She looked out over the Wilmington River. The setting sun had painted the early evening sky a blazing shade of orange as it began its descent behind the North hill. A subtle breeze caressed the Southern Live Oak Trees, prompting their contorted branches to sway gently back and forth. As the wind blew over their heavy wooden arms, thick tufts of Spanish moss danced around playfully. The picturesque setting served as her sanctuary, a much-needed escape from the planned monotony that was her life.
Closing her eyes, she exhaled deeply, dispelling the crashing waves of anxiety that wracked her body. She hated running away from her problems, but his biting response was shocking. The venom that had spewed from his lips…and that tone. She would go to her grave remembering the revulsion in his voice. Goosebumps pebbled her flesh and she shuddered at the memory.
The melodic chirping of nearby birds was disrupted by loud, screeching rock music. She opened her eyes and took sight of the black, 1970s Dodge Challenger barreling towards her. Sighing heavily, she climbed to her feet as the vehicle parked. Anxiety consumed her once more as she watched him approach.
His tall, lean frame exited the car, slamming the driver’s door behind him. His cheeks were flushed, and his shoulder-length sandy blond hair was covered in sweat, partially concealed by the red bandana wrapped around his head. His light blue eyes conveyed his annoyance and his hands were clenched into fists at his sides. “What the hell, Genesis?” he yelled out over the music.
She rolled her eyes and stormed past him towards the car. He reached for her arm, but she wrenched away and leaned through the open driver’s window to turn down the radio. Spinning the dial to OFF, she spun around to face him. “Just leave me alone, Sebastian. You’ve said enough.”
He threw his hands into the air. “Look, I overreacted okay? What do we do? How do we fix this?”
She scowled at him. “Fix this?” Fury coursed through her veins at his words, but her heart was too goddamn busy whipping that white flag around. She took a deep breath and looked at him in defeat. “I don’t know what we do, Sebastian,” she admitted hoarsely. “We can’t escape this. We both knew this could happen.”
His face softened and he looked down, studying the weathered boards of the fishing dock. When he met her gaze again, his blue eyes held a sadness she had never seen. He approached slowly before reaching out and wrapping her in his arms. “I’m right here with you, Gen. I’ll always be with you,” he assured her, stroking her hair with one hand. “We’ll figure this out. I promise.”
Before it kills us?
But she said nothing, just leaned her cheek against his chest as they embraced, trying to shield their problems from the prying eyes of the world.
After a few moments, he laced her fingers through his and led her back to his car. They climbed in and he guided the vehicle back up the gravel road towards town. As she looked out the passenger window, Greenwich Cemetery came into view. The two red-brick columns at the front of the graveyard were dilapidated and crumbling, their once-pristine iron gates now weathered and rusted. The setting rays of sunshine glistened off the top of the headstones.
Sebastian leaned over, took her hand in his, and kissed it gently. A broad smile stretched across his face. “It’s all going to be okay baby,” he promised.
The lies they told themselves at that moment were unfathomable, constructed simply to ease the apprehension of what was to come. She nodded her head at his naïve declaration and looked away, knowing that nothing would be ‘okay’ anymore.
GENESIS EXAMINED her reflection in the full-length mirror. Sighing, she readjusted the sweetheart neckline of her flowing dress. The light blue fabric matched her eyes perfectly. Her long brown hair flowed freely around her shoulders in large, loose curls. In the mirror, she could see her mother enter the room behind her, beaming with pride.
“You look beautiful, baby,” Lilith Long said, her arms outstretched for a hug.
Genesis embraced her and then looked at herself again in the mirror. “Thanks, Mom. Do you think I should add a necklace?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Lilith said with a knowing grin. “You’re going to have the time of your life tonight!”
The doorbell resonated through the plaster walls of the plantation home. Genesis smiled at her mom, then grabbed her clutch and headed down the curved staircase. Lilith opened the door and ushered Sebastian into the two-story foyer.
“Hi baby,” he whispered, grabbing Genesis for a quick kiss. He took her hand, slipping a white rose corsage onto her right wrist. She then pinned the obligatory white matching boutonniere on his black tux.
“Oooh,” cooed her mother, grabbing for the camera. She snapped a few quick pictures as they posed in front of the antique fireplace.
“We’d better get going,” Genesis announced, putting a hand to Sebastian’s chest.
“Hold on a sec,” he said, reaching into his tux and presenting her with a silver, velvet box.
She glanced at him, a demure smile manipulating her peach-colored lips. “Are you just trying to get laid for Prom?” she whispered to him before lifting the lid.
His lips twitched slightly but otherwise, he remained vigilant as he watched her. “What’s in there is worth so much more than a Prom night with you, Gen. It’s eleven years of us.”
Inside the box laid a sleek, heart-shaped pendant necklace. She opened the keepsake to reveal a picture of herself at age 7 on one side with a corresponding picture of Sebastian on the other. Her breath caught in her throat and immediately, all her fears vanquished. The insurmountable tension of the past few weeks dissipated, replaced by affirmations of implacable devotion. Tears had already welled in her eyes by the time she looked up to meet his gaze, her lower lip trembling uncontrollably. “Sebastian,” she whispered. Her eyes fell once more as she gently caressed the locket. “I-I don’t even know what to say.”
His blue eyes studied her with uncertainty, a flicker of disappoint‐ ment crossing his features. “You don’t like it?” he asked, his voice hoarse as he braced himself for her response.
Her head snapped up, a bright smile providing him the solace he so desperately sought at that moment. She threw her arms around him. “Of course, I do. It... rather, you, mean so much,” she murmured in his ear.
He let out a deep breath. “You’re unforgettable,” he whispered, kissing her hand before fastening the chain around her neck.
She turned around to face him, running the pad of her thumb over the indentation of his lower lip. There was a small scar there, a reminder of the mischief they had sought out as children. Sighing heavily, she whispered, “Promise it’ll always be this way with us.”
His lips found hers for a brief kiss before pulling away and staring into her eyes. “I’ll never let it be anything but. You’re my everything. I’ll follow…wherever you go.”
Genesis smiled, then took his hand and quickly bid her mother good-bye. Heading to Sebastian’s car, the evening held such promise, such allure. It was the night of their Senior Prom but by the time it ended, it would serve as a sick memory of the devastation that awaited them.
HER EYES OPENED SLOWLY, the sensation of unrelenting pain searing throughout her body. Where was she? Why couldn’t she remember what had happened? Her eyes flickered about, taking in the shattered glass strewn around her and the torn remnants of her prom dress. She quickly realized that she was in Sebastian’s car, but most of the front windshield was missing, as was he. The vile pungent of blood was nauseating as it trickled over her nose and into her field of vision. She brought her hands up and discovered the incomprehensible mess that now served as her face. With cries of anguish, Genesis wiped the blood from her eyes.
Her breathing was rapid, coming in short bursts as she struggled to make sense of the situation. Panic seeped in when she attempted to shift her weight and found herself unable to move. Looking down, she noticed a thick, triangular-shaped piece of glass protruding from her abdomen. She took a deep breath and forcefully gripped the shard of glass around its jagged edge, blood streaming between her fingers and over the webbing by her thumb. That subtle prick of pain paled in comparison to what she knew would come next. Biting her lip, she quickly jerked the piece of glass from her body and dropped it on the car’s blood-soaked floorboard.
Blurs of light zipped through her vision like lightning bugs across a deep night sky. She was weak, on the verge of slipping into oblivion once more when images of Sebastian consumed her, providing her with renewed strength. She had to find him, had to know that he was okay.
With one hand over the gaping hole in her stomach, she reached for the door handle with the other. Staggering out, she immediately fell to her knees and looked around wildly. As her eyes fell upon him, she broke down in hysterical sobs and covered her mouth with one bloody hand. Sebastian was lying face down in the middle of the road, about 50 feet in front of the car. His head was positioned at an unforgiving angle and was now just a concave mass.
Slowly, Genesis crawled over to him, leaving a trail of blood along the pavement as she went. The sickly-sweet red substance gurgled in her throat until she was forced to spit it from her mouth, causing the hole in her stomach to widen as she doubled over.
“Oh God no,” she murmured hoarsely as she looked down at the red stream that flowed from the corset of her dress. Her head throbbed with debilitating pain and as she lifted a hand to push her hair out of her eyes, she felt a gaping hole on the side of her head and a loose, overlying flap of skin that fluttered like rice paper in the night breeze. Her fingers gingerly explored the area, realizing that the squishy, jello-like surface below was her brain. A scream resonated from deep within her throat, but no sound emerged when she opened her mouth.
Her eyes fell upon Sebastian’s fallen form and with her last reserve of strength, she pulled herself next to his lifeless body before collapsing on top of him--exhausted, weak, defeated. Her vision started spinning and the beating of her heart slowed. Death rode in on his magnificent black steed, but she wouldn’t accompany him just yet. She reached up and retrieved the locket from around her neck, clutching it in her hand as she brought it to her lips and repeated Sebastian’s solemn vow from earlier. ”I’ll follow...wherever you go.”
Soon, she couldn’t discern between the stars in the sky and the stars that flashed before her eyes. Eventually, those twinkling lights transitioned into darkness, and everything faded to black.