Marigold, Part 4

by Vulgar Argot

(NC, MF, Oral, Mild Anal, Giggling)

Wednesday morning, Marigold woke up both with a realization and with a plan.

Her dreams were turgid and sensual. In them, Thule was making love to her. The physical details were rather hazy, but she knew with a certainty available only in dream logic that Thule had been making love to her. When she woke up, she knew that she was madly, furiously in love with him. And, she had a plan for sanding off the rough, infuriating edges that made him less than perfect.

The first step was that she would get him to come back to church. After that, everything would fall into place.

She must have had an extra spring in her step when she came down to breakfast. Her mother noticed it immediately, "You're looking rather chipper this morning," she offered, "Looking forward to picking out your prom dress today?"

Marigold nodded, although she had managed to completely forget that was today. She went through breakfast and the ride to school in a daze. It wasn't until she was on the steps outside, headed into school, that her attention came fully into focus.

"Marigold," said Elliot, "dammit. Are you awake?"

She realized that he had called her name several times and she hadn't registered it. She whipped around, "Elliot, I didn't see you there."

"Come on," he said brusquely, "We need to talk." Without waiting for permission, he took her hand and led her over to the letter men's parking lot. Snapping out of her stunned silence, she pulled her hand free of his, "Elliot," she insisted, "what's going on?"

"What's going on?" Elliot sputtered, "It's all over the school that you're dumping me for Bart Roemer. Why am I the last person to hear about it?"

She looked at him incredulously, "You can't be the last person to hear about it because I never heard about it until just now."

"So," he asked, "you weren't locked in the newspaper office all night with him?"

"No," she answered, angry, "I had to do physical layout. He was there fixing the computers. We were out of there before eight o'clock."

"Doug Foeller saw you two making out in front of your house in his rusty, piece-of-shit car!" he yelled.

"Doug Foeller's a goddamned liar," she yelled back at him, "He gave me a ride home--a completely innocent ride home." She knew how close to flat-out lying she was skirting, but she was too angry to stop.

"Dammit, Marigold," he shouted back, "It's embarrassing to hear that my girlfriend is hanging around with some dirtbag computer nerd. I don't want to hear it again."

She glared at Elliot and realized that she didn't know him anymore, didn't recognize him. As children, they'd been best friends. Elliot had been calling her his girlfriend since they were eight. But, he'd grown increasingly distant over time. This year, she saw him maybe three or four times a week, rarely more than ten minutes at a time. She'd complained about their lack of time together last year. He'd made it sound like he stayed away for her sake. Since then, it had gotten increasingly worse. Senior year, she hadn't really had time for dating, but they'd gotten to the point where they hardly spoke. And now, out of the blue, he'd tried to lay claim to her, to his right to decide who she could associate with.

When she spoke, each word was clearly enunciated and laced with menace, "Are...you...forbidding....me?" she asked.

"Yes," he shouted, "I can't have my girlfriend off gallivanting with dirtbags."

She was so angry, she started to actually see a red glow around everything. She searched her mind for the most hurtful, personal thing she could say to him, thought of every secret she knew, every bit of innuendo that she'd heard. And then she knew, "How do you think I feel? Everybody feels sorry for me because they know my boyfriend would rather fuck the quarterback than me?"

He slapped her and she felt the faint, metallic tang of blood in her mouth. She screamed, in terror, in pain, in relief, and a little bit in triumph. She'd stripped away the veneer of shy, polite Elliot, the all-American Christian boy and this was what was underneath. Her triumph was short-lived, though, as his fingers latched around her throat. She was off her feet, her back on the hood of a car, being slammed backwards repeatedly. She was dimly aware of him screaming at her. Then, she was aware of nothing at all.

It wasn't long until the world came sharply back into focus as the pressure on her windpipe abruptly ceased. Pushing herself up on her elbows, she saw Elliot being restrained by his coach and several of his teammates as he continued to scream at her, "You fucking cunt whore. I'll see you in hell, bitch."

She stood up unsteadily. Elliot slowly stopped struggling, courtesy of a choke hold applied by the coach. He signified his submission and was slowly released. As he stood, Marigold caught a meaningful glance passing between Elliot and Randy Vandevoort. Horrified, she realized that she had not just made Elliot angry, she had been right, except in the small detail that Randy was the center, not the quarterback. Ironically, he was also reputed to have bagged more girls than any other guy in school. Maybe, he'd just run out of girls and moved on to whatever he could find. But, the look was unmistakable.

Facing the opposite direction from everyone else, she saw the door to the gym open up and Thule come flying out before anyone else did. Elliot saw him next. Having been restrained away from Marigold, he now darted in the opposite direction, evading everyone who was trying to hold him. Thule was looking only at Marigold, concern etched on his face. Elliot blindsided him, slamming him into the glass door to the gym, which spiderwebbed behind him. His fingers were around Thule's throat before he could react.

Marigold lost track of the action, then. The team scattered, half running to pull Elliot off of Thule, the other half running to help her. Soon, a dozen hands were helping to her feet, nearly half as many voices asking if she was all right. She said she was all right. She just wanted to sit down. Really, what she wanted was to see what happened to Thule.

By the time they had cleared away, the action on the gym steps was mostly over. Thule was leaning against the wall, blood dripping from his nose. Elliot was down on the ground, clutching his groin and being screamed at by the coach. If there were words in the tirade, she couldn't make them out.

Thule stood upright and staggered over to her. She staggered a few steps and fell into his arms. He held her, keeping her upright, even though he seemed to be swaying a little bit himself.

"Are you all right?" he asked, "Did he hurt you badly?"

She nodded. Thule, finding the answer too ambiguous, began to do a thorough, hands-on search of all of her vital areas. Satisfied, he said, "Well, I suspect you're going to have to engage in some hickey-hiding measures for a few days, but you look okay."

"Hickey-hiding?" she stared at her reflection in a rear-view mirror. Angry, red marks showed where Elliot's fingers had dug into her flesh. "Oh, God." She started to cry. Thule held her, stroking her hair. When she finally looked up, the coach was standing close by, maintaining a slight distance. She cleared her throat to Thule, who looked like he was about to kiss her.

"Thule, Marigold," the coach said quietly, "I need to go and talk to the team. But, I want to talk to you two as well. I'd really appreciate it if you'd head over to The Spoon and wait for me, there. I'll cover breakfast and make sure you two are excused from your classes until we can talk. All that I ask is you not discuss what just happened with anyone until we've had a chance to talk about it."

Thule nodded, "Sure, coach," he said, "We'll meet you there."

The coach nodded grimly, "You ever get a chance to run anymore, Bart?"

Thule smiled shyly, "Not as often as I'd like, Coach."

The coach nodded remorsefully. Then, he headed back inside.

"Come on," said Thule, escorting her to his car.

"What's the Spoon?" Marigold asked.

"It's the diner everyone goes to when they cut class. The booths are floor-to-ceiling so that nobody can really see who else is there," said Thule.

Marigold put her hands on her hips, "And how do you know that?"

Thule grinned mischievously, "Having good grades means that people expect you to behave like someone with good grades. From time to time, I have cut out of a class that wasn't going to be useful to me. Teachers always assume that it's because I'm doing something worthwhile."

He started to head around his car to the driver's side, but she stopped him, "Thule?"

He turned around, "Yes, my little flower?"

"Come hold me," she said, "There's something I want to tell you and I don't want to lose the nerve."

He did as she asked. She held him tight.

"Thule," she whispered into his shirtfront, "I love you. I don't want to lose you when I go away to Harvard. I want to be yours forever. I love you, Thule."

He looked down at her a long time, his expression unreadable. When she couldn't deny that he wasn't answering, she tried to escape his arms. He let her go.

"Marigold," he said evenly, "I'm not done punishing you. You still have a lot to answer for. I'm going to do a lot of things to you and make you do a lot of things that a man in love would never even consider. I...I can't even think about love right now. If I let myself fall in love with you, it would complicate things too much. By the time this summer is over, you may genuinely hate my guts. Let's put the question of love off until then."

She nodded mutely, overwhelmed by the conflicting emotions that washed over her. Disappointment, embarrassment, and a feeling halfway between queasy and aroused that hit when he told her he would do things to her that a man in love would never consider. But, she was also certain that she would still love him at the end of the summer and that he did now and would still love her, too. There was no reason to fight about it. He would find out soon enough on his own.

===

At the Spoon, over breakfast and coffee, Marigold asked, "What did the coach mean when he asked if you were still running?" The question that was really burning in her mind was, "What are you going to make me do?" but she knew it would get no answer.

"Freshman year," he said between bites of sausage, "I was on the track team, at least until my father died."

She looked incredulous, "You were a jock?"

"Not exactly," he shrugged, "I was on the track team and a kicker for the football team. But, I was already known for my grades and my computer acumen, so I never really got much acceptance. The jocks tolerated me because I was good at the sports I played. None of the others entirely trusted me because I was a jock. When my dad died, I had to go to work to help make ends meet."

"That's a shame," said Marigold, "Do you think you might run again in college?"

"MIT doesn't have much of a track team," he said by way of answer.

"MIT?" she asked, "You're going to MIT?"

"If the financing comes in," he answered, "I've got enough put away for about two years. I've got a few irons in the fire to try to raise the rest."

"Hey," said the coach walking over, "I'm glad you two could come." He slid into the booth. Marigold slid around so that her thigh was lightly pressed against Thule's.

Unbidden, the waitress brought him a cup of coffee and asked him a few questions salient to his job. It was clear, as he answered, that he had something heavy weighing on his mind.

Once they were alone, he leaned in, speaking without preamble, "I want to make a deal with you two."

Thule didn't put his fork down, "I'm listening."

"I don't know exactly what happened in the parking lot," said the coach, "but I'd like for all of us to keep it under wraps. You know how the administration is. If they get wind of this, they'll end up taking action against everyone involved. I need my guys for the rest of the year. We're teetering on the edge of a record season. You two don't want to get suspended for being involved in that dust-up."

"I don't know," said Thule, "I could use a few days off. I've already got my acceptance letters. Doesn't seem like I'm getting much from the deal."

The coach looked consternated, "Does your girlfriend feel the same way?"

"I think my girlfriend," Thule put heavy emphasis on the word, "would like to see that cocksucker in jail. He tried to kill her."

Marigold felt a pleasant frisson at being called Thule's girlfriend.

The coach raised his hands, "I really don't think we want to bring the cops into this and neither do you. You may have done permanent damage to Elliot when you kicked him."

Thule took a prolonged sip of coffee, savoring it, "I'm sure the whole team will be very disappointed to find out that Elliot's dick doesn't work any more. At least I didn't touch his mouth."

"Christ on a Cracker, Bart," exploded the coach, "Don't fuck with me. If you weren't going to consider hushing this up, you wouldn't be here. You're too much of a chess player to do otherwise. What else do you want besides my silence in return?"

Now, Thule leaned forward, "Some guys on the team are going to be really pissed over this. They could make my life very difficult if they chose to. Tell them Mari and I are off limits or you'll be very disappointed."

"Already done," said the coach, "They'll do what I tell them."

"Confirm or deny the following rumors," said Thule, "The incident with Jenny Collins, Greg Walters' cocaine bust, the visiting cheerleader in the locker room last year, and the nature of the relationship between Elliot and Randy Vandevoort. And, I want to know if there's any hard evidence against Vandevoort for any of the many rumors floating around him."

"Why?" asked the coach, "If I give you all of that information, you could use it to ruin us anyway."

"You have my word I won't make any of the information public until the all-state season is over."

The coach sighed, "You're not putting me in an easy situation here, Bart."

"You?" asked Thule, "I've spent four years in the monkey house with these animals. Walters is going to be a cop. Vandevoort's practically got a judgeship lined up already and he's still in high school. A lot of these bastards aren't going to forget me after high school, long after they're out of your benevolent purview."

"Everything you heard about Jenny Collins was true," said the Coach, "You were already off of the team at the time, so I stonewalled you like everybody else. Vandevoort instigated that one and they kept that poor girl at that cabin for like a week, then paid her off big time to keep her mouth shut. Walters took a fall for Vandevoort on that cocaine bust. It was Vandevoort who dragged that cheerleader into the locker room, too. His folks paid her off, too, not as much. As for him and Elliot, if they're not, it's only a matter of time. He'll fuck anything that moves. They spent two weeks together on Block Island last summer in a little bed and breakfast. They bragged about sharing some girls, but I think more than that went on."

Marigold's stomach dropped. She hadn't really allowed herself to believe that Elliot could really do those things with another man, even after she'd seen the look. But, the idea that he'd been doing other women behind her back made her equally nauseous. She clung to Thule for physical support.

"I've got a few documents," said the coach, "linking Vandevoort to some of these things, but it's not enough. His family would buy his way out of it, hire lawyers to crush it. But, if you want it, it's yours."

"Christ, Coach," said Thule, "Why are you protecting this guy?"

The coach sputtered on his coffee, "I'm not. If I could get something concrete on him, he'd be behind bars. But, I can't go up against the Vandevoorts with what I've got. I'd end up with my dick in my hand."

"One last thing," said Thule, "clear it with the school nurse that Mari and I went home today. We were sick or something. There are some things we need to do."

===

Marigold, who had never cut so much as a class, was grateful to be leaving for the day before she ever got to class. She was still badly shaken from the fight in the parking lot and what she had learned subsequently.

"I can't believe all these things go on in our high school," she exclaimed as Thule drove towards his house, "I never heard any of it. Jenny Collins was in our class. I was friends with her. All that I knew was that she moved away because her dad lost his job."

"We go to school with some very powerful people, little flower," said Thule comfortingly, "That much power should never be put in the hands of children. Children are monsters."

She fell silent after that. When Thule looked over again, tears were rolling down her cheeks.

"Mari, what's the matter?" Thule asked.

"Thule, what's wrong with me?" she asked, misery clear in her voice, "I suspected Elliot didn't like sex for years. I was so relieved to hear he was more interested in boys than girls. But, then to hear that he was fucking some girls on Block Island while I thought he was away at basketball camp. Why, in the last five years, has he never tried to touch me?"

He pulled into his driveway, turning off the car, "I have a theory, if you would like to hear it."

She nodded.

"Would you have let him share you with Randy Vandevoort?"

She sat up straight, "Of course not! I'm not a whore."

He raised an eyebrow at her. She flushed crimson. Before she could amend the statement, he went on, "To Elliot, you've always been a nice, Christian girl, the girl he was going to marry. He needed girls who could serve a specific role, one that you weren't ready for."

"He fucked around behind my back because he had too much respect for me?"

"Do you have a better theory?" he asked.

She didn't. He led her inside, took her into the kitchen.

"Take off your shirt, leave your bra on," he said peremptorily.

She did as she was told, but asked in a quavering voice, "Thule, don't you like my breasts?"

"I love your breasts," said Thule, "if we have time later, I may fuck them. Right now, though, I want to help you clean up those bruises before they get really ugly."

As they sat and chatted, Thule peeled and sliced potatoes and dropped them into a basin of cold water. Soon, he took a cloth, soaked it in the water, and told her to hold it to her neck where the finger marks were. She did as she was told. The whole time, they talked about inconsequential matters. Marigold was amazed by how happy that made her. For a while, she even forgot that she was being blackmailed into being his whore or that he'd suddenly become so important in her life in spite of that.

After an hour and several cloths, he allowed her to look in the mirror. The bruises had already begun to fade from the ugly purplish-yellow they'd turned.

"They should be gone in a day or two," he said, "For now, they really do look like hickeys. Now," he added, "come into my bedroom."

Marigold quavered at the tone in his voice. As he led her back to his room, she took the opportunity to look around the house. It wasn't as small as she'd expected it to be. It was also meticulously neat. The only thing that made it feel cramped were the books jammed in wall-to-wall. The whole house looked a bit like a public library.

"Watch your step," he said as he led her into his room. The curtains were drawn in here and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. When they did, she realized that, interspersed with the books were more than a dozen computers of a bewildering variety. Monitors flickered in every corner of the room.

"What do you need with all of these computers?" she asked.

"Each one has its use," he answered cryptically. As I upgrade, I rarely want to decommission what I've been doing before, so they sort of accumulate."

He picked up a camera from his desk, "Put your shirt back on and get on the bed," he ordered.

She looked alarmed, "Are you going to take pictures?"

"Yes," he said.

"Are you going to show them to anyone?"

"Eventually," he answered, "probably."

She hesitated, started to argue.

"All right," he said, as if relenting, "Why don't I take you home, then?"

"What?" she asked, "Why?"

"You don't seem to want to live up to your end of the bargain. I should take you home."

"I'll do whatever you want, Thule," she whispered, "but please, no pictures."

He shrugged, "No pictures, then. Let's get you home."

"No," she said, panicking, "Please. It's okay. Take all the pictures you want."

She burned with shame as he ordered her to take her clothes off one by one. Once she was naked, he made her assume a number of poses that brought tears of shame to her eyes. There was nothing merciful or loving about him now. She felt like a complete whore. But, as time went by, she came to accept that what she was doing was coerced out of her by his orders. She wasn't a whore. He ordered her to be a whore and she was forced to comply. That realization made it much easier.

She was just beginning to enjoy the freedom of being forced to behave like a whore when Thule said, "Put your fingers between your legs and touch yourself."

"No!" she said, involuntarily. He frowned at her and didn't speak. She knew that arguing would do no good. All he would do was agree and offer to take her home. Instead, she said, "I don't think I can get aroused like this. It's too awkward."

Reaching into his closet, he pulled out a tripod with a video camera on it, "Leave that to me."

The camera set up, he came over and sat behind her, spreading his legs so that she was between them. His hands reached up around her and gentle cupped her breasts, fondling and stroking them. He kissed the side of her neck with no marks on it. She shivered and moaned a little.

"Touch yourself," he whispered. She did, but the pleasure had drained away into embarrassment again. His hands on her failed to elicit more than a tepid response. Then, he leaned forward and began to explain, in great detail, what he was going to do to her, what he had done to her already, and the myriad possibilities of what he could make her do if he wanted. She continued to touch herself, soon forgetting the camera, forgetting that it was wrong to enjoy it so much, spiraling into pleasure from his touch, his warm breath, and his words.

"I could share you with Randall Vandevoort," he growled in her ear, "his cock in your sweet, innocent pussy, mine ramming in and out of your ass."

She wanted to protest, but the image hit her strongly between the eyes and she came, hard, unable to control or slow the pleasure, even as she stopped touching herself. She started to cry at the depths of her own depravity. Thule may be forcing her to masturbate for the camera, but the reaction to his words had been all hers. He knelt up onto his knees behind her, holding her chin with one hand, unzipping his pants with the other.

She tried to turn to suck his cock, but he held her in place, not letting go of her chin. Instead, he rubbed his swollen organ in her hair, trailed it down her spine. She moaned at the feel of it, absurdly erotic. When it got to be over her tailbone, he pushed her down on her face. She sprawled in front of him. He mounted her, slapping the backs and insides of her thighs with his cock. Then, he rubbed it against the lips of her pussy, not entering her, only teasing her. She moaned at the pleasure and frustration of it. She felt his precum and her juices mixing. She tried to position herself in such a way that he would slide into her, but he had her pinned good. She could only squirm, which seemed to turn them both on all the more, as did her squeals of protest.

Then, he took his cock and pressed it against the other entrance to her flesh. Even pinned under his superior weight, she made a good show of struggling against it. But, he pushed a small fraction of the head into her, holding her open. The pain was exquisite, tinged with pleasure. She shuddered at it.

"Stop fighting it," he growled. She complied out of instinct now.

"I own you," he purred in her ear, "If I want to fuck your tight, tiny little asshole right here and now, it's my right. Don't you agree?"

She closed her eyes, said a little, silent prayer. Still, he was there, unrelenting. She nodded her head, "Yes," she whispered, "I'm your tethered goddess. Rape me. Shame me. Kill me if you want. I am yours."

He chuckled throatily against her ear and drove his cock against her so that she now gripped the whole of it with her sphincter. She trembled with the effort of not fighting it as he pulled it out, then stuck it back in, only the tip. She moaned at it. There was too much pain and fear involved here for her to come or even for the pleasure to become dominant.

He pulled away, "Lay on your back," he ordered, "with your legs towards the camera. Touch yourself."

She did as she was told now, stroking herself to greater heights of pleasure. Compared to being sodomized in front of the camera, there was hardly any shame in this at all. Soon, she was moaning and trembling.

"Don't stop," he said as he straddled her stomach. He took his cock and placed it between her breasts, holding them together with his hands. Soon, she realized, he was doing as he had threatened to before. He was fucking her breasts. It felt good, but more importantly, it felt absurd. Once she got a visual of it, she started giggling. Then, she couldn't stop. He glared down at her. That made it worse. Now, the giggles had turned into guffaws. She was afraid that he would be really angry. But, a moment later, he was giggling too. He rolled over onto his back, laughing out loud now.

"I'm sorry," she gasped, "it just seemed so silly."

He hugged her and kissed the top of her head, "It seemed silly to me too. I'd just never done it before. I thought I'd give it a try, but it is pretty damned silly."

She hugged him back, pressing her face into the curly hair on his chest.

"Thule," she asked him earnestly, "Can I suck it, please?"

"Yes," said Thule, still chuckling, "I think you'd better."

She slid down his body, rubbing her stomach, her diaphragm, her cleavage over the end of his cock as she went. He moaned and arched his back as she went and she smiled at the power of it. With little, catlike licks, she began to cover the whole cock. He moaned harder and thrashed a little. She began sucking the end of it, licking it at the same time. He was making animal noises now. She took most of it into her mouth now, licking and sucking, working up and down the shaft. It seemed like a long time before he came this time, but she reveled in the sounds she was able to elicit from him. Finally, he grabbed the back of her head, drove his cock into her throat, and came in great gouts. After she had licked him clean, she lay back on the bed, smiling to herself, no longer caring that the camera ran.

===

By the time she and Thule pulled up outside her house, Marigold could see that the angry, red marks on her neck had faded to a pinkish brown. But, they were still quite visible and still very definitely finger shaped.

Looking in the mirror on her visor, she felt herself starting to hyperventilate, "Thule, the bruises are still there."

Thule looked at her, annoyance flickering over his features, "Of course they're still there. It's potato water, not magical hickey-be-gone juice."

"It's not a hickey," Marigold answered emphatically, "Thule, do you know what kind of girls get hickeys?"

"Are they better or worse girls than the ones whose closet-case boyfriends try to strangle them to death?"

She felt the anger rise in her. Strangely, she still wanted to defend Elliot against accusations of homosexuality. Changing directions mid-thought, the best she could come up with was, "Yes!"

Thule raised his eyebrow in a look she now recognized as sardonic amusement, "Why?"

"I," Marigold felt herself getting flustered, "It's because...I don't know," she blurted, "Maybe they're not. Forget I said anything."

"No," said Thule, "I want to explore this line of thought a bit further. Why are girls who get hickeys so bad?"

"Please, Thule," she whispered, "My parents are going to start wondering why I'm spending so much time in the car with you."

"Your parents don't come to the window when you get home from school. You told me yourself. Of course, if you're really worried, you should answer quickly."

"I..." she realized that further protest wouldn't help and would just prolong things, "It's cheap."

"Slutty?" Thule asked. She nodded.

"Would you say that girls who get hickeys are whores?" he insisted.

"Thule, what are you getting at?" she asked, annoyed. He didn't answer, just stared her down. Forced to go on, she said, "I guess."

"So," he asked, "What are you?"

"What?"

"How are you better than them?"

"I...I've been forced."

"Forced?"

"Coerced, then. I'm not doing it by choice. I'm being blackmailed."

"So, you're not a whore?"

"No. I'm more like a....prisoner."

"Really?"

There was a coldness in his voice that made her shiver.

"Didn't you just tell me you loved me and wanted to keep me forever?"

"Yes," she said, feeling trapped, "But, I love you, not what you make me do. What you make me do makes me feel dirty..."

"Cheap?" He asked. She nodded. "Like a whore?" he asked, his voice a rasp now. She nodded again.

"So, you're just a good, Christian girl who loves a man who makes her feel like a whore even though she's not a whore because she's forced by this man she loves?"

"Well," she said, smiling a little, "When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous."

"My little flower, what is a whore?"

She was crying now, trying to formulate an answer that would end the questioning. Mercifully, he answered his own question, "A whore is someone who has sex so that she can get something out of it, like money. Would you agree?"

She nodded.

"And why do you let me do the things I do to you?" The question hit her like a splash of cold water. Her eyes flew open and she stared at him. His eyes were cold and probing.

"What do you want me to say, Thule? That I'm a whore."

"I want you to tell me the truth."

"Do you want me to be a whore?" she asked, her voice rising a little.

"I can't make you a whore." He answered simply

She started crying freely now, tears rolling down her cheeks. Thule reached out his arms, wrapping them around her, drawing her in. She clung to him miserably.

"Thule," she asked, "Why do you want me to be a whore?"

She didn't expect an answer, but he kissed the top of her head, "Because, little flower, until you accept that you are a whore, you'll never accept that you're my whore."

She trembled against him, "I love you, Thule."

He pet her hair, "I thought you hated me."

She nodded against his chest, "That too."

He held her for a long time. Finally, he said, "They're going to start wondering what we're doing out here."

Part of her wanted to say to let them, wanted the whole masquerade to be over, to acknowledge what was going on. Let them throw her out, refuse to pay for college. She'd....well, she didn't know what she'd do, but she'd figure out something. Thule would take care of her. Instead, she detached herself and began to clean up. In the past few days, she'd gotten very adept at hiding the ravages of strong emotion and its effects on her body.

As she was reapplying her makeup, she asked, "Thule, what am I going to tell my parents about the marks on my neck?"

"Tell them the truth," he shrugged, "Not all of it, of course. But, tell them that Elliot got jealous of you spending time with your friends and got so mad that he choked you."

"But, they love Elliot. They'll never believe me."

"Marigold, your step-father's a Jesus freak, but he's also a very smart guy. He can't be completely blind to Elliot's flaws, even if you were. Remember. They love you, too. Sell it to them and they'll believe it."

She looked at him. Her face was all made up again. Except for a light flush under her tanned skin, no one would guess she had just been crying.

"Thule," she asked, her voice quavering, "Call me a whore again."

To her surprise, he didn't ask questions. He just leaned his head near hers. His voice was hot on her ear, "You're a whore," he growled, "a filthy, slutty whore. You love what I do to you and beg for more."

She nodded. Her whole body had tensed up when he said it, shaking in the intensity of the conflicting emotions that she felt. She thought about it. She was a whore. Thule could torment her, rape her, and degrade her and she would just come crawling back for more. Fat tears started rolling down her cheeks.

"Hey," said Thule, "You're messing up your makeup again."

"I know," she whispered and pulled away. Dabbing ineffectually at her face, she asked, "How do I look?"

"A mess," said Thule.

"Good," she said bouncily. Then, while his mouth was still hanging open with surprise, she leaned in to kiss him, hard on the mouth and, before he could recover, was out of the car and up the path.

===

Marigold paused at the door. Reflected in the outer glass, her eyes were red-rimmed, puffy, and freshly smeared. Her cheeks were flushed. Only her hair was too neat. She pulled a few, choice strands out of place, took a deep breath, and went inside.

"Oh, good," said her mother when the door opened, "You're home on time."

"Hi," she said shyly, holding her head forward so that her hair covered her face and neck, "I'll be right back." She accelerated towards the steps going upstairs.

"Marigold," asked her stepfather sounding alarmed, "Is something wrong."

"No," she said. While she doubted she would be able to cry on cue, she was pleased to hear her voice crack in the middle of the word.

"Marigold," Jonas said, concern in his voice now. She broke for the stairs now, running up them to her room, then slamming the door, which flew back open from the impact, and throwing herself face down on her bed.

"I'm a whore," she thought to herself, "A dirty whore. I love what Thule does to me." To her horror, she didn't start crying as she expected, but grinned broadly.

Casting about for something to think about that could make her cry, she settled on, "I'm never going to be able to marry Elliot. He's in love with Randy Vandevoort." Now, instead of crying, she started laughing silently, her whole body shaking with barely contained mirth.

She felt weight on the bed. Elliot put his hands on her shoulders, "Marigold," he said gently, "why are you crying?"

She managed to calm herself before she started laughing out loud and blew her cover, "I'm not crying," she said desperately.

Jonas pulled her into a hug, wrapping his arms around her from behind. She felt a deep pang of shame. He was not a physically demonstrative man. She felt awful about getting such a strong response through deception.

"What happened," Jonas asked, "Please, Marigold. You can tell me."

"I found out today that when Elliot said he was at football camp last year, he was really on Block Island with Randy Vandevoort. And, I found out the two of them had sex with some slut and we got in a big fight and he tried to strangle me." The words all came out in a rush. Strictly speaking, they were all true. She turned to face him, making sure he could see the marks on her neck.

Jonas didn't speak for what seemed like a long time. Finally, he said in a low voice, "I'll kill him."

Marigold could not have been more shocked. Her mellow, Christian, milquetoast stepfather had stepped so far out of character, she would have been less surprised to see Mr. Rogers slap a child.

"Sir," she said, stunned and somewhat stern.

Jonas closed his eyes and rubbed his hands on his face. A groan of frustration came from behind them.

"Sorry, Pumpkin," he said, "I lost myself there for a moment. Of course, that's not the Christian thing to say...or do. I just need a second."

He sat for a moment and bowed his head, mouthing a silent prayer. Finally, he said, "Did the school expel him?"

"No," said Marigold, already anticipating the next question, "The administration doesn't know."

"Why not?" asked Jonas.

"Thule came to my rescue," she said, stretching the truth near the point of breaking, "He hurt Elliot pretty bad. If the administration started handing out expulsions, they might expel him too. And, he's worked so hard and been accepted to M.I.T."

Jonas gave her a hard, appraising look, "It sounds like you took my advice and started spending more time with Bartholomew."

She nodded, afraid her voice might betray her, "I think I might even be able to get him to come to church."

Jonas chuckled, "I thought the same thing for years. But, maybe being asked by a pretty girl will help."

Her smile was genuine. Jonas had called her pretty. What planet had she woken up on today?

"All right," Jonas said, chuckling, "you and Bartholomew graduate and go to the colleges you've worked so hard for. In the mean time, I'll try to find it in my heart to forgive Elliot. If I can't forgive him by graduation," his eyes grew steely and intense, "then I'll kill him."


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