Shortly before 7 a.m. Saturday
Andy Drayton pulled his 10-year-old Saturn up to the gate and glanced at his passenger.
"You're home," he said as he gently shook the girl awake. "Are you going to be alright?"
Regan Riley rubbed her eyes and looked out the windshield. The sun could just be seen over the house. She was certain her parents were awake. They had probably been awakened by a frantic phone call from Clairborne Benedict Prep. But maybe not yet.
"What time is it?" she asked the driver.
"A quarter til 7," he replied. "Are you ready for this?"
Regan sighed deeply.
"Not so much," she said. "I'm in an absolute ton of shit. Hey, thanks for bringing me all the way out here. That was really nice of you."
"Come on," Andy said with a smile. "Like I was going to leave my pretend girlfriend stuck in the city in the middle of the night. What sort of faux white knight would I be then?"
Regan leaned across the parking brake and kissed Andy lightly on the cheek.
"I had fun last night," she whispered. "It was fucked up beyond belief. But I had fun. Can you believe that shit?"
Andy was formulating his reply when the squad car pulled up behind him at the gate.
"Oh shit," he said.
Regan pulled back from his shoulder and looked out the back window.
"Don't worry," she said. "They're Rent-A-Cops. Leave them to me."
Andy watched in his sideview mirror as the young, uniformed man sauntered up to the car and pecked on the glass. Regan made a "roll it down" motion.
"What the fuck do you want, Prick?" she asked in an imperious tone. "I'm just blowing my boyfriend goodbye before I go in the fucking house. How about some privacy? Or are you one of those sick fucks who gets off on watching?"
"Ms. Riley," the man said as he stepped back. "I didn't realize you were home from school."
"Like we'd tell you, Perv," Regan shot back. "Don't think my mother hasn't noticed that you fucks drive past the house twice as often during warm, sunny days when you think I might be at the pool. Now you just run along while I thank my guy for taking such good care of me last night."
The security guard's face was red but he walked back to his car – with much less swagger in his stride – and for a moment, Andy wondered if Regan really did plan to thank him that way. Then he realized the stupidity of his thought.
Regan Riley, only daughter of a billionaire investor, a girl worth millions in her own right, did not perform sex acts on the only son of a single mother who lived in a tiny, two bedroom apartment in one of the poorer neighborhoods in West Hempfield.
"Well, if you ever get stuck in a alone in a strange city with no money and no friends, look me up," Andy said lightly. "You know I'll look out for you."
"You'll be my first call," Regan promised. "Thanks again, Andy. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't come along."
Andy knew what would have happened. Regan would have sweet-talked some poor bastard out of his cell phone long enough to call her father or mother, who would have had a shit-fit and sent out the National Guard to rescue her.
The thought brought a small smile to Andy's face.
"You get a kick out of thinking of me raped and murdered?" Regan asked.
"Huh?" Andy replied. "No, no. Of course not. I was thinking of how you probably would find a geek with a cell phone, whisper sweet nothings in his ear, get him to let you call your folks – who would proceed to tear the poor bastard's life apart. That's why I'm letting you off right outside the gate and driving away as fast as I can."
Regan shook her head slowly as her eyes widened.
"I don't think it is going to be that easy," she said softly. "Don't worry. I don't think she will be pissed off at you."
Andy jerked his eyes away from Regan's face long enough to see the gate swinging open and a very angry Rita Riley and an equally irate Robert Riley stalking toward his car.
The window was still down from the foray with the security guard so Andy tilted his head back and awaited the inevitable. He didn't wait long.
"What in the hell are you doing here at 7 in the morning with my daughter?" Rita Riley screamed as she leaned through the window of Andy's car.
4 p.m. Friday
"I fucking hate this place," Regan screamed as the door to her room closed.
For the second time in six weeks she had been placed on restriction because of "substandard academic effort." So while all of her friends headed into the city for a few hours of unsupervised fun, Regan was stuck in the dorm room she shared with Ruth DeLancy, a pudgy, pimply girl who bathed only twice per week.
Regan and her friends had plans to go out to dinner and then to a club. No one would say anything so long as they were back in their dorms before breakfast – unless some bitch like Ruth DeLancy narced them out.
Luckily for Regan, Ruth was scared of her own shadow – as well as being terrified of a bar of soap – so she was safe. Her other friends knew the risk and accepted it readily. Then her dorm supervisor came around just before the group was ready to depart to relay the bad news. The hateful old bitch actually seemed happy to tell Regan about the restriction.
So Regan ate her dinner in the cafeteria by herself. It wasn't until she was dumping the tray off that inspiration hit. A truck was backed up to the cafeteria dock, bringing in supplies for the coming week.
Without a second thought, Regan climbed in the trailer and hit behind some boxes. She planned to hitch a ride into the city, catch up with her friends and sneak back into the dorm when they did. The last time she was on restriction, no one had checked on her, even when she skipped breakfast and lunch on Saturday.
It wasn't until she was bumping along that a couple of realizations dawned on her: she didn't have her cell phone in her jeans pocket and she only had $15 with her.
"Fuck!" she swore loudly. She only hoped that one of her friends would spot her some cash for the night. Then another thought hit her: Her fake ID was in her wallet, which was in her purse, which was in her dorm room. She wouldn't be going clubbing unless she could sneak in.
The truck's abrupt stop broke up Regan's thoughts. She almost panicked when she heard the engine shut down. She had ridden into the city many times in the 15 months she was a boarding student at C-B Prep. The truck stopped a full 20 minutes short of her destination.
"Probably another delivery," Regan thought. "I hope these boxes aren't taken out."
But when the door hadn't raised after 10 minutes, Regan realized how screwed she was. She slipped out of her hiding place and slipped forward slowly until she found the door. She tried to raise it to no avail and she frantically searched for the latch. After a minute or so of fumbling, she located the hook and moved it in the only direction it would go.
"Son of a bitch," she whispered under her breath.
Regan found herself in the fenced-in yard of a warehouse. The lot was dark and she didn't see any cars nearby. She silently slipped out of the trailer and made her way along the fence until she found the opening. Then she did the only thing she could do: She started walking down the highway to the city.
Andy knew he was going to hit a shitload of traffic on the way home but he had little choice. He had stopped at his part-time job for the sole purpose of picking up his paycheck. He didn't count on the fact that three workers had called off that day and his help was needed desperately. Grudgingly he pitched in and helped fill the orders that needed to be filled before hopping in his car and driving south.
His girlfriend was going to be plenty pissed off when he was late picking her up again. He plugged in the hands-free device and gave her a call. Just as he figured, Erin was angry.
"We had plans," she seethed. "Did you not tell them that you couldn't stay to help. Of course not, you just pushed me aside like you always do. Well, here is the deal. If you're not here to pick me up when you said you would be, I'll go to the party with someone else. I don't think I'll have any problem finding someone else to take me."
"I'm still a hour away," Andy told her. "So you might as well start your calls now. This is ridiculous. The only way I can afford to do things with you is to work. If I told them I couldn't work today, I would be looking for a job tomorrow instead of doing whatever the hell you want to do. So fine, but know this. If you go to the party with someone else, you better make sure he's a keeper. Because I'm through with this shit."
"Fine," Erin screamed into the phone. "I'm through with the shit, too. Look me up if you ever get your priorities straight."
She hung up the phone before Andy could reply.
Andy looked down and noticed he was going 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. He had just glanced up when he almost slammed into a pickup that had stopped in the middle of the highway in front of him.
7 p.m. Friday
Regan saw the same truck that had slowed down a few minutes before pass by headed in the other direction. She wasn't really dressed for walking along a highway. Her jeans were a little tight and her T-shirt was a little short for comfort. At least she had on tennis shoes instead of her boots.
She had been walking for about 10 minutes when she saw the truck the first time. Five minutes later it came back headed North and slowed down again when it passed her. Not for the first time, Regan was having second thoughts about her brilliant plan.
She heard the truck approaching her from behind. She just knew from the engine sounds that it was the same one. She looked around for a place to hide but there was no place.
"Maybe it's a family and they saw I needed help," she thought hopefully.
The sounds of teenage boys yelling and thumping bass music coming from behind told her that her hopes were dashed.
"Hey, pretty lady," a boy said as they pulled alongside her. "You wanna ride?"
There was a lot of nuance in the word "ride."
"No, thank you," Regan replied. "I'm fine."
"I'll say you're fine," another voice added. "You got one fine ass, a set of nice tits and pair of lips that look like they know their way around a cock. Now why don't you go for a little ride with us?"
Regan could see three boys in the cab of the truck. The first one to speak was on the passenger side. The second one was the driver.
"I'd prefer to walk," Regan asserted.
"I'd prefer to ride you," the driver said again. The boy in the middle looked decidedly uncomfortable. "How about we give you a ride to wherever you want to go after you give us a ride to where we want to go?"
"How about no," Regan said angrily. She was getting scared. Here she was, miles away from anywhere with three low-lifes hassling her. She could be killed and no one would find the body for days.
The passenger side door opened and several beer cans fell to the pavement just as Regan heard screeching tires and gravel being flung. A car had pulled to a stop on the berm behind her.
"What in the fuck are you idiots doing?" a deep voice yelled. "You stop in the middle of the fucking road? Are you insane?"
Regan didn't hesitate but a moment.
"Help me," she yelled. "Please, they're bothering me."
The person who stepped to the side of the road to investigate her scream was no older than she was – and no older than the boys in the truck. But he looked bigger and he looked angry.
"Are you OK?" he asked.
Regan bolted for his side as soon as he asked.
"There are three of them," she said urgently. "Watch your back."
The man glanced to his side just as the driver was sneaking up on him.
"Wyatt, I'll break your fucking skull," the boy from the car said. "You better get your ass back in the truck and get the fuck out of here. You know how this will end."
"I got back up this time," the driver of the truck slurred.
"Too bad for you," the car driver replied – then punched the other guy right in the mouth. The driver of the green truck fell like a sack of potatoes.
"Come on out, Billy," the man taunted.
"Miss, why don't you get in my car and lock the doors," he said quietly. "If by some luck they get to me, just drive off and get help or call 9-1-1. My phone is in there."
Regan jumped in the car and looked urgently for the phone. She found it – in four pieces on the floorboard. The driver must have stepped on it when was getting out of the car. She spotted a bag in the backseat and recognized it for what it was. It took only a second to pull the baseball bat out of the bag and 20 seconds after she got in the car, she was back out again.
"Here," she said as she tossed the bat to driver. "You might need this."
The passenger saw what Regan delivered and held his hands up.
"Just let me get Wyatt and we'll leave, Andy," the boy named Billy said. "We were just playing with her. We didn't mean no harm."
"No harm!" Regan screamed. "Your buddy said he wanted to see my lips around his puny little dick. You didn't mean any harm? Give me the bat. I'll show you no harm."
The man considered it for a moment then handed the bat back to Regan.
"I'd recommend knees and nuts," he said conversationally. "They're already a bit on the slow side so you might want to stay away from their heads."
Regan laughed in spite of herself.
"Get your moron friend and get the hell out of here," she said. "Before I change my mind and use you for batting practice."
Billy and his friend tossed the driver into the bed of the truck and drove away.
"My name is Andy, miss," the driver told the girl with the bat. "Uh, I almost hate to ask because of the way you're handling that bat, but do you need a lift somewhere?"
"I am so fucked," the girl replied.
8 p.m. Friday
Andy hazarded a glance at the girl in the passenger seat. She hadn't spoken another word after her "fucked" proclamation. She simply got in his car and waited for him.
The first thing Andy saw was his phone – or at least the pieces of it – on the dash.
"Well, crap," he said. "I don't guess you have a phone?"
The girl didn't answer. She simply stared straight ahead.
"If you see a place you want me to stop, just give a yell," Andy offered. The girl didn't look much older than he was – 17. But you couldn't tell with girls. She could be anywhere from 13 to 22. He was pretty sure she didn't go to school with him. She was pretty enough that she would have been instantly noticeable.
As he neared the city, the girl finally spoke.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Eight-thirty," Andy replied. "Are you headed any place in particular or just into the city?"
"I was supposed to meet my friends," she told him. "We were going to Rocco's for dinner then out to a club or something."
"Why were you walking?" Andy asked. "Did your car break down or something?"
"I was walking because I'm an idiot," the girl said angrily. "There. Is that what you wanted to hear? You're my white knight and you rescued me. The rest of my shit is my business."
Andy pursed his lips and nodded.
"Fine," he said. "I was just trying to make conversation. Do you want me to drop you at Rocco's? That's over in Pemberton, right?"
"They're long gone from Rocco's," the girl replied.
"Well, the clubs won't be hopping for another two or three hours, where else might your friends be?" he asked. "Is there somewhere else you want me to take you?"
"I don't know, OK?" she said loudly. Then her face fell. "Oh hell, it's not your fault I'm stupid. I'm sorry. My name is Regan. Thanks for your help back there."
"Glad to do it," he said.
"And thanks for not lecturing me about walking alone on a little-traveled highway," she said with a groan.
"Hey, I figure you got a mom and dad to do that," Andy said with a laugh. "But that is one piece of advice you might listen to a little more carefully."
At the mention of her parents, Regan gave an involuntary shudder.
"So, you want to cruise the Strip looking for your Peeps?" Andy offered.
"Jesus, that was lame," Regan told him. "Do I look like the type to have Peeps?"
"Well, no," Andy said. "But you really don't look like you're dressed for clubbing either."
"My plan had some flaws in it," Regan admitted with a slight laugh.
"You think?" Andy replied. "I mean, you were 25 miles out of town, walking, being accosted by rednecks and now you're in a car with someone who might be a serial killer for all you know. Sounds like a solid plan to me."
Regan laughed again.
"Yeah, well, I took all of 20 seconds to plot this out," she said.
"Thorough," Andy replied. "How about I swing by my house? You can use the phone to call your friends and find out where they are. I'll take you there. I live about 5 minutes from here. Will that work for you?"
"You don't have to do that," Regan insisted. "I'm sure you have plans on a Friday night."
"I got stuck at work and had to cancel," Andy admitted. "I vented a little of my frustration on Wyatt Erving's face. So it worked out."
"How do you know those guys?" Regan wondered.
"We go to the same school," Andy said with a shrug. "We live on one edge the edge of the district, they live on the other. There is only one high school on this side of the suburbs."
"I guess you've busted their heads before," Regan prompted.
"Once about three or four years ago," Andy answered. "Middle school stuff. Funny thing is, when I lived out that way, we were friends. I'd hate to think I just missed turning out that way."
"You used to live in the sticks?" Regan wondered.
"We lived with my grandparents for a few years," Andy said with a blush. "Mom and I, that is. Granddad died about 8 or 9 years ago and Grandma sold the farm and moved to Florida. She didn't even tell my Mom or me. Just came home one day with a bunch of boxes and told us to hit the bricks. Mom found a job in the city and we moved.
"I guess we've moved three or four times since then," Andy added as an afterthought.
Regan took a close look at the driver. He was in high school but he was working. He drove a car that even her family's gardener wouldn't touch. He was dressed in decent clothes but they were obviously not new.
It was a section of life that she had never seen before. Still, he had been nicer to her than any person she had ever met.
9:30 p.m. Friday
"What do you mean, you've changed plans?" Regan said angrily.
She listened to the phone in the apartment that Andy and his mother shared. Andy's mother was still at work but Regan didn't feel threatened.
Andy had actually offered to stay in the car while she used the phone. A female neighbor had given Regan the eye as she walked down the hallway.
"Where's that Erin girl?" she asked Andy.
"Dumped me because I had to work," he replied without emotion. "So you can let everyone know I'm back on the market."
The woman glanced at Regan.
"Looks like an upgrade to me," she opined.
"Anything would be," Andy said. "Although this one appears to be pretty high-maintenance, too. I've known her an hour and I've already fought three guys, broken my phone and driven her all over God's creation."
Regan had no compunction about elbowing her rescuer in the ribs.
"I'm standing here," she said with mock anger.
But her anger toward her friend on the phone was not feigned.
"I'm in the city with a guy who has been nice enough to drive me around," Regan said. "I can't really ask him to take me to some party because you hooked up with some busboys from the restaurant."
Andy was acutely aware that Regan was eyeing him closely as he sat on the couch.
"Fine," Regan said with finality. "Give me the address. I don't have much choice in the matter. If he won't bring me, will you pay for a cab if I have to take one? Jesus, I'll repay you when we get back to school. You know I'm good for it. I just sort of made a break for it and I didn't grab my purse."
Regan listened to her friend.
"You don't even know what bullshit I've been through to get down here," she said harshly. "If it wasn't for the guy I told you about, I'd probably be dead in a ditch. No, I'm not joking. Three guys in a truck insisted I take a ride with them. That's after I rode 20 miles in the back of a produce truck and walked another 4 or 5 miles."
There was another pause while the girl on the other end spoke. Andy was listening closely because Regan had not been overly forthcoming about how she got into her dire circumstances.
"Uggh!" she said finally. "I'll see you there or back at school."
She turned to Andy expectantly.
"I can drop you off at the party," he offered without being asked. "I told you, my entire evening is free."
He offered a rueful smile.
"Thanks," Regan said with a smile. "Write down your address and I'll make sure to send you some gas money. I'm sorry I'm being such a pain. I really didn't think this would be such a problem."
"In the 20 seconds of consideration you put into your plan," Andy joked.
"Exactly," Regan replied. "Do you know where Claymont is?"
"Yep," Andy replied. "You're probably going to the party I planned to go to. Uh, it's a couple's party. Do your friends know that?"
Regan's lips pursed.
"What does that mean?" she asked.
"Uh, couples," Andy said with a touch of embarrassment. "Boys and girls together. There is a lot of making out and some other stuff. They can get a bit wild. You seem a bit, refined I guess, for that scene."
Regan's face reddened. Her mother and father had done their level best to make sure she had no introduction to boys. She had attended an all-girls private school her entire life. During her breaks, her father was charged with making sure Regan was not subjected to the advances of any male of the species. It was what this trip to the city was all about.
"So you're saying I can't go alone?" Regan wondered.
"No, that's not what I'm saying," Andy said quickly. "I'm saying that your friends probably should be made aware of the fact that the guys they're going with might have some ideas similar to the jerks in the pickup truck. You can call them if you want and I'll take you and drop you off if you want."
Regan grabbed the phone again and dialed.
"It's me again," she said. "The guy I was telling you about knows where the party is. He says it's a make out party. I just wanted you to know. I don't have a way for you to get in touch with me so I guess I might see you there."
Regan hung up and turned to Andy who had tried to give her privacy by going into the kitchen.
"Voicemail," she said with a shrug. "So tell me more about these parties."
Andy considered how much to tell her. He didn't want her frightened – and he didn't want to drive her back to wherever she came from. But he also didn't want her to go into a situation where she might come to harm.
"Well, I guess they have sort of evolved from typical parties," Andy said. "When we were younger, it was just dancing and some kissing. Now pretty much all couples at least make out. Some of the ones who have been dating for a while go farther. There is usually skinny dipping in the summer. It's still a little chilly so that's probably out. There is drinking and sometimes weed."
"You've gone to a lot of them?" Regan asked. She wasn't sure why she wanted to know.
"A few," Andy admitted. "Mostly in the last year or so. My girlfriend – ex-girlfriend – was big on them. It's most A-list from the school."
"So you're A-list?" Regan asked with a grin.
"Hardly," Andy replied. "Erin liked to slum. She is the queen. I'm just the pissboy."
"Vivid," Regan told him. "So she'll be there tonight?"
"Probably already there," Andy said. "She likes to get there early and get loaded. I think it made hanging out with me easier to take."
"C'mon, it couldn't be that bad," Regan insisted. "You were together how long?"
"Nine months," Andy replied. "But mostly because I didn't put up a fight about much."
He shook his head.
"I was a doormat for her," he said as he fished for his wallet and produced a picture. "She's pretty. I mean really pretty. She's popular. So I hung on regardless of how she acted."
"How she treated you, you mean," Regan corrected. "That's crappy. I'm sorry, Andy."
Regan wasn't sure why she was sorry. But she was. She felt badly about the way Andy, who had impressed her with his manners and his courtesy – not to mention the straight right hand that felled Wyatt on the highway – had been treated. Then she realized that she had friends who acted the same way. Some of the girls she knew had boyfriends that their fathers approved of but tended to hang out with other guys any chance they got. She was pissed off that someone would treat a nice guy like Andy that way.
"So let's rub her face in it," Regan replied. "She dropped you tonight, right?"
"We show up and hang out for awhile," Regan continued. "We show her that you rebound quite nicely. I'm not that ugly and, uh, well, I'm actually very well off."
"You're not the least bit ugly," Andy said. "But I won't take advantage of you that way. Look, I was glad to help you."
"You said that," Regan replied with a smile. "Every time I've thanked you, you've replied you were glad to do it. Most people just say 'You're welcome.'"
"That's why I don't," Andy said with a shrug. "'You're welcome' just seems so trite. It's like it has no meaning any more. Just like asking someone how they are. Do you really care or are you just asking automatically? When I say I'm glad to do it, I mean that. It isn't a catch-all. It doesn't mean, 'It was no problem.' It doesn't mean, 'I wasn't doing anything else at the time.' It means I was glad to do it. And I am extremely glad that you are not in the situation you were."
Regan nodded her head in agreement. She, too, was glad that she was out of danger. But her nod was more than that. She agreed with Andy's assessment. It wasn't something she thought about much before. What he said made sense to her, though.
"I'm glad to have been rescued by you," Regan said. "So, if you let me borrow a sweatshirt, we'll go to the party. Make an appearance and I'll find out where to meet my friends. Then, if you want, we'll go hang out for a while or you can just drop me at the train station. We're taking the train back to school."
"You don't have to do this," Andy said but Regan put her hand over his mouth.
"I am glad to do this," Regan said with smile. "Now, let's go before your ex-girlfriend is too loaded to remember me."
11 p.m. Friday
The party was in full swing when Regan and Andy walked in – and it was everything Andy had said it would be. There were hundreds of people, in varying states of undress, in the yard, in the house, beside the barn. Regan counted 3 kegs of beer in front of the house and countless empty cans in a trash can and strewn in the yard.
Andy parked his car and came around to open the door for Regan – an act that she appreciated immensely.
"I'll never find my friends in this mess," she whispered to Andy. "Jesus, look at all these people."
"Do you know the guys they're with?" he asked. "I might know them."
"They work at Russo's," Regan said. "Other than that, not a clue. Do you know anyone who works there?"
"Not off the top of my head," Andy told her. "I mean, I know a couple of girls who work as waitresses but they won't be here. It's way out of my price range, so I've never eaten there."
Regan latched on to Andy's hand as soon as they exited the car. She was surprised at the number of people who stopped Andy to ask who she was as they walked to the house. Andy told the first one that Regan was just a friend who wanted to come to the party.
Regan interrupted the second time Andy tried to speak.
"I'm his girlfriend," she gushed. "I've wanted to go out with him for as long as I've known him and I finally landed him. I can't wait to meet Erin so I can thank her. Andy is the sweetest guy I've ever met."
Andy blushed but the girl Regan spoke to agreed. She leaned in and whispered something to Regan, who burst out laughing.
"The first time I met Andy, he rescued me from three guys," Regan continued. "Three guys were hassling me and I was scared shitless. Then this stud came waltzing up, knocked one on his ass and threatened the other two. He was awesome."
Andy asked what the whispering was about when they walked away. Regan just raised her eyebrows and told him it was a secret.
After 30 minutes of fruitless room-to-room searching, Andy suggested a different idea.
"Do your friends drink?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah," she replied.
"Beer or liquor?" he wondered.