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Kathryn Merteuil hated to lose. Anything less than full victory was intolerable. Realizing that she hadn’t even seen the true extent of competition she had become ensnared in made her loss that much more unbearable, that much harder of a smack in the face.

Those little twits…she wouldn’t have thought Cecile smart enough or Annette cold-blooded enough to manage to follow through on any real form of vengeance against her. And for it to actually be successful, to catch her completely unaware…either she had vastly underestimated them both, or else Kathryn was losing her touch. For those two to even connect the dots of their betrayal and come up with Kathryn’s name as its source was far beyond anything she would think them capable of, with Cecile being too oblivious and Annette too innocent to even suspect their lover’s stepsister, pure, prim Kathryn, as orchestrating every moment of their ruin. It was enough to make her wonder just how much Sebastian, in his newly realized sense of shame and moral responsibility, might have confessed to them.

Or directly placed into their hands. Just how was it, Kathryn still wondered, that they had managed to come into possession of a dead boy’s journal, always so carefully hidden that even she, insatiably curious as she was as to its contents, had never been successful in finding it? How had they even known there was a journal to find at all?

She didn’t want to think or believe that Sebastian could have wanted or intended for Cecile and Annette to have the journal. His written opinions and thoughts, made immortal and irreversible by repeated photocopies, were forever etched deep into her mind; it felt to Kathryn as though he had scratched them into her skin. She suffered every day with the knowledge of Sebastian’s true feelings about her. It was painful enough to know the level of contempt, even hatred, that he felt for her. She didn’t want to know it if he had truly wanted the rest of the world to know his feelings too.

How many times had they spoken sarcastic, acerbic descriptions about their vacant-minded, physically absent and emotionally hollow parents and their hands-off approach to their offspring’s existence? How often had they traded barbed banter on their classmates, their conquests, with each approving and even encouraging the other’s misdeeds? Kathryn had believed Sebastian to be the only person like her in what she knew of the world, the only person in her small, privileged, yet so very empty existence who could identify with and even mirror her thoughts and impulses. How could he so easily forget years of camaraderie, of baited, barely contained sexual chemistry, the bond bred of understanding that only they could conjure?

And for the limpid, simpering, fumbling sexual innocence of a girl like Annette Hargrove. It would make Kathryn sick, if she wasn’t so deeply wounded by the betrayal.

It wasn’t the loss of her reputation that really burned, although of course, with over a decades’ work of building it, its immediate nosedive into a place of no repair was a bitter blow. Kathryn had no genuine respect or emotional connection to her teachers, the other students, or even her mother or stepfather, and her loud and public devotion to God and religion had never been based in any real belief or reverence. She didn’t feel a true need for their approval or even for them to like her. Kathryn had never felt enough affection or need towards anyone to want them as a genuine friend; it was easier to make shallow and meaningless acquaintances that she could use to her advantage and cut dies with just as little emotion as she had drawn them in. When it came down to it, her efforts at drawing other’s admiration had been a long con game aimed only at making it easier to both entertain herself and to achieve what she wanted from people that much more quickly.

Of course, the aftermath to the loss of reputation was another blow nearly impossible to lift her head from. Although Tiffany Merteuil was no better than her daughter when it came to abusing substances, she had nevertheless hurriedly rushed Kathryn into rehab less than two days after her cocaine crucifix was exposed for what it was, and no amount of pleading, tears, or efforts at apologies or charm had managed to dissuade her from withdrawing her before the 30 day sentence was complete. After the hell of withdrawal, legalized and stupefying drugs Kathryn had cheeked as frequently as possible and traded with other junkies in exchange for various services and favors, she had been released home, only to be sent to a boarding school several hours away and made to begin weekly therapy with a shrink that would call her mother after each session, just to assure her that her daughter was indeed attending as ordered.

It would have been far easier and kinder of everyone if they had just buried Kathryn in the coffin with Sebastian rather than force her through each day of waking hell on earth. And more than a few times, she considered simply doing the deed for them, taking herself out before life took her down any further beyond the blood-splattered rocky bottom she was already languishing in.

But the quick and easy way had never been favored by Kathryn, and so she resigned herself to another long and poorly satisfying con game all over again, as she worked to earn back the trust that had so quickly been stripped away. She did her homework, kept her curfew, participated in class, and feigned remorse, remonstration, and sincere desire for self-improvement in her far too frequent therapy sessions. As difficult and joyless as it was, she refrained from drugs, although her bulimia, now increasingly mingling with anorexia, intensified from a few times a week occurrence to a daily and increasingly intense occurrence, the one way of stress release and rage that she could seem to give vent through. She made herself over as the quiet, contrite wallflower, the girl ever lost in grief of her past behavior, mistakes, and how they had ultimately spiraled until they contributed to her stepbrother’s death.

That was what she showed the world, and for the most part, it seemed to be what the world was beginning to believe. The irony of it was, the more Kathryn threw her efforts into the role, the more true it seemed to become- and the harder it was for her to keep focus on the bitter anger and jealousy that drove her usual thoughts. The more she focused on her supposed new self, the harder it was to push back increasingly genuine pain.

Because she did grieve Sebastian, as furious as she was at him. She did wish to undo his death, even more than she wished to undo the death of her reputation. She wanted him to stand across from her and smirk again, to touch her with strong hands shaking from lust for her, to meet her gaze with admiration and attraction glinting in his eyes. She wanted to feel his desire for her, to match her wit against his once more, and this time, she wouldn’t give a damn who came out on top, as long as he was there to struggle against her.

Above all, she wanted Sebastian, any form of him, as long as he was there at all. Because his absence of existing hurt just as much as her discovery of his absence of love for her.

She had thought once that Sebastian loved her. Now, Kathryn understood the truth that it was she who loved him, and she had simply seen her own feelings, reflected back at her in his eyes.