It took all the willpower Emberlynn could muster to walk through the front doors of the school the next morning. Part of her had wanted to feign sickness and stay home, but she knew there would be no point. All it would do would prolong the inevitable. Why drag it out any longer than she had to?
Emberlynn could feel her classmates’ eyes on her from the moment she entered the building, and she knew it wasn’t in her head — the stares and whispers followed her throughout the entire school day. There was no escape.
Of course, she was far from the only one being stared at. Every single girl in her grade was being gawked at and spoken about in hurried whispers… And not just by the guys either. Even the girls seemed to be sizing each other up as they passed one another in the hall.
It had become some sort of sick guessing game — who was it in that picture? Which girl was skanky enough to share a picture of herself like that?
It was all Emberlynn could do not to burst into tears at every cruel comment she overheard throughout the day. What right did any of them have to judge her for what she’d done?! It was HER body. She could do what she wanted. Why weren’t they instead gossiping about the scummy asshole who had violated her like that?! Why weren’t they trying to guess who’d been heartless enough to share that picture with everyone at school?
THAT was the person they should be judging, not her!
And speaking of that scumbag… Emberlynn made it a point to not even glance in Trent or Serenity’s direction all day, much as it killed her not to. The last thing she wanted to do was cause a scene and out herself in front of her classmates, and there was no telling how she would react upon facing them. She couldn’t do it yet. Not publicly, anyway.
Instead, Emberlynn kept to herself for most of the day, sitting with Zelda during lunch and trying to be as natural and casual as she could with everyone else she came in contact with. It felt like she was walking on eggshells all day long, trying not to tip anyone off that it was her in the picture.
At one point, she’d even ended up dragged into a conversation in the hallway with a few classmates, wondering whose boobs had been put on display. Emberlynn hated having to take part in the gossip, but she knew she had to say something. If she didn’t, that would simply incriminate herself.
“I bet it was Serenity Ziegler.” Emberlynn had proclaimed loudly, taking a sick sort of satisfaction in trying to spread some of her embarrassment to Serenity. “She’d TOTALLY do something like that.”
Unfortunately, her classmates pointed out that Serenity didn’t have the right complexion, and her chest seemed considerably larger than what the picture showed, and they moved on to other lines of speculation.
It was torture trying to make it through the school day. Emberlynn could barely eat anything at lunch, and paying attention during her classes was impossible. She was much too busy imagining all the horrible, violent things she wished she could do to the Ziegler twins for revenge, and listening intently for any indication that the truth had come out.
The closest call came shortly after lunch, when Emberlynn happened upon Dominick talking with his friend in the hallway.
“Hey, so I know you and Rosebrook dated for a while…” His friend said with a grin. “And you’ve seen that picture, right?”
Dominick nodded, his expression impossible to read.
“Well, what d’you think?” The other boy continued. “Me and Paul are totally betting it’s her.”
Emberlynn completely froze as these words reached her ears — Though she and Dominick had not been together for long, he had seen her breasts several times. Did he recognize them? Would he expose her to the entire school?
To her immense relief, Dominick shook his head. “Nah… I don’t think so.” He replied with a small shrug.
For one fleeting instant, it almost seemed as though he’d cast a glance in her direction, but Emberlynn turned away before she could be sure. Whether he’d truly not recognized her or was covering for her, she could not be sure. But either way, the gratitude and relief she felt was the only thing that managed to get her through the rest of the day.
When her last class finally came to an end that afternoon, Emberlynn headed out into the hallway to check her phone, which she was certain she had felt vibrate sometime in the middle of her teacher’s lecture. And sure enough, she saw that someone had sent her a text.
For a moment, she hoped that it would be from Jace — his encouraging words from the day before had suddenly given way to complete silence. He no longer responded to any of her messages, and every time she’d tried approaching them in the hallway that day, he’d given her small shakes of his head and then turned on his heel to vanish out of sight.
Emberlynn was hoping to find some kind of message apologizing or explaining his odd behavior.
Instead, to her horror, it was a text from Serenity — ‘Meet me out back after school. Alone.’
Part of her almost wanted to refuse Serenity’s request, just to spite her. But Emberlynn had been looking for the chance to confront Serenity and her brother privately all day, hadn’t she? This could finally be it.
And so, despite the unpleasant knot in her stomach and lack of any idea of what she would say or do, Emberlynn did as Serenity asked. She hung back a bit while the other students headed home before finally making her way to the back of the building, out of sight from the rest of her classmates.
As promised, Serenity was there waiting for her. And she wasn’t alone.
Seeing Trent standing there, looking so happy and smug set something off in Emberlynn’s mind. All the pain and betrayal she’d been holding inside of her came bursting forth at the sight of him.
Before she even realized what she was doing, Emberlynn had rushed forward, shoving against Trent’s chest with all her might. He barely even flinched.
“How could you?!” She shrieked, before giving him a second shove. Emberlynn could already feel her tears falling, despite her best efforts to hold them back. “I trusted you! I thought — I thought —“ She struggled for a moment to find the right words, and quickly gave up. “FUCK YOU!”
To her surprise, Trent actually looked as though her words had upset him a bit. “Hey, come on… You’re making this a WAY bigger deal than it has to be, okay?”
Before Emberlynn could reply, a second voice reached her ears. “Yeah, just chill. Don’t wanna draw any more attention to yourself, do you?” Serenity was smirking cruelly at her as she spoke.
In her anger at Trent, Emberlynn had almost forgotten that his sister was standing there. She readied herself to lunge at Serenity, prepared to lash out and strike her the way she had with Trent.
Emberlynn had barely taken one step toward her when Serenity lifted her cellphone, waving it almost teasingly in Emberlynn’s direction before returning it to her pocket. “Are you sure you wanna do that?” She asked in an almost threatening tone. “Hit me too hard, and my finger might just slip and send out the real version of that picture to everybody…”
Emberlynn froze in her tracks as more tears fell down her cheeks. She hated herself for crying in front of them. This was exactly what they wanted. She felt so exposed and betrayed… Words suddenly failed her. So instead, she simply stared dumbly at the two people she now hated more than anyone else in the world, waiting for one of them to break the silence.
“Ha! Wow… that was too easy.” Serenity laughed shrilly, clearly pleased that her threat had worked. “This is gonna be fun.”
Trent rolled his eyes. “Jesus, Ren, would it kill you to lay off a little?”
His words helped Emberlynn find both her voice and her fire once more. “Oh, YOU’RE one to talk about ‘laying off’! You tricked me just to get that stupid picture and give it to your sister!” She cried angrily, her eyes suddenly flicking back to Serenity. “I get it… This is about Jace, isn’t it?” There was no point in denying it. Obviously Serenity had found out about them. It was the only explanation.
“And you were in on it the whole time!” Emberlynn turned her attention back toward Trent now. “You seriously went through ALL that trouble just to help your sister get revenge? That’s… That’s fucked! W-who the hell does that?!” She spluttered. “What, do guys have some kind of fucked up Lannister thing going on?!”
Judging by their reactions, neither of them knew what she was talking about. But Trent shook his head slowly at her words. “It wasn’t JUST for the picture. I like you, Emberlynn. You’re fun, you’re hot, you like messing around…” His lips curled into a smile. “Why else do you think I asked you to sit with us in the first place? I wanted to get to know you better.”
Serenity shook her head almost sadly. “I knew it was a bad idea… But I let myself fall for it. I thought you could be one of us… I had no idea you were a filthy, backstabbing bitch.” She spat. “I TOLD you to stay away from Jace! And then you went behind my back!”
“I know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.” Emberlynn replied, and part of her actually meant it. “It was wrong.”
“Yeah, no shit.” Serenity sighed heavily. “It took a while to figure out how I was gonna get you back… And it was torture pretending I didn’t know what a two-faced slut you were. I almost flipped when my horndog brother decided he wanted a turn with you too.” She smiled almost wickedly as she spoke, her anger suddenly melting away. “But that ended up working to my advantage… I told him to ask you for a picture, and I knew there was no way you’d say no.”
Emberlynn did not immediately reply. This was like one of those cheesy scenes in superhero movies, where the villain stood there, monologuing and outlining all the details of their evil plan while the hero used the distraction to figure out their grand escape.
Except this was so much worse, because unlike those superheroes, Emberlynn had no idea how she was going to get out of this one.
“So you just went along with it?” She demanded, glaring at Trent. “You knew what she was gonna do with that picture, and you let me send it anyway?!”
He shrugged. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything. And after what you did with Jace, it seemed pretty fair to me.”
“FAIR?! Are you fucking kidding me?!”
“Hey, you should be thanking me, Emberlynn.” Trent replied seriously. “Ren wasn’t gonna cover your face. She was gonna basically ruin you. That was her plan. I was the one who talked her into editing it first. It could’ve been WAY worse.” He assured her, as though this somehow made everything okay. “As long as you play along with Ren’s little game or whatever, nobody’s ever gonna know it was you. No harm done. Just think of this as like… a warning or something, I guess?”
Emberlynn stared at him for a moment, wide-eyed. Was he for real?! ‘No harm done’?! He seriously didn’t see how horrible this whole thing was?! “A ‘warning’?! This isn’t a WARNING!” She cried. “This is a BETRAYAL! Like, a super fucked-up one! It doesn’t matter if people know it’s me or not! This is HUMILIATING for me! How can you talk about this like it’s okay?! ”
Trent shrugged. “Well, to be fair, if you wanna talk about betrayals… What would you call fucking Serenity’s ex behind her back?”
“Are you serious?! You can’t compare that to this!”
“You’re right.” Serenity’s shrill voice spoke once more. “What you did was way worse. Maybe I SHOULD have shared the original picture after all…”
“What? No! No, that’s not what I meant!” Emberlynn cried almost desperately. “I fucked up. Really bad. And I’m sorry. But now we’re even, right? There’s no reason to keep, like… like dragging it out. It’s okay now. I… I learned my lesson.” It was humiliating to submit to Serenity like this. But what else could she do? If the unedited picture ever got out, her life as she knew it would be over.
“Nice try… But I don’t think so.” Serenity replied with a smirk. “I’ll be holding on to that picture as… insurance.”
Emberlynn narrowed her eyes at her. “You mean blackmail, don’t you?”
The other girl simply shrugged, the satisfied smirk still not leaving her face.
“You can’t do that!” Emberlynn felt the panic beginning to rise in her chest once more. “That… That picture. It’s… it’s child porn basically, isn’t it?” She hated referring to herself as a ‘child’, but she knew that in the eyes of the law, that’s what she was. “You can both go to jail for spreading it around!”
For a moment, a flicker of panic seemed to flash across both twins’ eyes. It was Serenity who recovered first. “Mm… Maybe. But that’d mean telling your parents, wouldn’t it? Imagine what Mama and Papa would think if they knew what kind of pictures their precious little girl was sending around!” The smile had returned to Serenity’s lips. “Go ahead. Tell them. I dare you.”
Fuck. Serenity had called her bluff. She knew just as well as Emberlynn did that there was no way she could ever tell her parents about this. She’d sooner die than do that.
The look on Emberlynn’s face seemed to be all the confirmation Serenity needed.
“So, Emberlynn… Here’s what’s going to happen.” She took a few steps toward her as she spoke. “If you so much as LOOK at Jace ever again, the full picture gets sent to everybody. He’s already gotten his warning, so consider this yours. Do you understand?”
Both Serenity and her brother seemed to be eyeing her expectantly, waiting for a reply.
Emberlynn had begun to cry again. She said nothing, but gave the tiniest of nods.
“Good. And I expect you on your best behavior… You do anything to piss me off, you refuse to do anything I ask you to do, and the whole school gets to see you for what you really are. From now on, you’re mine.”
She remained silent and still, wanting nothing more than to retaliate, to fight back. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t do anything. Not if she didn’t want her reputation ruined forever.
Thankfully, Serenity seemed to take Emberlynn’s silence as agreement, and did not push it any further. “Perfect. Glad we’re on the same page… See you around, Emberlynn.” With one last cruel smile, Serenity finally turned and walked away.
Trent hesitated before following, pausing to speak to Emberlynn first. For a moment, he almost looked guilty. “Look, I’m sorry it ended up like this, okay? Maybe we took this whole ‘revenge’ thing too far, I dunno. But it’s seriously not as big of a deal as you think it is. No one’s gonna recognize you…” His smile slowly returned to his face. “Plus, that pic’s pretty damn hot. What’s wrong with showing it off a little?”
Emberlynn felt like she was going to be sick. “Fuck you, Trent.” She whispered.
He seemed completely unfazed by her words. “I know you’re mad now, but just play along with her shit ‘til it all blows over, and you’ll probably forget this whole thing ever happened. It’ll be fine.”
But Emberlynn was certain that nothing in her life had ever felt less ‘fine’. In fact, she doubted anything would ever feel ‘fine’ ever again. She’d been horribly humiliated, and now, she was being used. It was just like Serenity had said — she basically owned her now, armed with the perfect ammunition to keep her under her control and make her life a living hell.
And Emberlynn was completely powerless to stop it.