"Thanks, Dad,” I called, hopping out of the Yukon.
He leaned over. “You sure you don’t need me to wait?”
I shook my head. “Nah, Jagger said it was taken care of. See you in a bit.”
I closed the car door and headed into the repair shop’s lobby. A skinny kid with greasy hair and acne was standing behind the register, tending to a customer. Once he had finished, he looked up at me. “Can I help ya?”
“I’m here to pick up my Mustang. Jagger said it was ready.”
The kid looked at his sheet, then pressed a button on the intercom system. “Jagger to customer lobby please.” He looked back at me. “He’ll be right out.”
I took a seat in the informal waiting area, watching as the other patrons read the newspaper and slid quarters into the dusty vending machines. Minutes later Jagger appeared, wearing coveralls embroidered with his name.
“Hey,” he said, trying to avoid my gaze.
I hated the awkwardness between us. As usual, I only had myself to blame for that. “Hey, thanks for calling about the car.”
“Yeah, I pulled it around.” He led me out a side door.
Warm autumn sunshine greeted us as we emerged from the repair shop’s lobby. Ruby was parked just a few feet away, proudly glistening. I walked around her perimeter, examining his handiwork. “Wow, nice job! Did you wash and wax it too?”
“And vacuumed,” he said with a laugh.
“Yikes! Poor you! I practically live in my car.”
“Yeah, I could tell.”
I swatted him playfully and he managed a smile. I felt him relax a bit. “It was nice seeing you at Kinsley’s the other night.”
He snorted. “No, it wasn’t. I was drunk off my ass.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, but it was a party. I think you’d be hard up to find someone there that wasn’t.”
“Still, I know what I said to you.”
“Jagger, it’s fine. You don’t need to apologize-”
“Good, cause I won’t. I know you’re into Abel and I’m obviously into you. Doesn’t take a relationship therapist to convey how fucked up of a situation it is.”
I bit my lip, unsure what to say.
“But that also doesn’t mean I don’t not want to be around you. I’m here for you, Colette, regardless of what capacity that might be.” He handed me my keys and opened the driver’s door.
“You’re amazing,” I said with a smile. “How much do I owe you?”
“I took care of it. You’re all set.”
“What? No, you shouldn’t have-”
“Too late. It’s done.” He gestured to the car.
“Thank you.” I slid into the driver’s seat and started the Mustang, its engine roaring to life. I offered one last smile to Jagger before pulling out of the parking lot.
Easing into traffic, I guided the car toward the downtown district. The neighborhood was so picturesque and featured stately Victorian houses with stained-glass windows, decorative trim, and towering gazebos. As I headed into the commercial district, a familiar sun-shaped sign came into view: Madame Lagos’ Mystical Impressions.
I easily found a parking spot and killed the engine. Taking a deep breath, I swung open the car door and stepped out onto the cobblestone street. The small white building was draped with Halloween decorations. A sign in its front window boasted of palm readings for $5. I slung my purse over my shoulder, closed my car door, and walked up the front steps of the building. Pushing open the heavy wooden door, I was instantly greeted by the smell of patchouli. I surveyed the empty shop in search of Madame Lagos.
“Hello?” I called out, ringing the bell on the glass counter.
The beaded curtains of the backroom rattled as the small frame of the old woman emerged, shrouded in a flowing black robe. Her beady eyes smiled knowingly at me. “So you’ve returned. I had a feeling you would.”
“Ah yes, you’re ‘all-knowing’, right?” I asked, my voice dripping with sarcasm.
She arched an eyebrow at me. “You doubt my capabilities.” She smiled in amusement. “Many do.”
“Look, I don’t have time for this,” I said with a sigh. “I was just hoping you might be able to give me a few answers.”
“Book not helping?” she asked, her lips twitching.
“I’m not going to find any answers in a fucking book ‘for dummies’ and you know it. I need your help-”
Her eyes sharpened and she jerked her head up. “You’re not ready for what you seek.”
My anger boiled over and for a moment, all I saw was red. I slammed my hands down on the glass counter, ignoring the searing pain that shot through them. “I am so goddamn sick and tired of people telling me that!” I took a deep breath and stared into her beady brown eyes. “That’s all I’ve heard since I moved here and I’m not about to be served up like some sort of sacrificial lamb to a vengeful spirit. I NEED your help. Please?”
“You have visions, no?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
She nodded. “Your visions are memories of what has happened, and warnings of what may. You are quite an extraordinary being, Colette. The abilities you possess are quite unique.”
I shook my head. “What abilities? And warnings of what? If you know something, just say it for Christ’s sake!”
"He won’t stop. He wants to be released.”
“He, who? Sebastian? Released from what? And what does that have to do with me?”
The bell over the store’s front door jingled. A couple entered the store and made their way to the counter, standing patiently behind me.
I lowered my voice. “Please. I need your help.”
“Very well. Meet me here Tuesday night,” she said with an exasperated sigh. “But I must warn you, you will not like the knowledge I have to give.”
“Whatever it is, once I figure it out, this whole thing will blow over, right?”
She sneered, her eyes shifting to the floor. “That is what we tell ourselves when it’s harder to accept the truth.”
WHEN I WALKED through the doors of Savannah Community High School on Monday, I absolved to stick by my decision. No matter how difficult it might be, no matter how much I might want to give in to my inner desires—I wouldn’t cave! I set my jaw and strode purposefully down the main corridor to my locker. I had just dialed in my combination and popped open the door when Fallon and Scarlett appeared over my shoulder.
“Hey bitch,” Fallon crowed affectionately.
“Someone’s in a good mood,” I said with a mischievous smile. “Are you and Harlow on the mend?”
Scarlett scoffed. “She wishes.”
“Like hell I do!” Fallon snapped.
Over her shoulder, I saw Abel sauntering toward us. The all-too-familiar cosmic explosion of sexual magnetism coursed through my veins as he neared, sending me into a frenzy. I knew that if I didn’t retreat now, I’d already fall victim to my own self-desire.
I quickly slammed my locker shut. “I-I’ve got to go,” I stammered, rushing off in the opposite direction.
Against my better judgment, I looked back at him. Those majestic green eyes widened in confusion, and he lifted his hands in a what-the-hell-just-happened gesture. I felt my heart sink to my knees and blew the hair out of my face. Shutting myself off from Abel was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do and given the circumstances and timing of what had just occurred between us, it almost seemed downright cruel. But I couldn’t worry about that.
Whatever the hell Sebastian wanted had everything to do with me and the last thing I needed was for Abel to be involved in it. He deserved better than that; He deserved someone better than me.
I felt my heart collapse at that thought, crumbling into a million agonizing pieces. Tears stung my eyes and I dropped my head as I made my way through the crowded hallway. No...it was better this way. So, why the fuck couldn’t I convince myself to believe it?
“SO WHAT’S this great news all about?” Bella asked, unfolding the saran wrap from her tuna sandwich.
We had all gathered in the commons, lured by Kinsley and her ‘really big announcement.’ She had barely been able to contain her excitement that morning, firing off multiple texts to remind me about the lunchtime meeting. Now she stood in front of us, her aquamarine eyes twinkling as she flashed a brilliant smile.
I leaned back on the bench, sandwiching myself between Harlow and Fallon as they exchanged nervous glances. The tension between them was palpable, yet it paled in comparison to the friction brewing between Abel and me. His unwavering gaze ate away at my insides like an infectious parasite, threatening to destroy me completely.
“My dad was able to confirm last night that with the collection boxes we placed around town as well as anonymously donated, yet very generous contributions, we’ve been fortunate to raise enough money to replace Genesis’ headstone. We’re hoping to have it finished for the ninth.”
“The ninth? As in Sebastian’s birthday?”
I ventured a look in Abel’s direction, my body stiffening at the mention of his brother’s name. The minute his gaze met mine, I looked away.
Kinsley cleared her throat. “Yes, well I thought it would be nice for us to have a remembrance ceremony of sorts.”
He scoffed. “Nice for whom? Genesis and Sebastian, or your self- image?”
“Regardless of what you may think, Abel, this is a selfless act of kindness. I want to see Genesis’ final resting place meticulously restored. And I think we should all be there for it.”
“Genesis is dead, Kinsley,” Scarlett deadpanned.
Collective gasps filled the air. The absoluteness of that declaration was gut-wrenching.
Kinsley’s eyes darkened and her face morphed into insta-bitch. It was the same face she had given me right before delivering her infamous right hook. I swear my jaw still hurt. “What’s your point, witchy?”
Scarlett cackled. “Spear-heading a community-wide fundraising campaign at the expense of your deceased best friend is shallow and nearly as fake as those obnoxious balloons that sit on your chest! Genesis is out of your way now, you plastic piece of shit. You’re a shoo-in for Homecoming Queen!”
“Ouch,” Fallon purred, her pale face twisted into a malicious grin.
“Can we all just cut the crap here? We were all friends with them, okay? We owe it to both of them to just put our damn differences aside, get over the he-said, she-said bullshit, and reminisce of better times,” Hunter snapped, taking a bite of his pizza.
“I agree!” Bella chimed in, side-eyeing Harlow and Fallon. “There’s been a lot lately that I’d just as soon forget.”
Harlow glared at her. “So, one drunken make-out session affected you that severely?”
“One! Are you serious right now?” Fallon asked incredulously, leaning around me to shoot daggers at her.
Kinsley clapped her hands, shifting attention back to herself. “As fascinating as this all is, can we please get back to the matter at hand?” Crickets. Our silence must have been a satisfactory response as she offered another dazzling smile and stood before us. “Good. So, it’s all set for the ninth then. Oh, and Scarlett?”
Scarlett tipped her head to the side, awaiting whatever biting remark Kinsley could drum up. And that’s where she went wrong. She should have been bracing for the fist aimed at her jaw.
BY THE FINAL period of the day, I was nearly ready to wave the white flag and surrender to my guilt. Between Abel’s hushed whispers at the nape of my neck in English to his persistent text messages questioning my avoidance, I could withstand no more. As soon as the last bell rang, I bolted from my chair and raced down the hallway.
Passing by the windows of the administrative office, I noticed Scarlett with an ice pack to her cheek. Seated two seats away was Kinsley with her arms folded over her chest, looking extremely put-out. Mr. Anderson stood between them, trying to play mediator. For the first time that day, I managed a smile.
When I stepped outside, the late afternoon sky was overcast with dark clouds threatening rain. The sun had been absent all day, catalyzing my moodiness. As rumblings of thunder broke out, I increased my already-hurried pace. From behind, I could hear heavy footsteps pounding the pavement toward me. I half-turned and saw...nothing. Just some random students rushing to their vehicles a couple of hundred yards away and rows of parked cars.
Of course, nothing had been ‘normal’ since I’d moved here. One would think that by now I would have come to expect the unexpected. I turned back around and continued to my car just as the floors of heaven opened, dropping torrential rainfall on the student body of Savannah Community High School. Nearly to my Mustang, I saw the dark figure sitting in the driver’s seat. I couldn’t see the person’s face, but the glowing amber eyes provided the only identification I needed.
A million thoughts swarmed through my head. Why was the Mayor of Creepville lurking in my car, why hadn’t I remembered an umbrella this morning, and why the hell did I choose today to start avoiding Abel? But one question took precedence over all others: Could I outrun this freak? Something told me I should summon a hard pass on that plan.
I froze in place and glanced around. We were essentially alone. The nearest witnesses were a good hundred yards away. Not ideal for playing the damsel-in-distress and yelling for help. Something told me that before the word could pass my lips, Cassius would have my throat ripped out and delivered at my feet.
Lightning shredded the sky, illuminating Cassius’ face just long enough for those sinister lips to peel back in a menacing smile as he cocked his head to the passenger seat. I sighed deeply and accepted his invitation to sit in my own goddamn car. Honestly, I didn’t have a whole lot of options. I opened the passenger door and leaned down, staring into the darkened cabin of my Mustang.
“What do you want, Cassius?” I groaned.
He said nothing, his golden eyes flickering to the seat in front of me. I huffed but slid into the car and closed my door.
“Please be careful with her,” I pleaded as he spun the Mustang’s tires and peeled out of the parking lot. “I just got her back after the ‘fun’ that Abel’s brother had with her.”
He smirked. “You read my mind. He is precisely whom I wanted to discuss.”
THE MESMERIZING Savannah landscape passed by my window in a blended blur of fall foliage. I had no idea where Cassius was driving us to, but I also wasn’t going to be easy prey. I slyly reached for my cellphone, concealing it at my side. Or so I thought.
I heard his tsk, tsk next to me as he side-eyed me. “I wouldn’t do that, Cocoa Bean.”
I dejectedly handed over my phone and watched him slide it into the pocket of his black trench coat. I slumped down in my seat and crossed my arms over my chest, pouting like a five-year-old child. Always an effective maneuver for disturbing one’s psyche!
“Wanna tell me where the hell we’re going?”
“Why ruin the surprise?” he asked with a smirk.
“Is that the appeal Scarlett sees in you? You’re spontaneity?” I rolled my eyes in disdain.
A flash of fondness flickered in his eyes at the mention of his girl‐ friend’s name. “One of the many favorable traits I possess.”
“Or maybe you’re just compensating for other areas where you may be, ahem, lacking.”
A fighter I was not, but I could major in sarcastic wit. It was a blessing bestowed upon me early on but seldom appreciated by others. For the moment, however, Cassius appeared amused. His laughter filled the cabin of my Mustang, a disturbing reverberation of sound bordering on madness.
“I do see why Abel favors you so.”
My face hardened and I clenched my teeth. “You know nothing about me and Abel.”
“Oh dear Colette,” he chided, reaching out and caressing the ends of my hair. His face twisted into a sadistic grin as the pain registered over his features.
I cocked my head to the side, pulling my hair from his grasp. God, he was so weird! “What do you want, Cassius? I’m growing weary of this conversation.”
I heard Abel’s personalized ringtone percolate the cabin of my Mustang. Without You by My Darkest Days—a song that whenever Abel called caused butterflies to swarm and my cheeks to blush. But now, hearing those sultry, heart-wrenching lyrics, I felt nothing but panic. I watched with disdain as Cassius read the caller ID, his eyes flashing with fascination.
“Hello, Lover Boy. We were eagerly awaiting your call,” Cassius said callously.
“You know it’s illegal to talk and drive, right?” I said dryly.
He must have placed the call on speaker because the next voice I heard was music to my ears. “Cassius, why the fuck do you have Colette’s phone?”
“Calm down, Prince Charming. I’m just taking her to meet the family.”
I heard Abel screaming expletives before Cassius disconnected the call. He tossed the phone back to me.
“Now, where were we? Oh yes, you had asked what it is that I want.”
“I can see why you’re so disappointed. You know, since that’s what you typically get to ask and all.”
“You are a hoot, Colette. But tell me, surely you don’t think my being a bartender encompasses my whole identity?”
I smiled sarcastically. “Sorry to disappoint, but I fail to think of you at all. Honestly, I find the concept of your existence rather repulsive.”
I saw the corners of his mouth turn down in the faintest frown as he turned my car into Bonaventure Cemetery. Seriously, why did all the tall, dark, and mysteriously handsome men take me to the goddamn graveyard?