The Act (Charade #2) - Stella Gray

Prologue

Ford

Cruising through the halls of Wayland-Blaine Academy, there’s not a doubt in my mind: I’m the king of the whole fucking school. It’s unquestionable, irrefutable. Whatever I say, goes.

The guys respect me, offering head nods or salutes, and the girls want to fuck me, coyly lowering their lashes or flashing brazen, hungry grins. As a sophomore, it’s a heady high knowing I command so much power already; I won’t deny I take pleasure in wielding it. And at fifty grand a year in tuition, I’m ruling a lot more than just plebes in this place.

My subjects are the cream of the crop, the elite, the future leaders of America—or at least the city of Chicago—which means my influence will last a lot longer than the few years I’ll spend in this place.

That said, the majority of the school’s drama doesn’t interest me. I don’t care who’s fucking who (unless, of course, it’s one of the teachers) and I really don’t care who’s getting shit-talked or hang-wedgied in the bathroom. But a certain bullying incident has snowballed into an untenable situation, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

The social destruction of Mara Zoric.

I’m not saying I’d never joined in on the abuse—everyone had—but at this point, enough was enough. It had gone too far. And I had my own reasons for taking issue with the whole thing.

If you were nice, you pitied the girl. If you weren’t—and let’s face it, most of my friends weren’t—you mocked her to her face. She was the laughingstock of the whole school. I’d been in the locker room just this morning and seen her name and phone number written across the wall in big, fat sharpie, with “text for nudes” and “for a good time, call!” underneath it. Again.

Teenage boys had never much been known for their originality.

Not that the girls at this school were any better. One of them had used lipstick to write WHORE on her locker this morning.

Mara was taunted everywhere she went—the cafeteria, the gym, even the courtyard outside. It had started months ago, but things had been ramping up over the past few weeks for reasons unknown.

On the surface, nothing about her screamed “loser.” She was on the short side, but she was pretty enough—big gray eyes, wide mouth, dark hair that was always hanging in her face—maybe a little mousy and awkward looking, sure, but nothing she wouldn’t grow into eventually.

She also had these amazing tits, but she always wore a dark cardigan buttoned up over her uniform, as if that would help disguise them in any way. I could see why girls might be jealous. But I didn’t get why the guys felt the need to drag the torture on and on so enthusiastically. Hadn’t she been picked on enough?

I guess it just goes to show the enduring power of the high school rumor mill.

“Aww shit,” Blake said. “Here she comes.”

I stood with Blake and the rest of my friends, confident in my position at the top of the high school social hierarchy, and watched as the person occupying the rock-bottom of that hierarchy walked by, arms wrapped tightly around her books, chin tucked to her chest.

She looked pathetic, resigned to her sad fate. Truthfully, I felt sorry for her.

“Ho ho ho!” someone shouted at her.

I watched her flinch, but she just kept walking.

“There go the one-dollar blowjobs!” someone else yelled. “Get ‘em while they’re hot, under the bleachers!”

Mara tried to ignore them, but I could see her cheeks turning pink. It looked like she might cry. I hoped she wouldn’t—tears would only make the teasing more aggressive.

A guy named Paul pushed off the wall as she came closer. I watched as he stepped right in her way.

“Hey Mara,” he said.

She didn’t say anything, her eyes fixed on the floor.

“Got a question for you,” Paul went on.

No response.

“How much you charge for the Zoric special?” he asked. “I heard it’s a good, cheap time.”

Everyone burst into laughter as Mara pushed past him. I could see the tears welling up in her eyes but she was gone before they had a chance to fall.

I was a tiny bit impressed with that.

“Come on,” I told Blake and the others as the bell rang. “We’re gonna be late.”

I didn’t care much about being late, but I wasn’t really interested in watching whatever Paul and the other high school idiots were going to do to Mara next.

She and I had study hall together. She walked into the library late that day.

When she arrived,