came, why he stayed so long, or why he left.

That night, we decide to go out for the first time is a long time to celebrate. There's a party of sorts happening not far away, and the others are so ready to go, so ready to finally relax. I'm ready too.

I am not ready, for the things that would happen that night.