Page 38 of Jaded (Jaded 3)

Right? It's the truth."

"It's not any better!"

He cried out, aggravated, "What do you want me to say? I'm pouring out my heart here because you think I'm some killer, but I'm just trying to tell the truth. This is new territory, Sheldon. We're not exactly emotional people."

On the contrary…

"Okay," Bryce corrected himself. "We're emotional, but we don't talk about that crap. Up until three days ago, I think the most emotional conversation that we had was when you told me that white bread makes you angry."

My lips quirked at that. Wheat bread was the real deal, white bread was the fake bread.

"I just…" Bryce hung his head. "Go get the gun, Sheldon. Please. Go get the gun so that you feel safe and I can look at you and you can see that I'm telling the truth."

I still didn't move. I wanted to believe him. I wanted so badly…

"Please," his plea was weaker.

"I can't."

"Then…call the police. Take your phone and call them. Just—open this goddamn door."

"You call them."

"I don't have my phone. I left it at home because I was in such a rush to get here after Corrigan's mom called me. I'm sorry."

I pulled out my phone and felt it's smooth contours. I didn't press the buttons, but I didn't turn my eyes from the door. I called out, "If you're lying to me and you're the psycho, I'm going to kill you."

"Deal," Bryce sighed in relief and I opened the door.

His smile was decorated with a few tears, but he swept me up and I didn't see the tears. I just felt everything that he had told me. Bryce pulled away swiftly, grabbed my hand, and dragged me upstairs.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"We're going to get that gun," Bryce said firmly. "I'm not taking anymore chances. We don't know what's going on and I'm not…we're getting that gun." He pushed open the office door. Bryce quickly strode towards the couch. He bent and lifted the cushions as I wandered around to the computer screen.

"Are we…?" I let the question hang.

Bryce paused and glanced up. Our eyes met and he said slowly, "We'll talk about it, but not now. There's more important things to do."

I frowned, confused, and I saw the computer screen. It had stopped blinking and an address stood prominently against the screen. I saw the address and realized I knew the address. That was when I looked up and said softly, "It says a lot when I did think you were the killer and…I wanted to stay with you."

Bryce froze, the gun now in hand, and he stood. His eyes lifted and met mine.

I felt the punch and added, "I even understood a little, and I wasn't actually…I must be pretty sick to still love you even when I thought what I thought."

"You're not sick, Sheldon," he whispered.

"I'm not?"

"No. You're just…human," he finished, saddened.

I bit back the tears and watched the computer screen. I professed, "I don't feel like a girl. I don't feel anything half the time."

"Well…" Bryce laughed, incredulous. "Are we supposed to? I mean, I don't care what you feel as long as you're feeling it with me."

"You're such a guy." And my words were out-of-sync as I watched the address blare at me. Finally, I said faintly, "There's an address…"

"What?!" Bryce rushed towards me.

But I stopped him as I murmured, "It's Corrigan's."

We both stood. Bryce froze and it was weird, like I was watching a blurry movie in slow motion as the office door opened to reveal a furious Corrigan.

Bryce lifted his hand, cocked the gun, and our best friend froze.

I sat down in the desk chair.

Chapter 32

"What. The. Hell."

Those were Corrigan's first words as he gaped at us.

Bryce sighed, but held his arm steady.

"Seriously. Get the gun out of my face," Corrigan snapped.

"I can't," Bryce merely said, firm.

"Bryce. Sheldon. Gun needs to be gone, now!"

The alarm hadn't gone off, but the door had been opened from the inside. I opened the door and it hadn't shut. The only door that could be opened from the inside, without the alarm going off was the front door.

I opened it and it hadn't been shut. That was how Corrigan got in, but…the alarm should've gone off before I had coded it off…I had told him to go out the back. I had waited for the alarm to go off…

And yet…

"It's not you, dude," Bryce clipped out and I looked up to realize there was a fourth presence in the room, a fourth person that had been there the whole time.

He was supposed to have left, but he hadn't…he'd been there the whole time.

Marcus stood behind Corrigan and as I shifted to the side—he brandished a lethal knife in his hand and an insane glint in his eyes.

It wasn't Corrigan. It wasn't Bryce.

It had been Marcus the entire time.

And the knowledge that he had put doubts between me and my friends—that pushed me past the brink. I shoved off the chair, up and fighting, and I snarled, "You little bastard!"

"Sheldon," Bryce urged, quickly, and tightened his hold on the gun again.

"What?!" Corrigan exclaimed, hands still in the air. He jumped from the force of my voice, but he saw that I was intent on something behind, someone behind, and he whirled around.

Marcus grabbed him and warned, "Put the gun away, Scout, or your buddy's insides are going to get spilled."

"Corrigan will live. Shoot him," I ordered.

Bryce's eyes widened, but he didn't say or do anything.

"No! Don't shoot, man! Please—don't shoot!" Corrigan said frantically.

"Shoot him!" I barked with clenched fists.

"Don't shoot!" Corrigan cried out.

Marcus' laugh halted everything and it was a heinous evil sound. It sounded unnatural, but then again—he was insane. I saw it, plain as day, and I wondered how I hadn't noticed it before.

"You didn't come for the Party Packs this morning, did you?" I asked.

Marcus turned his attention towards me and pretended to slice and dice the air. He still held Corrigan as a shield.

Bryce distracted him, "You have no chance, man. It's three to one and I've got a gun to your knife."

"And I've got a back to my knife." Marcus nudged Corrigan ahead, a jerking step. "I think you might have some penance to pay, you know, since you thought he was the killer."

"I didn't—"

"What?!" Corrigan asked sharply.

"Well—I didn't know," Bryce said just as sharp.

"I'm your best friend!" Corrigan cried out.

"I know!"

"And you thought…" Corrigan glanced at me and cursed. "That's low, dude. That's really…messed up."

"There were reasons." Bryce gestured towards the computer screen.

I stepped closer and murmured, cautious and dangerous, "You were here last night."

Marcus held my gaze.

"And you saw what we were doing."

"It was pretty ingenious," Marcus admitted, but smiled victoriously. "I have to admit that. Finding the feeds in the first place was your lucky break."

"And you routed the feed to Corrigan's home, didn't you?"

"Why are you asking when you already know?" Marcus whispered smoothly.

"I notice everything."

I lashed out, "You notice everything, pervert, because you install videos to watch! You don't notice anything—you violate everything!"

Marcus chuckled and relinquished, "The hours I've watched you, Sheldon Jeneve, Ruling Queen and Princess Entwined."

This wasn't a fairytale and I wasn't some dark princess. "Shut up!" I snarled.

"You're so cool and cold to the world, but in the bedroom—that's where you're hot. Passionate. That's where the real Sheldon Jeneve lives and I knew…I had to see the real Sheldon Jeneve. I had to see who she was." He smiled, tenderly, "And you knew, didn't you? I felt it. You knew I was watching and you performed for me.

"

Corrigan grimaced, disgusted.

Bryce's jaw was locked in place.

I waited and watched the end of the gun barrel. I was looking for the smoke to uncurl itself and to feel Marcus' dead body slump to the floor.

It never came.

Marcus wasn't done.

"You need a lover's touch," he whispered, silkily. "You're left unsatisfied. That's why you sought solace by Denton Steele, but he didn't last. He didn't satisfy you and you returned to him, but he's not the touch that you want and yearn for. It's not his touch."

"I'm going to puke," Corrigan muttered.

Marcus touched the tip of his knife to Corrigan's back and he smiled at me, "You weren't like the others."

Disgust competed with rage inside of me. I didn't know which would win.

"You were the only one who came to me. All the others never came, like I was beneath them, only there for them to walk on, but not you. You always came and you smiled. You were nice."

"Yeah," Corrigan cracked a joke. "Look where all the niceness got you now, Sheldon."

"Shut up," I whispered. I asked Marcus, "What are you talking about?"

Bryce answered instead, intense, "You're the only girl that goes to the Eatery. None of the other girls go there. It's why we go there, Donadeli."

His contempt was whiplash. Marcus wasn't happy to be addressed by his competition and he stabbed his best friend. At Corrigan's sudden cry in pain, Marcus snarled, "You do not address me. You are beneath me."

"Beneath you?" Bryce asked, a taunt.

And Corrigan cried out louder, "Shut up, man. Just—shut up."

Blood had started to drip on the floor. It ran the course of Corrigan's jeans and a small droplet pooled on the wood flooring.

I asked hoarsely, "Why'd you kill Leisha and Bailey? Why them?"

"I was wondering when you'd ask me that and I'd hoped for a more intimate moment between us. Here, with these two, it's not the right time for those answers. I'm sorry, Sheldon Jeneve, but it's not the right context."

Screw context.

I yelled now, "Why'd you kill them, you sick bastard?!"

That was the moment Marcus Donadeli woke up, where he blinked and saw the reality that screamed in his face.

I was the reality and I was screaming in his face.

That didn't bode well for a psychotic murderer and Corrigan took the brunt of his rage.

He slid the knife in further and Corrigan's choked cry reigned against my ears. I'd hear that quiet weep of agony every night of my life, but I asked anyway, "Why'd you kill them?!"

"Sheldo…," Corrigan begged in pain. His eyes pleaded.

"You slice him one more time, I don't care about the risk. I'm putting a bullet between your eyes," Bryce clipped out and stepped closer. His hand was perfectly steady.

Marcus saw that, even in his madness, and he stopped.

Corrigan fell to his knees. The blood's pool had grown and multiplied at his feet. His jeans were velvety red from blood and black from the grime of his evening in jail.

"Why'd you kill them?" I asked again.

And this time, I got an answer. Marcus whirled his gaze back to me and replied, calmly, "I was watching you that night. You wanted her to come to you, but I couldn't let that happen. You had been with him again." He sent a scathing look to Bryce. "You needed to be punished. She was your friend."

"God," I whimpered.

"She walked right past me. I was in the bushes and your punishment had been delivered to me. I knew it was the right thing to do." He smiled. "I haven't regretted it. I haven't regretted anything. It all opened for me."

"That night her house was broken into—did you do that?" Bryce asked.

"No." Marcus smiled evilly, "But I was there. I was just outside and you looked at me. You knew right where I was. You felt me that night. I knew it then. I knew you wanted this to happen."

"…That's the Donadeli kid, right? Doesn't he have, like, eight jobs or something."

Faint, I remembered and whispered, "You work at the alarm company that I called."

"A twist of fate. He was telling me that we belonged together. I knew it then, when I heard your voice on the other line."

"You….didn't find Bailey that morning, did you?"

Finally. A flash of uncontained control. There was a chink in his perfectly orchestrated plan of luck. He smiled, still, and shrugged, "Who's going to believe Marcus Donadeli, the kid who just works all the time? Such a 'good kid, that one is.' The kid who gets trampled by bullies that you screw. No one doubted my story for a moment."

"Someone caught you, didn't they? You didn't 'find' her. You were caught leaving her."

"Yes." He sighed and rolled his eyes. "The other janitor came in early. I told him that I'd mixed up the days. I thought I was supposed to clean that morning, but 'look here what I found.'"

"You're sick, man." Corrigan coughed from his knees. He had curled an arm to hold his bleeding side, but it hung loose and weak.

"Why'd you kill Bailey?" I needed to know. I needed to know…

"Because she talked to you. I watch you, Sheldon. I told you that. I notice everything. I couldn't risk her anymore. She knew more than she knew that she knew. I couldn't risk it…she had to go."

"What'd she know?" I stepped closer.

"Sheldon," Bryce murmured, softly. A heed.

"What'd she know?" I ignored his heed. I had to know.

"Bailey saw me that night. I live between her house and Evan Harris' house. She had seen me go for a walk that night. It was only a matter of time before she realized it and told. She already told you enough as it was. I didn't kill Leisha in the park. That's just where I enjoyed her."

"You're lying!" My words were acid, sharp to the touch. "There's no way you'd dump her in the park, risk that time by getting caught. No. You dumped her and left. You don't do that—you don't make this like it was supposed to happen. You controlled it. You controlled everything!"

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