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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 July 2007 - 11:37pm.

Chapter 5

Jenna was ready at seven P.M. when Perry Rollins arrived to pick her up. He was the perfect gentleman. Perry was dressed immaculately, with not a hair out of place. He brought a dozen red roses and a box of chocolates, beautifully wrapped. It was just what every girl dreamed of. It was all perfect and precise in every detail—and all too predictable and boring for Jenna.

As they were preparing to leave, Jenna shot a prolonged glance at the wooden box with the precious roll of parchment it contained. Perry followed her gaze and stopped. He had an amused look on his face. The single-rose corsage lay beside the box.

"Something from Tom, I take it."

"Yes, it is," was all she could answer and hoped to leave immediately, but Perry was persistent.

Walking toward the table, he announced, "Interesting box. May I?"

"No!" The word fairly exploded from her lips, surprising even Jenna. Struggling to regain her lost composure, she offered, "I'm sorry, Perry. I'd just rather you didn't, if you don't mind."

Looking slightly shaken, but still intrigued, he again looked at the box, the amusement gone from his face entirely. If Jenna could have read the emotions that now smoldered behind those perfect blue eyes, she could have made her decision on the spot, but she had no way of truly knowing what was in this man’s heart. She would know soon enough.

“Alright. Shall we go, then? I have a truly wonderful evening prepared for us.”

The car Perry drove was a small black Porsche, immaculate in every way, much like it's owner. Perry held the door for Jenna and closed it after she was comfortably seated. As they drove, they made small talk and he asked many questions about her regarding her course of study and her interests and hobbies in general.

The restaurant that Perry chose was as different as sky was to water from the one she had visited with Tom just the night before. This one had none of the intimacy and atmosphere of the smaller, simpler one. Though the food was excellent and nearly all the seats were filled, it felt far too public and busy to her and she had a mild sense of agoraphobia all the while she ate. Her instinctive desire was to run for the door, but instead she finished her meal and calmly asked Perry, "Would you mind if we leave now? This is all a bit too busy for me."

Perry smiled inwardly and responded quite simply, "Of course, Jenna. That will be just fine. We can go somewhere for drinks, if you like." Not waiting for an answer, he stood and came around behind her to pull her chair out as she gathered her things. A single tear escaped Jenna's eye and she quickly wiped it away with the linen napkin that was with her place setting, and then stood to go.

"Perry, you haven't told me anything about yourself. You were too busy asking about me. What kind of work do you do?" she asked when they were seated in the car again.

"I'm an investor. I learned it from my father and he learned it from his. Fortunately, I'm very good at it. Better than my forebears, actually. Not very humble of me to say so, but true nonetheless," he laughed as he added.

"I don't know much about that, but it must be exciting."

"It has its moments. I do it because I'm good at it, not because it was my first choice. It's easy for me, so that is what I do."

"Then you're not happy with it as your work? Not content, satisfied?"

Perry laughed aloud at the questions. "My, my. You do sound like a psychologist. I see that you'll be good at what you've chosen to do."

Jenna blushed, but continued. "I'm sorry. You just seemed to be inferring you might rather be doing something else, that's all."

"Well, to be honest, I would." He paused for effect, until Jenna was about to prompt him to finish his thought. "I would rather be doing just what I am doing right now—courting a beautiful woman." He grinned widely as he glanced at her, and then turned his attention again to the road.

Jenna blushed once again, but responded quickly. "I wouldn't think that would pay very well," she remarked, attempting to lighten the conversation.

"Oh, don't be so sure, my dear." Perry turned the car suddenly and slowed before a wrought iron gate that opened as he reached to touch a control above the sun visor. Jenna would have taken time to puzzle over and ponder his strange statement, had she not been so surprised by the sudden appearance of the beautiful estate that was revealed as they passed through the gate. The grounds were beautifully manicured and quite impressive, with large shade trees punctuating the beds of flowers and expanses of soft lawn.

"Oh, my...I had no idea this was here."

"Few folks do. Just the way I like it. The trees hide it pretty well from the outside," he said, referring to the still heavily wooded ring of growth surrounding the estate.

As the car stopped in front of the house, Perry ran around to get her door for her and Jenna stepped out and paused to admire the scenery for a moment. The house was a lovely two-story modern mansion, with hints of the old southern plantation barely noticeable in the design.

"Let me show you around my home." Perry reached to take her hand. The motion was very smooth and totally natural, but somehow Jenna hesitated uncomfortably at the thought of it. Why? she asked herself. He's done nothing to make me uneasy and yet I am. She shrugged mentally and then politely took his hand, though wishing for some excuse not to do so. If he noticed her hesitation, he gave no visible clue to the fact, but began their tour with a visit to the gardens.

The grounds were as gorgeous as any that Jenna had ever seen. The riot of colors among the flower gardens was absolutely breath-taking. Jenna relaxed, forgetting all her previous concerns and bending down, she smelled many of the individual flowers. Perry watched as she stooped at each in turn to admire the colors and fragrances. His eyes never left her for a moment, following her every movement, every curl of her hair and every curve of her body.

"Oh, my...so beautiful," Jenna gasped.

"My thoughts exactly." Something in his voice made her turn to look at him. He was staring intently at her and she knew suddenly that it was not the flowers to which he was referring. Jenna began to blush and turned again quickly to the flowerbeds before her. It was not the blush of a woman flattered and grateful for the attention, but one of discomfort and confusion. Was Perry just like the others after all? Was the outside of her all that he could see? Did he think of her more as a trophy to be possessed and shown off to others? Her hesitation was certainly noticeable this time and Perry broke the tension first.

"Shall we go see the interior of the house? There are some things I would love for you to see and tell me your opinion of."

She smiled graciously, but tentatively and rose to follow him, this time keeping her arms folded meaningfully before her and her eyes averted to avoid any such uncomfortable decisions again.

As Perry walked her to the entryway of the mansion, he surprised her suddenly by asking, "Jenna, tell me all you know about this Tom fellow. He must be quite something for you to be so protective and enamored of him."

Jenna looked as if she'd been slapped, so stunned was she by the question. All she could do was stand with her mouth open and stare at him.

"Well, I didn't mean to corner you, but I must say that the look on your face is priceless—well worth the risk of a slight offense." His smile did nothing to ease her discomfort and she suddenly wished she could be anywhere else in the world at the moment.

"He, uh...I met him at the party the other night where I met you and he just..."

"Excuse me, I thought you left before you could even properly meet me. At least you were trying to. How could you have possibly had time to meet anyone else? You were desperate to flee your crowd of admirers."

"Well, yes, but he just sort of pushed his way to the front and asked for my...my phone number." She hesitated even as she said it, knowing how strange it all sounded and she looked questioningly at Perry to judge his reaction.

"I see. No offense meant, but you just gave it to him with no questions asked? Just that easily?" He raised his eyebrow as he said it and his look of implied disapproval, though perhaps meant in jest, did little more than annoy her.

"I'm not easy, if that's what you are suggesting." She stood tall and resolute, glaring at him with an intensity that left no room for doubt that she was offended as he had just predicted and even more so than he had expected.

"I apologize. It was never my intent to suggest anything of the sort. Sometimes my sense of humor gets me into trouble. Please forgive me."

He seemed sincere and Jenna softened momentarily. "Alright. Maybe I'm a bit touchy today. Sorry."

"Don't mention it. Listen, I promised you a drink. We have a bar in the other room here and I've become somewhat of an expert at mixing. I've even invented a concoction or two of my own, if you'll permit me to treat you. I'd like your opinion."

"That would be fine. I have been a bit high-strung the last few days. Perhaps I could use a little something to calm my nerves.”

Perry led Jenna to the downstairs where he showed her to some paintings he said he wanted her opinion on. Perry busied himself behind the wet bar while Jenna studied them closely. Everything in the house was of the highest quality, she noted, from the carpet and chandelier upstairs to the hardwood floors of the lower level. “These are absolutely lovely. I’m certain they must be very valuable.”

In a moment Perry offered the drinks he had prepared. There were two and each was entirely different. "Come have a seat, Jenna. Make yourself comfortable. I'd like you to try both of these and tell me what you think. I want to know which one you like better." He smiled warmly as he handed the first drink to her.

Her face brightened a bit as she sat down at the bar and began to taste the drinks. The first one was a dark, rich liquid that smelled of cinnamon. "Mmmmm, very good. What is it?"

"The recipe is a secret, but I call it Midnight Sky. You need to take a larger swallow to appreciate it fully. Let it rest on your tongue a moment and then let it slide down slowly."

She did as instructed. It was indeed an excellent drink. She set the glass down as the warmth hit her belly and began to relax her.

"Now, try this one," Perry said, handing her the second drink.

"What about you? You're not drinking?" She noted that he was intent only on having her taste them.

"Plenty of time for that. I'm more interested in your reaction right now, to be honest. This one is called Strawberry Surprise. Tell me what you think of it."

The second drink was as light and pink as the first had been dark and deep. She admired the color and the sparkle briefly before raising the glass to her lips for a sip. "This is delicious, Perry. They are both absolutely delightful. I’m afraid I can't choose a favorite. Sorry to disappoint you." She raised the glass again and did as before, letting the flavor absorb into her taste buds before swallowing slowly. She was beginning to warm up and felt a bit flush as the alcohol hit her bloodstream. "I'm not really much of a drinker, but these are truly wonderful. I suppose the second is a secret recipe, also?" She smiled softly as she waited for his answer.

"Yes, I'm afraid so. I could tell you, but then you could never leave here again." He laughed as he said it, then added seriously, "You know, it might be worth it if I could keep you always." He leaned toward her on his elbows and stared dreamily into her eyes as though he would soon kiss her. Jenna flinched involuntarily and nearly slipped from her chair, grabbing the bar just before she fell over.

"Well, you really were serious, weren't you? You must be hypersensitive to alcohol. You haven't really had that much to drink at all." He slid the glasses back from her and put them under the bar, out of reach and out of sight. "Here," he said, coming around to her side, "Let me help you." He took her hand and put the other arm around waist and pulled her to her feet, leading her to a softer seat in a nearby corner. Jenna had far more difficulty walking than what she thought two or three swallows of alcohol should have caused her. Her thinking was getting noticeably muddled, as well.

Sitting her down, Perry again suggested, "Jenna, tell me about Tom—all you know."

Jenna blinked several times, trying to get her eyes to focus on the dual image of Perry before her. 'I don't know much about him," she heard herself saying slowly. It was almost as if she were watching a film instead of living the experience, so detached did she feel at the moment.

"Come now, Jenna. You gave him your number and you went out with him. He gave you a gift that you guard like it was gold. Certainly there is far more that you can tell me about him." His voice was mild and soothing and Jenna felt that he spoke the truth, but struggle as she might, there was nothing more she could recall to tell him.

"He never told me his last name or what he does." She spoke slowly and thickly, as though hypnotized or half-asleep.

"And yet you get so important a gift from him. Tell me about it, Jenna." He still spoke calmly, his voice pacifying her further.

"It's a love letter."

"He wrote you a love letter?" His voice raised and even in her haze, she could sense a degree of agitation. She began to fear she might be the target of it and winced inwardly at the thought, but continued.

"No. It's very old. He just gave it to me. It's very special and I was afraid to take it."

"Afraid? Why?"

"It should be protected and saved for someone he knows much better than me." She now recalled Tom's words—that he knew her and she knew him more deeply than she was then willing to admit. That she should search her heart and feelings for the truth of it. The thought caused her mind to wander, forgetting where she was until startled by Perry's voice again.

"Why did you give him your number when you don't know him? Why is he giving you love letters when you don't know him? How could you go out with him and still know nothing about him?" In her stupor, the questions were delivered rapid-fire, incessantly and without pause, with Jenna becoming more ill at ease with each one that she was not given time to answer. "It seems to me that you know nothing about him at all and that he is the real cause of your upset—isn't that correct, Jenna?"

"No, it isn't like...."

"Isn't that correct?!" He raised his voice, suddenly interrupting her response and Jenna began to fear he would lose his temper altogether. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands so tightly that her nails dug into her palms. The pain seemed to clear her head somewhat and she could ignore Perry's voice more effectively.

Something is wrong, she thought. I don't drink very often, but that was not nearly enough alcohol to leave me with so little control. The only logical conclusion was that she had been drugged and the thought hit her like the proverbial ton of bricks. Her mouth dropped open in surprise and she stared in total disbelief at Perry, who was still trying to cajole an answer from her.

"He is the cause of your problems, yes?"

The answer now exploded from her lips. "No! I know him now—and I know you, too. Leave me alone!" She struggled to get to her feet, nearly falling over in the attempt. Perry reached to steady her and she slapped his hands away in anger.

"Jenna, you've had too much to drink and you're not thinking clearly. You need to sit down before you get hurt or do something you will later regret." He spoke to her as if she were a wayward child in need of a scolding, but it was too late to influence her for she now saw clearly through his act. Her only desire was to get as far from him as possible, in as little time as it could reasonably be accomplished. This man was nothing more than a hideous monster and there was no telling to what lengths he might go if she were to pass out there and alone with him. She remembered his comment about her not being allowed to leave. Her head must be clearing, for she was now recalling several things. The names of the drinks—Midnight Sky and Strawberry Surprise. 'Midnight' for knockout drops and 'Surprise' for her loss of control, perhaps? Had she been more in control, Jenna knew she would likely attempt to exact revenge in the form of a slap to the face, but it seemed most prudent now to make haste and put all possible distance between him and her.

"Call a cab for me, Perry." She spoke firmly and purposefully.

"Jenna, you need to rest awhile. We can talk in the study, if you like."

"I won't ask again, Perry. Call a cab now!"

His whole demeanor changed in an instant. His eyes narrowed and his jaw set firmly before he answered. "Alright, Jenna, but I truly would hate to see you do something you would regret later."

Though he spoke softly, she felt instinctively that it was a veiled threat rather than genuine concern. A shiver went through her, but she held her ground and in a moment he turned to go the phone in the next room. She heard him talking as she walked slowly and methodically in the direction of the stairs. It was difficult, but the adrenaline seemed to be aiding her in the effort. Jenna was truly angry that he would do such a thing to her. It was completely incomprehensible and unforgivable.

"The cab has been called. Come sit and we'll talk while you wait."

"I think you've said all I care to hear and then some, Perry. I'm going to wait outside, if you don't mind." With that she pulled herself up the stairs and made straight for the front door and into what she felt was the safety of the yard. She was thankful that he did not follow her and she paced back and forth to burn off her anger and the haze of whatever drug he had caused her to ingest.

Half an hour passed and Jenna knew it had been long enough for the taxi company to send a cab and for it to arrive. With new resolve, she again made for the front door and pushed it open without knocking. Perry was there waiting. "Changed your mind and want to talk?"
"Not a chance. You never called my cab, did you?"

"No, I thought you'd calm down and we could discuss it like adults." The subtle inference was that she was behaving in a childish manner.

"Your attempts at psychological manipulation won't work, Perry." She pushed past him and went to the phone herself and dialed Denise Jameson's number. Denise had given it to her the day Jenna had moved in and it was an easy number to remember, even when clouded by the effects of whatever drug Perry had administered to her.

"You're making a big mistake, Jenna." He spoke coldly to her and there was no mistaking the meaning in his tone. She had not seen the last of him, to be sure. There was, however, no other choice for her.

"Perry, you're the one who made the mistake here. I would guess you are so used to getting your way that any method is preferable to human decency and genuine friendship. I could have liked you with time—that's the ironic part of it all." She waited while the phone was ringing through, but he made no effort to answer, apologize or even make excuses. Jenna turned away in disgust and asked Denise to meet her at the main road.

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