To enjoy this story thoroughly, click here for episode 1

Mr. Manuel was feeling very disappointed when he left the Principal’s office. The only time he could look at his daughter all he could say was “Pick up your bag and meet me in the car.” He sat in his Mercedes and fussed as he waited for her to return. What could have gotten into his sweet little girl? Where did he fail as a parent?

He had never been summoned to school for any of his children except when his last son had a medical emergency in school a few years ago. He had been so proud of how well his children were doing morally and academically. What changed?

A couple minutes later a tap on the passenger’s side brought him back to the present. He unlocked the door to let his daughter in and wanted to start the car but had to get something off his chest first.

“Grace why? Why would you do such for God’s sake? Why? What has come over you?”

She kept mute.

“Did you hear me? I’m asking you a question? A video of yourself? I mean where did you even learn such?”

His raised voice startled his teenager. “Dad, I’m sorry.”

“Oh you better be but that doesn’t answer my question.”

She started to cry, making her father feel even more frustrated. He started the car and drove off.

*            *            *         

As arranged, about six weeks before the wedding day. The bride visited the Tech Company in the company of her groom-to-be. When an official announcement was made of the couple’s visit, an arrangement went into motion to have one of the largest staff meetings. Initially, only representatives of departments were invited to attend, but many more people wanted a glimpse of the soon to be boss’s wife. So the auditorium was packed. As for Martha, she was already very pretty but with some royal touch she looked exquisite. She smiled shyly when she was introduced and had the majority of her audience charmed. It didn’t help that she had dimples and beautiful squinty eyes that made her smile captivating and simply genuine. She had a moment to introduce herself and spoke a little about her work at Meadow Juvenile Center.

At the end of the meeting, many staff members stayed back to get a one on one moment with Martha. Some wanted to make a first impression for selfish reasons; because getting noticed by the wife of a boss may have a positive influence on their future career at the Company. One of those was Mark – a young staff in his late twenties from the marketing department. The moment he held Martha’s hand in a firm handshake, he admitted to something that had been on his mind since he first set his eyes on her that day. 

“You look astonishingly beautiful ma’am and quite familiar too.” He said.

Martha simply smiled, albeit, a bit awkwardly and withdrew her hands from him politely. It always made her uncomfortable when people randomly recognized her. Notwithstanding, she shook off the thought.

She went on to meet everyone else before it was time to leave. Multiple times she had to answer the question of whether she’ll be joining the Company after the wedding. It was too early to determine, so she gave a vague answer.

Three days later, she was shopping inside one of her favorite clothing stores when she got a call from a private number.

“Hello Ms. Martha Rose aka Ms. ‘twice irresistible.’” A male husky voice said on the other end.

Martha’s heart immediately skipped a beat on hearing her name, especially her former nickname. “Who are you?”

“Your worst nightmare.”

“What is that supposed to mean? How did you get my number?” She tried to maintain control of her voice even though she felt color draining from her face.

“Let’s take it easy little girl? Trust me, how I got your number will be the least of your worries. Here, I will go straight to the point. I have the tapes of you from your former job and I know you know what I mean.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Uh, uh, uh! Don’t try that with me little girl. I know who you really are and I bet much more than your Prince charming does but I think he will be happy to find out too or maybe he wouldn’t. Anyway, think about it.” The voice gave a demeaning laugh and ended the call.

Martha stood there transfixed for what seemed like forever. Her heart pounding so hard she held her chest to perhaps secure it in place. 

“What just happened?” 

She managed to pick up her handbag and left the store. As she drove mindlessly back home, she tried to convince herself that the call wasn’t real. Even if it was, it was a lame attempt at blackmail. However, for the rest of the day she was restless and distracted.

The next day the strange caller called again but Martha ignored it and a few other calls including a call from Prince Dave unintentionally. 

Prince drove up to her house to check on her because she had missed an appointment with her event planner and was not picking her calls. He was surprised to find her looking uncharacteristically unkempt. She denied anything being amiss and only gave him the impression that she was stressed by work. He insisted she took the day off and went out to have some fun to help her relax. They spent the rest of the day doing Martha’s favorite things to do but he still sensed she was disturbed and decided they just went home.

The stranger called again and although he calls with a different number each time, Martha always knew it was him. He finally sent her a video when she would not pick up his calls. Martha opened the video and there she found herself dancing naked and in a manner she now considers very inappropriate. At the time, though, she was young and stupid. Besides, she had to cater for herself.

Her mother had abandoned her at the young age of nine with an abusive uncle. She endured that life until she found the courage to run away fourteen. However, due to poor nutrition, she looked much younger than fourteen years of age so nobody would hire her for work. She started picking up and returning recyclable cans in exchange for change but whatever money she earned could barely feed her twice a day. One day, she ran into a girl about her age who introduced her to the owner of a club house where young girls danced for spectators.

Martha found food, shelter and some acceptance there. Shortly after she arrived, she was groomed to learn how to dance seductively to the cheers of some men. She did not understand what excited those men about a girl dancing but on the face of many of them she saw the similitude of her abusive uncle; that mental image sometimes made her want to gag on stage but as long as they didn’t touch her, and the club owner made sure no one did, she was okay just dancing. Martha mastered the art and also met her friend, Jane, who she fondly calls J.J. 

One day, a conversation with a rich and conversant client of her boss would draw her into the path that now hunts her sore. He had convinced her that day to find ways to make her own money. He showed her how to record herself dancing and also how to negotiate and sell her records. At first she did so moderately until some very rich people started demanding she completely stripped while recording. They paid well so she did not care much about the slight discomfort or consequence. Unknown to her, some of those people upload her recordings to some dark websites online, and to the internet that never forgets.  

By opening that message and watching the video, Martha became a true victim of her blackmailer. She had worked very hard to change her way of life and she feels that she deserves some forgiveness. That day, nonetheless, the video became another piece of her past that has to be erased. 

She gave up playing hard and picked his next call.

“What do you want?”

He mentioned an outrageous amount of money but Martha had no choice but to play to his tune. He promised to destroy all evidence the moment he got the money but he did not. Shortly after the first payment he started calling again. This time he was making more of an appeal than threats but maintained that he still had some of the videos. Martha was deeply pained but desperately wanted to protect her reputation. She knew that Prince fell in love with her partly because she has the image of a hardworking and reputable woman. How will he understand that she has worked hard enough to earn that look regardless of what her image in the video looks like? She panicked.

Again, she responded to the request of this monster, as she refers to him in private. Meanwhile, she was beginning to appear visibly traumatized.

*            *            *

That night Grace sat across from her parents and cried, but they were too petrified by her behavior to be moved by her tears.

“Grace dear” Her mom tried to stay calm. “Tell me the truth. I want to know exactly what happened.”

“Mom I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Honey I know you are, but I still need to hear how it happened. Look, the parents of your classmates are vowing to sue. So I need the truth. Please don’t leave any detail out.”

“It started last month.” She sniffed as she narrated. “A girl brought a video to class because it was trending online. It was about a woman dancing naked under the disguise of a digital filter. When we first saw it, everyone sort of condemned it. We knew none of us had the courage to do such. But shortly after, some of my peers started challenging themselves to do a modified version of it.”

“Why?” Her dad was impatient

“The girls said they did it for their boyfriends only.”

“You mean your classmates were taking nude videos to please little boys?” 

“Honey calm down. Please let her continue.” Her mom intervened because Mr. Manuel’s voice was already rising again. “Grace dear, what I still don’t understand is how you got involved.”

“I was lured, mommy.”

“How?”

“I have…I mean, I had a crush on a boy in my music class. I tried being friendly but he didn’t seem to even notice me. So when I heard my friends talk about how the video challenge is making them more attractive I thought, I thought I should try it.” She started to cry again.

Mr. Manuel and his wife looked at each other and nodded in understanding. “Grace, you can go to bed now. We will talk more about this tomorrow.” Her mom called and she obeyed.

“So it is a case of peer pressure. What do we do?”

“It is a case of peer pressure, but I thought Grace would know better.” Mr. Manuel was still upset. “We taught her better! Anyway, the principal insisted she has to see a counselor before she can return to school.”

“Really? How about other students involved?”

“Many of them have been expelled. Why do you think those parents were protesting?” Mr Manuel stared at his wife, surprised at her rather serene attitude towards such a serious matter.

Mrs. Manuel sighed “Just when I think I am starting to do something right, my kids give me a reason to question everything all over again. Tomorrow, I will do some research to look for a good counselor.”

“There’ll be no need. Her principal gave me a recommended list of places. I will make some calls tomorrow to find a good fit.”

“Thanks hon ” 

“Honestly, left to me, I would pull her from that school and switch to some catholic school where they have more discipline.”

“Calm down, remember we are raising them to be in this world but not to be of it.”

Mr. Manuel hissed and retired to his laptop.

FIND EPISODE 3 HERE

See previous story here

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