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Exposure

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October 7

Nathan stared at the clock on the wall, its ticking bouncing inside his skull. The gun that rested hidden on his side felt heavier than it was. He reread the note left underneath his door until he could practically see the words behind his eyelids. What were you thinking, he berated himself for the umpteenth time, stupid, stupid, stupid.

Drugging Chloe seemed like a good idea at the time. He didn't think so far ahead to consider how it could backfire so tremendously. She’d caught him by surprise, sobering up from her drugged state and attacking him. She ran out of the room before he could comprehend what happened. He glanced at the clock again. 3:56, in just four minutes he'd have to go to the bathroom and "deal" with her.

He didn't plan on actually using the gun-- he wasn't that crazy --he just wanted to scare her into silence. Threaten her to stay away from him and his family. It wasn't a foolproof plan but it was all he had. He didn't have the nerve to go to his mentor yet. He hoped he wouldn’t have to. His fingers twitched from nervousness.

When bell rang he was the first to leave the room. The teacher wasn't done talking, but she was smart enough not to say anything to a Prescott. Nathan scratched at his arms through his jacket, glaring at anyone who looked at him. Most shied away. That's right, he was a Prescott. He can do this, he can do anything he wants, he's a motherfucking Prescott.

Before he knew it, he was standing outside the girls' bathroom. He looked around to make sure no one was around to see him. When he was sure it was clear, he took a deep breath. Don't fuck this up. With that in mind, he opened the door and stepped inside.

He cast a quick glance around the bathroom. The lighting was terrible and it was just as gross as the boys' bathroom, but it was empty. Chloe wasn't there yet. The reality of what he was doing hit him again and he took his time to calm himself down.

"It's cool, Nathan... Don't stress... You're okay, bro. Just count to three..."

He couldn’t keep his fingers from twitching as he paced around the bathroom, breathing in an offensive fruity odor that couldn’t entirely mask the choking smell of piss and shit. He attempted to occupy his hands by rubbing his hair, his neck, his wrists, but couldn’t quite manage it. He settled for resting them on the sink in front of the bathroom mirror.

He avoided looking at his reflection and focused his gaze on the basin. Deep breaths, Nathan. "Don't be scared. You own this school. If I wanted, I could blow it up. You're the Boss."

At that moment he heard the door creak open and saw a flash of blue in the corner of his eye. Fuck. "So what do you want?" He asked.

"I hope you checked the perimeter, as my step-ass would say." Nathan could see her through the mirror as she checked through each individual stall. He could feel that rage, that monster that lurked in the back of his head start to surface. Just don't look at her, Nathan. Focus on the sink. Don't look at her. "Now, let's talk bidness--"

"I got nothing for you."

"Wrong. You got hella cash." Stupid greedy bitch.

"That's my family, not me."

She didn’t buy it. "Oh boo-hoo, poor little rich kid." He heard her footsteps as she came closer. "I know you been pumpin' drugs n' shit to kids around here..." She slammed her hands on the sink he was in. Nathan could feel himself losing his carefully rehearsed composure. He needed her to shut the fuck up now. "I bet your respectable family would help me out if I went to them. Man, I can see the headlines now--"

He kept avoiding eye contact, if she kept pushing him like this he was going to lose it.
"Leave them out of this, bitch."

"I can tell everybody Nathan Prescott is a punk ass who begs like a little girl and talks to himself--" She shoved him.

That did it. Like fucking hell was he going to let this whore push him around and blackmail him. He pulled the gun from his jacket. "You don't know who the fuck I am or who you're messing around with!" Her eyes widened as her face transformed from cocky to terrified. That's right, that's fucking right. The fear in her expression fueled him. She's finally starting to realize how dangerous he really is.

He trapped her between his body and the wall and pushed the gun into her abdomen. "Where'd you get that? What are you doing? Come on, put that thing down!" She had one hand on his wrist, trying to pull the gun off her.

Nathan slammed the wall with his hand. "Don't EVER tell me what to do. I'm so SICK of people trying to control me!" He jabbed the gun deeper in her stomach.

Chloe's voice trembled. "You are going to get in hella more trouble for this than drugs--"

"Nobody would ever even miss your ‘punk ass’ would they?"

"Get that gun away from--" The sound of shattering glass and the earsplitting siren of a fire alarm cut her off.

The shrill noise brought Nathan back. Chloe took advantage of his distraction and kneed him in the crotch. Nathan gasped and she shoved him to the floor. "Don't EVER touch me again, freak!" He saw her leave, his vision blurred through his squinted eyes. Nathan curled up on the floor, hands clasping the area where she kicked him. Fucking piece of shit bitch.

He felt something stick to his cheek and snarled in disgust. Just his fucking luck. He ripped whatever stuck to him from his face and realized it was a torn photograph. He found the other half near his shoe and picked it up. He shoved both halves in his jacket’s pocket. He didn't have much time, the alarm is going to bring out the students and faculty and if he's seen inside the building it's going to raise suspicion. Nathan grabbed the gun and hid it inside his jacket.

"Another shitty day," he grumbled to himself and left the girls' bathroom.

ooo

Back at the dormitories Nathan sat on his bed and wondered what went wrong. Sighing, he pulled the gun out from his jacket when the two halves of the photograph spill out. That's right, he'd forgotten about these. Why were they on the bathroom floor? He put both halves together and they form a pretty artistic selfie. It's a girl standing with her back to the camera, facing a wall full of pictures. He recognizes her, Max Caulfield. He's heard Victoria complain about her too many times for him to not to know who she was. She's one of Jefferson's favorites, apparently, something that drives Victoria mad. Nathan, however, feels relieved. He wants Victoria as far away from Jefferson as possible and if that means he sets his sights on some other girl, so be it.

Still, why was the photograph on the bathroom floor? He looks at the gun sitting next to his thigh. She wasn't in the bathroom, was she? Nathan didn't look around so he couldn't be sure. If she was there, wouldn't she have said something? He went over what happened in his head. Chloe walked in, started yelling, he pulled the gun, there was a sound of glass shattering and--

The sound of glass shattering.

"Oh fuck." The fire alarm was pulled inside the bathroom. Max fucking Caulfield was in the bathroom when he pulled a gun on Chloe. Nathan’s insides went cold. If Max witnessed him waving a gun around after Chloe’s attempt at blackmail he had to make sure she'll keep her mouth shut. Assuming she hasn’t told anyone already. Nathan didn’t know what he’d do if she did. He needed to find her, fast.

After some consideration, he decided to leave the gun behind. The last thing he needed was having someone search him because she blabbed. He hid it behind his couch, next to the burner phone. He took the phone and pocketed it; he might need it later, depending how things go with Max.

He left the dormitories but didn't know where to start looking. He shoots Victoria a text asking if she's seen Max.

[Victoria, Today 4:47 PM]

not since jefferson's class. UGH did you know she interrupted me while I was talking with him?? she acts like she fuckin owns him, i am NOT gonna be in a good mood if i see her.

[Victoria, Today 4:47 PM]

why do you want to know?

[You, Today 4:48 PM]

I'll tell u l8r let me know when u see her. Where r u?

[Victoria, Today 4:48 PM]

front of girl's dormitory w/ taylor and courtney

[You, Today 4:48 PM]

Omw.

He'll think of an excuse when he sees her, he reasons.

He makes his way over to the girls' dormitories and finds Victoria lounging on the front steps, Taylor and Courtney at her side.

"Hey, Vic."

"Hi Nate, are you still looking for Max Cowfield?"

"Yeah, do you know if she's inside?"

Victoria looked at her manicured nails. "Can't be, I've been sitting here for a while and I haven't seen her."

Great. Plan B then. "Do you know where her room is?"

Victoria raised a perfect eyebrow. "Seriously Nathan? Are you going to tell me why you're looking for her?"

He was going to give her the excuse he’d planned when Courtney cut him off. "Don't tell me you like Max Bitchfield. I thought you were better than that."

He sucked in an angry breath and was about to go off when Victoria answered for him, "That's because he is better than that. Nobody in the right mind would ever fall for that hipster trash, least of all Nathan. So why don't you go talk shit somewhere else?”

The shock was evident on her face. Courtney’s eyes were wide, flicking between Victoria and Taylor. Taylor was pointedly looking somewhere else and Victoria pretended Courtney was no longer there. Brutal. She opened up her mouth to speak, then snapped it shut. She gave Nathan a pleading look.

"You heard her. Beat it."

Her cheeks turned red and she left Victoria's side, shamefully keeping her head down. Victoria directed her gaze back at him. "Max's room is the one across from mine. Room 219. Her slate is blank, like her brain." Taylor giggled nervously at her joke, afraid she'll be next on Victoria's shit list.

"Thanks Vic. If you see her, don't let her come in 'til I'm out. Owe ya one." He climbed up the steps to the building.

"You still haven't told me what she's done, you know!"

"I know!" He called behind his shoulder as the doors closed.

Inside the dormitories, it was easy to find Max's room. He passed a slate that said "Will BANG 4 Jesus!" which was obviously Kate's room. Next to that was Victoria's room, the slate saying, "Be the change you want to be. -Ghandi". Nathan rolled his eyes at it. He loved Victoria but she could be such a poser sometimes. Across from that was Max's room. Blank slate, just like Victoria said.

Nathan tried the doorknob and was pleased to learn that it was unlocked. Inside was a hipster's wet dream. Paper lanterns hung up in the ceiling gave the room a warm atmosphere. It was messy but comfortably so, like he felt Max knew where everything was at all times. Her walls were covered with posters, photographs, bulletins… All arranged in purposeful disarray. To his right he found the wall of photographs that was shown in the ripped selfie and the artist in him couldn't help but look at her pictures.

She had a colorful, warm style. Most of her subjects were happy and mundane. The complete opposite of his style. She had a good eye for colors and composition though and he could see why Jefferson regarded her so highly.

He looked around for any clues as to where she may be. Or maybe something to use against her to ensure her silence. Her computer was logged on so he started there. She had two tabs open: Camera Porn, a website for vintage analog cameras. Hipster. And an email from Warren Graham. Something about repaying her for helping him in a class. The way the email was written he assumed he was her boyfriend. He knew of Warren, his room was right across from Nathan's. He could pay him a visit, he probably knew where she was.

As he was getting up he felt something stick to his hand. It was a message from Dana, saying that she borrowed Max's drive. He didn't know Dana was friends with Max. He could ask her about it too.

As he was leaving Max's room he heard a door slam down the corridor. "You can't get out now, Dana! So tell me the truth, or rot in there!" Juliet was standing outside of Dana's room, phone in her ear, Nathan could hear Dana's muffled voice behind the door. Oh hell yeah a cat fight.

He strode up to them. "Rrrawr, bring out the claws! I love watching chicks fight."

Juliet scoffed and gave him a glare. If looks could kill. "What are you doing here, Nathan?"

"None of your business. What's going on with Dana?"

"'None of your business.'" She parroted him.

"Fine, do what you want, but I need to talk to her."

"Like hell I'm letting her out of that room."

"Why not?" He asked again.

"A little birdie named Victoria let me know that Dana is a lying backstabber that goes around sexting her best friend's boyfriend!" She raised her voice so that Dana could hear her beyond the door.

Nathan almost laughed. Victoria was the one sexting Zachary, not Dana. But he wasn't about to betray Victoria like that. "Shouldn't you be taking this up with Zachary, then?"

"He won't answer the phone. Either way, I'm not letting this skank out until she admits it."

Dana's muffled cry came behind the door, "I didn't do it, I swear! But I bet Victoria did!"

Nathan dismissed her. "Victoria has better things to do than sext that dumb jock. Speaking of which, he's right outside. You could talk to him face to face."

Juliet snorted derisively. "Yeah right, as if I'd believe that."

"I'm not lying. I saw him on the way here, he was playing football with Logan. Go talk to him and leave Dana alone."

She looked like she was going to argue with him again but thought better of it. "Fine. Whatever. You win, Nathan." She unlocked the door to Dana's room and scowled at her. "You better hope I don't see you again, bitch." With that, Juliet stormed off. Nathan did not envy Zachary.

He turned towards Dana who was giving him the evil eye. Her arms were crossed and her body was leaning on the door frame. "I didn't sext Zachary."

Nathan let himself in her room. "Didn't say you did."

"You didn't deny it either. You KNOW it was Victoria."

"I'm not in full possession of the facts yet, missy, so I can't say that either."

She gave an exasperating sigh. "Ugh, you're insufferable. Why are you here, Nathan?"

He showed Dana the sticky note. "I found this in Max's room. Do you know where she is?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Why were you in Max's room?"

"I'm looking for her, obviously."

"Why?"

Nathan rolled his eyes. This again. "None of your business."

She shrugged nonchalantly. "If it's none of my business I don't see why I have to tell you where she is."

He pinched the bridge of his nose. Why couldn't he get a straight answer out of anybody?

"Look, I need to ask her a question. It's not a big deal, will you help me or not?"

It seemed like she gave up. "I haven't seen her today. I borrowed a flash drive from her last night but she hasn't said anything about it. It's not even hers, it's Warren's."

"That her boyfriend?"

She chuckled. Nathan saw some of the tension lift from her shoulders. "He wishes. They're friends but it's obvious he's got a major crush on her. Max is oblivious as hell."

"Do you know where he is?"

"Last I saw him, he was at the parking lot. That was a while ago so he probably left. Still, he's your best bet for finding Max."

Nathan nodded. To the parking lot it is. "Thanks, Dana."

"Sure, Nathan."

ooo

He finds Warren in the parking lot, just like Dana said. Nathan has seen him a few times around campus and he lives right across from him, but he's never paid any mind to him until now. He was leaning on a really shitty car, staring at his phone. Nathan strode up to him.

"You're Warren right? Max's little bitch?"

Warren tenses up immediately and gives him a suspicious if otherwise frightened look. "What?"

"I'm looking for Caulfield. Where is she?"

He frowns. "Why are you looking for Max?"

Nathan was getting really sick of everyone asking that same goddamn question. He got even closer, trying to intimidate him. "Just answer the question, bitch."

Warren stepped back until the back of his legs hit his car. "Look man, I don't know where she is but even if I did there's no way I'd tell you." Yeah fucking right.

"You're full of shit, Graham. Covering for her isn't going to do you any good. You best tell me where she is. Now."

"I don’t know what you want with Max, but whatever it is, it can't be any good. I'm not telling you anything." He tried to push Nathan away.

Nathan shoved him back. "I don't know who you think you are, but you clearly don't know who you're messing with."

"I've been texting Max all day and she hasn't replied. If you did something to her..."

"You'll what?"

Warren seemed to have gathered up some misplaced courage because he fixed Nathan with a determined glare, "Stay away from Max."

They stood toe to toe with each other, glaring at the other waiting to see who will cave first."You're telling me what to do? You have no idea who I am or what I can do. Don't even try to threaten me."

"I know you're dangerous. You talk big, but that’s all you are. You’re a coward.”

White hot anger flared up inside of Nathan. “I’ll show YOU a coward!” Nathan raised his fist.

“What the hell’s going on here?” David Madsen’s voice rang from behind him. Nathan could hear his footsteps and the jangling of his keys as he jogged up to meet them. Great. Fucking perfect. Nathan ignored him.

“You better watch your back from now on, Graham.” With that, Nathan pivoted on his heel and left. Pushing past Madsen and ignoring whatever the hell he was barking on about. He was going to have to find Max some other way.

ooo

He was halfway to his dormitory when he felt something vibrate in his back pocket. Fuck. Fuck shit fuck. That wasn’t his personal phone. He looked around but there were too many people for him to take the call. The more the phone vibrated, the more stressed and anxious he felt. Nathan did a half jog across the campus, finding somewhere he could be alone. He found a picnic bench near the football field which was blessedly empty this time of the year.

He pulled the phone from his pocket and stared at the ‘unknown’ caller ID for a few moments. Should he tell him about Chloe? About Max?

Nathan took a few moments to steel himself and answered.

“Are you high?” Was the first thing that came from it. Nathan would’ve laughed if it wasn’t so plausible.

“No,” he answered curtly.

“We need to talk about Kate.”

Kate Marsh. His latest fuckup. Wait, no, Nathan corrected himself. Chloe was his latest fuckup, Kate was just one of many. “What about her?” He tried to keep his voice as neutral as possible.

“Miss Marsh is a very delicate situation. So far your impromptu plan has worked and none of the other students have questioned her strange behavior at the party. However, if someone realizes that all may not be as it seems or, god forbid, Kate decides to go to the police, people are going to probing.”

“So what do you want me to do about it? It’s not my fault someone decided to record her slutting it out with all of Blackwell.”

“She needs to be silenced.”

His tone chilled Nathan to the core. “How would we do that?”

“For now, just keep doing what you’re doing and I will try to dissuade her from coming forward.”

“Sure.” Nathan nervously drummed his fingers against the table, wishing the conversation to be over.

“Oh and Nathan? That was some quick thinking on your part. Despite your carelessness at the party you’ve shown competence and resourcefulness at mending the situation. Perhaps you have potential as my pupil yet.”

A warm, proud feeling swelled up in Nathan’s chest. The same feeling that drew him to this psychopath in the first place. He pushed it away. “Thanks.”

A click on the other line signified the end of the conversation. Nathan cradled the phone between his hands. His “business” phone, his mentor had called it. Nothing more than a black rectangle that held way too many secrets.

Kate Marsh was a mistake. The instructions were easy: drug her, grab her, and go. He didn’t expect Victoria to record the whole thing and he didn’t expect Kate to remember at all. He had no idea what to do when Victoria posted her video on the Vortex Club page so he did what he was best at. He tore Kate down. He slandered her, called her the whore of Blackwell and told everyone that would listen. She was a drunk slut, he’d say. A religious hypocrite. It was all her fault, she drank too much, she was asking for attention. And everybody went with it.

He didn’t mention she was drugged. Abused. Taken advantage of. Jefferson was furious when he saw the video. Nathan had to repeatedly reassure him that he was handling it and it took for him to see his plan in action to relax. Even then he was tense. All it took was for one person to notice something was wrong and it would all come crashing down around his ears.

Nathan was fiddling with this phone when he felt something cold bite at the back of his neck. He felt it again, at his hand and ears. He rubbed at them, small droplets of water taking place of whatever had landed on him. He lifted his head at the cloudy sky, blinking as a small snowflake gently kissed his cheek.

 

He missed Florida.