Brittany must’ve said something, but she could never remember.Tears filled her eyes and she couldn’t say much, and her mother took the phone from her and spoke for a little while longer.

Her father seemed a little mollified by what Erica told him of the principal’s words, but rage still seethed through him.He opened and closed his hands over and over, and he couldn’t sit still.

"John," said Erica, "he asked us to be there on the stage tomorrow with Erica.You’ve got to keep it under control."

"I’ll try," said John, "this is an attack I never anticipated.I thought I had it covered every which way.I thought I had you both protected.But everybody’s got a camera these days.And half the people you meet have a glass eye, so can take pictures of anything they see.How can I protect you from this?If I ever get my hands on this filth!"

"One thing is sure," said Erica, "it couldn’t have been a poor guy.It’s $4,000 for a 12-minute movie, and that’s the minimum!What a racket!"

"It had to have been somebody at school," said John, "otherwise how would the kids have known about it?That blog where the movie is posted is full of trash talk by idiot kids from our area.It could’ve been posted there by anybody, of course, but whoever posted it had a reason to resent Brittany.I can’t see a man doing that; he’d want to keep it to himself."

"What probably happened," said Erica, "is that some man paid for it, and then his son found it and didn’t know how it was made and posted it."

"They both should die," said John.

"They should," Erica agreed, "but they won’t.You’re not spending the rest of your life in prison for revenge, John.We’ll both be a lot less protected without you.I’m a good shot, but I can’t lug my rifle very far, can I?Remember our last backpacking trip?You ended up carrying my rifle as well as yours."

That seemed to calm John down a little, but he still seemed terribly disturbed.Brittany finally lay down again, fear thrumming through her.She didn’t want to get on stage, didn’t want to have all those eyes on her thinking she was a…like that actress.She didn’t want to be there when Mr. Valdez explained.She knew some of the kids wouldn’t believe it, or would pretend.She didn’t want to go to school ever again.

She fell asleep with tears on her face, and didn’t know then that her father had come to check on her, and those tears had brought his rage back to the breaking point.

The assembly seemed like another surreal nightmare.Brittany blushed and blushed, for even though she kept her eyes on her toes she could feel two thousand pairs of eyes on her.She felt hot, breathless, desperate, but her father’s arm around her shoulders anchored her in place.He was a rock.She had something to cling to.

"Settle down," said Mr. Valdez, standing at a microphone just to Brittany’s left, "settle down people!That’s better.Many of you may have heard a rumor about the young lady up here on the stage.I am here to tell you that the rumor is false.Many of you may have seen what you consider proof to the rumors.What you saw is an illusion.

"I was myself deceived by the illusion.Yesterday I suspended Brittany Carlisle pending expulsion.Today I am removing her suspension and she is on the stage so that I can apologize to her for my overly hasty actions.Before I do, however, I’m going to explain why.

"There is a website I will not name which makes it possible to take a picture of someone, male or female, send it in, and have it superimposed seamlessly onto the body of another person who then performs in an adult movie.Brittany’s picture is actually on that website as an example of how well they can take a photo of a girl walking down the street on her way to the bus stop and turn it into a sexy porn actress.When you see the two photos together it is obvious that they have very different bodies, but it is impossible to tell where exactly Brittany’s face is superimposed.The illusion is nearly perfect.

"I do not believe that anyone in this room paid for this to be done.It is $4,000 dollars at a minimum, and that seems too pricy for just about every student here, and Iknowit’s too much for the teachers."That brought the ghost of a laugh from the teachers, but overall every person in the room seemed stunned."It is possible, however, that a student posted the video paid for by his or her parent on the blog that many of you frequent.If this is so, and it is discovered, that student will be expelled and his parents will be sued by the school district on behalf of the Carlisles.The district’s legal team has already issued cease-and-desist orders to all the known purveyors of this garbage, and with any luck will bring the site in question down as well.

"Brittany is an innocent victim in this matter, and to my shame I made her a victim a second time.I have already submitted my resignation; obviously I was too quick to let my emotional reaction overcome my good sense.You’ll have a new principal in a few weeks.Meanwhile, Brittany, if you would please come up here?"

Mr. Valdez offered such a heartfelt apology that Brittany couldn’t help but cry.The look of concern, horror, and sympathy touched her deeply.She could only nod when he’d finished, and fell back into her seat, as her knees began to buckle.

"It is very important," said Mr. Valdez, "that we all take a lesson from this situation.We must withhold judgement when we don’t know all the facts.I was too quick to judge, and no doubt so were many of you.I felt doubt when I had her in my office, because her reaction to my false accusations was not what one would expect from a guilty person.No denials, no cynical posturing, no indignation, no, she was just stunned in disbelieve.I could see her collapsing in on herself, and the memory of that moment makes me more ashamed than I can bear.I should’ve known the truth then, but my anger remained too strong.

"Fortunately this rumor lasted only one day, so there was not time enough for many of you to mistreat Brittany.I hope those of you who did will apologize, and if I hear of anyone teasing her about it I will expel them the same day.I’ve already cleared it with the board.In a few weeks my replacement will do the same, it has been implemented as a policy.So leave her alone!She did nothing wrong at all!Walking to the school bus where somebody can secretly take your picture is not a crime!But whoever did this…"

John got up and grabbed the microphone stand.

"Whoever did this is a dead man," he said.

For a few weeks everything seemed almost normal.Most of the girls Brittany knew were very sympathetic, and many girls she didn’t know went out of their way to commiserate.She’d expected more spite, but apparently the fear of something similar happening to them made most of the girls ready to believe in her innocence.

A surprising number of the boys sympathized as well, and she found a lot of them felt very angry about the whole thing.On several occasions one boy would talk to her, with at least apparent sympathy, and another would come up and ask if the first was bothering her.Then they’d argue about who was doing the protecting and who the bothering.It comforted her, though she didn’t know why.

Three weeks after those two terrible days came another day even more terrible.She had noticed her parents arguing a lot almost every night.Her mother had seemed to be pleading with her father, though Brittany had been unable to hear the words.Then she learned the truth.

John had not managed to overcome his wrath.

She woke to hear her mother screaming, and ran downstairs to find Erica clad in a bathrobe shrieking at about fifty reporters to give off the property.After slamming the door Erica turned to Brittany and burst into tears.They clung together for a long time, and at last Erica told her the terrible truth.

John had taken his revenge.He’d shot a neighbor down the street and his 16-year-old son.Alex Roper had paid for the ‘slutify’ movie, and his son Tim had posted it online.Both of them were dead.

That had not been enough.John had planned his revenge well.He’d driven over to Van Nuys and killed every single person in the house that hosted ‘’Erica didn’t know how he’d tracked them down, but he’d shot the very model that had portrayed Brittany in the video along with everyone else.He had killed 13 people in all, and then given himself up to the police.He’d already confessed everything, and intended to throw himself on the mercy of the court.

"It’s okay, honey," said Erica, "we’ll be okay.But we’ve got to get away from here.We won’t be able to live here any more.I told him not to do it.He never said that he would, but I could feel it.I knew he was planning something.He just couldn’t stand what happened.They all deserved it, but…now it’s just you and me.We’ll be okay."

"It’s my fault," said Brittany, "it’s my fault…"

"It’s not!"Erica gripped her by the shoulders and looked at her with tear-filled eyes."None of this is your fault.You’re just what Mr. Valdez said: an innocent victim.It’s their fault.That disgusting Roper, lusting after you from his front window!And sometimes scum like that drive good men like your father to terrible things.Don’t take it on yourself!You did nothing wrong!"

It didn’t help. Brittany never forgave herself.

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