Grim Beginnings

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Summary

Tessa Byrne, known as "that fainting girl", was blessed with a special "gift". Fin Belmont, the charming rebel, was her polar opposite. One strange, drunken night intertwines them in unexpected ways. "I was the girl who only got attention when she was passed out in the back of the classroom." Tessa Byrne had never been what most would consider a "normal girl". From a young age, she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders, possessing what she saw as a curse but the rest of her family called a gift. Her classmates viewed her as a quiet loner who often fainted in the middle of a class, sometimes with strange (what they believed to be self-inflicted) injuries, earning her the nickname "that fainting girl". If Tessa was the quiet loner, then Fin Belmont, the charming rebel and son of the richest man in town, was her complete opposite. Knowing each other for years but never saying more than a dozen words between them, one night changes everything and soon, they are thrust into each other's worlds, both unfamiliar and daunting. With lots of hesitation, they work to solve a mystery that begins to unravel secrets about their town and both of their pasts, learning that some secrets are better left buried.

Genre:
Fantasy / Mystery
Author:
dragonflame91
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
13
Rating:
4.5 39 reviews
Age Rating:
16+

Party at the Falls

Leading up to Belmont’s party, I was filled with constant relief and dread. I was grateful that I did not have another fainting incident though six more people passed through me, one of them as young as Ryan, yet dreading my vision at the Falls coming true.

Though Elena was right that people would stop whispering about what happened in Biology, others, like Hilton and her minions, refused to let me forget it, pretending to faint as they passed by me in the hallway and offering me numbers to several hospitals outside the town.

Belmont’s jock friends were no better, snickering whenever we were in the same class and several times, I witnessed Parker make obscene hand gestures in my direction. I ignored their taunts, too consumed by my recurring nightmares of a death in the lake. Whenever I had these nightmares, I was usually able to pinpoint the target by sensing a certain aura around the person.

The first time it happened, I was seven and at a church fundraiser with my parents and grandmother. One of the elderly women was selling chocolate chip cookies and every time I saw her, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Later that night, she died in a car accident on her way home.

This time, it was different. All I knew was that the victim was wearing a varsity jacket at the time of their death, which meant they were likely a jock. The dread stemmed from more than thinking that soon, one of my own classmates would be dead. Ever since the night that Casey passed through me, I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind.

I wondered if the nightmares were not merely a warning, but a chance for me to save someone’s life. Over the years, while learning about my abilities, I never once asked my mother if it was possible to prevent a death and she never suggested it herself. She always seemed to believe that death was inevitable, an inescapable fate.

I was gathering my books from my locker, having finished my last class of the day and overhearing the only topic of conversation: Belmont’s party. Kids were either excited about attending, whether it was for the first time or not, or disappointed about not getting an invite. He allowed any senior to attend the party but the underclassmen relied on friendships with their older peers or sheer luck.

“Tessa.”

Will walked over to me, his backpack slung over his shoulder. He handed me a copy of The Mysterious Island.

“Your report on Jules Verne was really good. Forget about those brain-dead trolls. Half of them are only in AP English because their parents give the school a lot of money. I doubt they can even read a book if it doesn’t have pictures. I uh thought you might want to read this one...i—if you haven’t already. I’ve read it over a hundred times.”

I placed the book into my backpack. “Thanks, Will. It’ll be an improvement over the Dr. Seuss books I have stuck in my head from reading them to my brother every night.”

“And I uh got you this too,” he said, handing her an EpiPen box. “It’s probably stupid of me to assume but my sister has diabetes and I know that she’s fainted a few times because of it. I figured that maybe you lost yours. Not that I’m saying you have it too but with the similar symptoms and—”

“No, you’re right. My mother took me to the doctor after what happened in Bio and a doctor finally figured out what’s wrong. I should’ve known that you’d guess it first. You’re probably the smartest person in this entire town,” I lied, using that as an excuse.

He blushed at my compliment. “Not very hard considering the competition. You’re just as smart. If you didn’t miss class because of fainting so much—pretend I never said that. My foot is lodged in my mouth. I should go before I say something worse. I’ll see you at the party tonight...well, not that you ever go—okay, let’s just erase this conversation from our memories.”

“You’re going to Belmont’s party?” I asked, certain I heard him wrong.

Like me, he never attended those parties. Will and I had been best friends since I first moved to Belmont Falls, the timid genius one of the few people I could tolerate at school. I was second best in our year (technically, tied for first but fainting in the middle of class dropped my participation grade a few points) and we had several things in common, like our shared love of books, old science fiction movies, and nerdy jokes.

He shyly admitted that his stepfather was forcing him to attend the party with Katie, his stepsister two years younger than him. His stepfather claimed it was only to protect her from the older boys but Will knew that he had another reason: wanting Will to venture out of his shell.

“He thinks that if I go, Fin and the others won’t push me around,” he explained, sounding like he did not agree with that theory. “I don’t mind going for Katie. Who knows what those neanderthals would do to her?”

“That’s a hurtful accusation, little Willy,” said a taunting voice.

The football team and the cheerleaders were walking in from a side door that led to the locker rooms. Belmont put his arm around Will’s neck in a friendly chokehold. Catching my eye, Hilton pretended to faint against one of the freshman cheerleaders, causing the group to burst into a fit of giggles.

“So you want to go to my party, huh?” he asked, enjoying Will’s struggle. “Well, I have this little requirement. Guys can’t go alone.”

“I’m not going alone,” said Will, struggling against his grip.

“Stepsisters don’t count...neither do robots,” he quipped.

His friends snickered at the childish joke. I held my tongue, not wanting to start drama with Belmont and his lackeys.

“That’s a silly rule.” Will’s face was turning redder by the second. “You expect every guy there to have a date?”

Belmont tapped his nose. “You’re right. I just made it up for you. Looks like your pretty little sister is going to be all alone but don’t worry. I’m sure Chace will keep her company.”

“I’m going with him.”

I never realized those words actually left my mouth until Belmont looked at me. “What?”

“I—I’m going too...with him.” Saying those words again led me to think up a crazy plan. “I’m his date.”

Hilton let out a shrill laugh. “I told you, Amy. King Dork and Make A Wish are dating. Wait till everyone hears about this.”

The cheerleaders ran down the hallway, yelling loud enough for people in China to hear them. In their wake, kids whispered about the supposed new couple of Belmont High and Belmont was staring at me in disbelief. Letting Will out of the chokehold, he leaned close to my ear.

“I know you just said that to help out your geeky friend,” he whispered. “Some advice for my party? Dress like a girl, not some depressed little mess. No hoodies...or I kick you both out.”

Belmont left with his friends, walking with them to the football field. Will apologized over a dozen times for dragging me into the party.

“I don’t mind,” I insisted, genuinely wanting to help him. “I don’t want anything bad happening to Katie.”

He nodded, giving me a thumbs up. “A—and it’s not an actual date. I’ll pick you up around nine?”

“Sure.”

On my way home, Elena joined me, asking about my presentation in AP English Literature. “It wasn’t that bad. Will was the only one that stayed awake, besides Mrs. Kent, but—”

“Blah, blah, blah,” she interrupted, changing the music on the radio station.

“Apparently, you would’ve fallen asleep too,” I said, stopping at a red light.

She looked at me, curiously. “Why does everyone think you and Will Nelson are dating? Did I miss something?”

“We’re not—Will’s stepdad forced him into going to the party to watch over Katie but Belmont wouldn’t let him go unless he had a date so...I lied that I was his date,” I replied, not wanting her to get the wrong idea. “It’s not a real date. I’m just helping Will. Belmont said I couldn’t go unless I dressed like, in his words, an actual girl.”

“Prick,” she muttered.

Elena offered to help me pick out an outfit for my first party. It technically was not my first party ever but she disregarded any that happened in elementary school. The main problem was that I had to change my clothes.

My usual attire consisted of jeans, longsleeve shirts and sweaters, and hoodies. It never made me feel like less of a girl though it was partially out of necessity. Everyone just assumed that I either had a tomboy style or my clothes reflected my so-called depression. I enlisted the help of my mother, who was as thrilled as Elena that I was attending a high school party.

Hesitantly, I slipped off my hoodie. My body was reflected in the full-length mirror, showing the dark marks that covered both arms and my entire back, various runic and Celtic symbols. In the center of my back was a large, interlaced Celtic knot.

If an ordinary person on the street had seen the marks, they would believe them to be intricate tattoos but I had these marks from the age of four. The Celtic knot had been on my back since birth, passed off as an odd birthmark by the doctor.

Elena never understood why I needed to hide the marks, thinking that they would gain me popularity at Belmont High. The only reason my mother ever gave me was that if the wrong people recognized the runes, it could put our family in danger.

It took nearly an hour for her to cover up each mark with a special herbal paste that worked like a magical eraser. For the first time in years, my skin looked normal.

Another hour was spent just choosing my outfit for the party. Elena wanted me to make a good impression, to shove Belmont’s rude comment right back at him. She eventually settled on an outfit that still resembled my style: a pair of black skinny jeans, a matching racerback tank with a floral lace pattern in the back, and ankle boots. Despite Elena’s pleas to leave my hair down, I tied it up in a ponytail.

“Let Belmont say you don’t look like a girl now,” she said, admiring my outfit with her chin leaning on my shoulder.

“I look okay?” I asked, checking my back in the mirror. “You don’t see any marks, right? Maybe this is a bad idea.”

“No, you look amazing.” She glanced out the window. “I heard someone knock. I think Will’s here. Time to party.”

“Wait.”

Opening my closet door, I grabbed a dark red leather jacket and put it on over my tank top. It had two benefits: hiding any marks my mother may have missed and giving me an extra boost of confidence. Judging by Elena’s smile, it was a perfect addition.

“Forget what I said before,” she said, pushing me towards the door. “If Belmont doesn’t have a heart attack when he sees you, he’s blind.”

“I’m not going for Belmont,” I reminded her. “I don’t care what he or any of his friends think. I’m going for Will.”

Running down the stairs, I saw my mother speaking with Will. They were having a deep discussion about my father’s archaeological work.

“Sweetheart, you look wonderful,” she said, pecking me on the cheek. “Don’t get into too much trouble. I’ve heard stories that the Falls are haunted.”

I let out an sarcastic laugh. “Hilarious, Mom.”

Katie was waiting in the backseat of his car. Seeing me out of my usual sweater and jean combo, her jaw fell slightly. She never said more than a quick hello to me in the past but on the drive to the party, she was far more talkative.

Will insisted that I was only attending the party with him to appease Belmont’s silly rule, not as a real date. Fixing her makeup while holding a compact mirror, Katie gushed over attending a senior party, the only one of her sophomore friends to get an invitation. Will was not as thrilled, insisting that his stepsister needed to be cautious around the upperclassmen, mainly Chace Parker.

“Tessa, tell him that he’s overreacting,” she said, swiping on lip gloss.

“A little but you should be careful,” I warned the younger girl. “They might be a little more...experienced.”

“Who says I’m not experienced?”

The color drained from Will’s face. “W—what?” he squeaked.

“It was a joke. Lighten up, Will. You’re as uptight as my dad,” she said, scathingly. “Sometimes, I think you two are the ones who are related. I’m just hoping that I can get a chance to talk to Claire Hilton. If I impress her, she might give me a spot on the squad.”

Will parked his car alongside the others, near the entrance to the Falls. They joined the back of a line for the party. As we waited to get past the gate, I noticed kids turning their heads in our direction. It was hard to eavesdrop on their conversations, due to the loud music, but I overheard a few juniors whisper about a new girl.

Belmont was standing by the gate, his arm around Hilton’s waist. With his other hand, he took a swig from a beer bottle. Hilton’s red dress was barely long enough to cover her backside. In between giggling at the kisses he planted on her neck, she drew on each person’s hand with a black marker.

Katie explained that it was a way to separate the cool kids and losers at the parties. If a person was deemed a loser, Hilton marked them with an X. She excitedly squealed when Hilton complimented her on her skirt and heels and drew a star on her hand, the designated cool kid symbol.

Belmont lowered his beer bottle. “You actually look almost decent, geek. What happened? Did you and Make A Wish break up already?” he asked, already slurring his words.

“I’m standing right here,” I said, resisting every urge to break his nose.

Hilton’s smirk fell from her face. His eyes traveled up and down my body like a hungry lion.

“You said I had to wear something less...what did you call it?” I asked, crossing my arms. “Depressed little mess?”

“Different clothes don’t make you any less of a loser. You still get an X,” sneered Hilton.

“Shut up, Claire.”

Belmont snatched the marker from her and sloppily drew a star on my hand. A lump rose in my throat when he winked at me. Unsurprisingly, he drew an X on Will’s hand then offered to give me a tour of the Falls.

“I’m Will’s date...not yours,” I said, stepping closer to Will. “Yours is currently burning a hole through your skull.”

“Ooh, the mouse has teeth,” he teased.

Will pulled me away from the gate and over to a picnic table. Though I offered to attend the party for him, I was beginning to regret my decision. Belmont was not the only boy staring at me like a piece of meat. Will left to get us drinks and I wished that I had joined him, not wanting to deal with cheesy pick up lines.

“Told you that you’d give Fin a heart attack. He was practically drooling,” said Elena, placing her cup of beer on the table.

Leaving him speechless was a small satisfaction. “He’s a pig...but I’ll admit that the look on Hilton’s face was worth it. I know I came here for Will but I kind of hope that Katie wants to leave early.”

“Liar,” she replied, accusingly. “You didn’t just come here to help out a friend. This is about your nightmares.”

“Pfft, what do you mean?” I tried my best to act oblivious. “I told you that it’s not definitely happening tonight.”

“But you think it might and that’s why you’re here,” she said, easily seeing through my lie. “I’m not totally sure why you’d want to be around when you know that you’ll probably pass out again in front of everyone.”

It was eerie how well she could read me. “I just...you’ll think I’m crazy. What if—”

“Hey Byrne!”

Parker walked over to the table, holding a red cup that smelled heavily like rubbing alcohol. I scooted back when he played with a strand of my hair.

“Where the hell have you been all my life?” he asked, sitting close enough that his leg rubbed against mine.

“Sitting in the front of the classroom.” My attempt to scoot back failed, with him moving towards me again. “You’re usually asleep in the back or you ditch class it so it’s not like you’d know that.”

He laughed. “That’s funny. Can I get you another beer or do you want something a little stronger?”

“Go hump a tree, Parker,” said Elena, rolling her eyes.

“No thanks,” I said, straining to be polite. “Will’s getting me a drink. He should be back soon.”

“Just ditch him.” He rested his hand on my knee. “Come on, I can show you this awesome spot by the caves. It’s dark...and private.”

A beer bottle smashed into his face. He groaned, holding his cheek, and stood up angrily, searching for the culprit. Muttering about a dead junior, he left the table, disappearing into the woods.

“Elena, seriously?” I whispered, worried that someone saw her. She was no longer sitting at the table. “You can’t do things like that.”

“Tessa?” I heard. “Who are you talking to?”

Will was standing behind me, holding two red cups. He handed one of the cups to me and rubbed a small stain on his Star Wars shirt.

“Myself,” I said, secretly searching for Elena. “I got a text and—it doesn’t matter. Did you spill beer on yourself?”

“I was on line and Belmont accidentally knocked into me,” he said, indicating the stain. “It’s fine. He’s already pretty drunk so he didn’t know what he was doing.”

“If you say so,” I replied, doubting it was an accident. “Shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on Katie?”

He sat beside me, tapping his fingers against the cup. “She’s okay. She’s hanging out with the other sophomores. I think she’s realizing that these parties aren’t so great after some guys almost spilled beer on her shoes. My stepdad will be happy. I wanted to...thank you for coming with me. You didn’t have to come at all.”

“I don’t mind,” I said, nudging his side. “You’re my friend.”

We gagged at the same time as we sipped the beer. Will had only gotten them after Belmont insisted that it was another special requirement for him to stay at the party.

“You’d think rich kids would have better taste.” Grimacing, he lowered the cup. “Screw his rules. Water, it is.”

If Will had not been at the party, I would have left hours ago out of boredom. Everyone was either getting wasted, smoking pot, or gossiping in their little cliques.

Will and I were having fun on our own, talking about plenty of random things from books to how Dr. Baxter flirted with all the attractive mothers at school events. I laughed at his impression of Mr. Wells, the trigonometry teacher who always spoke in a monotone voice.

“I don’t how I survived that class. I always wanted to fall asleep,” I said, nearly spilling water on my jeans. “The only reason you could stay awake is because he always called on you for answers. You knew every one of them.”

“So did you,” he insisted, never one to let me downplay my own intelligence. “I could hear you whispering the answer to yourself. You just never like to raise your hand.”

I peered down at the grass. “I don’t like to draw attention to myself. I already get enough of it as ‘that fainting girl’”

“Is that why? Because if it is, it doesn’t work.” He lowered his gaze to his sneakers. “You could be wearing a sack over your head and I’d still notice you.”

“Heh, well, I—”

I felt a sharp pain in my head, similar to the night of my first nightmare about the lake. Seeing the concern on Will’s face, I passed it off as nausea from the beer. I sneaked off to the bridge, thinking that the pain was another warning of the impending death.

Katie was standing on the railing of the wooden bridge, a varsity jacket draped over her shoulders. She stumbled slightly and giggled, taking another sip from her beer bottle.

“Parker! I’m waiting! You better hurry before my stepbrother finds us. He won’t like it if he sees us making out,” she teased, hiccuping. “You know what? I don’t care. Let him watch! It’s funny when he freaks out.”

The bottle fell from her grasp and plopped into the cold water. Barely keeping her balance, she continued to walk along the railing. Her eyes lit up when she saw me on the bridge.

“Tessa, hi!” she squealed. “I’m meeting Parker here!”

I raised a finger to my lips. “Shh.”

“I’m meeting Parker here,” she whispered, her breath smelling heavily of beer and vodka.

“You need to get down from the railing,” I said, holding out my hand. “You could fall.”

“I won’t fall. I can’t fall,” she said, holding out her arms like an airplane. “It’s not like I’ll fall into the lake.”

She spoke as if it was common sense. Afraid that my vision was seconds from happening, I cautiously stepped towards her.

“Just take my hand,” I pleaded. “If you fall off the bridge, you can’t hook up with Parker, right?”

Katie nodded very slowly. “That’s so true. You’re the partest smerson in the world. Ha, smerson.” She hiccuped. “Did you hear that? I’m hilarious.”

Standing on my tiptoes, I grabbed her hand. A sudden wind blew through the trees, causing Katie to lose her balance. The only thing keeping her from plunging into the lake was my tight grip.

“Katie, hold on!”

I managed to pull her halfway over the railing when she screamed in pain. An invisible force was tugging her in the other direction. I planted my feet firmly on the bridge but the force was too strong, drawing me closer and closer to the railing.

Katie pleaded for help, tears in her eyes. Just as the adrenaline kicked in and I made a little progress in pulling her towards me, whatever was on the other side countered with enough force to throw me partially over the railing, my feet almost dangling in midair.

My heart raced as I spotted the creature that had a hold on Katie. I thought it had been a bear or even a wolf but instead, there was a shadow-like figure. It resembled a person though its features were distorted, with pupil-less milky white eyes, gnarled fingers, and no mouth.

Slinking up Katie’s body like a snake, it dug one of its fingers into the back of her neck. Her eyes turned the same milky white color. She spoke in a strange language, her voice disembodied and guttural.

“Let her go!” I screamed.

As I swiped at the shadow, in an attempt to detach it from Katie, my hand smacked the top of its head. My raven-shaped birthmark turned solid black and the shadow retracted its hold on Katie’s neck, almost like it was burned by her skin.

Its body radiated a faint golden glow and my eyes widened with fear as it advanced towards me. I prepared for the worst, that the shadow planned to take me in Katie’s place, but just as its eyes stared into my own, it vanished into thin air. Katie’s eyes returned to their normal color.

“Tessa, pull me up!” she said, terrified.

A second hand grabbed her wrist. Elena helped me pull Katie over the railing and the three of us were sitting on the bridge, breathing heavily.

“Katie? Tessa?”

Will hurried onto the bridge. He practically squeezed the life out of his stepsister, hearing from some sophomores that she was secretly meeting Parker. I was taken aback when his arms wrapped around me, thanking me over and over for saving his sister. Katie, who was unaware of how close she was to actual death or the creature behind it, muttered about him being a drama queen.

“Call me dramatic all you want,” he said, going into big brother mode. “We’re leaving."

“But the party’s just getting started,” she whined, wiping away the mascara stains on her cheeks.

“I don’t care. You’ve had enough fun for one night.” He pointed to one side of the bridge. ”Now, Katie.”

“You’re so lame!” she shouted, stamping on his foot.

“I’ll uh meet you by your car, Will.” I said, still catching my breath. “I left my purse at the table.”

I could hear the two of them arguing until I was deep in the woods. Elena had followed me, knowing that something was bothering me and it was not Katie’s near-death experience.

“You were right that I wasn’t completely honest about why I wanted to come to the party,” I confessed, my mind reeling from what happened moments ago. “It was for Will but I wanted to be here in case the death happened tonight. I wanted to stop it.”

“Stop it? Can you do that?” wondered Elena.

“No one’s ever said you couldn’t and I did, right?” I said, thinking my plan was a success. “I mean, Katie was holding the beer and had the varsity jacket. It was Parker’s. I saved her from falling.”

Elena was about to cheer until she saw the concern on my face. “I sense a but coming...”

I lowered my voice. “Something else was there, Elena. This...I don’t even know what to call it. It was some kind of shadow monster. Katie couldn’t see it. It was possessing her and tried to make her fall into the lake. It spoke through her. I didn’t recognize the language. When I touched it, it let go of her and I thought it would attack me but then it vanished into nothing.”

“You’ve never seen it before?” she asked, peering behind her as if the monster was breathing down her neck. I mentioned seeing a similar creature the night Casey passed through me. “You should tell your mom. She’s the expert on this stuff, right?”

“Just shut up!”

Belmont was pacing back and forth nearby, yelling into his phone. He could hardly stand on his own without leaning against an oak tree for support. At the time we arrived at the party, he was already a bit tipsy but now, he was completely wasted, speaking incoherently and taking his aggression out on a shrub by ripping its branches.

Elena and I hid behind a pair of trees, listening to a conversation between him and an older man.

“I don’t care. Do you hear me? I don’t care what you think. I’m—by this time next year, I’m gone. I don’t give a damn about—no, you listen to me.” His nostrils flared. “I’m not drunk. I’m talking good. Oh, I know that tone. You can add it to my long list of disappointments. Screw you!”

He slammed his phone against the tree and downed the rest of his half-empty beer bottle in one sip. The bottle ended up like his phone, shattering into pieces as it struck the same tree. Elena pinched my arm, urging me to return to Will’s car.

“I know that look,” she hissed. “Don’t you dare. This is the worst moment to—”

“Are you okay?” I asked Belmont.

She threw her hands up in defeat. “And you do it away. Can you ever listen to me?”

I carefully stepped over the pieces of broken glass. Belmont pushed his hair out of his eyes.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. It was kind of hard not to hear you yelling.”

“Just another fun conversation with my dad, Mr. Perfect,” he muttered. “What are you doing out here all alone, Jamie?”

“It’s Tessa,” I corrected, in an exasperated tone. “I was heading back to get my bag. Katie got a little too drunk. She almost fell off the bridge.”

“Nerd King’s sister?” he asked, snickering under his breath. “That would’ve been hilarious.”

“There is something fundamentally wrong with you,” I said, regretting my decision to show him an ounce of compassion.

The drunk jock pouted. “You don’t think I’m funny?”

“I think you’re an ass and just talking to you is a mistake,” I retorted. “I should go.”

I felt a soft tug on my wrist and was pushed up against the tree, feeling shards of broken glass under my boots. Towering over me, he kept my arms pinned to my side. His breath reeked of an assortment of liquor. One of his hands rested on my thigh and his piercing dusty green eyes locked with mine.

“I knew you had a sexy body under those baggy shirts,” he said, pressing up against me. “I could feel it in Bio that day you passed out.”

“You mean when you were giving me fake CPR so you could cop a feel?” I asked, struggling to move even an inch.

“You make it sound so awful.” His hand trailed higher up my thigh. “Any girl would love my hands on them. My tongue is even better. Your boyfriend doesn’t have to know.”

“Will isn’t my boyfriend,” I said, tired of that common misconception.

He chuckled. “Right. He’s your charity case.”

“He’s my friend,” I replied, clenching my fists. “You wouldn’t know what that is since all you have is a bunch of lackeys who only hang around you because of your money. I can’t think of any other reason that they’d want to be around you.”

“Look who’s got a lot to say these days,” he said, sounding impressed. “You’ve barely said a word unless it’s for a presentation or to geek out with your nerd buddy. If you dressed like this all the time, you wouldn’t have to settle for a bottom feeder like that.”

I scoffed at his hollow offer. “I’d rather hang out with him than an arrogant ass with an ego the size of this planet. Let go of me.”

As his hand neared the button of my jeans, his lips getting closer to mine, I heard him let out a painful groan and he fell face-first onto the ground. Elena was holding a thick branch.

“Bitch!” he snarled, wiping wet leaves from his cheek.

I hurried out of the woods and over to Will’s car. Katie refused to say a word the entire ride back to my house. Furious that she was forced to leave the party, she settled on giving Will the silent treatment.

By the time I was home, it was already midnight and my mother was fast asleep. I decided to tell her about what happened at the party in the morning, no matter how much I wanted to forget most of the night. Sleep proved difficult, thanks to nightmares about drowning in the lake.

I was startled by a loud thud. My vision blurry, I moved my hand around until it rested on my lamp and flicked on the light. Belmont was standing in the middle of my bedroom, bouncing up and down and holding his foot. He muttered a slew of curses at my dresser.

It took a few seconds, thanks to only an hour of sleep at most, to realize that he had sneaked into my room. Out of instinct, I grabbed the closest thing to me and raised my alarm clock, planning to throw it at his head.

“What are you doing in my room?” I hissed, not wanting to wake my mother or brother.

“I don’t—damn, you should wear shorts all the time,” he said, eyeing my legs.

I covered myself with my blanket and brushed my long dark hair to one side. “Shut up. You have three seconds to get out of here before this clock breaks your nose.”

“I don’t even know how I got in here, Jenna,” he insisted, raising his hands in self defense.

“Tessa!”

“What?” he asked, bewildered.

“For the five hundredth time, my name is Tessa.” Lack of sleep led to lack of a filter. “You know what? I don’t care. Call me whatever you want...just get out. What, I rejected you so you had to be a creep and sneak into my room?”

Belmont scoffed. “Rejected? That’s what you call bashing my head in?”

“That wasn’t m—you deserved it,” I said, hoping that being mean would convince him to leave my house.

“And before you go all psycho on me, I didn’t sneak in here. I don’t remember how I got here, actually. One minute, I was at my party and the next, I stub my toe on your dresser. I don’t control what I do when I’m drunk. It was an accident...a weird accident.” He looked around my room in confusion. “I don’t even know where you live.”

“You expect me to believe—”

As he stepped into the light, I dropped the clock. He had a deep gash on the side of his head, caked with blood. Both his hair and clothes were soaking wet. His lips were no longer their soft pink color but a pale shade of blue.

“Where’s your jacket?” I asked, abandoning my anger. “Your varsity jacket. You were wearing it tonight.”

He shrugged. “I don’t—I told you that I was drunk. I don’t know I got here.”

“You were drinking beer. It wasn’t Katie...” I whispered, overcome with the sense of dread that had plagued me for days.

“What are you mumbling about?” he asked, rubbing his head.

“It doesn’t make any sense. That thing...it wanted her.” I had been so sure that Katie was the intended victim. “It had to be because...I should’ve stayed there. It wasn’t done.”

“I’m talking to you!”

I glanced up at him, unable to say a single word. How could I even begin to tell him how he ended up at my house? This was different from the other encounters where I hardly knew the person, except for passing by them in the street.

I had known him since my first day of second grade, remembering how he laughed after Claire pushed me off the swings during recess and how he bragged to our classmates about holding his father’s cigars. What was I supposed to say to the boy who had the best chance of leaving this town, whether it was by a sports scholarship or driving off in one of his family’s expensive cars with a stack of credit cards to just travel the open road?

“Why are you looking at me like that?” he asked, still holding his head.

Instead of words, water dribbled out of my mouth. First, it was little droplets but within minutes, it was like one never-ending flood. I rolled off my bed, struggling to breathe as the air in my lungs was replaced with water.

It was just like what happened with Casey, when I fainted in the middle of the Biology exam. I was having the same experience as him though I would not end up with the same fate. As my room faded to black, the last thing I saw was him shaking me roughly and one final thought crossed my mind.

Fin Belmont, the charming rebel with the crooked smile, was dead.

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