With my greatest resource lying six feet under, I turned to the next best source of information: the book she had given me. So, here I was on Friday night in my empty house, sitting on my bedroom floor, surrounded by a circle of protection (i.e. salt), and trying to summon ghosts. Just a typical weekend for me. Ugh!
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Concentrating on the words that I chanted aloud, I enunciated each with confidence and purpose. I truly didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I was damn tired of the cat-and-mouse game Sebastian was playing. When I finished the incantation, I opened my eyes, hoping for some sign or assurance of my apparition-summoning abilities. I got nothing.
“Shit,” I mumbled, glancing down at the book on my lap. “What the hell am I doing wrong?”
“Wasting your time for one,” a voice said behind me.
The book fell from my lap as I sprang to my feet, turning to face the unwelcomed intruder.
Cassius sat self-righteously on my bed, as though he belonged there. His smirk made me want to puke. He found amusement in my contempt.
“How the hell did you get in here? Don’t you, like, have to be invited or something?” I glanced down at my feet, making sure I was well within the circle. Magic don’t fail me now!
He threw back his head and laughed, a deep, throaty sound that made my skin crawl.
“Nonsense! You’d do best to never assume anything about me, Colette.” He rose and walked to my dresser, aimlessly filtering through the items that sat atop.
I bit my lip and debated my options: stay within the safety of the circle, or throw caution to the wind and walk across the room to smack his hand away from my possessions? Begrudgingly, I chose the former but decided to voice my displeasure. “Can you keep your paws off my stuff?”
He ticked his head to the side as if he were truly entertaining the notion. “Sure I could,” he said demurely. “But will I?” His tone was mocking. It matched the shit-eating grin spread across his pasty face.
I crossed my arms over my chest and clenched my teeth. “What do you want, Cassius?”
His eyes lit up. “There! See! Was that so hard?”
He walked toward me, his boots heavy on the hardwood floor. As he approached, my eyes widened, and my breath caught in my throat. I was entrusting my safety to a circle of salt. I had lost my fucking mind!
Cassius stopped just outside of it, the tips of his shoes just inches away. “You don’t need protection spells to hold me at bay, Colette. Surely you’ve been paying attention.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “So, you burn a little. Big fucking deal. From what I can tell, you heal just as quickly.”
He shook his head at me, almost in disappointment. “Not quite. Let me show you.”
Before I could protest, his hand was around my wrist and the smell of searing flesh stung my nose. His lips twitched in pain as he contacted my skin. His hand became inflamed, then blistered and bled before bursting into flames. He growled and broke away, unable to withstand any more. Staggering backward, he doused the fire before it could spread. Black smoke wafted into the air. “I burn completely, I die. There’s no healing from that.”
“Is that such a bad thing?” I asked, coughing as the fumes dissipated.
He bared his fangs at me and hissed. Right then, he was much more beast than man. He cocked his head back and forth, squared his shoulders, and exhaled slowly to calm his rage. “It’s the worst thing. Your touch destroys me, Colette. But it doesn’t have that effect on all.”
I narrowed my eyes. “English, Cassius. What the hell are you trying to tell me?”
He sighed, clearly exasperated by my ignorance. “Don’t you know what happens if Sebastian is successful? Not just for his end game, but yours as well?”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Quite the opposite! I am trying to warn you, to help you.”
I threw back my head and laughed. “Is that what this is? An inter‐ vention?”
He ignored my question and motioned instead to the circle of salt at his feet. “As I said, futile. Much like your effort to summon ghosts that are already linked.”
“Linked? What’s that mean?”
“Bonded…to you. No need to waste your time with silly spells.”
I sighed, accepting his truth, and strode across the room to rearrange the items on my dresser that he had muddled through. “So, I’m supposed to believe that you came here to warn me about Sebastian out of the goodness of your non-functioning heart? Please, spare me that bullshit.”
He shrugged. “I don’t expect you to believe anything except what I’m about to tell you because it the absolute truth. If Sebastian is successful, you die Colette. And don’t look to Abel to bring you back. The Council will forbid it. He’s already been marked for what he did for your sister.”
A thousand questions cycled through my mind, but I focused on an absolute I could accept. “If I must die, then so be it. Sebastian’s done too much damage already.”
“Oh Colette,” he chided in a sing-song voice. “He hasn’t even begun.”
With a flash of motion, he vanished into the dead of night.
AN EAR-PIERCING SCREAM woke me from sleep. I sat up in bed, my heart racing, and my breathing ragged as I tried to establish my surroundings. I was still groggy, my head spinning with remnants of fragmented dreams. My t-shirt was damp with sweat and clung to my chest. I pinched the shirt at the collar and plucked it off my skin, trying to create some sort of draft.
Leaning over, I reached across my nightstand for my phone. I hit the home button and a burst of light shot across the ceiling. I squinted my eyes to gauge the time. 12:34. Sighing, I tossed back the comforter and headed for the bathroom. I hadn’t even made it to the hallway before I heard the sobs.
I stopped dead in my tracks, my senses now on high alert. Creeping cautiously to my doorway, I peered out into the second- floor landing. Immediately, I found it impossible to breathe. Slumped against the wall was Lilith Long. Her knees were pulled up to her chest as she rocked back and forth, her thin frame convulsing with sobs. In one hand, she clutched her cellphone and I could make out a familiar voice barking through the earpiece.
“Lilith! Lilith are you still there?” I recognized it as belonging to Chief Miller.
With trembling hands, she lifted the phone to her mouth. Her voice was barely above a whisper. “There’s a chance you could be mistaken, right? I mean, you said the car was unrecognizable-“
“It’s her, Lil. I wouldn’t have called if I weren’t sure.”
The sound that came from her next sounded like a wounded battle cry. She lashed out, throwing her phone against the wall. As it shattered into pieces, she staggered to her feet and made her way to the hall bath.
Watching from the doorway, it became apparent that I was an unseen spectator. Ms. Long rifled through the vanity drawers, tossing items carelessly onto the bathroom floor. Once she found the item she desperately sought, it didn’t take long for me to wish my intuition away. My stomach churned as I realized her intent.
She produced the scissors with a flourish, her cheeks overflowing with bitter tears. I turned my head away as blood squirted across the bathroom mirror and her cries of pain rang out. When I forced myself to look back, both wrists had been severed.
Lilith Long collapsed onto her back, her eyes staring blankly at the ceiling as she began to drift off. “I’m coming, baby,” she whispered aloud.
I blinked. The white hexagon tiles of the bathroom floor were all that greeted me. No Lilith Long, no uncontrolled bleeding, no anguished moans. I shook my head, trying to clear the cobwebs. Had I been dreaming?
Peals of laughter floated through the air. From downstairs, I could hear hushed voices. I followed the whispers into the living room. Sitting on a white, oversized couch were Sebastian and Genesis. He had one arm draped over her as she leaned into him.
“Okay, okay. What about Sawyer for a boy, and Trinity for a girl?”
Sebastian made a face. “Yes, because I want my son getting the ever-loving shit kicked out of him daily for having some dumbass Mark Twain-ish name.”
Genesis laughed and punched him playfully. “So, does that mean you’re green-lighting Trinity?”
He shrugged. “Add it to the maybe list.”
She chewed thoughtfully on her lip for a moment. “Do you think we’re bad people for being happy about this?”
“If being happy about having a child with the love of my life makes me a bad person, then Lord, watch as I sin.” His hands ran up her inner thighs, shooting towards her crotch.
She brushed them down and looked at him with flushed cheeks. “Sebastian,” she hissed. “You’re the devil!”
He brushed her hair back and planted a row of soft kisses along her neck. “Fine, you win. If it’s a boy, we’ll name him Lucifer and if it’s a girl she’ll be Hester and you can wear an embroidered red ‘A’ on your shirt to broadcast your shame about having a baby out of wedlock.”
“Wow! Somebody was paying attention during literature! I’m impressed!”
The laughter faded out, transitioning into rays of blinding sunlight that streamed through the window.
Sebastian was lying face-up on his bed, his arms folded behind his head as his long legs dangled over the edge. He exhaled deeply before groaning. Springing upright, he rubbed his face with his hands. “What am I going to do, man?” His blue eyes pleaded with Abel for a reasonable answer.
Abel stroked his chin, trying to process the information his older brother had just revealed. “Are you sure? I mean, there’s no chance-“
“Four tests, bro. All positive. I’d say we’re fucked.”
“No, ‘fucked’ is what got you into this situation.”
Sebastian gave a wry grin. “Thanks for the tip.”
Abel clapped a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “What’s Gen think?”
He shrugged. “She’s pissed at me. I didn’t handle it well when she told me. I think she went out to the cabin.”
Abel stood up and grabbed a football, hurling it in Sebastian’s direction. “Oh god, Beast. What’d you say?”
Sebastian caught the ball, his knuckles whitening. “What you would have said to Kinsley.”
Metallic bitterness saturated my throat at the mention of Abel with Kinsley. Where was the damn skip/fast forward button when you needed it?
Abel frowned. “Seriously? You’re a dumbass, Sebastian. Kinsley and I are nothing like you and Gen.”
“Dude, I fucking know. I love that girl more than I’ve ever loved anyone, anything. I just…fuck, man.” He glanced up at his brother, his face reddening and tears starting to form in his crystal-blue eyes. “Does it make me a pussy to say I’m scared?”
Abel sat down next to him on the bed. “No, it makes you real. But Gen’s scared too and she needs to know you’re committed to her and the situation.”
A faint grin spread across Sebastian’s face. “I’ve been committed to that girl since I was seven. Her being pregnant with my child ain’t going to change that.”
“Well, then, get your ass out of here,” Abel said with a smile. “Go get your girl.”
Sebastian stood, his expression becoming somber. “Hey, man… don’t um, say anything about this to anyone just yet, especially Mom and Dad, okay?”
Abel ticked his head to the side. “When you going to tell ’em?”
“Soon,” he answered vaguely. “Only you and Gen’s mom know and for now anyway, that’s how we’d like to keep it.”
Abel made a cross over his heart. “To the grave, brother.”
I STEPPED out of the clawfoot bathtub and wrapped the fluffy towel around my lobster-red body. I dried off, dressed, then opened the bathroom door, releasing a cloud of steam onto the second-floor landing. A cold draft bristled the hairs on the back of my neck, and I saw faint movement out of the corner of my eye.
Emerson’s bedroom door was barely cracked open, a weak attempt at concealing the chaotic mess of books and toys that laid within. I gave it a nudge and stepped into another realm of my ongoing nightmare. The walls were covered with pieces of paper, each featuring one of Emerson’s hand-drawn Crayola masterpieces. Stick figures of Genesis and Sebastian at prom, his mangled Dodge Challenger, bleeding trees hiding distorted faces, and one that made my heart ache: Genesis holding what appeared to be a baby boy.
The overwhelming theme of sadness was suffocating. I snatched the last drawing off the wall, clutching it in my hands as I slid to the floor in defeat. “Everything has consequences,” I murmured, finally understanding the price of my selfishness. I couldn’t stomach the idea of living in a world without my three-year-old sister. But essentially, I was doing just that.
Although Abel had reanimated Emerson’s body, I had still lost my sister. She was not the same bubbly, carefree little girl. Gone was her childhood innocence, replaced with a morbid curiosity of things she shouldn’t yet be concerned with. Her life should be sunshine rainbows and ice-cream smiles and instead, she was busy reflecting upon her death and harboring conspiracy theories of Genesis’ accident. It was unsettling and served as the main bullet point of Shitty Things That Have Happened Since Moving to Savannah.
The sound of barking from downstairs crept into my consciousness, disrupting the swarm of thoughts that plagued me. I rose to my feet and started for the door.
“Goddamn it, Samson,” I scolded just as the bedroom door swung open, nearly colliding with my face.
I peered around the door and was met by a familiar pair of green eyes.
I should have known he’d show up here. We’d barely talked since the incident at his mother’s party and when we had, the conversations had been brief and superficial. And now, with my parents and siblings away visiting my grandparents and Genesis’ headstone reveal just days away, it was damn obvious there was no better time.
He leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed over his broad chest, his eyes narrowed. “Your phone broke?”
I rolled my eyes and walked past him, offering no explanation.
A low growl rumbled from his throat as he stepped in front of the open door, effectively blocking my path with his oversized body. He stared down at me, his jaw clenched. “Colette,” he roared, his voice menacingly low.
I pressed my body into his and trailed a finger teasingly along his jaw. I felt him harden against me and his eyes flashed with hunger. I stood up on my tiptoes and smashed my lips into his. Immediately he relaxed, and his strong hands landed on my hips. My tongue darted between his lips, deepening our kiss until we both found the solace we desperately sought. We stayed like that for God only knows how long, our lungs burning for air as our bodies became reacquainted.
When we broke apart, his gaze drifted to the wall of Emerson’s colorful artwork.
“Um, wow…” he trailed off, stepping around me to peruse the drawings. His hands rubbed over his face. “She’s been busy.”
“No shit,” I scoffed, leaning over to pick up the sketch I had dropped during our brief interlude. I held it up to his face. “What’s wrong with her, Abel?”
“Would you believe me if I said nothing?” he asked with a weak smile.
I gave him a playful shove, but being the brick shithouse that he was, he didn’t budge. Instead, he sighed deeply and brushed a strand of hair out of my eyes.
“I’m a reaper, Colette. Remember? I’m supposed to take souls from this realm and lead them to the next. I’m allowed to heal, but Emerson had been dead for a while when we found her. I couldn’t just bring her back.”
I shook my head. “I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
“I physically resurrected her, Coe. But a body without a soul is like an amoeba. It’s the lowest life form, and I couldn’t do that to her. She’s your sister. She needed some semblance of a soul so…”
I narrowed my eyes. “W-what are you trying to tell me, Abel?”
His eyes met mine, glassy, and hollow. “I gave her pieces of me, splintered fractions to make her whole. She has my memories—good and bad.”
I bit my lip, trying to process his confession. “And that’s why you’re marked?”
“Who told you that?” he snapped, his voice barely audible.
I sighed. “Cassius came by last night and-“
“What the fuck? Came by? You guys fucking friends now?”
“No, I…Can we just focus on one thing at a time here?”
I put a hand to my forehead, trying to massage away the impending migraine forming there. Then I was pacing back and forth, my ears humming and my vision growing spotty. I slumped down on the edge of Emerson’s bed, counting to ten between deep breaths.
Abel came over and sat next to me. “I wasn’t going to tell you about the consequences I faced by bringing Emerson back. I told you I’d do it, and for you, I’d do anything.”
My head snapped in his direction and my lip started trembling. “Abel, I never-“
He reached over and gripped my chin. “You know, they say that ‘I love you’ is the greatest sentiment one can say to another to convey the depth of their emotions. But what I feel for you Colette puts those words to shame. And right here, right now, you need to fucking realize that. You’re under my skin, circulating through my veins like the oxygen I need to survive and the drug I crave, yet can never get enough of. I’d hollow out my insides to place you within, just to have you with me always. I’d give you everything I am because I don’t exist without you. You have all of me, Coe.”
I stared at him, tears stinging the corners of my eyes. The raw emotion flowing from him was suffocating, but also the fix I desperately needed. I couldn’t escape him, and what’s more, I didn’t fucking want to. I was cognizant of what I feared all along: I would drown in the love I had for Abel Campbell and submit to his every command. “I don’t deserve you, Abel. If I had known what bringing Em back meant for you, I never would have asked-“
He waved me off. “Doesn’t matter. Nothing would be different. I still would have brought her back. I know what it means to do anything for a sibling.”
I grimaced, contemplating what he meant by that, but I didn’t ask. We had so much more to discuss, but there would be plenty of time for that. Right? Yeah, I didn’t fucking believe that either.