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The saying goes that it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Well, for me, a reckless eighteen-year-old, it was all fun and games until people ended up dead. So, when I sit in Judgment, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do.
As a kid, Leo Mark Antony—yep, that’s me; bless Mum’s heart for the name, although I still frequently wonder if I’m named for Leo Tolstoy or Leonardo DiCaprio, as both are objects of Mum’s deepest affection—was a manipulator. If my life was some grand plot in a book or movie, my early years would be heavy with foreshadowing. But as these things have a way of righting themselves eventually, I’ve paid dearly. And so has my girlfriend, Audrey. Just ask her. After all, doesn’t everyone say that ghosts have a way of talking? Well, my darling Audrey is probably an extremely unhappy spirit now that her delicately tanned skin is deteriorating in her grave and her modeling contract is most likely of no use wherever she is now.
So, here’s the truth. Because at this point, neither lies nor truths will right wrongs.
By the age of five, I was excellent at getting everything I wanted. I had a charming way about me, but when someone tried to refuse me, I resorted to threats and blackmail.
Ten years later I noticed that people bent to my will almost unnaturally. I’d hardly thought of a scenario that would please me and it would play out before me. After a year of what I’d brushed off as coincidences, I realized with fierce glee that I had a way of somehow influencing others.
My sixteenth, seventeenth, and a chunk of my eighteenth years were spent experimenting. I acted mostly on whims. Jordin was seen pining for her ex-boyfriend? Well, Jason was spotted making out with the hot new guy. Sorry, Jordin, about Jason’s unfortunate, er, preferences. The studious Ivy League wannabe, Clara, did poorly on her physics test? Well, who would’ve thought she’d do a few favors—I mean, uh, extra credit assignments—for Mr. Warren after class…in the intimate comfort of his snug little office? Too bad she forgot to shut the door…
Yeah, most of the legendary scandals at my school were observed on the awe-inspiring stage of Leo Antony’s imagination. The entire school was my audience, but no one was exempt from being a beloved character on my stage, subject to my direction and guidance.
The first trimester of senior year passed, my game flourishing at the height of its glory. I was watching with delight as a cafeteria drama unfolded flawlessly before me when gorgeous Audrey, intelligent but not at all innocent, dropped into the seat next to mine as I chewed my pizza distractedly, my eyes following the drama. But if someone like Audrey dropped into the seat next to any person with more testosterone than estrogen running through his body, I guarantee that his attention would be diverted from prior entertainment before he could say “damn.” An intelligent bad girl was enough to pique any guy’s interest, but Audrey had my respect along with my interest. I’d left her alone, only manipulating people for her benefit, never dragging her bodily onto my stage to enact my latest production. My respect stemmed from the way she left my head reeling, her chin held high after every conquest, a devilish glint in her angel eyes, and her 4.0 GPA that astounded everyone but was bought with hard work rather than scandalous nights in the male teachers’ company.
As soon as my eyes left in the fight over a girl neither of the guys involved liked, fists were lowered in confusion and teachers who had been observing with blank faces snapped out of their stupors.
Audrey looked from the fight to me with a flutter of obscenely luscious lashes surrounding amused eyes, eyebrows arched almost challengingly. She slid something across the tabletop and left me sitting in a haze of pleasant bewilderment and subtle perfume.
In her absence, I turned the souvenir she left me over and over in my hand. Lip gloss. The only thing I learned from the tube was that the sparkly light pink lip gloss she wore came from Victoria’s Secret and cost $7.50. I vaguely wondered at its taste but was too much of a man to try it out. I was, however, curious enough to unscrew the cap to take a whiff. As far as I could tell, the stuff was unused, as there was no sticky residue on the end.
In the cap was a rolled up slip of paper with thirteen number scrawled in coral lipstick. I nearly laughed, but I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was sitting by myself with a tube of a very feminine, very gooey, sparkly substance.
I spent the next week avoiding Audrey and her glossy lips. She did not approach me, but her knowing smirks told me that she knew my will to resist her was weak. By the end of the week, I’d called her.
Audrey was nothing like her reputation suggested. She was no angel, but she was more Heaven than Hell. She was coy and then haughty on alternating breaths. She was funny and smart, mocking and controlling, but somehow soft. She was precious to me, because she was not a part of my game; she belonged to me without manipulation. It would only be fitting for me to lose her as payment for my sins, right, being the one thing that came to me on its own? A few months more and she could’ve possibly wrung a little love from my heart of stone. But she never got the chance.
After a dizzying week with Audrey, I felt emotion stirring somewhere between my stomach and my chest.
We were sitting in Audrey’s favorite diner after two weeks together when she said she needed a refill of Cherry Coke. I didn’t realize that it was a clever test of hers back then.
I envisioned our waitress leaving the table she was serving and coming to ours. She came just as she had in my mind. Audrey was watching me intently with almost predatory eyes.
She startled me by asking with gleaming, excited eyes, “You have some way of controlling people, don’t you? I’ve been watching you very carefully, Leo.”
I grinned. “That’s my clever little devil.”
Audrey’s excitement at discovering my secret faded over the next few weeks, disapproval taking its place as she realized how much I used my ability. “How can I know you’re not messing with my head?” she’d demand unhappily every few days.
“By trusting me,” I’d retort impatiently. “Besides, do you remember doing anything unwillingly?”
“Yeah,” she’d grumble. “Falling in love with a worthless pig named Leo Antony.”
I’d laugh at her pout, her Victoria’s-Secret-painted lips inviting me in. And by the way, that lip gloss tasted very good.
After a particularly mean play on my part involving two teachers in a dark classroom that got them both fired, Audrey refused to speak to me until I promised to quit. Being a guy, I took my promise to mean I wouldn’t manipulate anybody around her. It worked for all of three days, but Audrey wasn’t stupid. When she confronted me for the second time, I knew I had to either stop or lose her. I chose to stop.
Audrey took my surrender as a sign of devotion and spoiled me affectionately, cooking elaborate meals for me and ushering me around to movies she knew I’d like. I was beginning to think that giving up manipulation was the best decision of my eighteen years.
A month later, people started acting oddly again, as if being influenced. Cruel scenarios were playing out that I had nothing to do with. Audrey rounded on me angrily, not allowing me to get in a single word of defense.
Audrey avoided me for a week. After a guy in our class ended up dead after being stabbed with a fork in the cafeteria, she came to me and begged, tears of fright staining lightly tanned cheeks. I was distracted by the girl I’d seen in the cafeteria, her eyes taking in the puppet show with terrible, gleeful rapture. When she saw me watching, she smiled sweetly, her eyes glinting with malice. I didn’t want Audrey involved, but her tears pried a reluctant confession from me. “Oh, Leo!” she cried in distress. “Hell, I’m so sorry! If I’d only known! But she must be stopped. People can’t die because of this twisted game.”
I agreed and the first twinge of real love for Audrey came when she grabbed my hand sweetly and kissed me with soft lips, lips that had caressed countless other guys’ mouths, but I did not care, especially when she gazed up at me through a dark fringe of eyelashes and vowed to help me.
The next day she was dead.