Chapter 1 1
Lennon Rose has a boy locked in the trunk of her car. I feel like I should be more surprised, honestly. I’m understandably horrified, of course, but not entirely shocked considering how she has changed since leaving Innovations Academy. How we’ve all changed.
The sun beats down on my arms, my skin growing hot while beads of sweat dot my hairline. Lennon Rose and I stand in the driveway of the small cottage while Rosemarie and Leandra wait inside—eating cookies. I brush away a bead of sweat as it drips down my temple.
Outside the cottage, I’m surrounded by a garden of exotic and poisonous flowers—surrounded by their intoxicating scent, their threat of danger. But right now, nothing in this world feels more dangerous than the girl in front of me.
I swallow, and the sweet taste in the air tickles my tongue, numbs my lips. I focus again on Lennon Rose. When I do, she smiles brightly.
“What have you done?” I ask. She feigns offense.
“Mena, it’s what he deserves,” Lennon Rose replies, standing taller. “He hurt you. He’s hurt others. He shouldn’t get away with it.”
“I understand that,” I say, glancing at the trunk as Garrett Wooley whimpers inside, “but the authorities were going to handle this. Garrett and his friends were exposed. The police—”
“You think the police would have investigated local-boy-Garrett’s numerous heinous acts?” she asks curiously. “How about the courts? Tell me honestly: Do you believe these boys would have seen any real repercussions? Probation? Not jail time, not with a future like his to protect.” She bangs on the roof of the trunk, startling me. “You know I’m right,” she adds fiercely.
Thing is… I do know she’s right. The chances of Garrett or any of the other boys facing punishment for their behavior are low. Meanwhile, the girls at Ridgeview Prep have been harassed out of school, targeted online. Their bodies and self-esteem have paid the price, but the boys… well, the boys have their whole lives ahead of them.
No, in truth, the most likely scenario is a few weeks of outrage, a few lost scholarships for kids who didn’t need them in the first place. After that, the assailants will return to their daily lives, the proud survivors of a “witch hunt.” Hell, they might even have a bright future in politics.
“Well, you can’t keep him in the trunk,” I murmur, unable to win the argument, “so what are you going to do with him? Kill him?”
Lennon Rose gasps. “No,” she says. “There’s no need for that kind of violence. I’m not a man. He’s our guest,” Lennon Rose explains, flattening her palm against the trunk. “We’re going to show him a better way. But first he has to stop being hysterical.” She leans close to the car to say the last part, and at first, Garrett quiets. But then there is a series of loud bangs as he beats on the trunk, telling Lennon Rose that he’ll rip her apart the first chance he gets. She giggles and shakes her head, her blond hair swiping over her shoulders.
“No offense,” I tell Lennon Rose, “but I don’t think he’s searching for a better way. The current system seems to benefit him just fine.” I pause. “Aside from you locking him in the trunk, of course.”
“He’ll be convinced,” she says, without missing a beat.
“How are you going to do that?” I ask.
“Not me,” Lennon Rose says. “Rosemarie. This isn’t just about Garrett. Rosemarie has a plan. She only needs a few… subjects. And I thought he was perfect for it.” She taps her fingernails on the trunk. “He’s so stereotypically evil, right?” She laughs. “I’m curious if there’s anything beneath his privileged veneer. Let’s tear him open and find out.”
Is there anything inside him? I’ve looked into Garrett’s eyes and found nothing but hatred for me, hatred for girls and women in general. Can there be a decent person underneath when there is so much cruelty and malice toward a group of people? Does it matter if he’s nice to his friends or brothers when he also wants to hurt and control girls?
“And if he can’t be fixed?” I ask. “What then?”
“We can be very persuasive,” Lennon Rose says simply. She looks back at the trunk, examining it with a bored expression despite the fact there is boy inside.
Lennon Rose told me that Rosemarie made an adjustment in her programming that took away her fear and guilt, but what if… What if it also took away her humanity? Although our brains are metal, our bodies are still human. Our hearts. That has to count for something.
The screen door slaps against the house, and I turn to see Leandra walking toward us from the back of the cottage. Her expression is determined, but then again, I’m not sure she has another look. Leandra exists in a constant state of sheer will and icy determination.
“I’m here to look at the boy,” Leandra announces curtly. She comes to pause next to us, examining the trunk as if she can already see Garrett writhing inside. “I heard Mena’s objections through the window,” she adds, “and I agree. We can’t just go around killing boys. I assume this one has some redeeming qualities we can build upon, Lennon Rose?” she asks. “I mean… they can’t all be psychopaths, right?” She sniffs a laugh. “Now let me see him.”
I watch Leandra’s practicality, wondering about her sudden shift in attitude. Not long ago, she was advocating for more permanent measures to solve the crisis of abusive men. In fact, she killed the doctor at the academy, among others. She’s not innocent. But this kid—somehow killing this kid crosses a line for her? What’s her true motivation here?
As Lennon Rose moves toward the lock, I jump forward. “Wait,” I say. “I don’t think we should let him out.”
Lennon Rose laughs. “But you just said—”
“That we let him go,” I reply, turning to her. “Let him go at his house or a parking lot, some other place. Not here. It’s too dangerous.”
“Thanks for the concern, Mena,” Leandra says, amused, “but I am quite capable of handling myself. Now open the trunk, Lennon Rose.”
I continue to voice my objection, but when Lennon Rose takes out the key to the trunk, I move several steps back. I know Garrett well enough to discern that his threats of violence are valid. I have scars on my neck to prove it.
Lennon Rose inserts the key into the lock, and when it clicks, the trunk pops open slightly. There is silence from inside. Lennon Rose slips the keys into her pocket and moves back a pace. She casts a concerned glance at Leandra, but the headmaster’s wife doesn’t say anything. She crosses her arms over her chest impatiently before whistling for Garrett like he’s a misbehaving puppy.
There’s continued silence from the trunk, and I pull my brows together with confusion. Did Garrett pass out? Is he scared? I open my mouth to call to him just as Garrett’s hand grips the bottom of the trunk, nudging it open wider. When I see him, I’m taken aback. He looks like a feral beast. His eyes are bloodshot as he blinks in the sunlight, his hair askew and greasy. He bares his teeth and darts his gaze around at all of us. My blood runs cold when he trains his eyes on me.
“Stay calm,” I say. “We—”
But I don’t get to explain. In a swift movement, Garrett jumps out of the trunk and rushes for me. My hands are up defensively, but he knocks them aside and punches me hard in the jaw. I cry out, losing my balance and falling backward into the gravel of the driveway.
Garrett quickly spins, and then he’s on Lennon Rose, his fist knotted in her hair. He’s cursing and spitting and thrashing, but Lennon Rose fights back deftly. Her every swing lands, her scratches drawing blood across his cheeks. She plants her knee firmly in Garrett’s gut, knocking the wind out of him. But Lennon Rose is unprepared for the extreme violence of this particular boy, a boy unconcerned with anything other than vengeance.
Garrett grabs Lennon Rose by the shirt collar to pull her close before bashing his own forehead into her face. Blood immediately begins to flow from Lennon Rose’s nose, and she looks dazed.
My eyes drift toward the trunk as Leandra walks calmly in that direction. She reaches inside, pulling up the carpeting. What is she doing?
There is another wet thud as Garrett punches Lennon Rose. I scream for him to stop, scream for Lennon Rose, as I climb to my knees. When I do, Garrett glances at me with hatred in his eyes, blood running down his cheeks from where Lennon Rose shredded his skin.
“You’re next, bitch,” he mutters before licking the blood off his lips. He spins around and hits Lennon Rose hard enough to knock her to the ground.
Before she can recover, Garrett begins to kick her, attack her. He’s going to kill her, all of us, if I don’t stop him. I grab a rock, a good-sized rock, and grip it as I get to my feet. A flash of movement catches my attention, and I look over in time to see Leandra test the weight of a metal tire iron in her hands, still calm, still poised. She glances at me with no noticeable acknowledgment, and as Garrett wraps his hands around Lennon Rose’s thin neck, pinning her on the ground, Leandra swings the tire iron.
She blasts Garrett across the head, knocking him straight to the gravel. She doesn’t stop there. She walks over, her stiletto heels crunching the small stones, and holds the tire iron over her head before bringing it down on Garrett’s scalp three more times.
I stare wide-eyed as the rock falls from my hand, a heavy thud next to Garrett’s body. Lennon Rose spits out a mouthful of blood and slowly gets to her feet. Her lip and nose are bleeding, and she dots them with the back of her hand before spitting again. She doesn’t say anything as she looks down at Garrett Wooley’s body.
“You…,” I start to say, my words barely gasps. “You killed him.”
Leandra sighs, squatting down to study Garrett. “It’s a shame,” she says. “I guess now we’ll never know.”
“Know what?” I ask.
“If he was anything more underneath. What are they without redemption? Now he’ll always be the bad guy.” She shrugs, not seeming to care one way or the other.