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Chapter 14.

Marriage. A simple word. Noun, eight letters. Defined in the dictionary as "the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law." Such a simple word, such a simplistic definition, yet capable of causing so much pain. How Mark would explain away doing this to another person was a mystery to me. To marry someone out of obligation, it seemed beyond cruel.

Mark's complete oblivion of his effect on people was almost comical. Right from the start, how could he ever believe that Elisabeth would simply walk away from him? That she would just forget him. Who could ever really forget him? Did he know that he was asking the impossible of me, of Elisabeth, of Luke, and of every other person that ever stepped on his path? It was sadistic in a way, to demand that somebody forget you, when you are absolutely unforgettable. How did he miss this paradox?

As I stood in the middle of the office, trying to remember how to speak again, I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket. I absentmindedly pressed the side button, not even bothering to check who it was.

"Can't you just tell her the truth?" I asked him, dismayed.

"I gave my word, Jer," he replied. His word? What about his word to me?

"You're going to lie to her because you gave your word? This isn't a game Mark, this is her life! And your life. Doesn't she have a say in this? How would she feel if she knew you're marrying her only because you made a deal with her father?" Why did he always insist on treating everyone around him like incompetent children?

"She'll never know," he replied firmly.

"Mark, she's young, she's beautiful, she's rich. She will find someone else. You don't have to do this," I pleaded with him.

"I'm going through with it, I have to now," he said in a more desperate tone of voice, "I thought I had a choice, when I talked to you right before taking the bar...but you don't know her, Jer. She's... she's fragile, she won't be able to handle it. And after...Luke, I just can't risk that happening. I'd rather be unhappy for the rest of my life," he said softly. And I finally understood. His immobilizing fear of being an influential factor on someone else's psyche. He must have seen something in Elisabeth, a fractured emotional mind. Just like Luke's, just like mine. Except I have stood the test of time. I have survived his abandonment. But Elisabeth, she had shown signs of alarming weakness. He could not fathom being the source of more pain to her. I wanted to tell him that I thought Luke was okay now, but how could I explain a strange dream I had as reality without sounding crazy.

"What about me?" I muttered through tears. "What about my happiness?" He looked at me, pain written on his statuesque face.

"You have to know this hurts me just as much, if not more," he replied. I shook my head. Being around Mark was like being on a roller coaster, unbelievable highs mixed in with unbelievable lows, and the ride was leaving me nauseas. I slumped back down on the office chair. It's edges clawing hard into my leg. I thought of leaving, but couldn't move. He came toward me and knelt down. He put one hand on my leg.

"I'm scared," I muttered out loud, not knowing why.

"Of what?" he asked gently.

I felt a tear roll down my cheek, as embarrassment spread through my body. I didn't even know I was crying. Before I could answer, the door to the office flew open, and to my dismay I saw the face of Daniel Hightower. He surveyed the room like a crime scene, his little pudgy eyes devouring every little detail, from Mark's hand on my leg, to my tear stained face, to the disheveled papers on the desk.

"What's going on here?" He asked in a brisk tone of voice.

"Private situation. Did you need something?" Mark replied, not hiding his annoyance well.

"Yeah, I need you in the next meeting with Greg. A development with the Breckett case," he said and my jaw tightened. Mark looked clearly displeased that this information was revealed in front of me.

"I'll be right there," he replied tight lipped. Hightower left without ever saying a word to me, which is something I did not complain about.

I felt my cell phone buzzing in my pocket again. I glanced at it, my sister. I pressed the ignore button once more.

"What's that all about?" I asked Mark.

"You know I can't tell you," he started saying, but the look I gave him shut him down quick.

"All I know is that it has to do with a key witness who has dropped off the face of Earth since yesterday," he replied. "I'll call when I know more," he said to calm me down.

"Are you going to answer that?" Mark said all of a sudden, making me realize that my phone has once again been buzzing off the charts.

"Yeah," I fumbled taking it out of my pocket. He shot it a quick glance, looking frustrated.

"Hello," I answered.

"Jeremy get down here right now," I heard my sister crying.

"What happened?" I asked, all of a sudden terrified that something bad had happened to my future nephew/ niece.

"Just get over here...I can't...I can't do this.." my sister stammered in between sobs and then hung up.

"I have to go," I said to Mark.

"What's wrong," he asked concerned.

"Long story," I replied, and could tell he did not like the answer.

"Let me drive you," he offered.

"No, you need to be here for the Breckett thing," I said firmly. He sighed.

"Call me when you know more," I said before walking out.

Putting aside my broken heart for a moment I started going through all the possible options of what could be happening to my sister. I drove to my mom's house feeling the panic rising in my throat. Was my sister somehow jeopardizing the health of her baby? Was she doing something reckless? Was she just having a breakdown? Was the baby okay? My mind could not stop itself from going through a million awful scenarios. When I finally pulled up to the driveway I was in full panic mode.

I hurried into the house, only to find my mom sitting on the living room couch, shooting me a deadly look.

"Jeremy, how long have you known?" she asked me in an accusatory tone of voice, glaring at me like I was a traitor. I sighed, so this is what the meltdown was about. The baby was safe.

"Just a little while," I replied, feeling guilty.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked.

" wasn't for me to tell you mom. It's something she had to do herself," I replied, trying not to get Kayla into trouble. My mom shook her head, looking absolutely worn out.

"Does dad know?" I asked.

"Not yet. He's going to loose his mind," she replied. I sighed and sat down next to her. She looked tired and worn out.

"She can't take care of a baby," she said, sounding terrified.

"I know," I replied honestly. "You ready for a grandkid?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Guess not," I said, smiling sadly. She sighed and smiled back.

The next day I got an urgent text from Mark asking me to come by his office again. The secretary walked me to a room I had missed on my first trip there. It was a large conference room, with a glass wall, located right at the end of the corridor. Mark, Daniel Hightower, and three other men sat at an unreasonably long rectangle table, deep in some discussion. Mark looked annoyed, his jaw tense. He ran a hand through his hair, a sure sign that he was quickly losing his patience. He noticed me standing outside and raised one firm finger, looking somewhat apologetic. I nodded my head, understanding that whatever was going on was of some serious importance. The secretary stood next to me, waiting as well. I started biting on my fingernails, somehow nervous at whatever was being said behind the closed doors. After all it was the fate of my abuser that they were discussing.

Suddenly Mark violently shook his head at something Hightower said. Hightower looked tired and angry, when he answered. A blonde man sitting next to Mark leaned in, patiently expressing something into his ear. I felt a small current of an emotion run through my body; jealousy. Mark was still shaking his head, but more gently this time. He then proceeded to address the blonde man, and ignore Hightower altogether. Another man wearing an unusual blue and red tie cut into the conversation and said something that displeased both Hightower and Mark. Finally Mark got up to the dismay of everyone at the table, said something while firmly gesticulating with his hand, and walked out.

"Come on," he said passing me by. I cringed at his tone of voice, but followed him anyway. He headed toward the elevators. The doors opened just as we approached. He got in and started loosening his tie, his face seething with anger. He let out an exasperated breath as the doors closed.

I stood by, watching helplessly. He turned to look at me and pulled the stop button. The elevator came to a sudden halt to my utter surprise. Before I recovered I felt his mouth pressing on my mouth, and the fragrance of his body invading all of my senses. The kiss was so sudden and so surprising that I just let it happen. We kissed for what seemed like forever, but was probably only a few seconds. Finally he slowly pulled away, and kissed my forehead.

"I've been wanting to do that for a while now," he said, with no remorse in his voice. I stood there, speechless, unsure of how I should feel and what I should do. I swallowed. He looked at me, something persistent in his eye, some unanswered longing. But he quickly blinked it away.

"Sorry, that was inappropriate," he stated. I wanted to stop him. I wanted to tell him that it didn't have to be like that, that I wanted it just as much as he did. But instead I just stood there, knowing all to well that it wasn't written in the stars for us. Knowing that he was getting married, and I didn't live in a fairy tale. I lived in a world where bad shit happened. Where little children got hurt. Where parents didn't act the way they should. Where teenagers were viciously mean. Where people died from drugs. And where nobody gave a shit about true love. And I just couldn't go through it all again. The disappointment would kill me.

"What happened in there?" I asked referring to the meeting. He just shook his head.

"I'm dealing with idiots." I chuckled; Mark could be so hard on people. All of a sudden I was glad that he had never been this harsh with me.

"Go on," I said.

"The case, it's not good right now. Shit is just scrambling. I can't give you any details, but I'm running out of ideas here, and they're not helping. If it was up to Hightower the whole thing would be dropped by now. I mean, that guy is the biggest ass I've ever met," he stated bitterly.

"Well that ass is going to be your father in law pretty soon, so you should probably get used to it," I replied without thinking. Mark seemed troubled by my statement. He regarded me carefully, but whatever it was he was thinking he decided to keep it to himself.

"I need you to do something for me," he said.

"What?" I asked, curiously.

"Remember how I told you a key person involved in the case was missing? Well, he's back, and I need you to talk to him," he stated very grimly, as if saying it against his will. I scrambled for words.

"Is that even legal?" I asked.

"Does it matter? What matters is that this case rests very heavily on his shoulders now, and without him it's going to fall apart before we're done blinking."

"Well why would he want to talk to me?" I wondered, not really understanding the situation.

"Because you've both been through something very similar," he says, "you both attended the same swim lessons, just in different years, and his continued until very recently," he finished sadly. I stood there shocked.

"How old is he?"

"Just turned fifteen," Mark replied.

"How long did it go on?"

"7 years," he said, and my mouth dropped. "His parents were good friends with Breckett, so even after he finished taking the classes he was constantly exposed to him." I tried to imagine it. I've lived with Breckett as a nightmare for most of the time. This boy lived with Breckett as a living terror for seven years. I felt bile rise up as I took it all in.

"I..I can't," I started to say, feeling a panic attack come on. My breath started coming in labored, my heart was pounding like a drum, my ears were ringing, and I felt like I might just die on the spot. I heard the ding of the elevator doors opening and Mark's steady hand on my arm.

"Jeremy, I'm here, everything is okay. Let's walk outside, let's get you some air," he said in a calming tone of voice. I felt frozen, but he steadily guided me outside.

"Jeremy," he said, I tried to listen but I couldn't catch my breath.

"You need to breathe for me Jer. I'm going to count, I want you to breathe in on two, and out on two, okay?" I nodded my head.

"One...two," he said and I took a shaky breath, "one...two," he said and I breathed out. He continued counting until my breaths were coming in more steadily. I collapsed on the grass area we were standing in, still somewhat terrified. Mark looked concerned. He sat next to me.

"Everything's okay now, I'm so sorry, that was all my fault," he said. I shook my head.

"No, I'm sorry. I don't know why that happened," I replied. Mark took a deep breath.

"I know this is extremely hard, I wish you didn't have to go through it," he said thoughtfully. I nodded slowly.

"I'll talk to him," I replied, and Mark smiled at me.

I walked into the brightly decorated room, which resembled exactly what you'd expect out of a teenagers room. Posters on the walls, clothes on the floor, a well organized collection of DVDs and video games. Jason was sitting at the desk, mindlessly scrolling through Tumblr posts. His hair falling into his eyes, bright purple ends stood out against the black roots and his white skin. He was dressed all in black, and his face carried that permanent look of teenage resentment of me-against-the-world.

"Hey," I said gently closing the door behind me. He reluctantly took out his headphones and proceeded to glare at me. His eyes ablaze with annoyance and anger, and something else...sadness perhaps.

"I'm Jeremy," I started saying, not really sure of what to say, but he interrupted me.

"I know who you are," he said rolling his lively brown eyes.

"Oh, you do?" I asked smiling, and trying to cover up how awkward I felt.

"Yeah, Mark won't shut the fuck up about you," he said, making my heart beat faster.

"Really?" I asked trying to not sound as curious as I felt.

"Yeah," he replied completely reading my intention and refusing to say anymore. The kid was clever.

"So I guess you know what I'm here to talk about," I said. He swallowed and looked away.

"Look, I don't need a lecture on rape and child abuse and how unfair it is, and how I should stand up for myself. I heard it from everyone at Mark's office already. I just want to be left alone," he replied.

"Then why did you agree to me coming here?" I asked confused.

"Because I was trying to be nice to Mark," he said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. And I realized that something about the way he said Mark's name felt like home. Something about the way his cheeks turned just a slightly brighter color reminded me that I was not the only victim of Norton's charm. I chuckled at the thought.

"Well, I'm already here, and Mark won't like it if I come out after just five minutes, so why don't we talk about whatever you want for a little while. Just so it looks like we both tried," I said, hoping that this might go somewhere. He sighed an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes again.

"Fine, I guess," he replied, and I smiled at his predictable angsty attitude. It was kind of charming in a way.

"I like your room," I mumbled.

"Really dude? That's the best you've got?"

"Sorry, I'm not good at this sort of thing," I stated.

"It's fine, you don't need to be fake nice," he said.

"Okay," I reply calmly. "Can I sit?" I asked.

"Duh," he answered. "Ever since my family found out, they've been so nice to me," he said bitterly.

"And you don't like that?" I asked curiously. My family would most likely just continue to ignore me, I imagined.

"No, it's so fucking fake, they were never nice before. But now all of a sudden I'm some victim they have to treat with care just because they feel bad for me. It's pathetic." I sat and listened to him. "Is that how your family reacted?" he asked, taking me off guard.

"Uhh no, my family doesn't really know. I mean, they suspect, but we've never talked about it or anything," I replied, feeling sad and embarrassed.

"Oh, wow, that sucks," he said honestly, and I laughed.

"Yeah, I guess it does," I replied. "How did your parents find out?" He seemed deep in thought for a moment.

"My mom walked in on me giving him head," he replied and I felt startled and a bit freaked out by his openness. He sat there, completely unapologetic about his experience, and suddenly I couldn't help but admire his stance. At the same time I could see the pain deep in his eyes.

"You're probably wondering why I let it go on for so many years right? That's what everyone wonders. My parents don't get it, my friends don't get it..I don't get it either," he said sadly. "It happened when I was so young, and he said so many things to me, there didn't seem to be any way back you know. It was like being stuck on a moving train, and not being able to get off. I just didn't know how. Sometimes I even thought he was my friend. Other times I was terrified of him. It just felt like our dirty disgusting secret that I couldn't share with anyone. I thought people would think that it was my fault, you know," he said. I nodded my head, memories of Breckett flooding my head. Anger and sadness building to a crescendo within me.

"And you? Why didn't you tell anyone?" and the question slapped me like an accusation. I should have said something. If I had said something Jason wouldn't have been hurt, and he wouldn't be sitting in front of me now, angry and broken.

"I was scared, and ashamed. I didn't think anyone would believe me. I felt dirty. I didn't want anyone to know that those things happened to me," I reply honestly, voicing my thoughts for the first time. The feeling is breathtaking. A burden seems to be lifted. I sit on Jason's bad, having a complete awakening, as he nods with understanding. "It's not weird at all that you didn't say anything. I know what it's like Jason. When you're in that situation. You feel like a trapped animal, all you think about is survival, and all you can do is keep breathing. You survived. We both survived, that's all that matters," I say and he looks at me in silence.

"It isn't fair," he says quietly.

"No, no it isn't," I reply.

"I just feel like nothing I do will change what's already happened, so what's the point, you know," he says. I nod my head.

After I leave Jason's I relay my conversation to Mark, who seems less than impressed.

"Jer, we don't have a lot of time, you need to be more persuasive." Which makes me want to smack him in the head.

"Mark, he's been through hell. I'm not going to sit there and tell him what to do. It's his decision," I say.

"I understand," he replies, which infuriates me, and before he has a chance to finish I interrupt him.

"No you don't! You don't understand. You haven't been through it. It hasn't happen to you. You don't understand, not even a little, Mark. You have no idea how hard it is thinking about what happened to you, and how much harder it is to talk about it out loud. Now imagine having to discuss your worst, most embarrassing memories, in front of a room full of strangers and lawyers. I'm not going to be the one to tell him he has to do that, okay? I'm not sure even I could do that, and he's just a kid."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be out of line when I said that I understood."

"I know," I reply, calmer now.

"I just want the guy off the streets. I want him punished for what he did. And I need Jason to help."

"He likes you, you know," I say changing the subject.

"Who?" Mark asks confused.

"Jason," I reply smiling, "he's got a crush on you."

Mark looks abashed at the thought and I chuckle.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he states.

"Yeahh, okay," I reply, still smiling. Finally he cracks a smile and we both laugh.

"Look, we've got a long trip ahead of us, why don't we get a hotel room for the night?"

"Why don't we get two hotel rooms?" I reply, amused. The corner of Mark's lips turns into a smile.

"I was only trying to be economical"

"Really, I've never known you to be an economical kind of guy," I reply sarcastically but smiling as well.

"Okay, whatever you want," he says and pulls off the freeway.

While Mark is talking to the man at the desk I go to use the bathroom. I feel tired and sweaty after the long day and car trip. I don't know what's going to happen with Jason, and the thought makes me anxious. I want him to be okay. When I walk out Mark is wearing a very sinister smirk.

"Sorry pal, you're out of luck. They're holding some sort of convention here. Only one single left," he says pretending to be distressed.

"Well looks like you're sleeping on the carpet then," I reply heading toward the elevators. I hear him chuckling behind me.

We get to the room and immediately I feel the tension. It's like there's a current of electricity between us, and the second we get close something might ignite.

"I'm gonna go take a shower," I state, trying to get out of the room as soon as possible. I turn on the water and sit down in exhaustion. Thinking about everything is just so damn exhausting. After a few minutes I hear a knock on the door and I instinctively cover myself, even though I know I locked it.

"Jer, your sister is blowing up your phone. She called at least five times," Mark states through the door.

"Oh crap. I'll be right there," I yell out turning off the shower. Another thing I need to worry about. I dry myself off as quickly as possible and put on my boxers and a t-shirt. I walk out and grab my phone, acutely aware that Mark is looking at my legs. I dial my sister's number. She picks up on the first ring.

"Jeremy," she slurs, "what the fuck took you so long?"

"What's wrong?" I ask worried.

"He won't talk to me..the asshole will not talk to me!" she screams into the phone.

"Who?" I ask.

"Jack! The guy that knocked me up, idiot," she replies frustrated.

"Oh, wait do I know this guy?"

"No, he's in college," she replies crying.

"I'm sorry. Look, it's going to be okay. Don't worry about him," I try to say soothingly.

"I'm not worried, I'm furious! He wanted to have sex without a condom! And look at me now. I'm gonna blow up, get stretch marks, and have some thing puke and shit on me all day long. And he wants nothing to do with me! It's so unfair," she screeches into the phone.

"I know, it's totally unfair," I reply as Mark shoots me a raised eyebrow look. He takes off his shirt and motions towards the bathroom. I nod my head, trying not to stare at his impressive abs.

"Whatever, I'm just gonna go get drunk" my sister mumbles, waking my up from my momentary time-out.

"Drink? What? No, you know you can't drink in your condition," I plead with her.

"Oh whatever, it's not gonna kill the thing," she replies carelessly.

"Kayla! First of all it's not a thing, it's your child, and my niece or nephew, okay? It's a human being. Second of all it might not kill the baby, but it's certainly not healthy. It can cause all kinds of problems. A baby is hard enough Kayla, a special needs baby is a lot of work," I warn her.

"Fine, shut up already, I won't drink. Last thing I need is a retarded kid," she replies making my blood boil. How vain can a person get?

"Okay, call me if you need anything," I say and hang up. I put my phone away and lay down on the bed. My whole body aches, and my head is pounding. When I wake up the room is dark. I feel a fresh and cold breeze come in through the open window. As I try to pull up the blanket I realize that there's a warm arm enveloping me from behind. I feel Mark's body, gently pressed against my back. I freeze. I can see the outline of his arm in the moonlight. Strong, and protective, his fingers lightly resting underneath my shirt, across my navel.

"Mark," I say, my voice small and quiet in the dark. He knows exactly what I'm thinking.

"Just let me hold you," he replies sleepy, sensing all my worries.

"We can't do this," I whisper. His fingers move up to stroke my arm. I feel a light kiss on my neck, so light I might even be imagining it. I close my eyes and move my body backwards, until every part of my back is in contact with every part of his warm front. His hold on me tightens, and I feel my adrenaline go through the roof. This is the exhilarating feeling unrivaled by anyone or anything else. This is my high, this is my bliss, this is what I breathe for.

He kisses my neck and traces delicate patterns on my abdomen with his strong fingers. He shifts my body towards him, and his lips find their way to mine. I wrap my fingers in his hair and draw his mouth closer and closer. He pushes my hand above my head, as our fingers lock together in a frenzy, and continues his study of my mouth. Suddenly he pulls up and removes his shirt, revealing the firm physique underneath. I'm too shy to touch him, so I just look with amazement in my eyes. I still don't understand how someone so handsome could want me. He gently pulls me up and removes my shirt, and I don't understand how he doesn't seem let down by my thin frame. I lay back down, and stare up at him. My throat feels like it's clamping down. I feel nervous, and excited, and worried and guilty. He leans down and places a delicate kiss on the side of my mouth.

"Mark," I whisper, feeling scared all of a sudden.

"Yes?" he asks looking into my eyes. The piercing green eyes are full of passion and desire.

"I can't," I say avoiding his eyes. He pauses.

"Hey," he says stroking my cheek, "it's okay, I understand." he says gently. He moves his body weight off of me, but remains holding me, which I find comforting. I nuzzle my head into his neck and he kisses my hair.

"I'm sorry," he says. I take in his warmth and his smell. Then I slowly move away.

"It's okay. I just...this...this means everything to me," I say honestly, "and it doesn't to you. I hurts bad enough as it is, I don't want to add more memories." Mark looks a bit shocked.

"Jeremy, this means everything to me too," he says.

"No it doesn't, if it did we wouldn't be in this situation," I reply turning on my back, "you wouldn't be getting married. We wouldn't be sneaking around in a hotel room. It just wouldn't be like this." After a long while Mark turns on his back also, silently. I turn again and face the wall. "Goodnight," I whisper.