I swiped more eye shadow above each eye and sighed heavily, staring at my reflection in an unfractured portion of my bedroom mirror. Here I was on Friday night, getting ready for a party that I didn’t even want to go to. But I had apologized to Kinsley after school and promised her that I’d make an appearance tonight.
My cell phone rang, interrupting my thoughts. I looked at the unfamiliar caller ID and answered the call with uncertainty: “Hello?”
“Colette? It’s Jagger. Kinsley gave me your number. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, no it’s fine. What’s up?”
“Kinsley thought you might need a ride to her house tonight.”
“Oh, um, I-”
“Alright. I’ll be by your house in a half-hour to pick you up,” he said.
“Wha-what? No, it’s okay I can-”
“Don’t be silly,” he interjected. “I’ll be there soon.”
The buzzing of the dial tone signified that my protests had gone unheard.
“Great,” I muttered.
I pulled my black, sparkly strapless dress from the closet and put on a pair of black stilettoes. My cell rang again, announcing an incoming call from Abel. I was struck with conflicting emotions. I hadn’t spoken to him in two days, since our steely altercation at Forsyth Park, and it had been pure torture. Several times during the last 48 hours I had wanted to cast my pride aside and just throw myself into his arms, rip off his shirt and run my hands over his broad chest and down his ripped abs to his-
“Hello? Colette? Are you there?” his dreamy voice called out.
Holy shit! I had completely forgotten that I was on the phone! “Yes, sorry. I’m here.”
“What the hell’s this note all about?”
I had nearly forgotten about the note from my locker, and more so that I had shoved it into Abel’s hand before leaving Forsyth Park the other night.
“I found it in my locker the other day. I thought it was some sort of sick prank.”
“Do you know who it’s from?”
“No... It fell out right before Jagger stopped by my locker.” I was greeted with silence. Seconds went by...still nothing. “Hello? Abel?”
“I’m here,” he said shortly, his tone gruff.
I decided to switch topics. “I’m glad you called,” I said softly.
“Oh yeah? So, what are you doing tonight? I thought maybe we could head up to River Street. Sometimes my band plays up there.”
He has a band? My eyebrows shot up in interest at the revelation. Abel Campbell was an onion—a conglomeration of interconnected layers and mysterious elements that demand a slow reveal and could cause uncontrollable tears.
I chewed my lip as I contemplated my answer. More than anything, I wanted to spend time with Abel in a normal setting—no cemeteries, no hushed conversations of ghosts, or death. And while the idea of being in a dimly lit environment with him sounded like Christmas morning, I knew my fractured friendship with Kinsley wouldn’t withstand a no-show to her party. So, I bit the bullet and gave him the truth I knew he’d hate.
“I’d love to, but Jagger’s on his way to pick me up for Kinsley’s party.”
Abel was silent for a few seconds. When he spoke next, his voice was low, controlled. “Colette, I think it best if you don’t go.”
I scoffed. “Did I ask?”
He sighed heavily. “Colette, there are things you don’t understand.”
“Things from the past. Things you don’t need to be involved in.”
I rolled my eyes. “Look, I’ve got to go. Jagger’s going to be here any minute and-”
I was then greeted with the dial tone and realized he had hung up. “Oh, sweet Jesus. Everyone in this town is nuts.”
“Going out tonight, Coco?” my dad asked from the doorway.
I tossed my phone on the bed. “Yeah. Just getting ready for Kins‐ ley’s party.”
“Sounds like fun.” He sat down at the edge of my bed. “How are you liking it here so far?”
I snickered. “Now you’re asking for my input?” Dad frowned. “Come on Colette. I’m trying here.”
I sighed. “Well, it’s been interesting, to say the least.”
He smiled. “So...is that a good thing? You’ve obviously made friends.”
“Ha! Too many I’d say.”
Now it was his turn to laugh. “Well if that’s the worst of your trou‐ bles, I’d say you’re doing just fine.” His face turned serious and he studied me for a moment. “I know it’s uncool now to talk to your parents, but I’m here if you need a sounding board.” He smiled weakly before adding, “I’ve heard you crying at night sometimes.”
I stared at him, my blood turning cold. “Crying at night?”
He stood up from my bed and squeezed my shoulder. “It’s alright hon. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“I didn’t know you could hear that,” I said softly.
“Well I know you think I’m old Colette, but I’m not ready for the nursing home just yet,” he said with a smile.
The sound of the doorbell resonated through the house, interrupting our conversation.
“Oh, that’s Jagger. He’s going to give me a ride.”
“You finish getting ready. I’ll go get the door,” he said as he left the room.
I released my hair clip, allowing loose curls to fall to my lower back. I grabbed my purse and headed downstairs. Jagger was standing in the front hallway, staring at the wall of photos. As he noticed me, his face lit up and a wide smile spread across his handsome features.
“Hey,” he said warmly, looking me up and down.
I grinned. “Hey.”
He cleared his throat and pointed to the empty photo frame “What happened there?” he asked.
“Frame fell. It used to have a picture in it of Sebastian and Genesis from prom.”
“Ahh, that one.” He squirmed, clearly uncomfortable with the topic.
I looked at my feet. “I’m sorry, Jagger. I know how much you cared about them.”
“It was more than that. Gen brought our group together. After she and Sebastian died, each of us assigned blame. It was much easier to point fingers than try and work through the pain we all felt. Hell, that’s what tore apart Kinsley and Abel.”
“Huh?” I asked, not certain I had heard him correctly.
“When Gen’s mom skipped town, most of us were pissed. Kinda like she was trying to just pick up the remaining pieces of her life and move on. Just erase any memory of Genesis whatsoever. Kinsley though, she wasn’t going to have that. She convinced Mr. Anderson and the school board to let us hang that portrait in the main hallway. She didn’t want them to be forgotten.”
“Well, Kinsley got her wish,” I whispered. “What’s that?”
I shook my head, forcing a smile. “Nothing. We should head out.” “After you,” he said, motioning toward the door.
The evening air was warm and muggy, typical for September in Savannah. The sky glittered with numerous stars and a crescent moon hung low, partially concealed by treetops. I climbed into the passenger seat of his truck while he slid in the driver’s seat and guided us towards town.
He looked over at me briefly. “You look nice by the way,” he said, his voice soft.
I smiled. “Thanks. I wasn’t sure what the dress code is for one of Kinsley’s parties, but I figured jeans and a tank top wouldn’t suffice.
“Sounds like you have Kinsley figured out.”
“Yeah, she’s not a tough shell to crack,” I said with a snicker.
“What about you? All I know so far is what she’s told me. You’re from Chicago, you’re living in Genesis’s house, and you’re pretty clumsy.”
“Wha-Hey now! You scared the shit out of me that day in the hall!”
“Yeah, I already knew that too.” After a moment, his smile faded, and he nodded at the exposed cuts on my arms. “And those?”
I covered my forearms with my purse and cleared my throat. The last thing I wanted to discuss was the ghost of Genesis Long. “You said it yourself. I’m clumsy.”
Jagger frowned but said nothing as he turned into an upscale, gated neighborhood situated on a private golf course. Grand Oak Estates boasted the stone and slate sign. A small outbuilding was positioned at the front entrance with a prominently displayed stop sign. He eased the truck to an idle and rolled down his window.
An older, overweight security guard waddled out of the outbuild‐ ing, tipping the brim of his hat to us. “Good evening. What can I do for ya?”
“We’re headed to Chief Miller’s house at the top of the point,” Jagger answered.
The security officer nodded. “Yes, the Millers notified us that they would be expecting several guests tonight. Have a nice evening.”
He headed back to his post, pushing a button to open the elaborate iron gate and allow our entrance into heaven. Or at least what I imagined it to be. Jagger rolled up his window and drove through.
“Wow, look at these houses,” I said as we proceeded up the street. Each extravagant, cookie-cutter mansion was situated on a generous, meticulous lot and complimented the next, comprising a most elite, picturesque neighborhood.
He laughed. “These are nothing compared to Kinsley’s. Her dad’s the chief of police and mayor. She can pretty much get away with murder.”
I stiffened at his choice of words and bit my lip. Eventually, the road culminated in a circular driveway for the largest house on the block. The McMansion-style home seemed to block out the night sky entirely, its roof soaring to unimaginable heights. Massive columns supported the front colonnade, showcasing the grand double-door entry. A professionally landscaped front lawn sprawled across several lots, highlighted by an oversized four-car garage that occupied the northwest corner of the property. Slews of cars were already parked around the fountain that stood in the middle of the circular driveway. Jagger found a spot behind a line of luxury vehicles and we climbed out.
“Wow!” I exclaimed, hesitating on the front lawn to admire the imposing structure.
“If you’re already impressed, wait till we get inside,” he said, his honey-brown eyes glistening against the moonlight.
I followed him to the double-door entry and waited as he rang the bell. Inside, the chimes echoed through the voluminous halls of Miller Manor. After a brief interim, the front door swung open to reveal Galen, a goofy grin plastered across his face.
“Hey man,” he greeted Jagger with a complex sequence of coordinated hand gestures.
I rolled my eyes at their machismo salute and continued into the front hall. Double winding staircases spilled onto intricate marble tiling, welcoming guests upon first entry. Ornate golden mirrors were hung at opposite ends of the foyer. A luxe, glass-top table positioned between the staircases held a solid vase filled with an extravagant array of flowers. Impressive wasn’t nearly enough to describe the lavishness of this house.
“Everyone’s out by the pool,” Galen announced. “You guys need a drink?”
Jagger looked over at me, trying to determine what I might prefer. “Just a couple of beers, I guess?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really? Underage drinking in the Chief of Police’s home, what could go wrong?”
Galen laughed obnoxiously. “Is she for serious, right now?” he asked, looking at Jagger. “I can never tell.”
Jagger patted me affectionately on the shoulder. “Trust us, Colette.
It’s Kinsley’s. We’re fine.”
I shook my head but decided that I also wasn’t going to be the moral police. Especially since I was the new girl and was seeing full-bodied apparitions. I took the beer and followed the boys through the chef’s kitchen to the backyard. Loud music streamed through the air and café-style patio lights covered the deck and patio, providing the perfect party setting. Hundreds of people littered around the expansive back yard, swimming, dancing, conversing, and drinking. Across the desk, I spied Kinsley. She was deep in conversation, at the center of a group of people hanging onto her every word. Or at least that’s what I gathered from their body language and intent stares.
Jagger grabbed me suddenly by the elbow, refocusing my attention. “I’m going to cruise the food table. You want anything?” He nodded towards a long row of buffet tables covered with delectable edible treats. Kinsley’s parties spared no expense.
He leaned in close to my ear, his breath sending chills down my spine. “Don’t wander off too far,” he said with a wink.
I wasn’t prepared for the attraction I felt for him at that moment, nor how it seemingly conflicted with the growing emotions I was harboring for Abel. Quite honestly, I just wanted to live in the moment and be a typical teenager. I smiled at him as he wandered off with Galen.
I was left to my thoughts only briefly before Bella noticed my arrival. Like a hyper puppy, she hurried over and jumped around excitedly at my side. She engulfed me in a hug, then tugged at the bottom of my dress. “Now this! This is fabulous! Much better than the other day.”
“Thanks, I wasn’t sure if it was too much-”
“No, never too much. Always just enough.”
I glanced at the tube top and matching tutu skirt ensemble she wore and immediately understood their mantra: Dress to Impress.
Bella averted her gaze as she noticed a group of kids enter the backyard. “My boyfriend just got here. I’ll talk to you in a bit.”
I watched her scurry off after Hunter Reed. Apparently, I wasn’t included in the memo about them being a couple. I took a swig of my beer, realizing that it was nearly empty. I sighed in defeat and re-entered the house in search of the kitchen. The humming of a sub-zero refrigerator guided me like a beacon through Kinsley’s art gallery of a house. I grabbed another beer before starting a new search for the bathroom. After having no success on the main floor, I started up one branch of the grand, double staircase. At the top, a massive second-floor landing greeted me, offset by a long, arched hallway. I turned for the hall and chose one of the first doors on my right.
I immediately realized that I had discovered Kinsley’s bedroom: a pink, bubble-gum monstrosity. A four-post king-sized bed draped in coordinating sheer curtains took up the near wall of the palatial room. A glamorous dressing table with matching mirrored dresser stood along the farthest wall. I crossed the room to examine my reflection but was distracted by a row of neatly positioned framed pictures that sat atop the dresser. A fuzzy, pink heart-shaped frame boasted a picture of Galen and Kinsley in a passionate embrace. Other Mosaic glass frames featured pictures of Kinsley with Bella, Harlow, and Devon. A sparkly, diamond-encrusted frame stood out from the rest--a photo of Kinsley and Genesis, holding hands as they stood in bikinis on a beach somewhere. The largest frame displayed a photo of the entire group at what must have been last year’s prom. Everyone wore tuxes and fancy dresses. Genesis and Sebastian stood in the center of the picture, flanked by Abel and Kinsley. Also coupled up were Bella and Hunter, Jagger and Devon, and Scarlett and some dark-haired attractive guy. Fallon, Galen, and Harlow stood in a small group to the right. Kinsley was leaning heavily into Abel, his arms wrapped tightly around her. I picked up the frame and studied it closely.
“What are you looking at?” a voice called from behind.
I turned suddenly and dropped the frame on the plush carpeting. I was picking it up and silently cursing my clumsiness when Kinsley walked over.
“I’m so sorry, Kins. I was trying to find a bathroom and all the downstairs doors I tried were locked-”
“It’s okay, Colette,” she said reassuringly, taking the frame from me and placing it back on the dresser. “Bella told me you were here.”
“You had people around you. I didn’t want to interrupt.”
I took in Kinsley’s appearance. Mermaid Barbie tonight. Her blond hair fell in loose waves down her back, her aqua-marine eyes twinkling beneath her long, lush eyelashes. She wore a white, sea-shell bikini top that barely contained her breasts and sparkly, dark turquoise bikini bottoms. Genesis’ heart-shaped pendant dangled from Kinsley’s neck on its dainty, silvery chain.
“Genesis gave you that necklace?” I squeaked out, remembering Scarlett’s disturbing words from earlier that afternoon.
She frowned. “We’re going to go through this again?”
“Well, no. I just heard that Sebastian gave it to her at last year’s prom. Seems like it would be such a cherished piece.”
“It is,” she said shortly, offering no explanation. She spun on her heel and walked over to the bedroom door. “Let’s head downstairs,” she suggested, holding the door open for me.
I obliged and followed her down the arched hallway.
“I heard that you came with Jagger,” she said, changing the subject as we proceeded downstairs.
I snorted. “He picked me up if that’s what you mean.”
Kinsley laughed heartily. “Oh, Colette! You do make me laugh!”
We joined the party outside and sat down by the pool, dangling our feet in the warm water. On the other side of the pool, I noticed Jagger and Galen lobbing a beach ball back and forth. They soon tired of their game and swam over to us. Jagger stopped just in front of my feet and smiled mischievously up at me, his honey-brown eyes nearly yellow in the reflective pool lighting.
“Having a good time?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yes. And you?”
“Not yet,” he said playfully, grinning from ear to ear. He stood up, beads of water dripping off his muscular chest and over his defined abs.
Sweet Jesus, he’s hot, I thought to myself, trying to calm my ovaries.
He reached out and grabbed my legs, tugging lightly. Thank God I had remembered to shave!
“You wouldn’t dare!” I exclaimed.
“Let’s test that theory!” He lunged towards me, scooped me off the pool deck, and raced towards the deep end of the pool. Lifting me above his head, he launched me into the water.
I felt my feet touch the bottom of the pool and kicked off, pushing myself up into superficial water. When I surfaced, I was alarmed to find that I was now the sole occupant of Kinsley’s backyard. Music no longer blared from the ostentatious speakers and all the partygoers had vanished, including Jagger, Galen, and even Kinsley herself.
“Hello?” I called out to the still night sky. “Where’d everyone-”
The words died on my lips as I spun around in the water. At the edge of the pool stood Genesis, her eyes black and soulless, her mouth hanging open in an anguished, silent scream. My breathing became haggard, my body froze in fear. The pool water that had once been warm and inviting was now ice-cold and covered in blood. The decaying corpse of Genesis Long floated face down in the water, just inches away. I tried to back away, but my fingers became entangled in the matted strands of hair still clinging to Genesis’ disfigured skull. I panicked and pulled harder to free myself, succeeding only in having chunks of hair and scalp fall off in my hands.
I thrashed around frantically, flinging gobs of skin and clumps of hair against the concrete walls of the pool. Heavy hands clamped down on my shoulders and I jerked away.
“Get off me!” I shrieked, certain that Genesis was attempting to drown me.
“Colette? Are you okay?” Jagger asked softly, his face etched with concern.
I wildly scanned the backyard. Everyone had gathered at the water’s edge, leaning over each other to get a better look at the spectacle I had created. Kinsley and Galen were standing in the shallow end of the pool, staring at me in shock. I didn’t respond, choosing instead to scramble out of the pool and into the house. My wet feet slipped on the marble tile and I collapsed in a helpless heap as a dark figure loomed over me. Hot tears rolled over my cheeks in steady streams.
“Please just leave me alone!” I sobbed.
“Colette?” came the familiar deep voice.
I strained through blurry vision to make out the figure, but my body quivered with arousal at the sound of his voice. “Abel?”
“Colette?” another voice called out from the kitchen.
Jagger came around the corner and noticed me on the ground. He immediately knelt and wrapped me protectively in his arms. “Colette, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I leaned into his warm embrace. “No, no. You’re fine. It was...” I trailed off and looked up at Abel. “...Something else.”
Kinsley walked into the room. “Abel? What are you doing here?” she asked with hands on her hips.
A small group had followed Jagger into the house and were starting to gather around us now, their faces eager for the dramatic scene to continue.
I climbed to my feet with Jagger’s assistance. I squeezed his hand and smiled at him weakly. “I’m alright, really,” I promised.
Abel stepped forward and grabbed my hand. “Let’s go,” he commanded, pulling me into the main hallway as Kinsley followed us.
“Abel, would you stop bossing her around? Jesus, let the girl have some fun!”
He stopped suddenly to glare at Kinsley. “Right, because she was having a good time lying on the ground and crying.”
“That’s just what you saw-” I started.
“Colette, I’ll give you a ride home,” Jagger offered, stepping towards me.
“I think you’ve done enough, Jagger,” Abel growled, pulling me behind as he stormed out of the house. He opened the passenger door of his truck and I climbed inside. He slammed my door, then walked around to the driver’s side. He started the vehicle, the tires squealing in protest as he peeled out of the driveway and down the hill to the guard’s station. The iron gates opened, and we sped out of the neighborhood.
“What were you even doing there?” I asked him, shivering.
He reached into the back, grabbed a blanket, and handed it to me. I wrapped it around myself and looked at him through mascara smudged eyes. He stared at me intently, cupping the side of my face with his hand.
“You’re beautiful,” he said softly.
I snorted. “That wasn’t my question.” I fumbled with my fingers nervously as I felt his unwavering eyes upon me.
“What happened there?” he asked, noticing the cuts on my arms. I crossed my arms over my lap. “Don’t worry about it.”
“So, what can I worry about when it comes to you then?” he asked, clearly annoyed.
“I don’t need you to worry about anything. I’m a big girl, Abel. I can-”
“Yeah, clearly that’s NOT the case otherwise you wouldn’t have been crying on the floor.”
“Why you were even there? I thought you were going out with your band?” I asked, my voice mocking as I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Wasn’t where I wanted to be.” His eyes fell suggestively over my body.
If my cheeks weren’t already flushed from his persistent gaze, they certainly were now. “Oh,” I said quietly, fumbling with my hands again.
He reached over, his hand entwining with my own. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I glanced down at my lap. His touch soothed all my fears, but that didn’t mean I cared to recount them aloud. “Not particularly.”
“Good, ’cause I’d hate to say, ‘I told you so.’”
“Wow,” I snarled, slinging his hand away. “Two steps forward, one step back.”
“Damn it, Colette. Are you always this stubborn?”
I huffed with indignation. “Why didn’t you tell me about you and Kinsley?”
“What?” He looked over at me, his eyes clouded. “What does that have to do with anything?”
I shrugged. “Nothing, but it sure as hell would have been nice to have known. Especially coming from you.”
He looked at me, his mouth pressed into a hard line. “What do you want me to say, Colette? Oh hey, by the way, your new bestie is my ex-girlfriend? Hardly seems appropriate given what else is seemingly going on around here.”
I bit my lip. He had a point. Damn it! “So, are you saying you believe me then?”
“I never said I didn’t.”
I scoffed. “You told me to leave it ‘buried’,” I said, making air quotes with my fingers.
“And you should. Savannah is a special sort of place, Colette. If you go looking for trouble, you’ll soon find it.”
My night was weird enough without having to decipher Abel’s cryptic warning. “Okay, exactly what the hell are we talking about here? Genesis or something else?” My mind didn’t want to explore the “else.”
Before he could respond, my phone chimed, alerting me of a new text message.
“Who’s that?” Abel asked.
“Jagger. He just wanted to know if I was okay.” I quickly typed an affirmative response, then turned my attention back to Abel. “Well?” I prodded. “What did you mean?”
He shook his head. “I should have never taken you to that cemetery. You shouldn’t be asking questions about this yet.”
“Yet? Seriously Abel!”
He pulled into my driveway. “Another time.” He stopped the truck in front of my house and shifted in his seat until he was facing me. “Are you okay?”
I snickered. “Never been better.”
He reached out a hand to caress my cheek. “I mean it, Colette. I’m worried.”
“You’re not the only one,” I muttered.
He grabbed my chin, bringing his face close to mine. “Lock your doors, Colette.”
I rolled my eyes. What I wanted to keep out didn’t need doors or windows to enter, but I think he already knew that. “Night Abel.”
I hopped out and closed the door behind me. His truck pulled away as I made my way up the steps of the front porch. From within the dense, ominous fog that concealed the front lawn and garden, I heard my name whispered against the cool night breeze. I wanted to ignore it, to run for the safety of the house but I was stopped dead in my tracks by what I saw. Its mere presence unnerved me.
Genesis’ silver, heart-shaped necklace, glistened in the moon’s eerie light, hanging from the handle of the front door. I snatched it up with trembling hands, its cool metal triggering a domino effect of shivers down my spine. I hurried into the house and heeded Abel’s advice, locking the door behind me.