EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Steven James’ The Pawn (Revell).

Prologue

March 5, 1985

La Cruxis, Mississippi

4:13 p.m.

It happened upstairs at her house after school on a Tuesday afternoon. Her parents were still at work, just like always. So Aaron Jeffrey Kincaid and Jessica Rembrandt had the house to themselves. Just like always. Most afternoons found them here, making out, fooling around in the basement.

But today was different. Today was the day.

Jessie smiled at her boyfriend as she unlocked the front door. “Aaron Jeffrey Kincaid,” she breathed, “I love you.” Her voice sounded so alluring, so alive. It said more than I love you; it said, I believe in you.

“I love you too, Jessie.” He stepped past her and swung the door open. “I’ll always love you.” He said the words smoothly, convincingly, but he wondered if he really meant them. He wondered if he did love her; if he’d ever loved anything at all.

He took her hand as they stepped into the living room. Then, with one smooth motion of his free hand, he shut the door behind them.

They’d been going out for almost three months. At first it’d been like any other relationship for him—after the initial thrill wore off, he’d started to get bored with her; started to wonder if maybe he’d be happier with someone else. But the more time he spent with her, the more he realized she did things to please him. Little things. She went to the movies he liked. She wore the clothes he told her to wear. And she let him do things to her, sometimes whatever he wanted to. So, of course, one day he started wondering how far she would go to please him, how much she would actually do. Who wouldn’t wonder those kinds of things?

They headed upstairs to her parents’ bedroom. That’s where the whirlpool was.

He led her by the hand, and she followed without even a trace of hesitation in her step. Amazing.

Earlier that year another couple had been found in a car. In the garage. Double suicide. So all these counselors had arrived at their high school to talk to the students about death and hope and reasons to live. One of the counselors, a delicate woman with sweet, caramel eyes, had met with him individually. “Aaron, have you ever thought about taking your own life?”

And Aaron had given her a look, wide-eyed and innocent. “Well, just like most kids, I guess.” He was playing naïve, searching her eyes for understanding and compassion, toying with her. “I guess I’ve thought about it—suicide that is. But nothing serious. Nothing specific.”

And she nodded and wrote something down in her notebook.

Then he leaned close. “Is there something wrong with me?”

She smiled. “No, of course not, Aaron. It’s perfectly normal to think about ending your life sometimes. I’d be a little worried if the thought had never crossed your mind.” Then she laughed as if that should have been funny or comforting or something. And she looked across the table at him reassuringly, and he smiled back at her in a boyish, trusting way.

“Thanks,” he said. “You’ve been very helpful.”

And after that, the counselors left their numbers on little cards and on posters on the walls of the school for kids who felt lonely or depressed or needed someone to talk to. “They’ll be back in two months,” the principal had told the students at an assembly in the gym, “to follow up with anyone who needs to talk some more.”

Maybe he’d gotten the idea from that—the double suicide and the meetings and the counselor with the eyes of a doe. It was hard to say. Aaron had tried to trace the exact origin of the idea, but finally he’d realized that sometimes ideas just come to you fully formed, as this one had. And in the end it doesn’t really matter so much where they come from as it does where they lead you, what you do with them.