He knows he’s dead either way. I was clear about that. I’m not a liar, and I felt no need to sugarcoat my intentions. The idea of him suffering has no bearing on my conscience.

“Fuck you,” he hisses, spitting blood and saliva into the air in a pink mist. “I’m not telling you dick.” His head droops, his chin resting on his chest, and he laughs.

I figured as much. You can’t promise a man his death at your hands and expect him to cooperate. Little does he know I was hoping he’d choose the hard way.

“You’re going to tell me,” I explain, my voice eerily calm, “one way or another.”

Without warning, my hand strikes out, gripping his pinky finger. He instinctively attempts to pull away as his eyes meet mine in question. My smile broadens as I twist up and outward, snapping the bone. The sounding POP fills the air for one perfect moment before he jerks out of my grip with a yelp.

Aaron hugs his hand to his chest, his one good eye wide, his nostrils flaring with each panicked breath he takes. I know it hurts like a bitch. I’ve suffered the boxer’s break a couple of times. Broken fingers aren’t fun.

“That’s just one,” I say. “You have two hundred and five bones left. How many do you think I need to break before you deliver those names? Four? Five? Ten? Fifty?”

I sit forward, bringing my face close to his. He flinches away from my close proximity. “Think about that. Fifty fucking bones—snapped in half. What you’re feeling now is nothing in comparison.” I click my tongue noisily. “I’ve waited four God damn years for this day. I’m a patient man. I can do this all night. All week, if I have to.”

His gaze flicks toward the door. I can imagine what he’s thinking. Wondering how far he could get. What his chances are of making it out of this apartment safely.

But I don’t oblige him with that information twice.

Instead, I backhand him, my knuckles slamming into the soft flesh of his cheek and knocking his head into the wall with a dull thud.

“How do you live with yourself?” I ask suddenly. I truly want to know the answer to this. “How do you lay your head down and sleep through the night knowing you raped and murdered a young woman? How do you get up every morning?” I inhale sharply, my heart pounding in my ears. “HOW?”

Every single day is a struggle for me. How does he do it?

He doesn’t answer me. He doesn’t look at me. He just sits there, pressing his back into the couch, leaning as far away from me as he can get. His demeanor reminds me of an abused dog. He’s trying to make me feel bad, attempting to play on my sympathies. It only makes me angrier.

Images of Aaron’s body jerking on top of Livie as he thrust inside of her, despite her pleas, flash like lightning through my mind. Her frightened eyes staring at me. Her whimpers. Her cold fingertips as they grazed mine.

I have no compassion for this monster.

I stand up and unhook my belt. The abrupt movement forces Aaron to turn his attention back to me.

“What are you doing?” he asks quickly. His voice quivers and I’m glad. I’m so glad he’s terrified.

I ignore his question, working my belt loose of the loops in my jeans. I fold it into my hand and I let him wonder what I have in store for him. Whatever scenario his twisted mind conjures still won’t be as gruesome as what he did to Livie.

“Stand up and turn around. Place your palms on the wall.”

“It wasn’t a question,” I state slowly. I give him a few seconds, allowing him time to act on his own. When he continues to sit, refusing to do as I directed, I sink my fingers into his hair, yanking him up. I realize, as I shove his face into the yellowed smoke-stained wall, how unnervingly similar my actions are to his that night.

It stuns me and I hesitate.

If I do this, am I any better than he is?

“She was so tight the first time I fucked her.”

His statement catches me off guard. I’m so surprised I lighten my grasp, allowing him to pivot his body until he’s facing me. He smiles, his teeth red with his blood.

“By the time I got my second round, it was like fucking a bucket of water. We. Tore. Her. Up.”

I stumble back as if he shoved me. Tears burn my eyes. Bile rises in my throat.

I stare at him in horror. How many times did they rape her while I lied there unconscious?

I place my hands over my face, sliding them up over my head. My nails scrape at my scalp.

I lunge at him. I’m going to kill him. My fingers clasp his throat and I apply pressure, cutting off his oxygen. Most people don’t know how simple it is to choke somebody. The right amount of pressure in the right spot will bring even the biggest man to his knees. I let my fingers sink into his Adam’s apple and I squeeze it like a stress ball.

He clasps my wrist. Tries to loosen my grip. He hits me, but I don’t even feel it.

I’m going to kill him.

I’m going to kill him.

I’m going to kill him.

And then I realize I’m killing him. I’m killing him and I don’t have the names.

I release him. His body falls to the floor. I’m not sure how long I stare down at him. I’m at war with myself. I hope he’s dead because he doesn’t deserve to live.

I hope he’s alive—not just because I need the names he can provide, but also because he needs to suffer more. And then I realize this was probably his intent. To get me so angry I would act without thinking, ending this quickly. And I fell for it. I let him reel me in like a fucking sucker.

I nudge him with the toe of my shoe. He rolls with the movement, landing on his back. I watch his chest until I see it rise with a slow breath.

Scooping up my belt that fell to the floor at some point during my freak out, I loop it around Aaron’s wrists. I pull snugly, binding them together.

The hallway is empty. Deserted. My shoes squeak against the shiny linoleum as I hurry toward the muffled voices of two hundred of my fellow students. This is the most important pep rally of the year. Our football team is playing Gainesville—our biggest rival—tonight. I should already be in there, shaking my pom-poms and swaying my ass for the team. As a senior, I’ll never get this chance again.

I duck inside the locker room, searching out the closest mirror. I sigh at my disheveled hair, sliding the rubber band through my dark locks. My fingers make quick work, smoothing out a new ponytail and fastening the ribbon displaying our school colors.

I wash the leftover dried smears of paint from my hands, scrubbing at my fingernails. I keep them clipped short so it’s not as noticeable, but it’s just a part of who I am. There are always some remnants of my art projects discoloring my cuticles, staining my clothes, or clumping my hair. I like that though. My paintings are just as much a piece of me as I am of them.

I run my hands under the blower and do a little spin, making sure everything is in place. Make-up—perfect. Bow—straight. Uniform—flawless…well, minus that little dot of blue on the end of my sleeve. I’m sure nobody will notice. I smile at my reflection. I look good.

Muted cheers erupt as I push the door open and head for the gymnasium. I peer through the small window separating me from the rest of my class. I can see my friend, Cecily—head cheerleader—looking at the crowd of screaming students filling the bleachers. I know that scowl. She isn’t happy. She’s probably looking for me. And probably seriously pissed I’m not in there. As a perfectionist, she’s probably suffering a mini panic attack.

I’m about to pull the door open and put her at ease when a set of hands skim along my hips before gripping my waist. I’m tugged back against a hard chest. I gasp out of surprise, but not because I’m scared. Doug does this all the time—right before he lands a kiss on my cheek. We’ve been doing this same dance for the past month while I wait for him to get up the nerve to ask me out. I’ve crushed on him since last year, but our timing has always been wrong. Either I was dating someone or he was. But we’ve both been single for nearly four weeks now. If he doesn’t ask me out soon, I think I’ll lady up and ask him.

His usual kiss doesn’t ensue and I chalk it up to nerves. And now my stomach twists with anticipation.

Maybe he’s finally going to do it.

I try to turn so I can look at him, but his grasp tightens almost painfully. I open my mouth to tell him, but nothing comes out. I’m in shock; my chin quivering as I watch his right hand slide up my torso until it curves around my breast. He squeezes hard and I feel him harden against my back. His rigid length pokes into the curve of my lower back as he grinds his hips.

I try to pull away again, struggling to free myself. “Stop.” I don’t yell it. I don’t say it firmly or harshly. I barely breathe the word because I don’t understand why this is happening. I can’t comprehend why Doug would do this.

I claw at his hand. I just want it off of me.

His fingers tighten around my breast like he’s trying to hurt me. I cry out from the discomfort. Before I register what he’s doing, his other hand covers my nose and mouth. My feet leave the floor. It happens so quickly. One moment, I’m steps away from a room full of people. The next, I’m being taken into another room—the locker room I just left. The door closes behind us and he lowers me until the toes of my shoes squeak against the ground in my struggle.

His hand is still over my face. I can’t breathe. I thrash, fighting against him. I kick. I try to scratch at his thick hands—my nails are too short to do any damage. I try to push back against him, but my feet find no purchase as they slip and slide across the smooth linoleum.

I try to scream, but it’s nothing more than a hum behind his tight grasp. I’ve never been held against my will. Ever. Nobody has ever tried to hurt me. Nobody has ever touched me in this way without my permission. Every bone in my body opposes. I can’t think about anything other than getting away. Getting air into my lungs. Running.

He shoves me into the wall, my cheek pressing into the cool brick. My shirt has lifted in the scuffle and the brick scratches my stomach. In this position, he’s forced to move his hand, and I inhale deeply, over and over again, panting for breath.

“If you scream, I’ll fucking kill you,” he whispers against my ear. His hot breath billows against my skin and I shiver with recognition.

I don’t know him well. We’re more acquaintances, having mutual friends in the same circle, than we are friends ourselves. But we’ve been in school together since junior high. He’s always been nice to me.

Why is he doing this?

I don’t know why I don’t scream, but I don’t. I don’t make a sound other than my quick breaths.

Garrett brushes my hair out of my face and away from my neck. The gesture is slow, intimate. I cringe. I can just make him out with my peripheral vision. He seems calm, relaxed.

I need out of here. I need him to stop touching me.

“Shut up.” He clutches my neck, holding me confined to the wall. His grip isn’t tight—I can still breathe—but it’s firm enough to keep me in place. He lifts the back of my skirt and finds the waist of my shorts. In one quick motion, he forces them down, exposing my bare flesh to him.

Seconds pass. I have no idea what he’s doing behind me. What he’s thinking. I’m naked from the waist down for his viewing pleasure. It’s degrading. Humiliating.