When the girls dropped me off, nobody said a word. They were in shock from hearing Genesis’ anguished pleas and I was simply exhausted. I bid them a quick farewell and raced up the steps of my front porch. Sliding my key into the lock, I eased the door open, its squeaky hinges begging to be lubricated.
Blood-curdling screams rang out from within the pitch-black house. A single candle in the front hall provided the only light, casting strange shadows against the wall.
“Mom? Dad?” I called out, flipping a light switch to no avail.
Fuck! I pushed a button on my cellphone and tried to navigate the darkness. A door slammed shut upstairs, resonating through the two-story foyer. I flipped my phone up, directing its light toward the ceiling. A dark figure stood at the banister, peering down at me.
“Dad?” I called out with uncertainty.
The figure shrank back, disappearing from view.
I headed cautiously for the stairs, still using my cellphone to guide the way. Halfway up the staircase, my fingers grazed a sticky substance smeared against the wall. I manipulated the direction of the phone’s light and as realization sank in, my hands started quivering.
I slowly retreated, backtracking down the steps. Victims go upstairs and check things out, I told myself. Smart people get the hell out of the house and call the cops. Just as my foot reached the bottom step, I backed into something solid.
“Colette,” came a quiet, breathy whisper.
I froze, my hand gripping my cellphone, preparing to brandish it as a weapon. I took a deep breath and spun around with vigor. What could be more terrifying to even the most seasoned criminal than a moody teenager with mobile technology? I readied myself for battle as the light streamed over the intruder’s face.
“Dad! What the hell are you doing?” I snapped.
“Honey, the joke’s up,” he called out.
Seconds later, the antique chandelier flooded the entry with light, and I saw my mom pop her head over the second story banister. “Ugh, Colette! You’re no fun!”
Wait, what? I wasn’t being lectured until I bled from the ears? What sort of alternate universe had I been transported to?
“Are you kidding me right now? You guys are messed up! I was about to call the police!” I glanced at their costumes with annoyance. Both were dressed in hooded black robes, their faces painted white.
“You’re not the only one. Where were you? I drop you off at the auto shop and you come home ten hours later?” Dad demanded, the smile disappearing from his face as he pushed his hood back.
Ugh, I hadn’t been spared at all. Staging a faux crime scene and scaring the crap out of me were new chapters of their Parental Torture handbook.
I sighed heavily. “Honestly, I ran into some friends and lost track of time. Nothing more.”
I decided to leave out pertinent details of my day, including sexy time with Jagger in the auto shop garage and underage drinking at the pub. Presumably, neither of those would be viewed favorably in the eyes of my overbearing parents.
My dad nodded to himself, processing my explanation. “I don’t know what to do anymore, Colette. I’m trying to meet you halfway here. You tell me what you think a fair punishment would be.”
“Huh? Is this some sort of set-up? I’m confused.”
“No, not a set-up. I honestly want you to self-reflect upon your actions as of late. Do you feel justified in staying out past your curfew and not communicating your whereabouts?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I guess not. It’s not like I’m intentionally trying to make you guys worry.”
My dad stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I suppose that’s a positive, even though your actions have produced polar opposite effects.”
Sighing, I tried again. “I can’t say much, except I’m sorry and I’ll try to adhere to my curfew.”
He was quiet for a few seconds as he internally contemplated a suitable punishment. “Two weeks.”
“Fine,” I muttered, spinning on my heel, and heading upstairs to my room. I collapsed on my bed and stared at my cellphone in disappointment. Nothing from Abel. Remembering his blank expression consumed my soul. God, how could I have been so stupid? What the hell was wrong with me? Suddenly, my phone chimed, and its screen lit up, excitedly announcing an incoming call. Hope temporarily lifted my spirits, only to crash and burn seconds later.
I sat up and sighed into the phone. “Hey, Kinsley.”
Her voice was loud and bubbly, as though she could no longer contain her excitement. “You made out with Jagger!”
It was more a proclamation than a question. “Guess he spoke with Galen, huh?”
“So, are you guys dating? I’m so stoked! He’s such a catch!”
“Whoa, Kinsley, slow down. We’re not dating...I-I screwed up.”
I could only imagine the look on her face, wrinkles marring her perfect features.
“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice dangerously low.
“I love him,” I said, choking back sobs as the steady stream of tears rolled over my cheeks. Oh fuck. Here it comes. My emotional breakdown. I hadn’t even admitted that sentiment to myself, but here I was, being completely vulnerable with the school gossip. Judging by my trembling tone, it was damn clear I didn’t mean Jagger.
She sighed into the phone then asked a simple question. “Have you told him?”
I huffed. “No, he won’t even talk to me. We were in mid-make out when Jagger showed up to return my panties.”
Peels of bubbly laughter pierced my ear. “Oh, Colette! That’s rich!”
“Somehow, I didn’t find it so amusing and neither did they,” I said dryly.
Above me, the attic floorboards creaked under the weight of foot‐ steps. I frowned, then pulled the phone away from my mouth. “Come on guys, the joke’s up!” I called out.
“What’s going on?” Kinsley asked.
“Ugh, just my parents and their twisted sense of humor.”
“So, the other reason I called is to remind you about my party this weekend.”
Somehow, with all the chaos in my life lately, I had forgotten about Kinsley’s upcoming Halloween Bash.
“Kinsley, I can’t. I just got grounded for two weeks for breaking curfew.”
“I’ll take care of it,” she said nonchalantly.
“Huh?” My eyebrows rose to unnatural heights. “What’s that mean?”
“I told you, Colette. I always get my way.”
I was too exhausted to debate so I thanked her and said good night. Seconds after hanging up, a large object scraped across the attic’s floor, causing the chandelier above my bed to shake.
Man! They were relentless!
I stood at my door and glanced down the darkened hallway. A single ray of light spilled across the hardwood floor. The attic door was slightly ajar, indicative that someone had recently unlocked it. I walked over and opened it further.
“Mom? Dad? You guys up there?”
The single light bulb above the attic stairs flickered, offering the lone response. Throwing common sense aside, I ascended the stairs, each step creaking in protest. I reached the top step and flipped on the overhead light, peering around the attic. Multiple boxes and scattered personal items occupied the floor and walls. A phonograph sat against the near wall, surrounded by racks of clothing. I sifted through hat boxes and scarves before I saw it hanging there. My blood ran cold, and my mouth fell in shock as I stood in front of it.
The light blue dress hung in infamy with sticks, leaves, and small pebbles of gravel entangled in its satiny skirt. A large red stain covered the bodice and the once-intricate hemline was no more than a tangled mess of torn fragments. I gently rubbed the fabric between my fingers, each image of Genesis wearing it still fresh in my mind.
A stack of boxes across the room tumbled over, startling me. I lost my balance and found myself falling backward, my hands flailing wildly at my side. Pain shot through my body as my face hit the edge of a large, solid-wood table.
I COULD HEAR my name being called from the edge of the woods, beckoning me to enter its darkened facade. My footsteps crunched against the tapestry of dead leaves, unnaturally loud against the still of the night. I exhaled in cold blasts, sending puffs of glass-like clouds into the late-evening air. Woeful moans and anguished cries rang out from the trees as I drew closer.
“Hello?” I called out, my eyes scanning the thicket.
The frosty night breeze enveloped me, causing my teeth to chatter uncontrollably. Through the darkness, I had faint visibility, yet I knew I was not alone. The rancid stench of death was unmistakable, and it was upon me.
I backed away from the stronghold of trees, trying to control my urge to vomit. I covered my nose and mouth with one hand and fled in the opposite direction, running through the clearing to the grave‐ yard nearby. Just when I felt as though I could run no more, a comforting blanket of warmth and security covered me and I awoke to find myself blinded by glorious rays of sunshine that seeped through the cracks of the attic roof.
Sitting up, vertigo settled over me and my cheek throbbed with pain. I brought a hand to the tender spot, gingerly exploring the area. I struggled to my feet and gazed with contempt at the blue dress hanging against the wall. “This is your fault,” I muttered, my hand still pressed to the side of my face.
I ambled downstairs and entered the second-floor hallway. The house was uncharacteristically quiet--a sure sign that I was alone. I entered my room and reached for my phone. 9:30! Holy shit! I had already missed two classes. I threw on a T-shirt and some jeans and ran out the front door.
Five minutes later, an Uber driver sat in my driveway. I slid into the backseat and instructed him to drive to the school. Concerned crossed his burly features.
“Miss, are you alright?”
Crap! I hadn’t even bothered to check my reflection before running out of the house. I could only imagine how puffy and bruised my face was.
“I’m fine. Can we go please?” I asked impatiently.
He cleared his throat but said nothing else on our drive towards town. Once we had reached the school, I tossed money at him and raced to third period. I entered the room and swear that I heard the class collectively gasp. Even my teacher stopped talking and gawked at me.
I slid into my desk and pulled my compact from the front pocket of my bookbag. Gazing at my reflection, I was mortified. A black bruise extended from just above my left eyebrow, encircled my left eye, and stretched to the middle of my cheek. My eye was nearly swollen shut and my lip was busted and bloodied. I looked horrible, as though I had fought my way through some physical assault. I guess it was a good thing my parents hadn’t been home when I left this morning!
By the time class ended, I was the hot topic of gossip. The hallways swarmed with rumors and predictably, Abel was at my locker before fourth hour. His posture was rigid and his demeanor gruff, but there was a softness in his eyes that conveyed his concern. He said nothing as he watched me exchange my books. When I finished, I turned to face him. Tentatively, his hand grazed my cheek as he studied the extent of my injury.
“I’m fine-” I started, but earsplitting cries cut me off.
Kinsley rushed up and threw her arms around me, then pulled back and stared at me, her aquamarine eyes wide in horror. “Oh...my...gawd Colette! I just talked to you last night! What the hell happened?”
“I was in the attic and lost my balance. I guess I hit my face-”
“You guess?” Abel spat at me. “Christ, Colette. You look like shit.”
“Wow, thanks Abel,” I sneered.
He scoffed. “Well, you do.”
It wasn’t exactly one of his finer moments. The fourth period warning bell rang, and students scattered. Abel gave me a lingering look, as though he had so much more to say.
“C’mon Colette,” Kinsley urged, linking her arm through mine.
Abel looked at the ground, dejected, then headed down the hall. We followed behind at a safe distance. I sighed and looked over at Kinsley. If someone had told me on the first day of school that I would be leaning on her perfectly tanned shoulder for support, I would have laughed maniacally. But now here I was...in that exact situation...seeking solace from Therapist Barbie.
But first, I needed reassurance.
I swallowed. “Hey Kins,” I started, trying to approach the topic delicately.
She popped her bubblegum and blew a kiss to Galen as we passed him in the hall. “Yeah?”
“You didn’t um...tell anyone about what I told you last night? About Abel?”
Kinsley stopped walking and turned to me. “Colette, I swear,” she drew a cross over her heart. “What you feel for him is your admission to share, not mine.”
I smiled in relief and followed her into class. “Thanks, Kins.”
AT LUNCH, I was mindlessly pushing mashed potatoes around on my lunch tray as Galen and Hunter argued over what beer to bring for Kinsley’s Halloween party. I smiled politely as they cracked jokes, but my eyes kept flickering to Jagger. He sat across from me, doing all he could to avoid my gaze. I was pond scum, and my guilt was eating me alive.
“Jagger,” I said softly. He ignored me.
From across the cafeteria, I could feel Abel’s eyes boring holes into my head as he carefully watched our interaction.
“Jagger,” I tried again.
Devon cleared her throat. “Hey Dipshit, she’s talking to you!”
He shot her a look. “Thanks, Devon. I can always count on you to make a situation worse.”
She slapped his back with false camaraderie. “No problem, buddy!”
Jagger stood up and left the table, and I buried my head in my arms.
Bella rubbed my shoulders as a means of comforting me. “He’ll come around,” she whispered.
I lifted my head and smiled weakly at her. “I hope so,” I said softly.
I got up and dumped my lunch tray, then headed down the hallway to the women’s restroom. Just as I was about to push open the door, an arm wrapped around my waist and spun me around, pinning me to the wall.
His green eyes flashed with electricity and he was panting heavily, as though he had been running to catch up with me. “Are...you...okay?”
I couldn’t contain my laughter. “Better than you.”
A small smile tugged at the corners of his perfect mouth. God, how I missed those lips! I studied his face, losing myself in his eyes. Those green beacons studied me, searching my face for answers.
“So, is that really what happened?” Abel asked, nodding at my cheek.
“You know I’m a klutz,” I said with a grin.
He snickered and glanced at me affectionately. “What am I going to do with you?”
I stepped toward him, trying to appear as seductive as possible with a disgustingly marred face. I’m not entirely certain that I was successful, but it certainly piqued his interest. He raised an eyebrow at me quizzically.
“First, you need to forgive me.”
“You’re not mine, Colette. There’s nothing to forgive.”
I looked at him coyly, my heart thundering in my chest as I summoned the courage to utter my next proposition. “What if I want to be?”
His jaw set and a twinge of anger flickered in his eyes. “Don’t you think that’s something you could have figured out before you slept with Jagger?”
“We didn’t...” my voice trailed off. Swallowing hard, I stared into his eyes. “I haven’t umm...done that with anyone.” I looked down at the pink and white tiled squares of the hallway, my cheeks on fire—or at least one of them was.
“But you wanted to,” he growled.
I grimaced. “It wasn’t about want. It was easy, simple, uncompli‐ cated. I-”
“Is that supposed to fucking make me feel better?”
I rubbed my hands over the length of my face, wincing as I passed over my cheek. “Is there anything you like better than the sound of your damn voice? Please, just let me finish!”
Those lips turned up into an amused smirk and he gestured for me to continue.
“Thank you,” I said, rolling my eyes.
I took a deep breath before continuing, trying to calm the nerves that sent shock waves through my body whenever I was near him. “Abel, from day one, there’s been this intensity with you that’s unexplained. I’m drawn into your essence, into everything you are. It’s daunting really--your confidence. There’s defined purpose in everything that you do, say, and feel. Your eyes...those hands when they touch my skin--It’s almost like you demand immediate reciprocation of what you feel for me and I-I... don’t want to disappoint. I want to give all of me that you’re asking for and that...“I trailed off, my voice faltering. “Well, it scares the shit out of me.”
His jaw tightened and with every passing moment that he was silent, I grew more uneasy. But then his eyes softened, and his hand reached out to gently caress my wounded cheek. “I wish you could see how you look at me.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t need words to convey how you feel about me, Colette. The way your skin flushes when I touch you...” He ran a finger along my jaw, “and the way you shudder with nervous anticipation when I’m near...” He circled behind me, sweeping the hair from my neck, and bringing his lips close to my ear.
As if on command, my body quivered with eager submissiveness that the velvety timbre of his voice demanded. He reappeared in front of me, his eyes ablaze with fervor. “But that white-hot surge of lightning you feel with my presence is nothing compared to the vulnerability I’m dealt when those tranquil, silvery eyes of yours fucking wash over me. I’d spend an entire lifetime swimming in those stormy waters.”
I felt my heart soar and my knees buckle with his proclamation. I put a hand on his shoulder to steady myself, holding his gaze. “I wouldn’t have slept with Jagger. It wouldn’t have...gotten to that point. There’s only one person I want to share that with.”
He lifted my chin and kissed me tenderly, a slow smile spreading over his face. “Sharing is caring.”
A peel of laughter tore from my chest just as the bell rang and students flooded the hallway. I turned to him, a mischievous grin manipulating my face. “In that case, there are a few things I’d like to share with you.”
He raised an eyebrow at me, intrigued. “Name ’em.”
I SET the glass of water on the counter and swallowed, forcing the pain pill down my throat. I stared at my reflection in the mirror and managed a half-smile. I was able to conceal my facial bruise, which had warped into a putrid shade of green, with white face paint. My eyelids were adorned with faux lashes and sparkly black eyeshadow. I had painted my lips crimson red, complimented by fake blood and plastic fangs. My long black hair was arranged in a vintage bouffant updo, completing my Victorian vampire costume.
Somehow, Kinsley had convinced my parents that I had missed curfew because I was tutoring her for an English exam. And for some reason, they believed her. So here I was, getting ready for her Halloween Bash.
The sound of the doorbell reverberated through the second-floor landing. I grabbed my purse and skipped downstairs. Opening the front door, I was greeted by Dracula. He swept in and wrapped me in his cloak, pulling me towards him for a kiss.
“Madam, I find your blood irresistible,” Abel said, smiling through his fangs.
“Hope that’s not the only thing,” I teased, kissing him again.
“Colette?” my mom’s voice called out.
I blushed as I turned around to face her. “S-sorry,” I stammered, embarrassed that she had witnessed such an intimate moment.
“Midnight,” she said shortly, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
I turned to Abel. “We should go.” I grabbed his hand and pulled him onto the front porch. Once we were alone, I pushed my body against his, nuzzling my face against his neck. God, he smelled divine. “I’d much rather go someplace private,” I murmured.
He grinned and kissed the top of my head. “Kinsley will kill us if we don’t show. Besides, you’re the one that begged me to go with you to this damn party...and dress the part!”
He would remind me of that! Frowning, I reluctantly started for his truck. Seconds later, my hand prickled with heat as he raised it to his mouth and gently brushed his lips against it. “But...we don’t have to stay long. I’ve got something else planned.”
I grinned. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“Shhh. You’ll find out soon enough.”
He held the passenger door open and I slid inside, eagerly waiting for him to join me. Seconds became minutes as the wait intensified. I half-turned in my seat and saw him perched on the back bumper, the blue glow of his cellphone illuminating the side of his chiseled face. He was talking animatedly to whoever was on the other end. As his gaze shifted to the truck and his eyes met mine, he quickly hung up and climbed in.
“Who was that?”
He clenched his jaw, his eyes focused on the road as we headed to Kinsley’s. “Cassius,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Scarlett’s boyfriend? He’s a little...odd.”
Abel scoffed. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“Care to tell me?” I asked with a raised brow.
He cleared his throat. “Some other time.”
Of course. His typical fucking response to everything.
“I don’t think he likes me very much,” I admitted, tossing him a sideways glance.
“What do you mean?” he asked with a frown.
“I-I don’t know how to explain it. At first, the way he looked at me made me nervous...like he wanted to attack me or something. Then Fallon said something about me belonging to you.” I saw him bite his lip and look out the window. “And then I think I burned him.”
Abel looked at me sharply. “What?”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “I know it sounds crazy-”
“I want you to stay away from him, Colette. Do you hear me?"
“Trust me, I plan-”
“He’s coming to Kinsley’s party,” he interjected.
“Well, things just keep getting better huh. First, your psychotic brother has turned my life into hell on Earth and now Scarlett’s creepy-ass boyfriend has some malicious vendetta against me.”
“I don’t think it’s just you,” he mumbled. “Why do you say that?”
“Because Colette. When Cassius is around, nobody’s safe.”