I walked to my car, daydreaming about the softness of Abel’s lips. My ears hummed and my body tingled as if I had just awoken from some therapeutic trance. No other kiss I’d ever received compared to that one. Not that I had much to compare it to really, but Abel kissed as though he held the Olympic gold medal in the event.
I neared my Mustang and noticed Kinsley’s clique, minus their fearless leader, gathered by the trunk.
Bella was jittery, bursting with uncontrolled excitement. “Kinsley said that you’re going out with Jagger tonight! Eek!” she squealed, bouncing up and down, her big blue eyes sparkling.
I furrowed my brow. News certainly traveled quickly around here. “Well, it’s not really a date-”
Harlow examined her manicured nails. “Except it is! He’s way available, you know! Unlike last year,” she added, casting a sideways glance at Devon.
My eyes widened as I followed her gaze. “You guys used to-”
“It was a long time ago. It’s cool, Colette. I swear,” Devon assured me, casually running a hand through her short blonde bob.
“What do you plan on wearing?” Bella asked, scrunching up her nose as she took in my oversized T-shirt and frayed jeans.
I laughed. “Not this.”
“God, I’d certainly hope not,” Devon remarked with disdain.
“Ugh,” Harlow groaned, ticking her head to the side as two girls approached from the courtyard. “Don’t look now, but Death’s fallen angels are headed this way.
I glanced over to see Fallon and Scarlett, then shrugged. “And?”
Bella shook her head. “Hard pass. Anyway, I’ll text you later for all the details.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head in quiet amusement. High school theatrics weren’t my thing, but to these girls, it was what they got up every morning and came to school for.
“Hello darling,” Scarlett purred, leaning against my car. “Did we frighten the Miss Muppets away?”
I couldn’t suppress the smile that tugged at the corners of my mouth. “Something like that.”
“Count it as a favor. You’ll lose brain cells conversing with them,” Fallon said with a sadistic grin. Frequently, one could count on Fallon for a scowl, so when she used the necessary facial muscles to formulate a smile, albeit a sarcastic one, I was taken aback.
“So, Abel must trust you,” Scarlett mused with a devilish grin.
“What’s that mean?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“He’s not usually so forward with fresh meat.”
I wrinkled my nose at the reference. “It’s not like that. I barely know him.”
“Well,” Fallon said pointedly. “He certainly seems to know you.”
“Is there a point to all this?” I asked with exasperation.
“He’s pretty selective. The idea that he’s even willing to discuss this with you is mind-blowing.”
“Um, care to clue me in here?” I asked, furrowing my brow.
“You’re meeting us tonight, right?” Scarlett asked.
I sighed, reflecting upon the dilemma at hand. Spending the evening strolling through Forsyth Park with Abel and the girls sounded pleasant enough, but I knew Kinsley wouldn’t tolerate being ditched. “I can’t. I told Kinsley I’d-”
“Well cancel Sunshine,” Scarlett ordered, a fake smile plastered across her face.
“It’s not that simple-”
“Look, Colette,” Fallon said sharply. “When Abel wants something, he gets it.”
I smiled sarcastically. “Egocentric people usually do.”
Scarlett guffawed. “I like her,” she said to Fallon, slinging an arm around my shoulder.
Fallon sighed, clearly irritated by my resistance. “If you want to know about Genesis, you’ll show.”
The mention of her name tore through me like a tornado, causing a dizzying array of emotions. As I watched them walk away, I weighed my options and tried to suppress the lump that had suddenly formed in my throat.
I PULLED into the circle drive and raced inside the Plantation house. “Mom?” I called out from the entry hall.
“In the kitchen,” a voice shouted.
I walked into the kitchen and saw my mother standing over the stove, stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce while Mason and Emerson sat at the kitchen island, fighting over a basket of garlic bread. “Hey, I’m going to skip dinner tonight. I’m going to meet up with Abel.”
“Abel again, huh?” Mom asked coyly.
I opened my mouth to respond, but my ringing cellphone cut me off. I looked at the caller ID and frowned. “It’s Kinsley. I told her I’d go to the movies with her tonight.”
“I thought you just said you were meeting Abel?”
“I am. I need to think of something to tell her.” I accepted the call and said hello.
“When are you going to be here?” Kinsley demanded. “The movie starts at 7:30.”
Think, damn it! I commanded my brain, trying to drum up some sort of viable excuse.
“Crap, Kinsley. I can’t go now. My parents went to dinner, so I’m stuck watching my brother and sister.”
“Crap!” Emerson repeated, squealing with laughter. “Emerson, no!” Mom scolded, shaking her head at me.
Kinsley sighed into the phone. “When will they be back?” she demanded.
“I don’t know. They went with some businesspeople my dad works with, so probably late,” I replied, grimacing with each lie I weaved.
She sighed again. “Fine, we’ll just come over there and hang out for a while, I suppose.”
“Shit!” I exclaimed. I bit my lip while my mind worked frantically to come up with an excuse.
“Shit!” Emerson yelled, laughing again.
My mom frowned disapprovingly at me. “Seriously, Colette! The only place you’re going to go is to your room!”
I rolled my eyes at her threat.
“Colette? Hello!” Kinsley barked into the phone, jarring me back to our conversation.
“Oh, umm, my parents don’t let me have guests over when they’re not at home—for safety reasons. It’s a Chicago thing...we had a lot of break-ins and things like that.”
“Yeah well, my dad is chief of police, Colette. If anybody is messing with you—”
“No Kinsley,” I interjected. “It’s fine. I’ll see you tomorrow at school, k?”
Kinsley sighed into the phone with obvious disappointment but finally relented. “Fine, but I’m having people over this weekend so clear your calendar for that.”
“Okay, sounds great,” I said, hanging up before she could utter another word. I turned to my mom. “I’ve got to get ready.”
I headed out of the kitchen and into the main hall. As I crossed the two-story foyer, one of the pictures flew off the wall and smashed onto the floor at my feet. I jumped back, then placed a hand over my beating chest. Seriously, we needed to fucking move…again. Once my breathing had calmed, I knelt and carefully separated the photograph from the surrounding moat of broken glass. Turning it over, my fingers traced over the prom photo of Genesis and Sebastian. In its simplest form, it was nothing more than a snapshot of two love-struck teenagers anticipating a memorable evening of fun and romance. But to gaze upon it now, in the aftermath of the tragedy, was like rubbing salt into a non-healing wound.
“What happened?” my mom asked, popping into the foyer.
I slid the photo into my back pocket. “The frame fell,” I answered, pointing at the bare spot on the wall. “I was trying to clean it up.”
She sighed heavily. “I’ll do it. Go get ready for your date.” “It’s not a date-”
She shot me a warning look.
“Right,” I said, grimacing. “Not relevant.”
I retreated upstairs and stared into the mirror over my dresser. Bloody hell! Did I go out in public like this? I reached for my hairbrush. As it pulled strands from my forehead, I saw the gaping, bloody wound. My skin was purple, cold, and clammy, stretching to conceal the skeletal outline of my face. I gasped and brought a hand up, saturating my fingers in the stream of blood oozing into my eyes. I cried out and backed away, noticing that I was no longer wearing my clothes, or staring at my reflection. Bony, undead hands tenderly fingered the silky, light blue skirt of the dress I wore—a sensation as comforting as home.
What was happening to me?
Shock transcended into rage (my go-to emotion for most situations) and before I could contain the anger surging within, I grabbed the crystal, ballerina-shaped paperweight off my dresser, and launched it at the mirror. Once a treasured heirloom from my childhood... and now a casualty of my outburst. The sound of cracking glass calmed me, offering solace as my reflection returned to normal. I took a series of deep breaths and surveyed the damage. A circular web of fragmented glass indicated where the paperweight had made contact, but otherwise, the mirror had been spared. I braced myself for the impending steps of my mother hurrying up the stairs to ascertain the source of the ruckus I had caused. Amazingly, I heard nothing. Thank God! I found a clear, reflective surface of the mirror and applied a coat of crimson lipstick before I headed outside to my car.
Sliding behind the steering wheel, I immediately heard sobbing.
Don’t look, just don’t look.
I listened to my subconscious, refusing to acknowledge her presence. The sobs grew louder, more desperate. I revved the engine and turned up the radio, determined to drown them out with blaring rock music.
Drumming my fingers along with the beat, I guided the car down the long driveway and turned onto Greenwich Road. As I drove past the cemetery, I purposely distracted myself by staring out the window to marvel at the magnificent Savannah landscape. This place is nothing like Chicago, I thought wistfully. After a few turns, I reached the edge of town and slowed near Forsyth Park. I quickly found a parking spot and hopped out.
The park itself was breathtaking, with stamped concrete walkways and towering Oak trees. The magnificent Forsyth fountain was flanked by lush greenery and fragrant, blooming flowers. I walked up the canopied pathway and saw Abel standing next to a park bench, his black hair swept across his forehead. His black T-shirt hugged his body perfectly, accentuating his biceps and showing just a sliver of well-defined abdominal muscles above his low-slung jeans. Sitting on the bench were Fallon and Scarlett, deep in conversation.
“You made it,” he said, his voice a low, velvety timbre of seduction that I simply wanted to gift-wrap myself in.
“I had to come up with an excuse to tell Kinsley,” I said, stopping in front of the bench.
Abel raised an eyebrow. “Just Kinsley? Can’t imagine that pleased your good ’ole boy.”
I smiled to myself. If the divine manifestation known as Abel Campbell was susceptible to feelings of jealousy, then there sure as hell wasn’t any hope for the rest of us. Still, I decided to stoke the fire. “Oh, I’m sure I’ll find a way to make it up to him.”
His green eyes flashed, and his hands clenched at his sides. For a moment, I thought he might draw his fist back and punch the tree next to him. Quite honestly, it was really fucking arousing.
Fallon rolled her eyes at us and stood up from the bench, unamused. “As entertaining as this love-struck melodrama is, can we focus on why we’re here?”
Scarlett fanned her hand at Fallon. “Don’t mind her. She’s just bitter about the break-up.”
Fallon whipped around. “Scarlett!” she snapped, jabbing her in the shoulder.
“Tryst, break-up, whatever! We all know you’re not over it!”
“Scarlett, shut up!” Fallon warned, her cheeks turning red.
“Jesus,” Abel growled. “It’s a damn wonder we ever get through a conversation.” He stepped between them and nodded at me. “You want to know about Gen?”
I met his gaze, watched sadness flicker through his eyes as her name passed over his lips.
“I need to,” I said softly. I reached into my back pocket and retrieved the prom photograph of Genesis and Sebastian. “Let’s start with this.” I handed it to him, then stepped back.
Fallon leaned in to look at the picture. “Why do you have--- Noooo!” Shocked realization spread across her face and her mouth dropped open. “You’re living in that house?”
“Not by choice, believe me,” I grumbled.
“I can’t believe Aunt Lil fucking sold it. Genesis loved that house.”
“And apparently still does,” I said with a sigh.
“What’d you say?” Fallon asked, her eyes narrowing.
“I’ve seen her,” I forced the words from my lips, not certain that I had enunciated a single one.
“We’ve all seen her, Colette,” Scarlett muttered.
“Not like this,” I muttered, haunting images of Genesis’s bloody corpse flashing through my mind.
Abel grimaced. “What do you mean?”
There was something in the way he said those words…something that told me he already knew what I was about to say.
“I’m saying I’m living in your dead friend’s house and I keep seeing her ghost. Like, everywhere.”
Fallon looked at Abel with a raised eyebrow. “You gonna squash this? If she keeps talking like that-”
“I’ll handle it, Fallon,” he snapped. “You’d better. People talk, Abel.”
“Since when do you care what people think?” he asked her with a raised eyebrow.
“I don’t. But she should.” She nodded pointedly at me.
He turned back to me. “Have you told anyone else about this?”
“No, just you guys. It’s not something I felt like shouting from the rooftops.”
“I’m surprised. I thought you told your blonde bestie everything?” Scarlett retorted.
“Nooooo,” I said, drawing out the monosyllable. “I didn’t think she’d take too kindly to me telling her that I’ve been having visions of her dead best friend.”
Fallon scoffed. “Yeah, definitely not.”
The gas lamps lining the walkway flickered to life, signaling that night was quickly approaching.
Abel cleared his throat. “We should go. It’ll be dark soon.”
Fallon and Scarlett started heading down the path, whispering to each other as they went.
Abel stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. “You need to forget about this, you hear me? You already know too much.”
I frowned. “Too much about what?”
He smiled. “Exactly.”
I shook my head, unamused. “What do you know Abel that you’re not sharing?”
He shrugged, his face expressionless. “Nothing that doesn’t need to just stay buried.”
I cringed at his choice of words. “Isn’t that the problem though? Nothing around here fucking does.” I started for the path, but he grabbed me by the arm, his jaw clenched tightly.
“I’m serious, Colette. Leave it alone.”
I pushed his arm away and reached inside my leather jacket to hand him the note from my locker. “I’m not the one you should be telling that to.”
I SAT down at the lunch table across from Bella, Devon, and Harlow. I propped my elbows on the table and rubbed my temples, trying to ease the throbbing migraine that pulsated there. The past few days’ events had started to take their toll on me. I was drained, both emotionally and physically. At least it was Friday. A nice, relaxing weekend of Netflix Chill was just what I needed.
And then… Kinsley Miller plopped down on the bench next to me and shot those ever-loving plans all to hell.
“So, you’re coming to my party this weekend, right?” she demanded.
Fuck My Life! Seriously, up the ass with an un-lubed baseball bat.
“Are you giving me a choice in the matter?” I asked dryly. Kinsley frowned. “And if I were?”
I forced a smile. I didn’t want to go, but I knew Kinsley wouldn’t tolerate two no-shows from me on her social calendar. I guess I should count myself as one of the lucky ‘ones’ for even garnering a party invite from the most popular girl in school, especially one who had befriended me on my first day. I nudged her playfully with my elbow. “I’d still come.”
“I can come pick you up,” Bella offered. “We all sorta know where you live.”
“It’s creepy to think about that place without Gen there,” Harlow chimed in. She tossed her auburn hair over her shoulder and narrowed her blue eyes. “I mean, her mom just spontaneously decided to move and put it up for sale.”
“Yeah, and she just left practically everything in the house when she moved. All the furniture and pictures. So weird,” Devon said, shuddering.
“Well it’s not really like Genesis needs any of it anymore,” Bella said pointedly.
“Can we fucking talk about something else?” Kinsley snarled. She turned to me. “Just ignore them. Some people have no manners.”
And that’s when I saw it. A glint of silver caught my eye just as she turned towards me. The telltale, heart-shaped pendant that hung around Kinsley’s neck.
“Where the hell did you get that?” I blurted out.
“Excuse me?” Kinsley asked defensively, her hand reaching up and possessively gripping the delicate chain.
I leaned down and retrieved the prom photograph of Genesis and Sebastian from the front pocket of my bookbag. I placed it emphatically on the table next to Kinsley’s lunch tray. My fingers trembled unexpectedly as I pointed at the picture. “That’s HER necklace,” I said quietly.
Kinsley glared at me as she stood up from the table. “You have no idea what you’re talking about!”
“Kinsley, I-” I stammered, trying to gather my thoughts.
“Don’t,” she seethed, spinning on her heel, and storming out of the cafeteria.
Bella, Devon, and Harlow all stared at me in shock, their jaws hanging open.
“Wow,” Devon finally said after a few moments of silence. “Did that just happen?”
“Is that from her house?” Harlow asked in disbelief, nodding at the photograph on the table.
I bit my lip and nodded.
“And so... You’re just going to carry it around with you?” Bella interjected.
“It’s not like that. It fell off the wall the other night and the frame broke.” I grabbed the photograph and stood up from the lunch table. “I’ve got to go talk to Kinsley.”
I rushed out of the cafeteria and saw Scarlett at her locker. “Colette,” Scarlett called me over. “What is the deal with Abel today? He’s been so grouchy!”
I sighed. “I know. Just add his name to the ever-growing list of people not happy with me right now.”
“Well, he’s typically unhappy. The good thing about him though is that he tends to get over things quickly.”
I managed a smile. “Thanks for the tip. I was trying to find Kins‐ ley.” I ignored the disdain that crossed her face. “I noticed she was wearing Genesis’ necklace and I kinda flipped out on her.”
Scarlett’s eyes bugged out of her head. “Necklace?”
I held up the photograph. “This one,” I said quietly.
Scarlett shook her head and shut her locker. “That can’t be the right one.”
“Well, it is. Trust me.”
“Colette, Sebastian gave Genesis that necklace on the night of their prom.” Her voice broke and she shifted her weight uncomfortably. “There’s no way that could be the same necklace that Kinsley is wearing today.”
“Huh? Why is that?”
“Because Colette,” she whispered hoarsely, swallowing the lump in her throat. “Genesis was buried with it.”