Angels in the Dust (Book 1)

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4: Alli

"Do you come here often?"

It was potentially the worst pick up line I'd ever heard; this was a house, not a public place.

"Sure, all the time," I answered a little sarcastically. It was a lie. Tyler was Eve's boyfriend, not mine and I'd never been inside his house before. Nor did I ever expect to be here again, me or three-quarters of the other people crowding the previously nice rooms.

I shouldn't have bothered saying anything. The guy was wasted and had quit looking at me before I could even respond to him. With an aggravated groan, I pulled away from the wall I was leaning on and tried to search out a safer place to stand. I didn't care that he had quit paying attention to me—he'd been the kind of guy who I would have pulled away from even if I'd been in a good mood—I was only upset because he'd found my hiding spot, a tiny corner in between a doorway and the wall of the kitchen that had offered me some seclusion. If that place wasn't safe, I doubted that anything would be.

I wanted to go home and was sincerely wishing that Eve hadn't picked me up. I wanted to suggest to Eve that she be the one to find another way home, or even that she just stay here with Tyler while I took her car back to my house. That probably wouldn't have been a big deal if I could find Eve, but she'd disappeared almost the instant we'd walked inside, leaving me reeling and confused. Of course, I didn't know why I was thinking about those emotions in the past tense. I was still reeling, still confused, and more than a little apprehensive.

The dream was one thing. I'd had dreams like that before, if never so vividly. It was the silver light that concerned me. To see it hovering over a hospital bed, albeit an imaginary one, and then to have it dangling over me… It was unnerving to say the very least. Eve hadn't seen the light—the wings—in the tree. None of the party gossip revolved around it, not even from the people who were hyped enough to identify a shooting star as a UFO. Had it even been real? And if it was, what did it mean? Probably that I was going insane. Wasn't it always supposed start like that? Just one tiny incident and the next day you were seeing bugs crawling out of the walls.

I weaved around the dancing partygoers, careful not to spill my drink. It was just soda; the last thing I needed right now was a brain inhibiting substance. Plus, all right, I'll admit that my mother's directive not to drink was also doing its part in keeping me away from alcohol. Really this place was way more intense than anything I'd ever tried out or been comfortable with. Another reason to go home.

"Alli," I heard the almost musical voice from beside me, stretching my name into three syllables.

I turned curiously. All of these people and I'd yet to see anyone I knew well enough to talk to, let alone recognize by name. I found a black-haired guy standing beside me. I recognized him from my math class; he sat two seats in front of me and wasn't too proud to ask for occasional homework help. We weren't quite friends, but a good conversation could easily change that.

"Hey, Jack," I smiled and stepped closer. "Having fun?"

"Oh yeah, the best." He hadn't stopped bobbing to the music the whole time, but now he gave his hips an exaggerated jiggle. "Even better if you'd dance with me."

I hesitated. It wasn't a long pause, but Jack caught it immediately. He held out his hand invitingly. "C'mon. It's just a dance. Chris won't mind."

"I'm not worried about Chris." I really wasn't. For me a dance really was just a dance. I knew how to pull myself away before having fun with someone who was not my boyfriend slid over that delicate line.

Jack's smile was bright inside his tanned skin. "Well then…"

He grabbed my hand and forced me into a few gyrating steps. I tried, but I just couldn't get into it. There was too much on my mind for me to simply let go and have fun.

"Jack…" I pulled my hand away, gently, but resolutely.

"What's wrong?" His expression reminded me of a punished puppy, all drooping eyes and pouting mouth.

"I want to dance with you. I'm just feeling a little sick right now. Maybe another time?"

Jack rebounded immediately. "Do you want me to help you outside?" he offered.

I shook my head. "I'll be okay. Thanks though." I backed away quickly, using the other people to disguise my exit.

I found a relatively empty hallway and squeezed into it, frustrated with myself. If this were any other night, no dreams, no visions, I wouldn't have avoided the dance floor. I would have thrown myself on it, falling into the intricate pattern of rhythm and beat, losing myself in the music and rush of bodies. Tonight though, all of my enthusiasm had evaporated. I felt as bland and dim as the clothes I'd chosen. Decisively, I set my cup down on what used to be a pretty glass end table, but now more closely resembled a trash bin. It was time to go and actively look for Eve. I needed to get out of here.

Despite my initial reaction to forgetting my jacket, now I was glad of it. It was hot in here, squeezed between so many active, sweating bodies, and the last thing I wanted to do was leave a piece of my clothing hanging around somewhere in this mess. I felt a brief flare of sympathy for Tyler. He'd better hope that his parents intended to take the full weekend away from home; he would need every second of time after tonight to clean this place up and pretend that nothing had ever happened.

Jack's idea of going outside was very appealing, so I made a beeline for the back door, which was wide open and facing out onto a gated pool. I turned away from it to scan the yard instead. The cold night air hit the film of sweat on my face and I breathed in gratefully. It was no less crowded out here, but the open sky made a huge difference.

I looked carefully, but no Eve. I didn't bother to look twice. That shirt she was wearing would be impossible to miss. She was probably off in some bedroom with Tyler. The idea of waiting for her made me itch. I was starting to feel claustrophobic and sick and I had to go, even if it meant walking.

"Alli!"

I turned, more relieved than I would ever admit out loud. Eve was coming out of the house toward me, staggering a little in her high wedged heels so that whatever she was drinking sloshed out of her cup.

"Thank God," I said, the urgency of my tone lost in the volume of my voice. "Please take me home."

Eve was hardly paying attention to me; she looked around me to check the yard like I had. "He's not here," she said finally.

"What?"

"Have you seen Tyler?"

I shook my head. "No." I yanked on her arm to make her look at me. "Can we go now?"

"Go? Aren't you having fun?"

I looked more closely at her face. She still wasn't watching me; her eyes kept darting around, looking for Tyler. I could tell by the anxious set of her mouth that she'd never met up with him at all tonight.

"Are you?" I asked seriously.

Eve really looked at me for the first time, her eyes a little glazed from the alcohol. "No," she admitted miserably. "I can't find him anywhere, Alli, it's like he's not even here."

"There are so many people, Eve. I'm sure he's around somewhere."

She gave me a dubious look.

"C'mon, he didn't abandon his own party. Please, I need you to do me a favor." I heard the anxiety in my voice, but I didn't care about appearances anymore.

"Sure, like what?"

"Take me home. You can come back afterwards and find Tyler, but please drop me off."

Eve looked pensively at the drink in her hand. "I dunno if that's a good idea."

I dismissed the cup with a wave of my hand. "It's only a few blocks there and back."

"Well…"

I could practically see the 'yes' on the tip of her tongue, but she was too concerned about her boyfriend to let it out. I groaned in aggravation. I loved Eve, I really did, but her attachment to that guy stumped me.

"Fine," I said. I wiped a hand over my face as if that could help to disperse my growing headache. "If I find Tyler for you, then can we go?"

Eve's face brightened immediately. "Would you?"

I nodded. "Just stay here okay? I am not going to search for you again too."

Eve gave me a distracted affirmative that didn't exactly boost my confidence. I went back into the house anyway. Anything if it meant getting out of here.

I knew that once I was in the right place, Tyler wouldn't be hard to find. He was distinct in the same way that Eve's shirt was, both flashy and very bright. He was tall and well built, broad in all the right places with blond hair that came straight out of a fancy shampoo commercial. The problem was he knew it as well as everyone else and wasn't afraid to use it to his advantage. Eve claimed to be in love with him for things other than his looks, but if there was a kind personality in there, he kept it hidden very well.

I had no luck in the living room where the plasma TV was rocking in its wall frame, or in the kitchen where I had to step around several broken dishes. For putting me through this, I really hoped they were expensive. I was about to give up when all I had left to search were bedrooms. No way was I stepping foot in one of those. I needn't have worried though. I found Tyler on my way back through the upstairs hallway, standing in a nook between the bathroom and what I supposed was a linen closet. He had his arms—and lips—wrapped around some slim brunette.

Without thinking I rushed forward and pried them apart, grabbing fistfuls of Tyler's shirt and pushing him back.

"What's your problem?" he yelled, real anger in his eyes. I knew then that his brain was too hazy to connect who I was. If he'd known, he would have been afraid, not angry.

"What's yours?" I shouted back.

The girl he'd been attached to made a feeble attempt to get herself out of the corner and between us, but I pushed her back. She muttered some incoherent, but no doubt colorful insult, then stayed quiet.

I saw the light bulb go off in Tyler's head as he finally recognized me. "Oh hey, Alli." Very casually, he wiped his mouth. "Great party, huh?"

"You pig," I spat at him. I couldn't believe his audacity.

"Tyler?"

My heart froze. I could have strangled Tyler just now, but I would have made excuses for him for Eve's sake, tonight at least. Now it was too late. Eve was standing at the top of the stairs, her eyes wide in a way that told me she'd seen more than just my actions.

Tyler knew it too. He wrenched himself out of my grip and started toward Eve with open arms. "Baby," he said, very softly. He put on that contrite expression I knew Eve had fallen for countless times. "I can explain."

Eve's eyes flashed and grew hard. "Explain?" she hissed. "Again?" she shook her head vehemently, took a step forward. "I don't think so. Never again."

I expected her to hit him. I might have if only to spread around some of the pain he'd just caused. But Eve just gave him a long, contemptuous look and turned to leave. She got down two steps before she was sobbing audibly.

Tyler watched her leave, totally unaffected. When she was out of sight, he shrugged. "She'll be back by Monday."

I almost slapped him myself then. "Don't bet on it," I snarled, and settled for a shove that sent him dangerously close to the edge of the stairs.

I ran after Eve, seething even as I sought to comfort her. Not tonight. She'd been too happy to have this happen tonight. It was completely unacceptable.

I reached the kitchen again before I found Eve. There I paused. Any personal problems I'd been having had completely vanished. All I cared about was making Tyler pay. And as I looked into the kitchen, I knew exactly how to do it.

First I made a point of stepping on the cracked dishes, just to make sure they couldn't make a recovery. Then I forced my way to the counter and found a suitably long knife in one of the drawers. Satisfied, I made my way carefully through the rooms, just as afraid of injuring myself as anyone else.

"Hey, Alli!" Jack from math class was waving to me again. "You feeling better?" His eyes found the knife in my hand and he took a few rapid steps backward. "Whoa. Okay. Never mind." He put his hands up in surrender as if he actually thought I'd use the thing on him.

I left him there to wonder. I didn't have time to waste explaining myself. I wanted to finish this before my rage wore off and the vengeance didn't mean as much.

It didn't take me long to find the entrance to the garage. I pulled the door open and found the inside mercifully empty. Well, empty of people anyway. The garage itself was packed full of junk: boxes and tools and lawn care supplies. There was barely enough room for the two cars that occupied the rest of the space. I shut the door and locked it behind me and the remorseless beat of music subsided ever so slightly. I breathed deeply in relief and started toward the car on my left. I knew Tyler was proud of it, even though it wasn't much more than a piece of junk. He cared more for that car than for any of the girls he played around with.

Smiling to myself, I walked leisurely around the car, trailing the knife next to me so that it left a gash in the paint as I went. That done, I bent down and made a precise stab into the rubber of a tire, listening with satisfaction as the air leaked out. I made my way around the car again, stabbing another tire for good measure. There. It wasn't enough to change Tyler, it probably wasn't even personal enough for him to know it was me instead of any of the other random people here. Still, it made me happy to imagine him dipping into his bank account to fix it.

I stood, leaning against the other car to right myself. For a brief instant, I considered vandalizing that one too. Unlike Tyler's, this was a nice car, way too expensive to be a teenagers. Just one bold scratch on the side, one little dent, and there would be no way for Tyler to ever explain away tonight. The broken dishes were one thing, so was leftover trash, but if one if his parent's cars was ruined, he'd be paying more than just money. But as much as I wanted to, I couldn't. Vengeance for the injustices between teenagers was one thing. Bringing adults into it was totally different. With some regret, I left the relative quiet of the garage, dropped the knife back in the kitchen and went looking for Eve.

This time I found her easily. She'd decided that now was a good time to listen to me and stay put near the pool. She was sitting against the gate, crying and downing more liquor at the same time. My anger first flared, then evaporated and was replaced by sympathy at the sight of her.

"Eve," I sighed, crouching in front of her. "Don't do this to yourself."

"You were right," Eve replied, her voice hitching. "Every time you tell me, and I just don't listen."

I took the cup away from her. "You listened this time."

She shook her head, in denial of what, I wasn't sure.

"Look, it doesn't matter," I assured her. "He's an ass, and you deserve better."

She breathed out on a fading sob. "Yeah, I know."

"Come on. Let's get out of here. You can crash at my place, all right?"

Eve nodded pitifully.

I bent lower, grabbing underneath her shoulder to lift her up. She'd been tipsy when we'd met up earlier, but now when I let go of her she staggered and had to grab me again. I didn't think she was all that drunk, just so upset she was jelly-legged. Either way, I set her arm across my shoulder, grabbed her waist, and helped her to walk across the yard, muttering encouragement. Rather than try to force our way back through the house, I walked around outside until I found the gate in the fence that would lead to the front yard. We went slowly, our coordination as bad as if we were tied together in a three-legged race. Eventually though, we made it back to the tree in the front yard. Unconsciously, I looked up. No wings. No sight of anything other than the moonlight through the branches. Whatever. Now was not the time to worry about it. I'd have plenty of opportunity to mull it over later.

With painstaking slowness and Eve feeling heavier with each step, we made it away from the house and to the car. I could feel the chill again now, the wind biting between us. I stopped at the passenger side and looked at Eve questioningly.

"Let me go," she slurred. "I can walk."

I did and she immediately fell back against the car door.

"You sure you're okay?" I asked as she fished her keys out of her pocket.

She laughed, too loudly to portray the irony I knew she was going for. "Not okay," she assured me. "Better once we get out of here." Finding her keys, she palmed them and made a move to unlock the door.

In profile, I could see how haggard her face looked. It was different than the telltale signs of drinking. This was a deeper kind of impairment. She'd really been hurt tonight and I could tell that her mind couldn't focus on anything else. With that understanding in hand, I reached forward and grabbed the keys.

"I'll drive."

Eve couldn't hide her relief. It was just one of those times when she would want to curl up in a corner and sulk for a few minutes without having to take any responsibility. "You're the best," she breathed.

With fingers clumsy from the cold, I unlocked the passenger door and went around to the driver's side. Eve's car wasn't unfamiliar to me; we took turns behind the wheel a lot when we were hanging out. I went through the usual motions, buckling my belt, adjusting the mirrors, putting the seat just right. I saw a glimpse of silver in the rear view mirror, but I dismissed it as moonlight as quickly as it appeared. Settled in, I turned on the engine and started moving. Usually we would put the radio on at about this point, finding any song worth singing to and belting it out shamelessly. Tonight though, Eve was too distracted, and I was just worn down. I could still hear the pounding of the party's music in my head, and the option for a few minutes of quiet was too wondrous to turn down.

"Thanks for letting me stay with you," Eve said about half way through the ride. Her eyes were closed and her head was tossed carelessly back against the headrest.

"It's no problem."

"Are you sure your mom won't mind?"

This gave me pause. Mom wouldn't want Eve drinking any more than she did me. Eve was like a non-related sister; she just might get into as much trouble at my house as at her own.

I was pondering this when a blinding stream of headlights came flying around the corner and straight at me.

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