I left my Mustang downtown and hopped onto the back of Abel’s customized flat black Bobber Chopper. He draped his leather jacket around my shoulders, and we tore across town, the crisp autumn air stinging my cheeks as we zipped through the streets.
I wrapped my arms around his waist and felt him pull me closer, his arm resting casually on my thigh. Yep, we were the absolute picture of a couple that wasn’t dating, I thought sarcastically, resting my head against his strong shoulders. God, he smelled good!
Moments later, we pulled into the circle drive of St. Joseph’s Hospital. Abel backed into a parking spot in a darkened corner of the lot and cut the engine.
“Um...these are the plans we made?” I asked nervously.
He grinned mischievously, tweaking his eyebrows. “You were expecting the Ritz?”
“Maybe just dinner?” I said with a snicker.
Before he could respond, a white BMW sedan pulled into an adjacent parking spot and rolled down its window. Devon poked her blonde head out and stared at Abel with contempt.
“I don’t know why I let you talk me into this, Campbell.”
He smiled smugly and crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re a good friend, Devon. Let’s just leave it at that.”
I frowned. Since when were Abel and Devon ‘good friends’?
“What the hell’s going on?” I demanded.
Devon stared at Abel in disbelief. “She doesn’t know?”
“Know what?” I cried.
“Just do what I asked, and I promise to keep quiet,” Abel promised.
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, just make sure Scarlett keeps her big mouth shut!”
I threw my hands up in the air. “Hello? Does anyone know I’m here?”
Devon climbed out of her car and started for the hospital. Abel and I hopped off the bike and followed behind. He smiled down at me, his green eyes flashing with excitement. “Come, sweet pea. Knowledge awaits.”
“Oh, now I’m privy to knowing shit? Just last night you told me I wasn’t ready!” I hissed at him.
He shrugged. “With certain things that’s true, you’re not. But you asked me before about Genesis, and after what happened with Emerson, I figured this might help you figure things out.”
I didn’t respond and we proceeded into the hospital in comfortable silence. Devon made her way to the nurse’s station and leaned over the counter, popping her gum obnoxiously.
“Well?” she asked the young male attendant seated before her.
He sighed, his brown eyes filled with hesitation as he studied his computer screen. “I don’t know, Devon. I mean, I’d love to help you, but I could lose my job. You know that’s a restricted area. And if your parents found out—”
“Except they won’t. Mom’s in an emergency surgery and Dad’s at home. I just need to get one little thing.”
He glanced around before getting up to check the nearby hallway. When he returned to the desk, he groaned. “Okay, look. Steve from security has a 15-minute break that he takes every night at 8:45. That’s the only time the cameras are unguarded. You’ve got 15 minutes, Devon.” He unhooked his key card and tossed it to her.
She brandished the card with zest, then flashed him a dazzling smile. “Thanks, Cole. We’ll be quick, I promise!”
We followed her down a desolate hallway where she slyly slipped the key card into Abel’s palm.
“Thanks, Devon,” he said.
“Can it, Campbell. I’m only doing this for Harlow.”
Harlow? What the hell did she have to do with any of this? I furrowed my brow, trying to make sense of their cryptic conversation.
Devon led us to a steel door at the end of the hall labeled ‘Medical Records.’ She paused outside and looked at her diamond-encrusted watch. “Okay, we’ve got two minutes to spare. Get in, get what you need, and get out.”
Abel saluted her; a sarcastic grin spread across his face. “Yes, Ma’am.”
She rested her hands on her hips and raised one perfectly refined eyebrow. “What are you looking for anyway?”
He patted her shoulder. “Let me worry about that. You just watch the door, Miss Collins.”
Devon rolled her eyes and slumped against the wall, resigning herself to ‘watchman.’ Abel swiped the key card and we were in! —to a dull, square room filled with rows of filing cabinets. It was somehow underwhelming given all the secrecy and plotting.
I leaned against one of the cabinets and folded my arms. “So, do I get to know what the hell it is you’re looking for?”
Abel stopped rifling through a cabinet and turned to me with exasperation. “We didn’t need to do some damn séance and you didn’t need to go to a metaphysical shop to bug a 106-year-old woman. There are certain things about Genesis no one knows.”
“No one except you, right?” I asked incredulously.
He ignored me and continued searching the cabinets. He found one labeled ‘La-Lo’ and pulled it open. “Here we go,” he called out, producing a manilla file folder with a flourish. He grabbed my hand and we bolted for the door, surging into the hallway where Devon waited.
“Did you get it?” she asked, her eyes wide.
“Yep, let’s go,” he ordered, concealing the folder beneath his jacket before grabbing my hand and dragging me toward the exit. He tossed the key card to Devon and when we rounded the corner, Cole was seated at his computer, typing furiously as we approached.
Devon slid it across the counter. “Thanks, Cole,” she said quickly.
He nodded, then looked around to see if anyone had noticed the interaction. Satisfied, he pocketed his key card and returned to typing. Our covert trio exited the hospital and returned to the parking lot. Devon slid behind the wheel of her BMW and stared at us as Abel and I perched on his bike.
“So, we’re good then?” she asked, raking a hand through her short, blonde bob.
“Absolutely. Thanks again, Dev.”
She glared at him. “Go fuck yourself, Abel. See you later, Colette.”
I gave a small wave as she rolled up her window and peeled out of the parking lot, her tires squealing. Within seconds, she had vanished from sight, and Abel and I were alone once more.
I stared at him expectantly with raised eyebrows. “Well?”
His mouth spread into a seductive smile, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “How ’bout that dinner?”
TEN MINUTES LATER, I was seated across from him in a sparkly, red vinyl booth. The 50′s- style diner was nothing more than a narrow, aluminum trailer with counter seating and a checkered black-and-white floor. An elderly couple and a lone gentleman seated at the counter were the only other patrons in the establishment.
Our waitress, a young blonde girl in a red pin-striped uniform with a white apron and red heels, sauntered over to us. Her red lips peeled back into a sultry smile as her gaze lingered over Abel, drinking in his admirable physique as he sprawled across the length of the booth.
“How are y’all doing?” she chirped, setting two menus down on the table.
Abel exchanged generic pleasantries while I offered stone-cold silence and the bitchiest glare I could muster. I found her friendly demeanor threatening as if she were intruding on my territory, territory I hadn’t yet claimed. Regardless, I was a female and my BITCH alert was spiking through the roof.
“I’m Makenna and I’ll be your waitress,” she continued, oblivious to my contempt. “Do y’all know whatcha want?”
By ‘y’all’, she meant Abel since she didn’t bother to glance in my direction. Fine, so be it. I could dish it out as well.
“I’ll have a Coke, burger, and fries. Colette?” he nodded at me.
With my existence formally acknowledged, she reluctantly turned to me and stuck her hand out in a silent request for the menu. I tossed it at her flippantly, smirking as she fumbled and dropped it. “I’ll have the same.”
“And are you two together?”
“Excuse me?” I asked incredulously, raising an eyebrow. She had balls; I’ll give her that!
Abel cleared his throat and shot me a look. “Yes, same check please.”
She gave him an exaggerated smiled and dashed off.
“Ugh, I hate girls like her,” I muttered when she was out of earshot.
He scoffed. “What? Friendly ones?”
“I can think of a better word for it,” I said through clenched teeth.
He sat up straight in the booth and leaned over the table, clasping his hands together. “You know, for being so quick to tell everyone in the free world that we aren’t together, you sure are opinionated about who I talk to.”
“No, I’m not,” I snapped. “I just...well...she eyed you like an entrée she could order right off the menu!”
He laughed and slapped the table with one hand. “And the problem with that is? Besides, I would expect nothing less. I mean, look at me!”
Even though every bit of my female being agreed with his statement whole-heartedly, I felt inclined to knock his ego down a notch or two. I meant to reply with some snarky comment, but Makenna returned with our drinks. She set mine on the edge of the table, then leaned seductively over Abel to deliver his, her breasts just inches from his face.
“Do you need anything else right now?” she asked him, still oblivious to the fact that he was not dining alone.
“We’re good, thanks,” he said with a polite smile.
She left again and I stuck my tongue out. Mature, I know!
“Stop,” Abel chided, shaking his head at me. “Your jealousy is showing.”
“Hardly!” I objected.
He pushed the Manilla envelope across the table toward me. “Let’s focus on what matters, shall we?” He leaned back in the booth and crossed his arms behind his head.
I reached for the envelope, sliding it closer. “So, what does this hold? The secrets to the universe?” I joked, sliding my finger under the flap of the envelope.
His hand shot out, covering mine. “Look, this has to stay between us, understand?”
“So serious,” I said playfully.
He was not amused, a frown creasing his forehead. His voice dropped, his eyes flickering around the restaurant to ensure confidentiality. “When I said to leave things buried...well, this is why.”
The hair on my arms stood on end and sirens went off in my head. Against my better judgment, I opened that envelope and released Pandora’s misfortunes unto us. I pulled out the stack of medical records, my eyes carefully perusing each as Abel watched me intently. Most were office visits, intermingled with labs, accompanying diagnostic tests, and a couple of outpatient surgeries. But it was the final piece of paper that caught my attention: Genesis Long’s Death Certificate.
The first few fields involved generic information—name, address, age, funeral home information. Place of death was indicated as ‘dead on arrival’, causing my heart to sink. I skipped down to Cause of Death, listed as Abdominal Hemorrhage---no surprise there. (I had seen the gaping hole in her stomach, after all). Secondary Cause was determined as Cranial Injury secondary to blunt force trauma. (Again, she had blood gushing from her head every time I’d seen her). Manner of Death: Accident. No, it was the field under ‘If Female’ that made me choke on my soda. I set my glass down on the table with a definitive ‘CLANK’, then stared at Abel wide-eyed.
“Genesis was pregnant!”
I FINISHED the rest of my fries, blotted my face with my napkin, then looked at Abel imploringly. “H-how did you know?”
He took a swig of his drink before answering. “Right before prom, Sebastian mentioned it. He was scared as shit but happy about it. She was seven weeks along.”
“So, who else knew?”
“Just her mom. Gen’s death certificate was never made public so essentially, the secret died with her.”
“What about your parents? You never-”
“No,” he said shortly. His tone made it clear that it wasn’t a topic for discussion.
Makenna dropped off our check, then flashed another irritatingly sweet smile at Abel. “Do you need anything else?”
Would it be appropriate to say that I wanted to bitch-slap her into next week? Still no? Damn!
Abel shook his head. “I think we’re good, thanks.”
She nodded, then dropped off the check before retreating to the back.
“What’s my damage?” I asked him.
He threw some money down on the table, then tossed his motor-cycle jacket at me. “I took care of it. No worries.”
“I can pay for my portion,” I protested.
“I’m sure you can,” he said with a laugh, holding the door open as we left the restaurant. Leaves drifted on the breeze of the crisp autumn air, tumbling down the deserted Savannah street.
“What time is it?” I asked Abel, climbing onto the back of his motorcycle.
“Still early. A little past 10:30.”
“Shit, can you take me back to my car?”
He raised an eyebrow, surprised by my suggestion. “Seriously?”
“I haven’t been home since this morning. I’m sure my parents are wondering where the hell I am.” I pulled my cellphone out and glanced at the home screen. Sure enough, 4 missed calls from ‘Mom and Dad’ stared up at me in bold red letters. Yikes!
Abel groaned but obliged, guiding us back to the downtown district. As we came to the row of boutique shops and my Mustang came into view, my hand flew to my mouth in disbelief. My body trembled with anxiety as I surveyed the damage: The entire front windshield was shattered, creating a haphazard canvas of broken glass. The headlights were busted out and the tires were slashed—all textbook examples of vandalism.
Abel joined me on the sidewalk, his face mirroring my own. “Holy shit, Colette!”
I turned and flailed wildly for something to cling to, suddenly unsteady on my feet. My vision became hazy and I staggered about, mumbling something to Abel--although I’m unsure precisely what. His garbled response was further proof that I was slipping further from reality, settling into an alternate, but familiar domain I’ve referred to as ‘Chamber of Doors.’
BLINDING sunlight greeted me upon entering the room. I shielded my eyes and found myself at the center of a birthday party: Kids squealed with excitement as they swam in the in-ground pool, one table over-flowed with presents and another filled with cupcakes and snacks. A banner emblazoned with “Happy Birthday, Genesis” hung over the treat table. A couple of kids hanging out by the side of the pool caught my attention.
“I don’t know how,” a young brunette girl said to her blonde friend as she played nervously with her hands.
The blonde flipped her hair. “Genesis, all you have to do is paddle with your arms and kick your feet. I mean, why even have a swimming party if you don’t know how?”
“Are you sure, Kinsley? That’s it?”
“Well yeah, duh! There’s not much to it!”
A blonde-haired boy put a hand on Genesis’ shoulder. “You don’t have to do this. You’re cool whether you know how to swim or not, Gen.”
She smiled at him. “Thanks, Sebastian, but I want to try.” She took a deep breath and perched over the edge of the pool. “Alright, here goes-”
Before she could finish, Kinsley shoved Genesis into the water. She floundered about, struggling to keep her head above water. “Oh God, Genesis. You’re so dramatic,” Kinsley called out, rolling her eyes as she examined her nails.
Sebastian dove into the water, putting an arm around Genesis and pulling her to safety. He brushed her wet hair out of her eyes as she coughed up water. “Just breathe, Gen.”
“Thank you, Sebastian,” she said softly, throwing her arms around his neck.
Moments later, parents flocked to the edge of the pool as Kinsley plopped down in a lawn chaise, an expression of pure boredom spread across her face.
A pale girl with long black hair stood over Kinsley. “That was so cruel, Kinsley!” she shouted, visibly shaking with anger.
“She’s fine, Fallon.”
“Kinsley, Genesis adores you and it might not be my place to say this, but I will anyway. You’re a bitch!”
Kinsley’s jaw dropped and she sprang up from her chair, lunging for Fallon. Her hands clutched onto Fallon’s hair, viciously pulling. Fallon cried out, trying to untangle herself from Kinsley’s death grip. Parents shifted their attention from Genesis to the debacle taking place by the side of the pool. A tall woman Colette recognized as Lilith Long stepped between the girls.
“Girls, knock it off!” she scolded.
Kinsley hesitantly released her grasp and sauntered past Fallon. Without hesitation, Fallon reached out and pushed Kinsley into the pool, then stomped off. The scene went black and I was thrust into the hallway.
Turning the handle of another door, I found myself standing on the side of a country road as the undercarriage of a car soared a few feet above my head. I ducked down and watched in horror as the black Dodge Challenger flipped over itself, launching Sebastian through the windshield and onto the unforgiving pavement with a sickening thud. Blood and brain matter spewed across the concrete, constructing a morbid scene of absolute death. Blinking back tears, the car finally rolled to a stop. The entire front windshield was shattered, revealing the depth of the car’s cabin. In the passenger seat, Genesis Long sat in shock, her beautiful face covered in blood. She brushed what she could from her eyes, then howled in pain before tumbling out of the car, one hand trying to suppress the gaping abdominal wound that painted the ground red. Weakened, she fell to her knees, then began crawling towards Sebastian. With an effort that seemed to span years, she collapsed on top of him, her eyes cast to heaven as death swept in.
I covered my mouth, chunks rising in my throat. After a few seconds of dry-heaving, I heard the rumblings of an approaching vehicle. A familiar truck pulled up and my heart sank as I recognized the driver.
“I don’t want to see this!” I screamed into the night air, demanding to be rescued from this nightmare. Apparently, the powers that be didn’t care, relishing in my torture. I watched in anguish as Abel climbed from the driver’s seat and motioned to his blonde passenger.
“Kinsley, j-just stay in the truck,” he said, his voice faltering as he surveyed the scene.
True to form, Kinsley ignored him and climbed out of the truck, her sequined aquamarine prom dress glistening in the moonlight. “That’s Sebastian’s car, Abel! Oh my god!” she exclaimed, rushing toward the two lifeless bodies lying in the middle of Greenwich Cemetery Road.
Abel grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back. “Fucking Christ, Kinsley!” he snapped, driving her to the ground. “Just stay put for a goddamn minute, please!”
In three quick strides, he had reached the middle of the road. The grief hit him like a ton of bricks, racking his body with sobs as he collapsed to his knees and gently closed Genesis’ eyes. When he recomposed himself moments later, he glanced back to Kinsley.
“Kinsley! Call the police!” he shouted to her.
She didn’t look up, her eyes vacant as she stared at the road in shock, her arms wrapped around her legs as she rocked back and forth. Abel sighed heavily and walked to his truck. Retrieving Kinsley’s cell, he returned to her side, leaned down, and closed her fingers around the phone.
“Babe, I need you to call your dad,” he said softly.
She looked up at him, suddenly jarred from her trance. “Are they...” her voice trailed off, unable to finish her sentence.
Abel shook his head. “I need you to call him...now.”
With a shaky hand, she pushed buttons on her phone, then squeak out a single word: “Daddy?” Silence before she continued. “Daddy...there’s a wreck on Greenwich Cemetery Road...it’s Genesis and Sebastian.” Silence again and then: “Just past the cemetery. Please hurry.”
She hung up and Abel put his arm around her, pulling her to him.
In the distance, sirens pierced the night sky. The scene faded and I found myself in the hallway once again, reaching for another door.
Stepping through an archway of blue and silver balloons, I realized I was in the school gymnasium. Gone were the ostentatious basketball hoops and unsightly bleachers. Instead, the arena had been transformed into a magical wonderland, illuminated by the sparkling light of a disco ball. Couples swayed blissfully across the makeshift dance floor to soft tunes from the band. I made my way through the crowd, searching for familiar faces. I found Genesis and Sebastian at the center of the dance floor, with Kinsley and Abel, Bella and Hunter, and Devon and Jagger all slow dancing nearby. Fallon, Scarlett, and her mystery beau were entertaining Harlow and Galen by the punch table. The soothing ballad ended abruptly as Mr. Anderson ascended the steps of the stage and grabbed the microphone.
“Folks, folks,” he boomed, his voice reverberating through the gym. “I have the results of your 2018 Prom King and Queen!”
Kinsley squeezed Genesis’ hand and squealed with excitement. Mr. Anderson opened the envelope, glanced at the card, and then broke into a beaming smile.
“Your 2018 Prom King and Queen are...”
The crowd buzzed with excitement as he paused. “...Sebastian Campbell and Genesis Long!”
Celebratory music broke out and Sebastian and Genesis shared a passionate kiss before heading to the stage. Mr. Anderson handed Sebastian a scepter and crown, then placed a more delicate crown on Genesis’ head.
Sebastian grabbed the microphone, clearly amped by the announcement. “Hell yeah!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed Genesis, then licked the side of her face. Savannah Community High School’s student body erupted in laughter and cheers. They were an easy sell. The band started again, and Sebastian and Genesis rejoined the crowd on the dance floor. They were regaled with congratulatory messages while Sebastian pumped his fist in the air enthusiastically.
“Everyone’s coming to my house for after-prom, right?” Genesis asked their collective group of friends.
“Wouldn’t miss it!” Bella chirped, linking her arm through Hunter’s.
The group of friends dispersed as a new song started up.
Sebastian pulled Genesis to him, her face just inches from his. “Hey there beautiful,” he murmured.
Genesis leaned her head against his shoulder as they started to sway to the music. “Sebastian, this night is perfect. I know things have been rough lately, but we’re going to be okay...right?” She pulled back, her eyes searching his for affirmation.
Sebastian put a hand to her cheek. “I’m going to take care of you Gen... take care of us.” He put a hand affectionately on her stomach.
“I’m scared,” she choked out.
“Me too, baby.”
“I-I want this. Is that selfish?”
He tipped a finger under her chin, holding her gaze. “Gen, listen to me. We want this. Since I was seven, I’ve chosen you. Now, I choose us. I just need to know if you feel the same.” He stepped back and reached into his tux to retrieve a small, Tiffany Blue box.
Genesis’ eyes widened. “Are you...?” she trailed off, mesmerized by the breathtaking 2-carat cushion-cut diamond ring.
“Will you marry me, Gen?”
“Sebastian, that is beautiful, but I don’t want to get married simply because of-”
His eyes clouded with disappointment. “Gen, let’s get one fucking thing straight. Whether you were pregnant or not, I was proposing tonight. Now, you’ve told me ‘no’ once before-”
She scoffed. “We were nine, Beast.”
“So? I meant it just as much then as I do now. You’re my life, Gen. You always have been, and I need to know that from here on out you always will be...as my wife.”
Genesis smiled, then placed a hand on his chest. “I never needed a ring to be your wife, Sebastian.”
A slow grin started to spread across his face. “Are you saying...?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed with a laugh.
Sebastian hoisted her into the air into a Dirty Dancing-Esque swirl, then brought her down and planted a sloppy kiss. “Awesome!”
Genesis put a finger to her lips. “But let’s not tell anyone just yet, okay? Let this just be our night, our secret—for now.”
He kissed her again. “It’ll always be our night.”
I was back in the hallway again, flooded by symmetric rows of fluorescent lights. A door at the end of the hall slammed shut, followed by the sequential darkening of each light. Soon, only one light remained, casting the rest of the hallway into an opaque field of shadows. I recoiled and shrank against the wall. Scrunching my eyes shut, I tried to coerce myself from this setting.
Wake your ass up Colette, I told myself firmly. Let’s get the fuck out of here---now!
Reopening my eyes, I realized quickly that nothing had changed. With escape inevitable, the vile stench of death settled through the chamber, stinging my nostrils, and causing me to gag.
The lights above came on in synchronized fashion, revealing the decomposing body of Sebastian Campbell. He stood no more than five feet away, his hands shoved deep into his jeans pockets as he rocked contemptuously on the balls of his feet. His shoulder-length blonde hair was matted against his concaved head and he opened his mouth in a maniacal grin to reveal rotting teeth. The remaining flesh on his face fell to the ground in bloody chunks, making disturbing plopping sounds as they hit the floor.
“Tsk, tsk Angel,” he chided, waving a finger as he closed in upon me.
“What do you want?” I growled, my voice echoing through the chamber.
“Much more than you know,” he laughed. He pivoted to face me and swung Genesis’ necklace mockingly in front of me.
“Colette!” I heard my name being shouted at the end of the hall.
Abel. Thank fucking God!
“I’m surprised my dear brother hasn’t spilled his guts. Have you not given up the pussy?” he asked with a condescending laugh.
“Colette! Colette, open your eyes!” Abel commanded his voice closer now.
Sebastian’s head snapped up and his lips curled in disgust. “He’s quite fond of you. I find myself with similar emotions but must admit that my intentions aren’t so pure.”
I felt myself being shaken. “Damn it, Colette! Wake up!”
As if sensing my impending departure, Sebastian lunged at me. Suddenly, everything transcended to darkness before my eyes fluttered open to reveal a pair of green irises hovering above me.
“Colette! Jesus!” Abel said, breathing a sigh of relief.
I sat up and discovered that I had been lying on the sidewalk, my head cradled by Abel’s t-shirt. Abel’s t-shirt! Holy crap! My eyes tracked his body like a hawk eyeing its prey. Flawless skin, muscles galore, 6-pack abs, and an inverted V that led to what I could only imagine was absolute bliss. Gulp! Yes, I seriously fucking gulped.
“W-what time is it?”
“After midnight. Your car is messed up. Come on, I’ll drive you home.”
My heart sank as I glanced at my demolished car. I could already hear my parents asking a flurry of questions I had no answers for. This was horse shit!
As Abel helped me to my feet, I felt the sensation of cool metal against my palm. Please don’t be it...Please don’t be it, I pleaded to myself as I unfolded my fist. There, lying in my hand like some cursed artifact, was Genesis’ necklace.