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Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Romance  ➡  Paranormal

Cursed (Book 1 of the Devil's Roses YA version)

CURSED

Book One of the Devil’s Roses

 

A YA novel by Tara Brown 

Copyright 2011 Tara Brown

http://TaraBrown22.blogspot.com

Amazon Edition

 

This novel is a work of fiction and is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This novel may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. No alteration or copying of content is permitted. This book is a work of the author’s crazy mind—any similarities are coincidental. Any similarities are by chance and not intentional.

 

 

Cover Art by Lori Follett at Wicked Book Covers

Edited by Andrea Burns

 

 

Other YA books by Tara Brown

 

The Devil’s Roses

Cursed

Bane

Hyde

Witch

Death

Blackwater

Midnight Coven

Redeemers

 

The Crimson Cove Mysteries

If At First

Second Nature

Third Time’s a Charm

 

The Born Trilogy

Born

Born to Fight

Reborn

 

The Light Series

The Light of the World

The Four Horsemen

The End of Days

 

Imaginations

Imaginations

Duplicities

 

The Blood Trail Chronicles

Vengeance

Vanquished

First Kiss

Sunder

In the Fading Light

White Girl Problems

The Seventh Day

 

 

 

 

 This book is about a 14+ read.

If you’re not sure if you should read it, ask a parent.

 

Thanks,

 

Tar

xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

Senior Year

 

 

Port Mackenzie 2010

 

“Aimee?”

I glanced up from my pages of scribbles. My daydream and doodling had gotten the best of me again.

“Aimee?”

Ms. Simms, my English teacher, offered a zesty stare. She was giving me the look she gave bad kids. I glanced behind her to the board, trying to figure out what we were doing.

Twelfth Night.

“Well?” She tapped her toes and crossed her arms. My Morse code was rusty but I translated enough of it to know she was pissed off. “What’s the theme Shakespeare is trying to hide beneath the themes we easily see?” She asked like she might have already done that a few times.

“Oh, uh.” I cleared my throat. “Beyond the obvious themes of the folly in ambition and the uncertainty of gender, Shakespeare, as he always did, liked to use the theme of love as a means to suffering—as if it were a weapon. Twelfth Night is one of many plays where this theme is present.” I sounded like her.

Ms. Simms smirked. “Nice answer.” She didn’t sound like she thought it was a nice answer. “Pay attention.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And there it was.

The difference between the other spaced-out morons she normally gave that look to, and me—I actually knew enough to get lost and still pass the class.

She was back to nattering while I noticed the eyes of my fellow underachievers stuck on me.

My gaze darted to the right, catching a gaze narrowing on me. “Nice answer. How do you pull that outta your butt?” Shane—sigh. That my brain’s version of his name. His eyes sucked me in, bright blue with thick, dark lashes. I barely noticed the smug look he was giving while making fun of me. “You are such a nerd.”

“Whatever.” I looked back down, fighting the urge to stare back at him. It was hard. He was everything. The whole package. And if I noticed him, even with my heart covered by a mile of frost and snow, he was hot.

He chuckled and turned back to Ms. Simms who rattled on about the themes I’d given her. Her passion for Shakespeare was undeniable.

She was single.

A cat lover.

Essentially me in fifteen years.

It was a sad fact I was slowly getting comfier with.

Seeing her passion for it made me realize I couldn’t ever be an English teacher. No single, female teachers should ever teach English. Austen, Hardy, Bronte, and Shakespeare abused our already tattered hearts with prose but adding the undeniably perfect male characters was setting a spinster up for failure. No modern man could compare to Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth.

Except maybe Shane. Sigh.

I got lost in the way he made the classroom glow brighter and let the creepy staring and sighing go for ten more second before I forced my gaze back to Ms. Simms. I reminded myself that I needed to forget I ever wanted him. He was dating my sister, which made him a no go.

In my peripheral he moved and flicked something at me, a ball of paper. “Did I mention I might need a tutor if I want to grad?”

“It’s too late for you, Shane. Year’s almost up.” I smiled wide, unable to stop myself from teasing him. I was far too comfortable with him to be as attracted as I was.

“The year’s not up, Aimes. There’s always hope. If I ace the final, I might actually get into college.”

“No. but you should have applied to colleges last year.”

He looked like he wanted to something else but didn’t. He just shrugged and grinned.

While I fought the urge to sigh aloud.

That smile had once been my food.

The bell rang, saving me from whatever else we might have said to one another awkwardly. My responses wouldn’t have been witty or intelligent. It would have been something Ms. Simms might have said while accidentally dumping tea on her cardigan and blouse.

Ms. Simms shouted homework and other things at us, but I jumped up and grabbed my books, fleeing from the class as Shane called my name.

My hands fumbled with the cold metal lock when I got to my locker in a panic to hide my crimson cheeks inside of its small opening. The second the lock popped I pulled it open and leaned inside shielded.

In the safety of the small opening, I took deep breaths and tried to convince myself that Shane hadn’t actually flirted with me.

“Aimee.” I winced when he spoke from the other side of the metal door.

“Yeah?” I took my last deep breath and closed the locker, smiling up at him. “Hey.”

Why had Shane followed me to my locker?

“I need to ask something.” He took a step toward me, as if we weren’t already close enough. Naturally I backed up but he missed the social queue and put a hand on my closed locker, taking another step closer—blocking my path. “I was wondering if you were going to come to my party?”

“What?” I’d heard him, I just didn’t understand.

“Yeah. I’m having a party.” He looked down at me in a way that melted all the ice around my heart. I let myself believe that his eyes held emotion that stretched beyond the simple question he had asked. “You haven’t been to a party all year, and it’s senior year and you’re going away to university. Who knows how long before we see each other again—all of us. I just thought, you know—cause it’s been a while and stuff.” He winced like he regretted what he was hinting at the second he said it. His regret didn’t stop the clenching feeling in my belly.

“Uh-uh-uh—n-no—probably not coming but thanks for the invite.” All I needed was a cardigan and a blouse and a cup of tea.

“Please.” His blue eyes dazzled me.

“Can’t.” I shook my head and turned away, running as fast as I could. There needed to be space between him and me.

My mind and heart wrestled over reactions.

Part of my wished I’d grown a pair and just grabbed his face and did what I’d always dreamed of. I would put my hands up into his hair and pull his soft-looking lips down on mine. Like he said it was senior year and I was leaving. As my moron sister always said, yolo!

But the other part of me, the dominant part, refused to believe that would be reciprocated. Ever. He was being nice and I was reading too much into it.

My crimson cheeks glowed in the mirrors of the girl’s bathroom. Being around him had grown harder in the past month. He was always there. Chatting and teasing and laughing.

Why did he want me to come to his party?

I never went to parties, mostly because I never got invited.

My sister’s boyfriend inviting me didn’t make me want to go.

Not because he was her boyfriend but because I should have cared he was. But nothing they did convinced me they should be together. She just liked that he was popular and his life was filled with drama. She thrived on drama. She used him to secure their place as most popular in everything because he was most popular.

It was depressing and gross to witness.

Especially because I was so obviously obsessed—unhealthily obsessed—with him.

Staring into the mirror of the cold bathroom I forced myself to really look into my eyes. They didn’t look hollow the way they had. In fact they looked a bit like they did before.

Shane was melting the ice around my heart.

I pushed it away and went to my next class.

After school, I avoided my mom’s spot and took the bus home. I didn’t want mom to see me crushing on my sister’s boyfriend, even though she would have understood. She knew I had loved him since I was old enough to understand boys and girls were a different species altogether.

When I got home my dad was in his office closed up tight. He had become a hermit. I wasn’t certain how vacation and bereavement leave worked in the real world, but I assumed eight months of not even trying to show up to work was bad. Not that I could judge him.

I’d also spent eight months not really showing up.

I grabbed a yogurt and went to my room to study but fell asleep instead.

Fog covered my eyes, but I could hear the people around me panicking. I put my hands out, trying to reach out to them. My throat hurt from screaming as I tried to find everyone.

But no one took my hand.

When the fog cleared I saw faces of people I didn’t know. They were calling for me. They were crying out. A guy with black eyes stood in the mist. He didn’t help, he just stared until the scene changed and he was gone.

Now disaster had struck the city I was in and I had a terrible feeling it was my fault. Someone called my name, no screamed it.

AIMEEEEEEE!

I looked around the city filled with debris and again he was there—his dark eyes.

I cried out just as he became Shane. Recognizing him made me try harder to get him to take my hand but he pulled away from me, horrified for some reason. I shouted his name repeatedly, but he wouldn’t look at me.

“Wake up, Aimee,” a soft voice whispered. It was my mom’s. I sighed and woke, softly at first and then startled.

I struggled against my own embrace through the beads of sweat soaking me.

“Mom?” The name slipped from my lips innocently. Realizing she wouldn’t come I blinked and tried to get my bearings.

I’d fallen asleep in my clothes again. Sitting up for a moment before I pulled my sweater off, I contemplated the dream. It was familiar or the same—maybe.

The night air brushed against me, making me shiver from the sweat.

I looked around expecting to see someone, certain that voices had woken me.

It was her.

Maybe she was trying to talk to me.

Instead of thinking about it, I rolled on my back and slipped off my jeans and pulled the blankets around me. The enveloping darkness was a warm comfort inside my bed.

I fell back to sleep and dreamed of him again, the guy with the black eyes. In the new dream I floated, staring at him with my parents and my sister. I was unable to float down to touch the ground or move at all. I floated in limbo, watching them.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

CT’s and daydreams

 

The breakfast table the next morning felt grim as I contemplated my dreams. As usual, I remembered very little. I didn’t have garden-variety teenage-girl dreams anymore. Nothing about my life in eight months had been garden-variety.

Tragedy struck.

There was no other way to say it.

We were stricken.

I got lost for an eternity within a second every couple minutes.

My mom died.

The day she died flitted about in my thoughts.

I’d walked home from school the long way.

A warm wind hit me.

It was a cool day.

I looked around at the swaying trees and branches and briefly thought about it being the Santa Ana winds from California coming up the coast.

I shivered at the exact moment my cell phone rang.

Everything slowed when I answered.

My sister screamed into the phone. 

My legs ceased to exist.

My body crumpled on the side of the road.

My soul literally made an attempt at leaving me.

My chest felt as though it had ripped into a million tiny shards.

Actual physical pain paralyzed me.

For the first time in my life, I knew my heart’s exact location in my body.

Her death took my breath and my sanity, simultaneously.

I sat on the cold concrete and rocked back and forth in an attempt to block myself from the truth.

Hope was taken from my world, snatched.

A chunk of my heart had broken off and wilted on the ground in front of me.

I didn’t know just how large of a piece it was.

But I did know I would never recover.

Lying to myself, I convinced my poor broken heart that I would be fine as long as I didn’t leave that spot on the road—the spot where I’d felt the warm wind. No doubt it had been my mom brushing against me. It was her last time to tell me how much I was loved.

Of this I was certain.

I, a child of science and reason, believed this without a moment of hesitation.

My father was the first to come to me.

He wrapped himself around me and we shook together, not that I felt him or the pain in my body from sitting on the concrete.

If I acknowledged one pain, I would have to face the others.

He tried to get me to come to the truck, his truck in the middle of the road with the headlights shining into the darkness.

But I couldn’t leave. Nothing was special about that place on the side of the road where my mom had touched me last.

“Earth to Aimee! How does this look?”

I shivered at the memories and looked down at my mushy cereal and then up to see my twin sister frowning at me. She posed like a peacock, modeling a pair of black leggings with huge gray boots and a silver sweater that hung off her left shoulder.

We might have been fairly identical if not for the different colored hair and eyes and her intense fashion sense. That made it easy to tell us apart.

“What?” I rolled my eyes at yet another piece of silver clothing. I wondered where she got them all. I had a terrible feeling she was stealing them.

Alise, not Alice, had always been stunning. She had been beautiful at birth. Which sucked, because we were born at the same time.

Twins but opposites.

Where she had jet-black hair and silver eyes like our mom, I had blonde and blue. My eyes weren’t even an attractive blue—more like gray. It was as if they tried to become silver like my sister’s, but quit part way.

We shared every other feature which seemed to work on her.

On me it looked uneven and plain.

We were both five feet seven inches, one hundred and thirty-three pounds.

She was hot and I was smart.

Classifying and objectifying us was simple. Classic opposites.

“How do I look?”

“Fine.” I sighed with a hint of disapproval—well, maybe not a hint. Rarely was it hinted that I disapproved of everything she did.

Alise rolled her eyes and grabbed a banana. “Oh my God, Aimee. What is your problem today?”

“Nothing!”

“Are you moping, still?”

“No.”

She folded her arms. “Bad dreams again?”

“No.” I wasn’t going to let her in, it led to dark places where she mocked me openly and I cried inwardly.

“You know mom wants us to be happy, right?”

“Whatever.” I flinched at her saying the ‘Mom’ word as if she was giving me motherly advice.

She tilted her head and continued in a less harsh tone. It was more like patronizing, to everyone who wasn’t three years old. “She’s watching us from Heaven, and she’s going to worry about you if you don’t snap out of it. You’re going to disappoint her by not living, not the opposite.”

“Thanks.” I gave her my best blank stare.

“Oh my god, whatever. Be a loser. I don’t care.” She turned on a heel and stormed out the door to her car.

Alise’s words stung.

Not only did the constant double negatives bother me, but I hated that she was right. Even though I knew I should, I couldn’t force myself move past what had occurred eight months prior.

Thinking about it made the walls close in around me and the air heavy.

I bolted for the stairs to my room and dove onto the carpet beside my bed. The carpet rubbed against my elbows.

In a panic, I fished the secret envelope out from under the bed.

Once the treasure was in my hands, I opened it slow and methodically.

I didn’t want to tear the plastic bag within the manila envelope. As always I was careful. I paused, letting it release its contents into the air. I held the plastic bag under my nose as the fragrance filled my nostrils, the sweet smell that became the air around me.

The walls started to come down a little, the smell of my mom made all the bad feelings small again.

“You existed, you loved me, you existed, you loved me,” I chanted.

I was grateful the perfume had maintained its strength—thanks to the protective plastic bag. My heart was beating out of my chest, but I forced the world to stop. I needed to feel her. Even if it was only for a moment, she was there.

I decided on the way back downstairs that I would visit my mom after school and see if I could just get a small feel of her again. Sometimes being at the side of the road was like a hug sent in a letter, where even though it wasn’t real, the intent made you feel warm just the same.

Inpatient as always, Alise honked the horn of the car at me. It warmed my frosty heart to see my sister’s glare through the windshield. She shouted at me but I ignored her. Instead, I took an extra-long unnecessary second to lock the house. It was small victories like that which got me through the day.

I never spoke to my sister about our mom.

I wanted to.

I wanted to tell her that being a little sad wouldn’t kill her.

Or that acting like it had in fact impacted her life wouldn’t make her look weak. If anything, it would make her seem more human.

I hated that she had seemed to cruise past it all like nothing had happened. She cried a modest amount at the funeral on Saturday and shopped with friends on Monday. I had stayed in bed for weeks until my father threatened to commit me.

I resented his wanting to be the only one suffering.

Eight months later you wouldn’t have even known her mother was dead.

Slumping into the seat of her car and turning away from her, I watched the road blur by the window like an impressionist painting left out in the rain. Alise talked in a steady and unyielding stream on her Bluetooth. The whole ride was a series of OMG and seriously and I can’t even, on both their parts. I often wondered if it was a modern-day Morse code.

Where I was shy, Alise had always been outgoing.

Our father, like myself, mourned alone in the quiet of his mind. He preferred to withdraw to his office where he pretended to work.

We knew he sat there surrounded by a million reminders of her. I tried not to judge him too harshly. I too had my own reminders of my mom, like the stolen nightgown and a few other key items. I had locked them away in Ziploc bags and smelled them like a serial killer. I had kept them under the bed for eight months without anyone seeing. I tried not to think about how creepy it was.

Alise blathered on with her friend Giselle. “Ok girl, peace out.” She looked at me as she clicked the phone off. “Can you believe that? Jaime’s going to freak when she hears that shit. That Angela chick was with her boyfriend and now she’s not coming to school.”

“I don’t like wasting brain cells on Giselle or Jaime.” I shrugged, clueless about what she was talking about.

“Dude!” Alise groaned as we pulled into the school parking lot. “If you don’t try to be normal again—well, your nerdy normal way—they’re going to lock you away for depression. It’s going to be in one of those places where the girls don’t shower and all become lesbians.”

I stifled a laugh as she ranted like a scary bigot.

“Like a week ago I heard Ms. Sinclair talking to the guidance counselor about you. She said some crap about how they are noticing your inability to find happiness again or something like that. No one said you have to forget Mom, but you need to try to still be alive. Besides, it’s embarrassing having the emo-angst queen as my sister.”

I ignored her usual speech, and instead focused on the asylums full of unkempt lesbians around the country. It made me smile, even if it was completely wrong to do so. She was so insane.

She nattered on and on about the fact I would never leave dad’s house. She called it dad’s like mom didn’t still own half. It was little things like that which made me want to strangle her.

When we finally got to the parking lot, I leapt from the car and raced to my locker. It was better than murdering her in front of everyone.

Alise’s greatest fear was not being prom queen.

Mine was forgetting about my mom and accidentally falling into being a happy person again. Some days when I didn’t fight it hard enough, I caught myself resurfacing. It was happening more and more.

I knew the end of my depression was coming, sooner than later.

I wasn’t naturally depressed. It was an irregular state for my body.

Coasting through classes doodling had been my thing for some time but today I couldn’t stop thinking about my dream. It had been a repeat, I swear it. I remembered seeing that look on my father’s face—a look of fear.

He was obviously worried about me, but who was he to be pointing fingers. Alise swore she had caught him sitting in his walk-in closet under Mom’s dresses and clothes. He was crying softly while touching the bottoms of them, running his fingers gently along the hems. And he hadn’t come out of his office much, except to ground Alise every other day. But he went back in straightaway.

The bell rang for lunch before I realized I had even gone to my second class. Lost for a moment, I glanced down at the homework assignment I had written, amazed it was a coherent sentence. I picked up my books and slipped from the class, not making eye contact with anyone.

“Aimes, wait up,” a voice rose above the sounds of the other kids, perking up my ears. It was a voice that warmed my heart.

Blake winced when he saw me. His reaction was my daily awareness check. Clearly I was failing today.

He was the only person who saw me past my sadness, maybe the only one who really remembered me from before.

I stifled a laugh as he stumbled up the stairs near my locker. Blake was massive, not fat but tall like a giant. His body was something he, and everyone around him, was still getting used to.

“Hey, Blake.”

“Wow!” He smiled at me, barely looking up from his iPhone. “You look special today, Aimes. Enough with the black already, huh.” He was the only person who could be mean to me and still make a smile cross my lips.

“I like black.” I tried to be serious as I closed my locker and we started to walk.

“No.” He looked up from his phone, blinking like he had just woken up. “No, you don’t, and you’re starting to look like one of the Goths. It’s hard to hang in the nerd crowd when you scare them. We scare easily.” He walked forward and opened the door to the cafeteria for me.

“We aren’t exactly the nerd crowd. It’s just you and me.” I shook my head. “And I’m still in mourning. According to tradition it’s a full year before we wear colors again.”

“That’s for widows in the 1800s and Gone with the Wind spinsters. I miss you in spring colors and shorts. I miss you having color on your skin. I miss your eyes, and how they used to sparkle. Now they’re dull, like fish eyes. When that Aimee comes back, I think we should have a party.”

He missed me in colors and wanted to have a party?

He was the only boy in the world who I could actually imagine myself with.

We matched.

The idea of it made me wonder. Wondering made me forget how sad I was. It was a vicious cycle. He was a problem.

“A party, huh?” I walked through the door, almost laughing. “Who will come?”

“The chess club, mathletes, obviously us science geeks, and I like the kids at the newspaper. They’re not as smart as we are, but they know politics and a lot of them believe the CTs, Aimes. I have to respect that.”

That made me laugh, out loud. My laughing muscles had grown soft and weak over the past winter.

But it was impossible not to laugh at Blake. He was a genius who believed in CTs—Conspiracy Theories. He believed nothing the media wrote. Well, unless university students or someone working for some low budget paper wrote it. The kind that relied on a mailing list as opposed to general publication for the masses. He was the smartest dummy I’d ever known.

“You’re crazy.” I sighed.

“Speaking of crazy.” He smacked me in the arm, frowning. “Did you see the Facebook posts coming off my mom lately?”

“No.” I hadn’t logged into Facebook or any other social media in eight months.

“I’m starting to think older people don’t get the whole—it’s for connecting or reconnecting with people—it’s not Twitter. My mom has what she ate for lunch yesterday, she has that she went to her yoga class, she has that she bought a new bra, and for her friends to check that store out. What the hell? I told her that from now on, I’m posting everything I do in a day so she can see how annoying it is.”

His face was red as he ranted. I loved his rants.

“I told her tomorrow my Facebook status is going to read, ‘Blake McGinnis had a great crap today, came out with very little pushing. I just want to thank Kellogg’s for upping the fiber count in the cereal.’”

I laughed again as we walked to our usual lunch table, where the other nerds raised eyebrows at me laughing.

He continued, “I think then, about three hours later, I will put, ‘Blake McGinnis just held his cat Chuck down and sniffed his neck fur.’”

I couldn’t even stop myself if I wanted to. The laughing started to get painful.

His arms flailed about now. “Then I think at around seven I will post, ‘Blake McGinnis is questioning his humanity and had a bad thought about his neighbors.’ Then at least my mom will have something to worry about. Jeeze, I get tired of reading her crap.”

I was the Grinch. My chest expanded and my heart seemed to shake off its icy winter coat and let in the spring sunlight. Even the school looked brighter. I noticed the other kids talking and making movements and wearing colors.

I sat down as one of the girls at the table leaned in and whispered. “Did you guys hear some girl got date rape drugged at a party a couple days ago?”

“What?” So much for feeling better.

Blake shook his head, his eyes darting across the cafeteria. “Who?”

“I don’t know. They aren’t saying who it was, just that a girl who was seventeen got drugged and assaulted.”

“What is the world coming to?” Blake shook his head, nudging his glasses up.

“My dad works for the town and they said she’s not doing so hot, she’s been taken to the city.” She sat back, as if the news hour was over and were all now well informed.

Another girl nodded and joined in. “I heard it was Angela Marshall. And she was found like in the woods on the far side of town. Dying. I hear she isn’t the first one either. The sheriff is keeping it quiet until they know more. They don’t want to scare the town.”

“Creepy.” I shuddered, glancing about the massive room at all my peers.

It was possible one of the people in here was a pervert, statistically speaking.

After lunch we walked into class and I noticed I was still in an all right mood. Even with the raping.

I chalked it up to chemistry being my favorite class. For me, chemistry was simple. The reaction was caused by the chemicals or elements involved. No surprises and no guessing. I loved the predictability that came with knowing the elements. It was a controlled environment.

Blake loved chem too, but it was because Mr. Mac was his hero. He held three degrees and a master’s by the time he was twenty-four.

Mr. Mac was my favorite teacher but not for the same reason as the other girls. Every girl in school had a crush on him. He looked much more like a student than a teacher, having only just graduated with his master’s. It earned him hottie-teacher status, which he was oblivious to.

He was handsome, but I only noticed it after my sister pointed it out to me. Something about his face didn’t do it for me. He wasn’t my type. My type hadn’t changed in ten years. The only problem with ‘my type’ was his current status as my sister’s boyfriend.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

The spot

 

 

On the way home from school, I took my usual detour instead of the bus or a ride with Satan, aka. Alise.

I hurried when I saw it and sat down on the roadside, pulling the new dandelions of the year I had gathered along the way. “Hey, mom.” I smiled, closing my eyes for a moment. A warm breeze trickled along the cement. In my mind she was there, she was the tornado sucking my hair up into the air.

“Did you have a good week? I haven’t been by. I’m sorry.” I started making the crown of flowers, just the way she did. “It’s been a weird week. Remember last time I was here and I said I was getting annoyed with my partner? Well Mr. Mac said that I could just do my own project, since my partner still is absent. I don’t know what’s up with her, but it’s been like two weeks. Maybe it’s the plague. Anyway, I’m lucky it’s Mr. Mac. He treats us like people, not students. He gets that I can’t control her not showing up. I like that he’s is an actual chemist too.” I finished my crown and placed it on my head. “There, just like you made.”

Just as I needed it to be, the warm wind brushed against me again.

A car drove past, dispersing the wind and chasing my mom away.

I tried to ignore people seeing me here. I knew they made fun of the fact I came here to the side of the road, beside the tree where I’d made the mark.

The fact that my mom hadn’t died anywhere near the tree made me the town weirdo. In truth though, someone had died there. Me. It was why I was haunting it.

Twenty-eight hundred people populated the little seaside hamlet, Port Mackenzie. Small enough that everyone noticed when Don James’ quiet daughter sat on the side of the road, talking to a tree. I was supposed to be the smart one. If it had been Alise, no one would have bat an eyelash.

Slowly my gaze lifted to the mark on the tree, filling me with pain and shame.

There, in the torn bark and skin of the tree, my blood made a cross. I had pulled and ripped the bark in a panic, so I would never lose the spot.

I was surprised that the blood hadn’t washed away in the winter rains. The tree held onto enough color that I could always find it. The bloodstain was old and brown, but if you knew where to look, you could see the faint outline of the cross. Perhaps the tree knew I needed it.

But how long would I need it?

Before my mom’s accident I was on the path to being a woman. I had just come to the realization I was ready for love. I wanted something romantic like in an Austen or Hardy novel. After her death I lost it.

Lately, when the sun shone and Shane Bagley smiled at me, I had to fight to be sad.

“Mom, I can’t fight it much longer. I can’t stay sad forever.” I whispered. “I see Alise being Alise and I hate her. I don’t know if I’ll miss you the same amount if I’m not depressed all the time. But I think it’s time to find out.”

The cool wind twirled around me, now not nearly as warm as it had always been. Maybe it was the winds of change, refreshing and energizing. My mom did want me to be happy. I knew that.

I stood up, feeling blood rushing back into my legs with painful pins and needles. “Love you.”

I turned and left, sad and optimistic about it.

When I got home my sister was pouting in the corner, with a stormy face that could have devastated a coastline. I could only assume it was still that dad had put her on restricted party attendance for a month. Alise hadn’t been to a party in four weeks, which no doubt affected her most popular girl in school status. Our father was a marine biologist so his sympathies didn’t lie with social standing.

Her big silver eyes glistened as if she had been crying. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had. She would pull out all the stops to get her way. Even at seventeen I had seen fainting, holding her breath, screaming, not talking to people for months on end, refusal to eat or drink, and many, many more dramatics. It always seemed to be in the pursuit of her eternal happiness, which only ever lasted about an hour.

I rolled my eyes as my sister’s gaze fixed on me.

Like in a cartoon, the cogs began to move as a desperate plan clicked into action. An evil plot formed in the mind of the feeble but wicked scheming brat. Seeing my sneer, she shifted gears. Her eye twitched as her poor brain worked overtime in desperation to come up with a bargaining chip.

I imagined a little hamster gasping for air on his little wheel, trying to keep her mind moving.

A façade crept across her face.

She was so obvious it pained me.

I hated getting dragged into her schemes.

She smiled her prettiest smile at me, like I was a guy who could get caught up in her spell. “There’s a party tonight at Shane’s house, a huge party—a fun party.” She looked pitiful. “Can you come with me? It’s senior year. We never hang out, you and me. Come on. Pretty pleeeasse. I have to go. How can his girlfriend not be at his party? This could end our relationship. He could cheat on me, or think I’m lying about not being allowed, and think I’m cheating. My love life depends on this party.”

My heart sank.

Of course!

She was why Shane had asked me to go to his party. It hurt but it made sense.

He wanted his girlfriend pretty dumb.

She begged on her hands and knees and pouted her perfectly glossed lips at me, as her silver eyes sparkled under the butterfly wings she was graced for lashes.

“This shit doesn’t work on me. You know I’m a girl right?”

“Hardly, with what you’re wearing, Aimes.” She laughed and then quickly recovered back to batting her eyelashes at me.

Deep down, the idea of being at Shane’s house was tempting, even if he only wanted me there to be with my sister.

The real question was whether I was that pathetic or not.

Just as I was about to admit I was exactly that pathetic, she succumbed. “I can’t go without you. I’ll do your laundry and be nice to you for a month. Even at school. Like really nice.”

“Laundry. I do hate laundry.” I pretended like I was contemplating the possibility. “Fine.” I ignored the sick feeling of making a deal with the devil. “Deal, but you have to be nice to me for a month, and do my laundry according to washing instructions, and drive me anywhere I want. And I want drink service tonight, nothing nasty or filled with booze, but good drinks all night, handed to me from your hand to mine. And I’m bringing Blake tonight and you have to drive us to the party as you would any other friend. I’m not riding in the trunk.”

“Blake’s coming?” Her eyes widened and then she stuck her hand out, excited. “Deal.”

“Please.” I brushed past her, wincing away from her hand. “Like I would touch that. I know where your hands go. Besides, you have no honor, shaking means nothing to you. I’ll draw up a contract and tell Blake to be ready for eight.” I imagined she would want it signed in blood, like all evil demons.

“Whatever.” She laughed. “You’re sort of a bitch, Aimee, a funny bitch. Eight sounds like it’s on.” She jumped up and down excitedly. I had sold my soul to the devil.

“Keep pissing me off and I’ll make you sign it in blood.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

WOW

 

I went to my room to decide on an outfit for the night. I had never been the party type.

But when I got to my closet, I cringed, seeing how bleak it was—or rather, black. Some time ago, I had gone through everything and removed all of the color and joy from my closet.

I groaned and grabbed a black pair of skinny jeans and a dark-blue sweater. I changed and looked at my reflection. My sister was right which never happened. I looked like death.

My long blonde hair hung around my eyes that had dulled to a lifeless gray, with no zest or expression. My skin seemed not just white but powdered and flat. I looked scrawnier than ever and my skinny jeans were ridiculously hanging off of my body.

I couldn’t help but worry about the girl in the mirror. Her once perky nose looked a little big on her horridly thin face. Her full lips looked chapped and peeling, not kissable. Her eyebrows looked like they needed a little weed whacking.

I truly looked like a Goth. I couldn’t deny it.

When was the last time I’d actually looked at myself?

“Oh my God—you’re not wearing that! Take that off. I’ll be right back.” Alise was in and out before I could register what had happened. Without warning, she stripped the clothes from me, tearing off the sweater and dragging on a pink t-shirt, without caring how rough she did it. The long t-shirt had red lips down low on the left side. She undid my jeans to tear them off as she knocked me to the bed and pulled at them.

She rambled on about being old enough to dress myself, which made me blush as she dragged on the new jeans. They were dreadful. They were light blue with frayed pockets in the back and subtle whiskers in the front. There was an intentional rip in the right knee.

I hated the outfit instantly and wanted to undress the minute I saw myself in the mirror. I looked like one of her friends, which bothered me. I didn’t even want to think about the fact that I looked better.

That being said, the red lips felt like I was wearing a flashing sign that shouted ‘look at me!’

“You’ve gotten too skinny for skinny jeans and you look horrid in black. You’re a spring/summer, Aimee. You need color.”

She grabbed my arm and dragged me to her room, which could only be described as a cluttered and disgusting mess. I grimaced at the odor I couldn’t quite place, maybe I could. It was L’eau de Homeless Man who peed his pants and ate nachos.

“You want boys to like you, Aimes? You need to put a little makeup on and try a little harder. Guys don’t ask out girls who’ve already crossed over into spinsterhood. Here, try this,” she said as she made me sit in her makeup chair. Her hands flew up at me, as she started applying things to my face. I never spoke. I shut my sister out like usual and told myself I could wash my face when the torment ended. Alise tweezed and groomed like Edward Scissorhands, using both hands to do the work.

“You do like boys, right?” she asked without waiting for me to answer. “Well, you need to grab the guys you like and tell them you like them. Your friends are smart, but not in relationships. Nerdy guys are the hardest.”

I nodded, trying to pacify her as she ranted. I grimaced at her holding something that looked like a torture device and moving toward my eyes. “You know, when I liked Benny, he never knew for the first few weeks, but then I just told him one night at a pit party and we dated for like six months. Till I caught him with that slut Angela—that was disgusting.”

This was the story of Alise’s life. She had already dated at least fifteen boys in the last four years.

I had still not dated a boy once.

It wasn’t from lack of desire but more of a lack of options. The only boy I had ever liked was the one my sister was dating—Shane. The boy who always seemed to be out of my league or dating another girl. A lot of other girls. He was Alise but a dude. And and now he was ruined forever, having no doubt had sex with my sister. I threw up a tiny bit in my mouth and grimaced thinking about it.

She messed with my hair, ignoring the faces I made while processing my love life. “You can’t, like, graduate a virgin, Aimee. That’s just not how it’s done. University is not the place to lose it. And dude, if you continue the way you’re going, you’ll be in your twenties and a virgin. No guys want to date a twenty-five-year-old virgin. There, what do you think?” She stepped back and swung the chair to face her mirror.

I prepared myself for the worst—painted whore like her friends or maybe like a clown. I worried about the latter as she had been kind to me. I tried not to think about the fact that I had roped her into a month of extra laundry as I took my first look.

It was remarkable.

The girl staring back at me looked attractive, and I could barely see the makeup. Alise had respected the fact that I was a minimalist.

“You have a talent, Alise—this is astonishing,” I whispered as I touched my cheeks, not feeling greasy makeup. My lips looked full and plump, and my blue eyes were noticeable and sparkly.

She stood behind me in the mirror, smiling at her work. “You look like we could even be friends, like a cheerleader or something.”

And there it was—the old, mean and nasty snot of a sister I was accustomed to. “Yeah, well, don’t get your hopes up.”

She crossed her arms and gave me the look of doom. “Don’t do anything to get dirty or make a mess of yourself, and don’t eat. Just sit somewhere till eight.”

“Thanks.” I laughed as I left her room and went back to my room to play World of Warcraft while I waited for it to be time.

Lost in the game a while later and deep in thought about the Alliance member I was creaming, my father interrupted me.

“You’re doing this then?” Dad asked, as I slaughtered a noob Alliance player with my fellow guildies.

“Playing World of Warcraft? Yeah. I play every day. Dad—please—you need to start paying attention to our comings and goings. It’s getting frightening in here without any parental control.”

“I know you play, Aimee. It costs me fifteen dollars every month. I notice. Whoever thought that game up is a genius.”

I never took my eyes off the screen as I spoke, “Duly noted.”

“No, I meant the party. It’s not your thing. You don’t have to go.” His flat tone sounded as if he was playing it up, but secretly was excited I would be going.

“Yeah, well, she promised me the moon and stars.” My eyes still never left the screen.

“Be safe and don’t drink, okay?”

I turned to face him while the flags reset in my game of capture the flag. “Dad. When do I drink? I think you’re in the wrong room—Sleazy Drunks is next door. This is Dorks with Anonymity. Did you eat yet?”

He chuckled. “No, I ordered some pizza. Vince is coming over later. He wants to watch the game.”

“Who’s playing?”

He ran a hand through his hair and laughed. “Oh—well—you know me and sports, kiddo. But adult company and some pizza will be a pleasant diversion.”

“Yeah, I guess we are both being held hostage for the evening.”

His eyes sparkled for a moment. “Maybe it’s what we need, Aimee. We don’t seem to be getting past this on our own. You look pretty, by the way. Want me to get a veggie burger when I pick up the pizza?”

“Sure, thanks.” I smiled looking him right in the eye, which I never did anymore, and nodded as he left my room.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

 

 

My sister drove like a crazed woman, making all the pickup stops along the way. Blake and I sat squished in the back with a guy name Tommy, who had dated my sister and flirted mercilessly with everything that moved. Except me.

“Hey Aimee, looking good. You clean up nice,” he spoke in a soothing tone, as if trying to charm or tame me. I wasn’t sure which.

“Yeah, I don’t really see how a t-shirt is cleaned up, but thanks Tommy.” I rolled my eyes at Blake, who muffled a laugh.

“McGinnis, dude, you’re way too big for the backseat. You should have tried out for basketball. What are you, six-one?” he asked Blake, trying to make conversation.

Blake smiled. “Uhm. Six-four. But I am not the sporting sort. That is best left for the coordinated.” He frowned at me, which I knew meant he didn’t want to be in this car full of the popular kids. They always asked him to join sports, based on his height and the fact that his parents were ridiculously rich. Team funding was a huge issue in a small town.

“What?” I laughed at his grumpy face.

“Don’t what me.” He whispered, “You do look nice though. Pink is an improvement to black.”

“Aren’t we supposed to have a party? Spring Aimee is back.” I stuck my tongue out, almost feeling awkward having a good time.

We pulled onto a long driveway that led to Shane Bagley’s house. His dad and mom had recently split, causing a rift in our small town. Shane’s father had been caught having relations, so to speak, with a checkout girl at the local grocery store. The store Shane’s family owned. Shane’s mom had kicked him out, only to find out that he moved in with his twenty-five-year-old employee.

Shane had taken it hard, just as any of us would. Seventeen is too young to have a family torn apart by a new stepmom. In particular, one that’s only seven years older.

Alise had been sucked into the drama, her specialty. She had gone from nearly dumping Shane to a newly devoted woman, on the surface. She loved drama. It made me sick. As Shane went from being Plain Shane to heartbroken Shane, she got more into him. She never stopped cheating on him though.

I never understood why he chose to date my sister. He never seemed to enjoy the relationship. He hardly ever hung out with her, and when he did, they barely spoke. Alise had complained about it as our father told her Shane was distracted by the tragedy in his family.

Shane’s mom had been vacationing more than normal in the last few months. In such a small town, it had people speculating that in reality she was in a center somewhere. I felt bad for Shane.

His only saving grace was that he had an older sister in university in the city. She came back on weekends, even though it was a five-hour drive, to help him out while his parents were both AWOL.

The music from the house could be heard from the long drive up. The large waterfront home seemed to have every light on inside and out, even though it wasn’t dark yet.

Cars lined the driveway as Alise found a spot up beside Shane’s truck. People bailed from her old car, boys picking girls up and running with them over their shoulders, and girls screaming in joy. Someone even climbed out of the trunk.

The music stopped as Shane came out to greet us. Behind him the open door revealed a packed house. The huge windows in the living room looked like peeking onto a set of a teenager party movie.

He stood there looking breathtaking. His eyes zeroed in on me. “Hey Aimee, I’m glad you came. Hi, Blake.”

I wanted to take it the wrong way, but I knew why he wanted me there. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Blake stood closer to me and puffed up his chest. I blushed, thinking that he must have noticed my crush on Shane and resented it.

“Hey.” I gave Shane a small wave and tiny smile. Mostly I tried not to look at his lips and imagine what they would be like to kiss. My sister walked up and kissed him on the cheek, making me want to disinfect him so I could continue my fantasy. When Satan had spit on him, like he was the last donut on the plate, my only option became viewing him from a distance.

“Well, our first party.” Blake whispered as we leaned against the car and watched the scene, taking it in. After my sister’s little indiscretion of not coming home a month ago, our father had laid down the rule of no more parties. He had given her one option, to take me as her companion, which translated into chaperone. He had bet on the fact that I would never go, and clearly he had bet wrong. I knew deep down that he wanted to see me out socializing with someone beyond Blake and he knew Alise could get me out of the house, eventually.

“This is weird.” I looked at Blake and forced myself to look for a feature I thought was handsome. I realized then he didn’t have his glasses on, which was odd. I wasn’t sure if he even owned contacts or if he had come blind, hoping to look less like a nerd. Either way, he looked good without glasses and a gadget in his hands.

“Yeah. Super weird.” He bit his lip and stared at the house like he was trying to get the nerve to go in.

“We gonna stay out here all night?”

“You want to go in?” Blake swallowed hard and walked up to the house, not waiting for my answer. He seemed massive with nothing in his hands to make him stoop over until he was my height. He looked put together in his beige cords and blue t-shirt with a science-camp logo.

I smiled, knowing no one there would even come close to recognizing the logo. I was short next to him as we walked along the concrete slab walkway to the front door.

“You cold?” he asked as a warm wind hit me, making shiver.

“No.” I shook my head, wondering if the wind was really my mom telling me not to go in. Her wind came a second time and I told myself she meant for me to have a good time.

As we crossed the threshold, I glanced to the right, pausing when I saw a guy I had never seen around town. He was tall and thick with dark-blond hair and the most stunning blue eyes I had ever seen. They looked like a husky dog’s. White blue but bright, like there was a light shining out from behind his eyes. Momentarily, I wondered if he was an actor in a movie, not a guy at a teenager party. His face was something you didn’t see in such a small town. I sucked my breath in, gasping as I locked eyes with him. I wanted to walk to him, like I knew him from somewhere.

Our eyes met and he seemed genuinely surprised when I pointed to him. “Who’s that guy?” I nudged Blake. But when I looked back, the guy was gone.

Blake shrugged. “I didn’t see him.”

“There was just there. A big, tall blond guy right there a second ago. I think I know him.”

“He’s not there now.”

“Thanks, Captain Obvious.”

A girl beside me spoke, “This place is packed with kids from Port Handley. They’re friends with Shane.”

“Oh.” I recognized her when I turned around.

My sister’s BFF, Giselle.

She was easily the most beautiful girl in the world. Her parents were French and Filipino and the combination was perfect. Every feature, apart from her empty head, was perfect.

She staggered as she entered the house, not looking sexy as much as she looked drunk.

“Clearly not her first drink of the evening,” Blake muttered as we walked into the house.

“No, I’d say not.” I looked out the window again, hoping to see the guy from the neighboring town. He was stunningly handsome. Adding an air of mystery didn’t help my curiosity.

Shaking it off, I looked around the house at the drunken teenagers everywhere.

“Want a drink, little sister?” Alise was beside me with a glass.

I took it, suspicious of anything she ever gave me. I looked into the glass. It appeared to be lemonade.

“It’s lemonade, Aimee—remember the deal we made?” she laughed as I eyeballed her. “Besides, I might need you to drive home.”

“I don’t want to drive.”

“Don’t care.” She walked away.

“Thanks, Alise.” Blake beamed after her.

“Don’t thank her, there might be poison in this glass.” I frowned at him and watched as he looked into the glass she had given him and took a drink. I waited a few seconds for the foam to start pouring out of his lips.

“Tastes good.” He sipped from the glass and remained standing.

I drank when I was sure I would live. I was surprised by the flavor. It was a great glass of lemonade. I was shocked Alise was holding up her end of the bargain, shocked and suspicious.

“It’s loud in here. Want to go to a quieter room?” I asked Blake, who nodded.

People who saw us took a second look when it registered that nerds had crashed the party. They maintained a steady glare in our direction as they conversed.

“Not in the least bit obvious, are they?” Blake asked, sipping his drink and looking around the room. His grumpy face was back. I wondered if, deep down, he had hoped to be accepted by them. I had never seen Blake care about what the popular kids thought or did until that moment.

“We’re outsiders. We might give them the same look if they showed up to a science fair.”

“True.” He didn’t sound convinced.

We walked past the kitchen where Shane stood in a group of the popular kids. He glanced over at me and nodded.

I wanted to talk to him, but Alise put a hand on his arm and laughed with the group of football players and girls that all looked like my sister. Shane dropped his gaze, blushing as they all continued to talk.

Seeing the us and them even more, I glanced up at Blake and decided it was time to start making some of my dreams come true. If I really thought about it, Blake was the answer to the question of who would make me happy. We were the same in every way. We could play World of Warcraft in a room and not even need to speak, for days. There was a cozy comfort between us that I would never find in anyone else. If there was that, why couldn’t be there also be a intimacy?

We found a sunroom off the back of the house, where there were couches and a few couples making out in the muted light. The lights were dimmed and the music seemed a lot quieter. To me, it would be the perfect place to pass a few hours until we got to go home.

I sat on the older floral couch and admired the pictures of Shane and his sister that lined the walls of the sunroom, above where a large fireplace sat. Only on the Northwest Coast would there be a woodstove in a sunroom.

Blake sat down beside me. He was still obviously uncomfortable. I decided to go with the flow of the room and take my sister’s advice.

I turned to look him in the eyes, and I took a deep breath. “Blake, I’ve been thinking a lot. It’s senior year and I think I’m ready for a relationship. I think it’ll sort of fill the void that the last little bit has created in me. My mom and everything.” Where was I going this this? I panicked a bit. “And think—” It shot from my lips like a bullet from a gun. “I like you.”

He looked confused. “I like you too, Aimes. You’re my best friend—pink shirt or no pink shirt. At least it isn’t black or one of the variations. I’ve never seen anyone find as many different ways to depress their wardrobe as you have.”

“No.” I shook my head and started to feel a little breathless. “I mean I think I really like you, like how they like each other.” I pointed to the couples making out that clearly were fond of one another. I took another deep breath. “I’ve thought about this long and hard, and we make sense for each other. We’re both smart, we both want to go to university, and we both love intellectually challenging and advancing experiences. I think if we sit down I believe we can come up with a reasonable five-year plan.” My spiel didn’t sound as good as I had hoped it would.

“Five year plan?” He frowned at first. “Like them—you like me like them?” He pointed and seemed to grow panicked, if not flabbergasted. “Like them?”

“Yeah.” I nodded, gulping as he looked around at each of them and then back to me.

“Aimee, you are the most incredible girl I have ever met. You’re my favorite person in the whole world. You are graduating AP in literature, but at the same time, still rocking AP trig and chemistry. You’re funny and really pretty—” he started to fret.

“But?” I interrupted. My heart dropped into my stomach.

Embarrassment flushed across his face as he grasped at straws. “I think the world of you. You must know that.”

“I do.” I crossed my arms. “Look, I told you how I feel—just say what you need to say.” I got angry as he flailed in front of me. My stomach weakened, waiting for the final crushing blow.

“Okay.” He closed his eyes and sighed. “I wish you had never said those words. I need you in my life, the way things are. I don’t feel the same way. You are the sister I always wanted. I love you but not the same.”

It hurt more than I thought it would. I had counted on him liking me to feel like a normal girl. He had always been my back-up plan for love. I thought that as long as he liked me, it didn’t matter that all the other boys didn’t.

I knew that I didn’t need the approval of boys. I knew it to be a truth, but at the same time I had wanted Blake to like me. “I need some air. I’ll be back.” I jumped up.

“Wait!” He put his hand out to stop me, but I burst past him, leaving him in the make-out room alone.

I didn’t hate him—I couldn’t hate him. I hated myself for banking on him being the one I could fall back on in my time of desperation and loneliness. I was frustrated and embarrassed that I had been so certain. Had he led me to believe it? Was some of the blame his fault? I thought of the million times he touched my hand or smiled at me. The way he kept his gaze after he smiled, lingering. He came to my house every day. I thought about when my mom died and how he had slept in my bed with me for two weeks, holding me. Had I misread it all?

Tears threatened to spring from my eyes, but I looked around at the ridiculous group of drunken people and knew I would never cry in front of them.

Instead, I rushed through the back door in the kitchen and felt the refreshing wind hit me, like a beacon of safety. I ran down the back steps of the deck onto the back lawn.

Shane had a massive yard with a small amount of oceanfront. Really though, the whole town had either oceanfront or ocean view.

Defeated and dejected, I walked to the far side of the lawn where I sat down on the cool grass and lay back to look up at the sky as it darkened and the first few stars became visible.

I loved stars. I loved how far away they were.

My sister had chosen a car for our birthday, but I had opted for a telescope. I wished I were at home with it instead of here lonely, embarrassed, and surrounded by people who would mock me as an appetizer. My face burned thinking that I had imagined I had a chance with Blake or any guy.

My sister could have any guy she wanted. She even had the one guy I truly wanted. But I couldn’t even get the guy no one wanted. Well, besides the other nerdy girls at our lunch table. Blake was the nerd hottie. I had sort of told myself I was the nerd hottie too. I wasn’t hideous.

I covered my face and shook my head and wished I could take it all back.

Being a rational romantic hadn’t panned out like I’d hoped it would. I couldn’t help but wonder if being a twit like my sister paid off. She did seem happier than I ever did, by a long shot. I contemplated the possibility of playing dumb and twirling my hair and picked up a lock of my blonde mane, twirling the thick chunk over my face. It did seem relaxing in a repetitive way but definitely couldn’t replace thinking for me, no matter what.

 

 

 

[
**][
**]Chapter Six

Et Tu, Aimee

 

 

The grass beside me crunched and I assumed it would be Blake, coming to try to rationalize with me. I prepared for the most embarrassing conversation ever. Knowing I would probably cry, I decided standing and running would be my best bet.

But I panicked even more when I recognized Shane’s voice from behind me. “You okay, Aimee? I saw you run out the back door. I thought maybe you were sick.” He sat on the grass next to me and lay back. I clenched inside and tried not breathing. I contemplated the hair twirl but decided on playing it cool.

“Yeah, no. I’m just not much of a partier.”

“I’m glad you came though. I was hoping you would come to at least one party before grad.”

“Remember when we were little and how easy life was?” I changed the subject, not sure about the topic though.

“Oh my god.” He rolled on his side and grinned at me. “Yeah. It was so much easier to just be happy then. All that mattered was how many frogs you caught or how high you could climb. All the girls liked you if you could run the fastest.”

“You could just be who you were and no one cared.”

“I’ve always liked who you were. Well, are. I mean, I like who you are now too.” He lay back on the grass again, still chuckling.

“Uh.” I laughed. “Thanks. I like who you are too.” Uncomfortable with the direction it was going, I changed the subject. “So, who is that guy from Handley with the crazy blue eyes? They look like those eyes the arctic huskies have.”

“Blue eyes?”

“Yeah, like white blue.”

“Oh, you mean Wade. His family owns the gym in Handley. He plays hockey and goes out with Melissa Grouper.” He spoke, trying to jog my memory, but I came up blank.

“His eyes are crazy blue—weird blue. I swear I know him from somewhere,” I muttered more to myself than him.

“Hmm, maybe from school. Speaking of guys—what’s up with you and Blake?” he gave me a look.

“Nothing—nothing now and nothing ever. Apparently we’re friends who can sleep beside each other and be each other’s comfort, but I guess that’s it. I’m destined to be alone forever.” The words fell out in a bitter rant before I could stop myself.

Shane laughed. “Okay, okay, jeeze. You and your sister have that in common, I guess. There is more spice in you two than sugar.”

“What?” I frowned at the comparison. “That might be the only thing we have in common, unfortunately.” Besides liking you. I could have told him that but I didn’t want to be the reason my sister’s eternal happiness was destroyed. Her eternal happiness that only ever lasted the afternoon.

Either way, no sister did that.

“Yeah, you’re night and day, there is no doubt about that.” He smiled and his eyes twinkled like they held a secret. The kind that only the person he loved would understand. He was a treasure chest. If you were lucky enough to find the key, you could spend a lifetime enjoying what was inside of it.

“I’m glad about that. Alise is nuts.” I glanced up at the sky again when his eyes stayed on my face, the intensity of them made me uncomfortable. It made my stomach feel weird—good weird.

“You look nice tonight. Finally wearing colors again, huh?” His voice seemed laced with some kind of emotion.

I looked at him quizzically. “Yeah, how did you notice I was only wearing black?”

“I notice you, Aimee, more than you think.”

My heart stopped.

Those were magic words. The boy I always dreamed of was hitting on me.

I didn’t know what to say or do.

Maybe he was just being nice to me, or maybe I was being an over-reactive idiot. His eyes didn’t seem to say kind, they looked more like steamy. I smiled inside, enjoying the moment. I wanted him to move closer. I wanted him to stretch his hand across the grass and take mine. I would betray my sister like a giant jerk, just to feel the touch of his hand once. I could use her logic, what happened in the dark didn’t count.

My brain whispered that Alise had already been there and polluted that. It wasn’t that I truly cared, but I needed an excuse to not like him. Whether I hated Alise or not, I wasn’t her. I changed my mind, admitting to myself that I couldn’t steal my sister’s boyfriend.

“I noticed you were different tonight, right away.”

“Alise got a hold of me. She’s against black, unless it’s a cocktail dress or lingerie. She was savage about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister, but I would never date anyone who’s that abusive. I guess guys tolerate a lot more than girls do though.” What was I saying?

He sounded lost in his thoughts. “Yeah, otherwise the world would stop going ‘round.”

“I guess.”

We sat in silence staring at the stars for a long time.

“So Blake isn’t the one for you, huh?” he asked again, but sounding more nonchalant.

“Nope.” I shook my head. “I guess I thought we should be together ‘cause we’re the same type of person, you know. I liked having him there, knowing someone liked me.”

“Well, that sounds ridiculous. You want to keep him on standby, so that you know someone likes you?”

“No.” I grimaced. “I mean, I guess. Everything sounds bad when you say it like that, all judgmental and hateful. You make me sound like Alise.”

He laughed. “Sorry, I’m not really one of those sugarcoat people. I know you’re nothing like her.”

He bit his lip for a moment and then muttered, “So, you aren’t in love with him?”

“No.” I shook my head as my brain whispered again, just embarrassed.

“You’re so amazing, Aimee. You don’t need boys on standby. You just need to go for the right guy. He’s not the only guy who could like you if you started letting people in.” His eyes locked on mine and he leaned toward me. I could see it in his eyes. He was fully going to kiss me. His blue eyes lit up. “I have something I want to tell you.”

“What?” My stomach twisted into knots.

He bent his face down, but just as I felt his breath upon my lips, we were interrupted by a crash behind us.

“Son of a friggen—what the hell was that?” 

Shane pulled away from me and we both looked back at my sister stumbling down the lawn. “Shane, are you out here? Who’s that girl with you?”

She was drunk already? Hadn’t we just arrived?

I glared at her, judging her the entire time. “It’s me, you idiot.” I spoke clearly so she could catch every inch of my annoyance.

“Oh, it’s just you—dear God, Aimes, you scared the crap outta me. I thought some ho was out here trying to steal my man.” She plopped down on the grass as ungracefully as was possible. “We need more snacks and drinks. I don’t know where they are,” she spoke lazily as she nearly landed right on me.

“It was nice sitting in the quiet with you, Shane. See you inside.” I stood up and left them. My face was on fire from the near kiss.

I looked back to see him watching me go. He looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. Instead, Alise pushed his arm and giggled about something.

The arguing started up as I walked along the dark grass back to the house.

I wanted to tell myself that he was probably drunk, but that wasn’t it. I knew Shane better than that. He noticed all I wore was black. He noticed I changed that today. He wanted me to come. He noticed me and Alise weren’t the same.

I wanted to tell myself not to be excited, not to get my hopes up in any way. But my hopes were already through the moon.

Shane friggen liked me.

For whatever reason he was dating my sister, but he liked me.

When I got to the stairs Blake was standing at the door, looking out at the backyard.

Not ready to have that conversation, I ducked along the hedge and crept to the other side of the house and slipped in the front door to get lost in the crowd.

I wasn’t ready to go back to normal yet. I was full of mixed emotions that I needed to analyze alone with Jane Austen and my dad.

Which Austen man was Shane? Captain Wentworth maybe, to my Anne Elliott? No. He hadn’t ever declared his love to me before. He was Knightly to my Emma. Oh my god, I was Emma.

I fought my way through the hallways surrounded by noise and people acting crazy. The house was so full that I couldn’t even place faces anymore. It was a sea of people getting trashed. I knew everyone in the house in one way or another, but it was so crowded their faces seemed to blend together.

I headed up the stairs in the family room to the bedrooms and sat in the hallway on the carpet against the wall, feeling the house vibrate from the music. I was grateful no one was there while I needed to mull things over.

“Hey!” Giselle interrupted my peace. She staggered up the stairs, smiling when I saw her. “Hey girl, you’re just the person I wanted to see. I have a drink we can, like, share. It’s, like, way too packed downstairs.” She passed me the glass, thankfully before she sat down and spilled it everywhere. She shrugged up close. “Have some lemonade, Aimes.”

“What’s in it?”

“Nothing, just a bit of vodka. You need a little vodka, I think. I saw you in the living room and I thought you looked sad so I brought vodka.”

I nearly turned her down, but the party was still going strong, she was too drunk to finish the whole thing alone, and I wasn’t going home any time soon. I decided to be a rebel.

The rebel who shared the drink with someone else. The rebel who would still be sober enough to drive home. I even sucked at being rebellious.

“All right.” I took a sip, shuddering from the warmth of the liquor burning the whole way down. For a cold drink it singed. “Wow.” I choked as I passed it back. “It tastes good, but it’s not really my thing. Who made it?”

“One of the bartender dudes downstairs.” It did taste great, and if it weren’t for the burn, I never would have known there was even booze in it.

“There’s bartenders here?” I cocked an eyebrow.

“No, like one of the guys mixing drinks.” Giselle took a sip and passed the glass back. “Hot guys give me drinks all the time, dummy—I’m hot. You need a little more than that tiny sip you had, you still look sad.”

“I probably shouldn’t.”

“Aimes, it’s like one glass for two people. It’ll help you relax. Have fun. Boys like fun girls and I think Shane likes you. He always talks about you. You should steal him from your sister.” She laughed, not realizing what she was saying.

“He talks about me?”

She giggled harder. “Yeah, all the time. It makes Alise nuts. Here, your turn.”

“Are you serious?” I took the drink, feeling lost in what she’d said, but then she started rambling again.

“Yeah, the day they started dating he was going to ask you out, but Alise told him you were already into one of those dorks you’re always with. Shane seemed sad. Alise said she would cheer him up.”

“What?” My stomach tensed. I chugged back the drink. My heart was racing. Alise had stopped the one guy I had liked forever from asking me out?

What kind of sick twisted person did that?

“You’re not like your sister, you know. You’re, like, easier to be around. She is really high maintenance.” The irony was that Alise would have said the same thing about Giselle. She took the drink and gulped. “Oh my god, speaking of high maintenance, did you hear Angela is in the hospital, like dying, dude. She’s crazy sick. Some perve raped her.”

“Creepy. I did hear. What happened?”

“Date raped and left in the woods by the side of the road to the Handley. Total shit show.” She gave me a look. “Girls need to buddy up at parties, it’s a rule. Here, have some more.”

“Okay.” I didn’t know what I was doing, but was able to rationalize that it was a small glass of booze between two people. I just needed something to distract me from the possible threat that my legs would get up and walk to Shane. I would kiss him on the mouth and get slapped around by my sister. In my shocked state, I would probably kill her.

Giselle started to babble but my thoughts were stuck on Shane. I wanted to steal him from my sister. She had stolen him from me first. So I was actually taking what was mine. That sounded weird. Mine.

Unexpectedly, the most awkward thing occurred; Giselle started making sense and I liked the way she nattered on.

After a while, I looked her straight in the face and said as matter-of-factly as I could, “Giselle, I love you. You’re so awesome. Thanks for telling me that my sister stole Shane from me.”

She laughed and pointed at me. “I know, right? She’s a bad person, Aimes. Like a real one.” Her face was really serious. I watched her lips moving and started to laugh again.

“You have pretty lips.”

“I know.” She giggled and I giggled and then it got progressively worse, even though we had only drunk the one glass of lemonade. After a while, I slipped down the wall, unable to push myself back up to sitting.

“I love you, Aimes.” Giselle lay down beside me, and I tried to talk but my mouth couldn’t make words anymore.

Then noises and pictures came in fuzzy flashes.

My sister laughing.

Giselle being carried away.

Blake standing alone in the hallway.

Alise next to him.

They started talking, but then my sister grabbed Blake’s face and started to kiss him. Blake grabbed her back and pulled her up into him. They were making out, and as luck would have it, my eyes were stuck open. I couldn’t get my eyes to shut. They ignored my brain. I watched the painful moment while drooling on myself and unable to control my body. A voice made them stop and Alise went down the stairs, leaving me with Blake. He brushed my hair from my face and smiled. He said something I couldn’t catch and my eyes shut.

When they opened next I felt like I was floating. There was no sound whatsoever. The music was gone, but I was still in the hallway.

I wasn’t lying on the floor anymore. I turned around and saw a figure slumped on the floor. I grimaced at her hideous pink shirt. She looked sick. I reached for her but my hand went through the girl’s body like mist. 

I looked closer and realized that I was the girl on the floor.

I was the corpse girl on the floor turning blue.

Where was everyone else?

I screamed but no sound came from my mouth.

I tried to bang the walls.

Seriously, where was everyone?

My face turned gray. I looked closer at the pile of what appeared to be vomit by my lips. My body was choking.

Where were the idiots who had left me in the hallway to die? 

I turned back around to find someone with me.

“Hey! Help me!” I jumped up and down and waved, but he didn’t see me. It was Wade from Port Handley. He knelt beside my body and did something I had definitely never fantasized about when I saw his face the first time. He stuck his fingers into my throat and started fishing around in there. 

I cringed, watching a strange guy root around in my mouth, and tried not to think about the sanitary issues. I needed to remember to, at the very least, rinse with mouthwash when I woke from my nightmare. His hands were huge and stretching my mouth as he fished like he was going for the last pickle in the jar.

Wade paused what he was doing and looked up at me, his piercing blue eyes wide. He looked scared and his mouth moved but I heard nothing.

I glanced behind me who he was taking to but no one was there.

Was he able to see me?

“Can you see me?” I waved my arms back and forth and he waved me over to him. He ignored me and put his hand into my mouth again, and this time my body heaved and shook, as piles of vomit started to pour out in front of me.

It was like The Exorcist, and I was barfing all over the hottest guy I had ever seen. His eyes were panicked as he pointed to my body again. I took a step forward and everything went dark. When I saw light again, I felt pain, agonizing pain. I wasn’t floating any longer. I was drowning. My body convulsed as I fought, coughing and heaving repeatedly.

My world spun.

I reached my hand out and wiped my mouth off. I was on the floor and everything hurt in ways I didn’t know were possible.

Wade from Port Handley spoke, “Welcome back, Aimee. You scared the hell out of me.”

The smell of my vomit was more than I could bear. I heaved and threw up on the floor in front of me.

“Wow.” He looked startled. “Next time chew the veggie burger all the way through, ok?” He picked me up off the floor. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” He lifted me like a princess.

I laid my face against his chest and felt like I was floating.

He carried me to the bathroom, but in the mirror he wasn’t there—my reflection was, but his was missing.

I closed my eyes and pressed really hard but when I opened them, he was still not in the reflection. “I must be dreaming.”

He smiled and laughed. “Yeah, you’re dreaming. Weird things happen in dreams, like people having no reflection.”

He didn’t need a reflection. He saved me.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

Drugs change everything

 

Pain was everywhere.

Everything was burning and hurting.

My skin ached and my head pounded.

I couldn’t move my head properly.

Something was in the way, trapping me.

I twitched one eye open, letting in the light. It made everything burn much worse. I winced as my eye opened completely, seeing a strange room.

“Hello?” I croaked. My body pounded with my heartbeat.

Was I still at Shane’s house?

I opened my other eye, feeling sicker.

My mouth tasted like I might have been sick recently. I tried to think about where I had been, but all I remembered was Wade from Port Handley and Shane’s party.

Straining, I reached a trembling hand up and felt the towel still wrapped on my head. I pulled at it, trying to get it off, but I couldn’t. It was folded in a bizarre way I had never folded a towel. Giving up on the towel, my eyes darted around the room.

It was small, with a queen bed and floral print everywhere. It screamed guest room. I lifted the covers to reveal my naked body and gasped. I glanced at the water glass on the right bedside table and looked at the towel on my head and knew someone else had put me here. I always put my glass of water on the left. Fear and panic started to mix with my already fragile mind as I wondered who would have put me to bed and where the hell I was.

Using every inch of strength, I sat up, only to shudder as I wrapped myself with the sheet and looked for clothes. I fought the urge to scream or pass out again.

I took a breath and tried to remember what they had told us in defense class.

Nothing came up that seemed like it would apply to the moment. Everything involved effort and balance.

I pulled the towel off after some work. It reminded me of the way African women folded their headdresses. My hair was still wet, of course. Long, thick hair would never dry in a towel, which was why I would never fall asleep with one on my head. It fell around my face in a ball of unconditioned mats. Forget putting me to bed, had someone really been mean enough to wash my hair but not condition it?

Pulling the sheet tighter to cover myself, I realized my ring was gone. My mom’s ring wasn’t on my right hand. I had showered, slept, and lived in that ring from the day my mom died. I had cleaned the blood off of it myself after the accident.

The door creaked open and Alise peeked her head through the crack. I wanted to cry with joy the moment I saw her, but I figured I would probably get sick if I did.

She sighed as she stepped in. “Oh my God—you’re okay.”

“Where am I?”

“Shane’s.”

I put a hand up to stop her. “No shouting. Not okay. Stop shouting at me.”

“What do you remember? Do you remember being at the party?”

“No.” I shook. “Wait. Yeah. We were at Shane’s house. I remember that guy, Wade.”

She gasped. “Giselle’s in the hospital. Aimee, we think someone drugged her. We thought it was just too much to drink but then they said it might be drugs.” She sat on the bed beside me, rubbing my arms. Her hand felt like razor blades dragging up my skin. I shivered in pain and sickness. “We need to take you there now. You’ve been throwing up all night and you were drinking with her.” She put an arm under me to help me stand. “I need to get you into a robe at least, ok?”

“Okay.” I needed a hospital. I had no idea what she was talking about but I knew I felt sick in a way I had never felt before.

“Where is he?” I asked, still foggy on everything.

“Blake?” Alise asked, blushing.

“No, Wade. Wade with the eyes. Wade from Port Handley.”

Alise frowned. “You remember Wade?”

“Yeah. He helped me, I think.”

“He’s been gone for a while, Aimes. I think maybe you’re confused. Ready?” she asked, pulling at me.

“I think so.”

She got me standing and dressed, with only a minor amount of pain everywhere. I wondered what Giselle had to do with me being poisoned. I didn’t like Giselle.

Shane walked into the room, smiling at me. “Hey, Aimee, are you okay?”

“No.” I didn’t understand what was happening in any way. I looked at my sister. “What did you do to me?”

“I never did anything, I swear.” Her eyes looked funny. She did something. I could see the guilt. Had she poisoned me? Would she do that?

The room moving like a choppy ocean. Glimpses of the night before flitted about in my mind. I looked at Shane and winced. “I got sick in your hallway. I’m so sorry, Shane.” My words were thick in my mouth like I might get sick again.

He winced. “No, don’t be sorry. I’m the one who should be sorry. I obviously have friends who are sleazy bastards. Someone did this to you guys, in my house. I’ll find out who it was. Right now though, I’m going to carry you to the truck, okay?” He picked me up carefully so as not to jostle me. He carried me down the stairs like I was air. It was familiar to me. Something about it was creepily similar in my mind. I remembered something about me being carried on his stairs.

When we got outside I was my dad in the truck and he looked pissed. We called it his ‘stress face’ and it wasn’t a pretty picture. He got out when he saw us and opened the passenger door so Shane could lay me inside. “Aimee, are you okay?” He looked terrified.

“Need doctor,” I muttered.

He frowned at Shane. “You, young man, are going to stay away from both of my daughters for good.” He swung around to look at Alise with a burning hate in his eyes. “You did this to her. You conned her into coming to this when you know she isn’t like you. You get home now and don’t leave your bedroom for a month. GO!” he screamed, tearing my head apart.

When Alise looked at me, I saw an apologetic look I had never seen on her face. My sister was ashamed.

I would have defended them both, but I was too feeble.

Shane handed me the bowl that had been on the ground beside the truck. “In case you get sick.”

“Sorry,” I muttered again, drooling a little.

“Feel better, Aimee.” He kissed my sweaty forehead.

My dad got in the truck, slamming the door, again ripping my head apart. I groaned in agony as Shane closed my door softly. My dad never spoke the whole way. He was seething and it was better for my head if he didn’t talk. I threw up twice in the bowl on the way, mostly it was heaving and spitting. I had never felt that sick in my life, even with food poisoning.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

And then there were more

 

I was groggy when I woke the first time but at least I knew where I was. The beeping machines and IV were more than enough proof I was safe.

Exhausted, I fell back into a dreamless sleep.

I thought I was still dreaming when I woke hearing talking in the empty black space. “Are there any effects of this on her body that we should be prepared for?” My dad’s voice was the first one I made out.

“Yes, she will need to be very careful for the next couple months while we assess the damage done. This is a serious thing. The level of the drugs we found in her system was very high,” a lady spoke. I opened one of my eyes to see the light of day, this time without the intense pain. I felt remarkably better and quite hungry.

My dad and what I had to assume was a lady doctor stood in the hallway, just outside my door.

Shane was on the chair beside my bed, passed out. I flinched when I saw him but he looked so peaceful, regardless of his being in my room freaking me out. Why would my sister’s boyfriend be in my room, and where was my sister? I looked around for Alise, but didn’t see her anywhere. I knew she must be around somewhere if Shane was with me. Where was Blake? He never left me. Ever.

I pushed the button to raise my bed to a sitting position. The feeling of movement gave me a head rush. It was nothing compared to the ones I had had the day before, when my dad had checked me in.

Shane stirred with the noise and opened one of his eyes. He yawned and smiled at me. “Hey. You’re awake now. Thank God. I guess that means you’re out of the danger zone,” he whispered, stretching on the recliner chair. He stood and put a hand on my head. He bent his face and kissed my forehead. I didn’t have a reaction for it. I froze.

“What?”

“You and Giselle were given some crazy homemade date-rape drug. You saved Giselle’s life by drinking half of the glass. She’s still out. No sign of her waking up anytime soon either, and with these things, apparently the longer you sleep the worse it is.” He looked at the doctor and pointed in my direction, through the doorway.

“Huh?”

“You’ve been here for five days, Aimes, in and out of sleep. Giselle isn’t even stirring. The doctor said she has brain activity but she isn’t waking. They’re life-flighting her to Children’s in the city, tomorrow I think, if she doesn’t wake up.”

“Oh my god.” I covered my eyes and thought for a moment. None of what he said made sense in my fuzzy head. “Let’s start again. What drug? Giselle? What?”

“You remember how those girls were drugged in the last couple months? The ones who were super sick? That Angela chick is like in the hospital in the city still. She isn’t getting much better. They were drugged too. The other girls are gone home but Angela is really sick. They think it’s the same person.” He brushed hair from my face. He was touching me and standing so close the warmth of him made me shudder.

“Like how drugged?” I needed more description. The blanks in my memory were brutal.

“Very.” He spoke softly, “We found you guys upstairs—each in a pile of puke, Aimes.” He said my nickname, Aimes. “And Giselle was already in this coma. You are the last person to see her awake.”

I tried to be cool and stay engaged. “How did I get to bed at your house? I remember only that I woke up naked.” My cheeks flushed as I prayed for a really good answer.

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “While we were getting Giselle in the ambulance and everything, we left you upstairs. We came back and you were in bed and there was a giant pile of vomit at the top of the stairs.”

“Wade helped me.” I said it before the memory even flitted through my mind.

“I don’t know about that.” He shrugged. “Wade was gone, long before this happened. His girlfriend freaked on him for talking to your sister, and she made him leave. I was right there. I think you got yourself cleaned up, before the drug hit too hard.”

“He was there. I saw him.” I remembered Wade—I remembered him carrying me. I wasn’t wrong.? “My ring is gone.” I held my hand out, trying not to think about Wade potentially date raping me while robbing me.

“No, I got it.” He reached into his pocket. “I found it in the pile of vomit—well on top. It was shiny and clean but sitting at the top of the pile. I grabbed it and washed it for you. I know how important it is to you. It was your mom’s, right?” He passed it to me. I put it on and tried to ignore that it slid on too easily. I had clearly lost more weight.

“How did you know it’s my mom’s?”

“I pay more attention than you’d imagine, Aimee.”

The heat in my face got stronger.

He smiled. “It’s nice to see you have color again.”

Unsure where the conversation was going, I looked around. “Where’s Alise?”

“I don’t know.” He blushed. “With Blake maybe. What do you remember?”

“It’s a haze right now. Mostly I remember Wade.” I lay back down on the bed, feeling ready for some more sleep. His words came crashing back at me as I yawned. “Why is she with Blake?”

“Oh.” He looked preoccupied and lost in my question. “Uh, I think it’s Blake and Alise’s job to tell you about what happened with them.”

“Okay.” I frowned, wondering why he hadn’t answered me. The doctor and my dad came into the room before I could force him to tell me. I wanted the answer to my question, but my eyes got so heavy. I blinked and Shane was gone from the room.

“So, you’re awake?” The doctor put her cold hands on my wrist to check my pulse.

“Barely. I think I need more sleep.”

“I agree. A few days maybe and you can go home. Right now though, we need to keep you for observation. You’re a very lucky girl.” Her tone was annoying.

“I don’t feel lucky. I went to my first party ever and was drugged and woke up naked. Not so lucky, I think.” I kept my eyes closed. They were too heavy to try to lift.

My dad grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly. “Well, the important thing is that you’re going to be okay.”

I pried open my eyes. “Dad, you can’t blame Alise for this. It wasn’t her fault at all. I wanted to go to the party. Or Shane—he’s a very nice guy.”

He nodded. “I apologized to her—don’t worry. I was just so mad. I know Shane’s a good guy. He’s been here every day. He sleeps and eats here. I’ve asked him, your sister, and Blake to try to help out. I want them to find out who did this to you. You kids will hear more than the adults will. The cops have nothing and this is the fourth case of this date rape drugging in the last couple months.”

“Fourth case? Seriously?” That was what Shane had been talking about.

“Yeah. One girl was in Port Handley, she was from there.” He looked funny. “The other girls were here. The last one is still in the hospital in Seattle.”

“Oh my god. And the police have nothing?”

“No.” He shook his head. “But you kids all talk. Someone is going to figure this out.”

“Hmmm.” I closed my eyes and thought about who would want to drug Giselle. The list was endless. She was beautiful and fairly dumb. The combination would be hard to resist. The list would have to consist of who would date rape someone. In my sister’s group of friends, again I felt the list was endless. She had friends who had been creepy when we were in kindergarten. Senior year, they were serial killers waiting to strike. Then again, I was biased. They had all been mean to me on more than one occasion.

No one from my nerd table came to mind. All of them would have the capability and intelligence needed to make a homemade date-rape drug, but none of them would have done it. And they sure as heck would have made something of higher quality.

But again, how the hell was I drinking with Giselle?

That was the question.

I had never been friends with her so I didn’t understand how I got drugged with her. Undoubtedly, something had to have happened to make me even consider drinking. Giselle must have conned me into it. Or Alise.

Slowly but surely, the doctor and my dad left, and I was alone to drift off to sleep again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

Et tu, Alise?

 

“Aimee.”

I opened my eyes but no one was there.

I sat up, looking around. My stomach hurt. Thankfully, my pounding heart seemed to be supplying me with the energy I needed to sit.

“Aimee,” the woman called me again. I was pretty sure it was Giselle’s voice.

I swung my legs and stepped off gingerly, hoping I wouldn’t fall and reveal the opening in the back of the gown. Hospitals really were cruel with their open-backed gowns and the wind blowing in the backdoor felt like the gap was a good one.

Reaching around, I held the gap closed and started to walk from the room, not noticing the IV. I made it two steps, before I felt the stab of the moving needle. I stepped back and leaned against the machine. My hand burned where the needle went into it as I closed my eyes for a few seconds to let the throbbing stop.

Taking the IV machine with me, I started my slow progression down the hall in search of Giselle’s room, still clutching my gown closed. I didn’t know which room she was in, there were only so many so it wasn’t going to be a hard find. My body ached and the IV machine didn’t seem happy about the trek either as it squeaked the entire way.

I saw her through the door as I walked past the rooms peeking in. No one but her was in her room, but it looked like the gardener had been by. Every shelf, and even the windowsills, was full of flowers. We clearly had different friends.

“Hey Giselle,” I whispered. I didn’t really need to whisper thanks to the loud squeak from my IV cart.

“Hey.” She turned her head, looking bewildered. “Aimee, you’re here. I knew you were here.”

“How’s it going?” I sat on the end of her bed, sighing from the excursion.

“I don’t even know. I don’t remember anything. Do you?”

“No. They said someone got us good, drugged us both the same way Angela and those other girls were. This is my first time walking in almost a week.”

“No, you were here before. I saw you. You held my hand.”

“Maybe Alise came by to see you. If she had a ponytail and no makeup she can look like me.”

“Maybe,” she spoke as if her mouth were dry. I pushed the button to bring her to a slight incline so we could look at each other.

“Did anyone say what happened?” She looked frightened. “Like did they hurt us?”

“I don’t know. Everyone says we were drinking together and then we were throwing up. They brought you here right away, I think, and me in the morning. They tested us and we have some crazy date-rape drug in our systems.”

Her frightened look grew in intensity. “Who would do that?”

I pressed my lips together and furrowed my brow. “That’s just it, no one knows. The party had to have over a hundred people at it. People from all the close-by schools and whatever.”

“How long have we been here?”

“You, seven days—me, six. I spent the first night at Shane’s house.” I shuddered when I thought about it. “Giselle, don’t tell anyone, but I know I didn’t put myself to bed. I was naked when I woke, and clean. I’m scared someone did something and then cleaned me up. But I can’t remember.”

“Oh my god.” She looked disgusted. “What’s wrong with people? Dude, I hate to tell you this, but you need to get the nurse to do a check. She can check and make sure you’re still a virgin. I have to say though, like, if you weren’t a virgin anymore, you would be sore down there. I was super sore when I lost mine.” She looked up at the ceiling and sighed. “This is such shit.”

“Yeah.” I glanced down at her arm where the IV was poking in. “I wish my mom was here.” I hadn’t said those words in a long time. But this moment seemed harder than all the others that I had gone through without her.

“Me too.”

“Huh?” I looked at her, confused. “Where’s your mom and dad?”

“I don’t know where my mom is.” Her lower lip quivered as tears flooded her eyes. “She left. A month ago, she just left. My dad doesn’t know what to do with his life without her. He works, like nonstop. He doesn’t come home sometimes, just sleeps at the office.”

“Oh my god.” I put my IV-free hand out on the blankets. “I am so sorry. I had no idea.”

“No.” She shook her head. “No one does. She told us she was going to visit her sister so we didn’t think anything but then she didn’t come home. Dad has a credit card he can track her spending with, it’s joint or something. I guess she’s been in Mexico for a week, paying for two people. My dad’s a mess.”

“I know that feeling.” I bowed my head and nodded weakly. “My dad’s a mess too. He not taking mom’s death very well, or at all. He doesn’t even exist really. Just haunts the house.”

Giselle’s huge, dark eyes glistened. Her long, silky black hair framed her perfect oval face. Her skin was an olive color, with naturally pink full lips and eyes so dark the pupils were not visible. Even heartbroken and horribly sick, she was stunning.

“We have each other.” She gripped the hand I had given her.

“Yeah, I’m just down the hall.” I pressed the button for the nurse.

She came running in, breathless. “Oh, thank Heaven, you’re in here. I thought—never mind. I’m glad you’re all right.” She looked at Giselle specifically. “Did she wake up? Did she say anything or change at all?” She said it staring straight at Giselle who was staring back at her.

“Uhhhhhh.” I turned and looked at Giselle who shrugged. “Yeah?” I said it more as a question.

“Did she wake or just stir and go back to sleep?” She sounded genuinely convinced.

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh my god, Aimes. I’m dead.” Giselle panicked, looking around.

“No, you aren’t.” I snapped.

“I’m not what?” The nurse cocked her head, her sweet smile fading.

“You can’t see she’s awake?” I pointed at Giselle.”

“Aimes, I’m dead. You’re seeing me and I’m dead.” She started to cry.

The nurse sighed, defeated like. “Honey, you need to go back to bed. You’re very sick.” She shook her head. “And your friend is very sick too. I’m sorry.”

“Okay, but I was wondering if we could share a room. I don’t want to be alone.” I didn’t know what else to say.

The nurse nodded at me. “I’ll have your stuff moved over right away. I can’t believe you walked all that way, hon. It’s a long way for a sick kid.”

I patted my trusty IV cart. “It helped me the whole way.” I tried making a joke to lighten the whole she couldn’t see Giselle mood.

The nurse laughed at me and shook her head.

When she left I gave Giselle a look. “You’re in here, not the morgue. They have you hooked up to the machines and the machines are making noise. I can see you. You’re not dead.”

“Then what?” She sniffled and wiped her eyes.

“I don’t know.” I sat down on the chair and waited for my stuff to be brought in. All the brain cells I had left from the drugging were desperately trying to solve the reason the nurse couldn’t see her.

“Do you think I’m like in a coma and you can see me but she can’t?”

“Yeah.” I nodded, not convinced at all. “Like somehow our subconsciouses are linked from drinking the same poison and I can see your subconscious.”

“I’m glad you can see me.” She sniffled and curled up in her bed more.

“Me too.” As much as I was glad I could I was also fairly worried. Maybe I was crazy and the whole thing was the result of the drugs. Maybe I was losing my mind.

When the nurse brought my bed and set me up I was relieved to get into it and close my eyes.

“I hope I wake up, Aimes.” Giselle whispered into the dark.

“Me too.” I nodded, hoping the same thing for myself. Her being a figment of my insanity or own dream was better than this really happening.

When I woke she was staring at me, grinning. “I woke up.”

“What?” I rubbed my eyes and blinked a couple times before looking at her. “What?”

“I woke up. The nurse can see me today.” She beamed. “You remember yesterday, how they couldn’t?” She sighed. “Today they can. I woke up and I was awake, for reals though. Yesterday I felt awake but I was like in a foggy place. All clear today.”

“Oh my god, you remember me seeing you yesterday and the nurse not?” What did that mean? There were loads of cases where coma patients had out of body experiences and people saw them. Maybe because I’d sort of died too I was closer to it all and saw her.

The nurse walked in, her feet were loud as she busied about the room, fawning over Giselle, who couldn’t have cared less about the out of body experience she’d had.

It wasn’t too long before Giselle was regaling me with tales of boys and shopping discounts. There was no more sad talk about moms and dads or boys who like to drug girls. We didn’t even bring up the other girls who were already sick or the fact I’d seen Giselle before she actually woke up.

At first I obsessed but eventually I relaxed and listened, happy to be distracted by simple things that really had no bearing on my world.

Which was weird for me.

Normally I liked to surround myself with people who only talked when important or interesting things were being said. In that moment, during a story of drinking while in Cuba and a few helpful hints about strange Cuban men I was extremely entertained.

In the midst of our peaceful afternoon nap, I heard her before I saw her, which was always the case.

“They’re sharing a room?” my sister’s voice interrupted my siesta.

I opened my eyes to see the nurse with my sister and dad in the doorway.

“Yes, they’re scared. They’ve had something horrid happen to them and they’re alone here, except for each other.” The nurse let my sister know she could be a snotty bitch too, but with a smile and actual authority.

My dad tried to be pleasant. “Right. Of course. Thank you. I think we should just see if they’re awake then.” I grinned as his face lit up at seeing mine. “You have color and your eyes look clear again. How are you feeling, kiddo?” he asked, sitting on the end of my bed.

“Okay.” I nodded, feeling sick for what he had been through in one year. My sister looked odd or uneasy but I ignored her. “Better. We both seem to be coming around. I’m ready to get out of here though. The nurse said tomorrow, if the blood tests come back normal to show your liver and kidneys are functioning.”

“Your liver?” my sister asked, looking like she might throw up.

“Yeah, did you even show up for bio? The liver and kidneys filter the blood. Drugs and alcohol are filtered through them. That’s why underage drinking is so bad. You’re damaging developing organs.”

My dad laughed. “Well, good to see you’re feeling like yourself again. We’ll come back tonight with some food if you want.”

“Yeah, I’d love something I can eat. It has to be like super clean though. They have us on a special diet. Maybe bring Giselle something. Her dad has been busy lately.”

Alise rolled her eyes at the comment. I didn’t know why I was unreasonably annoyed with her. I literally had to count backward from ten to stop myself from lashing out at her, or throwing something at the very least.

She looked apprehensively at me as she asked, “How’s the memory coming?”

I furrowed my brow. Alise was up to something. “Good—I’m remembering little bits more and more every day.”

She nodded, even though it was obvious that the news made her uneasy. “Oh, good.”

“What?” I snorted. “Did you poison us, Alise? You’re being weird.”

“No, oh my god. I would never.” She shook her head violently.

Dad looked at her suspiciously. “Alise, I agree you’re acting odd. This is the moment to confess if you know anything about this, even if it was a joke.”

She started to cry. “I never did this to you, Aimes. I would never hurt you.” She barely cried when our mom had died, and here she was sobbing.

Our dad grabbed her by the arms, not moved by her display. He’d seen it before over petty things like the wrong cereal. He looked deeply into her eyes, examining her. Then he nodded and pulled her into his chest, stroking her head. “You just don’t take things seriously, Alise. You do things so recklessly.” Dad soothed her as she cried into him.

I glanced around, wondering if anyone noticed the circus I called family.

If I was being honest with myself, it wasn’t a stretch for me to believe that my sister had drugged me. It would have been done innocently, to be funny. To watch me freak out.

Her face poked out of our dad’s armpit where she whispered, “I kissed Blake.”

“WHAT!” My stomach lurched forward, threatening to escape my mouth. A small crack in my heart happened as I processed the words. Even if he wasn’t my boyfriend, he was mine. He was my best friend, my rock in it all. He was there when all of the extra-crappy things that seemed to seek me out ruined my life. I screamed even though it hurt, “Blake is mine, my friend! You don’t even like him! You make fun of him all the time!”

“I know.” Still hiding in our dad’s armpit, she cried harder. “I was drunk and I never thought about what I was doing until it was too late. I’m so sorry.”

“Go away.” I closed my eyes, desperate to push the pain down. “I don’t even care!”

“I’m so sorry.” She let go of our dad and knelt at my bedside and begged with the most sincere expression I’d ever seen. “Please say it’s okay. Please.”

After a momentary struggle, my natural instinct kicked in and the bad feelings were pushed down. It was like swallowing acid but OI forgave her. I even justified it. I told myself it was better that Alise’s guilty behavior made sense and it was better than her having something to do with poisoning me. I didn’t forgive her aloud though, I let it ride a moment longer. “Well, you have everything else, Alise. You have looks, friends, and everyone loves you. Every boy in school is in love with you, or her.” I pointed at the sleeping Giselle. “So I guess, why not take the one boy I thought I had all to myself?”

Dad cringed, outwardly disappointed. “I’ll leave you to apologize to your sister properly. Aimes, I love you, kiddo, and I’m really glad you’re going to be coming home tomorrow. We’ll bring you something tonight to eat later.” He kissed my forehead and left the room.

My sister’s eyes shimmered with the tears as she grabbed my hand desperately. “I am sorry. I have never been this sorry in my whole life. It just happened, and it will never happen again. I didn’t know he had been in love with me all these years.” The words came spilling out before she could dam up her mouth.

“He said that?” My heart was breaking even more as things clicked into place.

He was always at my house.

He constantly made excuses to be around us.

He asked if she was going to be wherever we were going before we got there, every damned time.

I had thought it was me, that he was checking because he hated her too.

“I’m so sorry. I won’t ever see him again. It was a mistake.”

“No.” I pulled my hand away. “It’s not your fault. You can’t even help yourself. You ooze sex and punishment, which is something boys seem to want.”

“You don’t get it!” Alise lost it. “I’m—like—so jealous of you. You’re so smart, you’re still a virgin, and you’re funny in a way only—smart people get.”

“Witty, and I don’t think the entire hospital needs to know I’m a virgin.” I tried to quiet her down.

“Whatever, you know what I mean. Aimes, you are the kind of girl that every MAN dreams of, and I am the kind of girl that every boy dreams of. This is my time to shine and it’s going to be nothing compared to yours when you finally stop being—well—whatever you are.”

It was the kindest and most loving thing my sister had ever said to me. I knew she was trying to be nice.

I should have responded back lovingly and we could have had a moment, but I was still too angry. I couldn’t help myself—I was so furious, defeated, and embarrassed. “You have Shane. How could you do this to him, Alise? You’ve already cheated on him with every popular guy.”

“I can’t even with Shane.” She waved her hand. “I only dated him because it seemed like the right move, like we should be together. Like we matched. I honestly don’t think he even likes me. He barely kissed me. It’s been like nine months and nothing. His parents have a lot going on, but come on—nine months and almost no sex? We hold hands like we’re ten-year-olds. I love you, Aimee, and when I find out who did this to you, I will make them pay.” Her stare became malicious and sinister and she sounded like Batman. It was a weird moment for me. “I’m going to kill whoever did this.”

As quickly as it had all started, it was over.

“I love you.” She stood up and left my room, waving goodbye to me. I clearly her less than I thought. Oddly enough, I felt better from the weird moment. She did have a magic about her. Being angry with her was near impossible. She manipulated me, almost making me feel sorry for her and angry at myself for being so mean.

She was a master.

And while I didn’t know what to do about Blake, I didn’t care nearly as much as I thought I would have. Maybe I already knew, subconsciously.

After a moment of contemplation, I glanced over at Giselle who smiled from her fake sleep. “Okay, that was like—weird.”

“I know, right? What was the whole ‘I will make them pay?’ Who does she think she is? What will she do? Whack them with a stiletto?”

“Girl, I can’t even.” Giselle laughed. “She is so crazy sometimes.”

“So crazy.” I laughed, feeling the same about it all, like a truck had hit me. “I’m sorry for the nuttiness. My family has been a little freak show lately. I really didn’t see that coming.”

“Yeah, dude, your sister has never cried in front of me, except at your mom’s funeral. She didn’t even cry as many tears as she should have then. So you like that Blake kid?” She switched channels on me too quickly.

“I guess.” I nodded my head slowly. “Yeah, I did and she knew it. I thought she did. It just seemed like the way things would go—a natural progression. We make sense to be together, me and Blake. Two nerds. We’re both smart and easygoing but passionate about things we believe in. I’m a vegetarian and he doesn’t eat red meat. Sort of like her and Shane, I guess.”

“You girls are the weirdest ever.” She laughed. “That is the dumbest thing I’ve heard a smart person say. You can’t make a relationship out of math and science, you weirdo. It’s safe to say that you’ve never been in love. Dude, your sister is right. You’re gonna have an amazing love when you find it. You’ve held out for so long that when it happens, it’s going to rock your world.”

“I guess.” I snickered more at Giselle than with her. Alise and Giselle treated me like a spinster, because I had yet to fall in love, at seventeen. They acted like I was thirty. I shook my head. “I think I’ll probably end up the lonely old Miss Havisham, with cats and craziness.”

“Who?” She frowned. “I don’t know this Havisham lady, but I doubt you’ll be lonely. A little makeup, some hair product, and maybe gain a little weight—girl, you wait and see.”

I didn’t respond. How did I defend my dislike of makeup to her?

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

Dr. Doom

 

 

The doctor came into our room.

His eyes looked off. “Girls, do you want your assessments alone or together?”

I looked at Giselle and shrugged. “I’m good with together. We’re in the same boat.”

Giselle agreed. “Yeah, go ahead.”

He swallowed hard. “I’ve spoken with your parent, Aimee, and he’s given me the go ahead but Giselle your father isn’t here. We’ve not been able to reach him. So I am going to talk to you about the decisions we’re going to make without him, is that all right?”

Giselle looked lost.

“He wants to tell us what’s wrong with us without our parents here.”

“Oh, that’s okay.” She nodded.

“Your bodies have sustained an adverse reaction to a chemical in the drug you were given. A hepatotoxicity, a drug induced liver injury. On top of that there was a mercury in the drug which damaged the kidneys, leaving you with some transient damage to those organs. It’s reversible and I believe you might be on the mend quite shortly. I wouldn’t recommend drinking again. You may not ever be able to tolerate fatty foods, and certainly no drugs. But we are seeing a reduction in your levels and your symptoms are diminishing. We have every reason to believe, you will make a recovery, perhaps not full but a recovery none the less. It will happen over the next few months. But with a very healthy diet, constant checkups, and a lot of sleep.”

“Okay, I’m a vegetarian anyway and I never do drugs or drink and I’m lazier than you would imagine. Basically I’ll just live my life the way I do anyway and avoid parties. I’m good with that.” I could feel the clean bill of health just around the corner.

He didn’t smile but he sounded more cheerfull-ish. “That’s excellent that you’re already used to this because there is a possibility of some permanent damage. Time is going to tell with you.”

“Great.”

“Right.” He cleared his throat again, staring down at the floor. “Giselle, your body appears to have had something else going on. I suspect you drank the most poison. You’re being transported to the main Children’s in Portland. We are going to keep you on hemodialysis for the time being. Your symptoms are not decreasing at all. I am so sorry.”

“What?” Giselle looked at him and then at me and shook her head. “What? What does that all mean? I’m sick still? No, no this isn’t right. Your tests are wrong. I feel fine.” Tears sprang from her eyes and then mine.

“All this means is that your body needs a larger center with better care than we can provide. We are transporting you within the hour to Children’s, because we want those tests to be wrong. Are your parents away? Your friends handed in your medical information from your purse when they checked you in, but no one is answering the numbers we have on record.” His voice was soft again. The news was so bleak it bothered the heartless doctor.

I reached for Giselle, ignoring him. “This is good news because they already know what’s wrong with you and how to treat it. You’re going to the best hospital. They will find answers, and I’ll find your mom if it kills me, okay?” It was a lie. I knew that hemodialysis meant she was on dialysis, she would never come off of it. She needed a transplant.

She nodded but I could see she was shut off. She was trapped in the doctor’s first sentence.

“I’ll talk to her.”

“Thank you.” He agreed with a head nod and walked from the room.

I sprang from my bed like a sloth and started my emergency texting, messaging my sister.

Dude, get G’s dad here 911

Clearly not understanding, she texted me back.

???

No time 2 talk get her dad he’s sleeping work. Tell him 2 bring the Visa bill with the resort name on it his wife is staying

??OK??

U HAVE 10 MIN 2 B Here

KK

Then I sent Blake a message.

[_ U :* my sis?? _]

He messaged me back instantly.

</3 Sooooo Sorry

His broken heart meant nothing. I turned my phone off. At least he never knew I liked him.

Giselle who was sitting up, staring blankly at the bed. I turned my phone back on and ignored the messages I was receiving from Blake. I Googled kidney failure. Sometimes reading made people feel better—it did me anyway. I read for about half an hour, looking for a bright side. I didn’t find one. I decided not to share my findings. Or focus on them.

I was the good side of acute kidney failure and she was the bad.

For whatever reason, likely how healthy I was compared to her, I would heal over time and she need a new kidney, at least one.

“This is going to be treatable at the hospital. In the city they have resources we don’t.” I need to lie to her.

Giselle smiled. “I’m glad you’re going to be okay.” The look in her eyes was killing me. She was coming to terms very quickly with her situation, which saddened me. Giselle should be screaming and having a fit, but she was used to disappointment. It was not how I would have imagined her.

Giselle’s dad rushed into our room in his rumpled suit. My sister was hot on his heels. “Oh my God, Giselle—oh my God! Baby, are you okay?” he melted into a hot mess. Kneeling at her bedside, crying. It disgusted me to see her comforting him. Giselle had the most selfish parents I had ever seen.

I got up from my bed and left them alone. The doctor stormed into the room. He looked very angry with Giselle’s dad. Evidently, leaving your seventeen-year-old to cope with near death alone was not cool, even to doctors with no bedside manner.

“Hey.” I dragged my IV machine, squeaking the whole way to where my sister stood. She was holding the piece of paper I had asked for.

“He gave it to you?” I asked, looking at the Visa bill.

She smiled. “Yeah, I told him about Giselle being sick and the hospital trying to reach him. He’s been drunk in Handley for three days and before that in Portland on business. He went home a few times, but never checked the messages. He just thought she was out with friends. He’s a douche.”

“Really though.” I shook my head, taking the Visa statement. “What an idiot.” I read the words aloud, “Grand PLDM White Sds Rst, $3,200.00.” I punched the code into Google with the word Mexico in front and felt like Nancy Drew. “Ha! Look at that—Grand Palladium White Sands Resort in the Mayan Riviera. There is a number here.” I dialed, feeling hopeful.

The lady on the other line spoke quickly and I smiled and spoke back to her in fluent Spanish.

I hung up the phone as my sister crossed her arms. “What did you say?”

“I told her that I needed Pilar to come home, that her daughter was being taken to Children’s, and she was very sick. Exactly what’s happening.”

Giselle’s dad talking with the doctor and nodding his head with a blank stare. He understood what he was being told, but didn’t look like he comprehend what it meant.

Giselle wasn’t listening anymore. She was staring out the window. It troubled me to see her like this—my new friend who I had known my whole life.

The stretcher came for her while we were in the hallway. The helicopter had arrived to transport her. Giselle’s dad kissed her hand and ran from the hospital.

I walked back into the room as they were strapping her in for the ride. “I’ll get my dad to let me come see you next week when you’re settled in. Text me when you get there, ok?”

She nodded. “See you soon then. My dad is going to drive to the city now.”

“I’ll miss you.” I hugged her and felt her hands grip onto me intensely. “Be strong, ok?” I whispered into her ear.

“I will.” She nodded and the doctors took her away. My sister waved to her from the hall and blew her a kiss as they passed by. Giselle blew her a kiss back, but looked for me to wave once more.

One more night in the hospital wasn’t so bad, but it would be completely alone. Not an exciting notion but better than being sent to the city.

“So what exactly is going on, Aimes? What’s wrong with Giselle?” My sister stood beside me, watching where Giselle had left.

“The drug that we took almost killed us. But apparently we suffered from acute—”

Alise held her hands up, cutting me off. “Whoa, dumb it down.”

“She has kidney failure, which can lead to death if she doesn’t have her blood cleaned by machines.”

My sister opened her mouth in understanding. “Ohhhh, okay. So why didn’t that happen to you?”

I shook my head. “Could be that I’m healthier than she is. I don’t drink all the time the way you guys do. She might have already been suffering from a damaged liver.”

“You got lucky.” Alise summed it up nicely.

“Yeah, and Giselle got unlucky.” Sometimes talking to Alise cheered me up, like watching a chimp in heels walk around in lipstick.

“Will you be okay?” Alise looked concerned. These were new expressions for her. She was lost on how to make them perfect. Instead, she looked a little constipated.

“Yeah, in time the damage should be healed, but just in case, I can’t drink, eat red meat or fatty foods, or do drugs.”

She laughed. “So, just go back to boring old you?”

“Yeah, sleep, math club, chess club, and homework. All that clean living you refuse to attempt.”

Alise wrinkled her nose and leapt on me. “No way—too boring.” Her abrupt and sudden hug scared me. She pulled back just as quickly. “Okay, well I have to go to Shane’s house and break up with him before he finds out I kissed Blake. I know Giselle heard everything.”

“Yeah, I don’t think she is texting your friends right now to tell them that. She has a lot on her mind.”

Her silver eyes sparkled. “You don’t know the real Giselle, only the sick Giselle. They are different people. See you later, gator.” She walked out clicking on the shiny industrial flooring in her high-heeled boots, which came over her knees.

“Julia Roberts wants her boots back,” I shouted at her.

She laughed, throwing her head back and waved backward without looking. She made me watch Pretty Woman a hundred times.

I sat on my bed and looked out the window as I thought about the last week. Where had it gone? The warm wind came in the small opening of the window, rustling the papers beside my bed and making me glance around the room. “Mom?” I couldn’t smell her and I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was there. I let the wind wrap around me. “I didn’t forget about you, Mom. It’s just been a rough week,” I whispered to the room.

The wind was gone, as quickly as it had hit.

“Time for you to get some sleep after all that excitement.” The nurse hurried in and pulled a syringe out. “I bet you’re tired.”

“I am.” I lay back on the bed.

“Well, have a good sleep and I’ll keep a watch on the door so you don’t feel so alone.” She smiled sweetly.

“Thanks.” I mutter as my eyes start to droop.

The wind came back. It tickled across my bare arms and cheeks. I lazily lifted one eyelid, fighting against the drugs. The bright white-blue eyes of Wade from Port Handley were all I saw. The corners of my mouth lifted. “Hey, I know you.”

“You can see me? Even though you’re dreaming?” his voice was a deep whisper.

I lifted my lid again and nodded. “Of course I can, silly.”

The warm wind floated over me. I reached a hand out. The warmth I touched made me freeze. He was real. He was really there. My heart started to pound. Both eyes opened. “Did you come back to finish me off?” I whispered, terrified and fading fast from the drugs.

He looked crushed. I couldn’t help but stare at his beautiful lips. “No. Of course not. Why would you say that?”

My hand gripped the back of his. “Did you drug me?”

He frowned. “What? No. I’m not real, Aimee. I’m a figment of your imagination.”

The warmth in my hand proved he was there, until he wasn’t. He was gone. I clenched my hand. My palm was still warm from touching him. I looked around the room. He wasn’t there. Had he really been there?

Footsteps drew my head to the right. My insides clenched, until I saw it was Blake walking through the doorway. His face was a mask of shame. I hoped he would wear it for a while, even if I was grateful it was him.

“Hey.” He sat on the chair across the room from me.

“Hey.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Sleepy. If I fall asleep, you’ll have to wait for me to wake up. The nurse just drugged me and I think I was already sleeping a little.”

“Where’s Giselle?” he asked, looking at her now-empty bed.

“Gone.” I frowned. “It’s not good.” His eyes grew wide as I explained the whole situation with Giselle and her dad and mom and her kidneys. We talked like things had never changed, but they had, and I saw him in a new light—one I didn’t know how to feel about. Especially when he crawled into my bed and let me fall asleep on his arm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

Friends and Foes

 

My room hadn’t changed in a week, but I felt like a stranger in it. The walls were exactly the same, and yet they felt closer around me. The experiences I had been through in such a short amount of time seemed to have shifted my mind. As if it narrowed in some aspects, but broadened in others. Giselle was a new addition to my life. Instead of being besties with my sister, she seemed to prefer my company. It was weird for me. I didn’t even know how to work the change into my day-to-day. The text messages were coming every few minutes. Memes and Gifs and weird videos with cats doing random things.

It really was no wonder that Alise was so dumb. She had friends texting her hundreds of text messages consisting of garbled English 24/7. She didn’t have time to do anything but underachieve.

I sat on my bed, feeling more alone than I ever had. I decided to take a walk and go see my mom.

My dad was in the kitchen getting a glass of water, and humming. I stopped on the stairs, listening to him hum. I didn’t know the song, but I knew this was the first time I had heard him hum in eight months. I crept to the front door, as quietly as I was able, and stepped out the door. I wanted him to stay lost in whatever happy moment he was having. I sent him a quick text and headed off down the sidewalk. The town didn’t look different and yet it was. The smallness of it was stifling before I was drugged. I didn’t feel that way anymore. I liked the coziness. I liked knowing everyone. And now I was scared, not of anything in particular but just in general.

I walked and thought about the past year, and all the events that had shaped the time for me. I never noticed the trees or the road, just the seconds that fit together to make a year. Each of them seemed so different and complex, like a spider web. Some were horrid and others were unexplainable.

I looked around and realized that I had long passed my mom’s spot.

I was about to turn back when I saw him. He walked along the side of the road and disappeared into the thick woods. His tall, strong body would have been unmistakable in itself, but his face was one of a kind. I couldn’t see his eyes but I remembered what they looked like. My heart fluttered. I should have been afraid of him but it seemed I couldn’t make myself. I vaguely remembered the weird dream I’d had in the hospital, where he had vanished.

I almost chickened out but then I just did it. “Wade,” I called out.

He never came back.

“Wade, wait up—it’s me, Aimee, from the party the other night. Wade.” I tried to run to where he had been but my body hurt. I got an instant cramp. I decided running would take me a little longer to be able to attempt and walked into the dark woods, pushing myself past the initial thick and impassable brush.

The bushes scratched me and pulled at my clothes and hair. I was determined to see him again. When I got inside the forest I looked around but saw nothing. I stood perfectly still, feeling my heartbeat intensify as several possible outcomes sped through my mind.

Possibility number one—Wade might have been the pervert who drugged us and got me naked. Though the lovely and relaxing internal examination proved I was still a virgin. Thank you, God in Heaven, a female doctor did it.

Possibility number two—Wade might not even have been here and the poison was still wreaking havoc on my mind, and now I was alone in the dark forest hallucinating. Like I had at the hospital.

Possibility number three, and honestly the most likely—Wade was trying to go for a nice walk, when a strange girl he didn’t know started yelling and running, albeit sadly, after him.

I thought about it for a second while I stood perfectly still. I tried not to think about the fact he could very well be stalking me, after not getting what he had wanted at the party. I was uncertain about how to proceed. Fleeing from the forest screaming like a banshee was definitely at the top of a very short list. That option was followed by pretending someone else was with me. I knew that would either scare him into thinking I was crazy if he was watching me, or make him believe I wasn’t alone.

Instead I stayed frozen like an idiot with my heart racing like a rabbit. I heard a crunch off to the side and prepared myself for the worst.

“Aimee?” the voice was unmistakable.

I opened my eyes which I hadn’t realized I had closed and started to breathe again. “Shane, what are you doing here?”

“It’s my yard.” He walked toward me laughing. “What are you doing standing there with your eyes closed?”

He looked amazing—chinos, a baby-blue t-shirt, and his sandy hair was messy from whatever he had been doing. Seeing him made me want to smell him. I knew he would smell good. He always smelled like laundry soap and deodorant with a subtle mix of windblown sea air.

“I didn’t know your yard came over this way.” I looked around, trying to see his house.

He held a hand out to me when he got close. “Yeah, it’s twelve acres. Let me get you out the easy way, you’re bleeding.” He pointed to my forearms. “Just there.”

I looked down, noticing my arms were scratched up very badly. How had I not felt it? I had been so insane trying to find Wade that I couldn’t feel the branches scratching me that badly? I started to worry about lasting side effects of the drugs, such as partial paralysis and hallucinations.

“Is Wade here with you?”

He looked upset. “No, I’m alone. What the hell are you doing out of bed?”

“I needed some fresh air. I couldn’t stay cooped up anymore. I would really like to meet your friend Wade. Can you take me there?” I asked.

Shane nodded, looking down on me with his beautiful blue eyes. “Yeah for sure—we can go now.” He seemed irritated with me for some reason.

“Really, you don’t mind?”

“No. Since your sister started dating that dorky friend of yours, my calendar is wide open.”

My heart stopped. “Dating? He isn’t a dorky friend—he’s a nice boy.” I was freaking out inside. No wonder he was angry with me—my sister had broken up with him for Blake. I couldn’t believe she and Blake were dating. I didn’t believe they hadn’t told me.

“Yeah, I guess they’ve been secretly dating for a few days or whatever. She’s been lying to your dad and saying she was going to her friend’s place but meeting him this last week. I guess something happened yesterday that sealed the deal.” Shane shrugged. His grip tightened on my hand as he pulled me through the woods.

“Wait.” I pulled back a bit. “This is a hard walk for me.”

“Oh my God Oh my God—” He let go of my hand. “I’m such an idiot. Here, let me help you.” He reached down and picked me up before I could protest.

I gulped. “This isn’t necessary. I can walk, just slowly.”

“This is faster, Aimes.” He said it in a throaty way which I chalked up to him exerting a lot of energy to carry me through the woods.

“Can you tell I’ve gained weight?” I had managed to gain back four pounds of the fourteen I was down.

“No.” He laughed as we reached the forest’s edge and he placed me down on the grass. “You’re still light as a feather.”

I straightened my jacket and smiled. “I’m trying to get back up. I might even go about ten over my healthy weight, in case something like this happens again. I didn’t have any extra weight to lose.”

“Protein shakes and meal replacements. It’s what we use on the football team to gain.”

“I might have to try that. I hate being thin.”

He nodded looking serious now. “Yeah, Giselle is pretty tiny now too, huh?”

“Yeah.” I looked down at my feet. “She isn’t doing well. They have her on some meds now and regular dialysis. I’m going in a week with Alise to see her.”

“Is Blake going?” Shane sounded jealous.

“No.” I shook my head. “I don’t think so. I didn’t know they were dating. I’m sorry she hurt you, I know you liked her.”

He scoffed at it again. “She didn’t hurt me, just embarrassed me. I hate that she hurt you, she and that friend of yours.”

I was taken aback. “You’re worried about me?”

“Yeah.” He nodded and the air between us filled with tension.

“Oh.”

We walked the huge backyard to his truck in the driveway. He pulled out a first aid kit and cleaned my scratches. I was winded and exhausted from all the exercise, but I didn’t want the moment to end.

“You and I were laying out on the grass the night of the party. We talked for a long time. Then we sat in silence. Do you remember that?” He opened the door for me to get in, when he was done.

“No.” I shook my head. “I’m still lost with the details. I’m hoping by seeing Wade, it will trigger some memories. Something about him is so familiar and he is all I really remember about that night.”

“Oh, that’s why you want to see him.”

“Yeah.” I attempted to climb into the huge truck, but it like stitches were being ripped out of my side slowly. I paused, inhaling sharply. His huge warm hands were on me as he lifted me carefully. I didn’t notice the pain, just the warmth of him.

As he closed the door for me, I realized I had become an invalid, not that I minded. The tragedy had brought us closer together. It was nice, always being close to him and not feeling guilty about him dating my sister.

“Thanks for agreeing to take me.”

“Yeah, no worries.” Shane got into the driver side and looked puzzled. “But that’s the weird part—I don’t remember you even talking to Wade. I asked him about it and he doesn’t remember you either.” He started the truck and drove around the circle driveway. “Your sister, he remembers well.”

“That is weird. Maybe it was a ghost.” I laughed nervously, thinking about the fact I’d seen Giselle in her ghost body. Granted I was delusional and dying during it, but still.

He smiled. “Hey, don’t kid. My mom said our yard used to be some ancient native shaman’s land. My great granddad’s family bought the land from the shaman’s family while he was on his deathbed, but I guess the old shaman was pretty pissed that they had sold the land. She said they were starving out here and felt it was cursed or some crap so they sold it anyway.”

I rolled my eyes, forcing myself to be the skeptic I was. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. So your yard is like a pet cemetery?”

He nodded half-heartedly. “Maybe. We’ve never had any bad luck though. Well, except for my dad screwing some twenty-five-year-old, but I highly doubt it had anything to do with the pet cemetery, and more to do with him being a disgusting pig.”

“Your mom must still be pretty mad.”

“Mad isn’t the word.” His face tightened but he kept his eyes straightforward. “Please don’t ever say anything, but I found her in the bathroom. She had taken a bunch of pills and cut herself.”

“Oh my god.” My jaw dropped. I tried not to let it but it did it anyway. “I’m so sorry.”

“The worst part is that when I found her, she looked at me and said let me die, son. But I called the police and an ambulance. What kind of shit is that to say to your kid?”

“Yikes.” I looked down at my hands as I fidgeted with my ring. “I think when she’s feeling better, she’ll know you made the right choice.”

We were quiet for a long time, both lost in contemplation. Neither of us wanted to make the other dwell on the misfortune in our life.

“The drugs saved her life. Her heartbeat slowed down and she didn’t bleed to death from the cuts. The doctor thought she might have known that and didn’t want to die.”

“Maybe.” I said and hoped it was true. It amazed me how many bad things could happen in a small town, in such a short amount of time. Maybe the land was all cursed.

We entered the neighboring town and turned onto a road that I had never been on before. Within a few driveways we were at a small bungalow.

“This is it,” he pointed to the beast of a guy in the garage. “That’s Wade.”

“Okay.” Nervously, I opened my door and got out. Shane hopped out roughly and bounded into the garage toward the guy bent over the hood of a car.

He smacked his bum hard, causing the guy to shoot up and bang his head on the hood of the old beater.

“Son of a—Shane. That’s gonna leave a mark.” He rubbed his head.

Shane laughed and pointed to me. “This is Aimee, the girl who got drugged at my party.”

“Oh snap.” Wade turned. He looked about the right size, a few inches over six foot and strong but not fat. He was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. His hair was dark blond. But when he turned his face to see me, he was definitely not the same guy.

His eyes were nowhere near as blue and his face didn’t have the devastating beauty. His face was attractive, but not nearly as handsome as the guy I had seen. “Hey.” He waved awkwardly.

“Hey.”

“Do you remember him?”

“No.” The small glimmer of hope that I wasn’t crazy died.

“I think I met your sister. You look a lot like Alise.”

“I’m pretty sure everyone has met my sister.” I tried not to sound like an ass.

Shane gave me a look. “Anyway, buddy, we thought we would take a drive out and see if meeting you could help jog her memory.”

Wade lowered his voice. “Did we find out who the creepy bastard?”

“Not yet, but when we do, we will be sure to ask for some assistance from you boys.” Shane punched him in the arm and started to walk toward the truck.

“Do that.” Wade’s smile grew menacing. “Nothing we Handley boys like more than giving out a good ass kicking. Nice meeting you, Aimee. Hope your memory comes back and say hi to your sister for me.” He winked.

“Okay.” I waved at him as I climbed back into the truck, using all my strength and trying not to cry out loud. “I thought he was dating that girl.”

“He is, but he likes to mess with me. Not to hurt your feelings, but everyone thought I was nuts for dating your sister.”

“They did?” I cocked an eyebrow.

“Yeah. She’s a handful and I’m not really the kind of guy for that.”

“Why did you? Date her.”

He shrugged and looked lost. “I don’t know. She’s hot.” He looked at me and closed the door. “Wanna get something to eat?”

“Yeah, I’m starving.”

We drove in awkward silence again until he pulled into the town’s local burger shack. The Wood Inn was not exactly known for its gourmet food, but the veggie burgers were pretty yummy. Almost city yummy.

He hopped out quickly to open my door for me and help me out and then held the door for me going in. I liked that about him, his being a gentleman.

As we went to our table I got a slight hint of laundry soap and deodorant when I climbed out, and it made me smile. He always smelled clean, not draped in aftershave or cologne like every other guy our age. I hated the whole bathed in Axe body spray smell.

“Ready to order?” The server seemed to appear out of nowhere moments after we sat down with menus from the hostess.

“Yup. I’ll have the veggie burger, no bacon, no cheese, extra tomato and a side of yam fries.”

She nodded at my order, not even considering how stupid it was to have to ask for no bacon on one’s veggie burger.

She looked at Shane who grinned. “I will have the bacon cheeseburger with bacon, no tomato, extra cheese, and a side of regular fries. I will also have a chocolate shake.”

She finished writing it down and glanced at me while taking the menus. “Water okay for you?”

“Yes, please.” I smiled and she was gone.

“So you like your bacon cheeseburger with bacon?” I asked making him smile.

He grinned. “I don’t see how you can stomach a veggie burger without bacon.”

“My stomach isn’t the same.” I shook my head at him.

“You’ve been a veggie for a long time, this happening to you didn’t change you. What is it—seven years now?” he asked, playing with the fork and knife on the tabletop.

I smiled at him, completely taken aback. “Yeah, it will be eight at Christmas. How do you remember that?”

He shrugged. “I just notice stuff, I guess. So who are you going to the spring formal with?”

I gulped blindsided again. “Oh my God—I kind of figured it would be Blake. I guess I’m not going. I’m not a dance kind of girl anyway.”

“You can’t dance?”

I laughed. “I can dance just fine. I just don’t do popular kids and drinking and shit.”

“Dances and cusses. Look at you. Well, I was taking Alise. Why don’t we go together?”

“Oh.” I sipped my water cautiously. “As friends?”

“Yeah. How could we be anything else, Aimee.” He said it like it was ironic.

“Okay sure. I have a rule anyway, about dating boys who date my sister.” I blurted like an idiot.

“Of course.” He sat back still playing with the utensils. “To being friends.” He lifted his water glass and I lifted mine.

I laughed but secretly, I imagined what it would be like to not be friends.

“Your sister is a little bit evil when it comes to guys. I can’t even believe you’re related.”

“Yeah.”

He fiddled with the things on the table. “I’m sorry. She’s your sister. I shouldn’t be such a dick.”

“No. It’s fine. I have no illusions about my sister.”

“Speak of the devil and she shall arrive at your favorite burger joint.”

“No way.” I turned to see my sister and Blake walking hand in hand past the window. They stopped dead when they saw us at the table. Blake dropped her hand and straightened up in his stance, not letting his gaze leave mine. It was as if he was trying to reassure me. They waved and walked to the door. Our food arrived as the waitress brought them to the seat behind us.

Alise smiled sweetly but it was fake. “Fancy meeting you two here.” She looked back and forth between us suspiciously. “On a date?” Her words were biting.

“We went to see Wade.”

Blake looked nervous but tried to remain calm. “The elusive Wade—what did he have to say?”

“Not him.” Shane shook his head. “He’s not the right guy.”

“Should we just sit with you?” Alise asked innocently.

“No. Let’s just go somewhere else, Alise.” Blake wasn’t pleading. He was telling. He pulled her back toward the entrance. “Enjoy your meal, I’ll text you later,” he said, dragging her out onto the street.

“Okay.” I picked up my juicy veggie burger and raised my eyebrows at Shane. “Bon appetit.” It was more of a question.

“Whatever.” He tried to smile but his anger was obvious.

I took the biggest bite I could. The tastes started to swirl in my mouth. The flavor was so similar until it shifted as I chewed. I gagged like I might throw up. My favorite veggie burger in the world was making me sick. I grabbed my napkin and spit the huge bite into it.

“You okay?”

“No.” I shuddered. “I’m so sorry. That was nasty.”

“Maybe you should have gotten the beef.” He wrinkled his nose.

“It’s not that. I just remembered that I had a veggie burger for dinner that night before the party. I puked it up.”

“Hey!” His eyes lit up. “You remember the taste of your puke!”

I realized what I had said as more of the memory came back. “Alise did my hair and makeup and made me wear the outfit I was wearing. I ate the veggie burger in secret in my room, so she wouldn’t know I ate.”

“See some of it’s coming back.”

I was excited, except for the fact veggie burgers were going to be off the menu for quite a while.

Shane took me home after I stopped picking at my fries.

I dragged myself up the stairs, half dead I was certain. My body ached. The body in my pain was unbearable. I climbed into my bed and fell asleep with my clothes on.

The warm wind came and I would swear his voice crept through my dreams. “Get better, Aimee. Get better and forget about me.” It was soft and lured me deeper into my sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

Beautiful boys—oh, and a stalker.

 

My phone vibrated in my pocket as I was trudging my way to chemistry, completely obsessed with the dream I’d had. The not Wade guys was plaguing my life. I didn’t want to be crazy, and maybe I wasn’t crazy, but it was starting to look like the best case scenario was that the drugs were still affecting me. Otherwise I was bat crap crazy.

Deep down my non rational side whispered the possibility that he was a ghost, who I could only see when I was sick, tired, and or dying. But I didn’t believe in ghosts—at all, and I’d seen him at Shane’s. He wasn’t in my dream then. It was real. I saw him sober walking into the house party. I remembered that much of the story.

Maybe it was Shane’s house.

Maybe I was scaring myself with the shaman ghost story, but I needed to see him again. I needed to prove he was real. Or that I was crazy. He and ghost Giselle were proving that to be truth.

One memory about him stood out the most, besides obviously seeing him as we entered the party. There was a hazy moment in the bathroom where he was talking about my veggie burger and chewing next time.

My name being said not quietly enough made me turn my head. The other kids at school were whispering and watching me. And it wasn’t just one group of kids. It was all the kids in the courtyard. I tried not to care but it was hard going from a complete unknown to that girl who got drugged and nearly raped. In a small town what else was there to talk about when several girls had been drugged and possibly assaulted?

Nothing.

And with everyone else either gone or being protected, I was it. Angela wasn’t back from the city. Giselle was doing worse in the city. No one mentioned the named of the other girls. Leaving me to be the only one here that they knew about for sure.

I held my books tight to my chest and looked toward my class, at the exact moment Blake walked up to the class door. I cringed, thinking about being around him and how awkward it was going to be.

I decided I needed more air than chemicals and turned around, not really sure what to do.

Mr. Mac saw me walking the wrong way and stopped. “Aimee, what are you doing?”

“Oh, uhhhh.” I looked down at the ground ashamed. “I need to go home. I’m feeling sick.”

“Really?” He laughed. “You’re the worst liar ever.” Mr. Mac knew me better than any other teacher. He walked toward me with a skeptical look. “You having a problem getting back into the swing of things?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “It’s hard to focus. I’m tired a lot.”

“I’m sorry this happened to you, kid.” He pointed to the chemistry room. “I’m going to walk this way and if you follow, great, and if you don’t, I might not notice ‘cause I’m pretty preoccupied with the marks on the test we took a couple weeks ago. The ninety-eight you got probably earned you a day off from class, if you want to think about it that way, I’m cool with it.” He paused for a moment. “I truly hope you’re feeling better, Aimee.”

“Thanks.” I looked up into his dark-brown eyes and smiled. “You’re the best, Mr. Mac.”

“Tell my mother that if you see her.” He chuckled and waved as he walked away from me, strolling casually toward the chem lab.

The walk across the courtyard exhausted me and I contemplated just laying down where I was but then I looked at the trades building. Shane had a truck. He would drive me.

The little whisper in my mind reminded me I’d seen my not-Wade guy at Shane’s and could go there to see if I could find him again. I had nothing better to do than sleep.

I hobbled over to where Shane’s welding class and waved at him through the shop doors. He looked at me, puzzled before he strolled over, looking quite cute in his coveralls with his welding helmet lifted up and bits of grease and dirt on his face. He grinned at me as he opened the door. “Aimes, what’s up? You taking shop now?”

“Uh, no. Not unless an early death for everyone in this building is on the syllabus.” I held my hand out. “I need your truck keys. I want to go to your house for a bit. I need to prove to myself that your yard isn’t haunted and the not-Wade guy is a figment of my imagination.” I didn’t bring ghost Giselle into it. I still hadn’t told anyone that yet.

“Okay.” He burst out laughing and fished his keys out of his pocket. “You’re the weirdest girl I have ever met. I mean that in the nicest way. Want me to come too?”

“No. That’s cool. I’ll be back before class is over to give you back your truck.” I took the keys and grinned at coveralls. “Thanks, this is a good look for you too. I think if you wore this to the spring formal, I might actually want to dance.”

“It smells nice too.” He winked and closed the door. “I’ve had them for three years.”

“Gross.” I turned on my heel.

The drive to Shane’s house was about five minutes, and for some reason I couldn’t help looking in my rear-view. I was not a very good criminal. And it was my first time skipping.

I pulled into the driveway and gingerly climbed out of the truck. My ribs were hurting, but I ignored it and walked up to the house and then past it, wandering around the outside. Every couple seconds I looked behind myself and peeked around the yard. If anyone saw me, they would instantly assume injured spy or total idiot. I was going with the latter. I looked like a moron.

And to top it off, the not Wade guy wasn’t here.

About to give up, I glanced at the woods wondered if they were my best bet. The last time I’d seen him was in the forest by Shane’s. Except for my dreams of course.

The forest looked dark and spooky but I decided that thinking about how creepy the bushes were was not the smartest way to enter the woods.

Trees on the North Coast were huge. Big was what you called a tree at half its size in the Pacific Northwest. Shane’s yard had massive ones that let in almost no light.

When I got inside, the forest air hit me like a ton of bricks. It was freezing and damp.

I decided sitting in a quiet spot was my best plan. Then, like a rabbit hopping into a trap, I would be able to see him, but he wouldn’t see me. If he was real and not a ghost, because a ghost would probably see me.

I crept through huge ferns and past the old man’s beard covering the branches. The forest thinned out remarkably once you were inside of it because the canopy of the huge trees were a filter for the light. Not a lot of other small trees and bushes could grow. Moss and ferns didn’t need light to prosper. The forest on the North Coast always reminded me of Jurassic Park. The air was clean and pure and colder sometimes by five or six degrees.

I found the old tree fort Shane had constructed once with his friends and hid at the base of the tree next to it. There was a small bush surrounded by several huge ferns and if I sat still long enough, I could probably see his something. The half hour was all I needed to prove to myself he wasn’t a ghost. It would have to be enough. After that I was going to drop it and move on.

I climbed into the bush and fluffed the ferns and pulled my jacket tight around me, drawing the hood up over my head to cover my blonde hair. The black jacket helped me to blend into the bush and massive trunk. I settled back on the dirt, leaning against the tree and sat still. I turned my phone to vibrate and waited.

I wanted to say I was a peaceful enough person, that the calm of the forest and the small noises it made throughout the day were relaxing. Instead, I was on edge, hiding in the forest, watching for either a ghost or a guy I couldn’t quite understand.

What if he was the stalker?

What was I going to do then?

The poorly thought plan to prove I wasn’t crazy was starting to seem a little arrogant and naïve.

Mocking myself and the lack of intelligence I was showing for being a smart girl, I took a breath and prepared to stand and give up.

But I froze as I heard a crunch.

My heart raced as I turned my head, forcing myself to look for where it came from. If I had to guess, I’d say about fifty feet back toward the house.

I stayed very still as it happened again closer.

My heartbeat increased, followed by a cold sweat as the noise got louder and louder.

I wanted to close my eyes and become invisible, I was terrified, but forced myself to watch. I wasn’t going to miss him walking past. Did ghosts crunch when they walked?

The sound got louder, I twitched with every vibration as the branches broke.

Something tingled inside of me as the next crunch broke, perhaps it was the stillness between the steps of the way the person didn’t call out. Whatever it was I know I needed to fear whatever made the noise.

It breathed like it was out of breath or nervous like I was.

The bush covered me, but if it got close enough, it would be able to see me.

Its pace slowed to a step every minute or so, as it scanned the forest behind me somewhere. I knew what it was doing, even if I couldn’t see it, and I knew then that it was a danger to me.

My brain screamed that it and the not-Wade guy were different people. I waited to see its face when it came around the trees. I could text its identity to Shane, before it got me.

Its steps sounded like they were on top of me. I wanted to dash from the woods screaming, but I knew my dash was more of a light jog at best. I also knew that in every horror movie, the hiding person would have lived if they had just stayed hidden. But they always let the suspense and madness get to them. They always ran and died.

“Aimee, are you here?” it spoke in a breathless whisper. “I saw you come into the woods. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

It was a he.

And he knew my name.

He must have gone to school with me or been following me—how else would he have seen me take Shane’s truck?

I didn’t even swallow as the breaking of the twigs and leaves attempted to drive me insane.

Instead, I waited until I heard his footsteps walk in a different direction and I reached into my pocket and grabbed my phone. I clicked the sound off completely. I was glad I had worn a hoodie and not a jacket that made noise. I slowly put my phone back into my pocket and left it there. I knew nothing would make me leave that spot.

 Through the brush I saw him. I wanted to run, but I held my breath and sat very still. It was definitely a man or a guy my age. He was tall and wore a black fleece with the hood up with dark jeans. I couldn’t see his face at all.

“Aimee, come out, come out, wherever you are,” he spoke as if he were disguising his voice. A noise like a bird squawking rang out into the forest. Then it happened again. He cussed and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. “Hello,” he answered abruptly, still sounding horse as he spoke. “Yeah, fine. I don’t care. Okay good. See you then.” He hung up the phone and looked around the forest more intensely.

When he turned his face to me I could see he was wearing sunglasses. He was white. I could see his lips very clearly. I would never forget them. They were thin lips, not my favorite kind. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell anything else about him.

“Aimee, I know you want to play cat and mouse, but we’re running out of time.” His voice sounded impatient, no matter how hard he was trying to sound calm.

A dark fear inside of me whispered that he was the one who had drugged me, and he wanted to finish what he had started. The idea of him touching me while I had been drugged made me sick. I swallowed the bile back as I sat, ever so still, against my tree hidden in the brush.

He crept around the bushes a bit longer and then he stopped moving. I couldn’t see or hear him. I knew what he was doing. He was sitting somewhere like me. He was trying to wait me out. But I was the girl who sat on the concrete for hours on end. It was not a game he would win.

My breaths were shallow and my heartbeat stayed steady to keep my senses heightened and alert. I didn’t hear a sound from the forest, which also told me he was still here.

The birds were not chirping because a predator was in the woods. Ignoring all manner of pain, I sat very still, like a statue, and listened but there was nothing.

Then, like the angels were singing to me, I heard the greatest sound in the world.

“Dammit, Aimee! I had to walk home from friggin’ school. What the hell is taking you so long? Where are you?” Shane shouted from his yard.

I wanted to jump up and shout that I was over by the tree house, but I knew the evil one was still in this forest somewhere. I hadn’t heard him leave, had I? I was starting to doubt myself as I panicked, knowing my salvation was across the forest, and he would leave soon.

“Aimes? The truck’s here, where are you?”

Desperately, I pulled my phone from my pocket and texted Shane with the sound off completely. The text hit his phone, his text tone was unmistakable—it was Ralph Wiggum saying, “My cat’s breath smells like cat food.” He had gotten it as his text ringtone when we were sitting in the restaurant, after my sister left with Blake. He was trying to lighten the mood. It was stupid. Of course cat breath smelled like cat food.

A second after the text, he walked to the forest, obeying my message perfectly, until he reached my exact location.

Sobs began to slip from my dry lips as relief flooded me. “Here.” I barely managed to get out as I reached my hand from the bushes and Shane grabbed it. He pulled me from my spot. As I stood, my legs buckled and I started to cry.

“It’s okay. I got you now.” He picked me up and carried me from the woods. I glanced back at the forest, seeing nothing, but I noticed a very quick pace in Shane’s steps. “I’m getting tired of carrying you out of these woods.” He was joking but I continued to sob into his shoulder. I felt safe, even if I was scared senseless.

He brought me into the house and sat me on the bar stool in the kitchen. He poured me a glass of lemonade and handed me a tissue. “What happened?”

“I saw him.” I wiped my eyes and told him exactly what had happened. His eyes widened as I told the tale.

“This guy goes to our school—how else would he have seen you take my truck? Aimee, he was invited to my house and drugged my friends and you.” He paced and ranted, shaking his hands and shouting. “I’m gonna kill him.” He separated me from his friends. I wasn’t one of his friends? I tried to be polite and sip the lemonade but I gagged and put it down. I guessed it would be joining the ranks with the veggie burger.

I didn’t know what to do to get my feeling of safety back, but I was worried for myself and for Giselle in the city. I knew the hospital had good security, as it was a children’s hospital. I wasn’t sure it would be enough—the creep seemed pretty good.

“Thanks for coming for me,” I whispered after a long time.

Shane smiled down at me. “Aimee, you’re my date for the dance. Where will I find a date with this short notice?”

I punched his arm, hurting my hand. “Ow.” I frowned. “I don’t think I should go to the dance.” The fear of the person in the woods had me wanting to go home and never leave again.

“Why?”

“What if—”

“I’ll kill anyone who tries to hurt you. He won’t even try, trust me.” The way his eyes burned would have scared me if I hadn’t spent my entire life with him as a friend.

“I don’t have a dress picked out. And I don’t like school dances.” And I didn’t want to talk about any of it. “What color dress should I get?” I wanted the conversation to be light. I missed Giselle for that.

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Whatever you want. I’ll match you.” He didn’t sound excited about it either.

I jumped as a knock on the door interrupted us.

Shane’s eyes grew serious as he walked to the door and peeked through the window. He unlocked it and greeted my dad. “Mr. James, come on in.”

My dad hurried into see me. “I called the police, Aimee. I know nothing happened and they understand that, but they’re as worried as I am. It’s better for them to have a full handle on what’s going on.” His eyes were tired.

“Okay.” I nodded, hating that we were going to have to talk about it all again.

“They’re coming here, Shane. I hope you don’t mind. They should be here any minute.” My dad walked into the house and put a hand on my shoulder. “How’s it going, kiddo?”

“I’m good, if I don’t think about it.”

“I think most things are like that. What were you thinking?”

“I don’t know.” I shook my head. “I’m an idiot.” My face flushed as I remembered seeing Giselle as a ghost and thinking maybe I’d developed some new talent since I died too.

“We established her being an idiot already, sir.” Shane walked around the bar and started to make some coffee with his mom’s expensive coffeemaker. The huge stainless-steel contraption looked like it belonged to a barista. Shane had a cup of coffee for my dad within seconds. “Want a coffee?”

“Sure.”

“Cream or sugar?”

“No thanks, son. Black is perfect.” He sipped his coffee. We all looked out at the backyard, watching. “This is a good cup of coffee.”

“Yeah, my mom bought it in Seattle. It cost more than my truck, I think.”

My dad laughed.

“Where’s Alise?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“She is at Blake’s house. His parents are letting her stay over. They know about the situation and that we need to go see Giselle and see the hospital and make certain they understand the gravity of the situation. Alise knows she’s not to leave their house until we arrive home.” My dad spoke as if he had an awful taste in his mouth. I wondered if it was me or my sister’s way of twisting a bad situation to her advantage. He gave me a concerned look. “Did you get a good look at him?”

“No.” I shook my head. “He had a dark fleece on with a hood, sunglasses, and his voice was raspy, so I wouldn’t be able to recognize it if I tried. He knew my name. He was tall, like Shane’s height and build, and white. He was wearing jeans—dark jeans. His lips, they were so thin—cruel and thin. His phone rang with the sound of a squawking bird. It was black I think, maybe a Blackberry.”

My dad looked at Shane and me. “Sounds like every one of your friends.”

“We have iPhones.”

“Yeah, only business people have Blackberry’s.” Shane nodded. “But I get what you’re saying. At this point everyone should be on the list of suspects, including me. I’m certain the police will say the same thing. Though for the record, I have nice lips and an iPhone.”

I rolled my eyes. “We know it isn’t you.”

He smiled back, but my dad’s eyes were not as trusting as he watched us.

The doorbell interrupted. “The police,” my dad said.

Shane walked to the door, opening it without looking.

Two police officers entered the house, shaking Shane’s hand and introducing themselves.

I recognized one of them instantly as the police officer who had asked Giselle and me questions in the hospital. We didn’t have anything to say then.

“Hi, Aimee.” He smiled at me kindly. “How are you feeling?”

“Hi.” I sighed. “Good, I feel pretty good. I’m a lot better. I just wish this was over though.”

The other officer nodded. “Yes, you’ve been through enough, I think.”

My dad laughed sarcastically. “Oh—more than.”

The older officer, who I had never met before, smiled at my dad. “And how is Dad holding up?”

“Oh boy.” My dad sighed. “Our family doesn’t need any extra drama, not this year.”

The police officer, whose name tag said Williams, gave my dad a knowing look. They appeared to have some sort of a relationship I didn’t know about.

“Coffee, guys?” Shane asked, breaking up the sorrow hanging in the air.

“Yes, please.” The young police officer chimed in. His name was Officer Bindley.

“Aimee, Sergeant Williams here was with your mom at the end,” my dad said quietly as he held his hand out to the tall, older-looking man.

My throat thickened as his eyes filled with emotion.

“Oh.” I dropped my gaze to the countertop.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Officer Bindley sipped his. “I guess all we need here is a statement. Shane, were you here when it happened?”

“No.” Shane cocked an eyebrow. “I was walking home from school ‘cause Aimee had my truck.”

I smiled at the hint of bitterness in his voice.

“So, Aimee, you tell it exactly the way it happened, and if no one else could talk while we have the tape recorder going, that would be great. Ready?” the sergeant asked.

I inhaled a deep breath and began at the start, ghosts and all. Well not Giselle, but Wade and all the memories I had of him.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

The word is hamtard

 

 

When we left for the city, the three-and-half-hour drive gave me more than enough time to consider the essence of life. My dad didn’t need to talk which was nice. We could ride in quiet contemplation, instead of trying desperately to fill the air.

The only thing he wanted to know about was the mystery man in my hazy memories. I told him it was more like a dream than reality and explained that I had believed he was Wade, but he wasn’t.

Fifteen minutes away from the hospital, I got excited and scared. I wanted to see Giselle so badly but I also had to tell her the worst news. Not only had some psycho tried to kill us, but he was hunting us now also. I dreaded telling her but the hospital needed to know every possibility. The police from home had called and put them on high alert, but it didn’t change things—Giselle needed the full story and dad wanted to tell the floor she was on face to face. We both suspected her dad wasn’t actually doing anything much of use.

Dad dropped me off at the entrance and went to the hotel to check us in for the night.

The Children’s Hospital was like an amusement park of doom. Pictures and paintings lined the walls with murals of the sunny days and beaches the children might not ever see. I swallowed a huge lump to ensure I wasn’t weepy before I even saw her.

I looked at my text from her and pushed the appropriate floor button on the elevator. I stepped off and walked down the hall. Giselle’s room was the last door before the hall took a corner. I knocked lightly, hoping she was awake.

“Giselle, you here?” I asked, poking my head in.

“Oh my God, Aimee. What took so long? It’s been like three weeks and I am dying in here. It’s so boring.” She nearly squealed as I entered smiling. She was lying on her bed with a light on, but the curtains were closed, making it dim.

I walked up and hugged her. She smelled funny, like sickness. She gripped me so tightly I could barely breathe.

“The nurses can see you right?” I whispered as I held her and closed my eyes and pretended so many things all at once.

“You’re a moron.” She let go finally and smiled brightly, but I could see through the façade. She was still very sick. Her eyes were yellowish and her skin looked tanned. Was Giselle was going into liver failure as well as her kidneys being sick? I didn’t know what to say. I ignored it and decided she would tell me if she wanted to.

“So did you hear?” I asked.

Giselle nodded. “Yeah, it’s all over Facebook already. So he followed you into the woods? What the hell were you doing in the woods alone, tard?”

“Hey.” I laughed. “Easy with words like that. It’s really rude.”

She frowned. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know.” I rolled my eyes. “Dude people take offense to that word. Just say hamtard; it’s a word I made up for Alise. She says the other one all the time too. Anyway, I went to the woods because I wanted to find the guy from the party. I know ghosts aren’t real, but I just couldn’t find him anywhere.”

“Is this ‘cause you saw me all ghostly and in a coma? Cause that was weeks ago, you need to get over it. We were sick and dying and shit.”

“Yeah that and that guy too. The only place I’ve ever seen him was at Shane’s house —”

“Wait.” She cut me off, “What is going on with you and Shane?”

“Giselle, you’re focusing on the wrong part of the story. Nothing is going on. He’s just a friend. Besides, he dated Alise.”

“Gross.” She made a face,

“Anway.” I continued, “I can’t stop thinking about this guy, and I wanted to find him. So I went to Shane’s and waited in the woods. I hid, basically, at the base of a tree in the bushes. I really thought he would just be walking through the woods, like haunting me and I would have proof that I can see ghosts and that I’m not going crazy. But instead the other guy followed me there, the one who drugged us. He’s a creep. The guy in my memory, or dream—rather, isn’t the guy from the woods.”

“How do you know?” Giselle frowned at me. “You really have the worst taste in guys. First you like Blake—blech—and then this crazy stalker who tries to kill us, and all the while Shane is in front of you and you feel nothing more than friendly love.”

“It’s not the same guy—I swear. What did the doctor say?”

“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I can’t seem to shake it. My blah blah blah’s aren’t healing or something. I am pretty much screwed, Aimes. I think the doctors are talking a donor list.”

“What about your parents?”

“My mom came back. I guess she and my dad haven’t been in love for a long time. So she decided to Internet date and met some guy. She brought him here. She’s living in the city with him.” Her face filled with shame as mine filled with shock and disgust. “They come a lot. It’s annoying.”

“She comes here?” I gasped. “With some internet guy?”

“Yeah.” She nodded. “It was weird. Creepy bastard. He patted my leg, all high up on the thigh and said he always wanted a step daughter. I threw up on him.” She burst out laughing.

“Oh my God. Your mom has met a pedo on the Internet. Giselle, I’m thinking we need a young priest and an old priest.”

Giselle laughed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I know, right?”

“It’s from The Exorcist. It means we’re cursed.”

“True story.”

“At least you barfed on him—what a nasty pig.”

“God is mad at us for something, Aimes, ‘cause this has been the worst year of my life.” She was still laughing, but I could swear I heard a sob.

“Yeah.” I agreed, shivering. “It has. The cop who was with my mom while she died is the sergeant on our case. I can tell he wants to talk to me and I don’t want to know what he saw on the scene or talk about it.”

“Oh, that’s too creepy. Don’t they get transferred out ever?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know how it works.”

“I think I’m going to die, Aimee—I’m scared.” Her words became a whisper, hanging in the air, stopping my breath.

“I know. I’m scared too.”

The moment was fleeting.

Then, like the master of her emotions she was, she started chatting about the mundane again. The words still hung in the air like a bad cloud about to pour down on us, but we chose not to look up. Regardless of the fact that we both knew it was impending doom, we fought against it with gossip and giggles.

I told her I needed a dress for spring formal. It made her misty-eyed as she told me to take the dress she had bought, and that someone should get some use out of it. I tried to argue, but it was no use. She wanted me to wear it and I told her I would be honored. For some strange reason, I loved this girl, with all of my heart. She was the sister I should have had. We lay on her bed together, talking and feeling the need for hope in our despair-filled voices.

“If I grow up and marry a rich man like I plan to, I’m totally making him donate all his money to this place.” She giggled, but I knew better than to see anything beyond the IF in the story.

She started to fall asleep so I left her. I sent my dad a text, saying I was leaving and walked down to the elevator and climbed on. I wanted to cry, but I knew it wouldn’t change anything. She was dying and our would-be murderer was stalking me.

I stepped off the elevator to my dad’s tired face.

“Hungry, kiddo?” he asked as he put an arm around my shoulders.

“No, I want to go to bed.”

“Okay. How’s our girl doing?”

“Giselle’s mom is dating an Internet pervert. He’s an actual ped. Do you think we’re cursed, Dad?”

“I’m starting to wonder.” His response floored me. My dad was a man of science, but even he was starting to become concerned about our little town. “I spoke to the security and the doctors. They’re on high alert now.”

“Maybe you should call them and tell them her new stepdad shouldn’t be allowed in there either.”

“I think so.” He nodded and linked his arm in mine to take me back to the car.

The drive home the next day was not nearly as painful. I napped until I woke to my phone making a ping. A text message had come in. I reached into my pocket and grabbed the phone to see a message from Shane.

Hurry home. I’m getting lonely.

I looked around at the gas station, seeing we were halfway home. I could see my dad inside paying for the gas and no doubt getting snacks.

I messaged him back. Giselle is sick, very sick.

My phone rang. “Hello.”

Shane’s voice sounded concerned. “What do you mean?”

“She’s dying. Liver failure or kidney, I can’t tell. Shane, I can’t take it.”

“Oh my God. What can we do?”

“She needs a kidney donor for sure—oh, and if her mom comes back to our town, we need that guy she’s dating gone. Like warn the cops and shit. He’s a pedo. He touched Giselle high up on the thigh and said he always wanted a step daughter.”

“Are you kidding? Ok, I will talk to them. That’s sick. She is on her deathbed and he’s trying to touch her?” Shane’s voice was full of disgust. “Are you close to home?”

“Yeah. I’ll be there in three hours.” There was silence on his end. I waited for him to speak and looked at my phone thinking I had lost the signal.

“I like you.” He blurted into the dead air. “I like you, Aimee. I can’t stop myself. I’m trying to just be your friend, but you’re perfect, and I can’t fight it anymore. I want to be with you. I wanted to be with you before, but with you being you and me being me—I just panicked.”

The words were everything I had ever wanted to hear, plus some I didn’t understand.

The phone was silent again as I held my breath, not sure how to respond. “Ok. Uhm, maybe we should talk about this later.” My heart was skipping beats and my head was dizzy.

“Okay, I just wanted you to know. I’m falling for you. I’ve fallen. It’s done. I like you. I always have.” He went silent after his declaration. I could tell this was hard for him too.

I wanted to respond with a thank you, God or please don’t move from where you are. I’ll be right there. Instead, I held my breath and with the exhale I shouted, “Ok! So, I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Drive safe.” He hung up.

I sat staring ahead at the van in front of us. I didn’t know what to say. I started my list of pros and cons and then I phoned Giselle.

“Hello.” Her voice was raspy.

“Shane just told me he likes me.”

“oh my god.” She squealed into the phone. “Yayyyyyyy. Okay, I need to hear every detail word for word, skip nothing.”

I told her everything he had told me, word for word, to which she responded with ‘OMG’ and ‘seriously’ and ‘I knew it’ on repeat.

Her advice wasn’t exactly sage wisdom. “I think you should just do it. You should date him and have sex with him. And not go to college a virgin.”

“Oh my God. Dude.”

“What?”

I cringed. “I can’t talk about this.”

“Okay, look—I’ve got to go. I’m super tired out. They took more blood this morning and I’m beat. I’ll see you in a few weeks. Cool?”

Tears rolled down my cheeks. “Yeah for sure. Dad and I will be back. Don’t worry.”

“Peace out.” She clicked off and I was alone again. I had officially lost control of my emotions.

I looked to the sky, well—roof of the truck, and whispered, “Mom, I need you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

I am a rational human being.

 

 

I walked into the library where Dad had dropped me off, under duress of course. He wanted to escort me about town but I told him I needed some alone time and would call for a ride home.

He agreed, thankfully, and I left the outside world as I caught the first scent of the books. I loved the smell of books, but even more, I loved getting lost in them. If there ever was a time in my life I needed to get lost in books, it was that moment. I didn’t know what to do about Shane, or Giselle, or the stalker. It was too much excitement for how sick I was starting to feel again. I worried about my own body, nearly as much as I worried about Giselle’s.

“Hey, Mary.” I smiled at the librarian. “How’s it going?”

“Hey, Aimee.” She waved, not really letting her eyes leave the stacks she was checking. She was the first person to not treat me differently. “It’s been forever. Thought you might have died, kid. You still have that book out on ancient medicinal practices?”

“Oh. Yeah.” I laughed. Obviously, she hadn’t heard about the drugging. “I need it for a few more weeks. I’ll re-sign it out today.” I didn’t have the heart to tell I might have died a few times.

“Good enough for me.” She walked over to her card catalogue.

Our library was tiny, with little to no technology ever making its way through the front doors. It was partly from lack of funding and partly because it wasn’t needed. Mary remembered every book that left and who it left with. Her retiring would be the end of an era. A sad one.

I made my way to the non fiction section and sat on the floor touching the spines of the books, feeling the history flow from them to me. My mom had taught me to love and respect history, especially art. She said it was a visual documentation of history. Every aspect of a civilization’s time, whether it was education, religion, or science, was documented in art. Even the cave paintings taught us something about the people of their time.

“Can I just slip past you there?” I knew his voice, straight away. Afraid I would be disappointed to find someone else yet again, I was shocked when I looked up to see his face, exactly as I recalled it.

“Hey!” I beamed. “It’s you!”

“What? What’s me?” He frowned, looking disappointed. “Sorry, have we met?” He was exactly as I remembered—tall, thick, dark-blond hair cut short, and the whitest-blue eyes I had ever seen.

“You saved my life. I remember you. I was choking.” The words flew from my mouth as the memories flooded my brain. I glanced at his sizable hands and remembered them inside my mouth, stretching my skin to fit. I shuddered a little at the thought. “I was on the floor turning blue, and you picked the vomit out of my mouth.” It sounded much worse aloud.

“Uhhhh, what?” He started to laugh. It was a strong laugh. “I’m sorry, but I think you’re mistaken. I just need a book from where you’re sitting.”

“No.” I put a hand on the bookshelf to help myself stand. I winced as I stood up. My eyes met his chest and roamed up to his face. He was huge. “No, it’s true—I saw you.” I couldn’t stop staring up into his eyes. “I remember you.”

“I think you’re confused.”

“I’m not.” I stepped closer to him fighting the desire to smell him. I somehow knew he would smell like fresh ocean air but more intense, like incense. Of course it was because he saved me. At least I wasn’t crazy. Unless of course only I could see him now.

“Look, I’m really sorry, but I’ve never met you in my life. I think you’re confused.” He looked stern, like he was trying to intimidate me. But why?

“I don’t think so.” I was nervous that he could still be the rapist. Even though his lips were not thin. They were full and soft. And he was way too big. “I’m Aimee.” I put a hand out for him to take.

He hesitated and sighed, like he didn’t want to touch me.

But I wanted it so badly that when he even considered putting a hand out, I grabbed it and shook both our hands. The warmth brought back the dream from the hospital. I remembered touching his hand. The feel of his skin excited me. It meant he was real. I wasn’t crazy or hallucinating.

He didn’t seem to have the same satisfied feeling I did. He looked like he was in pain.

“It’s nice meeting you, uhhh—” I waited for him to answer his name.

He sighed. “Aleksander. My name is Aleksander.” He said with the full effect of his subtle accent. That was hot.

Mesmerized by him, I nearly whispered my sentence, “Aleksander, that’s a nice name.” He flinched, hearing me speak his name. “So strong.” I blushed, realizing I’d said it aloud.

“Yeah. Well.” He fought a grin. “It was nice meeting you.” His accent was killing me. It was the cherry on top of the sexy sundae that was already irresistible.

“It was?” I asked and continued to stare.

“Sure.”

“You want to go?” I panicked at the thought of him leaving and blurted, “Now that we have officially met, don’t you want to talk about why I was on the floor throwing up?”

“No.” He continued to fight his smile, still looking at me intently. “I’m a bit of a sympathy puker.”

“Pshhh. You are not.” I ignored the giant ‘get lost’ he was sending my way, and continued, “I was drugged at a party. You were there. How do you know Shane? Are you from Handley? Is Wade your brother?”

“I don’t know Shane or Wade, and I wasn’t at the party. Who drugged you?”

“Well—” I wondered if he was toying with me. “I did think you did,” I said boldly.

“Me?” His face dropped. “I would never do such a despicable thing. Besides, if I was apparently the one picking the vomit out, why would I save you after trying to kill you?”

“I don’t know. That’s a very good question.” I looked him in the eyes, noting how hypnotic they were. “You swear on my mom’s grave that you never drugged me?”

“God, you don’t kid around, do you?” He cringed. “I have never and will never drug you. I could never hurt you.” It was the weirdest thing he could have said.

But I didn’t care. He said it like he knew me, the way I felt he did.

I hadn’t taken a breath in a while and started to feel light-headed. I wasn’t entirely certain that it wasn’t from being drawn to him more than anything in the entire world.

“You are so familiar to me,” I whispered, still close to his face. His lips were inches from mine. I could feel the heat of his breath on my mouth.

He dropped his words flatly. “Maybe you dreamed of me, Aimee. Nothing but a dream.” He looked like he was struggling with something internally.

Those words were too familiar to be mistaken. “I did.” I backed away, needing to come out of the bubble we had somehow stepped into, where we were the only people in the world. “I did dream of you.”

“When?”

“In the hospital. I swear I know you.”

“Beloved,” he whispered.

“What?” I was speechless. It had been a long time since anyone had said that word.

“Your name, it means beloved.”

“I know.” I took another step away from him. “How do you know that?” What was I doing? He was a stranger and as far as I knew one of the people drugging girls.

“Je parle français.” He just kept getting better.

“Well, your name means great protector.” I didn’t know why I said it, but he started laughing.

“I know what my name means.”

“My mom called me beloved, all the time. Before she died.” I didn’t know why I said that either. I was all over the place and my mouth was just blurting whatever it wanted.

“I’m sorry.” He winced. “How did she die?” He was making conversation and being nice to me, but I could see he wanted to escape. His eyes darted to the door. But now that I had finally found him, I wasn’t going to make it so easy. I wanted answers.

“Car accident.” I never took my eyes off of him. “She was driving from the city to here and she started to get sleepy, I guess. Even though it was midday, she got out of the car on the side of the road. We don’t know why. Sometimes she did some stretching when she got tired, so we think that’s what she did. There was a trucker driving toward her and a dog ran out in front of him—a big dog, he said. Like a wolf. He swerved and lost control of the tandem trailers he was pulling. My mom was in front of the car when the back trailer swung around.”

“I’m so sorry.”

I’d never told the story. The words had never left my mouth. I didn’t cry, like I thought I would. In fact, it wasn’t dramatic at all. I just said it, like I might have said anything. “She was close to home too. That’s the weird part. She was only about thirty minutes away. It was nine months ago.”

“That’s tragic.”

“She was an art historian.” The words just kept popping out.

“I adore art history.” He smiled. “I had a teacher who once said art was the most complete detailed biographies in history.”

“That’s what my mom always said.” A smile crept across my lips.

“I guess art lovers all feel that way.”

It was hard to guess his age. He was a man. But I couldn’t imagine him being more than twenty-five. His face was young but his eyes were wise.

“Want to go for a coffee?” I asked quickly, before he could end our conversation. I needed to know why he was at Shane’s and why he was lying about it. Especially since I didn’t get a vibe off of him at all.

“I don’t know.” He frowned, trying to be polite. “I really need to get going.”

“Please.”

Seeing the desperation in my eyes, he softened for a second. “I guess one quick coffee wouldn’t kill me.”

“Okay.”

My phone blew up in my pocket with vibrations, as if on cue. “I better tell my dad where we are going.” I grabbed my phone and sent my dad a message, explaining I had gone for a coffee with a friend to talk about art. “He’s been weird lately.”

“Since your mom?”

“No.” I shook my head, almost smiling. “Since the drugging.”

“That would do it.” He made the same face my dad and Shane did when they talked about it.

“Okay, we can go now.” I put the phone back in my pocket, certain my dad was texting me back, and walked from the library with Aleksander. We strolled across the street to the café called Cup O’Feelin. It was our local jazz café, the only café.

“So, what are you reading now?” he asked, looking down at me.

“Ancient medicinal practices. It’s riveting,” I replied, actually smiling.

“Sounds riveting.” He opened the door for me and waited as I walked through. I only took my eyes off of him for the second it took him to walk in behind me.

Adele was singing on the radio about love and hurting as we walked in. I could smell the coffee and fresh-baked treats.

“Hi.” I smiled at the woman at the counter.

She smiled at Aleksander. “Why, hello there. See anything you like?” Her eyes wandered his beautiful face. I should have been excited that someone besides me saw him, but I was more amused by the question.

I wanted to shout up and down ‘I do, I do.’ He was so hot. So hot that I’d forgotten about his being at Shane’s at all.

But he never took his eyes off of me, even when speaking to the lady. “Whatever she is having.”

“Me?” I smiled at him and spoke to her, “Soy latté and a lemon tart, please.”

“Lemon for you, as well?”

“Sure.” He nodded and handed the cash to her, but his eyes were locked on mine.

I sat down at the table he guided me to and watched him get our coffees and tarts. Lemon tart was normally my favorite treat, but I could barely taste it as I listened to him talk. I noticed the other women in the room were watching him as intently as I was.

“So, why are you visiting Port Mackenzie?”

He smiled. “Maybe this is where I’m from.”

“No.” I shook my head. “No way. You’re not from here.” I pointed a finger at the women who was staring at him so hard she didn’t even see me pointing at her. “She has never seen you before.”

“Fine.” He chuckled. “You’re right. I’m not from here.” He laughed and bit into his tart. “I’m here for work. Just a couple weeks.” He chewed and realized I had never noticed anyone eat before, except Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven, but this was better. His cheeks and jaw muscles flexed, while his lips glistened with the movement. It was face dancing and I was caught up in the movements. In fact I could almost hear the music.

I was entranced until the words sunk in. “What—a few weeks? Then where?”

“Back home.” He shrugged.

“Where is home?”

“It’s far away from here. God, this soy milk is disgusting.” He grimaced making me laugh. It seemed like he was relaxing, if only a little. “How do you drink that?”

“It’s an acquired taste. Start with chocolate. It’s easier that way.” Sipping my coffee was hard because my heart was already racing. He had a few weeks and that was it. I needed to know more about him. “Where are you staying, Aleksander?” I wondered if he liked Aleks better. Or Zander.

“I am staying with the family I’m here helping. When my work with them is over, I will be on my way, unfortunately.”

“Oh.” I frowned, confused. “Family? Are you like a social worker?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “Exactly, like a social worker. I can’t talk about it though—it’s confidential and I take that very seriously.” Again the stern nature was back. He was better at putting up walls than I was.

For the first time since meeting, I noticed he was wearing a beige shirt with a cross on it. “Are you a Christian?”

He laughed. “I don’t think of it like that. I try not to classify religion that way. I believe in God but maybe not church. The cross on my shirt is mine to bear, no one else’s. That’s the meaning of the shirt.”

“Cool.” I smiled. “I like it. That’s a smart idea. Instead of assuming God and Jesus will save you and you can sin and say sorry for your crimes. This way your crimes are yours and yours alone. And if you’re sorry or not is your problem.”

“Exactly.” He lifted his mug up and drank, making a face that made me burst into laughter. The women in the café were also laughing at his face.

It was bit creepy seeing all the attention he was getting. “Is it always like this?”

He looked around. “What?”

“The women are staring at you. They look like they might attack at any second. Are you a celebrity I should know about?”

“No, god no.” He grinned his sexy smile at me. “Fresh meat in a small town always gets noticed. I could have three arms—to these women all I am is new. How do you feel about the boys in this small town? Do you judge them by the girls they’ve already dated?”

“Ugh.” I grimaced. “You have no idea.” I stuffed the last of my tart into my mouth and sucked back my latte, not wanting to discuss the fact my sister had ruined all the boys. “Let’s go.”

“Where?” He stood as I did and walked ahead to get the door for me. I loved gentlemen. I wanted to be a feminist but I also wanted my door held. I was confusing but maybe acknowledging it made it less hypocritical.

When we were outside again, I asked, “What are you reading?”

“Me?” He laughed but it stopped short when he looked at me. “You.”

I sucked my next breath in as my eyes widened.

“I’m kidding.” He nudged me back. “I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula in Romanian.”

“Oh.” I sighed. “How many languages do you speak?”

“Too many to count.”

I had felt proud until he said that. “I only speak four. But I’m working on my fifth right now.”

“I’m surprised the CIA hasn’t scooped you up yet. You’d be a good spy.”

“You’re obviously not American. I can hear an accent. It’s faint and only present on the slightest words. Where are you from?”

He laughed. “You’re very clever for what—eighteen?” He was asking my age. This was a good sign.

“Seventeen. I graduate soon. I’ll be eighteen after I grad.”

We walked, talking about nothing. Certainly not the one topic I should have brought up.

“Where will you go after you graduate?”

“University in the city and then stay to work, I guess. No more small towns for me.” I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Leaving my dad was frightening now that my mom was gone.

“What do you want to be?” he asked, staring out at the sea.

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “It was a doctor because I wanted to help people, but recently I went to visit a friend at Children’s Hospital in the city and it broke my heart. Now I’m not sure where I fit.”

 As we stopped at the end of the pier, he smiled differently. “You’re young. You will figure it out.” His tone was filled with sadness.

I stared into his eyes, wondering if they had crystals inside. They sparkled like they might. His face was that of a Greek statue from thousands of years earlier, chiseled and strong—fierce when he stood here next to the sea. I got lost in a moment of imagining him as a king or great leader. He suited the strength of his name, like a Viking standing at the helm of the great warship.

But then he cocked an eyebrow. “You okay?”

“Yeah, sorry. Spaced out. It happens.”

“You’re getting cold.”

I hadn’t noticed I was getting cold. I had felt great. “Sorry, I didn’t realize. I’m still weak.” I rolled my eyes and tried hard not to shiver. I hadn’t even asked the big question yet.

He frowned. “Were you ill?”

“Yeah.” I paused, trying to see if he was serious. “I was drugged at a party. We had this conversation, remember?”

He looked confused. “You were being serious, about the drugging?”

“Yes. A man date-rape drugged my friend’s drink, and she and I shared it. She is in organ failure now at Children’s and I’m recovering. She’s the friend I was visiting there.”

“Oh my god, I thought that was some twisted game you were playing to hit on me.” He blushed. “What happened after you took the drugs?”

“The memories are fuzzy, but we were found in a pile of vomit and she was taken to hospital right away. I, allegedly, put myself to bed so everyone thought I was fine. But the way I remember it is that you were there and I was choking, and you saved me by getting the vomit out of my throat.”

“No. You must have seen me around town and dreamt it. You don’t remember the man who drugged you though?” He truly almost had me convinced I had dreamed him up.

“No.” I shrugged. “But he’s following me now. He’s stalking me. He came after me in the woods.”

“Why were you in the woods?”

I blushed and looked down. “I was looking for you. The place where I saw you before—I was in the woods there.”

“You need to be very careful then. You need to stay with other people, haven’t you ever heard that, stay with your herd?

“No.” The answer came out as a chuckle.

“That and stay out of the woods.” He looked down and muttered, “I can’t stand the idea of anyone hurting you. Or of you being alone.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that sort of intensity or familiarity, but my cell phone was going wacky in my pocket. “I have to get that.” I pulled the phone out and looked at the dozen messages.

“Shit.” I dialed my dad quickly and looked back at Aleksander. “Excuse me for a moment.” I held up a hand and walked to the other side of the pier.

My dad answered in a panic. “Hello—Aimee?”

“Hey, Dad.”

He bellowed into the phone. “Do you have any idea what I have been going through this last hour? I sent Shane looking for you. I almost called the police, young lady.”

“Oh god.” I shuddered. “Sorry, I just got caught up in the conversation I was having. It was refreshing to be a normal kid for an hour.”

“Oh come on.” He groaned into the phone. “Aimee, the coffee shop phoned and said you were having coffee with a strange man no one knows. He could be the psycho.”

“No.” I shook my head as I looked down the pier at him. “No, Dad, he’s not. I know this is not the guy. His mouth isn’t the same and he’s too big. This isn’t him. He’s a fellow art lover from the library, not a crazed rapist.”

“Okay. Well, I want you home in the next half hour. You have school tomorrow and you’re going for the full day. God, I feel like I’m talking to your sister, not you.” He hung up the phone, leaving the guilt left dangling at the end of the conversation. My poor dad had been through enough. He didn’t need me acting like Alise. He already had one in that model.

I glanced back at the end of the pier to look for Aleksander but he wasn’t there. The pier held private moorage all summer long and was starting to fill up, and in the midst of the boats and docks, I couldn’t see him.

Hurrying as best as I could, I tried to get back around the corner to see the entrance to the docks, but my side hurt too much. I slowed and gave up looking for him.

When I rounded the corner to get back to land, I saw Shane walking down the pier. He looked angry. I had forgotten about him completely which seemed odd, considering the conversation we’d had.

He looked beautiful in his jeans and dark-blue t-shirt that made his troubled blue eyes stand out more. “Where is he?” Shane spoke firmly.

I hadn’t done anything to feel guilty, technically, and yet I did. “What?” I shrugged. “Who?”

“The guy you were having coffee with.” He didn’t look impressed.

“I don’t know. He was here and then he left. At least now I know who the guy with the crazy blue eyes from your party is. His name is Aleksander. How could you already know I was with him?”

“Thelma at the coffee shop called your dad and he called me. Where is he?” he ended the sentence getting increasingly annoyed.

“Of course.” I shivered from the cold ocean air. “I swear I don’t know. I phoned my dad and he was gone.”

“Does that seem like the behavior of a nice guy?” He raised an eyebrow at me.

“No. I guess it doesn’t.” I shook my head, hating how hurt he was. I had not only ignored our conversation on the phone, but also hung out with another guy. “Shane, you know how badly I wanted to solve the mystery of the man from my memory.” I tried to sound injured by his assumption. “When I saw him I got distracted. It’s been plaguing me for weeks and there’s the answer.”

“We need to get you home.” He pulled me along the pier, wrapping an arm around me gently.

We didn’t speak again on the drive to my place, what with all the confusion on both our parts lingering about. My dad was at the door when we pulled up.

“He was really worried, Aimee.” Shane’s eyes burned. “I was worried too.”

“I know.” I nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you, I just needed to know who he was. Thanks for the ride, Shane.” I leaned over to kiss his cheek, but he turned his lips and pressed them into mine. It was my first kiss—ever and it was a bit stolen. He pulled me into him, pressing into me a little harder. I kissed him back. It was soft but passionate, exactly the way I had always imagined it would be. My heart did a flip and then a flop. He put his hand on my lower back and pulled me into his chest.

“Think about what I said on the phone earlier.” His eyes look different, feisty. I almost leaned in for another kiss but I stopped myself, knowing my dad was watching the entire awkward moment.

Breathlessly, I climbed out of the truck instead.

“Night, Shane. Thanks.” My dad waved as Shane waved back at him through my open door.

“Night, Mr. James. Night, Aimee.” He didn’t smile. He didn’t need to. I knew what was racing through his mind. It was going through mine too.

“I know.” I climbed the steps to my front porch and nodded to my dad. “I’m sorry, Dad. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“It’s okay.” He put an arm around me. “I really like that kid.” His smile was expectant.

“Yup.” I knew he wanted details, but I shrugged. “He’s the best.”

My dad winced. “Ooouuuu poor Shane. He’s the best. It’s too bad that he doesn’t know he’s been friend zoned.”

“No, he hasn’t.” I didn’t have an answer. I collapsed onto the couch. “Daddy, I don’t know what to do. A month ago, I had no boys. I had my books and Blake. Now I have a stalker, a new bff who is a total moron, but I really love her, and I haven’t read a book in weeks. And Blake—I can’t even, Dad? He’s dating Alise, which I get—she’s hot, but come on—she’s horrid.”

A memory came back.

I was lying in the grass the night of the party, thinking how handsome Shane was, telling him I didn’t get why he liked my sister. He was staring at me the way he had before he kissed me. He was going to kiss me that night, before Alise came stumbling out onto the grass cussing like a pig, tripping everywhere. My face lit up even more.

“Honey, no matter the number of daddies you say, which we both know I love, it won’t solve your problems. You need some separation and time. You need to heal and worry about graduating, not boys. You have college to worry about. And your sister is not horrid, Aimee. That’s a cruel thing to say. She’s just extreme and passionate in everything she does.” He patted my head and went into the kitchen.

“Whatever.” I rolled my eyes and pulled a pillow over my face to scream a little. I pulled the pillow off and sat up slowly. I was still nursing my side, which felt better than it had in ages but I was exhausted from all the day’s activities. “You’re right, Dad. I need Emma.”

“Sweet god.” He groaned. “No please—anything but Austen.”

“No?” I shook my head, limping over to where my mom’s movie collection sat. “Maybe you’re right, Sense and Sensibility. Marianne would have had a much better life if she had chosen wisely and picked Colonel Brandon over Willoughby. They had passion but it wasn’t enough and she nearly died. Whereas, Colonel Brandon loved her enough from the beginning, and if she had chosen prudently, she would have been spared that pain.” Shane was my Brandon. I was seeing that now. But did that make Aleksander a Willoughby?

My dad sighed as he made us both an omelet. “When has the heart chosen wisely, my dear? As a scientist, I will say love is one thing we will never understand, not fully.”

“You’re a big man, admitting that you don’t completely understand the chemicals inside of us.”

He laughed. “I like that Prejudice one better. I rather enjoy that Darcy fellow. He is a man after my own heart. Things seem simple with him. Can’t we watch that?”

I frowned at him over the couch. “No, it has no bearing on my love life at this moment. Her situation with Darcy and Wickham is nothing like mine. Neither of the boys I like is wicked like he is. Dad, I have never had a love life, but something has changed in me. I need to honor it with Austen, and I think either Emma and the triangle with Frank Churchill and Mr. Knightly, or Marianne, Brandon, and Willoughby.”

“I liked you better when you were more like me and less like your mom. How is it that you love the boy from the bookstore already?”

I stuck my tongue out. “Love at first sight, maybe. Sense and Sensibility then. Even you will cry.”

“Love at first sight isn’t real, Aimee. It’s called lust.”

I cringed. “Ew, Dad, jeeze.”

My dad laughed as he carried our plates of fruit and omelets into the living room while I set up the movie. We didn’t have a huge TV or a great surround-sound system. We were ‘fireplace and a good novel in hand’ sort of people.

I had never been dramatic or caught in a triangle. It was not something I would ever have imagined for myself. I let go of the situation I was in and just enjoyed the movie with my dad. I think he might have even shed a slight tear toward the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

What hot guy? Oh right, my boyfriend.

 

 

School was boring the next day, until my sister followed me into the bathroom. “Okay, spill. Who is everyone talking about? Who’s the hottie?” Her shrill voice caused me to straighten quickly. I nearly died from the pain of standing so sharply. Sweat crept along my brow.

“What?” I had been leaning against the sink, taking deep breaths, trying to get past the side stitch I had where my liver was located. I thought about what I had eaten for lunch and knew the salad couldn’t have been the issue. “What hottie?” I groaned.

“Don’t even, Aimes. Just spill.” She primped in the mirror.

“Is that a mini dress or a shirt you’re wearing as a dress?” I scowled at her reflection.

“Both.” She held her arms out, beaming like I had complimented it or cared about fashion for even a second. “You like it? I got it a few weeks ago but haven’t felt like wearing it. Today felt like the right moment.”

It was silver like her eyes and puffy at the bottom but super short, showing off her long, lean legs. She had a jean jacket, strappy sandals, and a pale pink scarf on to compliment the ensemble. The outfit was amazing but a little over the top for twelfth grade, in a town that was famous for fishing and forestry.

“It’s amazing.” I rolled my eyes at her as she glared at my plain blue jeans and gray three-quarter sleeve cotton shirt.

“Dude.” She grimaced. “Do you have to wear that kind of stuff out of the house? It looks like pajamas.” She plucked at my shirt, leaving an indent in the cotton. “Just let your hair down. It is really pretty down and long and it’ll hide this.”

“No.” I sighed. “I like my bun.”

“Here, let me do your makeup.”

“Stop.” I frowned at her and shook my head. I washed my hands and pulled my lip gloss out of my pocket.

“Use some of my lipstick,” she offered.

“No, thanks. I know where your mouth has been, firstly. Secondly, the last time you got to play West Coast Barbie with me, some freak tried to kill me. I’m good with plain gloss and its subtle hint of pink, my slightly stained gray cotton shirt, granny bun, and all of it.”

She rolled her eyes at me. “God, you are a drama queen. It was Giselle he was after, not you. You just got in the way, like always.”

I didn’t usually let her get to me, but that had hurt a little. I raised my eyebrows at her and started to walk away, but she grabbed my arm. “Ok, that was mean. I’m sorry. Anyway, who is this hottie you were spotted with?”

“I don’t know.” I pulled my arm out of her grip. “Some guy I met at the library. He’s working here for a few weeks. We were talking books and art, you know—fellow nerd.”

She shook her head. “No, not him—the one you were at the café with. Everyone has been talking about him since yesterday. Who is that one?”

I sighed. “That’s him.”

She looked at her reflection again. “You know, I like these geeks you hang out with. How is it all the geeks all hot?”

“God’s believes in being fair?” I shrugged and left the bathroom. I was miserable and certainly not in the mood for her crap.

As another tense moment hit my body, I decided the doctors needed to check me out, in case things were not healing the way we had assumed they would.

I walked from class as my phone went nuts again. I pulled it out and looked at the thirty-five messages I hadn’t read in the last few hours. Many were from Blake. He was begging to talk to me. I bit the bullet and asked him to meet me at our math class, right away.

I got to the class to find Blake sitting on the bench beside the door to class.

He was wearing a t-shirt with a Jesus fish with legs and a tail on it—the Darwin symbol. I almost laughed when I saw him bent over his iPad and grinning.

“Guild chats?” I asked.

He smiled. “You know it. We are arguing about whether having an Alliance character is traitorous.”

“Absolutely, but I will admit, I did for scientific purposes once. I wanted to see where all their secrets were and what the character starts were like.”

He nodded, contemplating what I was saying and started typing again. He closed the iPad and put it in his backpack before he looked at me. “They miss you, the guildies.”

“I miss them too.”

“I need to tell you something, and I need you to just listen to the whole thing before you slap me, leave, and never speak to me again.”

I nodded. “Sounds reasonable.”

He put his head in his hands. I sat on the bench across the hall from him.

“There’s a reason I’ve been keeping to myself.” He sighed, clearly struggling with whatever he needed to say. “The night of the party, you and I went and sat in the sunroom at Shane’s house. It was the make-out room, kind of weird. Anyway, we were sitting there and you decided, at that moment, to tell me you liked me more than a friend. I was shocked—I had no idea. I thought we were best friends. I handled it badly because the truth is that I have been in love with your sister, forever. So, I told you I didn’t feel the same way.”

“Oh god.” I cringed as I realized I had manned up and told him we matched.

“Yeah.” His eyes were pleading with me. “Aimes, I love you too but in a different way and when me and Alise break up, which we both know will happen, I hope you and I will still be friends. More than friends. Like before. Like you’re my sister, not hers.”

“Uuuuhhhh.” I had no idea how to respond to the conversation.

He continued, “I never would have acted on my feelings for her if I thought for a minute that you and I would stop being friends. I always thought you were in love with Shane. I saw the way you watched him; it was the same look I always got when I saw your sister. I thought maybe things with you and Shane would work out and we could all be friends.” He dropped his face into his hands. “It’s my fault you went and drank with Giselle, it’s my fault you drank poison, and it’s my fault that everything is the way it is.” He sighed, still holding his face, refusing to look at me.

I closed my mouth and pressed my lips together. I wanted to speak but I couldn’t think of what to say. I was humiliated. My wall wanted to come up. I just couldn’t cope with anything else. But I didn’t let it.

“Blake, you have been my best friend my whole life. I don’t know what I said but I know I wasn’t in love with you, like I might have thought I was. I think I was just so desperate to not be single anymore that I thought you and I should try to date. I was taking the first big step cause I thought you wouldn’t ever. I don’t remember saying that to you, but it makes sense now why I went and drank with Giselle. I’m sure I was embarrassed. Sort of like I am now. I’m sorry I told you that.”

He looked up at me and whispered in desperation, “Aimes, can you understand animal lust?” His stare was haunted in a way I had never seen.

“I can.”

“I’m in love with her so bad.” His words stung him to admit.

“We need to finish this later. I’m exhausted and I need to go, not to run off, but I don’t feel well. Tell Mr. Milton I was sick, okay?” My side hurt a lot but I kept walking. I needed the doctors but I walked to my mom’s spot and plopped onto the side of the road. I looked at the mark I made in the tree and waited for the wind to come.

I didn’t even know what to say to my mom. I just knew I needed her. “Mom, I’m sorry I was gone for so long.”

“Aimee?” I turned to see Aleksander walking toward me. He looked concerned. “Why are you alone in the woods again?”

“This isn’t the woods. Why are you here?”

“I was out for a walk. This is the way I walk all the time, it’s peaceful here.” He paused as he got closer. “Are you okay?”

“No. I just miss my mom.” I started to cry.

He sat on the ground beside me and patted my hand awkwardly. “It’s okay.” It was weird that he did it but not as weird that I didn’t find it uncomfortable in the slightest. It was exactly what I needed. Someone to sit on the road while I cried and made no sense to anyone but me.

I started to feel better after I had a cry. I didn’t find it hard to relax around him. He was a stranger, but I felt close to him. I couldn’t explain it. He’d saved my life, whether he wanted to admit it or not.

“It’s going to be okay.”

“No.” I shook my head. “It’s not okay, because I’m not ready to not have a mom. I still need her.”

“She went to Heaven, Aimee. She’s with the angels now.”

“I don’t care.” I shook my head.

Aleksander didn’t add anything else. He just sat so I wasn’t alone.

When I stopped crying completely and took my first shudder free breath, he muttered, “What are some things you need to ask your mom?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like things you wish you could ask her?”

I thought for a moment. “Why did you leave me?”

“What else?”

“How will I know how to be a woman without you? What if I can’t remember what you look like in five years? What if I forget your smell? What if I can’t get past this and I ruin the rest of my life? Did you know you loved Dad from the moment you met him? Is safe love better than true love or are they the same thing sometimes? I don’t know what I want to be anymore. I feel like if I choose sciences completely, I will lose the part of me that is you. Where did you hide the last jar of Grandma’s pickled beets?”

“Beets?” He started laughing. “What beets?”

I snorted. “We made a promise that we would only eat them when we were together. She hid the jars so I couldn’t eat them without her. But before we got to eat the last one, she died. I still can’t find it, and my dad and I have scoured the house.”

Aleksander laughed harder. “You are the most intriguing person I have ever met. Ready to move on and walk a little ways?”

“Your butt must be getting sore.”

“It is. I don’t know how you sit here on the concrete so easily.”

“You have to build a concrete callus.” I laughed and noticed I was feeling way better.

We walked along the roadside, kicking rocks toward the ditch.

“Tell me about your mom.” I said, trying to distract myself.

He smiled. “She was the most amazing mom ever. She made me feel loved every day. She was a very giving person. I only hope that I was able to be someone she was proud of, even for a time. Now, why were you so upset when I came upon you?”

“Oh it’s nothing.” I shook my head. “I think it’s that the feelings I’ve had over the last little while are all coming to a head—like I am coming to the end of a long journey, and I have to unpack from it.”

“That’s amazing. I like that about you. You’re able to articulate what it is you’re trying to say and then make a visual. The person listening gets a full picture of what you’re talking about.”

I laughed. “That’s because my sister doesn’t read books without pictures. I always have to have a visual comparison available, or she’ll get lost.”

We walked, laughing and talking until we got to my house.

“Want to come in and meet my dad?” I asked, hoping to have more time with him.

“No, thank you. I need to get going. I was walking in the other direction, when you distracted me.”

“I’m sorry.”

He grinned. “Don’t be. I’m glad I could be there for you.”

Just as he was about to say goodbye, my sister’s car pulled into the driveway. She was out and flashing her smile before I could push him and shout ‘run for it.’

“Well, well. You must be the mystery man. I’m Alise, Aimee’s older sister.” She put her hand out for him to take like she was the queen.

He turned her hand in his and shook it normally. “I’m Aleksander. It’s nice meeting you—see you later, Aimee.” He let go of her hand and walked away quickly.

We watched in silence as he walked hastily away from us.

“Wow.”

“Yup.”

“They weren’t kidding—he is hot. He looks like a celebrity. I feel so—I don’t know—like I know him from somewhere.” She licked her lips and cocked an eyebrow. “I’ll see if I can catch up with him. Maybe he wants a ride.” She winked at me and ran back to her car and drove off in the direction he went. I wanted to strangle her, but I went inside and ate coconut-milk ice cream instead.

Blake sent a text asking if I was going to the party later. I ignored the message and watched the History Channel. It was about the Tudors.

My sister never came home.

She left a message for our dad, saying that she was sleeping at Jaime’s house—her new bff since Giselle had gotten sick. Jaime was another one of the popular crowd my sister insisted on being attached at the hip with.

I tapped my foot and wondered if Aleksander was going to the party. Had my sister stopped him from getting to his destination with her tempting good looks, he probably would be going tonight. The thought of them kissing enraged me. I was starting to feel like a crazed psycho.

My phone made another noise. I glanced at the message from Shane now, asking if I wanted to go to the party or just hang with him and watch a movie. The movie sounded pretty tempting at that moment. My sister could have Aleksander if he was dumb enough to fall for her. My foot twitching reached a whole new level.

“Arggg.” I stood up and stormed to my sister’s bedroom to get a pretty outfit since my whole closet looked like it belonged to Wednesday Adams. I messaged Shane and told him to pick me up at nine. Then I picked through the closet selection. I assumed if it was hung, she either cared for it or it was clean.

I grabbed at the hangers, looking for just the right item.

At the very back, I found it.

Something I knew she loved it.

Vaguely I could recall her buying it with Giselle. I grinned, feeling evil boil in my blood as I stormed back to my room.

I put the dress on and looked at myself, frowning.

Who was I kidding?

My long blonde hair looked stringy, my eyes had dark circles under them, my chapped lips were still peeling, and my thin, long face was making my nose look birdlike. My gray-blue eyes had a small amount of sparkle but nothing to write home about. The only thing working for me was that I had managed to gain back a bit of weight and I had breasts again. The dress looked pretty good on my body, but cutting off my head was not an option.

So I did the only thing I could think of. I phoned Giselle.

“Hello.” Her voice sounded weaker than normal.

“Were you sleeping?” I felt bad.

She laughed. “God, yes. All I do is sleep. What’s shakin’ bacon?”

I laughed at bacon. “I am going to a party tonight, stealing my sister’s clothes, and I don’t know how to do my makeup. I still look bad from being sick.” I regretted saying it to her the minute I did, but she ignored it.

“Oh my god.” She burst out laughing. “I’ve never been more proud than I am in this moment. Which outfit?”

I looked down at the dress, letting an evil grin cross my lips. “The red one. It still has the tags on it. It’s from the back of her closet.”

There was silence. “Bro. That’s the one she got on harsh sale at Holt Renfrew in Vancouver. Ok, you’re a beautiful blonde with plump lips and blue eyes in a red dress; you aren’t going to need much. Is your face clean?”

“Give me a second.” I wiped quickly with stolen makeup wipes from Alise’s room. “Ok, clean slate. What do I do?”

“What kind of materials am I dealing with here?” Giselle sounded very serious in all of this.

I looked down at the old kit my mom gave me a year earlier and grimaced. “You know those kits you get from Walmart that have everything all in one? Like a painter’s palette.”

I heard a sigh. “Dear God—I knew it.” She went quiet for a moment and started to speak again, “Ok, this is what you’re going to do.”

She led me through the makeup, the hair, and the shoes.

When the doorbell rang and my dad called up to me, I whispered into the phone, “Thanks, Giselle. See you next week, ok?”

“Uh, speaking of visits, are you bringing the new hottie in your life or just regular old Shane?” Her voice was full of sarcasm.

“Stop getting your news from Facebook.” I groaned. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on with Shane. He said he likes me and we kind of kissed. I like him. But I also really like that Aleksander, the guy I was telling you about with the crazy blue eyes.”

“Oh my God, Aimee. He could be the psycho.” She sounded panicked.

“No.” I shook my head like she could see me. “No, it’s not him. His lips aren’t the same at all. I think he sees me as a friend anyway. My sister probably has her claws in him already anyway. He’s hot and new. So I guess Shane is the one who might come with me to see you.”

“So he kissed you. Was that your first kiss?”

“Yeah. It was nice.” I blushed, smiling hard. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew Shane made me happy. I could see my face transform talking about him.

She moaned. “Awe, I’m so bummed. I’m missing your first party with a boyfriend, sort of. Good luck tonight. Don’t drink anything you didn’t open.”

“Yeah, lesson learned.” I hadn’t told her or anyone about Aleksander, but it seemed the news had traveled even to a children’s hospital in the city. Sad really. Damn Facebook.

I hung up my phone and left the room, starting down the staircase. I was one of those cheesy movies—overly made-up girl walking down the stairs. She was always a nerd transformed into a hottie. Her date of course was at the bottom, staring up at her the whole way down.

But I focused more on the stairs than anything. The shoes Giselle picked were high heeled, and I was unstable in sneakers.

When I got to the bottom, I realized my side cramps were back. I was feeling bloated and sort of gross but I pushed it aside.

“Dear God—what are you wearing? Go put something on,” my dad groaned at me.

“Dad, Alise wears less to church.”

He rolled his eyes at me and sighed. “If Alise went to a church, it would light on fire instantly. Besides, you’re my jeans and t-shirt daughter. I expect certain things from you. Just like I expect certain things from her, my high-heel wearing daughter. You’re not supposed to interchange like this.”

“Stop being weird.” I kissed my dad on the cheek and glanced over at Shane, who smiled up from the TV and then did a double take.

“Aimes?” He looked like he was a kid who just got his favorite toy. “You look amazing, but your dad’s right. You look a bit like your sister tonight. I like you better the other way.”

“I like that you said that.” I smiled back at him, taking his arm. “I’m going to need your arm tonight—these shoes are death.”

“They make you tall.”

“Yeah, they weren’t even the highest in the closet. I think these are like three-inch heels.”

He looked. “I’d say—at least. You’re almost as tall as I am and I’m over six feet.”

My dad looked worried. “Have fun. Take the shoes off if they hurt your feet.”

“Night, Dad.” I laughed and waved back at him as we left out the front door.

He waved us off. “Please take it easy and slow. Drink nothing. Shane, do not take your eyes off of her, no matter what. For Christ sake, Aimee, please for the love of God and all things holy, do not go into any woods. No matter what.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

Just call me Jessica Fletcher, with a cramp

 

 

The party was at some girl’s house I didn’t really know. I knew who she was, but I had not spoken to her since second grade. Her name was Michelle Mitchell and she had a party every month, when her parents left for the city. They had been having a date night once a month since she got old enough to stay home alone. My sister had been partying at their house for the last two years. The Mitchells didn’t seem to mind the partying, as long as there was no mess.

As we pulled up to the house, Shane leaned over. “You look pretty, so I want you to stay glued to my side all night. Okay?” He kissed me softer than he had before, and his tongue slipped into my mouth. It was an exciting feeling. I kissed him back, moving the way he did, until his hand moved up into my hair pulling me into him more.

“Not here, okay?” I pushed against him.

He reached down and kissed the side of my throat once. I didn’t know what to do to get my inner calm back. My pheromones were going nuts on his.

He opened his door and came around to my side to open my door for me. He growled as he helped me out of the truck and kissed me once more. “That dress is driving me nuts.”

“I find it a tad ironic when people get so wrapped up in clothing when they’re goal is to take them off.”

He took my hand and grinned. “Let’s not talk about taking dresses off.”

“You know what I mean.” I hit him in the arm, hurting my hand.

“I do.” He sounded funny.

We walked up to the house, but before we got to the door he stopped me. “Aimes, I’m not trying to pressure you, but I just want to know what you’re thinking about us and everything.”

“Okay.” It was a fair request. “I am confused right now, Shane. I went from living my quiet life with no friends or boys interested in me to dating you, sort of, and my best friend being a girl in a hospital bed dying. You dated my sister and now my old bff is dating my sister. I’m leaving for college in a few months and my mom died like nine months ago. Some freak is stalking me. This has all happened really quickly for me, and I don’t feel caught up. So, right now, I can offer you what we are now, dating, sort of.”

He kissed me again. “I didn’t really think about how much you were coping with which is selfish, but I will take anything I can get right now.”

“Thanks.” I smiled at him and walked through the door he opened for me.

The party was loud and annoying, and I couldn’t help but think about how much I was going to hate it. There were drunken people everywhere mixed with loud music and couples making out in one corner while others did shots in another.

I glanced around for my sister and hoped I wouldn’t see Aleksander with her. But I didn’t see her anywhere.

Nervous, I reached back for Shane as he put his hand on my back to get me through the entryway. He waved and chatted as he took my hand and pulled me along, through the mass of people.

The smell of smoke and pot filled my nostrils as we walked one way. I scanned over the kids who were sitting in a circle on the back deck with the screen door wide open. They were passing joints and cigarettes after taking a hit. My lips twisted into a sneer of severe disapproval.

Shane laughed at my face. “Okay, let’s walk this way.” He pulled me away from the kitchen and the smell as I started to rant.

“Do they have any idea how many toxins and narcotics they’re breathing in at the moment? There are four thousand chemicals in a cigarette, forty-three of them are known cancer-causing toxins like weed killer and bug spray. They could just suck on a can of DDT. And don’t even get me started on the marijuana! It can raise your heart rate anywhere from twenty to one hundred percent and cause heart attacks. And it has more cancer-causing chemicals than a cigarette.”

Shane raised an eyebrow at me. “You’re really fun at parties.”

“Whatever.” I stuck my tongue out at him. “Cancer is a serious problem, not only for health reasons but also on the costs it presents to the economy. Did you know there is even an increase in dogs with cancer since smoking has become a national pastime?”

“I can dress you up like one, but you will never be one.” He grinned and looked around the party. “Want to get out of here then?” His eyes had a gleam to them, which told me he had plans other than dropping me off. Like the releasing of the hounds, butterflies raced around my stomach.

“No.” I shook my head. “We can stay for a couple minutes longer.” I felt guilty that I wanted my hot, new ‘sort of boyfriend’ to stay at a party in hopes I would get to see the one guy I couldn’t get out of my mind. I had to be sure Aleksander wasn’t with Alise.

Shane nodded, showing a minuscule amount of disappointment in that request.

I didn’t know what I would find when I did finally locate my sister. I sort of assumed she would be sitting on the stairs somewhere dressed like a whore. Blake would be kissing her neck from the back and Aleksander would be kneeling and kissing her hand. Her beauty would mesmerize them. She would sip from her drink and smile that wicked-stepmom grin she had mastered when we were little. She always focused on the wrong part of the classics.

I stood beside Shane as he held my hand protectively and chatted with Tommy.

“Holy shit—Aimee James, is that you? Damn, I thought we had a new girl at the party and I was wondering how Shane found her first. You want to dance?” His wide smile and pointed eyebrows reminded me of the bad guys on my Saturday-morning cartoons.

“She doesn’t want to dance, T.J.” Shane sounded annoyed.

Tommy shrugged his filthy smile. His eyes never seemed to reach my eyes. “When you get tired of this, you know where to find me.” He turned and walked away, making a howl like a wolf. Everyone at the party howled with him. I felt like an outsider with no initiation yet on Crazy Island. The ritual was going to be something I wasn’t willing to bargain on.

Shane leaned into me. “Sorry, ignore him. I think most people do. I’m going to get a drink of water. Want one?”

“From the tap and clean glass from the cupboard?”

He laughed. “Yeah.”

“Yes, please.”

As he walked away the warm wind hit me. I looked around as my sister walked through the front door with Blake. She was wearing her usual uppity, self-indulgent grinn. It was full of the knowledge that she could have any guy in the room, and you were lucky she let you keep yours.

Blake looked uncomfortable but true to form. He wore a gray t-shirt with a symbol of an atom on it. His dark hair was styled, and without his glasses his blue eyes were brighter than ever. He had on baggy cargo pants I didn’t recognize and a watch that was most definitely not his NASA space camp one. My sister had started to put her tastes on him and like a puppet, he wore what she wanted. He saw the look of distaste on my face and slid his hand behind his back. He was ashamed of his new watch, which oddly was enough for me. I was glad to see that a small amount of the person I had always adored was still inside of him.

Alise wore a bright-purple party dress. She outshone me, of that there was no doubt. I tried not to think about the fact and I put a smug look on my face. She rounded the room to where I was standing.

“Nice dress, little sister.” Her perfectly manicured right eyebrow lifted. Her lips glistened with a berry-colored lipstick under an inch of gloss. She was so gorgeous.

“You’re going to age prematurely if you don’t stop wearing so much make-up.”

She looked unfazed and glanced down at the dress. “I WAS taking it back, but since you like it so much, you can keep it.”

I gulped, trying not to let her get to me, but her face lit up.

“Ahhh and here comes another one of my leftovers you seem to like. Hello, Shane.” It stung.

The warmth of him came up behind me. “Hello, Satan. You know, without the horns, it’s deceiving. Maybe you should wear them year round, instead of just on Halloween.”

I smiled at her response to being called Satan. She bounced back, taking a deep breath. “You can keep him, Aimee, and the dress. Thank me later.” She batted her long false lashes at us and grabbed Blake by the belt buckle. She dragged him through the crowd of people. He tried to make eye contact with me but I ignored him.

“Can we go now?” Shane asked, watching her walk away and be swallowed up by the crowd.

“Yeah.” I nodded, took my water and drank it quickly. “I’ll just put this in the sink.” I strolled past Jaime, my sister’s friend. She was holding a glass in her hand and leaning against the wall in the dining room, staring off into space and swaying like she was on a boat. It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. The glass was the same as the one Giselle and I drank from. The one the police had shown me.

My chest tightened. I recognized the look in her eyes. It was what I’d seen in the mirror after I’d been revived. Aleksander was holding me in the mirror at Shane’s. My face looked exactly the same.

She was either crazy drunk or she had been drugged. I glanced back at Shane who was talking with a guy named Murray. I hurried over to him, tapping him lightly to interrupt and whispered, “I think the date rapist has struck again. Does Jaime look like I did?”

Shane looked around the room, scanning for her. “Where is she?”

I pointed to where she had been. “The dining room.” I didn’t see her anymore, but I knew she couldn’t have gone very far.

“She’s not there. She’s a drunk, Aimes. It’s probably fine.” He turned and looked back at Murray.

Not convinced, I walked through the foyer into the dining room and searched. There were people everywhere. Someone must have seen her leave.

“Hey.” I asked a girl leaning against the wall, “Have you seen where Jaime went?”

“No.” She looked around. “Was she in here?”

“Yeah.” I sighed and walked back to Shane.

He looked concerned. “Is she okay? Just drunk right.”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “I couldn’t see her. I want to look around and see if she went out to the deck to throw up or something.” I walked away before he could talk me out of it. I held my breath as I entered the kitchen, scowling at the idiots smoking on the deck. I peeked through the open doors. Jaime was nowhere to be found.

I walked back to the dining room and went down the hallway. I looked in each bedroom and bathroom, but there wasn’t anyone around. I slipped down the stairs in the hallway to the basement, literally, as the stupid shoes caught on the carpet. But I caught myself and managed to not look like a complete moron.

The hall was dark and the loud music made it impossible to hear anyone so I didn’t bother yelling for her.

Instead I snooped. I peeked into the bathroom first but it was empty. “Probably peeing outside, the dirty savages,” I muttered.

Next I opened the guest bedroom door to discover struggling on the bed. I panicked, flicking on the lights. “Get off her!” I shouted.

Michelle Mitchell, the hostess, and her boyfriend scowled at me. “Turn out the lights, pervert.”

“Oh shit, sorry.” I sighed, flicking them off and locking the door from the inside before closing it.

Feeling the burn of my cheeks, I took a deep breath as I stared at the closed wooden door. I would always be the girl who walked in on them. I accepted it and continued down the dark hallway. Deep down I felt like Nancy Drew, but maybe a little sleazier looking in my red dress. I opened the door to the garage and reached my hand into the darkness. I felt nervous sticking my hand in, feeling alongside the wall until I found the light switch.

“Aimee.”

“What!” I jumped, turning as the lights flicked on. “Oh my god, you scared me.” I sighed when I saw Aleksander standing in the hall outside Michelle’s guest room.

“What are you doing down here?” He growled.

“What are you doing here?” I knew Alise would have invited him. It burned inside of me.

“Worrying about you and the reckless things you do when I’m not around. Why are you down the dark hallway of the house party, full of drunk teenagers and dressed like that?” he scolded me.

“Okay, when you say it like that.” I laughed, looking into the garage. I’d been just getting a cramp when he showed up but his scaring me made it go away. “You sound like my dad and Shane. I’m fine, but I will admit, I’m glad you’re here—this garage is spooky. I’m sure Jaime, my sister’s friend, has been drugged, so I’m looking for her. If she’s not drugged, she’s drunk off her ass and that’s probably not safe with a pervert on the loose.”

The garage was empty, but the door to outside on the far wall was opened just a sliver, making a whistling sound.

“Let me go first.” Aleksander walked into the garage, looking around at the tools and motorcycle. He grabbed a crowbar off of the bench where tools were scattered and crept through the open door.

The cool, night air was full of crickets and frogs singing. I looked around, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark of the backyard. Aleksander put his hand out for mine. I looked at it, feeling guilty about Shane. Our skin sizzled when we touched. I wondered if he felt it too. I rationalized that holding his hand was a safety precaution. I also reminded myself that he would be gone in a few short weeks, whereas Shane would be with me at least until the end of the summer.

Our feet made little to no noise on the damp grass as we looked around, scanning the backyard.

“Did you hear that?” I whispered after I heard a rustling and a muffled sound to my right. It was down the yard a ways.

“Yeah.” Aleksander looked at me. “Stay here.”

“No.” I shook my head, pleading with my eyes. I was terrified.

“Fine.” He sighed, resigning to the fact that I needed to come. He let go of my hand and put his pointer finger to his lips. I nodded.

He crept with the crowbar in his hands toward the sound. I snuck along behind him, nearly peeing my pants, or panties rather—damned dress.

More trees and branches moved to the right of us, in the small patch of bush next to Michelle’s house. It was more like brush in between the houses for privacy than an actual forest so I wasn’t betraying my promise to my dad.

A soft crying sound drew us toward it as a branch snapped and Aleksander took off running after the other sound.

“Hello?” I whispered trying desperately to see, but the moon had not come out to help out with the light. “Jaime, is that you?” I couldn’t believe that Aleksander had left me to wander alone through the brush but when I heard a man scream, I had to assume he caught whoever had dragged Jaime into the bushes.

When I finally found her, she was on the ground in a small clearing with her shirt torn. I could barely see in the dark, but I reached for her, grabbing a vomit covered hand.

“Help us! Someone help us, please,” I called out into the night. I was scared about giving away my location, but I was even more scared that Jaime had been drugged. I pulled the skirt down, tucking it around her. “Please, help me! Someone.” I started to cry as I patted her back. “Jaime, it’s okay. Someone will come and help you.”

She moaned into the dirt but didn’t move.

The potheads started looking over the railing. “Hey, you down there, are you okay?” one stoner asked.

“No!” I sobbed. “Call 9-1-1 and tell them we need police and ambulance.”

“Okay, man. Is someone hurt?” he asked again. No one on the deck appeared to be moving.

“Just phone!” I screamed.

“Okay, God—she’s kind of bitchy,” Pothead One spoke slowly.

“Who is that?” Pothead Two muttered.

I sat on the grass, certain my leg was brushing against her vomit. I turned her on her side and pulled her clothes around her more.

Someone came running down the yard, their footsteps sounded like my heartbeat.

“Aimee?” Shane cried out into the night, panicked.

“I’m here.”

“Oh my God, Aimee—are you okay?” His voice was stricken with grief.

“I’m okay.” I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me. “It’s Jaime.”

“Oh god.” He knelt on the ground beside me and touched my shoulder. “I thought you were going to look in the kitchen. I didn’t know you were leaving the house. You never said you were leaving the house. I told you not to leave my side.”

“I had to find her.”

“Okay.” He took his shirt off as he ranted and wrapped it around Jaime. He picked her up and carried her up to the house. I followed him around the side to the front yard. People were streaming from the house. Some were running from the front door, hoping not to be busted by the cops for underage drinking. Most of the others were trying to figure out what was going on as the yard was filling with emergency lights.

The ambulance was there first, rolling into the driveway very slowly, so as not to hit anyone mulling about.

“I’m here, Jaime.” I grabbed Jaime’s hand when her head went floppy against Shane’s bare chest.

The outside lights flicked on and Michelle came running out in a panic. “What’s going on? Who called the cops?” she was angrily shouting at the men getting out of the ambulance. “Get off my property. You need a warrant to come on here.”

They ignored her completely and walked to where Shane was holding Jaime.

Michelle froze, watching as a stretcher was carried to where Jaime was. Shane put her down gingerly on the stretcher and stepped back as a blanket covered Jaime. I couldn’t get the vision of her two white legs stretched out behind her in the dark woods. I imagined it was going to take me some time before I got past this entire spring. Shane spoke to the two paramedics, no doubt explaining the situation with care so no one else would hear.

He walked to me and put his arm around me. We both smelled of her vomit and were covered in dirt. He whispered in my neck, “I’m sorry I got mad at you.”

“No.” I shook my head, trying desperately to ignore the tears streaming down my face. “You were right. I shouldn’t have left without you.”

He held me tighter. “You saved her, Aimes.”

“No, I didn’t. I found her.” There was a difference.

We watched in silence, as they took Jaime away. The police had arrived and were asking questions of the paramedics who remained. They all pointed in our direction.

Officer Bindley and Sergeant Williams made their way to us with grim looks on their faces.

“Aimee and Shane, want to come with me? The rest of the guys are going to stay here, take pictures, and talk to the kids that are left,” the sergeant said.

I nodded as Shane spoke, “You want to see where we found her?”

Williams nodded. “Yup, and the exact path you took to get her here.”

Shane pointed. “I came around the side of the house this way and walked up the grass from the backyard.”

Williams pulled out a huge, long black flashlight that looked more like a baseball bat. He walked around where Shane told him. He looked down at the ground carefully, the entire way down the back lawn.

“Who found her?” he asked as we walked back to the spot slowly so he could look around.

“Uhh.” I cleared my throat. “I did. I saw her at the party, and she looked bad. I just knew something was wrong. She had the same cup I remembered Giselle and I drank out of—you guys showed us. Anyway, I ran around looking for her for about fifteen minutes and I ran into Aleksand—”

“He was here?” Shane asked roughly, his hand biting into my arm.

“Yeah, I met up with him on my search for Jaime. He came with me. We were walking down here and when we got to about here—” I stopped and pointed to the bush, “We heard a noise there. He ran after whoever it was with a crowbar—” I stopped, realizing he had never come back. My eyes widened as I spoke, “He never came back. Do you think he’s okay?” What if it had been him screaming? I assumed he made the other person scream.

Williams shook his head. “No. Either way, he’s in trouble now. He’s probably looking at an assault charge. He probably never came back when he saw the lights. Who is this guy?”

Shane crossed his bare arms, looking at me defiantly. “Yeah, who is he?”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “He’s a social worker of some sort from the city, working here for a family he helps.”

Williams leaned in. “If he comes near you again, Aimee, you need to phone me right away. There is no such thing as a social worker from the city coming to a small town without the police being notified of some extreme circumstances. We have our own social workers here in this county. They are government workers like me. They work where they’re assigned. He’s a suspect right now, and I want you to treat him as such. What’s he look like?”

I gulped but Shane started spewing out the facts. “Tall like me, white like me, built like me, blue eyes, dark-blond hair shorter than mine, clean cut. That’s what all the women in town are saying anyway,” he spoke through his teeth.

“Okay.” Williams clicked on the radio at his collar. “Dispatch, I need a BOLO put out on a young man, early twenties, late teens, Caucasian, dark-blond hair, blue eyes, six foot two, muscular build, seen fleeing from 1942 Elder Grove Road—”

“Black jacket and blue jeans.” My voice was hollow.

“Seen wearing a black jacket and blue jeans.”

I pointed to the woods as he finished. “It was right here.” I didn’t want to walk back in there. Shane put an arm around me as Williams walked very carefully into the brush. He stopped when he reached the spot.

Bindley came down the yard. “Sergeant, you need anything?”

“Yup, I need some lights and some pictures.” His voice was solid and steady and I wondered how he did it. I was sickened just guessing what had happened. He was going to have to pick it all apart, until he got a story from all the gory details.

When Bindley and a few other police officers came down, Williams looked at Shane and I. “Okay you two, we are going to need some statements. You know how this works. Shane, take her home and we will meet at her house in twenty minutes.”

“Sounds good.”

Home did sound good. Retelling the disgusting story, however, did not.

It was worse than I imagined it would be.

When we did get home and cleaned up, my dad rubbed my shoulders while my sister sat on the couch looking horrified, as I told every moment of the party. I left nothing out, including who I had seen there—counting Aleksander, who was now wanted for questioning. I disputed his involvement in her attack, as he had been with me while someone was obviously attacking her.

Sergeant and Shane both agreed that he could have been an accomplice. I disagreed and asked if he had been an accomplice, why would he have brought me right to the scene of the crime? To which they both agreed that he did it to clear his name.

It did seem off that he had been at both places when the drugging happened. It seemed even more off that I was the only person who had seen him. It was even weirder that he had lied to me about saving my life. I remembered that—I was positive.

Nothing about him was adding up.

I went to bed that night after taking the longest shower in recorded history. I threw the red dress out, feeling no remorse for its untimely death. My head whirled around and around, playing the same pictures and ‘what ifs’ until finally I fell asleep.

I woke feeling more tired than I had been when I fell asleep. I looked at the time and cringed. I had been asked to come down to the police station to look at some pictures of criminals at eleven, and it was six minutes to. I climbed out of bed feeling woozy as if I would black out. I sat back on my bed as the stars from my eyes cleared and I nearly got sick all over my floor. I took a few deep breaths and got up slowly to get dressed.

My dad got a worried look on his face when he saw me coming down the stairs. “You look funny, kiddo. You still tired?”

“Yeah.” I yawned. “I’m exhausted. What time did I go to bed?”

He looked at the clock. “Twelve hours ago. This must be draining you, all this craziness. Shane just pulled up.”

“Okay.” I looked out the window at his truck and nodded. I struggled with the walk over to my shoes. “I don’t want to do this. I know Aleksander isn’t a bad guy. I have better instincts than that.”

My dad smiled. It was weak and not even close to convincing. “You are a smart girl, but I think some of the darker elements in our world can fool even the wisest of us. When you get home, it’s bed for a couple days, okay?”

“Okay.” I wanted to go back to bed right then.

He passed me a banana as I walked out the door. I hadn’t been eating again, and I could feel the weight falling off of me after only a few days. The stress was bad for my health. I pulled my long locks into a loose braid and struggled down the front steps.

Shane got out and opened the door for me. “You look beat, Aimes. After this is over, I think you need some serious rest. The big dance is on Friday.”

I scowled, not realizing so much time had passed since the whole poisoning thing. “I think they should cancel it. What with everything that’s going on, don’t you?”

“No, normal is what we need right now. They just need to make sure the security is upped.”

We didn’t speak on the ride over. I was annoyed and feeling sour. I flipped down the sun visor to look in the mirror on the back of it. I did look awful, with huge bags under my eyes and puffy eyelids. My lips even looked a bit swollen. I didn’t need help in the puffy-lip department.

We went inside the first door of the small brown building to a waiting area surrounded by plastic bulletproof windows.

We were brought to where the sergeant sat at a desk, on the phone. He hung up and grinned. “We have a database of drifters and criminals from the area, if you just want to take a quick look to make sure that guy isn’t in one of them. That would make our job a lot easier.”

“Fine.” I nodded as he stood up and walked out of his office.

“The computer is over here that you can look at. It’s pretty straightforward. You scroll down and click next page.”

“Okay.”

He gave me a look. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good. How’s Jaime this morning?”

“Same thing as you and the other girl. She is out like a light, no signs of waking up, and vomited for hours before passing out completely.”

“Was she raped?” The words left my mouth like I was spitting out a bad taste, but I had to know.

“I can’t disclose that kind of information, sorry. I will say she’s lucky you guys arrived when you did. I’ve had my men searching with the dogs for your friend Aleksander and his crowbar. Nothing but the crowbar has turned up. The dogs haven’t found a single scent to track, even off the crowbar.”

Shane frowned. “You found it near the house?”

“Yeah.” The sergeant nodded. “Two hundred yards over, with no trace of anything on it. It wasn’t used anyway. The reason I am telling you this is that he may seem like a nice guy, but I want you to ask yourself why didn’t anyone else see him that night? Why didn’t he come back to make sure you were okay when he didn’t catch the guy? Why would he leave you with a hurt young woman alone in the bush in the first place? Especially if he had no intention of catching the person who hurt her.”

I felt sick to my stomach as his words whirled around in my head. They made perfect sense.

Disappointed, I scrolled through the photos that were mostly ugly mug shots of seedy-looking people. In the background I could hear the sergeant try to sell the police force to Shane who was in the far corner. He sounded like a recruiter.

After a while I heard them walk back to me. “How’s it going in here?”

I frowned. “No, no, and more no. He isn’t in here.”

Williams shrugged. “Well, you can’t always strike gold with the first hit. Keep in touch about anything you remember, and I’ll let you know anything I can.”

The sergeant picked up the brochure for becoming a cop and handed it to Shane. “Son, I’ve never told a single person they should take a look at this. I think you’ve got something.”

Shane smiled. “Thanks. I will look at the website tonight.”

He opened the door and we left. The cold air didn’t seem to snap me out of the haze I’d gotten stuck in.

“I need some sleep, Shane.”

“I’m taking you home now.” He opened the truck door and helped me inside. I felt everything but noticed nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

A is for Adultery, Infidelity, Treachery, Faithlessness—

 

 

“Aimee,” music sang in my ears. “Aimee, you need to wake up. I don’t have much time left, and I need to talk to you.” It sounded less and less like music, and I realized I was dreaming. My toes no longer felt the sand, only sheets and my head on a pillow with drool under my lips.

“Dad?” I licked my lips, frowning, certain I’d heard a man talking. The headache was back behind my eyes and I couldn’t see or control my eyes. Had I been drugged again?

“Oh no.” I moaned, “Not again.” I yawned and one eye opened. I blinked and both eyes started to cooperate. As the fog cleared and my vision started to focus, I saw something.

I opened my mouth to scream.

His hand went to my lips.

Aleksander was holding me hostage.

My darting gaze slowed when I glanced around the room, realizing I was still at home. He was in my room. Could you really be hostage in your own room?

His intense blue eyes pleaded with me while his hand still covered my open mouth. I didn’t like people’s hands near my mouth, and this was twice with him. I cringed, closing my lips.

“Please, Aimee, don’t scream. Let me explain.” His voice was a whisper. “I’ll take away my hand if you promise not to scream.”

“Fine.” I agreed through his fingers. I was in too much pain to scream anyway. My eyes darted around the room, taking notice of my open window. He had climbed up and inside to talk to me.

It freaked me out but at least I was still in my room.

Even if he was here to hurt me, my family was downstairs. At the very least, my sister could attack with curling irons and hairspray, and he would get one hell of a makeover.

He never pulled back from hovering too close to my face. “Does your head hurt?” he asked, looking worried.

“Yeah. It comes and goes. Right now it’s really bad.”

He put his hands up to my head. “I can’t heal you, but I can take the pain from your head. You’ve been doing too much. You’re tired.” His words made no sense to me and I wanted to pull away, but his touch on my head took away all the agony.

His hands were hot. My head nearly broke into a sweat as he touched either side. His eyes stayed focused on me and in the seconds it took to notice the pounding was lessening, I realized I couldn’t tear my gaze away from his smile. His upper lip was fatter on one side making his lips always crooked. I wanted to suck that top lip. I blushed, wondering why I was thinking that and cleared my throat as he pulled his hands away.

“Well?” He smiled with the bigger side only, giving me aa proper crooked smile. “Is it gone?”

“Yeah.” I needed to snap out of the way he made me feel. It was ridiculous.

Something about him being close to my bed, and me being in nothing but my underwear and a tank top, made the feelings I was having more awkward. But my mind kept wanting to wander off and contemplate things it shouldn’t. Not when I was sort of seeing Shane. I wasn’t Alsie for God’s sake.

“Aimee, snap out of it.” He raised his voice.

“What?” I switched back to reality.

“You’re daydreaming again.”

“Sorry, I’ve been funny lately.”

He looked distracted by me too. His eyes were burning as he watched me. I realized he was waiting. He might have asked me a question and I might have missed it. I shrugged at him, hoping that would satisfy his question and we could move on.

He leaned in very close, I was taken aback but I never budged.

What had he asked?

His hot breath tickled my lips. I gulped, realizing what it must have been.

He never closed his eyes, even though he was inches from my face. My eyes went blurry as he got closer. I could imagine the taste of his mouth. He smelled like Heaven. It was the smell of fresh air mixed with something I couldn’t place. I wanted to fight my body and my urges and pull away from him, but I was a snake caught in the music of his pungi. He had charmed every inch of me—inches I didn’t know existed.

After a very long moment, he moved in the last inch and his lips brushed mine. It was so soft, I couldn’t stand the torture. I leaned in, but he seemed to pull back, keeping our touch light. His soft lips brushed mine. His tongue slowly grazed my lips, sending a shiver up my spine and then down again. I didn’t know what was happening, but the control I worked every day to maintain was gone. I wasn’t in charge. I had no sarcasm for the moment; it was raw emotion. I understood ragged breath, as mine had become inconsistent. I didn’t need air—I needed his kiss to deepen and relieve me of the buildup of tension.

He pulled away though, leaving me hanging there. He smiled like a light had switched on. It lasted a second and then he sighed. “Aimee, I’m cursed.”

“So.” I didn’t care. Bad luck had rained down on me for so long, it didn’t matter if he brought more to the table. To be completely honest, it was probably me that made him feel cursed.

“No.” He continued softly, “I mean I’m like an angel of tragedy and accident.” His words never made their way to my brain. They stopped at my ears, stuck. My mind flooded with whispers of impossible things like I knew he was an angel.

His lips moved and I could hear him talking, but I couldn’t comprehend. I was stuck on angel.

He grabbed my bare shoulders and gave me a slight shake. “Aimee, I am an immortal. Do you understand?”

“No.” I cocked an eyebrow, watching his lips move. Internally I was freaking out. The thoughts panicked in me, but they went nowhere.

“Watch.” He stood up, taking the sudden warmth away from me. He stood by my door and held his hands out. He grinned at me one second, and in another, he was across the room, right in my face again. It wasn’t a big room, but I didn’t even see him take a step. “See.” He knelt at my bed again and smiled. “I’m not like you,” his voice was a whisper.

I didn’t know what to say. He’d lied to me about so many things. I didn’t understand why he had to go to such extreme places to make up stories. Not when the plain truth was there in front of me. I was dreaming.

“I don’t know how to be with you, but I can’t seem to be without you.”

“Why are you lying to me?”

“I’m not.”

“None of this is real. I need sleep.” I yawned again.

“No, you need to wake up.” He pulled me to him and picked me up. I tried to fight him, but his face had grown stone hard and stern looking. He looked at my open window, and before I could properly talk him out of a murder suicide, he jumped.

The ground flashed and then I didn’t see anything. My grip on him was hurting my hands and I felt like I might throw up any second. We moved so quickly, and at the same time didn’t move at all. I couldn’t see anything. The motion was too much for me to bear. I closed my eyes and then there was a hard bump and I was lowered to soft sand. I heard and smelled the ocean. We were at the hidden beach. I knew that because it was a sandy beach. On the Northwest Coast, we did anything we had to in order to find one. It was the only one I knew of.

It had taken a single second for us to get there. Or had it? Had I blacked out? I knew it was a forty-minute hike through the roughest terrain from the side of the highway on the outskirts of town. Had he hiked with me in his arms? Had we driven? Had he drugged me again?

Was I dreaming?

The night air was cold against me. The sand sat firmly beneath me, but I still had to touch it to be certain I was really there. A million thoughts flashed through my head—mostly they were warnings.

I looked at Aleksander who stood with his arms crossed, watching me silently. He stayed several feet back.

Before I could even decide if it was what I wanted to do or not, I jumped up and started to run from him. My bare toes hit the sand and dug in as I screamed, “Someone help me. Please someone help me. It’s Aimee James. Please help me.”

Aleksander was in front of me somehow, like he was toying with me. I ran back the other way but again he was in front of me. Defeated, I dropped to my knees and started to cry. “Are you going to kill me?”

“No.” He walked to me slowly with his hands out as if he were approaching a crazed person with a gun.

I wished for a second I had a gun, but I wasn’t entirely sure whom I would shoot, him or me.

He dropped to his knees in the sand. His hand reached out to my face and lifted my chin slowly. “Aimee, I told you this once before—I could never hurt you. I am here for you.”

I cried harder. “Oh my God. It’s like City of Angels. I’m dying. You’re here to take me to Heaven, aren’t you? That’s why no one else could see you at the party. That’s why—wait—you saved me though? Did you mess up?”

“You could say that.” He pulled his huge, blue sweater off and put it over my head. I pulled away from his grasp, but I was dressed in it before I could argue. The warmth of the sweater was relaxing.

“Can you give me the five minutes I need to explain?” He put his hands on my arms.

I nodded. My lips refused to agree. I was in danger.

“I’m here because you’re not coping. You and your family called to me when your mom died in the accident.”

“Called?” I sobbed. I couldn’t control myself or understood what he was saying, but it contradicted everything I knew in life to be true. Well, except for the fact we weren’t coping. That part was true.

“Spiritually.”

“No.” I shook my head.

“I have five minutes.” He huffed. “The reason I lied to you about being a social worker, was that I couldn’t tell you what I was. Your mom’s death has triggered a series of events that never should have happened. It wasn’t her time. Just like the night you choked and I saved you, it wasn’t your time. I was called to stay with your family, making you feel safe, and help you heal and ensure nothing else happened that had been caused by her death.” He held me tightly, not giving me an inch of space to struggle or flee while he told me a fairytale.

“I don’t-don’t understand.”

“I got to you too late that night. You saw me because you were a spirit. That changes the whole thing. Once you see an immortal, it gets easier.”

“I saw you before I died.”

“Shane’s bloody yard doesn’t make it easy on me. That shaman’s land is blessed, almost impossible for my kind to cloak properly there. I was at the party, and when you saw me watching you, I left to stay with your dad. I felt you cross into the otherworld, and I got there as fast as I could.”

I had stopped crying and started to laugh uncontrollably. He gave me an alarmed stare. It made me laugh harder. I couldn’t stop myself. My side hurt so much, but even the pain couldn’t make the laugh stop. I fell over into the sand, rolling as I laughed.

“Dear, god.” He started to smile and laugh at me. “You’ve lost it—haven’t you? This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I’ve pushed you over the edge to insanity.”

I didn’t know how to cope with anything he told me and laughing was making me feel better.

Tears rolled down my face until finally I was able to get a hold of myself. I laid there in the sand and heaved for air. “The stupid shaman story was true?”

Of all the things in his story he told me, that just seemed too ridiculous.

“Yeah.” He nodded. “Shamans are very powerful, Aimee. A being nearly as powerful and equally supernatural caused your mom’s death. Nothing in the world will ever be the same for you. You’ve seen the other side, which means you’re stuck now with visions from the in-between. You’re going to start seeing things you can’t explain and you can’t tell other people you see them. No one will believe you and you’ll look crazy.”

“No.” I shook my head. “No, it hasn’t happened, except for seeing you.”

“What about Giselle before she woke up?” He cocked an eyebrow.

“Shit.” How did he even know that? We hadn’t told a soul.

“Trust me, you have the sight now. You could see past my cloak, Aimee. That’s a bad sign.” He shuffled forward on his knees to me, getting sand all over his jeans. I looked at him, trying desperately to see something other than what I saw. The sexiest man I could even imagine, crawling on the sand toward me in jeans that hugged him nicely and no shirt. His stomach flexed under his silky skin. I wanted to touch each ab muscle. I wanted to run my hands down his stomach, possibly dragging my fingernails a little.

I shook my head. “You’re a hallucination brought on by the drugs and the stress of yesterday.”

“You saw me before you were drugged,” he rolled his eyes.

“Why can’t I be scared of you?”

“You can. You aren’t because deep down you know I won’t hurt you.” His smile reassured me. Even though my whole world filled with questions, I wasn’t sure I wanted the answers to them. “We need to get you home.” He rubbed along my arms, trying to warm me up, while looking down on me as we knelt on the sand.

I frowned. “Can we walk?” The whole poofing thing wasn’t a fond memory for me.

“No.” He stepped forward and picked me up, and before I had a chance to argue my opinion on the matter, we were gone.

I panicked. “Just watch where you’re going!”

“We’re in your room, Aimee.”

The next thing I felt was the softness of my sheets. Wide eyed, I frowned at him. “I have sand on my butt—I don’t want it in my sheets.”

He sat on the chair across the room, watching me.

“Don’t leave.” I gave him a look and walked to the bathroom with new pajamas. “I’ll be right back.”

But I wasn’t right back. I stayed in the shower, trying to translate all of the details he told me into layman’s terms as if I were telling my sister fairytale.

“He is an immortal who was trying to help us cope with Mom’s accident. He was trying to make sure a negative outcome didn’t happen as a result of Mom’s death, which was not meant to be. A supernatural force or being killed Mom, and as a result, everything in our lives is upside down. I accidentally died on his watch and while he managed to save me I can see him and dead people as a result of being dead for a few seconds. All of this is unfounded at this point. He is clearly battling with an obvious attraction to me and I him, even though he isn’t a human being.” I summed it up out loud to get a good grasp on how things were. I turned off the shower and knew what I had to do. “Dear God, if you can hear me, please make this just be a case where I’ve lost my mind. He isn’t real, and the hallucinations have finally taken over.” That seemed more plausible.

I dressed and went downstairs, ignoring the pain in my head, to see my dad so he wouldn’t worry. “Hey, Dad. I’m going back to bed. I just showered.”

“Okay, dear.” He was reading a text of some sort and looked up with his glasses on, smiling. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah.” I nodded, lying. “I think I just needed some sleep. I should be better by tomorrow, I think.”

“Okay, kiddo. Night.”

As I turned to climb the stairs, a knock at the door caught my attention.

My dad glanced at me.

“I’ll get it.” The trek across the room to the door was brutal. My hands quivered from the pain.

“Hey.” My stomach sank with guilt when I opened the door.

“Hey, yourself.” Shane grinned at me and stepped inside. “Just wanted to check on you.” He bent his face and pressed his lips against mine. He whispered against my lips. “You okay?”

I blushed and pulled back. “Yeah. Just sleepy.”

“I was looking for you after school but Blake said you were home sick.” He tucked my long hair behind my ear and played with the long end.

“Yeah. I wasn’t feeling so hot.” I stood up on my tiptoes and ran my fingers up into his thick hair, pulling his face back down on mine. He lifted me and pulled me back out of the house. Away from the watchful eyes of my father.

He lifted me up, pulling me into him. I moaned into the kiss, caressing him with my hands and mouth.

“Whoa!” He pulled back, chuckling. “Aimes, what’s gotten into you?”

“Sorry.” I wanted to tell him a tall blond hallucination, but I shook my head and wiped my swollen lips.

“So, we’re good?” He grinned.

“Yeah. Call you tomorrow?” I took a step back, resting my fleecy back against the door.

“Okay.” He stepped into me and devoured me once more. His body was crushing me into the dark door. He pushed himself away, turned, and waved backward. “I gotta go before your dad shoots me on the front porch.” He started the truck and drove off like a madman.

My fingers dug into the door, trying to grip the hard surface. He was the right fit for my heart. He always had been. I turned and went back inside, feeling sick about Aleksander and Shane and the whole mess.

My dad grimaced from behind his glasses and glass of wine, pretending to read the textbook he held.

I rolled my eyes. “Night.”

“Uh huh.”

I climbed the stairs, trying to make it all the way to the top so my dad wouldn’t doubt my miraculous recovery. In truth, the stairs were death. My poor legs shook as I made it up all the way. Being around Aleksander seemed to be the only thing that made me feel good. Besides mauling Shane.

That worried me. Almost as much as walking into my room and having to look in his eyes after the whole Shane thing.

How could I possibly be into two guys?

I had to pick and this, in this room, wasn’t the healthy choice.

I leaned on my bedroom door and watched him lying on my bed reading a book on how to decipher Arabic. He was in his jeans, still half naked on my bed.

It might have been a hot moment for me, half naked guy in my bed and all, but I frowned at his jeans. I had to assume they were still coated in the salt and sand which would now be covering my sheets.

“Your jeans—”

“I know.” He smiled as I closed my door and locked it. “I took the sheets and my pants outside and shook them. There isn’t any sand.”

“Thanks.” I wondered if he could read my mind, or if because he was a figment of my mind, he knew what I was thinking.

His crooked smile seemed to be stuck on his face. “I haven’t seen these kind of pajamas on a girl your age in a long time.”

“Fleece?” I asked as I sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Yeah.” He laughed. “Dont girls your age wear sexy things?”

I couldn’t help but laugh back. “Well, I had underwear and a tank top on, but you wrecked them. Honestly, I just can’t seem to shake feeling cold and itchy. These make me feel nice.”

He agreed. “I love fleece.” He reached over and rubbed his hands up and down my arm, slowly. As weird as it was, I could have fallen asleep.

The sexy vibe I’d had downstairs started to fade away as his massage deepened, moving to my shoulders. It relaxed me and made me sleepy. My head didn’t hurt while he was touching me. I knew I had to follow the plan though if I was ever going to get beyond the schizophrenia fears I was harboring.

“Go to the chair. We need to talk.”

He groaned. “We can talk here.”

“No. Move.” I shoved him off of the bed.

He landed on his feet with amazing reflexes and grabbed the chair from the other side of the room. He pulled it over beside my bed and sat on it backward, waiting.

“Okay, I’m ready, brainiac—fire away.” He kept a smug grin on his face, probably already knowing the questions I had to ask.

I lay on my back. “Okay, so we are going to do the Q&A portion of this evening, quickly. I have about ten minutes of effort left in me and then I need some sleep. Ready?”

“Do your worst.”

“Did the drugs ruin my brain?”

“What?”

“Do I have drug-induced schizophrenia? Are you a figment of my imagination?”

“You have sand on your floor from the beach, and I healed your pain. The answer is obviously not scientific. Next.”

“How old are you?”

“Six hundred and forty-three.” He responded quickly and efficiently. I liked that.

“How many families like mine have you worked with?”

“Not many. It doesn’t happen often. I’ve never kept track, but I would say a couple hundred at the most?”

“Where do you live in your off time?”

“I don’t know. I just roam until I’m called. Sometimes I chill with friends.”

“Is there a Heaven where you go when you’re not looking after a family?”

“I don’t know anything about Heaven, personally. I’ve been cursed to be what I am since my death. I, like you, have heard there is a Heaven. I have met people who have been there. I, myself, have never been.”

“Were you ever a human?” I turned to face him.

He flinched, ever so slightly, at the question. “Yes.” He didn’t go into any other detail, but I could see the rigidity wash over him.

“When?”

His look told me to drop it. “Six hundred and twenty years ago.”

“You’re twenty-three?”

He nodded.

My eyes got heavy as my head started to hurt again. “Did you see my mom die?”

“No, I came afterwards.”

“What killed her?”

“A shape shifter.” His voice never cracked or wavered as he said it.

My head instantly translated as I felt myself drift off into a painful sleep. My mom was killed by a werewolf or something that belonged on an HBO show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

Is there Philly Cream Cheese in Heaven?

 

I dreamed things that made no sense to me. I was lost and confused. My mom was falling and then she turned into an angel and flew back up into the sky. She never came back down from the sky. She also didn’t seem too concerned that I was standing on the road watching her fly away. She didn’t wave to me.

I woke to find Aleksander sleeping beside me on my bed, his warm body nearly burning me as I touched him. I still felt frozen but touching him seemed to take it away.

A million questions were stuck in my mind. They had nowhere to go. My head was swelling with them.

Aleksander stirred, turning on his side and wrapped his leg around me. He pulled me into him. I let his lips drag up my throat until he whispered a word, “Nora.”

I froze, not sure what to think. I stayed very still until he started to wake up and opened his eyes to me. I assumed Nora must have been a woman he loved before he met me.

He looked at me and smiled. “You have more questions now?”

“Who’s Nora?” I blurted out.

“How did you—”

“You talked in your sleep.”

“Oh.” Finally, after a moment of thought he whispered, “My wife.”

A shiver trembled through my whole body. “Wife,” I stated it matter of factly.

“Yes.” He nodded. “We were married when I was eighteen. She was the only woman I ever loved in my whole life.”

“What happened to her?” I had to ask.

He looked down at the sheets, breaking the eye contact as if ashamed. “She remarried and moved on after I died.”

“Did you watch her?” I asked.

He nodded. “Every day I could. I watched her fall out of love with me and in love with him. The sweet soft girl I had married became a hardened woman. It was a tough time and she had a hard go.”

“That’s terrible.” I blinked away a tear. “You still love her.” It was a statement not a question.

“Yes, of course. She was my first true love and I never got closure.”

“Where were you from?” I asked, moving over on the bed, away from him. I could see him putting up a wall, like I did. I backed off a little.

“I’m from Norway. Aurland. It’s on the Nærøyfjord. My family had a farm. My surname was Jonson because my dad’s name was Jon—that’s how it was done. So my sisters were Jonsdoter. Our mom was captured from somewhere near the Greek islands in a raid. So she named me Aleksander. It was a Greek name but it sounded Norwegian. Well, it did to her. I was made fun of a lot for my name. Everyone thought it was a girl’s name. Education wasn’t as important back then. Not like it is now, where everyone knows about Aleksander the great.” He beamed at me.

I rolled my eyes. “So, can you still speak Norwegian?” I asked, not thinking about it.

“Ja jeg kan.” He smiled, laughing. “So, shall we get to the rest of your questions? I know you have a million.”

“I’m sorry about your wife—that’s really sad. What did she look like?”

His eyes slanted. “Not letting this one go, huh? Fine. She was tall, very tall. Almost as tall as I am. She had long blonde hair to her waist. It was thick and almost white. Like yours, but thicker. Her skin tanned, even though she was fair. Her eyes were blue like mine—very intensely blue. She had a pretty face with beautiful features. She was thick, not fat, but strong. She could pull a cart and carry kids around all day. She was an amazing woman. Are you happy you know that now? Shall we talk about your past boyfriends?”

I bit my lip. “I don’t have any past anyones. I had never been kissed in my life, before these last few weeks.”

His face grew reddened and angry looking. “The guy who was here last night, making out with you on the front porch? He doesn’t count?”

“He counts.” I frowned at him. “I just don’t know what he and I are.”

“What are you and I?”

“That is even less certain. You’re still a criminal to society, and before you were always vanishing on me. I thought you were a ghost for a while. Kissing Shane still seems like a better idea than kissing you.”

He growled. “I’m not going to comment.”

“Whatever.” I blushed, sensing his annoyance on the subject.

“I don’t want you to be with anyone but me but I don’t really know how to be with you. I can’t stay here forever with you.” He tilted his head.

“Where will you go next?”

“Wherever I’m called.” He looked sad at the thought of that.

“And I have to college. I don’t know that I want a boyfriend in college.”

“You know, I haven’t felt this protective and possessive in a long time. It’s going to take me a while to cope with you saying things like boyfriend.”

“Let’s not think about it.” I looked up at the ceiling as I thought for a minute on how to ask the question I had been wondering about from the moment he started this conversation. “How did you die and become an immortal?”

He nodded. “There it is—the right question.” He ran his right hand through his short hair and looked down at the bed. His eyelids lifted, and without moving his head, he watched me through his lashes again. “Same as your mom. A shape shifter killed me. I was attacked and left in the woods to die. Next question—”

I interrupted. “But you didn’t turn into a werewolf from the bite?”

He laughed. “Hollywood made that up in the early forties with The Wolf Man. No, a man must be cursed by a special and rare person to become a lycanthrope, unless of course they’re born to the family. The bite does nothing but infect the person if the wound is not taken care of. Rarely is a person bitten though. Most of them hunt animals in the forests, not people. We don’t taste very good. True shifters are fae.” His smile was haunted.

My brow knit. “Fae?”

“A discussion for another time.”

“But how did you become this? How did you learn all your magical powers?” I could see him backing away emotionally from the conversation.

“Let’s focus on right now. We have a problem. I don’t know how to stop my curse from pulling me to the next place and I don’t want to be apart from you.”

“That is a problem.” I nodded and kept the part where I thought it might be a problem for us both. I tried to think about questions I had that weren’t part of the things he wouldn’t want to talk about—his wife, his family, his homeland, his turning into whatever he was, and definitely no discussing his death. “How did you know to come here when my mom died? How do you know where to go next?” I hoped he would at least answer this, and I could possibly hypothesize on my own from the breadcrumbs he left me.

“I just know. I get a feeling. Like when you have a dream, I see what happens in flashes or pieces, I guess. I just know that I need to go right or left.”

Disappointment rolled from me in waves. Asking him questions was making my head want to explode.

“I kind of saw it more as if you fly up to the pearly gates and someone gives you a clipboard with a name on it. You then ask questions around the Philly Cream Cheese snack bar and figure out how you’re going to crack this tough case.”

“Wow.” He burst into laughter. “I wish it was that easy. I’m not a real angel. I’m cursed.” He moved a strand of hair from my face and smiled. “I think you should go and eat.”

“Yeah, probably.” I was a little dizzy, but I knew by then to wait it out. The stars always cleared after a moment or so.

I pushed myself up, but my legs wanted to buckle. I could tell from his worried expression that he was thinking about taking me back to the hospital. I knew all I needed was more sleep so I stood my ground and walked out of my room. My dad wasn’t downstairs.

“Do you get hungry?” I asked as I walked slowly down the stairs.

“Yes and no. I am an immortal now. I’m not like an angel in that I can make myself vanish and become air. I have a sort of magic now. I can cloak myself around people who haven’t been to the in-between obviously. Even cloaked, you’ve seen me, so you’re not a normal person anymore. I need food and drink to live, but I won’t die without it. I will get tired and weak after a long time.”

I walked into the kitchen and grabbed a frying pan. “Like omelets?”

“Of course.” He nodded and sat at the bar.

“So you are a flesh and blood human with a beating heart?”

He nodded, not answering. I could see I was wearing on his last nerve and stopped asking questions. I was stewing on safe questions while I beat the eggs and chopped the vegetables.

“Are vampires real?” It only made sense to me that if the wolves were real, so were the vamps.

He didn’t answer but when I looked at him, I got my answer. His face was grim.

“Are you a vampire?” I asked. He had said he was an immortal. Maybe he was a nice vampire.

“No, for God’s sake.” Again he didn’t look amused. “I’m sorry I said you could ask questions. You’re the most inquisitive person alive. I am not a vampire. Yes, they’re real. I think that in your world, you will find things have changed now that your second sight has—”

“Second sight?” I interrupted.

“Yes.” He nodded impatiently and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment. “Your ability to see me will make other things easier to see as well.”

“So I’ll see vampires now?” I couldn’t stop my brain now. “Do vampires become vampires from a bite?”

“No.” He slumped at the bar and groaned. “Hollywood is not the place to look for facts. Like lycanthropes, vampires have to be turned a special way. If a vampire bit you, he would drink your blood and heal your wounds before you would even realize it had happened. They’re very charming.” He almost growled at me as I passed him the plate of toast and omelets.

I sat beside him at the bar with my orange juice and steaming plate of food and blinked. “So, they do drink blood?”

“Yeah, unfortunately they do.” He nodded, blowing on his fork full of eggs. “They aren’t all bad, but they need human blood.”

“Could they drink yours?”

He sighed. “This is the last question for a while, okay? No, they cannot. I am an immortal; my blood would mean death or sickness, depending on how old the vampire was. Me and angels. They can’t eat either of us. Yes, angels are bloody real and no, I don’t want to discuss it further.”

“Fine.” I rolled my eyes, eating my eggs. I was stuck in all the empty knowledge that led nowhere and the millions of questions I couldn’t ask.

“Eat.” He frowned at me with a mouth full of hot eggs and peppers, as he tried to suck in cold air and talk. “You’re weak and watching me eat isn’t going to make you feel better.”

“Whatever.” I sighed and took a bite of the eggs on my fork and chewed, barely tasting the food. My stomach seemed to turn at the thought of food. I ate to make him happy and tried to seem like I could move on. But I didn’t. My mind was brewing.

Having nothing to say and sitting in silence proved to be quite a challenge. I waited for him to talk about anything he wanted to talk about. He seemed content in the silence, which was really annoying. We finished breakfast and I started cleaning up the dishes, and I realized I had a whole line of questioning I hadn’t even touched on.

He saw the gleam in my eye and moaned. I ignored him and moved in for the kill. “Do you know who the rapist is?”

He sat perfectly still and then nodded slowly, not making any noise.

“You have to tell the police.”

“I can’t.”

I leaned against the kitchen counter. “Are you telling me that you know who is raping and attacking girls, including me, but you won’t tell me or the authorities who he is?”

He nodded, still sitting tight-lipped. “What kind of proof do I have beyond seeing him running through the woods? What kind of witness am I? I have no ID, I have no address. I do not belong in your world, and the secret of mine is far more important than the safety of a small town. I’m sorry. It isn’t just my secret to share.”

“can you tell me?”

“No.” He sounded like it hurt him to say it.

“You can’t even tell me so I can tell the police?”

“No.”

“Get out.” I pointed to the door. “You need to go now and tell the police.”

“I can’t get involved. I’m sorry. I have other things and people to protect.”

“That could have been me. I could have been face down in the dirty grass with my skirt around my waist.”

He didn’t budge.

“Are you heartless?”

His face remained stern and unfeeling.

“Get out of my house. I’m fine. Protect my sister and dad from bad karma, but leave me alone. I don’t believe in karma, anyway. I don’t even believe in you.”

He stood and looked at me. His eyes were full of regret as he turned and walked out of my house.

Disgusted, I went back to bed and slept some more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

Lady parts

 

I woke hearing rustling in my room, assuming it was Aleksander I shouted, “Get out. Pervert.”

“What?” My sister peeked her dark head of hair up at me from out of my closet. “Our parts match. Weirdo. I need that shoe you wore the other night. I found one, but where is the other one?”

“I don’t know.” I looked around the room, seeing the mess everywhere. My room had slowly become like my sister’s. It exhausted me to think about the mess around me, even though I had slept for days. I sat up, feeling the best I had in a while and gave my sister a look. “Why can’t you just wear one of the millions of other pairs?”

“I need—” She frowned. “You okay, Aimes? You look rough and you’ve been in bed for five days again.”

I frowned. “Huh?”

“Yeah.” She nodded. “You’re sleeping a lot. The doctor came four days ago and checked your vitals out when you were sleeping. He said as long as your eyes and skin aren’t turning yellow, you would be fine. He said you’re just recovering which can take a couple months and sleep is the best, like a mono patient. I don’t know though, dude. You seem like you’re dying.”

“I think I am.” I looked down at the floor to see a cup I didn’t recognize and a few dishes.

“Have I been eating up here?” Vague memories of my father spoon-feeding me filled my hazy mind.

She nodded, sitting on my bed, looking confused. “Yeah, Dad’s been bringing you dinner and feeding you. Dude, you don’t remember any of this? Yikes. He called the doctor again today and the doctor wants you to come back for a checkup on Monday.”

“Great.”

I didn’t recognize this person on my bed. Her steely silver eyes glistened as she spoke, “Jaime is awake now. She said she doesn’t remember anything, but the doctors confirmed she wasn’t completely raped because you and that guy came. You saved her, Aimes.”

My eyes lit up. “She’s awake? So, she’ll be okay?”

Alise nodded. “Yeah, I guess she didn’t have an allergy or whatever like Giselle. Speaking of Giselle—your phone’s been going nuts, dude. It’s been like fifty messages a day and Shane’s called about twenty times a day. He’s really worried. Dad won’t let him in your room, so when he shows up, he stays at the door and then leaves after a while. Kind of awkward for me. A few times he stayed and watched Discovery with Dad. I think he was hoping you’d wake up and he could see you one time.”

I put a hand to my face. “Oh my God—I’m am a mono victim. I need to get out of bed and go see Giselle and Shane.” I looked at her, deciding to forgive and accept. “How’s Blake?”

“Weird.” Her smile became so deep it hit her eyes, making them sparkly like platinum. “He’s like the weirdest guy I’ve ever met. I hate the way he just sits and reads sometimes for like hours. He is like you, but a dude. He wears all these shirts that make no sense, and I bought him this super expensive watch with his money and he hates it. God, he keeps wearing that nerdy NSA one. And he never tells me I’m beautiful or wants to, you know—do it. I think he’s never done it before, which is cool with me. He seems happy to just lie on his bed and read beside me. I’m so tired of him, but I can’t stop going over there.”

“Oh my God. You like him. It’s NASA, by the way. It’s the spaceship people. Not NSA. This is you gushing.” I laughed. “I’m glad, but please go easy on him. I know it’s not your nature, but try. He’s my best friend.”

She frowned. “I can’t help but go easy on him. He won’t fight with me. He just sits there. I accused him of flirting with Jessica at a hot-tub party we had at his house on Sunday. He sat on the couch, watching some special on how they’re making the astronauts retire and work in tourism. I yelled at him and he cut me off mid-screaming fit and said, “Hey babe, can you get me a drink of water?” She changed her voice to mimic a man’s for the question.

“That sounds about right.” I smiled, knowing the exact face he would have used. “Guess you’ve met your match.”

She nodded. “I’m scared though. What if I mess it up?”

“Don’t.” I shook my head. “He won’t let you. He doesn’t buy into your drama.”

“It’s kinda good.” She put a hand down on my arm and rubbed a little like Mom used to. “Aimes, can you try to get better? I know you’re sad about something, but can you just try a little harder? I can’t take this. Giselle is dying, Jaime is sick like you, and you’re scaring us with all this sleeping.”

“Yeah.” I nodded, gulping back a tear lodged in my throat. “I’m going to take a shower and get dressed now. Have the police got any idea what’s happening?”

She got up from my bed and shook her head. “No, they’re still kind of lost. I guess they found the cup she was drinking from though, so that’s good. They know what the drugs are that the rapist is using.”

I got up from my bed slowly. “What day is it?”

She smiled. “Friday. The big dance is tonight. I think Shane’s worried you won’t be able to go.”

“I’ll go. I need to go to Giselle’s to get my dress though. She wants me to wear her spring-formal dress.” I felt weird about it.

My sister’s face lit up again. “You’re going to go? I’ll drive you over when you’re done showering.”

I looked over at my open window and felt lost. Aleksander hadn’t been back. I reminded myself I didn’t care. I didn’t want him back.

The shower was relaxing on my aching back. I hadn’t done anything in nearly a week, which seemed to be killing me. I decided, even if I was dead-assed exhausted, I wasn’t going to bed until it was actual bedtime.

Wrapped in a towel, I walked into my room to dry off to find Aleksander sitting on my bed. I stood at the entrance to my room and leaned against the doorframe. “What are you doing here?”

He sat there quiet for a while, staring at the stuffed bear he was holding. It was my bear, Beary, from when I had my tonsils out when I was nine. He squished him, feeling the density of the fluff.

I raised an eyebrow at him and asked again. “What are you doing here?”

“Watching over your sister.” He smiled devilishly, not taking his eyes off Beary.

“I don’t want you here. Stop touching Beary. He doesn’t like you either.”

He looked up at me with his intense blue eyes through his long black lashes. “I want you to forgive me.” If he stood up, I would scream, I told myself.

“No. You’re bad for me. I don’t want to be your friend. You’re going to leave in a few weeks, if that. Once the pervert is caught, you won’t need to hang around and that feeling is going to come back. You’ll need to move on to the next people.”

“I know.” He nodded, still smiling dangerously at me. “It’s a predicament.”

“I have to get ready. I need to go to Giselle’s and get her dress for the dance tonight. Plus, I need to go see Jaime. She’s awake—no thanks to you.”

He stood up, looking deeply into my eyes as he seemed to fill the entire space of my room. “You’re going to the dance?” His tone was not something I wanted to trifle with.

I bit my lip, avoiding the question but allowing the look on my face to answer.

“With that Shane kid?”

I blinked.

He crossed the room in a step and looked down on me. “This is what you want?”

I winced, not able to speak, and hating the attraction I had to him. His scent filled the air around me making me frown, not at him but against my feeling anything for him.

“I don’t think it’s what you want. I know it’s not what I want.”

“I can’t go with you.” The words were so much bigger than the dance; they were everything. No matter what he did from this moment on, I couldn’t go with him.

I gripped my towel and walked past him and sat on my bed. He closed my door and came to where I was sitting. He knelt in front of me and took my left hand in his. It looked tiny and thin compared to his huge hands. “Aimee.” He kissed my hand once and spoke, “I am falling in love with you.” He kissed it twice and then turned it over and kissed my palm. He was driving my body crazy and my brain started to get foggy again. I couldn’t think around him—I seemed to only feel. It was my own version of hell.

“I don’t care.” I pulled my hand away and swallowed hard. “I want to go to the dance. I want a normal boyfriend who is human, the normal kind of human. I want everything in my life to be regular again.” I paused for a second, knowing that if I finished my thought, he would be hurt. As much as I knew I needed him to go away, I also knew it was going to crush my soul to make him go. I closed my eyes and let my mouth say the words. “I want a boyfriend who will answer my questions, not make more.” I opened my eyes, terrified of his reaction.

He leaned into me and it was as if his body grew in size. Somehow he took up all the light in the room. “If that’s what you want.” Aleksander leaned in slowly and brushed his lips against mine. Then he dove out my open window and was gone.

I still felt the warmth of his lips against mine as I attempted to process him in my mind.

I got dressed, more determined than ever to make things work with Shane, or at the very least, make it through the dance. Then I would take it one day at a time. Shane was the boy I had loved for a decade. It wasn’t going to be work with him.

I made it down the stairs to see my sister watching TV with headphones on, listening to her phone. I laughed, tapping her on the arm. “Hey, ready?”

“Yeah.” She nodded, shouting at me, “Let’s go.”

“You’re yelling.” I pointed to her ears and she pulled the baby-blue head phones off, laughing. “Oh, yeah.”

She babbled the whole drive over to Giselle’s parents’ house. I tuned her out right away with my usual thoughts of how annoying I found her friends to be. I hated how the petty story she was telling was nothing but dribble.

But then I stopped mid-criticism and looked at my sister.

She was babbling and her story was dribble, but it mattered to her. She was a passionate person and where she rarely thought about anything, she felt everything. I admired my sister, and thankfully I was still able to ignore the trashy story she tried to corrupt my intelligence with.

She parked in the driveway and waited for me. I walked up to the door and knocked. The house wasn’t huge like Shane’s or Blake’s, but it was bigger than ours. It was a very large split level. Her dad opened the door, looking very rough. His hair was ruffled and his eyes blood shot. I knew I had woken him, and he had been drinking every day he didn’t spend at the hospital with Giselle.

“Hi sir. I’m Aimee James. Giselle told me to use her dress for the dance. Can I just come in and grab it?”

He looked at me for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, she told me about that. Come on in.” He looked out at the driveway to see my sister wave at him. He waved back and closed the door.

“How is she feeling lately?” I asked, trying to be casual. I felt nervous around him.

He shrugged. “Not much better, but we heard yesterday that they may have found a donor. So, I guess she will hear something tomorrow. How are you feeling?” he asked, giving me a weird look.

“Better, thanks. Is her room this way?” I asked, pointing up the stairs to the left.

He nodded. “First door on the right. Everything is the same as it was before she got sick. I haven’t been able to go in there.”

“Okay.” I turned to smile at him but he looked weird, maybe still drunk. I turned and walked up the stairs very quickly. I didn’t want to be there. Drunk people made me nervous.

I got to the top of the stairs and entered her room. Her dad didn’t follow me, but I closed her door anyway.

Her room was just like Alise’s, a mess. There were clothes and shoes on the floor, with makeup all over a dressing table, and her bedding was ruffled all over her bed.

I walked to her closet and found the dress. It was in a dress bag. I didn’t even worry about what it looked like. I saw papers on her floor in her closet. It was stationary with handwriting. It looked like poetry.

I crouched down, trying not to get dizzy as I looked closely at the letters. They were love letters of some sort, written to Giselle but not signed. I grimaced, seeing the wording of one, and I stuffed them in the dress bag. When I left the room, I looked around for her dad. He was at the bottom of the stairs. “Want to stay for a drink?” he asked, trying to smile. I nearly threw up in my mouth.

“No thanks, sir. My sister is waiting for me. Thanks though.” I turned and hurried out the door.

I got back to the car and got in quickly. I was exhausted from the energy I had just put out and winded from exerting myself.

My sister gave me a worried look. “Did he touch you?”

I shook my head and breathed heavily. “No, he is just so creepy.”

My sister put the car in reverse and sped from the driveway. “Yeah, tell me about it.” Her eyes said a lot more than she was willing to share. She snapped out of her thoughts. “So you got the dress?”

“Yeah. And something else. Look at these.” I unzipped the bag and pulled the letters out. “Have your seen these before?” I held out the papers.

My sister looked at the stationary. “Yeah, Giselle was getting letters for a while last fall. They were from a secret admirer. No biggie.”

“No biggie?” I pulled out the one that had caught my eye in the pile at Giselle’s and held it up. “Did you ever read them?”

“No.” She shook her head. “We glanced at them but they were so stupid, all romantic and quotes from Shakespeare and crap.”

I read out loud, “Giselle, my summer rose, your lips will shine for me, glisten with my name upon them. I will bring you to ecstasy with a drop of my aphrodisiacs. You’ll moan my name and ride my—” I stopped and looked at my sister, frowning. “This is disgusting. You’re aware this isn’t Shakespeare, right? Please tell me that all of the years of high school have not been wasted. Shakespeare never said the word ‘cock’ in a poem. If he had, it would have been about a rooster or a pun or innuendo of sorts.”

She glared at me. “Spice down, saucy pants. You’re being hamtarded about this.”

I laughed at her using all the swear words I’d made up for her and asked, “Giselle didn’t have a clue who it was?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged, driving us back home to get the dress fittings started.

“Let’s find out.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked at the million texts Giselle had sent me. It was pages of new texts. She went from excited to completely desperate. Guilt flooded me, seeing the anxiety in my friend’s words.

I pressed talk and waited for the cell to ring.

“Hello.” Her voice was so weak it sickened me.

I closed my eyes, fighting back tears. “Hey.”

“Dude, where have you been?” Her weakened words cut me deeply.

“I’m so sorry. I slept through the last five days. I just couldn’t seem to shake it. How’s it going there? Your dad said something about a donor.”

“Yeah.” I could hear her shallow breath in the phone as she tried to talk. “I hear the final verdict tomorrow, I think. Right now, they’re just trying to get me through the days. My dad was the only match in my family, but his shit is damaged from all the drinking. I think he feels pretty bad.”

I cringed—how could he not feel bad? “I am coming to see you this weekend, transplant or not. But right now, I need to ask you a question. It’s going to sound awful, but just look past my snooping.”

“Okay, I’m not too worried about you and snooping, to be totally honest.”

“Good.” I sighed. “I went to your place to get the dress and when I was there, I looked in the closet. I found the secret-admirer letters you got last fall. I have been looking them over, and I think the person who sent them poisoned us. But I need to know who you think it was.” I waited in silence for her to tell me to eff off and hang up.

“I don’t know. They just kept showing up in my locker. I guess I always thought it was Tommy. I assumed, because he had a crush on me and he always got such good grades in English. It’s surprising the way he comes off as a hamtard.”

I burst out laughing. “See how easy it is to use that word? Even Alise has been using it. Okay, so Tommy gets good grades in English? Really? I never would have guessed that. Are you sure he had a crush on you? Did he hit on you?”

My sister, who was listening in, rolled her eyes at me. “Who hasn’t he hit on? He’s a pig.”

“Good call.” I nodded, imagining him being smart enough to drug someone and plan it out. I had a hard time seeing it in my head. “You think about the letters for the next little bit, as much as you can, and I will see if I can get some dirt on Tommy. I’ll get Alise to help me. She’s good with dirty boys.” I rolled my eyes at my sister who flashed a grin and turned off the car.

“I’ll text you if I think of anything. I’m telling you, if I don’t get a response, I’m coming for you, Miss James. I am coming for you.”

The thought of that, made me smile. “Deal. I will answer anything you send.”

“Later.” She hung up the phone, no doubt from loss of strength. I couldn’t believe how weak she had gotten. I looked at my sister as we sat together in the driveway, feeling not only bleak about Giselle, but also confused about the drugging pervert.

“It can’t be Tommy. I mean it could be, but I just can’t see him being smart enough,” I spoke, breaking the silence.

My sister nodded. “Yeah, he’s a goof. He’s a perve, but more of a harmless perve. Trust me, I went there once—he was very sweet and almost grateful. It was creepy, in a ‘he’s not as dirty as he seems’ sort of way.”

I frowned at her. “You had sex with him?”

“What?” She frowned back. “At least I know what sex is. You’re like a Mormon. No booze, no smoking, no drugs, no sex. Do you even drink coffee?”

I laughed, shaking my head. “Not really. Every now and then I have some espresso. I don’t like to put that much strain on my adrenal glands.”

“Oh my god. Stop.” She rolled her eyes. “Oh well, yes—I forgot about that nasty little side effect. Let’s go see if the dress fits, Cinderella.”

As Alise and I got into the house, we heard a man’s voice talking to our dad. I knew that voice, immediately. Instead of smiling like I normally would, I cringed.

“Shane, what are you doing here?” my sister asked, smiling at him and Dad. They were having what seemed to be an afternoon tea. I raised an eyebrow at them.

My dad started laughing. “They make the same faces. Do you see it, son?”

Shane laughed, nodding. “That is funny. Gray-blue eyes and silver eyes making the same expression. I was hoping you were feeling better.” He smiled the biggest grin I’d ever seen on anyone’s face. The excitement in his eyes melted my heart. “Is that your dress? Are we going?” His eyes were ridiculously hopeful. I couldn’t even imagine saying no.

“Yes. I’m feeling a lot better.” It was still a lie, but I had been out of bed for the whole day. I could have fallen asleep standing, but my mind was reeling with all of the things it had learned. Or at least, attempted to learn in the small amount of time.

“Sweet.” Shane stepped forward and hugged me tightly. “I’ll be back in a couple hours to get you.”

With that, he ran out the door excitedly. I closed off my heart to Aleksander and let Shane in. It was the right choice. I was excited to be rid of the tennis match going on inside of me.

I went to my room to start the process and to contemplate a small catnap. But instead of getting dressed, I sat in my room staring at the letters. I knew the writing from somewhere. I couldn’t place it. It reminded me of Blake, but when I thought about Blake and his chicken scratch, I shook my head. I knew it was like a word search. I needed to walk away from it and eventually the word would come to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

Happiness is in the eye of the beholder—???

 

 

The dress fit like a glove. Giselle and I were apparently the exact same size. It was an aqua-colored dress that was floor length in the back. It went from short in the front to long in the back, gradually, as it wrapped around me. The top was like a tight corset with the fabric folded vertically, but fastened tightly to the dress. It had an empire waist, with a large amount of the fabric pulled into a sweep, making it look like a belt. The belt went all the way around the dress, making up the small amount of back I had covered. It was strapless and the skirt of the dress was several layers of free-flowing, rippling fabric. There was a huge oval broach under my right breast that was silver. It sparkled from the fake diamonds.

I shook my head in amazement as my sister smiled brightly. “You look hot. Like model hot.” She pulled a pair of sparkling silver pumps from her closet and put them in front of me. I stepped into them and marveled at how I looked. I pulled my light-blonde hair out of its usual ponytail and shook my head to release the long locks.

Alise clapped. “Dad, you have to see this.”

“You even look a little tanned. Have you been tanning?” she asked, looking me up and down as I gave her my ‘remember who you are talking to’ look. She raised her hands defensively. “Okay. I was just thinking that you seem a bit tanned.”

I nodded, contemplating it. I did look a bit tanned. “You know, I don’t tan. It’s the light in here.”

My dad came into the room. His eyebrows raised in awe. “Oh my goodness, Aimee. Alise, did you do this?” His voice was a whisper, not accusing at all. He sounded proud of her.

Alise shook her head. “No, this is all Aimee, and there isn’t even any makeup yet.” She took a black and aqua-colored bracelet and hung it off my left wrist. She smiled at me in the mirror. I looked to see my dad’s eyes mist over. My sister’s eyes were not long behind him which made my eyes start to water.

My dad wrapped his arms around us both and began to sob. He held us and hugged us tightly with shaking arms.

I was losing my control as I joined what was left of our small family in a moment of sorrow. The warm wind came. I looked up, knowing it was my mom watching down on us. My skin shivered as I let my face burrow into my dad’s shoulder.

He pulled away after a few moments and nodded. “You look beautiful, and if your mom were here, she would make me tell you so.” He walked from the room and I knew he was heartbroken.

Alise walked into her bathroom and started to wash her face to get ready for the big night. She looked over at me and smiled. “I’ll do your makeup if you want.”

I shook my head. “Thanks, but I’m going to try to do my own makeup this time. I think I’m getting the hang of this girlie business.”

She laughed at me from the bathroom. “Yeah right. Well, if you mess it up, I’m right here.”

“Thanks.” I closed her bedroom door, feeling more in love with my family than I ever had. I knew in that moment, we were going to be okay. My dad had muttered the words ‘if your mom were here’ for the first time, and we had all lived. We’d cried together, we’d grieved together, and it seemed we’d finally reached the point where we could heal together.

I closed my door and sat in the chair, looking at myself. I was pretty. This had never happened to me before. Even with the red dress, I had still somehow looked like me, but in this dress I was someone else. I liked it. My gray eyes looked nice against the teal and my light, long blonde hair made me look like a mermaid. My puffy lips weren’t chapped. They looked nice.

I started to repeat the same thing Giselle had told me to do. I made my color choices to match the dress’s accessories. I did my eyes with silver and gray. My eyes had flecks of both green and blue in them, so the silver made them sparkle. I did my lips with a soft coral, because I figured aqua and coral were both from the sea, so they must match. I pulled the top of my hair into a high, half ponytail and teased my ponytail waves into soft curls. I spritzed myself with the honey vanilla my mom had always worn.

I stood up, adding a little gloss, and looked at the final product.

The warm wind blew in my window, and Aleksander stood there smiling at me from the far side of my room. The wind was the same. Exactly the same.

“You’re the warm wind.” It was a statement, not a question.

He never opened his mouth to argue, but I could see the truth in his eyes.

“How could you let me believe that my mother was here with me?”

He didn’t answer. He stepped toward me to explain, but I put my arms up.

“No, you let me pretend you were my mom. How could you do it? I believed she was there with me. I believed all of my mom’s love and intention was in that wind, and instead, it was you.”

He looked ashamed. “It’s just what happens when I move. You assumed it was your mom. You still needed her, and she was gone. I should have told you, and I’m sorry, but in my defense, you should never have known about me. When you were better and your family was healed, I would have left. I would have gone, taking that wind with me, and you would have been at peace knowing she was in Heaven.”

I felt betrayed and disgusted. I knew the common sense in what he was saying was there, somewhere, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Instead, I thought about the millions of private things I had told him, thinking he was my mom. The intrusion into my deepest thoughts made me sick. “I told you everything. I told you private things.”

“I just listened. You needed someone to listen.”

Tears threatened to ruin my efforts.

He ignored my words and walked to me, pulling me into him. He held me for a moment, talking, “Aimee, I’m so sorry. I wish I had more time to grovel appropriately, but I don’t. I need you to try to not focus on hating me just yet. We need to focus on the thing we’ve both dreaded—I have to leave tonight. I can feel the pull.”

I wanted to cry in frustration. He was like a roller-coaster ride for my heart. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“I don’t care.” I shook my head. “You’re going to ruin my makeup, and this is my first time doing it completely on my own, which sounds ridiculous, and I know that. I need you to try to wait till the end of my night before ruining it.”

“I know.” He nodded and pulled back to look at me. “You are the most beautiful girl in the world but makeup isn’t your thing.” His eyes grew intense. “Are you still going with him?”

“Yeah.” I left it at that. Shane was my safe harbor. The place my heart was protected.

His eyes narrowed again and he pressed his lips into a tight smile. “You go and have a great night. I will see you after the dance, okay?” He looked serious. “Stay at his side the entire night.”

“Why would you ask that?”

“I will explain everything tonight before I leave, but promise me you’ll stay by his side.”

“Fine.” “Since we are talking about the drugging rapist of doom, will you tell me one thing? Are the letters from him?”

He frowned. “What letters?”

“Here.” I picked up the letter I had been reading from my dressing table. “These letters.”

“I don’t know.” He read it and shook his head. “It sounds pretty creepy.” He tilted his head. “You know I’m not psychic, right? I’m not omnipresent like God.”

“I don’t know.” I laughed. “I just thought you might know.”

He rubbed his hands on my bare arms, warming me from the inside. I had been feeling weak and exhausted until he touched me. “See you later.” He was there and then he was gone.

When I got downstairs, I got the speech of doom from my dad.

“No drinks you didn’t crack open, and don’t even drink from the water fountain. No boys, except Shane, and he doesn’t touch you except to hold your hand at the most.” Dad paced the kitchen, ranting as my sister and I exchanged looks of bewilderment. He seemed more savage than normal.

Shane knocked on the door, saving us from the chastity belts and curfews. I jumped at the door, feeling a slight head rush. I trembled a tiny amount before I got my hand on the door to steady myself.

Blake stood there beside Shane. Both were in black tuxes with shiny black shoes and white roses. I laughed. “The Blues Brothers are here.” I opened the door up wide for them to come in.

My dad laughed at the comment, but my sister looked confused. “They’re wearing black, dummy.” Yeah, I was the dummy.

Both guys looked astonished as they stood completely still, staring at me.

I looked at my sister who raised an eyebrow and shrugged.

Blake, finally taking at least one of his eyes off of me, turned to my sister. “You look incredible.”

She really did. Her dress was silver like her eyes and cut perfectly. She had her thick dark hair flowing around her shoulders which were bare. Her skin was tanned and glowing. Her dress was a halter style with the thinnest straps imaginable and a cross-stitched pattern in silver beads and gems. It was a corset and skirt. The skirt was pleated and long with a soft flow and a shine to the silk material. She had blue eye makeup with plump pink lips. Her earrings were huge silver dangling ones that matched her crystal and silver bracelet. She had strappy silver slingbacks on. She looked like a supermodel. When she turned around to say goodbye to me, I noticed her entire back was bare. The halter straps crossed thinly in the back and the skirt of the dress hugged the very top of her bum.

My dad gulped, looking at her sternly. “Same rules apply for you.” He shook his head as he looked at the guys. “You boys take good care of my girls, are we clear?”

Blake nodded but Shane had still not come out of his coma.

My dad snapped his fingers in front of Shane’s eyes and grinned as Shane came back, blinking. “You look amazing, Aimee.”

“Thanks.” I smiled at him and sipped my glass of water. I sat it down and kissed my dad on the cheek. “Night, Dad. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”

He looked worried, regardless of what I said.

Alise kissed his cheek and patted his back. “It’s okay, Daddy. I think I saw something about a special on Discovery Channel tonight on astro-psychics. Should be fun.”

He nodded weakly and walked us to the door. “It’s astrophysics, sweetie. I have it taping.”

I laughed as she shrugged, not fazed, but Blake grinned. “Astro-psychics—is that a space psychic?”

She smacked him in the arm, making me laugh harder.

Shane offered me his arm, his gaze fighting desperately to focus on my eyes. Half my chest was exposed and my breasts were pretty much popping out the top of the dress. Not that much was left from the sickness, but what was there was fully exposed. I would have cursed Giselle under my breath, but she needed prayers more.

Before I took his arm, I hugged Blake.

He hugged me back.

“I feel naked,” I whispered to him.

“You are.” He smiled at me as I pulled away. I knew we were going to be okay.

I looked around me and decided this was the life I wanted. When Aleksander left, he would take a little piece of my heart with him. He would also take all of the air I had breathed for nearly a year, but I would survive on the air from the people surrounding me, and Giselle. I had survived heartbreak before, one much more severe than the imminent one would be.

I took Shane’s arm and looked up at him. Butterflies danced inside of me as he squeezed my arm. He was warm and inviting. He was flesh and blood, and he didn’t fly through the air or pretend to be something he wasn’t. Shane had never lied to me about anything. In that moment, Shane’s honesty was more attractive than a crooked smile and the bluest eyes ever created.

Shane kissed my cheek and turned us both around to face my dad. He put his hand out. “Goodnight, sir, and don’t worry—I will have her home at a respectable hour.”

My dad tried hard to hide his love for Shane. “You’d better,” he said sternly.

Blake followed Shane’s lead, having never dated a real girl before, and put his hand out.

My dad smiled, looking at least a little relieved as we walked out onto the porch. He looked over at our dates once more. “Well, you kids have a good time.”

We walked out into the cool night air. Shane took me to his truck and opened the door. “Wow, Aimee, like wow. That dress and your hair. It’s going to be a long night.” He bent and kissed me. “Remind me later that I have self-control, okay?”

“Okay.” I giggled. “You look great too.”

“I look like your butler. You look—wow.” He walked around to the other side of the truck, still talking to himself.

Blake took my sister to the car he had arranged, with a driver who stood before my sister in his suit and top hat. She waved at me as she gushed and climbed into the car.

I smiled at her, feeling so many good things all at once. I didn’t have to fight to keep the bad things down deep. It seemed the wall I had built had crumbled down and filled in the moat. I didn’t need any of it anymore. I didn’t need Aleksander either. I wanted him in some ways, but choosing him was like choosing a lifetime of heartache. I’d already suffered through that.

I looked out at the night sky as it darkened and made a mental note that I would let him go. I would let this be my life. Normal. It was secretly everything I had ever wished for. Secretly.

We walked up to the huge doors of the school, where the dance was held in the gymnasium. The teachers were there with the spring-formal committee. They were taking the five dollars the dance cost per person. Teachers were checking each person to see if any intoxicated people were coming in.

Police were standing around in plain clothes but with their weapons on their hips, like detectives in the city would wear. I breathed a small sigh of relief seeing Officer Bindley. He smiled at me, giving me a knowing look.

Shane paid our entrance fee and walked me in. Mr. Mac was already talking to Blake and laughing as my sister stood there looking confused.

Mr. Mac stopped talking when I walked in. He smiled at me, very nearly blushing. “Well, well, Cinderella. You have cleaned up for the ball, I see. You look fantastic, kid. I always knew you had it in you.”

I blushed as Shane squeezed my arm. “Thanks. I feel a little weird being in a fancy dress, but this is my last chance at doing it.”

“That’s funny.” He looked concerned. “How are you feeling?”

“Good days and bad. Today is good.”

He rubbed my arm. “I’m so glad to hear that. I have been very worried about you.”

“Thanks, Mr. Mac. I’m just glad the year’s almost up and I can take the summer to relax and focus on my health.”

He nodded. “Yes, school is almost up. Well, I better be getting back to chaperoning. I’d hate for anyone to say I slacked off.” He gave me a sideways glance, smiling one last time. I smiled back and let myself be dragged to the dance floor with Shane.

He looked down at me as he led me into a slow waltz. “You look incredible.”

“Stop. Seriously.” I rolled my eyes. “You said that already. I hate that I look like this amazingly hot babe and everyone is nodding when they look at me. It’s like my sister was right all along, and a little care and attention wouldn’t have killed me. Of course then everyone would have let me get by on my looks and not on my merit and hard work. That path leads to either marrying an old-ass billionaire or working at Target and everyone saying, ‘Man, I bet she was something to look at back in the day.’ You know?”

He laughed. “Ah, but you’re still the bitter cynic that I love.” I didn’t know what I was about to say when he said the words, but I stopped breathing.

He bent to kiss my cheek. He lingered at the side of my face. “I do love you, Aimee. I have loved you since we were five and you saved all the worms on the sidewalk when it rained in kindergarten. I’ll never forget you putting them into a plastic pail. Hundreds of creepy slithering worms put in a pail, under the back deck at your house. You stayed with those dirty bastards until it stopped raining and then you released them.”

I laughed into his chest as he continued, “I loved you in grade seven, when that girl Robin got picked on by the mean girls. You found the maxi pad colored with red felt marker stuck on her bag, and before anyone came around the corner, you grabbed it and stuck it to your bag. You think no one saw, but I did.” I remembered that and the merciless torture I got for it from the mean girls.

My head was spinning but he continued, “I loved you in grade ten when Grace Mellotti’s dog got hit by that car and you carried him three miles to the vet’s office. You saved his life, even though Grace had made your life hell.”

He kissed the other side of my face. “I loved you last summer so much, but when your mom got killed, I couldn’t bring myself to ask you out. So I went to your sister and asked her about you. She told me you were madly in love with some nerdy kid and I thought I had missed the boat. I panicked while asking your sister about you and accidentally acted like I wanted to ask her out.” His voice was filled with regret. “I am so sorry I never manned up and just asked you out.”

I laughed nervously. “You make me sound like a saint. I have done bad things in my life, FYI.” My head was swimming in the emotions.

He raised his eyebrows in doubt.

I shrugged. “Okay, well not bad, but stuff. I’ve lost library books and let my sister take the blame. I wanted to try to peroxide my doll’s hair lighter than it is when I was in fifth grade, but I was nervous about doing it. She was my fave, the only one I actually ever played with. I thought the bleach might ruin her hair, but I wanted it to match mine. So one night I filled a spray bottle with water and peroxide and I sprayed Alise’s hair. In the morning, her hair was a tacky color of copper brown and all streaky. When my mom yelled at her for trying to dye her hair, I never fessed up that it was me. It cost my mom a fortune to fix it and Alise got so confused that she tells the story now like it was her idea.” I still felt a small bit of shame for that one.

Shane laughed. “Your sister was an evil brat so it isn’t hard to imagine her doing bad things like that. Surely your mom knew she was evil?”

“Yeah, my mom knew. Her sister is exactly the same.” I looked him deeply in the eyes. “Shane, I am so lucky to be with you.” I meant it.

He smiled. “Ditto.” We hugged and danced slowly, enjoying each other. I loved the fact that he was my history. He knew everything about me and remembered the things that made me proud of myself.

We danced for a few minutes before he stopped again and looked at me very seriously. “Where is that Aleksander guy? Have you seen him?”

“Yeah.” I nodded, trying desperately to keep my emotions under check and not reveal anything in my looks. “I’ve seen him a few times, but he’s not the bad guy. I know you want him to be, but he’s really not. I saw the guy that day—he had a different face than Aleksander. Besides, Aleksander is leaving town tonight, I think.”

“Good.” He nodded, processing the information. “Speaking of bad guys, I am joining the police force. I take the test in the city in two weeks.” He said it and left it out there for me to think about or comment on.

“Oh my god.” I smiled at him, proud of him for making a choice that would better himself. Even more so, I was desperately grateful we could stop talking about Aleksander. “Good for you. That’s a great fit for you, I think.”

“You really think so?” He watched my reaction, letting a smile grow on his face.

We had covered a lot of relationship areas in one night. It was a bit intense for my first dance, first boyfriend, and first love. “Will you wait for me?” He raised his eyebrows and grinned.

“Yes, of course. It’s only six months of training, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it isn’t exactly a huge wait. What if I end up being a city cop?”

I shrugged. “Cross that bridge when we get there?”

“Okay. It’s a long ways away. I’m not even guaranteed to get past all of the tests. They’re pretty intense.” He kissed my hand. “I just want us to be together, like boyfriend and girlfriend together. Are we there yet?”

“Yeah. I think we just arrived there.” I knew I had another door to close before we were completely there, but I wanted him more than anything else.

We stopped dancing and walked to the punch table where two parent chaperones stood watch. I smiled at them as Shane got us both a drink. He drank his before I had any. He smiled, knowing what I was doing. “It’s safe, Aimes—that’s Becky Magee’s mom. She’s a Baptist.”

I drank the punch.

We went and sat at a table where my sister and Blake were sitting with a few other people.

“So, the police force—I watched a show on it once. It was brutal. It’s like the marines. Police boot camp is savage, but the guys seemed so confident and proud of their accomplishments there. Are you excited?” I asked, trying to keep the conversation light.

“I saw that one too. It looked pretty intense. Yeah, I’m excited, but I have a long process before I’m in.”

“I’m really proud of you.” I wanted to encourage him. His parents were living for themselves and he had such potential. It would be a shame for him to spend his life in our little town working for his dad. I looked down the table at Blake, who looked happy talking to my sister. She looked partly mystified and the rest happy.

The girl next to us was named Nadine. She was one grade behind us. Her boyfriend, William, was graduating with us. Nadine whispered to me, “You look pretty. I didn’t even recognize you. You look like a model. Like your sister.” It was a backhanded compliment, but I knew she meant well.

“Thanks.” I smiled at her. “You do too.” Her long brown hair was pulled up into a French twist and her yellow satin halter dress was very form fitting. She looked amazing for a sixteen-year-old.

“Have you heard how Jaime is doing?” she asked.

“No.” I shook my head. “I have been meaning to go see her. Have you heard?”

She nodded. “Yesterday I heard that she woke up but that she doesn’t remember anything. She seems to be on the mend, I guess. Kind of creepy, huh—the whole thing?”

I nodded, watching Shane start talking to Tommy, who was beside him. My sister tried to be discreet as she eyeballed Tommy and then me.

I scowled, trying not to respond to her. We both were watching him talk to Shane. His lips were full and thick. He had crooked teeth in the front. He had a very tiny mole on his left cheek, low on his face. None of which the rapist had. Tommy was creepy enough to do a lot of things, but I could never believe him to be that creepy.

He was off the list.

The dance was a booming success, not that I had anything to compare it to. My sister appeared to be having a great time with her friends. I worried about Blake though. At one point he made eye contact with me. He looked uncertain of his surroundings, but also of us. I nodded, hoping to reassure him that we were fine. It was a conversation that was eventually going to have to happen, but not right then.

I was feeling light-headed and excused myself to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t focus my eyes and I was starting to sweat a little. Shane gave me a worried look, but I shook my head at him and walked toward the bathroom.

Mr. Mac walked toward me, smiling. “Hey kid, you look a little pale. You feeling okay?”

“Yeah, just still a bit weak, I guess. Who knows how long that’s going to last.”

“You’ve had quite the year, haven’t you? Well, take it easy.” He frowned at me like my dad did sometimes. Usually when I got caught for going along with whatever bad idea my sister had convinced me of.

I walked around the corner to the girls’ bathroom. I barely made it into the bathroom when I started to pass out. The warm breeze came as I slipped into Aleksander’s arms. I couldn’t see him. My world went black.

Everything was dark and calm and then I heard a voice. “Aimee, please wake up. Please or I’m taking you back to the hospital. Please wake up.”

I strained to open my eyes, but the focus took longer than I expected. “Aleksander, you’re here?” I knew the answer, but I needed to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.

My eyes fuzzed out and then focused on his worried face. “Yeah, I’m here. Just hold on to me. Did you drink anything at the dance?”

“No.” I shook my head. “Just the punch the Baptists were guarding. It was clean, trust me. Everyone else is fine. I think it’s my body still.”

“I can’t stay any longer. I feel the pull already taking me somewhere else. But I can’t leave you sick like this. None of this should have happened.” His voice was thick with emotion. “This is all my fault. I’ve made such a mess.”

“It’s not your fault. You always make me feel better. Just being near you is enough.” I smiled, trying to reassure him. “I’ve feel like I’m getting sicker except when I’m with you. It’s not you.”

He closed his eyes and groaned. “Nooooo. Oh no. I’ve done this to you. You’re in organ failure, that’s what’s wrong with you. I am an idiot.”

“No.” I shook my head. “No, the doctors said I was fine. My eyes aren’t yellow and my skin isn’t. I have energy, not much, but some. I would be weak and sick all the time if I was in failure.”

“As long as I’m here, you’re going to feel fine. It’s only the symptoms that are being masked, not the actual problem. Like that headache you had that I took away. I never cured the headache, only made the pain go away. I’ve been touching you and near you so much that it’s masked your illness. We need to get you back now. Your body probably was fine when you left the hospital, but it went sometime in the last couple weeks. “

“Shit.” I looked around. “Where are we?”

He smiled, making my heart skip a few beats. “The beach I took you to the first night.”

I looked around me and saw it all clearly now, the waves crashing and the sand beneath me. The cool ocean air was clearing my head.

“I need to go back to the school for a minute. I need to say goodbye to my sister, Shane, and Blake. In case.”

He bent down and picked me up. He tensed like he was about to take off again. “I need to take you to the hospital now.”

I shook my head. “I know what happens to someone who goes into organ failure. I am at least a couple hours by helicopter from a major hospital. In this small town, I will be dead by morning. I will be flown to the city the minute I get to the hospital and once I’m away from you I might not survive. That means that I won’t be seeing anyone else for a while or again. I need to tell them I’m okay. They’re going to worry if I don’t, and I can’t explain how I got myself to a hospital. Not without outing you on the weird traveling thing you do. They’ll send out a search party.”

“Fine.” His jaw tensed and the warm wind came. I leaned into him as much as I could, taking as much of the painkiller off of his skin as I could. I didn’t understand the science behind a person giving off a soothing pheromone that stopped pain but in that moment I didn’t care. I didn’t try to understand, I was too tired. My skin felt like it was in a cold fire, and my head was starting to pound so much, my eyes burned.

He walked in through the back door of the school at the gymnasium entrance and put me down outside of the bathroom. “No one but you can see me right now, okay? So don’t talk to me. I will walk with you and keep a hand on you at all times.”

“Okay.” I sighed.

As we walked from the hallway, he held a hand on my shoulder, making me feel weird. I knew it was essential to have him touching me if I wanted to stay upright.

Shane looked at me oddly. He stood up from the table and walked over frowning. “Hey, you okay? You look sick.” He reached down and picked up my hands. “You’re freezing.”

“I don’t feel so good.” I felt awkward with him touching my hands and Aleksander holding my shoulder, like my love triangle had come to its head. “I’m getting my dad to come get me. I feel sick again. I need to go back to the hospital. Thanks for bringing me here.”

He leaned down and kissed my cheek. “Thanks for coming with me, Aimee. You’ve made this the best night of my life. I’ll walk you out and come with you.”

I felt dirty and panicked. “No, that’s okay. Stay and enjoy. He’s waiting for me outside. Seriously, don’t worry. Tell my sister and Blake I went with my dad, okay? I need you to stay and make sure my sister is okay, you know—the rapist.”

He looked at me and frowned. “I should come with you. Your dad won’t mind.”

“Yeah, I know. But he wants me to go with him, just me. He said he wants to talk about something.” I seriously was the worst liar ever. Four-year-olds could be more convincing.

My stomach twisted with the guilt and lies as Shane’s face filled with disappointment. “Okay. Well, let me walk you out.”

I didn’t know what else to say, so I turned and started to walk out. The music was at a quiet moment in between songs. Then somewhere in the crowd I heard it.

The bird squawk ringtone.

It happened once and then again, just like in the woods. I turned, looking around to see Mr. Mac pick his phone out of his pocket as he answered it. I looked at his mouth as he was talking, his thin lips moving quietly into the phone. How had I missed how thin his lips were?

His eyes shot over to me, seeing the look of recognition on my face. He turned to leave the gym quickly.

“Shane—it’s Mr. Mac. It’s him! He’s the rapist,” I shouted, pointing. The room began to spin in confusion as Shane ran and tackled the fleeing teacher.

“You son of a bitch.” He held him face down on the hard floor and sat on his shoulders, pinning him to the ground.

Mr. Mac was a strong-looking man, but Shane was very imposing standing next to him. Sprawled out on top of him, it was clear Mr. Mac didn’t stand a chance. Shane used to play football and weight lifted. Mr. Mac was a nerd, a fit nerd, but a nerd nonetheless.

Blake came running over, looking outraged. I shook my head. “No Blake, it’s him. He did this to me. He is the rapist.”

“No.” Blake shook his head in disbelief as his mentor was held on the ground. My sister was already calling for the police officers in the corridors, as were a few others, no doubt. Mrs. Sinclair, our principal, was trying to break up the fight. Everyone was attempting to explain the struggle to her, before she helped free the pervert.

Mr. Mac turned his face and looked at me. His thin lips curled up into a smile. His always-friendly eyes turned merciless as he watched me. I felt dirty knowing what his intentions had been in the woods that day. His face would haunt my dreams forever. His look sent a shiver down my spine.

The warm air filled the space around me and I knew that no matter what, in that moment I was at least safe from the stalker. Shane looked back at me to see if I was okay, his worried face ripping my heart out.

The stress of the moment was more than I could bear, and I shivered with the cold burning skin again. I was slipping away.

I dialed my cell phone. “Dad, meet me at the hospital. I’m going there now. I’m fine, just sick.” I hung up before he could ask questions I didn’t want to answer.

Aleksander tugged on my shoulder as I was steered to the bathroom. In the chaos I got away before anyone noticed me leaving again. He picked me up and ran out the back door as again I slipped out of consciousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

Eternity is a long time to be dead.

 

“There is no way we can treat her here. The helicopter will be here in about fifteen minutes. She needs to go to Portland,” a woman spoke.

“This is just insanity—she was getting better. She was just sleeping a lot. The doctor said she needed a lot of sleep.” My dad was stressed.

I opened one of my eyes to find Aleksander beside my bed holding my hand. His eyes looked haunted, as if he were looking at a ghost. I took that as a bad sign. The pain was gone completely. I wondered if it was him or drugs preventing me from feeling the brutal agony.

The hardness of his expression made his face even more tragically beautiful, but like all great works of art, he had a flaw. I could read him like a book. One of us was leaving, either him or me. I just didn’t know which one it was. Not that it mattered.

“When?” I whispered, so my dad wouldn’t hear.

Aleksander closed his eyes for a second. “I don’t know. I should already be at my next place, but I can’t leave you. I can fight the urge to leave a while longer, I think.”

“Will you ever come back?” my whisper cracked under the emotional strain. I wasn’t so sure I was ready to be rid of my guardian angel, not yet.

“No.” He bit his upper lip. “I don’t know. I shouldn’t.”

A tear slipped from my tired eyes as I whispered, “Then you should probably go.”

He gripped my hand harder. “Don’t say that. I love you more than anything. I can’t bear the thought that I will have to leave you, let alone live in a world where you don’t exist.”

“Just go. Someone else needs you now.”

He took a step away from me and was across the room in an instant.

My dad came to my bedside, his eyes puffy and distressed. “Aimes. Hey kiddo, you’re awake. You’re leaving for Portland here in a minute. How are you feeling?”

I licked my lips. “Pretty good, just tired.” I looked behind my dad to see the older police officer. “Sergeant Williams,” I whispered.

“Sorry to interrupt.” He nodded at me and walked into the room, closing the door so it was just my dad and him. “I just want you to know that we have him, and it’s airtight. I shouldn’t be saying this, it’s against policy, but the chemistry teacher’s house was full of the stuff to make the drugs. We have everything being sent to labs to ensure it’s the same, but I know it is. We found a shrine to your friend Giselle, pictures of your sister and Jaime. His handwriting appears to match the love letters too. So I want you to be able to go to the city at peace with this.” His eyes glistened as he put a hand on my dad’s shoulder and squeezed.

“Thanks.”

“Take care and I hope you have a speedy recovery. See you around, Don.” The sergeant left.

“Thanks.” My dad smiled at him and turned back to me. “Well, at least that part is over.”

“Yeah.” I nodded, not sure whether to throw up or go back to sleep.

The stretcher came as Shane did. He looked sexy. He had changed into jeans and a t-shirt that stretched across his chest.

“Hey.” He smiled nervously as he ran his hands through his hair. “So, Aimes, I think it’s safe to say you are by far the worst prom date— ever.” He knelt at my bedside and kissed my hand. Shane’s face was a mess and his hands trembled when he touched mine.

“Yeah, well, it was my pleasure.” I forced a smile back at him as I stroked the bruising and cuts on his face from the fight. “You’re hurt.”

“No.”

“They’re taking her now, Shane. Are you coming with me to Portland?” I was stunned my dad asked him that.

“Yeah.” Shane nodded. “I’ll drive, Mr. James. You look beat.” He never took his eyes off of me as he spoke. It was comforting, knowing he would be there for my dad.

The quiet of the hospital broke with the shrill screams of my sister. “Aimee, Aimee!” She was searching for me. No doubt running through the halls of the hospital in her full gown. I could swear I heard her heels clicking. Alise’s face was panic stricken as she jumped on me, crushing me a little. “Aimes, oh my God. Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I forced a smile as her skinny arms choked me. “I just need to go to the city and get checked out.”

“Okay.” She nodded, taking a huge gulp. “They took Jaime too, this afternoon. I think that son of bitch should get a life sentence. Or a death sentence.”

“Alise!” my dad whispered harshly.

“What?” Alise frowned at him. “Well, I do. He’s nearly killed everyone I love. I can say whatever I want.” Alise started to cry. I wanted to comfort her, but she just did the drama so well I could barely watch. She sat still on my bed, looking at me with tears running down her perfect face onto her full lips. Her eyes looked like molten silver, they were so shiny.

Blake walked in looking worried but also confused. He was obviously still in shock. It would be hard for him to believe that the man he had loved so dearly could have been the rapist. I was having a hard time believing it myself. I adored him as a teacher too.

The ambulance and helicopter people walked into my room, after waiting in the hall to allow my family time to say goodbye. “We can’t wait any longer. Sorry, folks,” one of them said sympathetically.

My dad kissed my cheek. “See you in a few hours, kiddo.” He stepped back so Alise could have her moment.

“Aimee, be strong and get better, okay?” She kissed my cheek, leaving sticky lip gloss all over. I rubbed it off, frowning at her, which she ignored, walking into Blake’s arms.

Blake hugged her and then walked to me. “I miss you in class, Aimes. You need to get better so we can hang out a little more.” I nodded, and tried to ignore the lump in my throat. He kissed me on the cheek and whispered in my ear, “I love you, Aimes. You’re my best friend.” He stood wiping his eyes and walked away with Alise. He put an arm around her as she sobbed.

Shane knelt back at my bedside. “I love you. I will bring your dad to the hospital. Don’t worry about him. I will see you in a few hours.” He kissed me on the lips, just brushing them. My eyes flickered to the huge Viking behind him that no one but me could see.

“See you guys in the city.” I tried to look healthy.

They all nodded as I was loaded.

Aleksander looked broken but stayed with me as we wheeled out to the helicopter. He climbed onboard, sitting beside me, never taking his eyes off of me.

The new hospital room was a lot bigger with machines everywhere. I was put on dialysis just as Giselle had been, and Jaime was on currently. We were all on the same floor but different rooms. Aleksander stayed beside my bed, still not speaking, which made me nervous. He looked like he was struggling to remain with me. I knew he would leave sooner than later.

“What if I die and become like you?”

“I’m cursed not dead. Besides, I would never want this for you. Eternity is a long time.” He walked toward me and picked up my frail hand. He frowned. “You will always have my heart, Aimee. You are everything I needed to feel again, and I thank God every day that we met. I was a shell for hundreds of years and you’ve awakened my soul again. But there is no way that I would deny you the freedom of the afterlife.”

“Are there others like you?” I asked, staring up at the ceiling. I didn’t want to hear his declarations of love.

“Yeah, some things close to what I am,” he spoke quietly.

“Have you met them?” I asked, treading carefully. I wanted him to answer.

“Yeah.”

“Tell me something, Aleksander. Something you don’t want to. Just one thing and I won’t ask any more questions.” My throat was hurting from the amount of tears that had sat in it for hours.

A dark figure appeared in the doorway, interrupting us.

“What are you doing here?” Aleksander was off the bed within a second and pinning a dark-haired man against a wall.

“Easy.” The man laughed, holding his hands in the air. “So, she can see you now, brother? Interesting. What did you do to make that happen?” he was British. He didn’t sound or look like Aleksander but he called him brother.

“Get out and leave her alone.” Aleksander pointed at the hall.

“Did you offer her immortality to save her life just yet?” The man asked. His dark eyes were unbearable to look at and yet I couldn’t look away. He had the blackest eyes ever, like his pupils were the only things there, no irises. He was shorter than Aleksander, but not by much. And not that it mattered. Something about the way he stood commanded respect. Not because he was old, he wasn’t. I would guess twenty-five at most. His confidence contradicted his dimples. He dressed different from people I knew. Aleksander and all my other friends always looked like they were going backpacking. The dark-haired man was wearing khakis with a white long-sleeve dress shirt open casually at the neck. He looked like he should be on a beach somewhere, or as if he came here from a vacation, without any time to change. His dark hair was styled funky, spikey and shiny.

The man winked at me and the two of them were gone. I was alone with a million more questions and the deep feeling of betrayal.

Aleksander didn’t offer me immortality. He didn’t even try to save me. He was accepting my illness and possible death instead of bearing the thought of me with him for the rest of his life. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t need to say anything. He’d said it all.

Eternity was a long time.

Clearly too long to take me with him.

I sat on my bed alone and frustrated when Jaime walked in. She looked amazing. Her face was healthy again, not sallow and gaunt like mine was. She smiled brightly at me.

“Jaime.” I felt hopeful. If she looked that good from the dialysis, maybe I would be on the mend too. Then I could go back to Shane and forget all about this.

“Hey.” Her eyes looked a little funny, sparkly maybe. “How are you feeling?”

I shook my head. “Not so good. You look good though.”

She nodded and sat on my bed. “Yeah, I finally feel great. I think that last bit of meds really just did me in. I’m finally better.”

“They caught him. It was Mr. Mac.”

“No way. Him?”

“I know, right? He was always so nice to me.”

She scowled. “Not me. He was a dick to me. Once he kicked me out of class and when we were in the hall, he yelled at me. He told me to stop dressing like a slut unless I wanted to be treated like one. He said I deserved to be treated like a slut.” Her face grew sad for a moment.

“Don’t believe anything he said. He’s a criminal and a pervert. Have you seen Giselle?”

“Yeah.” She nodded. “She got her kidney transplant notification. It’s on, as soon as they get the organ here. She’s looking pretty bad right now.”

“I’m glad.” I smiled. “At least she’s getting the transplant. That’s fantastic news.”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

Aleksander unexpectedly walked through the doorway looking nervously at Jaime as he brushed past her.

Jaime smiled at him. “Are you him?”

“No. I’m not.” My heart skipped a beat as Aleksander answered calmly, but his eyes were screaming at me.

“Oh.” She sighed. “Okay, well I guess I better go back to my room, so he knows where to find me.”

Confusion had me spinning in circles. “You can see him?” I asked Jaime.

“Yeah.” She laughed and nodded. “I’m surprised you can, though. I don’t think that’s a very good sign.”

“Why?” I looked at Aleksander and waited for some kind of answer but he offered nothing. As usual.

The dark-haired man walked back in the doorway. He grinned at Jaime briefly, but then focused on me. I was uncomfortable with his eyes on me. It was like he was undressing me, even in my weak and dying state. He stood behind Aleksander who was also watching me intently.

Jaime walked from the room, squeezing past them both. She turned and looked back at me. “I hope you make it, Aimes. Say goodbye to your sister for me.” She walked out of the room, leaving me with the two men and no clue what was going on. I had a guess, but it was not realistic. “Is. She. Dead?” The words left my lips sounding empty.

Aleksander nodded. He looked as if he wanted to speak but never did.

I started to cry. “She died.” My statement made me feel worse. “If she died then I—” I stopped myself before I could say it.

He was across the room in one long step. “No, you won’t die like her. The dialysis is already helping and there is hope of a kidney. Giselle is getting hers as soon as it gets here.” His eyes were trying to hypnotize me, but I was too scared to buy into it.

I shook my head. “The odds of two kidneys showing up are slim to none. And we will both likely need livers too. We’re in organ failure. I’m not an idiot. Who are you?” I asked the guy leaning against the far wall, still watching me intently.

He grinned at me. “I am Aleks’ brother.”

“You’re cursed to help people, too?” I whispered.

“No.” He laughed. “Not so much, love. I am sort of the opposite of Aleks here.”

“Aleks?” I frowned, using his nickname for the first time. “Care to explain?”

“He’s like a dark angel.” He bit his lip.

“Like a demon?” I couldn’t believe I was saying that.

“Yeah.” Aleks looked back at him. “I like to think of him that way.”

“Is everything true? Is there a tooth fairy and goblins as well?” I was overwhelmed as tears streamed down my cheeks.

“No.” The demon shook his head. “Pretty sure the tooth fairy is a fairy tale. Goblins are fairly hard to find nowadays.”

“I don’t care.” I scoffed and grabbed a tissue to wipe my face. “This is bullshit. I am sick and dying. My friend has just died. My other friend is waiting for a transplant, and here you both are. An immortal not-quite-angel and an immortal demon, hanging out in my room. You immortals really feel the need to be here to rub your immortality in my face?” I didn’t look at either of them.

When Aleks tried to touch me, I pulled away. I winced as the arm I jerked had my IV in it. The stabbing pain of the IV caused me to shake as I pulled it into my chest to protect it.

The pain was more than I could take. I lost it.

“I hate you.” Hatred burned in my eyes as I glared at Aleks. “My father is going to lose everything because of you. I will never have children to tell about my mom. She will never live on in their memory. I will never go to university. I will never fall into a love so deep that it can’t be cured. I will never get married and have someone believe in me, us. I’m dying because you didn’t do a very good job as my guardian angel. This is your fault. You could have told me about Mr. Mac and spared Jaime her death. Everything is your fault. I hate you and I want you to go away and never come back.” Tears streamed down my cheeks as pain ripped me apart. The heart monitors started to go wild, making all kinds of noise.

His bright blue eyes filled with tears as he walked out the doorway.

Nurses came running past him with needles and stethoscopes. The demon still standing in the doorway bothered me. He had a smug look, as if he enjoyed what he’d seen.

But then everything went black, not like I was sleeping, just blind.

A dark voice taunted me. “Aimee, Aimee.”

I struggled to get my eyes open, hearing my name. I managed to get one open and focused it on the face of the stranger.

“There you are. Right, first thing’s first. Your family is nearly here which will be bad timing. I have something I to give you that will help you through this. But it needs to happen before you die or it won’t work.” His English accent made me happy. He sounded like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I struggled with the other eye and finally got it open as well. I blinked, focusing on him.

“You’re young. You look my age but you talk older,” I whispered, not sure if it had been out loud or not.

“And you’re incredibly high right now.” He nodded shamelessly. “Try to focus. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“There.” He pointed to the doorway. “In about thirty minutes your family is going to walk through that door and then it will be too late to save you.”

Still confused I shook my head and closed my eyes again. I was so tired. “I don’t care. I’m exhausted. I just want to sleep.”

“But do you want to live, Aimee?” His words burned through me and my mind screamed yes.

I opened my eyes again, fighting to stay awake. “Yes.”

“Okay then.” He nodded. “You need to do something. It’s going to hurt. Not right away but eventually it will.”

“What’s your name?”

“Why?” He narrowed his gaze.

“I feel like we’ve met before, like in a dream or something.”

He dragged a hand down the side of my cheek, lingering too long but I was too tired to fight him. “Dorian, my love. My name is Dorian.”

“Dorian.” I whispered back, certain I’d heard it before.

“Now the important parts of this are as follows. You need to bite the inside of your mouth and make it bleed. I will do the same. We will then kiss and my blood will mix with yours in your mouth and you will swallow it.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” I scoffed with the last of my energy.

He glanced at the doorway. “Before Aleks changes his mind and comes back to stop this, you need to do it.”

I thought for a moment. “Will I die?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “It’s a death of sorts. You’ll be just like Aleks—live forever and that sort of nonsense. But first, you need to do as I say. The window is passing rapidly.”

“Okay.” I panicked, not sure what I was getting myself into. Everything hurt; I didn’t know what else to do. I nodded and bit down on my lip as hard as I could but it didn’t bleed, only stung. “Ow.” I cringed in pain and took a deep breath.

“Let me.” He leaned in, taking my lip in his, kissing me softly and then biting down hard.

“Shit!” I winced as blood started to stream into my mouth.

He did the same to himself without even flinching. He smiled wickedly and bent his beautiful face down into mine again. A trace of a dark liquid seeped through the crease of his closed lips. It looked like molasses and made me want to throw up. Instead, I let him kiss me again.

It was intense, his lips moving quickly and hungrily into mine. His tongue flicked into my mouth at first and then driving in further. He grabbed the back of my head and pulled me into the kiss.

I wanted to be repulsed but something about him was drawing me in. I let myself be taken by the kiss. Our mouths moved like wild animals. It was as if we couldn’t get enough of each other. He grabbed my hair at the back of my head and pulled my face from his. His lips were covered in a mixture of his black blood and my red. His mouth had tasted of the rust from me and a sweet musk from him.

I exhaled as he held my face back from his. He was still pulling my hair, and oddly enough, I didn’t mind.

He raised an eyebrow at me. “I wish we had more time to explore just how you’re going to be a problem for me. Unfortunately, your dad will be here in about twenty-eight minutes.”

Fighting the urge to arch my back and slither further into his embrace, I asked, “Would I have died by the time my dad got here? Is that why you rushed this?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “You would have, but my blood will heal everything, just as it will take everything. You’ll be better in the next few hours. But you’ll change over the course of the next couple days. It will be long enough to get you out of here before then.”

As he finished the sentenced I felt it. I did feel better, stronger. I looked down at my hand where the IV was and frowned. It was annoying me, like my skin was trying to heal it over.

“When you see Aleks, tell him he owes me a LOT—he owes the Roses.” His emphasis on lot scared me, as did the dark, sinister look he got in his eyes.

Things were different inside of me. A hot wave of healing rushed through me. I wasn’t sick.

“Dorian—” I started but he groaned and cut me off.

“I do love it when you say my name.”

“Creepy. Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“I don’t understand Aleks. He has powers, he kind of flies, he can be invisible, and he will live forever, but he won’t tell me how he became this way. He said a werewolf or shape shifter killed him before it was his time. What does that mean?”

Dorian wiped his mouth and then mine. He was extra careful with my lips as he wiped them. “It means just that.” He sighed and continued, “Exactly that. A shape shifter killed him.”

“It makes no sense. Is my mom off doing that job now because as shifter killed her?”

His eyes sparkled like the stars in the night sky as his lip twitched into a smile. “Well, surely you know the part about his dad? Whenever his father kills someone, Aleks is responsible for the family. Like punishment for his father’s sins, he must heal the family. It’s a way to ensure he suffers for all of his life, blah, blah, blah.”

“What?” I was frozen. “His dad killed my mom?”

“Of course he did.” He wrinkled his nose. “I guess Aleks left that little chestnut out. Awkward. Well, I’m sure you’ll want to ask him about it when you next see him.” He looked pleased with what he had caused inside of me and clapped his hands together. “On that lovely note, your dad is early, and so I will leave you for a while. I’ll be back, so don’t worry, I won’t let you change alone.” He left quickly, before I could ask what he meant by the statement.

My dad came rushing in seconds later. “Aimee, oh thank God. You’re still awake.”

I frowned at him. “Yeah, why?” My dad’s face made me sad. Had my mom had an affair with Aleks’ dad? How had he been involved in her death? Did I even want to know this story?

He shrugged. “Oh, uhm, no reason. We just thought you’d be sleeping.”

I glanced to Shane who came into the room directly after my father, looking relieved as well. “Did the doctors tell you I would be in a coma before you made it here?”

Shane nodded behind my lying dad’s shaking head. “No, kiddo. How are you feeling?”

“Really good.” Hope built in my dad’s eyes and then extinguished. “Well, you’ve had that before. It might be the dialysis. Has a doctor been by to see you?”

“No.” I shook my head. “Not recently.” I remembered the attack I had had before.

“You look better.” Shane came and sat on my bed, holding my hand. I licked my lips, smelling him—he smelled delicious. Something about him was making me hungry for something I couldn’t explain.

I was disgusted with myself. I was becoming a super slut. Something about all the guys in my life was making my hormones go crazy. I chalked it up to inactive sexuality for too many years. Mine had been released late and was desperate to catch up.

“Where’s Alise? She didn’t come?” I asked, trying to divert my thoughts from kissing Shane and thinking about Aleks or worse, Dorian.

“No.” My dad slumped. “She isn’t taking the news very well.”

Shane shot my dad a look. My dad’s face flushed as he stumbled over his words. “You know, of you being sick.”

They were speaking of Jaime’s death. “It’s okay, Dad, I know. I know she passed. She came and said goodbye.” I had said it before I thought about it.

My dad frowned. “You saw her?”

“Yeah. In a dream. I had an episode a few hours ago and I dreamed of her. She said goodbye. I just knew.”

“A dream?”

“Yup.” I smiled as my eyes wandered out into the halls. I hoped to see Aleks but he never came back. I wanted answers more than I wanted anything. Well, except to touch Shane and pull our clothes off, possibly rubbing our naked skin against each other. I blushed, trying hard to focus on the anger and worry and the other things I was facing.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

Never trust anyone with obsidian eyes, just saying.

 

 

After 

I wanted to go back to sleep, but for some reason I wasn’t tired anymore. The doctor came in and took my vitals. “Wow, you really are taking to the dialysis. I won’t lie, I thought you were a goner.”

My dad had fallen asleep in the chair next to my bed, and Shane was passed out on the bed for parents.

“That’s great news. How’s Giselle?”

“Good.” The doctor nodded. “Her liver will be here in about five hours, and then she too will be on the road to recovery. What a brutal experience you young ladies have had. I heard they caught him. Your science teacher?”

“Yeah.” My eyes dragged to the doctor’s lips. I contemplated them on mine for half a second before I stopped myself.

What the heck was I thinking?

The blood I’d swapped with Dorian must have some side effect of his being a dirty pervert who kissed just like an angel. I didn’t know him but it would figure for his blood to be some sort of aphrodisiac. No one kissed like that.

“Well, I’m running your blood again, and then I think we will do another ultrasound and X-ray. Then if things are looking up, we may do another biopsy.” He wrote on his clipboard and walked out of the room.

Another biopsy? I hadn’t realized they had done one already.

I was starting to feel like I was completely better, when Dorian walked back into the room quietly. He looked menacing as he stood in my doorway. “Ready?”

“Maybe. Do I have to leave now?”

“Of course.”

‘Like leave them?” I nodded my head at my dad.

“Unless you want them dead.”

“What?” I frowned and wondered why he would threaten them. “Are you going to hurt them?”

“That’s not my gig, love. It might have been but rules are rules. What I’m saying is I’m sure you don’t want to hurt them.”

“I would hurt them?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “You would kill them and love every second of it.”

“Oh.” I gulped. “How do I leave without them becoming suspicious about me leaving?”

“Easy.” He grinned ominously. “Leave that little detail up to me.”

“I don’t want them to think I’m dead—my dad can’t take any more death.”

He nodded. “They’ll think you’re safe. Now we need to get going, so let me handle this.” He strolled over to me, running his fingers up my arm my IV. He flashed a dirty smile as he slid it out and turned the machines off. He pulled the monitors off of me. His warm fingers brushed along my neckline and skin, touching more than necessary to remove the pads. He looked down on me as if I were a snack and raised one side of his mouth. “You’re very sexy, Aimee. Did you know that?”

“No.” I shook my head, mesmerized by his beautiful obsidian eyes.

He bent down close to my face. I could almost taste the musk on his breath. “You’re a lucky girl that I need to get going or I would lock you away and savor a hundred years of alone time.” His words made me weak as I got lost in the dark pools of obsidian staring back at me. His eyes held my reflection like perfect mirrors.

Taking one last look, he turned away and walked to my dad. He touched his arm and woke him gently. “Mr. James, I need to speak to you.”

Nerves built in me as my dad stirred slowly, finally waking up. He looked up at Dorian and frowned. “Who are you?”

“I’m your daughter’s specialist. We are transferring her to another hospital. She’s going to be fine, but she needs to go and heal alone in this hospital. You need to go home and tell everyone she is going to be fine. She just needs some rest. The hospital is in California. It’s a secret celebrity hospital.” I rolled my eyes at Dorian and waited for my dad to laugh in his face.

My dad nodded like a zombie. “Oh, okay. That’s great news. Thank you, doctor.”

My chin hit the floor as Dorian closed my dad’s eyes. “Go back to sleep.” My dad fell back into a deep sleep in his chair. Dorian’s powers were scary, there was no doubt about it.

He turned around and held his arms out. “See, that’s how it’s done. So easy to mess with their tiny brains.”

“He doesn’t have a tiny brain.” I frowned. “My dad’s a genius.”

He nodded. “Neat. Even with his brainpower, he doesn’t stand a chance against me. Watch this one with the doctor.” He smiled like a kid showing off his new toy. He stepped out of the room and into the hall, tapping my doctor on the shoulder as he was walking past. “Doctor, I am a specialist from California. I am taking the lovely Miss James to my hospital, where she will recover. Tell everyone it’s fine that she left with me. She is going somewhere to heal and be okay. Get rid of any records and fill in the blanks you need to so that no questions are asked. If anyone ever calls and asks about her, tell them you have received word she is doing better every day.”

The doctor nodded as my dad had. “That’s fantastic. I will tell everyone.”

“And lastly.” Dorian laughed. “Go wank off in the supply cupboard, thinking about me.”

“Of course.” The doctor walked away smiling a weird smile.

“You’re the devil, aren’t you?” I swallowed hard.

“Why do you say devil with such a negative connotation to it?” He gave me a hurt look. “Does it really matter at this point? I’m your only salvation, devil or not.”

“Can you just be serious?”

“I’m always serious, Aimee.”

“Whatever.” I shook my head and climbed off the bed and went to Shane. I bent down and inhaled the sea air on his skin and kissed his cheek. “I love you, Shane.” It was true. With the option of being with him removed from the table, I was devastated. He had never lied to me, he had never wanted anything but to be with me, and he had never done anything but love me. I didn’t know what to do except leave him a note. I knew goodbye would be impossible. He loved me, he actually loved me enough to not let me go. Had it been him having to choose to make me an immortal or not, there never would have been a not.

Shane,

I’ve been taken to a special hospital that is offering me the best treatment. It’s exactly what I need to heal. I am excited for you to join the police force and become a police officer. You’re an amazing person and I will love you forever. No matter how this ends, know that I too have loved you since grade two.

I loved you when you started to bring an extra huge lunch every day to share with Nathan Anders. You knew he was poor and never had food, and you conned your mom into bigger lunches so you could feed him. You pretended she just packed big lunches and you couldn’t eat it all.

I loved you in grade eight when you were riding your bike past my mom and she had a flat tire, and you changed it. She had no clue how to do it. She told me you did it. You never told anyone that you had done it.

I loved you in eleventh grade, when the Smith girl got sick with cancer and you started that change jar at your parents’ store to raise money. It was to help pay for the medical bills. You acted like it was your parents’ idea, but your mom told my mom it was your idea. I know you raised twenty-five thousand dollars for them and never even asked for recognition.

You’re the most amazing man in the world and you will be the most amazing police officer. I can’t wait to see it.

I’ll call you when I’m strong enough.

Love always, and by that I mean—I love you, Shane Bagley,

 

Aimee xoxo

 

It broke my heart to write the letter. I folded it and put it in his pocket. He needed to know how I felt.

Between him and my sleeping father I spent a second leaving a soft kiss on both their cheeks and taking one last inhale of them.

Before I walked out of the hospital room, I looked at my dad one last time. I didn’t know what kind of danger I could become to my family but Dorian was right, I wouldn’t risk them. I left my heart in the room as I followed Dorian’s darkness down the hall.

We stopped only to look in on Giselle. She was asleep and completely yellow with jaundice. I glanced over at Dorian for a moment and waited for him to answer the question burning in my eyes.

He frowned. “Yeah, she’ll be fine.” He watched her sleeping, no doubt thinking all sorts of unsavory things.

He didn’t linger there, he turned away from Giselle’s room and walked down the hall to the big elevator doors. I walked behind him in my gown.

“Uhh, am I going to change?”

He nodded. “I thought we covered this—yes.”

“No.” I frowned at him. “Clothes, idiot.”

He laughed. “You’re sort of awful, aren’t you? Not fun and flirty as I imagined when Aleks told me about you. Yes, my dear, I have this all worked out, so please stop worrying.”

We got into the elevator and I wondered about Aleks. “Where did he go?” I asked after a few moments.

Dorian shrugged, completely disinterested. “To cool off, I imagine. He’s free now, so he will want to figure out the next step.”

I gasped. “You freed him? From his curse? How?”

“You freed him, love. Not me. I enslaved him.”

I stepped right into his face—well, chest and looked up at his face. He was a stone-cold killer. I knew it the second I looked into his eyes. But I didn’t flinch as I thought I would. “Enslaved him how? If you —”

He pushed me roughly up against the wall of the elevator. “You’ll what, little girl? Kill me?”

He burst into laughter and bent down to my face, his gaze dropping down into my cleavage.

I snapped my fingers in front of his face. “Hey, stop that. Does your brain function on any setting beyond sex?”

He looked at me as if I were a bug he could squash and leaned in very close. “No, this is my only setting.” He kissed my neck, dragging his coarse whiskers across my sensitive skin.

“Stop.” I tried to push him away, but I had nowhere near the strength to make an attempt at him. He ran his hands up my sides and pressed hard on my right side, making me wince.

“You’ll do exactly as I ask. I have gone out on a huge limb for you, Aimee—be grateful.” His cold gaze lifted to mine as he slid his hands up my sides and into my hair. He pulled forcefully on the back of my head. “This is our floor,” he spoke, hovering above my face and then releasing me. He walked off the elevator calmly as I stood shaking. I was scared of him in every way possible.

Why had Aleks left me to suffer at his hand?

I started to walk off the elevator when an idea hit me. The elevator dinged and I stepped back on as the doors closed.

Dorian looked back at me in a panic as the gap in the doors lessened. I pressed every button after three floors and decided I would get off at the first stop, three floors above us. I needed clothes. I was feeling stronger than I had in a while but I knew he could poof around the hospital and find me. So I had to be smarter than he was.

I hoped there were at least a few limitations to his abilities.

Panic filled me as I stepped off the elevator and looked around me. I saw I was on some kind of surgery floor. I crept along silently, looking behind me and in front of me in an alarmed state.

While I didn’t know where I was going, I figured he would go back to my previous floor. I assumed I was on the fifth floor which Giselle had been on previously.

Worried, I walked like I were sick, limping in case I ran into someone. My heart raced as I scanned the floor I was one, hoping for an idea for a plan to solve my situation. I didn’t know where to go but I needed to stay away from my family. I didn’t even know why.

My only guess was that I would turn into Dorian. I would soon be a destructive force to be reckoned with. Something with no heart or care.

It scared me, not knowing what to expect. In the back of my mind I also assumed Aleks would find me. Whether I wanted to see him again or not.

I saw a door that looked ajar up ahead of me in the hall. Nervous of Dorian jumping out from behind the small slit in the open door and killing me, I pushed it open carefully.

The room was a supply closet full of things I desperately needed. I stepped in and turned on the light as I closed the door. I peeked through the crack as I closed it.

Moving as fast as I could, I changed into surgery scrubs, a mask, a cap, and booties. I tripled my booties to appear as if I had shoes. Plus, they would help if I ended up walking outside. Three booties were going to be better than one.

While I didn’t feel smarter than Dorian, since he’d likely been around since the dawn of time, I did know I was smarter than the average teenager. Which meant Dorian would underestimate me.

Scared to leave the confines of the closet, I sat down on the floor for a while, wondering if he could find me with a smell, or if he was able to poof to wherever I was.

Interrupting the worry, my stomach growled like it was hungry but there was a subtle discomfort in there too, as if I had food poisoning.

My brain naturally led me down that path to the one question I would have to find out the hard way on my own, would I stil poo?

Never had I met a public toilet I enjoyed so the idea of being on the run and shitting anywhere but home was not a pleasant one.

I couldn’t run into my family without ruining Dorian’s excuse as to where I was. I couldn’t run into Shane without him dragging me back to the hospital bed. I definitely couldn’t run into Dorian without him doing horrid things to me and possibly hurting me in ways I might never heal from. I shivered, remembering his assault in the elevator. I slowly opened the door and peeked out into the quiet and empty hall.

Being bored and stressed in a supply closet wasn’t good for my imagination. I wondered what I would eat if I was a threat to Shane? If I would be like Aleks and need regular food every now and then to be strong, or if like Dorian, I ate something else. I wasn’t sure why I was certain Dorian didn’t eat food. The black blood told me he was not exactly functioning inside quite the same way Aleks was. Truth be told though, I had never seen Aleks bleed. It was possible he was full of molasses as well.

The molasses was when I knew I’d stayed in the closet too long. I forced myself to step out into the hall and hurry down the emergency stairs to the bottom floor. I crept down all the floors as fast as I could until I got to the boiler room.

There was steam blowing out of a vent of sorts, between the door and me. My bravery was coming to a head as I neared the door. That would be the moment in a scary movie worth its salt, where the bad guy would show up. He would smash me in the head with one of the pipes in the room and drag me behind of the boilers to maul me. Or even worse he would carry my limp body out in a garbage bag whereupon I would end up in a hole in his basement, like Silence of the Lambs.

My heart raced as I scared the ever-loving crap out of myself whole still forcing my feet to move like a rat’s, scurrying to the door. I looked both ways as the safety of my wall had ended and nearly dove out the door when I saw no one there.

The light from outside blinded me as I made my way up the concrete staircase. I didn’t know where I was, but the drizzle of the rain and cars parked all around me told me it could be the staff parking area. I ran from the building, not even looking. My feet pushed off of the cement, driving me out into the parking lot.

When I got to the vehicles, I stopped running and began walking amongst them. I walked until I finally found an unlocked car and climbed inside of it, taking a breather and sanity check.

I needed to be as far away from there as I could get. I searched the car for money and found about twelve dollars in change along with a pair of black ballet-styled flats in a half a size smaller than I needed. Not being picky, I squeezed my feet into them. In the back I found a blue fleece, which obviously belonged to someone bigger than me. I pulled it on over my scrubs to hide that at least. I felt guilty for stealing her things and imagined the owner of the car loved the fleece. I wished I didn’t need to take her stuff, but it was life and death. I hoped if she had been there, she would have helped me under the circumstances. I locked her car for her. It was the least I could do.

Huddled in my new fleece, I continued passing the cars, hoping to find at least one more of them open. It was tough going and security nearly saw me once, but I ducked behind a large SUV and hid for a while. I finally found another open car which had thirty dollars in it and some granola bars in the dash. I stole a hair tie, ditched the cap and mask, and locked the car door before I ran from the parking lot into an alley around the corner.

Pushing away the horrible feeling of vulnerability, I convinced myself that I was going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay.

He wasn’t going to find me.

I looked like a nurse getting off work, not a girl who sould be dying from organ failure.

When I got to the bus stop, I boarded the bus that was there and started to breathe again when I sat and we drove off. I didn’t feel completely safe until I was crossing the center of the city, on my way out to the north. I had examined the bus when I boarded, but also when it came time for people to get off and on. I didn’t see Dorian anywhere, but I didn’t know what he was capable of.

I watched out the window as my bus made its way to the main transit stop. There I could switch buses and board a bus for home. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that my best chance of survival was in a place I was comfortable.

When the forty-two dollars ran out, I found myself hours from home at a random bus stop. I locked myself in a bathroom stall, where I sat and ate my granola bar slowly. I didn’t feel hungry, but I wasn’t sure how I was getting home or when I would eat again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

Am I a believer or a wanderer? Does it matter?

 

 

According to Google Maps, a person can drive from the bus stop I was stranded at to my town in around three hours, and walk it in about two days. I, however, reacted rather well to Dorian’s demon blood and was able to do it in one day. I shaved a bit of time off by running as much as I could. I rarely sweated or got hungry, and I didn’t have to use the bathroom. Which answered the question of random bathroom pooping.

My feet never really hurt, wearing shoes too small, and I didn’t need to sleep, not even a little. I didn’t know what to say about that. I felt like one of the terminators. I walked past the sign for our town and sighed a small measure of relief.

Port Mackenzie was my safe haven in that crazy moment. I walked into town seeing the gas station and knew I would have to be very careful. Everyone in town knew me. I didn’t know where to go, but decided my own house would be a great place to start.

I crept along backyards, keeping my head down until finally reaching our street. I snuck through the backyards of my neighbors until I reached our fence and climbed over it, again surprised by the strength I seemed to be able to muster. I landed in the backyard just as the sky turned dark. Our house was dark inside. Not a single light was left on.

I wondered where my sister was, where my dad was, and mostly, where Dorian was.

Would he sit in my house and wait for me to come home?

Did he know where I lived?

Would he have held my dad and Shane hostage until I came to get them? Or would it be rescue them?

Would he tell them what I had become?

Or would they be dangling from a bridge somewhere, expecting me to save them with my new super strength?

I moved stealthily across the grass to the back door where the hidden key was. I unlocked it and crept inside but didn’t turn any lights on. Instead I stood there and smelled the air for a second. I was home. My heart was racing, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the moment.

Then I grabbed a drink of water, not realizing I was desperately thirsty. I’d gulped back three huge glasses before I had to pee. I ran to the toilet, assuming it was what life was like for Aleks, doing what he needed when he got the chance. I flushed and ran upstairs to my room to open the bag with my mom’s nightgown so I could take deep breaths. I savored the smell and then put the bag back. I would be back for it when I had a place and a plan.

“Mom,” I whispered, looking around, and wished Aleks would show up. Then I could get the answers I needed about my mom’s death.

Quietly I cursed Dorian under my breath as I grabbed a crayon from my art set and opened the window to my bedroom. In light yellow crayon, I wrote on the outside windowpane: I need to see you. Come find me! Check at the beach.

I knew he would see it and know I needed him. I grabbed two changes of my usual black clothes and stuffed them into my beach backpack and then I put in a few key items I knew no one would know were missing. I jumped into the shower and rinsed myself in the dark, not turning any lights on. It was by far the scariest shower I’d ever had.

I expected Dorian or a knife or something to come through the glass door at any second. Before he did, I was clean, dressed, and ready to go fifteen minutes from arriving home.

I grabbed the ball cap my gran had bought me a few summers before and stuffed it on my head and tucked my long hair through the back to make a ponytail.

When I locked the house and ran out to the back fence, I paused, unsure of where to go next. Night had fully set in and enveloped the world in darkness. I was grateful for the moonless night as I ran through the woods at the back of our property. I ran until I reached Shane’s house.

His truck was there but that meant nothing. My dad had taken his truck to Portland with Shane. Carefully I slipped in around the back of the house noting it was as dark as my own. Frustrated, I didn’t know what to do. My energy levels were high and I was feeling fine, but how long did I have? I didn’t feel the change yet. I didn’t know anything.

I glanced over at the forest that Shane had carried me from twice and shook my head. It had only been a few days since I was on my deathbed, and here I was, feeling stronger than I ever had and yet still dying.

Or was I?

I wondered if maybe my body had reacted badly to the demon blood and instead of immortality, I just healed and got strong. Maybe I would be fine and could just go on with my regular life. Maybe I wouldn’t be a threat to anyone I knew.

I wondered if God just felt sorry for me for all the shitty things that had happened and he was giving me a mulligan.

Instead of leaving, I sat down on the back steps of his deck, pondering life and choices. I looked back at the grass and vaguely remembered how it had felt to lay with Shane under the stars, and the way he had looked at me. I loved him. No matter what had ever happened with Aleks, I couldn’t get Shane out of my mind or heart. The distance from Aleks seemed to allow me the clarity of realizing the lust I felt, rather than love. He seemed to have that effect on all women.

A vehicle pulled into the driveway as men’s voices started to speak and car doors closed and opened.

I paused, listening.

“Okay, well, thank you, Shane. I’m sure she’s fine. Like I said, the doctor seemed to be convinced she needed to go there.” My dad’s voice filled the yard.

“Shit.” I whispered and then stopped breathing, realizing I had nowhere I could run except the stalker woods, but they scared the life out of me. I sat very still, hoping I would have a few seconds at least to hide.

“I know, Mr. James. I’m really bummed about it. I just can’t believe I never got to say goodbye.” Shane’s voice was full of emotion. He sounded crushed.

“She knows you love her, kiddo. Good luck on your test, son, and if I hear from her, I will call you right away.” My dad used my nickname on him. It warmed and broke my heart simultaneously.

“Thanks, sir. Have a good sleep,” Shane called out. His front door closed and I jumped up and ran around the side of the house where the garage was. I froze, hearing him inside the house and then opening the back deck door.

“Hello, are you there?” he asked.

I glanced back, not moving, not breathing. How did he know I was there?

“Oh okay, yeah. My cell does that too.” He laughed and I breathed a sigh of relief, still not moving as he talked on the phone. He was one corner of the house away from me. I crept along the side to the front of the house and stood in front of the garage, breathing heavily. “Yeah, I need to know where in California is the clinic that does celebrity liver treatments. I know it sounds stupid. But a friend of mine is there and I just want to know the name of it. Thanks. Yeah, just call this number and leave a message if I’m not here. Thanks, man. I need to find her.”

Dorian hadn’t been prepared for how much Shane loved me. Shane wouldn’t stop until he found me. My heart broke. What had I done?

I wondered about just revealing myself to Shane and letting the cards fall where they may. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure what I would become, and I didn’t want him getting hurt.

A small part of me wondered if he would still want me or love me if he knew I was changing in a supernatural way. I didn’t even believe it yet, so I knew he wouldn’t.

What if he just ended things between us? I didn’t want to push the envelope. I decided to leave his yard and find somewhere else to haunt until I knew for sure what I would be.

I walked for a long time keeping my head down as cars drove past me. My brain was stuck thinking about the way things had played out. There were definitely a few things I had to take responsibility for. It hadn’t all been bad luck. Drinking with Giselle because I humiliated myself with Blake was stupid.

I’d been the girl who spent my entire high school career preparing for my college career and then blew it in the last four months with some drinking.

My feet stopped when I got to at a fork in the road. It was the physical representation of my existence. Left and I left town. Right and I went back.

My heart tugged right but my brain whispered what if. I needed to face the fact I was homeless.

I knew which way I wanted to go but I needed to be smarter than that.

But I wasn’t.

I turned, walking carefully in the direction I wanted to go.

As I approached his driveway I slowed to a crawl and rounded the corner of the house silently. I opened the door to the garage with the lock code and slipped through into the hallway. Not making any noise I walked to the stairs to the basement and then crept down them.

In the faint glow of the computer screen in the far corner, I could see Blake playing World of Warcraft. I snuck along, not wanting to scare him or wake his parents, if they were even home, which they hardly ever were. They parents were lucky he was a calm kid because with the amount of free time he had, he could have been doing all kinds of unsavory things without any hindrances.

He sat hunched over the game, with headphones on. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I could hear the low hum of talking. I plopped myself down on his leather couch and watched him for a moment, missing the feeling of being lost in the game and such trivial things.

He must have gotten the eerie feeling someone was watching him because he sat very still for a second and then turned slowly. Seeing me sitting on his couch, he sighed. “Hey, Aimes.” He went back to his game instantly, not registering that I shouldn’t be in his house.

It took a full minute before he turned again, looking scared to move as if I might be a ghost coming to say my goodbye to him. I could tell he was nervous as he turned again, peeking at me. “Aimes?”

“Hey.” I waved at him.

“Hey.” He smiled, but it wasn’t the peaceful one he had given moments before. Instead, it was a tense smile which made me laugh. “You okay?” he spoke carefully, not getting up from the chair.

“Yeah.” I wanted to cry with relief.

He removed his headphones and looked at me. “For real?”

“Maybe.” I chewed my lower lip. I couldn’t hold back the dam of emotions. It burst free and I lost control of myself.

“Oh my god!” He rushed to my side, holding me. “How did you get here?” He wrapped around me, squeezing the life out of me.

“I ran away.” I cried in sheets, like the cold coastal rain.

It poured out in sobs and heaves.

I had lost it.

“Why?” His shirt was getting soaked where I cried and left different forms of my bodily fluids on it.

“I got scared. I didn’t know where else to go.”

“Scared of what? Where’s your dad and Shane?” He pulled me back and his eyes were intense. “Did someone hurt you?”

“Sort of, but I did it to myself.” I wiped my eyes dry with my sleeves as he passed me a tissue.

He took an extra one for himself and began wiping his shoulder, looking horrified at the wet mark. “Jeeze, Aimes. Gross.”

“Sorry.” I laughed harder, unable to control myself.

He frowned at me. “I’m glad you find it so amusing that you’ve left nasal secretions on my shoulder. Dear God.” His fussing over the shirt made me laugh more. He left where I was sitting and sat across from me on the other leather couch. “Why aren’t you at the hospital?”

“I’m better.” I looked at him gravely when I finally found my calm.

“How? Your doctor was convinced you would die enroute.”

“Something terrible has happened.” I whispered, wide eyed. “And I don’t know what to do. I’m putting you in terrible danger coming here, but I don’t know where else to go.”

“Aimes, whatever’s going on, we’ll find a rational and sensible solution. I’m still your best friend, even if I haven’t acted much like one.”

“I haven’t either, Blake, and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t care who you date. I was being petty by being annoyed and I’m sorry.”

“No.” He smiled. “I should have told you the truth years ago. I thought, honestly, that you knew. I’ve been head over heels for that twit forever.”

“I didn’t know.” I sighed, not smiling. I couldn’t bring myself to smile. I dreaded what was about to happen. I knew the possibilities that he would either commit me or kick me out lingered in the air as I started to speak. “Remember when you asked me to just listen and hear the whole story, before I slapped you and walked away?”

“Yeah.” He nodded, looking confused.

“I need that same favor. Is that possible?”

“Of course.” He nodded again, sitting back on the couch and getting comfy.

My stomach twisted and turned as my nerves prepared the rest of me for the worst-case scenario. I took a deep breath and started. I watched as his brain translated and diagnosed me as I spoke. He had a scientific reason for everything I said. I ignored his looks and continued speaking until I got to the very end of the story, which landed me on his couch, crying and homeless.

Blake sat there, looking very lost at the end of the story.

I looked at him, pleading with him. “Blake, I want you to think about who is telling you this. Look at me. Have I ever given you cause to not trust something I was telling you?”

He shook his head slowly. “What are you becoming?”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged, still watching him take it all in.

“You ran from the bus stop at Miller’s Crossing all the way here in a day?” His voice was empty, no accusation or feeling.

“I did.” I said it hopefully, wanting him to believe me so that I could finally rest a bit. I wasn’t tired in the regular sense, but I was tired of not feeling safe.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, I am going to go with you on this one, until I can either disprove or solve it. It’s you. You who has always been my best friend and never lied to me.”

My eyes lit up. “I can stay here with you?”

“Of course.” He frowned at me. “Why wouldn’t you stay here with me? You thought I would kick you out because you drank demon blood from that guy you can’t prove is a demon and don’t require sleep or food anymore?”

“Pretty much.” I shrugged as he got up from the couch and grabbed my hand.

He cocked an eyebrow. “If you don’t eat or drink do you poop?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “I ate and drank and my house and pooped. But I went a long time without any of it.”

“Interesting.” He nodded. “I need some sleep to try to digest this and I suggest you try too.”

“Okay.” I let him drag me to his room. We climbed on top of his bed. He turned the lights out and lay beside me on the bed.

“How are things with Alise?” I asked, tired of my ridiculous life.

“Oh man.” He laughed. “Your sister is crazy. I have no idea what to do with her. It’s like having a two-year-old around, and you know how I feel about other people’s children in my house. She touches things and breaks them. She has to be doing something at every second of every day. I seriously think she might need Ritalin or something.”

I burst out laughing.

He turned to look at me with a serious face. “Aimee, I’m not kidding. She broke my vintage Luke Skywalker. It was still in the box and she took it out and broke it. She said it was an accident, but I think she misbehaves on purpose to start fights with me.”

He had hit the nail on the head. I chuckled, feeling sorry for him.

“You can’t choose who you love. I’m a prime example of that.”

“Do you love them both though, Aimes? That Aleks guys leaves you in the hospital with the demon dude, lies to you about what he does for a living and that his dad killed your mom, and let Jaime die?” Blake’s voice wasn’t cruel. He truly was curious.

“No.” I was close to tears as I spoke, “When I’m with Shane or without him, I love him. But I only love Aleks when I’m with him. I think he has something that makes me think I love him, but it’s fake. Like lust.”

He sighed. “Aimes, love is supposed to lift you up, not bring you down. No relationship that’s healthy puts the other person above you. The relationship that ends all of the good things in your life is the wrong relationship. You’re choosing the wrong guy if you love Aleks.”

“Look at you, Mr. Love Guru.”

He laughed. “I saw it on Dr. Phil.”

I closed my eyes. “I do love Aleks, but not as much as I love Shane, and not for the right reasons. I wish I didn’t love Aleks at all. I truly think that if he’d never come along, I would have found my way to Shane naturally. I would be happy right now, instead of dying alone.”

Blake pulled me onto his chest and kissed the top of my head. “You’ll never be alone, Aimes, not ever. Besides, you can see ghosts now—you’re good. Yu can start charging people to speak to their dead. I mean since you’re clearly not going to college now.”

“Shut up.” I whacked him in the gut and snuggled into his armpit. “How’s Giselle?” I asked, scared to hear the answer.

“She’s great, as far as I know. Her body has accepted the liver with no problems. Alise said your dad was there to see her. I guess he and Shane stayed in the city a few days after you went to the magical Hollywood liver clinic.” He rolled his eyes. I didn’t see it but I heard the eye roll tone. “I can’t believe your dad that lie about you being at the celebrity liver clinic. I knew it was bullshit the minute your sister told me about it. She really tried to convince me too, like trying to find it on Google and then telling me it’s so top secret you can’t Google it. I laughed and told her if it was out there she might not be able to Google it, but I sure as hell would be able to.”

“My sister still believes that the puppets on the Chipmunk movies were actually chipmunks in clothes. But I couldn’t believe that guy was able to trick my dad. Of all of the people in the world I would not call gullible. He bought it though—it was strange.”

“I was scared you were dead or something and that he just couldn’t cope with it.”

I hugged him tighter. “I would have haunted you a little, so you would have known.”

He laughed. “Yeah, I expect you to haunt me when you die.”

I fell asleep quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

Don’t hold your breath

 

I woke to an empty room and daylight streaming through the huge windows.

It was strange how re-energized and invigorated I felt. I’d never woken without the feeling of wanting to go back to sleep. It felt like a robotic wake up, on and off.

Blake was gone which worried me. I climbed out of his bed and walked to the family room, hoping I would find him at the computer.

He was nowhere to be found in the basement. I climbed the stairs, hoping his parents were still in the city, or at the very least, on a vacation somewhere. I didn’t think I could face his chipper and perky mom, not after everything I’d been through.

But the house was completely empty. I searched every room, starting to feel panicked. When I couldn’t find him, I sat on the peach leather couch in the front room and watched out the window for him to come home with my sister, Dad, Shane, or worse. I assumed he had panicked when he woke and ran from the house, thinking me either crazed or drugged out.

I sat there for a long time, not moving. I noticed my lack of need to move. I wasn’t restless or fidgeting. I wasn’t feeling the need to change positions or even breathe. I held my breath just to see how long I could go for. I started to feel weird about not breathing, but not desperate for air. When I breathed I felt better, but it wasn’t as if I couldn’t have made it another twenty minutes without the breath. I decided to test it out and walked to the backyard. I stripped down to my underwear and tank top and jumped into the cool crisp pool and let out all of the air in my lungs. I sank like a stone to the bottom of the deep end of the pool and sat, waiting for desperation and panic to set in. Nothing happened, so I waited some more.

In my peripheral I saw a dark figure at the edge of the pool. I pushed myself up to see Blake’s frowning face.

“You were down there for seven minutes.” He didn’t flinch.

“Jeeze.” I splashed at him. “I thought you were Dorian, not cool. I could have gone longer. Were you spying on me?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “I wanted to see what you would do when you were alone. I watched you hold your breath on the couch. This is crazy.”

“I know.”

He sat at the edge of the pool and hiked up his pants. He dipped his feet into the pool and cringed at the cold. “My dad hasn’t turned the heat on yet. This weekend he said. It’s fifty degrees, Aimes, fifty. The chemicals were just balanced yesterday in preparation for the heater.” He pulled his legs out after a couple seconds.

“This is so crazy.” I shook my head. “It doesn’t feel cold to me.”

He looked worried. “What if this is a nervous disorder and you’re hurting yourself, but you just can’t feel it—like an after effect from the drugs.”

“it’s not.” I swam to the edge. I climbed out of the pool, using no effort to lift myself up and out.

Blake raised his eyebrows at that. “Not so feeble anymore, huh?”

“No.” I smiled. “One benefit so far is that I’m stronger.”

“Want something to eat?” he asked, handing me one of the lush pool towels. I had always laughed at how his pool towels were nicer than most people’s ‘good’ towels that you weren’t even allowed to use. I wrapped the towel around me and followed him into the house.

“How long was I sleeping?” I asked as I sat at the bar like always, waiting for him to feed me.

He looked puzzled. “Twelve and a half hours. You slept like the dead too, because I tried to wake you up and it didn’t work.”

“Did I breathe?” I asked, feeling pretty worried.

“Nope, not really, and none of the usual snoring either. Waffles or grilled cheese?”

I paused and tilted my head at him.

“Just testing.” He shrugged and made me grilled cheese.

I slept at Blake’s house for five nights, hanging in his basement playing World of Warcraft and watching TV. Every day he went to school and hung out with my sister but I loafed around, enjoying my quiet.

In his free time, he spent every minute trying to solve my issues.

We had data, proof, a spreadsheet of physical testing, and a spider web of information but he was still in denial about how this had come to be.

Drug-induced brain tumor was in the lead for things that could be wrong with me. I let him believe I had imagined it all, but my heart knew it was real.

I never left the safety of the basement, even for food. Blake brought it to me on a regular schedule, believing I would end up hurting myself by only eating when I needed to. The food filled me up but something inside me was still hungry. I felt a thirst or a hunger I couldn’t explain. The thirst grew whenever Blake was around, but I had been able to control it.

Blake was out again and I was lying on his bed, not sure of what to do with all of my free time, when I felt it.

Someone was watching me.

My stomach twisted.

Scared it was Dorian, but hopeful it was Aleks, I glanced around the room.

Instead of Dorian or Aleks, Shane stepped into the entrance to the room. He glared at me with a burning intense pain in his eyes. He looked weak and sick but I ignored and the fury and sprang off the bed, grabbing for him.

As if he needed to touch me too, I was off the ground and dragged up into his arms. He wrapped me around him and held me like a child. Our bodies trembled. I wrapped my legs around him and buried my face into his shoulder. I didn’t know what to say. I owed him an apology. I honestly didn’t think I would do it justice.

I made the attempt anyway. “I’m so sorry, Shane. I didn’t mean to leave. I just didn’t have any choice. I didn’t mean to hurt you like that.”

He never spoke. He just carried me to Blake’s bed. I shook my head. “The spare room is down the hall. We can talk in there.”

He obeyed, still not speaking, and carried me down the hall.

He sat me on the bed and knelt on the floor in front of me and held me tightly to him. “Aimee, I don’t understand why you left. Why did you trust Blake and not me with your problem?”

“I don’t want to hurt you.” I cuddled into him, trying desperately to pull him onto the bed with me.

“You killed me instead. I’ve been dying the last week.” He stood and closed the door. He walked toward me and picked me up again. He laid me down on the bed, back where the pillows were.

The hunger to be with him seemed to be outweighing the hunger I couldn’t quite describe.

“Aimee,” he whispered, kissing my throat.

“I’m glad you came.”

“I love you, Aimee.”

“I love you too.”

He shook his head. “Don’t say that if you don’t mean it.”

“I do mean it.”

“Then why?” His expression hurt more than anything.

“Because I love you.”

He didn’t look like he understood but he didn’t try to speak on it again. His response was physical. It was better than anything either of us might have been able to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

That was amazing and then it wasn’t.

 

 

I glanced over at him and frowned. “Did Blake tell you I was here? Did he tell my dad?”

“No. He wouldn’t do that to your dad.” His face got serious. “Aimee, where have you been?” he asked.

“Here.” I gulped. I knew it was going to have to be talked about at some point. His eyes filled with fear.

“You’re the only thing that makes me feel like the person I want to be. I need you. Without you, I have a hole in my chest. I’ve been going crazy for days.” I could see the truth in his eyes—I felt the same.

“I need you too. I had to run away from this guy Dorian. He—well, he was mean to me.”

I didn’t want to tell him about Dorian assaulting me in the elevator. It was a fight he would never win, and he would feel like he needed to defend my honor. Especially since he’d just taken all my honor away from me.

His face stormed over into a dark and sinister expression. “Who the hell is this Dorian? When did he try to hurt you? Does he work in the hospital? I’ll kill him, Aimes.”

“No.” I gulped. “I thought Blake told you the whole story. Dorian is a demon of some sort, which I know sounds crazy, but he is. You just have to believe me. He tried to scare me, I think. It worked and I ran away.”

His face looked a bit scary as he spoke, “Blake told me what you believed happened. He seems pretty sure it’s a brain tumor. We need to get you some help, Aimes.”

“No.” I shook my head. “Blake’s crazy—brain tumor. No, Dorian made me swap blood with him. It was gross. It healed me. I went from deathbed to fully healed in like half an hour. He said I would change and be dangerous to you, my dad, and everyone. Nothing has happened since though. I’ve had some bad stomachaches but that’s about it.”

Shane looked confused. “You honestly believe this?”

“I don’t know what I believe. I don’t want to hurt you though. Just in case.” I sounded nuts, there was no doubt. He didn’t look like he believed me, but he wasn’t giving me the same look Blake was.

He smiled, but something about his eyes worried me. “Go get a shower and meet me back here.”

“Okay.” I hurried to the shower and washed. Then I wrapped myself in a towel and made my way, slinking through the basement into the guest room.

Blake was apparently not home yet. He was no doubt keeping my sister occupied and convincing her not to come to his house.

Shane was putting his clothes on when I got to the room. “You’re leaving?”

“Yeah. I tried laying in the bed waiting for you but—” He looked around. “We can hang at my place, Aimes. This feels weird.”

I laughed. “Okay. Meet you there when I’m done cleaning up?”

“I can stay and help you clean up.”

“No.” I shook my head. “It’s nothing major.” My face reddened at the thought of him stripping the sheets with me. Virginity sheets no less…

“Okay.” He nodded and walked to me in his jeans without a shirt. He rubbed his hands up my arms. “I love you. Please, don’t leave me again. And be fast.” He kissed my forehead and walked from the room. “I miss you already.”

My face was on fire, thinking about what we had done.

I would need to clean the sheets if I was going to leave and stay with Shane. I threw on my clothes quickly and started stripping the sheets, trying desperately to ignore the pain in my chest that seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Uh, why are you pulling the sheets off?” Blake’s voice made me jump.

I turned to look at him. “I’m heading to Shane’s house.”

“Why?” He laughed, looking at my red face and raised an eyebrow inquisitively. “Did Shane come over?”

“What?” I frowned. “No?” My tone raised an octave.

“Dude.” He cocked his head. “Did you break something?” He looked around panicking, making me laugh.

“No.” I shook my head and carried the sheets to the laundry room, shouting after him, “I’m not Alise.” I closed the washing machine on my sheets and walked out of the laundry room.

“Your sister is getting suspicious as to why I can’t have her over right now while my parents are away.”

“You can. I’m leaving.”

“So why are you washing the sheets to the guest room you haven’t even slept in if you’re leaving?” He sprawled out on the sofa, looking up at the ceiling. “I don’t think you should be leaving.”

“Okay.” I laughed and sat on the couch across from him. “Why?”

He grinned, still looking at the ceiling. “Because you still need to tell me who you had sex with in my guest room.”

“I never had any sex. I was seriously just cleaning the sheets, ‘cause I want them fresh, you know. I like the smell of fresh sheets.” My excuse made no sense. He looked amused.

“I found this though, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t mine or my dad’s.” He pulled a white undershirt out of the couch cushions. I frowned at him, puzzled. It was Shane’s undershirt. I wanted to grab it and smell it, but I resisted. I knew my eyes had already revealed more than enough with my surprised look.

“It was on the floor of the guest room. Now spill the beans or I’m phoning Shane and asking why you couldn’t just do it at his house.” He joked, but I knew he was enough of a pest that he would do it.

“Fine.” I dropped my face into my hands, ashamed. “Okay—God! I lost my virginity in your guest bed. I’m so sorry.”

He grimaced. “Throw the sheets out, Aimee. Damn, we aren’t hard up for sheets around here. My mom has a whole closet with just sheets in it. Where is Shane, anyway?”

I felt even worse and groaned into my hands. “The sheets are fine. I’m washing them to be polite. Shane went home.”

He sat up. “Is he okay?”

I shivered. “Yeah, he’s fine? Why?”

“What about the guardian angel and the death prophecy?” He seemed more sarcastic than usual, but of course Blake didn’t believe Aleksander was real. He was part of my drug-induced brain tumor symptoms.

I looked up, meeting his worried face. “The magical guardian angel and I are done.”

His eyes flashed with recognition as he recalled that part of the story. “But the demon with molasses blood did say you were a danger to other people?”

“He did.”

He grimaced again. “Why did Shane leave? Is he hurt?”

“No.” I threw the couch cushion at him. “He was weirded out by what happened in your guest room, hamtard.”

Blake shook his head, disgusted with me. “I can’t say I blame him—really could have happened at his house, dude.”

“I know.” I groaned. “I’m so sorry.”

“Hope you don’t mind that I told him what you told me, or that you were here.”

“I don’t.” I shook my head.

“See the reason I did is, uh, well we think you need medical help. I’m kinda sickened Shane had sex with you. He agrees with me that you need psychiatric help.”

My stare shot up at him. “What?” That had come up out of nowhere.

“We just think that there is seriously something wrong with you, medically, and this brain tumor or whatever is wrong with you needs to be checked out. You’re delusional. One minute you’re into some guardian angel that no one else really sees and then the next it’s Shane. Then some demon makes you drink his black blood and you’re all better. Come on, Aimee. Listen to yourself for one minute. You’re sick.”

I lost everything in a matter of seconds. He was my best friend in the entire world and he wanted to lock me up.

Shane agreed with him.

I was alone.

Blake’s face hardened. I had never seen his face grow so cold. “You have to go with me. I promise I won’t let them hurt you. Psychiatry has come a long way. This is for the best.”

“No.” I looked down. “I’m not coming with you. I’m not going to an institute.”

He sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. “Aimee, come on. Be reasonable.”

“No.”

“Then I think you need to leave. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you anymore. I’ll keep your secret but that’s it. If you’re sick and won’t let me help you, then I can’t have you here hiding out. I can’t keep this from your dad and Alise anymore. I’m part of the family now.”

“Fine.” I pressed my lips together and stood up from his couch. I picked my fleece off of the back of the computer chair and walked up the stairs to sneak out of his house, the way I had come in. I was ashamed of everyone I knew.

“Aimee, I’ll take you back to the hospital. If you’ll come, I’m sure that they’ll find what’s wrong,” he called after me, but I ignored him.

I had been abandoned.

How could Shane agree with him?

How could Shane think that I needed to be committed and still have sex with me?

When I got out of the garage door, I ran. I ran as fast as I could until I reached the old highway where our secret beach was. I ran down the old road to the trail. When I crossed the road into the thick forest, I savored the cool air. I didn’t feel afraid of the forest, which I wished had been from feeling invincible, but unfortunately was from a lack of care. If I died, I wouldn’t care. And no one else would either. Except my dad.

I ran along the trail, barely seeing the greenery and trees as I made my way to the ocean. I could smell the salt and seaweed when I approached where the forest cleared and the trail ended. I ran down to the beach, still feeling angry.

I walked along the small part of the sandy beach, enjoying the feel of the sand under my sneakers. Slowly it turned to rocks, the usual West Coast beach. The rocks got bigger and it became more difficult to walk along.

Looking at a huge rock, I smiled and remembered my sister helping me to lift the rocks that were much too large for one small child. We poked at the crabs with sticks gently until they clamped a pincher on a stick. Then we would run around with the stick and the crab. I couldn’t help but shake my head, remembering the terrified crabs as we each ran up and down the beach. No amount of running would make them let go. They hung on until their little crab feet touched ground again.

I wished I had that ability to hang onto something with all of the force and strength I had. I wished I were able to stay on my stick, no matter the amount of turmoil I was put through. Instead, I sat on some driftwood far down the beach and looked out at the gray, choppy waters. I had nowhere else to go. I wasn’t completely cold, but I wasn’t comfortable. I hated Blake. I contemplated if the shoe were on the other foot, if I would have tolerated this sort of madness from him. I knew the answer. He had made the right choice. I thought about Shane and imagined him walking up the beach with open arms, ready to believe my crazy story, knowing we loved each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

Cabin fever without a cabin is called insanity.

 

 

I didn’t sleep, and out of boredom I made a small campfire on the beach the old-fashioned way, rubbing dry sticks together did produce a fire. It was lucky my muscles never cramped, because it took me forever to get a spark with the damp wood.

I didn’t know what to expect with the changes, but I definitely expected more than the odd stomachache or random sweat. I started to wonder if I was ever going to change, or if that was it. I was stronger, faster, required very little to survive, and didn’t need a lot of sleep. I was like a super being but without anything cool.

My college years would be very cost effective at this rate. One meal a week and with no sleep required, my grades would never take that initial dip everyone experienced.

I decided that if after three days nothing was different, I would go home. I would tell my dad that I was cured and finish my school year on time.

No one could prove anything else. The only people who knew the story were dead to me anyway.

Counting down three days was a tough way to think about life. I had nothing to do in my spare time but think. I walked the beach in both directions. I found neat tidal pools that contained all sorts of sea life. I swam in the ocean, made fires, and even built a small lean-to. That had taken most of the first day, but I wasn’t a patient person anymore—I felt restless.

I thought about Shane. I thought about him nonstop. My heart deceived my mind and ignored the fact he had betrayed me.

I thought about him nonstop, regardless.

A couple with a small child, more than likely from Port Handley as I didn’t recognize them, walked the beach the morning of day two. They greeted me cautiously. I noticed I could smell them way before I could actually see their faces. Something about them made me want to touch them. I stayed on my side of the beach to be careful. I wasn’t sure of anything about myself and I didn’t want to hurt anyone. And I sure as hell didn’t want to touch kids.

They walk away from me while I fought having fantasies about touching their arms, holding them close to me. I frightened myself with my quirky thoughts. I thought about Aleks and the conversation we needed to have about my mother. I tried to distract myself. It might have worked if every thought hadn’t turned to Shane, which in turn twisted into a memory about having S.E.X. with Shane.

I really wanted to try to have more of the S.E.X.

I also needed to stop spelling it in my head.

I was going stir crazy, thinking about him touching me.

I wanted him.

I wanted to touch him.

I wanted to do it all again.

At first I thought they were ordinary sex thoughts that a person would have after doing it for the first time. Then I realized that I was obsessing. I was like a teenage boy than a prudish girl.

The warm wind from the fire tricked me into believing Aleks was back.

I had driven myself nutty long enough and decided to bail on my plan of three days. I started to extinguish the fire by spreading out the logs of wood, breaking apart the remnants with my shoe. I used a large seashell I had found and grabbed water from one of the tidal pools. I started to pour water on the fire when I saw movement behind me.

I turned to see Shane sitting on the log where I had been. I wanted to run to him, but I stayed very still. I put the seashell down and waited for him to talk.

He didn’t speak.

He just sat, staring at the fire struggling to remain lit as if not realizing I was there.

He looked devastated.

I walked toward him, lost in the fear that I had imagined him. “Shane, are you really there?” I asked him, feeling terrified he was dead like Jaime had been.

He nodded. “Yeah, Aimee, I am. I waited for you, but you never came. Again you left me. I was pissed and I went to Blake’s. He told me everything he said.”

Anger brewed inside of me. I wanted to kill Blake.

“I’m so sorry.” He lifted his face to meet mine. “I drove everywhere looking for you. I just wanted to tell you the truth about what I think and whatever. I looked everywhere for you, but I couldn’t find you until I stopped to get gas. The old guy who sells his worms as bait there was telling Mike, the guy who owns the bakery, how he could swear he saw the crazy James girl running on the highway by the trail here.”

“The crazy James girl?” I was beginning to hate this town.

“Yeah.” He laughed and dragged a hand through his messy hair that I loved. “The funny thing about knowing someone for seventeen years, Aimes, is that you get to know certain things about them. I knew you would come to this beach.”

He looked angry with me for a reason I couldn’t place. I wondered what else Blake had told him, since I had pretty much divulged everything. My stomach hurt thinking about the ways I had betrayed him and vice versa.

I trembled, stopping dead in my tracks before I lashed out at him and waited for him to finish.

“I don’t know what to say.” He looked so defeated, it made me sick.

“What!” A trigger snapped in my brain. “You don’t know what to say? You came all this way to tell me that? After you agreed to commit me and had sex with me all in the same day—all you have to say is you don’t know what to say? What the hell?”

“I know!” He jumped at my shouting. “Aimes, please! The story is just so crazy, and you believe it.”

“Get away from me.” The words hurt me. They cut into my soul.

“Maybe there is something—like a tumor. Aimes, you’re living at the beach alone.” He was pleading with me.

“I know that, Shane. I know I’m alone. None of the assholes in my life believe me.” I looked up at him. “Well, except the angels and demons. I’m sure they’ll be here any minute. At least they haven’t abandoned me.” It was a low blow, I knew that. I also knew they weren’t coming, and I was truly alone.

He flinched and flashed in his eyes. “What do you want me to do? Aimee, what do you want? I will do anything!”

“Nothing!” I challenged him. “Just believe me!”

“I can’t.” He slumped. “Aimee, there isn’t anything wrong with you that I can see. You seem fine to me but the story—come home with me. I wish you’d just come to me in the beginning of all of this. I wish you’d trusted me. I hate the fact we’ve had all these secrets.” He stepped forward and put his hands over mine.

I hadn’t noticed the taste of him that lingered in the air until he neared me and touched my skin. Then I became electric. I felt every move he made in the air around me. It scared me.

He snatched his hands back. “Oww, Jesus! You shocked me.”

My eyes fluttered from the ecstasy of touching him. “Go, Shane.” I breathed heavily, using all the restraint I had inside of me to stop myself from lashing out at him. I wanted to go home, I wanted a shower, I wanted to trust him, but I couldn’t trust myself, not yet.

“Blake told me you’ve been seeing that Aleks guy behind my back the entire time we’ve been seeing each other. Is that why you want me to leave?”

The words hung out in the air. They felt like a black hole, taking everything good with them. I doubly hated Blake. I hated him even more for hurting Shane.

I didn’t fight with Shane, because if I stopped fighting with myself, I would lose control. I knew I would hurt him. My hands wanted to hold him and it was for a bad reason. They burned with the need. My stomach ached and twisted in pain and hunger but not a natural kind.

“Were you?” He looked hurt. “Really? Nothing to say? When I found out you were here, I came to give you this.” He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. His arm shook with rage as he held it out in the air for me. “Take the damned letter you wrote me, Aimee. I don’t want those feelings or memories, because I know now that you’re just like your sister. You’re just like her.” He walked toward me, looking like he would hurt me.

He stood over me, looming menacingly.

I could taste his breath on the breeze.

He put the letter into my hands roughly. “Take the stupid thing, Aimee. Just take it back. Take it all back—I want to be free of you.”

“Please.” I flinched away from him, scared of what he would do next. Tears poured down my face but I maintained the grip I had on myself.

“Leave me alone.” He looked at me like I was nothing more than a nuisance.

I let him back away, before I whispered, “I love you.”

He turned away from me to walk down the beach. I wanted to stay frozen in my tracks, but foolishly I ran to him as fast as I could. “Shane, wait, please.” I grabbed his arm, pulling him back to me.

The minute his skin came in contact with mine, I felt it—pull from him. He stood motionless as I filled up. The feeling was more joy than I had ever felt. I inhaled him through my hands somehow. I let go, hurting myself as if cutting off a vein feeding me. He shivered and swayed like he had drank too much or stood up too quickly. Afraid of touching him, I backed away as he got his bearings.

He looked confused but turned away again, leaving me standing on the beach alone.

I hated Blake. I wanted to blame him for it all. It was fleeting and immature, but I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t move as I watched Shane get smaller and smaller. I was cold and alone, even though the sun shone on me.

I blinked, realizing he was gone, probably had been for some time. I stood there for a very long time and watched the place he had entered the forest, leaving me forever. I knew I had made the wrong choice when I had met Aleks. I had never realized that losing Shane meant losing the person I wanted to be, and the life I wanted to have.

Defeated, I turned and walked back to my campfire to stoke it for the night. The night was a cold one. Even I shivered with the breeze coming off of the water.

When I heard rustling in the woods I hoped it was a wolf or bear coming to attack me and leave me in the woods to die.

I almost laughed when I realized I would never die.

Foolishly I’d drunk from a demon.

In my despair, I fell asleep in between the logs and rocks.

I woke up feeling refreshed again. I didn’t know how long I slept, but the summer fog had come in thick.

On the North Coast the best way to tell when summer had hit was the fog. It rolled in every night at six and rolled out at eleven the next day. I was unable to see beyond a few feet in front of me. The fire had long gone out and was cold. I assumed I must have had one of those huge sleeps again. My hair was soaked from the mist in the fog and my fleece hung soaked from my shoulders. I curled my legs into me and waited for some kind of death to come and claim me.

After a very long time alone and cold, I decided I was finished with the transition phase of my life. I needed to either be an undead, or to die, or to just be what I was at that moment.

I stood stretching my legs and arms and started the long trek back to the trail.

It had been more than three days, no doubt. I was ready to start my life all over again. I clearly wasn’t a threat to my family as long as I didn’t touch any of them. We had gone years without touching, and it wasn’t like I would have a boyfriend or any friends when I got there. I got to the sandy beach but stopped walking.

A gray figure sat on the sand, looking down. I could tell immediately that it was Aleks. He looked bad—weak and exhausted which I knew was impossible.

I walked toward him, but he never lifted his face.

“I forgive you for leaving me with Dorian,” I spoke quietly, defeated and tired of being alone.

He looked up. “Don’t forgive me. Never forget what I have taken from you.” His voice scratched with despair. I didn’t recognize it at all.

I walked to him, getting lost in the beauty and feelings he made me feel. I stood between his legs and fought the urge to hug him and cuddle into him, just as I always did when I saw him. The memory of the look on Shane’s face stopped me.

He raised his face and met my gaze. “I love you so much, Aimee. It hurts so much to be away from you. I should leave you, but I can’t bring myself to do it.”

“Stay with me through this, Aleks. I need you as much as you need me. You love me and I don’t want to be alone. But first, I need answers.”

He reached forward, hugged me, burrowing his face into my neck. He smelled me, ignoring my statement. “I feel so much better when you’re with me.”

I couldn’t help but agree, but I worried touching his skin and kept my hands to cloth and tried not to think about what had happened with Shane.

“Dorian told me something about your dad. He said he had something to do with my mom’s death.”

His voice was hollow. “He did?”

“Yeah, I know you’re sick right now, but I need you to tell me what that means.”

He smiled. “I’m fine, Aimee. You can’t hurt me. I’m still immortal.” His voice still sounded funny.

“I want answers. The time where you get to dick me around and not share any secrets with me has past. I need and deserve the truth at least.”

“I know.” He nodded, exhaling harshly. “But I don’t know how to tell you. This is serious. You know how you always say ‘garden-variety this’ and ‘garden-variety that?’ My curse was not one of those garden-variety ones. My dad angered a man whose powers still are unmatched to this day. No matter what I say, please try to remember that I love you,” he whispered into my ear.

“Okay.” I waited for some serious answers to be laid out on the table.

He looked like he was trying to gather strength before he started to speak. I didn’t know what to say. I sat there in silence, waiting.

Finally, he spoke. “My dad is immortal too. When I was young, he raped and murdered a woman. I found him drunk with her dead beside him. I cleaned up the mess for him and hid the body. I thought it wasn’t his fault. I thought he had been so drunk that it must have been an accident. I didn’t know.”

“Oh god.” Images of my own mother started to flicker in my mind.

A small tear left his eye, making its slow trek across his face. “Many times that year, people came looking for the woman. She was the medicine man’s daughter. He was devastated that she had run away like that. They had apparently fought over whom she would marry. He used his magic, eventually, to try to find her. I don’t know exactly how it works, but somehow the magic told him what had really happened. He showed up at my house when I was twelve—he was angry. He cursed my dad, in hopes that my dad would murder our family. He cursed me with a type of immortality where I would forever feel responsible for my dad’s actions. The curse would set in upon murder my father committed.” His voice wavered but he cleared his throat.

“He cursed me so that I would be forced to clean up after my dad every time. I would be forced to help the victims left behind, and from their suffering, I would get my sustenance. I would heal them over time, from the shadows. I have not seen my dad for over six hundred years. I always show up too late to stop him.” He finished speaking as if unable, but I knew that was it. He was done speaking, even though an incomplete feeling hung in the air.

“Your dad murdered my mom.” It was a statement.

“I am so sorry, Aimee.”

“You came here to clean up the mess.” Again a statement.

He nodded remorsefully.

“What went wrong. How did we end up here?”

He smiled. “You. I fell for you the moment I saw you. I spent too much time with you. I loved you. I couldn’t focus on what I was doing. You sat on the side of the road, telling me everything and you were so perfect. You missed your mom the way I missed my family.”

I flinched at the thought of it. I wanted to comfort him, but I was not completely finished with the emotions I had brewing inside of me. I wanted answers more than anything at that moment. “What does it mean now that your curse is gone?”

He grimaced. “My dad’s victims will suffer incredibly. No one will help them.” He looked sickened by it. “I won’t ever feel joy or peace again. I am now just a lost soul. I will forever be stuck in the in-between.”

“You still have all of your abilities?”

“Yes.” He looked at me incredulously.

I knew he was wondering how I was being so technical about it, but I had shut off my emotions for a moment to process what was going on. I was unable to feel sorry for him while I was busy feeling sorry for myself.

“Do you feel nothing being here with me now?”

“I do.” He smiled looking at me through his eyelashes, making my nerves quiver and my breath suck in. “You seem to be the exception to the rule. I love you and can feel love for you.”

“Your dad raped and killed my mom. You can’t love me and I can’t love you.”

He looked dejectedly at me. “Aimee, I couldn’t tell you the truth. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

“No.” I shook my head. “If you had been honest with me from the start when you realized I could see you, none of this would have happened.”

“You were already sick and my dad had already killed your mom.”

I felt sick. “I wish we never met.”

He nodded. “I know you do. I won’t bother you. If that’s your wish.” He leaned in and kissed me and like a puff of smoke was gone.

I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t wanted him to go, had I?

I didn’t want to be alone again but I was.

I was sad about my mom. I curled into a ball and fell asleep again until I heard the bushes rustle behind me, waking me up.

Aleks whispered, “I am so sorry.” He sat beside me, pulling me into him. He slipped his huge black fleece off and pulled it over my head. I didn’t realize I was cold until the warmth from his jacket seeped into my skin.

“I’m sorry too.” I shivered, closing my eyes. I had gotten to the place of insanity. I wasn’t certain any of it was real anymore. I was thinking either side effect of the drug, or that I was dead, or it was the long-assumed brain tumor. “Where are we going to go?” I asked, knowing that I couldn’t go back to my place. I couldn’t stay one more day at the beach without murdering an entire village out of boredom.

He frowned. “You can’t go anywhere until you change.”

I laughed bitterly. “I’m not changing, Aleks. It isn’t happening. I’m still me, just a bit different. I’m the same as I was when I was at Blake’s a week ago. Too bad Blake’s didn’t work out. I could use a shower.”

He nodded laughing. “Your body had to be healed by Dorian’s blood before it can start to transform. You were on your deathbed. Now that you’re all healed up inside, the change should start to take place.” The way he said Dorian made me curious.

“Why do you hate him, beyond the obvious winning personality traits I experienced?”

“I don’t hate him. I just don’t like angels. Everything they touch somehow turns to shit. Anyway, I want to get you somewhere warm for the night.”

“Yeah. I smell.”

He laughed. It was still weak but he seemed to be a little perkier.

I was pretty sure I was thinking of the same thing as he was, a hotel room. “Uhh, we should probably stay out here. We can make a fire again.”

“Why?” Aleks looked at me doubtfully. “What’s wrong?”

“Well.” I bit my lower lip and sighed, feeling ashamed of myself. “I saw Shane the other day. He came here and was angry with me. Blake had told him everything that’s happened so far.”

“Blake knows everything? Everything, including me?” He didn’t sound impressed.

I knew my eyes answered for me when disappointment filled his face.

He raised his eyebrows at me. “I told you those things in confidence.”

“No.” I shook my head. “I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I just needed someone on my team.”

“Me!” He gripped my shoulders harshly. “I’m always on your team. I just know what kind of danger I bring with me everywhere I go.”

“Shane was very angry about what happened between us. He was cruel, and I deserved every second of it. I dated you both at the same time. I’m disgusting.”

Aleks chewed the side of his lower lip. “You shouldn’t be around him anyway. First, I don’t like it, and second, you could hurt him.”

All I heard was ‘him.’ I could hurt him.

I frowned. “I can’t hurt you?”

He laughed. “No. I am doomed to walk the Earth alone. Nothing can hurt me. Do you honestly think that I’ve never attempted dying?”

“Oh.” I had never thought about it.

Aleks rolled his eyes. “It’s not like in the movies, Aimee. I don’t have a mansion somewhere with all kinds of international money and friends in all the right places. I am alone almost all of the time, except for the odd demon or other mythical being. Did you hurt Shane?”

“Yeah.” I nodded, flinching at the ever-increasing disappointment in his eyes. “It was an accident. I grabbed him to try to make him listen, and my hands pulled from him like they were sucking on him. I looked at him and he was still, like a zombie, and I was filling up. I let go and he left. He seemed dizzy and weird afterward.”

He grinned at me. “You got lucky. Your abilities haven’t set in yet. Until you learn to control that, you might want to refrain from touching anyone.” He looked at me through his lashes. “Except me, of course.”

“Yeah, right.” I smiled at him, knowing I probably wouldn’t be able to touch him, not while Shane was alive. That gave us anywhere from sixty to eighty years to work out what we were to each other. It made me smile disgustedly. It was the life sentence I deserved.

We walked back up the beach to where I had built my fire initially, and I watched as he made the new fire. He was much faster at it than I was, and within a very short amount of time, we were sitting by a very warm fire.

I needed to see my family before Blake decided to continue his witch-hunt and tell my sister. I didn’t want Blake filling their heads with all sorts of truth without me explaining. I hadn’t chosen the path I was on because I had a death wish. The fact that I wasn’t graduating was bothering me beyond belief. I knew I could get my diploma instantly with only a few phone calls. My final grades would still be passes with me missing the last couple months of school. I could show up on final day and just write the stupid thing.

I missed school.

And my guild on World of Warcraft.

And just chilling, eating a bowl of cereal with my dad, watching the Discovery Channel.

I wanted regular. I wanted Giselle’s million text messages about hot doctors. I wanted to hear where she was going to get a tattoo. She had millions of things to say about tattoos. First, it would have to be nice enough to hide her scars. Second, she would want to still have it when she was old, like thirty-five and shit. And third, it would have to enhance her sexiness, not make her look trashy. Exotic, not stripper. I smiled, recalling the conversation.

“You’re not in love with me, are you? Not even slightly?” he asked, looking me in the eye, demanding an answer.

“No.” I was amazed at how easily he had read my face. I forgot that he had spent months memorizing everything I did. “When I was around you before, I was mesmerized by whatever you are. It has an effect on me. I can’t be the first girl to have had it?”

“No.” He blushed and glanced down, making that face I found irresistible. He did look sexy in the firelight. I had to give him that.

“And now I feel it, but I seem to be able to resist it now.”

“Then I will wait and earn your love.” He stood in front of me. “I will wait as long as you need to figure things out. I’ve waited over six hundred years for you. Every day I died being forced to live without love.”

In the darkness his blue eyes stood out even more, they sparkled.

He knelt in front of me in the sand and brushed my hair from my face on either side. His warm hands sent chills up my spine. His eyes changed, becoming cold and hard. They burned with hatred, frightening me. His face twisted as he spoke to the side of my head, “What are you doing here?”

He spoke behind me. I was off my driftwood, pulled roughly to the far side of the fire, and placed behind him before I could register what was going on. I couldn’t see anything, only feel his tense body holding me still.

“Son, I just wanted to see you. I’ve missed you all these years. I know you’ve missed me,” a man laughed.

I peered through the rigid arms holding me in place to see a naked man. He was in his forties, if I had to guess. He was as large as Aleks was and he looked like him. His eyes were the same white blue.

“You’ve missed me, father, by running from me every time you killed another innocent? I have spent six centuries cleaning up your messes.” Aleks’ voice was a deep growl. I had no idea what he was capable of it until that moment.

The naked man stood tall, proud of his physique. I managed to avoid letting my eyes fall below his face, but it was a struggle.

“Son.” He held his arms out as if in peace. “I just thought that maybe you would want to bury the hatchet. Besides, I haven’t met your young lady yet. You’re being rude, Aleksander.”

His dad maintained his Norwegian accent, more than likely because he spent most of his time alone.

Aleks’ grip tightened on me, his muscles flexed in his back and arms. “She is none of your concern. This is between you and me.” His dad looked as if he were starting to get upset. His body shook in a way I’d only ever seen in a person having a seizure.

His eyes were fixed on me as he licked his lips. His stare was beyond menacing. Instantly, we were moving. I closed my eyes and we stopped.

I was standing outside Shane’s house. Aleks faced me, looking down at me. “I need to do this. I’m so sorry, but I’ve waited for over six hundred years to be able to stop him.”

“Kill him for me too.”

“I will.” He was gone and I was alone again. I turned to Shane’s huge house and knew I wasn’t welcome there. I wanted to go home, but I was terrified Blake had been to my dad already.

My poor dad.

I wished I had just been honest with him from the beginning. I walked around the side of Shane’s house and sat on the deck. His windows were closed and he was inside watching TV. I could hear the TV just faintly from the kitchen window that was wide open. I imagined I was in there watching it with him, snuggled into him and warm.

Instead, I sat on the hard deck and waited for Aleks to come back, which was unlikely. His dad would either kill him or run away. I was completely alone again, but this time something was different.

The change was coming.

I’d spent over a week waiting for it and now that I was at Shane’s house, it was here.

My skin started to burn and my vision started to blur. I hugged myself tightly as the stomachache started again, but this time it was intense. I moaned—I couldn’t help myself. I got up, afraid Shane would hear me and staggered toward the stalker woods. My legs crumpled along the way, taking me down on the grass. I heard a scream and should have been scared, but I hurt too much to worry about that girl. I crawled along the grass, feeling the sweat pour off of me. I heard the scream again. It was starting to annoy me that the girl wouldn’t shut up.

“Aimee—Aimee—is that you? Aimee, oh my God.” Shane’s voice filled the background but I tried to crawl away from him. I needed to keep him safe. The darkness came to take me. Shane’s worried face and mouth moving was the last thing I saw. I couldn’t hear anything over the girl screaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

When is anything ever enough?

 

 

I heard noises. It sounded like someone talking. There were a few of them. I didn’t know where I was, but I was worried Shane was with me and that I would hurt him. My body felt as if someone had taken a tiny blade and cut every inch of me, and then dripped lemon juice on it. I even stung on the bottoms of my feet.

I figured the townsfolk had heard I was a monster and had come with pitchforks to claim me. I could hear them arguing, but I didn’t know what they were saying. I tried to ignore the immense amounts of pain my brain was coping with and turned off my emotional body. I listened as my sister, Blake, Shane, and someone I didn’t know argued. It was a woman’s voice. I assumed it was Shane’s mom.

“She’s changing, just like she said she would.” Shane’s voice sounded like he was defending me.

“No, she’s sick. We need to get her to a mental institute. The drugs have done something very bad to her. I think she has drug-induced schizophrenia.” Blake spoke coldly. I couldn’t believe he hated me that much to want to commit me.

I heard a growl. “Blake, you try to take her and I will kill you.” Shane was defending me. Bliss and guilt rotated inside of me.

“Boys, seriously. I think we need to think about the fact that it’s Aimee. Boring, lame Aimee. She would never do this on purpose. She hates life or any sort of exciting things and would never worry my dad like this. This is not the norm for her, she is sick. She needs a hospital, not the nutter one either, Blake—I can’t believe you said that.” My sister tried to help. I tried not to be offended.

“Shane, I think Alise is right. She needs a doctor. She’s sick.” The mystery woman spoke, trying to reason.

“No, she stays here. If we take her to a hospital, they’re going to think it’s what he thinks it is. There is no way I’m doing that to her.” Shane was defiant.

“She didn’t choose you, man. You’re defending some other dude’s girl.” Blake’s words cut like a knife.

“I chose her.” Shane’s words cut deeper. I wanted to scream I was so frustrated. “You’re her best friend. You should have chosen her too. I want you both the hell out of my house.” Shane wasn’t negotiating.

“Shane, she’s my sister. I’ll go get my dad and he’ll come get her.” My sister tried to threaten him.

“Yeah, you really think involving your dad is the way to help her? If you really want to hurt your dad like that, Alise, go ahead. You’re more selfish than I thought. Neither of you is thinking about what’s best for Aimee. What if she does change into something? What if she did drink demon blood? The doctors will lock her away, poking and prodding her.” Shane was my only salvation at that point.

The pain was too brutal again. I moaned in agony.

I opened my eyes and cringed at the light. Shane was beside me. His mom looked down on me from behind him as he came and knelt beside me. I was on a couch in his sunroom, the make-out room. It was where it all started and it was where it was all ending.

“Aimee, can you hear me?” Shane spoke.

My eyes flickered open and shut. “Yeah,” I croaked.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

I tried to make a smile on my lips. “No, I am the one who is sorry. I love you, Shane, and I want you to have this. I meant it, every word.” I reached into my fleece pocket and pulled out the crumpled damp letter. “I chose you—I always chose you.”

He took it from me and bent down to kiss my forehead.

“I have never loved anyone but you. I never betrayed you, I swear.” I realized then and there that when faced with losing either guy in my life, it was Shane that was killing me. I could live without Aleks, but there was no way I could live without Shane.

The pain grew in intensity again, making me scream.

Shane held me tightly until I pushed him away. “My skin sucks the life out of you. You can’t touch me. I’m becoming something evil.” My voice was almost gone.

“I’ll take my chances.” He wrapped me in a blanket and held me. He wiped my face with something cold. It felt refreshing.

“She’s burning up, Shane. Maybe a hospital?” his mom suggested.

“No.” His responses had not improved.

I blacked out again, lost in a space and time that didn’t matter. I floated in a dark sea of emptiness.

I woke to someone laughing. I knew the voice. “Aimee, Aimee, Aimee, whatever will we do with you?” It was an evil voice. It mocked my pain. “You foolish girl. You should have stayed with me. It’s taken me a week to find you. Days you’ve suffered needlessly.”

A finger roughly opened my eye. I was still on the couch in the sunroom. I recognized the pictures of Shane hanging over the fireplace. My eyes focused to see Dorian’s smiling face. I would have been afraid, but at that point I just wanted death.

“Are you ready to end this?” he asked, grinning his evil-villain grin.

“Yeah.”

He held his finger over my mouth and sliced it with his fingernail. His black blood dripped into my face from his other hand. I tried not to swallow, but he forced it in my mouth. I felt like I was drowning. The warm liquid slid down my throat like the slug it had looked like.

He picked me up and carried me to the back door. I looked around the house to see no one there. Where had Shane gone?

It was the last thought I had before I fell back into a dark and twisted dream.

I floated until I heard him speaking again.

“Why, good morning. Had a good sleep, I assume.” Dorian offered me his hand. I took his hand, feeling completely disoriented. I was in the forest again but not near the beach. There was no salt in the air, just the cool dampness of the woods.

“Am I dead?” I asked slowly. I wondered if he had ended my life with his black goo.

He laughed. “Yes, you are, and yet, you’re not.”

I frowned at him, hating him and his stupid riddles. He was as bad as Aleks. He never answered any of my questions.

“Where is Aleks?” I asked, hoping he had at least killed his dad.

“I’m not his keeper.”

“What are you?”

He trailed a finger down my face. “Does it matter? What I want to discuss is that there is no one here to save you this time. Nowhere you can run to that I can’t find you. Elevators are tricky for me. Can’t wink into moving objects. Not that it matters now. You’re mine.” He started to walk around me slowly in a circle as if inspecting me. He looked like a wolf circling a bunny.

I didn’t feel like a bunny though. I was strong, like I could kill him if I had to. I frowned, wondering how that thought had popped into my mind.

I squeezed my hands, flexing them. I was strong. I just knew it.

He grinned. “You can feel it, can’t you? You’re reborn and brand new.”

“What have you done to me?”

He looked innocently at me as he flashed his black eyes. “I saved you, Aimee. You would have been in the ground already if not for me.” He stepped very close to my face. “Where is your gratitude?”

He pressed his lips into mine forcefully. My lips crushed into my teeth. I winced as he forced his tongue in my mouth. I pushed him away, and he flew backward, slamming into a tree. His evil smile grew as he moaned. “There’s my girl. See how easy it is to lose your cool. If I had been a human, you would have hurt me badly, if not killed me,” he taunted me.

I looked down at my hands, realizing I could never lose it around my sister or Shane, no matter what. I held off judgment on whether Blake was going to feel my full wrath or not.

“Hungry?” he asked as he walked toward me.

“I am hungry.” I couldn’t help but admit it. I was ravenous.

He stepped behind a tree and pulled out a terrified looking girl from behind the huge old cedar tree. She was tied up with a gag in her mouth.

“What have you done?” I was horrified.

“Gotten you a gift.” He brought her to me. She looked frightened as she glanced from me to him and back to me. Her soft, green eyes pleaded with me to save her. Her tear-stained cheeks and sniffling nose pained me, but the terror in her eyes sickened me. She spoke volumes with her eyes, begging me to free her.

I wanted to—I wanted to untie her and run with her as fast as I could. I wanted to get her away from him, but something about her sweet face made me want to touch her. I was compelled to let my fingers just brush, a little, against her soft skin.

She was my age, if not a little older. She had long, blonde hair like mine, but hers was thinner and wispier. She was very pretty, which didn’t seem to affect me. All I saw was the life inside of her. It sparkled. I wanted some of that sweet life.

I looked at her white t-shirt with pink jammie pants, and assumed Dorian had taken her from her bed.

Almost everything in my body told me to save the girl. Nearly everything screamed to run away from her. But a tiny part of me whispered for me to just brush against her thin bare arm, with just one finger. I wanted just one taste of her. I couldn’t fight myself as I lifted my right hand. I touched the soft fabric of her white cotton shirt. I let my hand fall to her bare arm and her skin jolted against mine.

She struggled until I touched her. Then she stood very still. I let my finger drag down her bicep, filling me up.

I pulled my hand away, shutting off the sensation.

She looked dazed, taking deep breaths. I let my finger brush her warm skin again, and as I touched her, the sensation came again.

Gasping, I pulled away again.

An unnamed need filled me so strongly. My body acted before my brain could react. I grabbed both of her bare arms with my hands and held her tightly. I was certain I would tear the arms right off of her. A light come down from the sky like a sunbeam as I was filled completely.

There had been a void inside of me, a hole that had needed filling. I had been unaware of it until I touched her. I had mistaken it as hunger. I pulled every last little bit from her. I felt her run out—I was still a little hungry, so to speak. I squeezed her thin arms, hoping to get every last little drop.

As the connection faded and she was empty, I let go. She fell to the ground in a heap. I flexed my thin fingers, stretched them. I was alive in that moment, like I was a battery that had just been recharged.

Dorian’s eyes sparkled with life as he watched me experience it for the first time. He knew the feeling I was having at that moment. It was ecstasy.

I looked down at the heap of girl on the ground. “Is she okay?”

“No, she’s gone, my dear. Try to think of them as sheep. It gets easier.”

“Gone?” I blinked. I didn’t fully comprehend what was being said. I knelt beside her and shook her. I could see the places I had squeezed so hard on her thin arms. She moved like a sleeping person when I shook her, but she didn’t stir.

“You’ve drained her life from her. She’s a shell now. Her soul is free.” His voice was a whisper in the silent forest.

I looked up at him as a tear form in my eyes. “She’s dead. I killed her.”

“It’s either feed off of them or die yourself.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to run. I wanted to run away from her. She was proof that I was a monster. The forest spun around me as I looked for an escape or a solution.

“What am I?” I panicked. My breathing was out of control.

“You’re an immortal now. Every immortal has a specific need. It’s how we survive. Vampires need blood, lycanthropes need raw flesh, succubi need human emotions, and we need souls, or rather, the separation of the soul. We feed on the tearing that occurs when the soul is set free.”

“What are we?”

He smiled. “Death deities, sin eater, grim reaper, black angel of death. You choose. Either way, your touch does tend to finalize everything in one’s life.”

“No.” I shook my head. “Death deities? No, that’s a myth. That’s mythology.” But I looked down at the dead girl and knew that what he had said was true. I was what he had said. My hands. They were my mom’s hands. I’d always loved that. Hers had never been as dirty as mine were.

I covered my face, astonished at how much I could hate myself, Dorian, Blake, and Aleks, all at once. “This is the fate I chose instead of death—instead of my one single death? I’ll survive by doling out death, like I was God? Like I have any right to choose for others? How could you not tell me? How could Aleks not tell me?” My words felt as if they belonged to another, they sounded too hollow to be mine.

Dorian ignored me. He looked at his cell phone as if I were keeping him from something pressing. Something besides the death and burial of a girl. I knew that to him this was one useless girl. I shuddered as I looked at her. I wondered if he had used his mind tricks to do terrible things to her first.

I couldn’t reason with myself. I was death, and that was a fate I was going to have to find a way to work around. “You’ve made me into death. I’m death. Will I kill everything I touch?”

He sighed impatiently. “No, you have to learn to shut it off and on. You have to learn to control it.” He kicked the girl on the ground, not respecting her limp dead body. “This is because you were too hungry. If you let it get too far, your hunger will take over. You will feed, Aimee. We always feed. If you don’t get too hungry, you can be picky. You can choose the evil or sick.”

“Don’t you touch her.” I shrieked at him and picked the dead girl up off of the forest floor.

I held her like she was my sister, my kin. If she were my family, I would want something else for her, beyond some disgusting demon kicking her corpse in the woods. She was still warm in my hands. I didn’t know what to do with her.

Lifting my nose, I smelled the air for the ocean and started to run toward the scent of the salt. I had never seen a dead body before, let alone held one in my arms. I wanted to hug her and cry and tell her everything would be okay, even when it wouldn’t. It would never be okay—I had taken her life.

I ran as fast as I could, which apparently was pretty fast. I saw the ocean through the trees and ran down to the beach. I looked both ways to ensure no one saw me carrying a dead girl out into the open waters. The cold ocean water hit me with a refreshing wave. The cold didn’t hurt like it should have. I swam out into the chuck, holding her hand until I reached a good distance from the beach. I let all of my breath out and grabbed the dead girl’s hand. I sank like a stone down into the cool ocean water.

The seawater didn’t bother my open eyes. I watched seaweed and small fish pass by us as we sank into the dark.

When I reached the bottom of the sea floor, I found a big rock and pinned her under the rock, trying desperately not to think about what I was doing. I left her there in her pink pajamas and white t-shirt. I looked at the peaceful look on her face and felt nauseated.

I swam to the surface, kicking with my legs as fiercely as I could. When I broke through the waves, I breathed in relief to feel the air in my lungs. No air in my lungs felt unnatural. I swam to shore and crawled out of the ocean waves.

I tried to be realistic about the whole situation. It was my first time being a soul-sucking demon. It was my first kick at the can feeding off of a person. I made a rookie mistake. I could do better. I could find a cancer ward or criminals and easily put them out of their misery. I knew that if I’d been warned or trained by someone with compassion and care, it wouldn’t have happened. I looked into the forest where I knew Dorian was and decided I would try my luck alone for a while. I knew I couldn’t stay in my hometown.

Hopeful and distraught at the same time, I started to run along the beach and dove into the water again. I knew Portland was my only hope.

I shut myself off—my feelings for Shane. I had no feelings for Blake—not any I was willing to act upon so I pushed him to the back of my mind. I didn’t need that anger now. My sister and dad would be sad without me, but at least they would be alive. I shut off my feelings for the girl on the ocean floor, who didn’t deserve the death she received. It was done.

I swam for the harbor.

When I got there, I crawled out breathlessly and dragged my sopping cold body into an alley. I pressed my back against the wall and waited for things to make sense—no money, no food, no shelter. No friends. No Shane. No Aleks. I shook my head and tried to reason with myself—tried to make it make sense.

I noticed a scent on the cool breeze. I lifted my nose and took a deep inhale. The smell was ecstasy—like a donut shop or patisserie. My mouth watered. I opened my eyes and realized what I was seeing. It was a couple walking hand in hand. I was smelling them. They smelled like dessert. I turned and ran into the alley. I wouldn’t take another life. No matter what. I dragged myself into a cardboard box and closed my eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

How much sin can a sin eater eat in a city full of sin?

 

 

One year later – Portland, Oregon

 

The heels of my boots clicked with every strike against the cold, shiny cement. The dank night air crept in through my thin sweater. Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around myself and tried to keep up with his pace without being too obvious.

My palms were warm.

They itched with a burning I could not soothe. I wiped them on my pants back and forth, dragging them as I waited for the release. It was the same every time. I still had no patience like I’d had when I was alive. I lost my ability to sit still. My trigger finger itched, so to speak.

I rounded the corner, staying across the street from him, trying not to let him get too far ahead of me. His outdated pleather jacket made it easy to keep him in my sights. No one but an immortal would be wearing pleather.

I sounded like Giselle…

He turned down a dark alley, making me grimace as I wondered if perhaps he was on the lookout for his next victim or if he would go home.

Overconfidently, he walked without ever looking back. His kind always believed they were the strongest animals in the urban jungle. His instincts lied to him and allowed for a false sense of security.

I fingered the silver band with the thin red line running through the middle of it on my middle finger. On the underside of the ring sat a delicate red rose.

The ring was my mark.

It was my badge.

It permitted me to follow the man.

It made my brand of deadly force acceptable.

When he stopped, I realized we were near the alley I had been in when she had rescued me. I shivered and tried not to think about how bad it had all gotten, how hungry I had been. I still reeked of seawater and possibly my own urine when she found me.

She was the craziest old lady ever.

She strolled right up to the cardboard box and kicked it, calling me by my name.

My hands ached to take her life, any life.

But she wasn’t scared.

She saved me.

I shook my head and snapped back to the visual I had on the mark.

He cut through the alley to his building, going home.

I climbed the fire escape on the other side of the alley and watched him from the, through the window.

A shout tore from the apartment. He paced in the window, screaming at motionless beings that I could not see through the tiny window. He trembled like he was about to break.

He was the one.

I thumbed the platinum ring, mindlessly watching, always watching. The Roses had saved me from myself in a moment of weakness and sorrow. I wished I could save Peter, but he had taken it too far—his kind always did. The Fae didn’t work well with humans. Humans were too weak.

His hands flew back and forth, expressing his rage. He stopped, hovering a moment over something or someone. No one moved beyond him and no words were spoken besides his.

He was a monster, trying desperately to control his change, surrounded by humans. Weak and breakable humans. I literally watched as his mind lost its control like a twig breaking from a branch. It made the most pronounced snap as the control was lost and the monster emerged.

He shouted and then his fists came down on the couch. They came down hard, making screams match the fury they hit with. His arms moved like a madman’s, clawing and hitting as his body trembled with the change.

He was going to shift in front of them.

I knew it wasn’t entirely his fault. He had made the mistake of thinking that he would be able to have a normal life.

I winked myself inside to the madness. The inhabitants of the room could not see me as they covered themselves completely. Peter raged at the couch and the people curling against each other. A mom tried to protect her two small children. She used her body as a shield. 

Peter’s face grew distorted as his head shivered and shook.

I leapt forward, not even worrying about whether I was seen or not. I touched Peter’s quivering shoulder. I smiled down at the small child on the couch, who peeked up at me from under his mom’s bleeding arm. He smiled through the tears when his eyes met mine and his lips formed the word, “Angel.”

I winked my right eye, disappearing from where I was and flashing us to the street with me standing in front of him.

His eyes widened in disbelief as I lifted him into the air.

Warm, sparkly life jolted into me when my bare hands made contact with the fleshy meat of his throat before he had the chance to finish changing into a worthy adversary.

He choked and fought, but it was useless as recognition and fear spread across his face. “You’re a Rose.” His last words.

My eyelids fluttered as the blissful feeling of feeding filled me up.

Peter’s body would remain in human form long enough for the medical examiner to rule it a heart attack. His body wouldn’t decay the way a regular human would, but he would be buried or burned before then.

“Stop!” A man’s voice echoed through the alley, interrupting my meal.

The spark of the fire died when the dead man dropped to the ground. The way it ended without the normal fizzle forced a shudder of dissatisfaction.

Turning I licked my lips, wondering if my eyes still glowed like molten steel, a result of my feast. Down the alley a policeman stood with his weapon drawn, shaking in his hands. I wondered if he was new to the force. I knew the feeling. My hands mimicked his, trembling still.

“Stay where you are!” His voice never wavered the way the sizable gun did. Not that his strong command masked the scent of fear that rode on the wind, as if searching out my nose. “Don’t move!” His voice was familiar. “What’s in your hands?” He crept closer. “Show me your hands!”

Panic filled me. “Run his prints and you’ll thank me.” The dead man on the ground wasn’t innocent. The Roses had rules about that sort of thing. I wished I could explain that to him.

The policeman walked toward me cautiously. “Get down on the ground.”

“No.” I shook my head, almost laughing. “Would you lie on this street? This alley is filthy with germs and God only knows what else.”

A gust of wind blew up the alley, bringing with it a scent of laundry soap and deodorant, with a subtle mix of windblown sea air and the distinct smell of human being. It brought back panic as I looked around for an exit beyond my usual one. I couldn’t just vanish in front of him.

His smell was the soundtrack to my youth and innocence. His was the only true love I’d ever known. The only real one.

His face lit up as he got closer. He looked good, strong as always. His broad shoulders and handsome face brought a thousand images and beautiful moments to the forefront of my memory.

My breath hitched, as he stood under the lone flickering streetlight in the alley of the neighborhood the city had forgotten ages ago.

The fear mingled with desperation to see him clearer. Just one close up look of him would fill me for the next hundred years.

I let it go too far.

He frowned in disbelief as he recognized me too. “You—you’re the one? That’s not possible.”

Raw emotion danced upon his face. His lower lip trembled. I let the fantasy of our lips gently touching play in my head before I took a step back, putting my hands out. “Pretend you never saw me. The medics will say heart attack.”

“No, not you!” His face twisted in pain. “Anyone but you. Why?”

I blinked slowly, allowing a single flash of every second of our time together.

Every touch.

Every smile.

They had become my playlist when the burn in my chest grew unbearable. Only those little moments could sooth me.

I couldn’t avoid the sharp breath that left my mouth as I let the flat words leave my lips, “I have to eat—they make sense.”

“What?” He looked sickened. “You’re eating them? How? They have no marks. None of the others had marks.”

I let all of it hurt and burn, searing my soul.

I deserved to suffer.

I wanted to explain.

I wanted to be that girl—his girl.

I wanted to be sitting on the back steps of his house, listening to his dreams.

Instead, I turned and jumped onto the handrail of the stairs next to me, and climbed the fire escape.

I ran up the stairs before he could even register that I’d left.

I could still smell his fear, but it had switched. It was a different kind of fear. The kind that broke my already tattered heart. His fear of losing me again crowded the air around me, joined by his screams.

Tears streamed my cheeks as I listened to him shout my name, but I never stopped. I ran to the top of the building, desperate to get away. “AIMEE!”

I winked from there, coming out near the train.

Tears streamed my cheeks as I leaned against a building and took deep breaths.

A year, a whole year had passed and I hadn’t seen him, not like that. I’d seen him in the glow of his house. Or through the window at police academy. I’d seen him sleeping.

But not staring at me like that, his heart breaking all over again.

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

 

My heels clicked on the street, distracting me.

I looked down at my boots and wondered what it was about them that made me feel sexy. I had contemplated it over and over many times in my new life. Boots made me feel sexy, and it was a mystery beyond everything else as to why. For me, there was strength in a pair of boots, like a super power.

I had started wearing them when I first got trained to be a Rose. When Lydia had saved me from the alley and the starvation.

My sister had always worn them.

I blocked that thought out of my mind. I wasn’t that girl anymore. I didn’t have a sister anymore. I had to let them all go.

I had a new family now. I wasn’t alone in my pursuit, and had found people I belonged with. Or rather, they had found me. I fingered my platinum ring as I walked down the street.

I jumped on the train and tried to blend in.

The ride was exactly the sort of mindless activity I craved when I was scouting for trouble. It was monotonous until the group of men a few seats away, started to harass the pretty waitress near me. I waited as always for them to stop being assholes—I tried to not interfere. It almost always involved someone dying. I finally understood Aleksander not wanting to get involved with humans. Explaining anything I did was too complex.

I wasn’t, however, going to sit by and let a waitress entertain a group of men against her will in the train tunnels either. They were going to hurt her. They went further and further with the joking until they had worked each other up, and there was no turning back.

I sat, shaking, trying to keep my head down. I was supposed to be looking for supernaturals and immortals, not attacking young men. The woman had tried to pull away but the filthy pervert who sat next to her held onto her tightly. He stood hovering over her like she was his next meal.

“Oh, she’s hot. You’re a ho, aren’t ya, baby?” another of the superior males muttered when the girl tried to stand up. The gyrating pervert pushed her back down into her seat. They hovered over her like vultures, awaiting the end of the ride.

Every word and movement drove my upper lip to lift farther and farther on the right side, into a disgusted sneer. They wanted to do things I could never permit. I had forbidden myself from hurting regular humans, unless they were putting another human in danger.

“L-l-leave me alone.” The pretty girl begged, looking around the train for aid from anyone. As per the usual, the fine patrons of the train kept their eyes to their hands. They showed no sign of interfering in the pain she would certainly become victim to. I could sense their good intentions were being stifled by the fear they felt toward the group of men. I knew that they would dial 9-1-1 for the girl as soon as the men grabbed her and dragged her into the tunnels. That was what good Samaritans did. I almost rolled my eyes.

As if answering my prayer, a huge man dressed as a construction worker stood up. He was a beast. He looked menacingly at the small group of men. “Leave her be.” His voice was gruff. “Come with me.” He put a hand out. It shook as he reached for her.

The waitress stood quickly and ran away from the men. She rushed to the arm of the man who saved her, her savior. She clutched her bag and refused to look back at the pack of wolves.

The big man pulled her along the train and through the door to the next car. The men screamed obscenities and challenges of brute strength. The happy couple left the train car, ignoring them completely.

The men continued to shout. It was easy to be strong when you had several men guarding your back.

I smiled, knowing the waitress and the construction worker would probably fall in love because of his bravery. He had saved her and she would forever remember that, through thick and thin. I loved happy endings. I knew that they could get off the subway and never speak to each other again, but I liked to imagine the best since my world was the worst. Shane was my knight in shining armor. The one that chose me, even when he feared I never chose him.

I smiled as the fiends eyeballed me next. Their prey had been taken brutishly and they needed someone else to fulfill their need. I had my own needs and a group of thugs would do more than nicely to satisfy them.

“How unfair, boys. No one to play with now?” I taunted wickedly.

Eyebrows raised in confusion.

Confidence in a woman was considered a challenge to men who did their preying in packs. They instantly smelled, no, reeked of insecurities. They became uncertain of the young pretty girl who sat all alone—but determined to crush me at the same time.

I looked them straight in the eyes and asked for trouble. I smiled. “Well, I guess no one wants to play with me.” I stretched a long, lean leg out, flaunting my F-me boots and batting my eyelashes.

The ugly brave or foolish man who had dry humped the girl’s arm stood. He challenged me back. “You stupid bitch. You looking for trouble?”

His filthy demeanor made me smile wider. “Bitch? Probably. Stupid? No. Why don’t we step outside when the train stops? Then perhaps we shall see exactly who is stupid, your little rabble of filth or me.”

I stood long and lean in my super-woman boots and felt the world vibrate under my foot. It might have been the train, but I was riding a high and enjoying the feeling.

I didn’t flinch as one of them took a step toward me.

My long, light-blonde hair flowed around my back like a cape. I was invincible. I stared down the pack of dogs.

The ugly man waved his arms in the air dismissively and nodded to his friends. “That’s a crazy bitch. We don’t like crazy bitches.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I was crazy.

They smiled nervously and nodded amongst their small circle, speaking in a low rumble. They continued their name-calling but agreed amongst themselves that I wasn’t pretty enough for their attentions. I walked over to the door and with my back to them, I watched in the window beside me. They conspired against me weakly, and I decided they were far too beneath my efforts.

I got off the train, noticing the cool breeze in the air along with the familiar smell of burned incense. It was a dark smell, musty and old like the soul it belonged to. It was like smelling winter and the decay, but in a romantic hue instead of the decomposition it truly was, overwhelmed the senses.

I looked around without seeing anything or anyone. I smiled at the true challenge of the night. There were many of them. Instead of winking home, I broke into a run. I winked a small distance and ran. They would have run me down if I’d just run. I was fast but not fast like them.

I loved the click of my high-heeled boots on the concrete as I sprinted up the stairs past the old courthouse. My lungs pushed for air as my leg muscles flexed strenuously. My heart beat faster than I’d heard it beat in months. It was exhilarating. I almost felt alive.

My bright-blonde hair flew behind me like a white cape, flashing in the dark night. I pumped my arms harder and pushed myself. I fled for the safety of my home. The guards put there would stop them, the hounds of the darkness. The ground swirled with the darkness that always surrounded them.

I saw the street sign just as I heard their feet catching up and their breath nipping at my ears. I ran faster, pushing harder, but they too were fast. I almost winked, but instead, met the challenge. They had been made strong, just as I had been. The guards grabbed me in time, just as one of the filthy dogs leapt at me.

I burst into a coughing laugh. I recovered instantly from the exertion, but still bent forward and smiled. I loved the feeling of my muscles in my legs contracting. “You-you almost had me. Very good work. I won’t forget that foot race for some time. Maybe next time I’ll wear bigger heels and I won’t wink at all. That might give you a chance.” I waved goodnight to the shadows pacing in the background, behind the wall of guards.

“Oh, we’ll have you, princess. We’ll taste your dark blood soon.” A dark and frankly daunting voice rode the wind above me.

I pulled my sweater around myself as I curtsied. “The sun always wins, lads, and the north wind always loses. Goodnight, my fair princes.” I waved once again to the figures mulling around the road beyond me and then walked up to the old house at the end of the road and opened the unlocked front door. I had always told her she should lock the door in a city as busy as Portland. The old bat couldn’t be bothered. She knew nothing in its right mind would ever attempt her front door. Except me. But I wasn’t in my right mind, and we both knew that.

She sat in the old rocking chair looking millions of years old, smiling. “Taunting your brothers of the night again?” she cackled as only an old witch could.

“Yeah. I can’t help myself.”

“Did you take a life?”

“I did. A girl’s got to eat, you know?”

Lydia smiled her old-lady smile. “You could have some fruit like a normal girl. Maybe a steak.”

I made a face. “Ewwww. Lydia, you know I’m a vegetarian. Steak, yuck.”

She laughed again as I walked to my bedroom.

I lay back on my bed and relived the instant I saw Shane. I looked over at the window and wondered where he was at that exact moment. I smiled and blew him a kiss.

No matter what, we were under the same moon.

I fell asleep with his smile in my mind. 

The dream was the same every time.

The city stunk of decay and blood.

Ruin was all around me.

People were crying.

In a panic, everyone searched for their loved ones. A disaster had hit and destroyed it all in a moment. I searched for the one I’d missed, the one who snuck through our system and had made the mess of everything.

I looked everywhere, but through all the pain and suffering, all I saw was his face.

Shane’s.

He stood near to me, breathing me in. I wanted to touch him so badly. My dad’s hands reached out to me, the same way the man on the train had done to the waitress. He was a knight in shining armor, there to save me by pulling me away from Shane. I stuck my hand out to take his hand just as I looked back at Shane. Suddenly I realized my dad was sticking his hand out to save Shane, and not me at all. I stepped closer to Shane and smiled at him.

A woman screamed as I stood on my tiptoes and lifted my lips to meet his. As we kissed, the world shattered into a million pieces. The warmth and realness of his face was close to mine.

“Aimee, you have to wake up,” the soft voice I knew so well whispered to me.

I woke startled, wrapped in my own embrace as beads of sweat soaked me. I had fallen asleep in my clothes again. I sat upright for a moment and pulled my sweater off. The night air brushed me. I looked around, dazed and expecting to see someone in the room with me. I had been certain a voice had woken me. I had been certain it was my mother.

Perhaps it had been her, finally trying to talk to me. Something about the dream always haunted me. I wished it would go away, but at least it allowed me to see his face—all their faces.

I rolled on my back as I slipped off my jeans and pulled the blankets around me. The enveloping darkness was a warm comfort inside my bed.

I fell back to sleep, dreaming of him again.

 

 

 

The End.

 

Or rather the beginning.


Cursed (Book 1 of the Devil's Roses YA version)

Someone is drugging the fairest of them all and leaving them in the dark corners of the forests surrounding Port Mackenzie. The violent acts shroud the harbour town in mystery and fear. In a town where doors are left unlocked and everyone knows everyone else, Aimee James, the unlikeliest of them all, finds herself the next target. But as the stakes get higher and her body gets weaker, Aimee discovers there are worse things than dying. There is something called cursed. This is the YA version of The Devil's Roses.

  • Author: Tara Brown
  • Published: 2016-09-23 21:20:16
  • Words: 89608
Cursed (Book 1 of the Devil's Roses YA version) Cursed (Book 1 of the Devil's Roses YA version)