Amber flew up the stairs without shutting the front door. Once inside her room she slammed the door home and pressed her back against it. She was panting for breath, that had nothing to do with the run she just made. With no further to go she didn’t know whether to rage or cry, or laugh hysterically. So, it happened. Just like mother wanted. The tree-hugging tart made sure it would.
Now what did she do? Life as Amber knew it was over. The cheer captaincy she secured for the year, gone. Probably time in Juvie to look forward to. And yet… Frost. Oh, Frost. He had more to do with her dates never going too far than any amount of parental warning or moral instruction. She’d taken to him in grade school. Dreamed since sixth grade what it would feel like just to kiss him. Now they…
It had been amazing. Just remembering how it felt brought a hot blush to her face and warmth all over. Which made her feel terrible. Amber knew she should feel bad, did feel bad that it happened. Which made her wonder whether it could be better with them both fully aware and consenting and not… No, bad Amber.
Remember how he’ll hate you now? Frost had no reason to blame anyone or anything but her. He called her by name, removing any improbable hope he didn’t know it was her. That burned far more than any thought of mother winning. No, she had better be content with the memory of last night. It was all she was going to have left, very soon. Curse mother, and all her kind.
Dad’s soft knock might as well have been a gunshot to her heart. She gave no response. What could she say? Amber curled into a ball on the floor, unable to think. Her dad came in and set a light hand on her arm. No more than that. He didn’t try to ask what or why, didn’t push. That only made it worse. Amber forced it out. She needed to vent before her insides burst.
“She got me dad,” it made her feel the tiniest bit better about what she had just done, and to who. “Mom,” his hand tightened as she made the sound a curse, “got to me. I…” Remembering exactly what choked off her words again.
“I am so sorry Amber,” her father coughed, “maybe if I’d understood better, or something more that I-“
“Dad,” Amber cringed, “no.” She would not have the one person least responsible taking blame, “it was her. You- No, dad. You did great.” She sagged, “not that it matters anymore.”
“What- just what happened?”
“I did… it, dad. In the park.”
“You- oh. Oh, Amber…” He gave her shoulder a squeeze but moved no closer, torn between parental instincts.
“If that wasn’t enough,” Amber sniffed, “more than enough, it was…” A sob pushed past her words, another long pause to find them again. “It was Frost, dad. I- I…” raped him, but the words couldn’t get past her throat. Amber couldn’t hold it in any more. She didn’t know, didn’t care how much later it was her father spoke again.
“I am so sorry, baby.”
Bad enough her own life was over. But why should it have to sour her every thought of Frost as well? Surely mother hadn’t known, did not and would not care to know she had a preference for any mundane. Was the universe itself on mother’s side? And somehow she’d-
“Oh God.” She tried and couldn’t curl any tighter, racked with fresh sobs.
“I - I bound him, dad. But how? I-“ she choked and coughed, continued in a strangled whisper. “I don’t even know how to do that.”
“That does mean,” her father sucked in a breath, let it out, “you’re going to have to see him again. The boy’s owed some explanation.”
“Why? Why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong?”
“Hush, baby.” Her father pulled her off the bed to lean her on his chest. “I know this won’t help now, but think how you might be, who you would be, if you’d gone with your mother when she first asked.”
“Thanks, dad. I don’t think,” she had to pause through fresh sobbing before finding her voice again, “that’ll be much comfort when the cops arrive.”
He was about a block from home when Frost realized he had no story. Mom would want to know what happened, and except for a dull ache in the entire left side of his chest and a couple clothing articles he would not be showing her, he had nothing. Frost had never considered lying before, but he didn’t see any other option. He wasn’t clear enough on what happened to trust himself trying to tell it - none if it was believable.
Even painting himself as the villain, the whole situation was implausible. Certainly no one would believe the girl physically forced him. Frost himself knew she hadn’t. His steps slowed the closer he got to his porch, as if putting off the event would do him any good. Furiously he wracked his brain for some kind of an out. He was pretty sure he’d never prayed more sincerely before this moment.
And then any time left was taken away. The door flew open even before he turned onto the front walk.
“Frederick Borealis Winters! Where have you been?”
“I’m sorry mom,” At least he could start with truth, “I went out to run last night, lost track of time…”
“And decided to what, sleep in the park?”
Frost was squinting, planting each step as if walking into a strong wind. “Kinda. Got to… looking at the sky as I ran through the park.” Reluctantly he took the first step onto the porch, “And I just… forgot to keep going.”
“Mom, maybe ease off a little. At least until you have a closed door between him and escape.” Frost’s older brother Travis’ voice floated out from inside. He wasn’t sure whether to thank him as their mother wordlessly stepped aside to allow entry. So far, so good. Travis came to the doorway from the kitchen as the door clicked shut behind him.
“What’s that? You bring something home with you Fred?”
Frost didn’t dare to acknowledge what might have caught his brother’s attention.
“I took a tumble trying to hurry back,” kind of not really. He had ended up on the ground.
“You weren’t walking funny-“
“Shut up Travis. Mom,” he half-turned and winced at the pain and anger written on his mother’s face. “I know it was stupid. I know I’m in trouble. But can I get a shower first and then we can talk?”
Eyes wet with tears she gave a curt nod. Turning away Frost ignored his brother as he headed up the stairs, praying that he didn’t drop anything. In his room with the door mostly closed, he debated briefly before stowing the items he carried under his own fresh underwear. That done he headed for the bathroom, dropping running clothes in the hamper on the way.
“You’re alive!” A shout came from the girls’ room immediately followed by a body flying at him and hugging around his waist. It was brief, before stepping back with a wrinkle of the nose.
“Hey,” Frost patted his little sister’s head affectionately, “is it really so surprising?”
“After not coming home, and then facing mom first? Definitely.” She looked up to beam at him. Her jaw dropped suddenly. “Uh, did mom see that yet?”
“See what?” But as he looked down, Frost saw what Lea meant. Right over his heart was a bare patch, that looked like it’d been burned somehow. Lea poked the spot experimentally. Frost twitched but it didn’t hurt. The skin was darkened like a brand in some intricate design.
“What’d you do, snowman? Get yourself a tattoo? I didn’t think you could get one around-“
“No, Lea. It’s,” too late to try to make something up, “a surprise to me too. Didn’t know that was there until now.”
“Huuuuuh. Well, I best let you go get non-stinky so you’ll be clean when mom does kill you. She will when she sees that.”
Frost gave his sister a thin smile, “I am well aware. Not like I want it.” No? How would it have gotten there then? “Maybe it’ll wash off.”
“Sure.” She hugged him once more and then headed back for her room, shooting a last look over her shoulder, “in case that was my last chance.” Lea flashed a smile and disappeared around the door. With a sigh, Frost headed into the bathroom.
He stopped in front of the sink to get a good look in the mirror. What he saw apparently burned into his skin was a symbol too elaborate to be accidental. Tracing it with a finger, Frost tried to make sense of what he was seeing. It must mean something to someone. More importantly, how had it happened? His memory was hazy, but wouldn’t he still remember being burned? He knew it wasn’t there when he started his run.
His reflection stared back at him. A little testing confirmed the symbol was no drawing or makeup. For all intents and purposes he’d been branded on his chest and he didn’t know how why, or even when. Some time between finding Amber last night, and waking up. Probably?
After taking as long as he dared to shower and dress, Frost headed downstairs. Mom was leaning on the counter in the kitchen, arms folded. There was a plate of pancakes waiting for him on the end of the table. Steeling himself, Frost sat down. He still had no idea what he might say, and he needed to figure it out fast. He wanted desperately to just tell the truth, as unbelievable as it was. But even if she accepted that, there was no way Amber would not end up burned.
That didn’t sit right with Frost. While he ate, he examined the feeling. He had no reason to feel loyalty to the girl. From her apologetic departure she expected the hammer to come down. Assumed he blamed her. But it didn’t seem right. He was no victim and Amber no aggressor. He couldn’t say how that made a shred of sense but the feeling was unshakeable in his mind.
So he needed something else. At least less specific. What would even begin to explain being gone the entire night? A quick glance at the clock and some math. Between 8 and 9 he’d left last night to run. That had been 11 hours ago now.
“Where were you, Frederick?” The plea in his mother’s voice cut across any thought of concocting some story. A good portion of the truth would be bad enough.
“Mom,” he started softly, hands curled with tension, “I honestly don’t know what happened. I remembered getting to the park. I remember waking up in the park. I,” he hesitated only briefly before lifting his shirt, “found this. Heaven as my witness I don’t know how or why it got there. I don’t even know what it is.”
All of which was mostly true. He knew part of what happened. Strongly doubted it hadn’t, anyway. Mom was across the room in record time, reaching a shaking hand toward her son.
“Does it hurt?”
Frost shook his head. One truth to cover another.
“No mom. Felt a bit stiff and sore, by the time I got home I felt fine. Didn’t even see this until I headed for the shower.”
“How could you miss something like that?”
“I don’t kn-“ Flash of memory. A graceful hand tracing over his chest, trailing fire. Words in his voice. Amber’s voice, speaking a language he didn’t recognize. “I really don’t. Wish I did; this isn’t something that’ll just disappear.”
“Son, truthfully. Who did this to you?”
What could he say? This one girl from school looked at me just so, and I took my clothes off? At least, I think so? He was not throwing Amber to the wolves on scattered bits he thought he remembered. Not yet at least. It wouldn’t answer mom’s question anyway.
“I’m really not sure, mom.“ An honest answer, as far as it went.
“We’ll get you to a doctor. See what you were drugged with. What this…”
“Mom,” drugged? It seemed as plausible as anything. “…Ok.” He finished his bite and stood up from the table.
“Finish eating,” mom waved at the food still out, “should have taken you first thing, but it won’t make a difference now.” From an evidence standpoint, yes. Frost knew he felt a lot better with a full stomach. And something told him there would be nothing for a doctor to find.
He was right. The marks on his chest weren’t any kind of ink. Doctor said it looked like a brand or burn, a couple weeks old. Asked why they were bringing it in now, when it was too late for him to do something that might help it fade. As for drugs he took blood and urine samples, said it’d be another week before they heard back on those but he’d let them know.
Talking to the doctor was enough to have Frost doubt a little himself whether he might’ve been slipped something. Too many questions he couldn’t answer at all. His gut feeling was it would be another dead end. Hoped so, in spite of everything. Certainly he didn’t impose on Amber… He was getting nowhere.
Amber checked the window, having nothing better to do. The view hadn’t changed in the last hour. She had waited almost two days now for… something. Anything. The police were what she had expected. No sirens had materialized. So he hadn’t gone to the police after all. But neither did a family member of his or a friend seek her out. Had he… Did he not tell anyone?
He didn’t come looking for her either. Amber was very much on the fence about that last one. She didn’t know if Frost knew where she lived, but it was easy enough to find out if he tried. Amber had not left the house those two days, unwilling to chance the mother she knew was waiting anxiously out there to ‘save’ her from the mundane world. Amber didn’t want to go to jail. Didn’t think Frost’s angry mom could make her feel any worse about herself than she already did for what happened, but still would rather not hear it from an outside voice. Frost himself… Did she really want him to look her up, after that? It’s not like he would come swooping in saying ‘that night made me realize you are all I ever wanted in life, lets get married and go live happily ever after’ or some-such nonsense. This was reality. Also, she sternly told herself, she would not accept it even if he did offer. It didn’t matter how much she wanted it.
Frost had been taken against his will, abused in a very personal way. She could never forgive herself for that. Regardless, Amber quickly reminded herself as she checked out the window again before turning back to her room, it wasn’t going to happen. Part of why she had always admired Frost was his honesty. It was only a small injury to think that would now be her ruin. Another check, still no sign of anyone coming.
“Amber, don’t you have cheer practice soon?”
Yes, technically. She was the captain after all. But she’d expected to be in jail, at least publicly ruined or… something by now.
“Dad, you know-“
“Amber,” his voice floated up the stairs, “I have no idea what that boy is thinking either. If I had a guess though, I’d say right now he’s mostly confused.” Steps on the stairs as he approached her door, “Don’t let her win by default. Maybe…”
“Maybe what? It didn’t happen? It did.”
“Does he know?”
The question stopped Amber cold. Considering the circumstances maybe not. The prospect wasn’t reassuring, but … Maybe Frost wasn’t sure. Maybe, things could go on, at least for everyone else, like it hadn’t. Another crack grew across her shattering heart. Amber stepped out to the top of the stairs.
“I guess I should get ready for practice.”
“I think,” her dad tried to smile, almost succeeded, “that’s a good idea.”