I got home and ran up to my room, taking the stairs two at a time. I rifled through my closet, trying to find something to wear. I figured I had two choices: a.) Whine about his offer to meet in the cemetery and outright refuse, ultimately severing any chance I possibly had with him or b.) Act like it was the most ingenious suggestion and convey that I was cool with off-kilter fun and adventure. Guess which one I went with? So now here I was in my walk-in closet, pushing hangers around and wondering what the hell one wears to meet Mr. Sexpot in the cemetery. Was there a defined dress code for such a thing?
The closet door slammed shut behind me. I groaned and turned the glass doorknob. It didn’t budge, disobeying my command. I tried again, this time pushing against the door with my other hand. No luck.
“Hello?” I yelled, banging my palm on the door. “Mason? Emerson?
Come on guys, let me out.”
The lone lightbulb flickered overhead, intermittently casting the closet into complete darkness. Unnerved, I rolled my hands into fists and pounded more urgently on the solid wood door.
“Mom? Dad? Hello?!”
My sweaty palms fumbled with the doorknob. Fear settled in and my anxiety spiked, swallowing me whole as the accompanying cold chills rattled my bones. From behind, I heard a faint voice whisper my name. I shut my eyes and tried to calm my over-active brain. There’s nobody there; you’re just hearing things, I told myself firmly.
In response, the lightbulb began flickering frantically before exploding with a definitive POP, raining glass shards over me. Instinctively, I covered my head, but couldn’t escape the sharp pain that shot through my body as pieces of jagged ceramic glass sliced through my forearms. My name was whispered again, this time with more urgency. I pushed all my weight against the closet door and turned the knob, falling onto the safety of my bedroom floor. My brother and sister stood in my bedroom, their eyes the size of saucers. I clambered to my feet and ushered them away from the closet.
Mason pointed to my battle wounds. “Coco, you have boo-boos!
You need a Band-Aid!”
I looked down at my bloody arms and forced a smile. “I’m fine, Mase. Really.”
Liar, my brain shouted! There was nothing ‘fine’ about what had just happened.
“Shit,” I mumbled, examining my wounds.
“Ummmm!!! Coco said a bad word!” Emerson scolded, putting a hand over her mouth.
I kneeled and put a finger to my lips. “Shhh, don’t repeat that okay?
We’ll make it part of our secret club.”
They both nodded their heads, eager to be included on anything labeled a ‘secret.’
“Why don’t we go downstairs and get a snack?” I asked with a smile.
“Yay!” they yelled in unison, running downstairs. I followed behind, looking over my shoulder tentatively at the closet door.
In the kitchen, Mason and Emerson were already seated at the island, waiting patiently for their snack. I reached into the pantry and pulled out a package of Oreo cookies. I divvied up a few and had started pouring glasses of milk when my mom sailed through the back door with a fresh bouquet of wildflowers. She looked alarmingly at the bloody scratches upon my arms.
“Christ Colette! What happened?” she demanded, grabbing a wet washcloth and tossing it to me. She winced with empathy as I dabbed at my wounds.
“The lightbulb in my closet burst.”
Her eyes widened. “Huh? How’d that happen?”
Well, Mom, I suspect we have a ghost. But instead, I just shrugged. “Old bulb I guess.”
“Did you have any trouble cleaning it up?”
“I, umm, haven’t yet. The littles wanted a snack so I-”
She blew a piece of hair off her sweaty forehead. “Great, another thing to add to my ever-growing list.”
“Oh, and I don’t need a plate for dinner,” I informed her as I wrapped my arm with a make-shift shirt bandage.
Her brows rose in curiosity. “Why’s that?” “I’m going to meet Abel.”
A mischievous smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “A date?
On your first day of school?”
“Jesus Mom, it’s not a date! He gave me his number and asked to meet up,” I snapped.
She sighed and walked over to the sink, shaking her head as she began placing the wildflowers in a vase. She was mumbling to herself, clearly unimpressed by my dramatic outburst. “Sounds like a date to me.”
“Coco said a bad word!” Emerson announced suddenly. Mom shot me a disapproving look. “Should I feign shock?”
My cellphone beeped and I glanced at the alert, my heart skipping a beat. I eagerly opened the text from Abel.
I quickly typed an affirmative response, pulled on a sweatshirt to hide my arms, and put my cell in my back pocket. I snatched my car keys from the nearby hook and headed for the front door. “I’ll be back soon.”
I climbed into Ruby and guided her towards the main thoroughfare. I turned onto Greenwich Road and rounded the S-curve before the cemetery came into view. The iron gates standing guard at the front of the cemetery squeaked against their rusty hinges, swinging with every gust of wind. The road curved with the river and as my Mustang cleared the bend, I saw Abel leaning against a tree, smoking a cigarette. Typically, I’d be disgusted, but somehow, I found myself yearning to be that cigarette pursed between his lips. I got out of the car and met him by the tree.
“You made it, No Name. And you’re wearing a sweatshirt in 80 degree weather,” he snorted, giving me a once-over.
“Everyone’s a fucking fashion critic,” I grumbled.
He ignored my reply and nodded at Ruby. ”Nice car. Sebastian was into American Muscle too.”
“Kinda why we’re here,” he said wistfully, starting down a gravel pathway.
We fell into step at a leisurely pace, the setting rays of sunshine dipping below the horizon. As the only visitors of the burial ground, I was painfully aware that I was heading through an overgrown thicket with an absolute stranger. I couldn’t contain the thought before it escaped my lips.
“You’re not some crazed lunatic that lures teenage girls to isolated places and then murders them, right?” I asked with a nervous laugh.
He stopped and stared at me thoughtfully, his face somber. “Not anymore. I quit cold turkey.”
“Funny,” I said dryly, unamused by his attempt at humor.
He laughed a smooth seductive sound that was as pleasurable as a five-string quartet. He flexed his arm, his black t-shirt barely containing the bulging bicep underneath. “No, I usually play the hero.” Corny, yet my stomach still dropped to my knees.
We started walking again, traipsing through the underbrush as sticker burrs clung to my jeans. I folded my arms across my chest protectively, my senses on full alert. “This place gives me the creeps.” “Scared of cemeteries?” he teased with a grin.
I looked up at him, deadpanned. “No, just what comes out of them.”
His grin quickly faded, and he cleared his throat. “This way,” he ordered, leading me down a winding path.
The silence of the dead created a menacing ambiance, unnerving me to my core. Although I barely knew him, I followed closely behind clinging to the notion of safety in numbers. Faint howling from the dark stretch of trees pierced the night sky, causing me to jump. I instinctively clutched onto Abel’s arm.
Wow, that’s nice, I thought, admiring the musculature of the bicep he had boasted about earlier.
His eyes glowed in the darkness, comforting me with their depths. “It’s alright. Just coyotes,” he said softly.
I let go of his arm. “Sorry,” I said awkwardly.
“I’m not,” he whispered, his eyes lingering.
Oh God if he only knew what those eyes did to me!
He cleared his throat again and started walking. “It’s just right up here.”
I hurried to catch his pace. “So, is this where you normally take girls for dates?”
He stopped abruptly. “Is that what you think this is?”
Shit! I was such a dumbass. He probably already had a girlfriend. And here I was—talking out of my ass and burying myself in a hole I would never be able to dig myself out of.
I laughed and rolled my eyes. “Definitely not!”
He snickered. “Right,” he said, resuming his pace down the path. I trailed after him, shaking my head at my stupidity.
We walked the remainder of the way in cold, dead silence. Family mausoleums and newer headstones signified that we had reached the back of the cemetery. Halfway down the last row, he stopped, his eyes focused on a pair of matching marble headstones.
I studied the marker. “Sebastian Campbell. Born November 9, 2000, Died May 25, 2018. Beloved son and brother.” My eyes shifted to Abel, studying his face in the waning light. “Abel, I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine ...” my voice trailed off, unable to muster the courage to finish.
“And that’s Genesis,” he said, nodding to the matching headstone.
“Genesis Long, born August 14, 2000, died May 25, 2018. Wow, same day?”
He managed a weak smile. “They had been together since they were seven. Lifetime sweethearts, I guess you’d say. They were coming back from prom. He lost control of his car; they both died in the middle of the road.”
My hand flew to my mouth. “Oh, God!”
A sudden blast of cold air swept over me, causing my breath to materialize in a translucent cloud in front of my face.
“Colette...” a soft voice whispered.
I had heard that ghostly whisper before, standing just outside the cemetery gates with its torn, light blue dress, blood-soaked hair, and gruesome abdominal wound. I reluctantly turned my head in the direction of that voice, shrinking into myself as I saw the ghostly girl standing no more than 10 feet away, pointing at me accusingly with a single, decomposing finger.
“Genesis...” I breathed, unaware the word had even escaped my lips.
My jeans pocket vibrated, the unmistakable chime of my ring tone disrupting the eerie silence. I shoved my hand into my pocket, fumbling for my phone.
“My parents,” I muttered to Abel. “What?” I snapped, failing to hide the annoyance in my voice.
“Coco, you on your way home?” my dad asked. “Yeah, I’ll be there in like ten minutes.”
“Ok, hon. We’ll leave it unlocked for you.”
I hung up and looked at Abel. “Did you see that?” “Huh? See what?”
I glanced towards the ghostly presence only to find that she had vanished. I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. “Noth‐ ing...never mind.”
My phone rang once more. I looked at the caller ID, then back at Abel. “I don’t know that number,” I said, showing him the phone.
He glanced at the screen, then frowned. “It’s Kinsley,” he muttered, starting up the path to the front of the cemetery.
I accepted the call and fell in step behind him. “Hello?”
“What are you doing?” Kinsley demanded.
Just meandering through the fucking cemetery.
“Oh, umm...I just went out for a walk.”
Not a complete lie. I just omitted pertinent details.
Abel half-turned, raising an eyebrow at me. “Really?” he hissed. I motioned for him to shush. “How’d you get my number?” “Colette, I run that school. I know EVERYTHING.”
I rolled my eyes. “Right, so what’s up?”
“Meet me on the front lawn at school tomorrow morning. We need to discuss your plans for this weekend.”
“Plans? I don’t have any-”
“That’s the problem, Colette,” Kinsley said dryly. “Gosh, you are just so lucky you met me!”
Somehow, lucky wasn’t the emotion I was feeling at the moment, but I didn’t dare voice that sentiment aloud. “K, Kinsley. See you tomorrow.” I hung up and stuck the phone in my back pocket. “She’s resilient, isn’t she?” I called up to Abel.
“That’s an understatement,” he mumbled.
We reached the front of the cemetery and stood in front of my car in awkward silence.
“So, um, thanks for bringing me to the graveyard?” I said with a laugh, my cheeks starting to grow warm. Ugh, why does he make me so nervous? I looked at the ground, trying to avoid eye contact.
Abel snickered, then a jolt of electricity surged through my body as his hand reached up to brush the hair back from my face. “I’m glad you’re here, Colette,” he confided.
Butterflies swirled in my stomach, stirring my emotions.
“Jury’s still out on whether I agree with you on that or not.” My eyes met his and courage suddenly found its way to my lips. “Although there are some very nice things here in Savannah,” I murmured, letting my eyes traverse his body.
Holy shit! Look at me world! I was actually flirting!
He grinned. “I’m glad you think so.” He nodded at my car. “Do you want me to follow you home?”
My eyes bulged out of my head at the implication of his suggestion.
He must have realized his words because he laughed heartily, then said “Savannah can be a creepy place at night, especially out here.”
“It’s not the ones that just come out at night that I’m afraid of,” I said quietly.
Abel leaned in, his sweet, woodsy cologne enrapturing me again. “What’s that?”
I shook my head. “Nothing, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I was almost to my car when I heard him call out to me. I turned around and saw the heated desire burning in those sultry green eyes of his. He closed the distance between us and brushed the hair back from my neck, leaning down until his lips were millimeters from my ear.
His voice was a low growl when he spoke. “The next time you touch me, you’d better fucking mean it.”
WHEN I GLIDED Ruby into an empty parking space at school the next morning, I had friends waiting for me. My driver’s door swung open to reveal Fallon and the other gothic girl standing in an empty parking spot next to my car. I looked up at them.
“Scarlett, I assume?”
“Hello Sunshine,” Scarlett Foster purred at me. She cocked her head towards the school. “Shall we?”
I grabbed my book bag and shut the car door, falling into stride. “I’ll walk with you guys, but I’m supposed to meet Kinsley on the front lawn,” I admitted, studying their reactions.
“Why am I not surprised?” Fallon asked sarcastically.
“Not a fan of her, I get it. Wanna tell me what happened?”
Scarlett tossed her head back and cackled. “Oh, there’s just that little thing called sanity. Kinsley’s bat shit crazy. She was always jealous of Genesis. Wanted to be her more than anything and now that Gen’s gone, there’s nobody to rein her in.”
“She and Genesis were close?”
“Best friends, I guess you’d say. But I’d say blood is thicker,” Fallon said smugly.
“Gen was my cousin, Colette,” Fallon said softly.
I stopped in my tracks. “Oh wow, Fallon. I’m so sorry, I had no idea.”
She brushed it aside with a wave of her hand. “I wouldn’t expect you to.”
We reached the manicured front lawn of the school where Abel stood in wait by the front steps. The greenness of his eyes was amplified by the matching color of the shirt he wore. I felt those eyes drawing me in, stimulating every nerve in my body. Those words he had murmured to me last night in the cemetery had corrupted my dreams in the best way possible.
“So, Colette, will you be joining us for lunch?” Scarlett asked.
“Huh?” I asked, snapping back to reality.
“Lunch,” Scarlett repeated. “It’s that thing high school kids do in the middle of the day where they sit around and eat.”
“I would, but I told Kinsley I’d do lunch with her and the girls.”
“The girls?” Fallon asked in disgust.
“Oh God, it’s happening. She’s turning into one of them!” Scarlett said, holding her nose.
Abel’s eyes narrowed at the mention of my lunch plans and with disgust, he shook his head and started walking away. From the south quad, I noticed Kinsley and Galen approaching.
Fallon followed my gaze. “Your loss,” she muttered as she and Scarlett departed.
The icy silence between the parties spoke volumes. Savannah Community High School had suddenly been transformed into Tombstone, Arizona. Any moment now, the participants of this wild west shoot-out would draw their guns and aim. I just had to be sure not to get caught in the crossfire.
“Colette,” she said in her signature Southern drawl. “Galen and I were just talking about going to the movies tonight. You should come. Oh, and I invited Jagger too,” she added coyly.
“Thanks for the invite, Kinsley, but I have a test tomorrow I need to study for.”
She laughed dramatically. “Well, obviously that can wait.”
I frowned. “Right, well I’ll have to check with my parents.”
Kinsley looked up at Galen. “See babe. I told you she’s hilarious.” She paused before directing her attention back to me. “You think about it and get back to me later in English. And by thinking about it, I mean tell me what time I should have Jagger pick you up.”
The warning bell chimed and Kinsley kissed Galen goodbye before grabbing my arm and leading me toward our first-period class.
THE REST of the day seemed to fly by. I now had a bearing of my surroundings, so Kinsley no longer waited for me after each period, and most of the instructors were laid back-- a sharp contrast to the strict curriculum of the private school I had attended in Chicago. I watched the clock on the wall as the final moments of my 7th-period class dwindled. Once the bell rang, I stopped off at my locker. A single sheet of paper fluttered from the top shelf upon opening it. I quickly crouched down and retrieved it from the floor, unprepared for the message it held.
Bloody capital letters were scrawled hastily on the unlined parchment. Two words that, when strung together, shook me to my very core: HELP ME.
I dropped the piece of paper as if it had bitten me. My eyes darted around the hallway, trying to determine if I was the target of some‐ body’s sick prank. Students rushed by, eager to haul ass from school. Sensing this was no joke, I gingerly retrieved the piece of paper and reread its disturbing message. Soon, the hallway had emptied, and I was alone. I finished switching out books and slipped the note into my bookbag.
A strong hand clamped down on my shoulder, disrupting my balance. I fell backward on the tile floor, bruising not only my butt but also my ego. A set of warm, honey-brown eyes hovered over me. I recognized him as one of the guys Kinsley had previously introduced.
“Here,” Jagger Sullivan said, offering his hand.
I reached up, took his hand, and pulled myself up with a sheepish smile. “Sorry, you scared me.”
He grinned. “Well that wasn’t the reaction I was going for, but I’ll take what I can get.”
“In the flesh,” he confirmed.
My eyes traveled over his tall, athletic frame; his large biceps prominently displayed in the basketball jersey he wore. His light brown hair was swept across his forehead, damp with sweat. He propped himself casually against the locker next to mine, crossing his arms across his well-defined chest.
“So, Kinsley said you’re going to the movies tonight, huh?” he asked casually.
“I told her I might.” “You need a ride?”
“Nah, I’m fine. I’m sure I can find the theatre.”
“Good. Cause it won’t be worth going if you’re not going to be there,” he said softly, leaning into me. He flashed a grin at me before heading off down the hallway.
Holy shit! I felt my heart race and smiled back, then slammed the locker door. A tall figure stood there, glaring at me. “Christ Abel,” I snapped, startled by his sudden appearance.
“SCH’s golden boy,” he said into my ear. “Excuse me?”
“Jagger Sullivan. The perfect guy to take home to Mom and Dad.” He pushed off the locker and turned to face me. “Sounds like Kinsley the Mastermind is hard at work already planning out every facet of your life here.”
I rolled my eyes. “Read into it what you will, but that’s not what’s going on.”
“Then prove me wrong,” he implored with a shrug.
“Maybe I don’t care to,” I replied, trying to keep my voice even.
God, I sucked at lying.
“I think you do,” he said, stepping toward me and lowering his voice.
I immediately felt my skin turn to fire. The proximity in which he stood peaked my sexual arousal and sent my hormones into over-drive. I could practically feel my uterus playing jump-rope with my fallopian tubes. My body stiffened and my breathing became shallow. It was too much…I couldn’t be this close to him. I couldn’t--
His hand was suddenly at the nape of my neck, his fingers tangling themselves in my hair as his blunt nails dug into my skin. His other hand gripped my jaw, gently but with enough pressure to assert his dominance. He lowered his head and I closed my eyes in sweet surrender. His kiss was soft and restrained, just barely grazing my lips. However, it was more than enough to send warm tingling sensations soaring throughout my body as a kaleidoscope of butterflies flittered within my stomach. He released his grasp but remained near. His hot breath on my neck only amplified my arousal; His deep, husky voice a melody of pure seduction as he whispered three glorious words: “Meet me tonight.”
“Another non-date?” I ventured with a raised eyebrow.
He smirked, a glorious manipulation of his lips. “For now.”