Miss Perfect and Her Brothers (Part I&II)

Part II: Chapter 40

Warning: The content may be triggering to sensitive readers. 

The corridor near the office was empty at that time of the day, the day of the exams. Not many people, except me or Marshall, had something to do at this very important moment. Well, he was having trouble with math, while my already complicated life was made more difficult by the additional paperwork generated by the fact of my homeschooling. The kind of paperwork that I had to print out, give to Vincent to sign, and then bring to the school office.

In general, my legal guardian had a very funny attitude towards all the paperwork that I hand him. He, a workaholic, had to take time out from his busy schedule to read some school crap instead of focusing on serious, multi-million dollar contracts. I laughed at my oldest brother as he was rolling his eyes over this nonsense.

So I was walking along this corridor, getting closer and closer to my goal, glancing at my watch to control how much time I had before the tests started, when someone suddenly came out from behind the corner. One look in the boy's direction and I was sure I had never seen him before, but at the same time I noticed something familiar about him, so the first thing that came to mind was that I must have associated him from here. From school, from the cafeteria maybe. He was older, no doubt about it, so maybe he was some acquaintance of the twins?

He was approaching with slow steps, and each step was accompanied by a quiet knocking sound, because he was supporting himself on a crutch (a little bit unskillfully). I was thrown off my guard by his gaze, which penetrated me creepily. It expressed neither hostility nor friendship, but such a strange intrusiveness, as if the guy saw me for the first time and immediately analyzed something in his head, like calculated something.

People at school often stare at me. They think they are doing it discreetly, but I see it and only sigh inside me, and try to ignore it, although in this case the boy without any doubt was not trying to be discreet even a bit.

He was dressed in uniform, which misguidedly reassured me at first. I should have known right away that something was wrong, if only by how disastrously it lay on him. The pant legs seemed a bit too long, and along with the jacket, they hung oddly on him. It was definitely suspicious, as some of the students of this private establishment might be sloppy, but surely the school made sure that the clothes they bought were the right size and fit them like a glove. After all, their students are their showcases, as the principal often proudly proclaimed.

On closer examination, the boy seemed to be too old for high school. He could be squeezed into the last class, but he more looked as if he entered the stage of university student already some time ago. His face, although quite handsome, lacked the typical for teenagers, youthful freshness. His eyes were slightly darkened and his cheeks were sunken. His dark hair lacked luster. It was very disheveled and looked as if its owner had missed two hairdressing appointments. His eyes opened wide and their dark irises contrasted strongly with the whites of his eyeballs.

The closer he got, the less comfortable I felt, although deep down I was convinced that I was reacting this way because I was oversensitive and, to top it all off, already fearful by nature.

Well, unfortunately, this time my defense mechanism turned out to be right.


I don't know why, but for a while my brain had a hard time matching that hoarse voice with the figure of the boy heading towards me, even though he was the only person here. The sounds of students talking to each other in the next corridor should have been reassuring, because it meant I wasn't alone, but somehow it couldn't quite calm me down.

I stopped and glared at the stranger, cautiously, like a shy squirrel. He had such a suspicious aura that the thought even crossed my mind to leave this secretariat and run away to people as soon as possible. I refrained, which I regretted in a moment.

"Here she is," he muttered to himself, tasking me with his eyes from head to toe, until finally they stopped on my face.

There has been a definite overabundance of people in my life who know me, and of whom I myself have not heard a word. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes annoying. Sometimes tiring. And sometimes still very unsettling. That's what I felt now – anxiety. So I moved and passed the man without a word, taking care to stay out of his reach as far as the width of the hallway allowed.

Keep your head up and look ahead, Hailie. Ignore him, just go to the office.

"You're the one who's been dating my brother?"

I stopped again.

I turned slowly to look at the stranger, on whose face was now painted a smile that was hard to identify. I squinted my eyes. It was clear that I immediately thought of Leo, as he was the guy with who I was closest to "dating" with. During our long conversations, however, we had always nimbly maneuvered around the subject of his brother so as not to bring it up too much. It was a delicate matter, and the fact that he went into debt to my brothers only added fuel to the fire.
But, but, was it really him? With furrowed brows I looked at his straight nose, sunken cheeks and dark hair. Some sort of small, thin, yet quite deep scar crossed his right brow. He was unhealthily thin, thinner than Leo. His shirt came out of his pants. His tie hung around his neck. Shane and Tony did that sometimes, too. Not today, however, because today was the exam day and everyone had to look impeccable.

In fact, I could count very few similarities to Leo in his picture.

"Ask your brother," I finally said, making sure that my voice wasn't trembling.

"Yeah, the problem is I won't believe him," he answered seriously, then laughed and shook his head. "No way in hell am I going to believe that he raced off the Monet's sister, ya know. Not an option," the guy blinked. It wasn't a sign of affection, though, but a tic, as I discovered after a moment when he blinked again.

I pressed my lips together.

"He didn't race me off. We are friends."

"Okay, sure," he waved his hand and rocked back, resting his whole body on the crutch. The sleeve of his uniform overlapped almost to his toes. I stared at the loose cuff and furrowed my brow.
"Why are you wearing a uniform? And what are you actually doing here? You don't go to this school."

Leo's brother met my suspicious gaze with another wave of sulky amusement.

"Of course I don't. I'd rather shoot myself in the head than study among such snobs."

I could have said something unkind, but I shut up. Instead, I put my hands on my chest and began to slowly prepare to leave.

"Well then, I don't know what you're even doing here."

A smile, of a slightly different type from before, dawned on my interlocutor's face. A sly one.

"I came for you, Monet."

A girl distracted us as she appeared out of nowhere and ran to the office, which is where I myself should have entered long ago. However, the door quickly closed behind her and we were left alone again. I looked at my friend's brother again, this time feeling a tiny and unpleasant tingle under my skin.

"I don't have time for this. I have an exam soon. I have to go," I announced firmly and took a step back, ready to turn on my heel.
"Aren't you going to help Leo?"

I slowly took a small breath.


"He's in trouble, ya know," he blinked again, and I know it wasn't his fault, but it was really starting to annoy me. Then he looked around. "Have you seen him around here anywhere, by the way? Today?"

I haven't. Instead of admitting it, I just stared at him with caution.

"I'll take silence for no."

"So what. We don't see each other often."

"But what, he wouldn't wish you luck? Today, before the exam? Plus, it'd be for him a chance to see you, Monet, for the first time in a long time."

"What's your point? What do you mean?" I snarled. I was too easily upset.

"He's not here because he got into trouble, ya know. I came for you to help him, ya know."

"How am I supposed to help him?" I asked distrustfully. I was a little worried, I won't say that I wasn't, but at the same time I was getting nervous at this hedging.

"You have to come with me, Monet. If he sees you, he'll come to his senses."
"What?" I almost laughed. "I don't know you, how do you figure that? I don't know any specifics, Leo hasn't contacted me, and besides, I have an exam coming up. I can't just go somewhere with you."

"I'm Ryder, ya know Leo's brother," he introduced himself, and I immediately disliked his condescending tone. "And Leo hasn't been in touch because he's got some trouble he's gotten himself into that he won't admit to, especially in front of you, Monet. If you don't help him, he'll be done for, ya know. Isn't that more important than the exam?"

"What kind of trouble is this?" I hissed, almost demanding an answer.

"Too much talk, ya know," Ryder waved his hand. "Come with me, I'll tell you everything on the way. There's no time, Monet."

"No, no, no. Wait," I stopped him. What was he thinking? "I can't just go with you. If Leo's in trouble, I can help him in other ways. Wait, wait! My brothers are at school, I'll call and tell them what's going on, they'll do something, I'm sure."
Ryder laughed dismissively.

"Monet's brothers will do something? Sure. The Monet Brothers only care about their own asses, ya know," he shook his head, still leaning oddly on the crutch. "Nah, Monet, this is all about you being the one to help Leo. You're the one he's supposed to see. You're the only one who can save him."

Now I was the one shaking my head, very much overwhelmed by Ryder's words. What was going on, what had Leo gotten himself into?

"I'll call Shane, he'll be here soon," I continued, ignoring his words. I took out my phone and unlocked it. I wasn't going to get into anything without my brothers knowing, and I trusted that if anything happened, they would solve literally any problem.

Ryder moved closer to me, which surprised me because he did it practically silently while I stared at my cell phone screen. Suddenly he wasn't making any noise with the crutch because, as it turned out, he apparently didn't actually need it to move at all.
"Come with me," he whispered, leaning over me. His person surrounded me and took away valuable personal space. He was like a cloak that suddenly fell over my hair and shoulders and then began to shrink, restricting my freedom. Ryder was tilting his head and thus had a great view of the top of my own. I could smell his breath. I wouldn't describe his scent as pleasant either. He lifted his hand, and before he could reach behind his bosom, I noticed the letters he had tattooed on his fingers, which were difficult to read not only because of the cursive font but also because they were obviously sloppy.

"Move away," I hissed, holding my breath and lowering the phone slightly.

"You will come with me," he continued, as if he hadn't heard me, and then he opened the jacket of his uniform, where on the inside he had a gun, whose warning flash blinded me for a split second. My neck hurt as my head jerked upwards. I stared dazedly into Ryder's face, not believing what he had just presented before me.
To be clear, it wasn't the sight of the weapon that impressed me, but the circumstances under which I had the unpleasantness of seeing it. I don't think even my brothers, the great, freaking, shooters, walk around armed in the damn school. School! With kids in the hallways!

"What, are you out of your mind, Monet?" Ryder snorted and blinked. "Just kidding. I know you haven't. In your family, you probably swallow guns like this for breakfast. Along with a fucking coffee and a bagel."

"You're crazy," I snarled, glaring at him. "What do you think your plan is?" I looked around the empty hallway first before adding: "Are you going to shoot me, genius?"

"Yeah, and what else. What am I supposed to do with a dead Hailie Monet? Hm?" With the hand he'd used to tilt back his jacket, he now knocked his forehead. And he blinked. "Use your head, that would just be an unnecessary problem."

"Then why are you showing me that gun!"

Ryder's lips formed into a small, slightly mischievous smile, but his eyes remained oddly cool. Not like Vincent's though. The chill hiding in the dark irises of the guy standing right in front of me proved that it wasn't the eternal heat at all that should be associated with the depths of hell.
"I'm not going to shoot you, Monet, but if you don't come with me, I'm going to make a holy stink here like you fucking never saw even in GTA."

At that moment, I hadn't even noted that he was comparing reality to some violent computer game, and yet I understood the message of his words perfectly and even felt myself getting pale.

Just then, the girl who had passed us a few moments ago came out of the office. She had her hair gathered back with a headband, rectangular glasses on the nose,  and her cheeks were still red from the earlier run. She was no longer in a hurry, but walked slowly through the corridor, probably deliberately not making eye contact with any of us.

At the sight of her, I immediately swallowed my saliva and shifted my gaze to Ryder, who blinked twice in a row, still with that diabolical grin glued to his face, then whispered to me:

"She could be first. Pow and pow. Aaaand she's gone. You think I'd hit her with one...."

"Stop it, stop it!" I replied, and my voice broke, making it sound weak, though it was so desperate that a girl passing us heard it and gave me a puzzled look.
Ryder blinked at her, probably deliberately this time, and pointed at me with his head.

"Pre-exam stress, ya know," he chuckled as if he was an ordinary, witty guy and not some fucking psychopath.

The girl twisted her lips in a weird smile, but she didn't stop and I was relieved when she disappeared behind the corner.

"See? Loosey-goosey, Monet. I'm not going to do anything to anyone. You just have to listen to me. Will you listen to me? You need to know that I don't have much to lose."

Increasingly panicked, I nodded my head. I was trying, really, trying with all my might to figure out how to stop Ryder. If only I could contact the twins somehow! Or at least make eye contact with Mona. But what good would that do? I couldn't think about saving myself if the lives of others were at stake, who might lose them because I disobeyed a few stupid orders.

"Nice," Leo's brother said, straightening up a bit and leaning back on the crutch with all his weight. He looked around indicatively, then blinked at me: "Now give me the phone."
I looked at his spread fingers, which he stretched towards me.

"Come on," he urged me, moving them. "Quickly, Monet, there is no time."

I raised my trembling hand and gave him the phone, being careful not to accidentally touch his skin.

"The jewelry, too."

"What for?"

"You're testing my patience, Monet. Give me everything you have, ya know, or you know what will happen."

"Fine," I burbled, seeing him move his hand dangerously close to where he held the gun. For a moment, I hoped that he was just robbing me in the simplest way, and, while I felt bad about giving away the gift I got from my dad, I cared more about preserving my life, so the first thing I did was get down to the business of sluggishly opening the clasp of the watch I'd received as a birthday present from my parent.

I begrudgingly handed it to Ryder, then pulled the tiny earrings from my ears.

"Is that all? You don't have anything else? No pendants, no brooches?" he asked, grabbing my wrist and then the other to see for himself. I took a step back with indignation when he put his finger behind the collar of my shirt, looking for traces of a necklace there.
"It's all!" I hissed.

"That's great, Monet. Now show me your pockets."

Without a word, I turned them inside out. Apart from the piece of paper I was carrying to the secretary's office, they were empty. I was perfectly vulnerable.

Then a satisfied Ryder jerked his head toward the hallway, gesturing that it was time to move.

"Just remember, Monet," he began, and waved a finger warningly right in front of my nose. "No funny business, understand? One wrong look and you'll be responsible for a massacre that will be talked about in the media for the next year."

"I understood," I hissed with venom, although deep inside the fear was paralyzing me more and more. And so it was a wonder that I was able to take reasonably steady steps at all. I walked close to Ryder, slightly ahead, and the closer we got to the first crowded corridor, the harder I found it to breathe. I began to sweat, and it was by no means because of the important exams. It quickly became clear to me that I would not sit for them today. Maybe even never, depending on the exact plan this guy had for me.
The voices of the students blended together. At one point they were completely drowned out by a noise that appeared in my ears out of nowhere. Such an idle one, with the addition of an unbearable squeak, as if I had just been deafened by a bomb blast, and I even glanced at Ryder's hands to be sure that he hadn't done anything and it was simply my body dealing in its own way with the situation I had just found myself in.

Vincent was right. He should have locked me in the basement. And not let me go to school, not even for an exam. He didn't want it, but it was the kind of test that no one would let me take in my own home. And I wanted so badly to be here today. I was more than prepared and on top of that I wanted to see Mona and poke my nose out of the Monet mansion at all. For me, coming to this exam was the highlight of the month. Well, now I got it. An adventure.

"Go toward the side exit," Ryder whispered in my ear, and when I turned to him, he blinked. "Calm down, Monet, no worries. I'll be right behind you."
Then he stood on his tiptoes, once again proving how unnecessary his crutche really was. It just hovered at his elbow as he reached up. He held my belongings in his hand and dropped them imperceptibly on one of the school lockers, whole rows of which stood stacked along the corridor. He used the sleeve of his uniform to gather a cloud of dust from its surface, which he then quickly shook off. No one would find them there for a long time. Maybe Sonny or my brothers will track them by the transmitter on the phone, but that's not until after the exam...

"Don't look back," Ryder growled quietly as I moved forward along the corridor, throwing nervous smiles to some of the friends I passed and occasionally turning my head to make sure the guy was still following me. He was meticulously maintaining his role as an invalid, for he had a limp and even the expression on his face was kind of weary.

After that I just walked straight ahead and tried to avoid the stares of others. It was difficult, because apparently during my absence here a lot of gossip had been created about me and now people were very interested in their object, that is me. And I had only one thought in my head: they all might die if I don't get a grip on myself and play it right.
I envied them, and they were biting their lips because their biggest stress at that moment was the exam. What I would give to just have that problem.

I walked straight to the side exit of the school that led to a certain part of the parking lot. Ryder must have had a car parked there. He can't get away with this. It can't be that easy for him. As I walked, I frantically considered my options, but I saw few on the horizon. I could either docilely follow his instructions or try to save myself and become the cause of a nationwide massacre.

I didn't know this boy. I didn't know what he was capable of. But he looked insane, and it was possible that he was. I couldn't take any chances. Not here, not at school.

Despite the general hustle and bustle, all I could clearly hear was the sound of Ryder's crutch clattering quietly against the floor with each of his steps. The sound burned holes in my skull, distracting me more and more. Finally, standing just outside the door leading outside, I looked around desperately. I so wished I could have just seen the twins and let them know with my thoughts alone what was happening. If only they could hear my terror, pick out the reason for it, and use their learned from a young age agility to disarm this psychopath, I swear I would have hugged and kissed even Tony, who just a few moments ago I felt like tearing to pieces.
But my brothers were in a completely different wing, waiting for completely different exams. Their appearance here out of nowhere would be so beautiful as to be completely improbable.

I pushed open the door and stepped outside, where the fresh air hit me. You'd think it would blow my mind and then some brilliant idea would suddenly pop into my head, but nothing like that happened, I actually felt cold because it was January and I had left without a jacket. There was even a small layer of snow on the lawns.

Two people I knew by sight were standing by the steps, both wrapped tightly in woolen scarves, and were bending over the phone, analyzing something. They only gave me a puzzled look, but not so interested that it lasted more than a few seconds.

The parking lot ended on this side of the building, so there were fewer cars here. However, there were a few designated handicapped spaces at each entrance to the school, and Ryder, playing his role of an invalid as best he could, had obviously taken one of them. As I walked down the steps and stood, unsure of what to do next, I felt him poke my shoulder and say:
"Get in on the passenger side. Into the one on the right. The dark blue one. Chop-chop, Monet."

The car was small and ugly, though I might not have been objective, because I hadn't been given the opportunity to see many cars different than from the upmarket in the last part of my life.

Ryder's car was scratched on the side from which I had just gotten in. The side mirror was a bit crooked and the whole machine looked sloppy, as if its owner had recently taken a rag and tried to quickly wash away the mud from years ago.

The interior was no better. The mess at the entrance disgusted my perfect self. I rolled my skirt and sat on the armchair, shaking off some papers and greasy silverware from the takeaway food. I also wrinkled my nose at the unpleasant smell. Dear God, this was some kind of nightmare.

Ryder was up and running quickly and was already sitting behind the dingy steering wheel. He slammed the door behind him, then promptly tossed the crutch into the back seats, so carelessly that he almost hit me with it in the process. I was even afraid to turn around and embrace with my eyes the small dump of garbage that out of the corner of my eye I had already managed to register there.
"Sorry for the mess, I didn't have time to clean it up, ya know," he muttered and sniffed, then took out the key trying to aim at the ignition, which was already heavily scratched from many such previous attempts.

I made no comment, just looked around the parking lot. Maybe now? Maybe now I could escape somehow? Maybe I could disarm him myself? He was an adult, an older guy, but also not very smart. I had absolutely nothing on me that I could use as a weapon, but I glanced under my feet, where a whole cloud of trash was tangled. Maybe there would be a knife or, I don't know, a gun or something.

"Good," Ryder sniffed again, exultant when the engine finally started. He patted the steering wheel, strechted his shoulders, glanced at the situation around him, and then glanced at me. And blinked. "On the ground, Monet."

I looked at him, raising an eyebrow.


"You dive under the chair, now."

I glanced under my feet. They were on some kind of newspaper. I didn't even know what color rugs he had here.

"I said: under the chair. Come on, now."

"There is no room here!" I squealed heartbroken, disgusted and increasingly frightened. He wanted to smuggle me out of the school territory! The idiot knew that if they saw him trying to take me out at the gate, they wouldn't let him go. He probably also knew that somewhere behind it Sonny was also watching. I slowly realized what a dangerous trap I had gotten myself into.

"Fuck me," Ryder sighed in exasperation and leaned toward me, his hand sinking into the whole mess under my chair. With quick and impatient movements he grabbed whatever he could find and tossed it to the back of the car. Newspapers, some burnt from cigarettes, a dirty pillow, bottles, cans, papers of various kinds and many other, undefined junk. I wanted to cry at the sight of this mess. During this express cleaning, one time he caught the remains of food cartons in his hand and while he was lifting them up, a broken Chinese chopstick sticking out of a box scratched my leg. I stifled a hiss of pain but also jumped in my seat, which Ryder didn't even notice. I felt that he had cut not only my pantyhose with it, but my skin as well, and I could already imagine some of the worst infection getting into the wound.
"All right, it's ready, Your Ladyship. It won't get any cleaner," he announced and, imitating a dignified gesture with his hand, he pointed to the floor. I could see by his face that he was beginning to lose patience. He stared at me seriously, but I could see in the depths of his irises that he was also nervous.

I took one last look around the parking lot, which was dusted with a fine layer of snow. The two people who had been standing by the stairs were still there, not paying any attention to us. Nothing promised to be a sudden, miraculous rescue.

Ryder clicked his tongue in exasperation and all he had to do was reach his hand to inside of his jacket surely to threaten me with that gun of his, and I immediately moved. I crouched in the tiny space in front of my chair and squirmed as I felt hard crumbs and a few other things pinch my knees.

"Maybe, maybe it would be better if I hid in the back?" I suggested, the remnants of hope catching on to the last idea I had. I could lurk behind his seat and use my tights as a garrote, choking him into unconsciousness....
"No, not better. Stop talking and get down," Ryder growled, and I must have been starting to cross some sort of acceptable line for him, because he raised his hand and aggressively pressed it against my head, forcing me to bend over.

I let out a squeal as it hurt, to which Ryder hissed for me to shut up, but took his hand away. I didn't dare straighten up any more, so I just did my best to satisfy my captor by squeezing into the tiny space. I slid my legs under the glove box, lunged toward the door, and wrapped my head first with my arms, then laid it against the transmission. That I was uncomfortable was no discovery. I hadn't been into sports lately, so my muscles were now unanimously protesting against such gymnastics, and the junk, of which there was still plenty here, was teasing every part of my body. There was cold, annoyingly rustling chip paper under my cheek, something rough was sticking into my thigh, and if I moved my knee too much, it bumped against something sickly wet that I didn't even want to analyze.
I squeezed my eyes shut, not believing, just not believing that this was really happening. And this was under the watchful eye of my brothers, who were doing their best to keep me safe. The gravity of the situation hit me painfully, more and more with each passing second. Tears began to leak through my tightly clenched eyelids. This was another thing Ryder either didn't notice or didn't give a damn about. He was focused on his plan.

I felt some sort of sheet fall over my body. I wasn't expecting it, so my eyes immediately opened on their own. But all they saw was darkness. I bit my lips, because I was ready to scream, but I could not. I was more and more afraid.

"Don't move. Not a muscle. That's good, that's good," Ryder whispered to me and I felt the car start. "If you don't want someone to die, then you should care as much as I do about getting out of this goddamn school without complications."

I didn't speak, didn't move, as instructed. I lay as if dead under some heavy blanket, sickened by the stench that was here. Not only that the unbearable smell accumulated even more densely down there, but on top of that, this material (which itself also stank inconceivably) limited the inflow of cleaner air to my nostrils. 
The school I attended is a private institution where tuition is a fortune. Not everyone could just get in and out of its territory, that's what I thought until now. All that had to be done was apparently to put a moderately elaborate plan into action to fool the gateman. It was enough to bring a crutch with you and pretend to be a handicapped kid on a scholarship who has been homeschooled lately due to a social anxiety disorder, show up in your younger brother's uniform, have a chip (also your brother's) with you to open the entrance gate, and no one would think of scanning you more thoroughly even if you entered the school grounds in such a neglected car. At least, that's what I inferred from the brief, not very clear exchange Ryder had with the man who sat in a cubicle by the school gate.

But there still was Sonny in a car parked somewhere right there....

Maybe Sonny would take an interest in this car and come over here? On the other hand, why would he be interested in it. Just because it's ugly doesn't mean its driver is dangerous. Unfortunately.
I felt the vehicle move forward. They let us through. No one stopped it. No one knows that in the car is one of the students of the school, kidnapped against her will. A desperate groan escaped my lips, but there's no way Ryder could hear it. The engine was making too much noise. At first it felt like we were casually driving around a bit, but at some point the car started to accelerate, and I didn't have to look out the window to know that that kind of speed development had to mean one thing. We entered the expressway. Ryder kidnapped me and succeeded flawlessly.

Should I get up? Should I say something? How long do I have to lie like this? I twitched. Once, then a second time. Finally, I was under that blanket for so long that I was already starting to suffocate. I got too hot, and a little more and I would probably die just from breathing in that nasty air. When I felt that I was already at the edge of my endurance, I moved my hand to tilt the blanket a little, at least at head height. I immediately took in a gulp of oxygen, although still not the best quality, at least a little fresher than the one from under the sheet.
"What are you doing, Monet?" Ryder asked, all cheered up and much more relaxed than just before a moment.

"I can't breathe," I complained snarkily. On top of that, I had a headache, although that was the least of my current problems.

"Then why are you sitting there, get up, ya know. We're on the road."

I clenched my teeth, without even having a comment on it, and started crawling out from the foot of the chair. I leaned against the seat with my elbow and threw the disgusting blanket off of me with my other hand. It was hard for me to stay upright, even kneeling, because Ryder's car was not very stable even on a relatively straight road. I was all broken and in crumbs. I finally pulled myself up on my hands and managed to sit down rather clumsily, brushing my hair off my face and shaking myself thoroughly. I took the opportunity to look around, but to my eyes appeared one of many roads surrounded on both sides by forest. In this area they all looked the same. Finally, I grabbed the blanket in both hands and threw it over the back of the car.
Then I was ready to catch a glimpse of Ryder. He had taken off his jacket and was already sitting in just his shirt. A self-satisfied smirk wandered on his lips. He was looking straight ahead, but every now and then he would give me a glance out of the corner of his eye. He was happy. The only thing I could tell from this was that it did not bode well for me.

Seemingly inconspicuously, I flung the door from my side with a quick glance. I could open it and jump out into the street. We were going pretty fast, surprisingly fast for the capabilities of this piece of junk, but I would have been able to take the risk and do it if not for the fact that Ryder made sure to push the safety locks in.

Well. In this case I reached for my seatbelt to buckle myself in, as I didn't trust this idiot's driving skills, but my hand felt empty. Confused, I turned to look for the buckle that should have been above my right ear, but it wasn't there. It wasn't. This guy didn't even have seatbelts in his car! He had cut them off, ripped them out, or whatever else. Damn it. Wonderful.
"Ryder," I started quietly and politely, trying not to anger him with something sometimes. "Leo doesn't need help at all, does he?"

Silence answered me, but it was quite eloquent, so I could easily guess the truth myself. So I continued.

"What's your plan anyway?"

He continued to be silent for a while, but not to think over his answer. He was not that kind of person. Rather, he remained silent because he didn't know what to say. Finally, however, he tilted his head to the side and spoke up.

"Do you know what they call you?"

"Who calls me what?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.

"Well people, ya know."

"What people?"

"Use your brain, Monet," Ryder rolled his eyes. "You know your family is well-known and they surround themselves with equally well-known morons."

"So what do they call me?"

Ryder smiled a pretty friendly smile, different from what he'd been used to.

"The Monet's little gem."

I raised my eyebrows even higher.


"You heard," he muttered and shook his head, then snickered. "The Monet's little gem. Lately reunited with the family, the only daughter of Camden Monet, the younger sister of the famous Monet brothers. A fucking little gem..." he laughed under his breath and gave me an amused look. "Who is now sitting in my car."
I swallowed my saliva. My heart was beating harder.

"I want to check," he continued, "how much you're really worth."

"This is your great plan?! Kidnapping for ransom!" I cried out, losing my nerve and disbelieving at the same time.

"Your brothers are behaving like they're gods. The big, important family. If they don't like you, you're done, ya know..."

"Didn't you put yourself in their debt?"

Ryder quickly clouded over and was now driving, with his eyes fixed on the road and a grim expression on his face. I stared at him, purposely so as not to see how fast the trees we were passing were speeding past the windows.

"They lend you money, and they lend you money, and they lend you money, and then all of a sudden..." Here he took his hand off the steering wheel for a moment and snapped his fingers. "... they make a problem. Out of nowhere. And suddenly you have to give it back, ya know. And they don't give a shit about any fucking explanations. It doesn't matter for them if you have the money to give back or not. Nothing gets through to them. They say it's not their business and just demand you to pay."
"Then you should have borrowed money legally, in a bank..." I muttered.

I wasn't going to defend my brothers, because I knew they weren't saintly, but in this case Ryder's main complaint was just dumb.

"Jesus, Monet," he sighed, throwing his head back. Then he shook it indulgently. "How out of touch with reality you are. But no wonder, ya know..."

"Me out of touch with reality? Compared to you, I know that if I borrow something, I have to pay it back. I know how the world works!"

"Sure, you know how the world works in theory, but you don't know shit about practice. No bank will lend me money because they only lend it to pedants in suits," he blinked. "And not everyone was born in a family where you wipe your ass with banknotes. You have to get by somehow, ya know."

"Why don't you go to work?" I suggested.

I didn't want to sound smart, but he was asking for it. Besides, I allowed myself so much, because for most of my life I was far from being in a privileged position. I wasn't that different from him.
"And work for ten bucks per hour like my pathetic little brother? Thank you very much."

"Don't talk about him like that," I admonished him. "Compared to you, he's working hard to get ahead. And it will definitely pay off for him."

Ryder snorted and was now making a particularly dark impression. He stared ahead at the road hidden among the ominous trees. A light snow had begun to fall again. Sometimes I could feel the car sliding a little on the road and there was nothing left but to thank in my mind that the road was empty and led straight. There should be no sudden manoeuvres.

"You know nothing about me, Monet."

I was silent for a while, thinking about how far I could push him.

"Have you recovered from your addiction yet?" I asked out of nowhere.

Ryder looked at me with a confused expression on his face. His tattooed fingers tightened on the steering wheel.

"None of your business, Monet."

"Have you finished rehab yet?" I continued, my hands gripping the edge of my seat.

Ryder's lips resembled a straight line and his eyebrows were furrowed. At some point his irritated gaze shifted to me.
"Are you done? Fuck, you're so annoying."

"So you haven't finished it?" I asked.

He didn't answer.

"Are you still taking?"

That was one question too far, because Ryder's knuckles turned white and his face red. I mentally slapped myself. Stupid, and what was the point of teasing him?

I thought the guy would shake it off and not be so easily provocated, but I forgot that I wasn't talking to Vincent, but some juvenile junkie.

Ryder first stepped on the gas pedal as if to manifest his rage and then, to my brief relief, began to slow down. I decided then that it was better not to speak, so I silently watched what was happening. I clung tighter and tighter to the seat, still remembering that the surface was slippery and I was not protected by a seat belt.

The guy finally stopped and managed to do so without skidding or causing a tragic accident. The car crouched on the side of the road, which was not particularly wide, and a wall of trees started right away, so the vehicle was still half-standing on the road. This should not have been a big problem, because apparently it was not busy. We had passed maybe one car here until now.
The problem, on the other hand, was that Ryder, from a side pocket in the door, had just taken out a small bag of white powder.

"What are you doing!" I shouted loudly, and one of my hands went automatically to the door handle on my side. In the process, I discovered that it was broken, so even if the door were open, I might still have difficulty getting out. Great, just great.

"What? You started it yourself," he snorted, apparently relaxing again at even the mere sight of the drug.

"You're not going to... You're driving!" I cried out in horror, squeezing into a corner as far away from Ryder as possible. It was like I was afraid I'd get high just by looking at the cocaine, too.

"Chill, Monet, sugar always makes my reflexes better," he blinked. Two. Times.

No, this is a nightmare. Not only was I abducted by a mentally unbalanced man, but he was also about to get high.

Ryder looked around at the emptiness surrounding us. The forest seemed menacing and the dense trees here raw and completely impartial. Like an audience watching a low excitement movie. Snowflakes were settling on the road, more and more numerous, and I myself would probably be shivering from the cold, sitting in this unheated car, if the adrenaline bubbling in my veins did not enable me to ignore such inconveniences.
"Ryder..." I asked as he rolled up the sleeve of his shirt so it wouldn't bother him as he sprinkled some powder on the outside of his left hand.

Ignoring me and being very careful not to spill anything, he reached into the aforementioned pocket in the door again and took out some tattered but still suitably stiff business card and used it to start forming a line out of the powder. Just like a racial junkie.

No way, he's really going to blow cocaine next to me, or whatever the hell it was. I was even more frightened. People were going crazy on drugs, and that's a fact, not just stupid schoolastic talk. What if Ryder gets violent, what if he gets insane and decides to hurt me after all?

The guy sniffed a few times, staring with a sick longing at the line of white powder stretched across his palm. It was as if he hadn't eaten breakfast today and someone had put a delicious lunch under his nose.

"Cheers," he muttered, and placed a finger on the right wing of his nose, at the same time leaning over his twisted, exposed palm, ready to snuff a portion of what he called sugar.
"Ryder!" I screamed again, more confidently this time and, before I could think, I was pushing down on his arm with all my might, getting a solid bruise in the process. The boy flew to the door from his side, his head hitting the glass slightly, but the biggest tragedy was the fact that such a carefully prepared protion of his treasure was spilled on his knees, the seat and the floor. When he realized this, he twitched as if he had suffered some kind of seizure, and then began to look frantically around at the damage I had caused.

He was staring with bulging eyes at the powder that had been blown up and could hardly be put back together again. He acted as if he didn't know what had just happened and as if everything was reaching him in a delayed pace.

I myself was frozen, stunned and stressed by my own actions. I slowly backed away from him, squeezing back into my safe corner, knowing full well that I was about to pay for wasting this, probably precious to Ryder, commodity.

At first his hands began to shake. Then he slowly lifted his head and immediately stuck his darkened gaze into me, additionally blinking ghastly a few times. I automatically looked around for some kind of weapon, anything that I could use against this angry drug addict on a hunger.
"Are you out of your fucking mind!" he yelled at me and I closed my eyelids for a moment, because his screaming in such a small space was unbearable.

What followed, however, terrified me even more. Ryder threw himself at me and tugged at my shirt, causing my torso to arch like a bow. Paralyzed with fear, I searched for humanity and normalcy in his dark irises, but in that moment he resembled nothing more than an enraged werewolf with whom any discussion was pointless. Which didn't mean I wouldn't try.

"Let go," I groaned, and after a while he obeyed, but instead of pulling away from me completely, he pushed me in such a way that I flew onto the dashboard and hit the top of my head on the windshield. My neck and stomach also hurt. After being treated like that, barely alive, I pushed myself away and sank back into my seat, breathing heavily.

"Stupid bitch," Ryder hissed under his breath and now he in turn concentrated on sweeping with one hand into the other the faint remnants of powder that had settled on the seat. He wasn't doing a very good job, because there wasn't much to pick up there. "I should just finish you off." 
I put my hand on my ribs, because that's where it hurt me the most. I tilted my head so that I could see my captor clearly.

"Just what are you going to do with a dead Hailie Monet," I whined weakly, quoting his earlier statement. That was my advantage. If Ryder was dreaming of a ransom, he needed me alive. That was probably why he'd contaianed himself at the last second, despite being so angry.

"I could think of something," he grunted defiantly, and I pressed my lips together. However, he immediately added something else: "It was close once, ya know."

I furrowed my brows, and he laughed at the look on my confused face.

"Unfortunately," he continued, "I don't think you liked the perfume, I can't smell it on you."

And he blinked.

I lowered my hand and, despite the pain, straightened up a little, and a few chilling shivers ran through my stiff body.

"Perfume," I whispered, more as if to myself.

There was too much going on in my life for me to match the character of Leo's brother with the person who tried to kill me. It was too unlikely. Too unlikely.
I immediately recalled the video that Vince and my dad had shown me at Blanche's. Could that guy dressed in oversized, fancy clothes have been Ryder?

Could be.

"A sweet scent for a sweet girl," he smiled.

"It was you," I shook my head. "No, that doesn't make sense. Why?"

Ryder shrugged his shoulders.

"Just for fun. Just you know, a gift for the Monet's little gem, ya know," he laughed. "Too bad it wasn't right."

"You wanted to kill me!" I screamed, and if there was only enough room, I would have jumped to my feet.

"It's not about you, Monet," he waved his hand. "It's your brothers who crossed the line. You know, stealing from my mother and all that, ya know."

"You're mentally ill! You gave me perfume with acid! Acid! Where did you even get that idea! It's ridiculous, it's..." I was at a loss for words.

"Okay, just don't pee yourself. You're fine, as I see, ya know."

I wanted to say something, maybe even challenge him in the most vulgar way I could, but my voice got stuck in my throat. What a horrible man, what a man. He almost killed me. Him. Leo's brother.
"You wanted to kill me," I repeated quietly to myself, as if processing the words.

Ryder tilted his head.

"No, now I want to kill you because you fucking spilled my coke."

"How did you know I'd be at that party at the hotel? Did you follow me?" I asked, furrowing my brow.

"No, Monet, I didn't. You're hard to follow, ya know, you have a lot of guards. But I was able to look at my little brother's phone two or three times. And you guys talk a lot, ya know."

"You read my and Leo's messages?" I was outraged.

"It paid to dig through your drivel. And your cries about how hard it was to lose your mommy and grandma in one fell swoop."

I lowered my head as if expecting to find the explanation for Leo's brother's vile behavior in my lap.

"Poor orphan girl," he added mockingly.

Surprisingly, I didn't even feel like crying. It wasn't worth to cry in front of such a loser.

"So what," I growled, staring at him. "You sneaked into the hotel in someone else's elegant clothes, dropped off a fake gift and ran away? You went to a lot of trouble, after all, such an action required a plan..."
Ryder laughed wickedly.

"Nice interpretation with those clothes. It's accurate," he admitted and shrugged his shoulders. "I had to fit in with these buffoons somehow, ya know."

A car had just passed us. I noticed it only when it drove further. It was there and disappeared like a ghost. A heavy sigh escaped me at its receding view. Ryder also glanced behind the car, then smiled at me even more mischievously, blinking. He knew that undoubtedly escape was on my mind. He did not comment on this, however, but simply continued his arguments, which frankly interested me less and less.

"And the whole action, as you called it, Monet, required no plan. Everything was spontaneous. It was enough just to have a head and a wit, ya know," Ryder praised himself, proudly thrusting his chest forward. "When I saw that it was your party you were throwing at the Arc Luxe Hotel, it was like a sign from heaven, ya know. When I dealed drugs for Ricardo Arroyo, the fat man always wanted to meet only there, so I know pretty well those fucking lobbies of theirs and all that."
"And the perfume? Where did you get such a caustic acid!" I asked, and the image of holes burnt in our carpet flashed before my eyes.

"My old man was a chemist. He fucked up, but he left some of his potions in the basement. What, didn't Leo mention it?"

A moment of my consternation was enough for me to realize that yes, he did mention it. At least about his dad studying chemistry. I just remembered him talking about it.

"That's how it is in my house, you go to a basement for booze and you find other... substances,"  Ryder sniffed, laughed, and blinked.

"You found acid and thought it would be a great idea to murder me with it? And just because you have a thing for my brothers?" I whispered in disbelief.

"Well, and by the way I would have saved my younger brother, ya know. Where there are Monets, there are problems. I tell him, and he doesn't listen. And he's getting into a pointless relationship with you, Monet, that's gonna end badly for him."

"You don't know anything about what's between us and it's none of your business how it develops," I pointed out, getting angry.
Leo never shared with me that his brother had finished, or stopped, rehab. As a result, he also never informed me of his comments or even his reservations about our friendship.

"Okay, ya know..." Ryder waved his hand dismissively. "I actually don't fucking care about you guys that much now, ya know. But it's a good thing you didn't punch yourself, because my current idea is better." He blinked, looking me straight in the eye. "More beneficial to me."

"And what do you think, that my brothers will pay you a ransom and then it's over? That they'll just let it go?" I snorted. Please, you don't have to be their sister and live with them under the same roof to know that the Monet brothers are fierce like no one.

"I think they'll pay up, and then they can look for me. Like a needle in a bottle of hay. Ya know."

It can't be that simple. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. The exam must have started by now. I wonder if the absence of one of the students was noticed. If so, they'll quickly track down the cars that recently left the school grounds during those hours using the cameras. And they will find us.
The longer we stood still, the better for me.

"But to collect the money, you'll have to reveal your location," I remarked, deliberately hoping to prolong our conversation.

"No, Monet, I take you far away, then I contact the Monets, and then they send me the money to the designated account, ya know. I pick it from the bank, they then find out where we're staying, I fuck off, ya know, I leave you, and everything is elegant. If they try anything, you're the one who gets hurt. Simple, ya know."

It still didn't sound like a perfect plan in my mind, but I didn't feel the need to point that out to Ryder at all. I was glad that he was planning on letting me go at some point. That meant that if everything worked out, there was a good chance that I would survive the kidnapping.

Of course, only if his imbalance allows me to do so. Ryder, apparently still extremely pleased with himself and his elaborate assumptions, did not give the impression of being in his right mind. He confirmed this with another action. He moved and reached again into the compartment in the door and, guess what, took out of it an identical small and tightly integrated bag of cocaine as he had just done.
Well, I'm going to shoot myself.

I watched defeated as the boy once again leaned back comfortably in his seat, uncovered the cuff of his uniform shirt even further, and stuck out his hand like a snack plate.

"Touch me again, Monet, and I'll shoot your mitt off," he threatened, not looking at me at all when I moved uncomfortably.

I don't think I could count how many bestial threats I have heard in my life since I entered my brothers' world.

Ryder put the bag down on his lap for a moment to take out the gun (also from the pocket in the door, where he had to put it after taking off his jacket) with impatient, not very precise movements and waved it around, then pressed it under his thigh so that I could clearly see that he had it, that he was holding it ready to use.

I've got to do something, I can't sit here like an idiot and watch the boy get drugged and then drive us to who knows where. Think, Hailie, think.

Looking at the white, menacing powder that Ryder had once again poured on the outside of his hand, I became determined. I continued to sit still, biting my lip and just looking around for good ideas. My particular attention was drawn to the dumpster nesting in the back of the car. And after analyzing it for a while, I noticed something there that interested me.
No, no, this is crazy. Pure insanity. I'm not going to make it.

That's what my mind was trying to tell me, but my mouth was living a life of its own, because in a moment it opened and words came out of it.

"Uhm, Ryder. It's a little chilly in here. Can I get a blanket?"

Ryder, busy forming a line, cast an indifferent glance back and merely nodded in dismissal, all attention back to creating the right conditions for himself to blow a dose of cocaine.

"Thanks," I muttered quietly and slowly moved to reach for that awful, shabby blanket, by the way discreetly smuggling in a sharp, broken Chinese chopstick, which I hurt myself with earlier. It was standing amidst a cloud of garbage and looking at me as if inviting me.

I was very careful not to let Ryder see it and I immediately wrapped myself in the blanket, wrinkling my nose as I smelled the musty smell again. Underneath it, I was clenching my new weapon in my fist so hard that another moment and I might have managed to crush it.
I waited for the best moment to throw myself at the boy and scratch him, maybe in the stomach, or in the eye? It would be best to aim for the throat, well, but should I kill him right away? He's Leo's brother.

On the other hand, if I only hurt him, he might hurt me in his anger. I should act confidently and not hesitate.

"Yeah," Ryder muttered to himself, draughty and on the exhale, right after he blowed the first dose. He took a long pull of his nose and shook his head a moment, then breathed again and smiled, closing his eyelids. I watched him intently, as if he was at least about to turn into some mystical monstrosity now. Nothing happened to him, however, and after a while he contentedly proceeded to sort the remnants of the white substance he had kept for himself, apparently, for the other hole.

You only live once, is that what they say? I threw back the blanket and jumped on him, and with the chopstick I held in my hand, like a knife, I stabbed him in the neck. And again, this time pulling it down harder, causing Ryder to groan loudly in pain. I hit him again, this time leaving a sizable scar on his cheek. Until he tilted his head and then opened his eyes, in which the signs of momentary distraction were quickly replaced by rage.
I felt his fingers tighten on my wrist of the hand in which I held the makeshift weapon. He twisted it painfully. This had the effect of successfully disarming me, as the chopstick fell somewhere and disappeared down there, forever. At the time it still seemed that Ryder had succeeded in fending off my only momentarily successful attack. After all, the pain in my wrist was so intense that for a few seconds it was all I could focus on. But when I saw that he was reaching for his gun at the same time, I panicked and forced myself to act. I knew that this time I would not get away with it. I had spilled the remains of the drug on him, again, and for that I would probably get hurt. And he had already gotten a little high, so there was no telling what side of Ryder I was dealing with now. On top of that, I had hurt him, so there was little chance of getting any mercy at all.

I hovered over him and drove my knee into his thigh, the same thigh under which he hid his gun. I was leaning a little to the right, because I was twisting from the pain in my wrist, which the boy was pressing mercilessly. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the blood slowly appearing on his face and neck from the wounds I had inflicted, his pupils beginning to dilate, and the remnants of white powder shaking out of his nose. In order to stop him from getting to the gun, despite the pain and difficulty, I moved so that my knee slid off his leg into his crotch with force.
I immediately breathed a sigh of relief as the pain in my wrist eased as soon as Ryder took his hands off me with a roar. He brutally pushed my leg off his sensitive part and pressed his fingers against the sore spot, gasping loudly. I flew to the side as a result. My right buttock hit the gearbox pretty hard, and the upper part of my body met the floor on the driver's side. There was so little room here that I had trouble even finding a surface to support myself on my arms and get up. Ryder didn't fail to take advantage of this, for although he was squirming with discomfort, with his eyes breaking with rage he spotted me and, with what must have been great joy, discovered that my face was now almost on his shoe. He seized the opportunity, and I was just about to tear up loudly when I felt his hard sole on my jaw. He hit me, and he hit me so hard that it was a wonder all my teeth didn't fall out.

As soon as I came to my senses (lucky for Ryder it took a while too), I stopped looking for a place to support myself. I just hung my hand on my captor's leg, using all of my non-existent abdominal muscles just to lift myself up so I wouldn't flop down again. Once I was in an upright position, it was also easier to spit the blood that had flowed into my mouth from the impact.
I longed to reach for the gun that Leo's brother still held under his thigh, but as soon as I reached out for it, he saw through my intentions and, still pressing his manhood (or rather, the place where it should at least be as a matter of principle), he lifted the same leg and kicked me in the stomach, grinning unmercifully on the face from the effort. Thanks to his own weakness, that kick only incapacitated me for a moment. This time I flew backwards, sort of back into my seat, though I immediately slipped off it and landed in the dumpster I had previously had underfoot, which was now also half-covered by the blanket I had dropped earlier. It eased my fall somewhat. It made me feel sick, but it was for a moment and I picked myself up fairly quickly, driven mostly by the fear that Ryder himself would finally grab the weapon he was so insistently guarding. Ignoring the bruise, this time forming at stomach level, I picked myself up, clenching my teeth fiercely. Any thoughts in my head disappeared completely. It was as if I had gotten rid of them, for the sake of the fight, so that they would not bother me. The state I was in was unlike anything I had experienced before. I had never been blinded by such a red aura.
Because of that leg kick, the weapon from under Ryder's thigh flew down between the seats, and the boy cursed. He was in too much pain to gymnastize for it, but as I threw myself violently after it, like a brave, hunting gazelle, he reached out to jerk me so that I hit my back against him. That was the downside of being a petite girl. Stronger men could juggle me like a marionette.

My head smashed against his chin, but I didn't feel any pain because I didn't have time to pay attention to it, as the hand that had been tugging me before was now clamping on my neck.

He was strangling me. Leo's brother was choking me, and it was an absolutely horrible feeling. First, automatically, my hands went to the source of the pressure to neutralize it. I tried to rid his hands of my throat by scrubbing at his skin with my nails, but he lashed out so hard that for a moment I thought it was over. I swung my legs around, kicking my seat, the glove box, the trash. I acquired several new bruises. I gulped air in bigger and more panicky gulps, feeling nothing but fear and frustration at not being able to get enough oxygen into my lungs despite my efforts.
Then, as vision in front of my eyes began to darken, I had a flashback. Dylan and I had learned similar moves during our training sessions. We'd been neglecting them a bit lately, but we'd been practising this position for so long that something must have stayed in my head. I remember him putting his arm around my neck and me having to defend myself. Pretty much like now, only instead of standing, I was practically lying on top of my attacker, my back pressed against him.

What was this Dylan saying then? We argued a bit, he was always mocking me and pointing out that I was weak and that I didn't practice enough. He was right, I was weak, but that didn't put me at a disadvantage. I clung to the memory of our workouts and let go of putting up meaningless resistance. Ryder surely thought it was because I was drifting off, but (though I was very close to doing so), I bent my arm first and with all my remaining strength drove my elbow under his ribs, somewhat blindly.

Ryder's scream was even louder than the one before, and proved that my attack had been well-aimed. Immediately, I felt the weight on my windpipe ease, and I took a huge breath that made me cough all over. I leaned forward with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on my chest, unable to calm down. My eyes welled up with tears. How could I feel so much relief and pain all at once?
A few seconds later, I turned around to see what state my opponent was in. I glared down at him, my breathing still and heavy and scratchy. I was sitting on his seat and kind of in his lap, and he hadn't thrown me off yet for a simple reason: he was reeling from the pain himself. Exhausted, I smiled lightly when it came to me. He wasn't the only one here who had been landing punches.

But before I could burst with pride at my own resourcefulness, I had to remind myself that I had not yet won anything and that getting my hands on a gun would help my victory. Taking advantage of Ryder's still temporary indisposition, I dived between the seats again. What a mess there was. I felt like beating the guy for the very fact that because of him I had to rummage through such filth. Especially when I inadvertently put my fingers into a dirty jar of peanut butter. I didn't grimace for long, though, because I immediately encountered a hard metal barrel and grabbed it tightly at the same time as Ryder tugged at my already heavily mangled hair. I yelped and tossed the gun away from me under the seat next to the driver so that at least he couldn't snatch it from me.
"Stop it now!" Ryder roared angrily.

He tried to push me away and lean behind the gun, but I darted for it first. I was in a better position to do it faster, and this is the moment where my smallness and slenderness in turn count as an advantage.

I felt Ryder pulling me towards him by the skirt of my uniform, which came down to halfway down my buttocks at this point. I ignored it and focused on what I finally had in my hands.

I furrowed my eyebrows a moment, trying to figure out the weapon and at least determine its type, but finally I just blindly unlocked it, which worked out flawlessly. Unfortunately, Ryder wasn't frightened by the sound itself, but when I twisted my torso so that I half-turned towards him and aimed, the guy froze for a second.

Then he grinned mischievously.

"You won't do anything anyway, Monet," he spoke in a voice modified by fatigue.

Hardly had he finished that sentence and I shot from below into his side window, not very far from the guy's head. I deliberately didn't shoot through his skull yet, but only made a noise as a hole was created in the glass, next to which numerous cracks were immediately intertwined. My threat was clear.
"Get your hands off me," I growled weakly, but also as clearly as I could.

Ryder, who had flinched at the sound of the gunshot, visibly startled, followed with his eyes the bullet that, from my perspective, I had shot somewhere into the gray sky. He looked at me again, this time with slightly less certainty. When I moved impatiently, he finally took his fingers from my skirt.

He leaned back in his chair and raised his arms carelessly, giving me some control over the situation. Very carefully, I began to crawl back into my seat, not daring to look away from him, even for a split second. I didn't even dare to adjust my clothes, comb my hair with my fingers or massage my swollen jaw. I knew the battle was still going on. I settled more comfortably into my seat and gave myself a moment to look at the situation we suddenly found ourselves in.

Ryder didn't look happy, but he obediently raised those hands at his own shoulder height. His chest was rippling heavily and his face was sour, probably still in pain. His chin was heavily reddened, so I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one who had suffered when I bumped my head against it. His face and neck were decorated with red stripes, which I had gouged out with a chopstick, and there was even blood smeared on his cheek, which his white shirt soiled in the process. The shirt was also badly creased, and two buttons on his stomach-heigh had come undone. As for his condition below the waist, his legs were clenched in a strange way, assuring me that not without a reason this particular spot is considered to be men's weakness.
I almost smiled when I remembered that it was Will who had once told me in one of our training sessions, in all seriousness, to always aim attacking men at their crotch if I had the chance. Thanks, Willy.

Ryder and I exchanged glances for a moment. The boy was crazy, stoned and unpredictable. And what am I supposed to do with him?

Get rid of him, preferably.

"Get off," I ordered suddenly, surprising myself with the power of my voice. I aimed at him much more boldly than just a moment ago. I was capable of shooting him, and I knew I would if I had to. It was a new kind of determination that I had never felt before.

Best of all, it was something Ryder apparently sensed as well, because for perhaps the first time in my life, I got the impression that someone was taking my threats one hundred percent seriously.

"Get out. Out! Now. Now, now!" I called out even louder, taking care not to swing the gun too much.

Stay focused. That's it.

Don't mind-wander off to the land of ponies.

"Okay, wait, Monet. Let's talk..." Ryder started, and then a bunch of extremely colorful, for his limited vocabulary, swear words came out of his mouth.
Because I shot him right in the tibia. I simply lowered the barrel, squinted as if visualizing my target in my mind, and fired. And best of all, I didn't miss by even a millimeter. I knew that the bullet sent to the lower part of his leg would not kill him or even cause permanent damage, at the same time it would successfully scare him and, above all, weaken him.

"Get off or I will shoot the other leg. I promise I will," I threatened, deliberately modelling my voice so that its sharpness cut through Ryder's screams. I had never been so deadly serious before.

If I glanced in the mirror now, I wouldn't recognize myself in it.

A click sounded and the now hunched over Ryder, ineptly suppressing his agonized screams, just unlocked his door. It cost him several careless, chaotic, and abrupt movements to open them, but he finally did and a cloud of frigid air momentarily crept inside the vehicle.

"Get out!" I urged him impatiently. The fresh air tasted like hope, I was so close to winning...
Ryder rolled out of the car, almost hanging onto the door, and I just silently prayed that it wouldn't break under his weight.

"Step back. Get away from the car!" I shouted more demands, and Ryder with great difficulty tried to fulfill them. On all fours (or rather on "all threes", because his injured leg was really only dragging behind him) he moved away from the car, and if some speeding vehicle was coming from the opposite direction, it is quite possible that the guy would not survive it.

As soon as Ryder was far enough away, I jumped into the driver's seat he had occupied earlier, took a look at the steering wheel, the pedals and the key, which, fortunately, was still in the ignition, and then glanced back at my captor, who was now limping a few meters away.

First, I tried to start the car. One, two, three. The functionality of this piece of junk was some kind of sad joke, but on the fourth time the engine finally whirred and didn't stall. Then, unable to stop myself from being mischievous, I looked at Ryder again and risked a moment's inattention to dig out from the back of the car the crutch he had thrown there earlier.
"I think now you're really going to need it," I called out to him dryly and threw the object next to him, with the last remnants of empathy keeping me from aiming it straight at his wounded and defenseless body.

And then I slammed the door, pressed the gas pedal and drove forward. Just like that.

I tried not to go too fast, yet I wanted the sight of the injured Ryder, groaning in agony and embracing his own leg, out of my sight as quickly as possible. Every so often I glanced at him in the rear mirror, as if I were afraid he would suddenly get up and rush after me. Finally, the straight road began to turn gently, and soon Leo's brother was no longer visible to me. Then, still shaken, I breathed and truly concentrated on driving. I even added a little gas, but very, very carefully.

The best thing for me would have been to turn around and head back the way Ryder had brought me, but I was a terrible driver, totally inexperienced, and I just couldn't maneuver the car enough to turn around on a straight, not very wide, and slippery road. Besides, I was afraid to go back, because then I would have to pass the guy again. I assumed that it would take him some time to recover. I was beginning to feel remorseful that I had left him injured and in the cold. Maybe I could have at least left him a blanket.
Of course, my remorse wasn't so great that I would put Ryder's life before my own, because I wasn't in the best of situations myself either. I was already starting to feel frustrated about not telling him to hand me his phone. How could I not have thought of that! Surely he must have had his cell phone with him. I felt like an idiot. I could have called for help by now, and so I was left to drive ahead, hoping that soon some inn, gas station or, what would be an absolutely wonderful option, a town would pop up.

At such moments I wished I lived in some huge metropolis, from where it would take Ryder a good two hours to get out of. Or at least in a smaller country, where deserted roads do not stretch for long miles.

I had been rolling like that for almost twenty minutes. I was getting very impatient. I was sitting on the very edge of the seat because it was a little too far away from the pedals for me, but I didn't even try to struggle to adjust it to my height. I was almost hanging onto the steering wheel, clinging to it desperately. I was also squinting, and the snow was starting to fall more and more, severely limiting my visibility. Well, these were not ideal conditions for someone who had only been behind the wheel a few times in their life. Besides, Ryder's car was very hard in handling and I today appreciated my Porsche as never before.
Every now and then I'd glance nervously in the mirror to see if there was anyone behind me, someone I could ask for help, but in reality I was terrified of seeing Ryder there, dashing after me, all out for revenge.

"This is a nightmare," I muttered to myself, shivering with cold and emotion.

I was so anxious to see some sign that I would soon be passing something more than just trees that when it finally appeared on my path, out of happiness, excitement and mostly desperation, I sped up.

My heart was pounding. A town, I was approaching a town. I'll drive in, park anywhere, and talk with the first person on the street. I'll ask for a phone. Or I'll walk into some store or cafe.

The forest was about to start thinning out. The road I was driving on was about to join another, more frequently used one. I tightened my fingers on the steering wheel and drove faster and faster, hungry for rescue.

I took one last glance in the rear mirror. The road was empty behind me and starting to get really white.
"It's okay, Hailie, no one is chasing you, just keep driving forward, someone will help you soon. Okay, wait, look, the road is turning right. Better slow down. I know, I know you want to get there as fast as possible, but you better slow down now. Before the turn. Oh, how slippery. That's what I'm talking about, stupid, slow down..." I muttered to myself as I found that the sound of my own voice was reassuring.

The road was indeed turning. And it didn't matter that it was doing so very gently. What mattered was that the surface was starting to become a small ice rink, and Ryder probably hadn't made sure the car had the right tires for this weather. All I had to do was move the steering wheel a millimetre and the car immediately went into a small skid, from which I would have survived, had it not been for the fact that as a completely inexperienced driver I got carried away by my emotions and the next manoeuvre I made was another turn of the steering wheel, this time much more panicky. And that was my biggest mistake.
All I remember is that the car went off the road. I remember squeezing the steering wheel as if my life depended on it (and it's possible that it did). I remember the immense force that pushed me forward. And the subsequent wave of pain. And the excruciating powerlessness caused by my lack of control. Because as soon as I lost it for a split second, I never regained it again.

I think I screamed, and my heart went up to my throat. I could feel it clearly, along with the fear and doom. And the last thought left in my head was whether my mom, seconds before the accident that led to her death, was also so afraid.

A/N: Hey, dears! I come to you with a new chapter and thank you, as always, for your patience. A bit of action happened, and as a result, there's not much left to finish. There are actually two more chapters to go, which is extremely exciting, so hang in there and I'll see you next time! Sending hugs!