Chapter 1 - A Blue Dress
Emilia tried on the red dress, scowling. Her reflection in the mirror seemed fine, the peep-toed shoes she had picked out matched well, but it still looked so… so boring. Sighing, she threw the dress the mused bed and rummaged through her small closet for another. Maybe blue…
Tonight was clubbing night, but not just any clubbing night. It was the Friday after midterms and for herself and the other study abroad students, that meant a night to party and either celebrate doing well or drown their sorrows in drinks. It would also be her second night out. The first night still made her cringe.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. “Are you ready yet?” shouted a too-loud, too-happy voice she recognized to be Denna.
“Um… almost?” Emilia supplied, holding the old blue dress against her frame with a frown. Everything she managed to try on made her seem like she was at church or on her way to church. But maybe that would be okay for the night? After all, it was only one night, and she could always take a taxi back if it was awful…
“Oh my god, just pick something and hurry up!” Denna shouted, and her footsteps echoed back down the hall with the grace of a rockslide and the delicacy of a falling tree. Emilia sighed and, swallowing her unease, pulled the dress on.
Boring church-look it was.
“Eyyy, you came!” Brandon called out with his lilting accent. He stood by the rickety dorm staircase, his smile wide and expression hollow. In his hand was a half-empty bottle of flavored vodka. “Emilia, my girl, I was beginning to wonder if you were going to waste a perfectly good opportunity like tonight. Waste it.”
“Nope, not me,” Emilia replied, simultaneously ducking her head so that he wouldn’t throw his arm over her shoulders. “Wouldn’t waste it for the world.”
“Hey, want a tip, Emi?” Denna asked, her cheeks flushed. She wobbled a bit in her high heels.
A tip? Tips were good. Tips might help her survive this night. “Like?”
“Don’t talk so… so nicely. It sounds weird.” She made a face. “You sound weird.”
“Ah.” Emilia glanced back at her dorm, to her second-floor window, and then to the stars, all while telling herself to ignore that last part. “My bad.”
“Yo!” Brandon suddenly shouted. “Anyone order a taxi?!”
A few people waiting by the side of the road looked at them and shrugged. Someone shouted a yes, another person whistled, and another staggered to some bushes and retched. All in all, a typical Friday night, except worse.
Emilia sighed and looked at the sky. There were a few clouds, but the stars continued to shine.
The music was obnoxious, if it could be considered music at all. A wild beat hammered the walls and the lights trembled from the heavy bass. Someone had spilled their drink on the dance floor; stale bear and sweat assaulted the air while a fog machine made it warm and sticky. Though it was a college party, a middle-aged man rocked out in the middle of the dance floor, and his movements reminded Emilia of a piece of seaweed. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, except for herself and two others; a thoughtful silver-haired boy leaning against the wall, and a sullen dark-haired boy standing beside him.
Though, misery loves company, and Emilia consoled herself that she wasn’t the only one in agony when Denna dragged her onto the dance floor.
“Just dance!” she unnecessarily screamed before contorting her body in strange positions. Emilia stared, not quite sure where else to look.
“I am definitely not drunk enough for that.”
“Yes you are,” Denna slurred. Emilia was about to point out that she hadn’t had anything to drink when Denna grabbed her wrists and dragged her into the crowd.
Emilia couldn’t imagine anything much worse. Sweaty bodies pressed against her, bumping against her, and left damp marks on her blue dress. A part of her wished for combat boots when someone stepped on her heel, and she managed to duck underneath an elbow.
“See?” Denna grinned wolfishly. The white of her eyes seemed to glow under the backlights. “You got the hang of it!”
“Yeah…” If you can call avoiding people dancing. She stepped to the side, effectively dodging someone spilling their coke and rum. Dark liquid splashed onto the floor, and she could feel its fizzy lukewarmth seep between her toes. Making a face, she thought, People actually do this for fun?
Beside her, Denna laughed. “Dance!”
“I have to wash off my sandals,” Emilia stated as a bouncer began shouting at the man, something about a no drinks on the dance floor rule. Turning around, she lied, “I’ll be right back.”
“You better!” Denna shouted, and then disappeared to find her other friends. There were not many, only two, but they followed Denna around like ducklings and it made Emilia wonder if that’s why Denna begged her to go clubbing with her all the time – she was just tired of being surrounded by the same company. Then again, Emilia didn’t have many friends of her own. Being constantly surrounded by such a heavy drinking and party culture, she never really got over being an outsider. Denna, the definition of party culture, never really understood.
But all this will end in two months, Emilia told her reflection. The smudged, dirty mirror did nothing to soften her haggard expression, and the tiled floor and walls only seemed to amplify the sound of someone retching in the toilet. Three girls fumbled their way in, their cheeks flushed clammy with perspiration and laughter much too loud for such a small space. Emilia ducked her head above the sink, sighing, before straightening with the tired air of someone old before their time. The retching continued.
This is awful.
The door creaked, and Emilia looked up expectantly. Denna tumbled in, followed by two of her friends, and a shiver ran down Emilia’s spine despite her automatic smile.
“Having fun?” Emilia asked when Denna finally noticed her.
Denna smiled, a smile that seemed a little too big for her face. “Yes,” she said, and the two behind her giggled.
Emilia’s smile waned. Ok… creepy. But she couldn’t just say that, so she tried instead, “Are you guys going back to the dance floor?”
“No,” Denna said, clearly speaking for the group. “We’re going to get a taxi back.”
A taxi? “Are you sure?” Emilia asked. “Didn’t you want to stay here all night?”
“No,” Denna replied, “we’ve had enough.” Again, the two behind her giggled.
Emilia’s stomach knotted inside of her. She wanted to go back to the dorms, desperately, but something was off. Primal instinct flared inside of her, ordering her to remain in the club for at least a few hours. She recognized this instinct; it was the same unease she felt went walking down a city street during the night, the same unease she knew after watching a scary movie, and she believed it.
“Ok, have fun then!” Emilia said brightly. “I think I’m going to… to hang out for a while longer. And find Brandon,” she added quickly, wondering if she sounded weird. “I haven’t seen him since we got here.”
Denna huffed. Her eyes were unnaturally bright. “Oh, ignore him, he’s an idiot.”
“Yeah, maybe, but I’d feel bad if I just left.”
“So I’ve heard,” Emilia replied blandly, and stepped for the door. “See you back at the dorms.”
Walking out of the ladies restroom, she did not notice the dark look Denna gave her, or how the two behind her began to nod to themselves before Denna ordered them to stop.
It had taken longer than it should have, but before long Emilia had found a nice spot against the wall. Idly sipping a unnaturally colored drink called the ‘blue smurf’, she contented herself to just watching the crowd and wishing that she was anywhere else but here.
The heavy bass nearly drowned it out, but Emilia turned to the soft, masculine voice that had suddenly appeared by her side.
Her eyes widened for a brief moment before she quickly turned her attention back to the dance floor, face burning. Oh my gosh, he’s hot!
Light gray eyes casually skirted across her before his lips curved into a gentle smile. “Having fun?”
“Clearly,” Emilia replied, mentally struggling not to make a total wreck of the conversation. Well, he laughed so, so far so good? “How about you?”
“I am having a fabulous time,” he stated, leaning against the wall beside her. Hands shoved deep into his jean pockets, he added, “Do people actually enjoy going to these things?”
Emilia shrugged just as someone on the dance floor tripped, taking out three other girls in the process. “I guess so.”
“Do you want to leave?”
Emilia glanced at him, surprised. He was asking her out? Taking special note of his smirk, or the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, she decided that she was going to be bad for once. “Are you offering to get me out of here?” she asked, delighted in the way that his smirk became more defined.
He held out one hand to her, his skin as pale as the moon. “Clearly,” he said, repeated her earlier statement. Emilia laughed and took his hand.
“Not too far, I hope,” she smiled. Hot and hates parties? Good start. “I came here with a few of my friends, and I don’t want to leave them behind.”
“Of course,” he smoothly replied as he escorted her out of the club and into the main bar area. “You’re not from around here, right?”
“I’m not,” Emilia said, momentarily pausing from surprise. “How could you…”
He brushed her lips with one long, slender figure. “Your accent.”
“Oh.” Emilia turned away, face burning. Oh my gosh. He’s so… sappy. Though, she also couldn’t say that she didn’t like the sappiness, per say. It was different than what she was normally into, but didn’t she come abroad for new experiences, to try new things? And who knew - maybe she could be spontaneous and wild every once and a while. “Well…”
“I can show you around,” he continued.
“Or you can buy me a drink and actually learn my name before you start flirting with me,” Emilia pointed out, teasingly.
He smirked. “Santiago,” he told her. “And you?”
“Em-ee-lia.” He said her name with a strange, lilting accent. “Unique name.”
“It’s not that unique,” Emilia pointed out. A bartender asked what they wanted; Santiago ordered them both a dark beer. “Besides,” she added, casually pushing her brunette hair behind her shoulder, “it runs in the family.”
“Does it now?”
“Yes.” She paused. “It is my mom’s middle name, and my great-grandmother’s name…” Wait. What am I saying? He doesn’t care about my family history. And yet, for some reason, she couldn’t stop talking until Santiago placed one delicate finger over her lips, effectively silencing her.
“Hush, little lamb.” A thin tremor skittered down her spine as he grabbed their drinks with feline grace. “Follow me.”
No, Emilia thought, but her denial faded into languid acceptance. Smiling, she slid her hand in the crook of his arm and allowed him to guide her outside, into the chilled air. Fine mist clung to the road and the glowing eyes of car lights shone out in the fog. A drunk couple tottered down the street, giggling to themselves, as a group of guys hung out at the street corner. Their pale eyes watched them pass by.
Emilia flicked her gaze to Santiago, who stared stonily ahead. Santiago has pale eyes.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, but her voice sounded far away and distant.
He smiled. It was no longer kind but dangerous, all sharp around the edges. “You’ll see,” he promised. Emilia, unconcerned, returned his smile.
And then, guiding her into an alleyway, he tilted her head back.
“Nice dress,” he murmured, close enough so that she felt his hot breath tickle her ear, and then bit her.