“Haven?” my boyfriend Alex is waving his hand in front of my face, frowning at my lack of a response. We’re currently at dinner, sitting outside in the warm evening air. The temperature is one of my favorite things about New Orleans, especially since May is my favorite time of the year. The weather is heating up, it’s graduation season, and most importantly, tonight is Alex’s birthday.
However, I think he can tell that I don’t really want to be here.
“Oh, sorry,” I mumble, snapping back into reality. “I was daydreaming.”
He sighs. “I’m sure you were.”
The air hangs between us awkwardly, but I don’t want to argue with him on his birthday. This is supposed to be a good week, and I want tonight to go well. We’ve been arguing on and off for the past few weeks, with the stress of graduating and figuring out what our plans for the future will be.
Alex and I have been together since winter break, since we’re both from New Orleans and had gone to the same high school. We reconnected after running into each other at a bar one night and had managed to stay together long-distance as we both were finishing our final semesters of college. I stayed local to Tulane, while he went off to USC and came home for breaks. We spent spring break together and made it to the home stretch of graduation.
However, while he had his whole life planned out – he had received several job offers in the marketing world and was planning to move back to California over the summer – I was still struggling to figure out what I wanted to do. It had been a source of tension not only between the two of us, but between my mother and me as well. But that was another story, for another time.
I open my mouth to say something to him, but I spy our server coming towards us with food in her hands. We awkwardly smile at her as she carefully places our entrees in front of us and refills our water. Thankful for the excuse to remain silent, I dig into my pasta dish while Alex starts adding more toppings to his burger.
After a few minutes go by, I feel as though I can’t bear the awkward silence any longer. “So how does it feel to be an alum?”
Alex looks up at me, cracking a half-smile. I had flown to Los Angeles last week to attend his commencement ceremony, and we flew back to New Orleans together a few days prior for my commencement ceremony tomorrow morning.
“It definitely feels weird,” he replies. “Four years went by much more quickly than I had imagined they would.”
“Tell me about it,” I say back, spearing a piece of shrimp with my fork. “I’m excited to graduate. I just wish I had job offers to speak for myself.”
“I mean, I did tell you to apply earlier,” Alex says. I force myself to not snap back a reply by taking aggressive sips of my water, since I don’t want to cause a scene, especially on his birthday.
“That you did,” I respond, trying not to let any bitterness leak into my response.
Thankfully we finish the rest of our meal without incident and split a brownie ice cream sundae as Alex’s free birthday dessert. Our server takes an awkward photo of the two of us leaning over the shared plate so Alex can send it to his parents, and before I know it, we’re heading back to his car.
I stealthily check my phone as I slide into the passenger seat, and see I have a few texts from my best friend, Kerri, and a few of my other friends in our shared group chat.
Kerri, 8:39 PM
How’s everything going? Are you two still fighting?
Kerri, 9:47 PM
I’m hoping since you haven’t replied that it’s going fine, LOL. Spill the tea when you get a chance please!!
Haven, 10:01 PM
Eh. It could’ve gone better – we’re leaving now, I’ll text you when I get home to let you know what happened
Kerri has been my best friend since childhood – we’ve gone to all the same schools, including college. She’s been my biggest supporter, not making fun of me when I switched my major a few times or helping me work up the courage to reach out to a professor if I ever had a question. She’s also one of the smartest people I know, and she’s heading to Hopkins to begin medical school this summer. I couldn’t be more proud of her, even though I would miss her like crazy.
Putting my phone back into my purse, Alex and I pull away from the restaurant in silence. He lets me control the music as usual, and I put on some older R&B music that fits the mood. Leaning my head against the passenger window, I almost fall asleep on the fifteen-minute drive back to my house.
Alex pulls to a gentle stop at the corner right in front of my house. I murmur thanks and good night, leaning over to kiss him out of habit. Stepping out of the car, I look up to see the lights in my mom’s windows are still on, and I smile knowing that she’s stayed up waiting for me to get home safely.
Once I make it inside, Alex pulls away from the corner and drives out of my neighborhood to his own home about ten minutes away. I take my time shrugging out of my jean jacket, taking off my shoes, and putting away my leftovers, all while shooting off a couple of quick texts to Kerri.
“Haven? Is that you?” I hear my mom call from upstairs. Making sure the door is locked, I hurry up the steps to poke my head into her room before I go into my own.
“Did you have a good time?” she asks. I walk into her room further to see she has a stack of case files next to her on her bed, her laptop perched on her lap, fingers flying on a late-night email.
My mom works as an attorney in one of the corporate law firms in the area, and although the hours are long and can be crazy, I can tell how much she loves her job. Luckily for her, she’s taken off the weekend to celebrate my graduation, so tonight is her last night of working late on her current case.
I shrug. “It was alright. The food was good, at least.”
She chuckles, pushing her reading glasses up out of her face to get a better look at me. Doing so reveals her brown eyes, which look tired from all the work I’m sure she’s been doing. Her curls are tied up in a loose ponytail to stay out of her face, the same thing I do when I’m getting down to business.
Her eyes crinkle around the corners as she smiles at me, the same way my older brother’s do. He’s practically a walking copy of my mom, with his brown skin, black hair, and brown eyes. However, I am a constant reminder of my father, with my extremely curly black hair, darker skin, freckled face, and dark gray eyes.
My father. I sigh internally – another story for another time.
“Well, hopefully you’ll have more fun once you’re a graduate,” she tells me, bringing me back to reality with a wink. “Kane should hopefully arrive sometime later tonight, I’m hoping he doesn’t wake us up when he comes in.”
“He’s sure he doesn’t want me to come get him from the airport?” I ask her. My brother lives in New York, doing some type of fancy consulting work there. He’s always either in the office or at the gym, so the fact that we managed to steal him for a few days for my commencement would be a treat. He had to get a red-eye flight from New York to New Orleans so he wouldn’t get in trouble with his bosses.
“That’s what he said,” my mom says, and then yawns. “Geez, it’s almost eleven. I should be getting to bed, and so should you, sweetheart. Tomorrow is a big day!”
I smile at her, and then pat her knee as I walk past her to get to the door. “I will. I might run down to Kerri’s for a few minutes, though.”
“Alright. Just make sure you’re not out too late by yourself. You know how I feel about that.”
“I won’t. Goodnight, Mom.”
I gently shut her door behind me as I walk into my bedroom. Pulling out my phone, I shoot off a quick text to Kerri, asking if it’s cool if I come over to hang out on her porch for a few minutes. She lives a little over two blocks from me, which is part of how we became friends in the first place – we were always the first two people at the bus stop.
Kerri, 10:44 PM
Yeah, come through! I can’t wait to hear about what happened.
I quickly change out of my floral dress I wore to dinner tonight, slipping into a pair of comfortable leggings, flip flops, and an oversized t-shirt. Picking up my purse again, I make sure to leave the porch light on as I leave my house, taking a cursory look around to make sure I’m alone. You can never be too careful.
✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿
I make it to Kerri’s house within ten minutes, waving at her as I approach her porch. Kerri’s house is painted a light green and is glowing softly in the dark from the lights she’s turned on.
“So, what happened?” she asks me as I plop down in the other chair, rocking gently from the impact. I catch a glimpse of her dark hair in neat cornrows before she ties a scarf over her hair. Her deep skin glows faintly in the moonlight, and her long legs stretched out in front of her; she gracefully places them back up on the edge of the porch after I sit down.
“Honestly, I had to hold back a few times so that we wouldn’t get into it at the table,” I reply, sighing. “It’s too much. It feels like we’re about to break up, and that he’s just sticking around to come to commencement tomorrow to be nice.”
“Really? That’s a damn shame,” Kerri says back, taking a sip from the glass of water in her hand. “But on the bright side, y’all probably would have split up sooner or later anyway since he’s moving, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I admit, pulling my legs under me. At 5’3”, I’ve envied Kerri for her long legs since we were teenagers. Now at twenty-two, it’s just something I’ve accepted: being short and having little legs is just the way things are.
“I mean, commencement might be a little weird, but you can always end things after the ceremony so it isn’t awkward with your family and whatnot,” she suggests. “Do you think he feels it’s over too?”
“Who knows,” I say, shrugging. “It was a risk getting together anyways, being long distance, you know? And he’s off to Cali like you said, and I have no idea what I’ll be doing in my gap year.”
“You can always come to Baltimore and stay near me,” Kerri says, shooting me a winning smile.
I laugh and shake my head. “No offense, girl – I know you like Baltimore, but it’s way too cold up there for me.”
After going back and forth for another thirty minutes, Kerri’s father flicks the light on and off a few times, which is the it’s-time-go-home-now-Haven signal. I give Kerri and quick hug and promise to text her when I get home, tell her I’ll see her tomorrow at the ceremony, and set off towards my own home at a brisk pace.
I walk down Kerri’s block and make a right to continue to my own home, when all of a sudden, I sense a presence near me. The little hairs on my neck stand up, and I look around nervously, but don’t see anything.
Clenching my purse, I finger my mace just in case. With my other hand, I keep my fingers wrapped tightly around my phone’s lock button, ready to press down to call 911 at any moment. I can see my street sign a block away, and my flip flops smack against the ground with an increased sense of urgency.
My heart is pounding in my chest, and this awful feeling of dread is pooling in my stomach. Something’s wrong – I can’t place it, but something in the surrounding atmosphere gives me the chills. My body is screaming at me to run away, but I don’t know why. Run. Run. Run!
However, a small part of me is whispering to turn around, face this fear head-on. Turn around, Haven. Turn around.
I listen to the smaller voice, and then really wish I hadn’t. A man is standing there, and I realize he’s the reason that all the hairs on my neck are standing up and my body is begging me to run as fast as I can. Taking him in, he looks ragged – his clothes hang in tatters around him, he has a layer of dirt on his body, but there’s no mistaking that he has fangs.
My mouth drops open, and I begin backing away quickly. Reaching into my bag, I fumble for my mace, but I can’t get it facing him fast enough. Before I even have the chance to press down on the button, it’s flying out of my hands. The man is towering in front of me, holding onto my wrist with astonishing strength. I try to break myself free, but instead of letting go he only presses harder. Crack!
I cry out, my voice filled with pain. My wrist is broken, and it’s throbbing painfully under the man’s rough grip. I try and fight it, but he’s too strong, and I find myself being yanked like a rag doll down the street. The next thing I know, I’m shoved onto the concrete before I even have time to take in my next breath. I wish someone would see me, come to help me – but of course, we’re underneath the one streetlight that’s been out for a few days.
Stars float before my eyes, and I groan in pain. The man pulls me up by my hair, and I whimper as I feel curls being roughly pulled out. I want to fight back, but I find myself paralyzed with fear. I want to scream, but I’m scared he’s going to hurt me again if I do.
Hot breath fans across my neck, sending waves of disgust through me. A tongue darts out and feels my pulse, and the next thing I know, he’s biting into my neck.
I thrash around as hard as I can, but it’s no use. I can feel myself getting drowsy, almost as though my life is draining away with every slurp this man takes. My blows become weaker, and then I’m not hitting him at all. I’m only held up by his hold on my neck, as I can feel my consciousness fading away.
I’m too young to die, I think to myself.
The very last thing I see is the vividly red shade of his eyes.