I rode with Abel as we followed closely behind Kinsley’s cherry-red convertible. Fallon sat in the passenger seat, her already-pale knuckles turning an even lighter shade of white as she clutched at the dashboard while Kinsley zipped through traffic. Scarlett prayed silently for her life from the car’s tiny backseat.
Abel hadn’t said much as we left Savannah behind, seemingly focused only on the drive to Charleston. As traffic eased and slowly dissipated, I felt his intoxicating gaze upon me.
“Now who’s the one ogling?” I asked smugly.
“At last you admit it!” he bellowed with a laugh, slapping the steering wheel for emphasis. After a moment, his grin faded, and he grew somber. “Okay, I’ll lay it all out there for you. I feel about you the way Sebastian felt about Genesis--like I couldn’t quit you if I tried.”
My blushing intensified. “That’s one hell of a line.”
“It’s not a line, Colette,” he said, frowning. His eyes traveled over my body, surveying me from head to toe. “Not in the slightest.”
My rosy cheeks ignited to full flames as my skin channeled from pink to red. I cleared my throat, trying to tone down the rated-R thoughts swirling through my head. I noticed a picture of him and Sebastian stuck to the driver’s visor and nodded to it. “You guys look happy there.”
He glanced up at the picture. “Sebastian was always happy. He was the biggest goofball, always cracking jokes and living for the moment. He loved music, loved having fun. He was impulsive though, and it caused him trouble. He’d skip class a lot and he got arrested a few times.”
“What about him and Genesis?”
He shrugged. “I mean, there wasn’t a Sebastian without Genesis. They had that grade-school to high-school fairytale romance that everyone dreams about.”
“And you and Kinsley?” I asked, trying to appear nonchalant.
“What about it?”
“How’d that come about?”
“Convenience, I guess. Kinsley was always hanging with Gen and I was always around Sebastian, so it just worked out.” He paused. “For a while, anyway.”
“So, what happened?”
He shrugged again. “I guess reality set in. When Sebastian and Genesis died...I don’t know, it just didn’t seem right anymore--Kinsley and I being together. I think we both changed as individuals and couldn’t figure out how to change as a couple.”
“Did you love her?”
He looked over at me, his lips pressed in a firm line. “No.”
His voice was cold, distant. I didn’t know how to respond, so we sat in silence the rest of the way to Charleston. We followed Kinsley through the coastal community to a picturesque street lined with small beach cottages. We pulled up to a white, plank board house with blue shutters and a bright yellow door. A white picket fence enclosed the tiny front yard.
We climbed out of the cars and gathered on the sidewalk, greeted by the aroma of salt air. “Okay, guys. Let’s try to be gentle here, alright?” Fallon pleaded.
“So how do you propose that we tell an already fragile mother that her dead daughter’s grave was vandalized?” Abel asked. “Seriously, looking for suggestions here.”
Fallon sighed, apparently unable to provide any. She stepped to the front of our group as we made our way up the sidewalk and rang the doorbell. Moments passed before a tall, thin woman with short brown hair opened the door. Deep bags hung under her bloodshot eyes and she reeked of alcohol.
“Hey Aunt Lilith,” Fallon said, shifting her weight uncomfortably.
Lilith squinted at us. “I wish you would have called, Fallon,” she said hoarsely.
“I know, I’m so sorry. Something’s come up and it’s kind of important that we talk to you about it.”
Lilith paused, glancing over her shoulder into the house “Well, you drove all that way. I guess it’d be kinda rude of me to say no, now wouldn’t it?”
“Almost as rude as someone just showing up on your doorstep that lives two hours away.”
We all hung our heads, instantly shamed. Ouch!
Ms. Long sighed with resignation, seemingly having already debated her options, and motioned for us to enter. We filed into the messy living room, welcomed with empty pizza boxes and liquor bottles. Dozens of photographs were scattered across the coffee table, spilling over onto the hardwood floor below in unorganized piles. Cardboard boxes took up the rest of the floor space and thick, heavy curtains concealed the bay window, casting the room in darkness.
Kinsley, Fallon, and I took a seat on the couch as Abel and Scarlett stood behind us. Lilith poured herself a drink before plopping down on the stained recliner across from us.
“So, what’s going on, Fallon?”
“We went to the cemetery today to visit Genesis.”
“No,” Lilith said sharply, shaking her head.
“Aunt Lil we have to talk about this-”
“I, I don’t want to,” she said, her voice shaky. The ice in her Vodka Tonic clinked against the sides of the glass as her hands trembled. She set the drink down on a small table next to the recliner.
Kinsley reached across the coffee table for Lilith’s hand. She gave it a quick squeeze and offered a reassuring smile. “We’re all here for you.”
Ms. Long suddenly sprang up from the chair, grabbed her drink, and started pacing back and forth across the room. As she walked, she pushed up the sleeves of her button-down shirt and revealed two scars across each wrist—deep, jagged, and purple they screamed intentional.
Fallon rose from her seat as well. “Aunt Lil, something’s happened to her grave.”
The sound of glass shattering pierced my ears as it echoed throughout the room. Lilith’s unsteady grasp had given in; the alcoholic contents of her cup now trickling across the uneven wooden floors. She stopped pacing; despair spread across her thin, gaunt face.
Kinsley rushed into the kitchen and retrieved a dish towel that hung from the stove. She re-entered the living room and began cleaning up the mess.
“I’m so sorry-” Lilith Long began, stooping down to retrieve the stray ice cubes that had scattered across the floor.
Kinsley swatted her hand away. “I’ve got this, really.”
Fallon helped her aunt to the recliner. “You need to sit down.”
Lilith patted her niece’s hand, then looked up at her with sad eyes. “What happened to my baby’s grave?”
Fallon took a deep breath. “It’s been vandalized.”
“What?” she spat. “Who would do such a shitty thing?”
“We don’t know. But we called Chief Miller and he’s going to investigate,” Scarlett answered from behind me.
“What’d they do to her grave?”
Abel reached into his pocket and retrieved his cell phone. He pulled up his pictures, then handed her the phone. “These aren’t easy to look at,” he warned.
Lilith scrolled through the images of the desecrated grave, tears forming in her eyes before spilling over her cheeks. “I-I can’t believe...”
Kinsley finished cleaning up the spill. She walked over and knelt next to Lilith’s chair, her face empathetic. “Ms. Long, my dad will make sure that the headstone gets replaced. You don’t need to worry about the cost. And you can bet that he won’t rest until he finds out who did this either!”
Lilith managed a weak smile. “Ace is such a good man. He’s done a lot for me since Gen passed.” She handed Abel his cell phone and leaned forward, examining the photographs spread across the coffee table. Finally, she found the one she was looking for and tossed it at him. “You should have this.”
Abel looked at the picture of himself, Sebastian, and Genesis as kids, smiling happily at the camera from behind a lemonade stand. “I think they were eight here and I was seven,” he said sadly.
Lilith’s chin trembled and she fought to hold back another round of tears. “Sebastian loved her so much. That’s the only thing that gets me through, ya know?”
“That and six pints of Vodka,” Scarlett said under her breath.
Abel elbowed her in disapproval. “Stop,” he warned through gritted teeth.
Lilith smiled. “Just knowing that my baby isn’t alone is what comforts me...that her spirit is in Heaven with Sebastian, together again.”
I cleared my throat. “Is that where you think they are?”
The room fell eerily silent, clearly taken aback by my question. I knew it was invasive and completely inappropriate, but my filter was fucking broken.
Lilith tipped her head to the side. “Where else would they be?” She shifted her gaze to Fallon. “Who is this?” she asked with disdain, her face transitioning into a scowl.
“That’s Colette, Ms. Long. She and her family moved into the plantation house,” Abel replied.
Lilith’s sunken eyes suddenly brightened, and a warm smile lit up her face at the mention of her former home. “Genesis loved that house.”
And apparently still does. I had to bite my lip to prevent the words from spilling out. “I love the painting she made for you. I’m surprised you didn’t take that with.”
Confusion spread across her brow. “What painting?”
“Ummm...the one of the house,” I said slowly.
Lilith shifted her weight, clearly uncomfortable. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Genesis didn’t paint.” She stood up abruptly and marched out of the room.
“O-kay...” Scarlett said, attempting to break the nervous tension of the room.
Moments later, Lilith reappeared carrying a couple cardboard boxes. She dropped them on the hardwood floor and nodded at Kins‐ ley. “You can have those. Most of it’s just her cheerleading poms, pictures, and a few of her clothes. She’d want you to have those things, Kinsley.”
“Ms. Long, maybe you should keep- ”
“Nonsense. You were her best friend. Take ’em,” she urged.
Kinsley nodded in agreement. “Okay, thanks, Ms. Long.”
A half-hour later, we were piling into our vehicles and preparing for departure. I climbed in next to Abel and sighed heavily as he pulled away from the curb.
“Well, that was torturous.”
“I think visiting her was the right choice. Regardless of whether she’s in Savannah or Charleston, Ms. Long needs to know that people still care about and support her.”
I smiled. “Can we do that by telling by her to lay off the alcohol?”
Abel scoffed. “So easy to judge when you’re not the one grieving.”
My mouth dropped. “You’re validating her self-medication efforts? Seriously?”
His eyes sliced to me, the vein in his neck throbbing. “Tell me, Colette. When did you lose your brother? How about a daughter?”
I turned away, glowering as I stared out the window. Why did all the panty-dropping hot guys have to be such pompous assholes? Why was that always the defect on the assembly line of perfect men?
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Abel tuck the photo Ms. Long had given him into the cup holder of the center console. The smallest smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “That was nice that she gave that to you. She seemed fond of Sebastian.”
“Beast didn’t give her much of a choice. Wherever Genesis went, he followed. It was inevitable that he’d force his way into her good graces sooner or later.”
His words echoed through my head, causing a flurry of goosebumps to spread over my arms. Wherever Genesis went, he followed. “Even in death,” I murmured aloud, unaware initially that the words had passed my lips.
Abel looked over at me. “Huh?”
“Even in death...he followed her.”
“It’s not surprising really. Regardless of what shit they went through or how many fights they had, those two were meant to be together—no matter what!” He sounded so certain, almost as if he had confirmation of it.
I rolled my eyes, scoffing at the cliché of two souls following each other into the afterlife.
The dwindling rays of sunshine were giving way to night as the lights of the highway whizzed by in an unintelligible blur. From within the deep recess of my jeans pocket, I felt my cellphone vibrate. I pulled it out and looked at the screen.
“My parents,” I muttered to Abel.
“Colette? Where are you?” My mom’s voice was shrill, the despair in her tone rattling me.
I sat up straight in the passenger seat, dreading whatever news she was about to share. I ignored her questions and responded with one of my own. “What’s wrong?” I asked, my hands already starting to sweat.
I could feel Abel’s heavy stare upon me, his green eyes filled with worry as he impatiently awaited answers.
Gone? I scrunched up my nose, trying to make sense of her words. “What do you mean, gone? Like, to the store with Dad? I don’t-”
“No Colette, fucking gone!”
Couple of things about my mom. A.) In my seventeen years, I had heard her raise her voice no more than a handful of times in anger and 2.) She NEVER cussed. Until that moment, I had been under the impression that words such as those were simply not a part of her vernacular. So, when the King Monster of Obscenities reared its ugly head and popped out of my mom’s mouth, the world shifted beneath me.
“How is that possible? She knows better than to run off.”
“Apparently not! She was outside with Mase and then-”
“Wait, she was with Mason?”
“Was...they were playing hide and seek, and I guess she’s playing the game just a little too well.”
I rubbed a palm over my face. “I’ll be there soon.”
I hung up, my brain trying to process the conversation I had just had. As the words replayed in my mind, my vision began to blur. My head was suddenly too heavy for my neck to support, bobbing around uncontrollably until it smacked against the passenger window, plunging me into overwhelming darkness.
DOWN A NARROW HALLWAY, I could hear my name being called--a faint whisper above the endless buzzing of the flickering lights above me. An endless row of closed doors lined both sides of the tunneled passageway, the eerie chanting of my name echoing through the crypt-like chamber.
I reached out and tried the first door handle on my left, only to find it locked. I moved to the next door and turned the handle. I pushed it open and found myself in my bedroom, yet somehow it wasn’t ‘mine.’ The lacy, white comforter that adorned the bed was far too feminine for my taste and the plethora of make-up products on the near dresser far outnumbered the meager amount of beauty products that I owned. A sparkling, rhinestone-encrusted picture frame on the nightstand was the absolute indicator that the room was not my own; It contained a professional photograph of Genesis and Sebastian seated in a loving embrace on a wooden dock.
As I placed the frame back on the bedside table, Lilith Long came sweeping merrily into the room and headed towards the full-length mirror on the opposite wall. Genesis suddenly materialized in front of it, looking very much alive as she adjusted the neckline of the light blue dress that she wore. Genesis and Lilith exchanged pleasantries and a hug before the boisterous chime of the doorbell rang out, causing both women to rush out of the room.
I followed them down the curved, open staircase and watched as Lilith ushered Sebastian into the house. He turned and greeted Genesis with a kiss, then presented her with a familiar heart-shaped pendant. The room darkened and I was thrust back into the hallway. The chanting of my name was louder now, more urgent.
Continuing down the hall, I chose a door from the right side of the hallway and turned the doorknob. Instantly, I was transported to a dock overlooking the river. At the end of it sat Genesis, her arms wrapped protectively around her legs. A black Dodge Challenger came rumbling up the road and Sebastian jumped out of it, clearly frustrated as he approached. They began fighting before Sebastian’s face softened and he relented. Moments later, they shared an embrace before climbing into his car and heading up the road. As the car faded into the distance, I found myself in the hallway once more.
I tried another door and was transported to the backseat of Sebas‐ tian’s Dodge Challenger. The car barreled down the road, its raucous engine roaring with prestige. Sebastian’s eyes were fastened to the road as Genesis stared blankly out the passenger window, her face red and blotchy from crying. Streaks of black mascara smeared across her cheeks as she wiped away the tears. His face twisted into a scowl, insensitive to her misery.
“Quit throwing it in my goddamn face, Gen,” he snapped.
Genesis stifled her sobs, her anguish turning to disbelief. She brought her hand back and slapped the side of Sebastian’s face, her palm print leaving an impressionable mark across his cheek. He gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white as he clenched his teeth.
Suddenly, I was drenched with water and Abel’s voice wafted over my reverie. I felt his lips upon mine, whisking me from the backseat of Sebastian’s car into a flood of bright light. My eyes fluttered slowly, struggling with the brightness of the sun. A shadow fell over my face, assisting my efforts. The first thing I was able to focus on was a set of intoxicating green eyes, boring holes into my own.
“Colette, are you okay?” Abel asked, his hand caressing my cheek.
I looked around, alarmed to find that I was lying in a patch of grass with Abel leaning over me. “Where are we? What happened?”
I tried sitting up, restrained by a piercing migraine that had taken up residency. I succumbed to lying helpless beneath the impressive torso of Abel Campbell.
“You hit your head on the window and lost consciousness. We’re about ten miles outside of Savannah,” he explained, massaging my temples as I winced through the pain. “Your mom kept calling your phone, so I sent her a text and said that you had bad cell reception and would call her back soon.” He hesitated for a moment. “Kinsley’s dad called. She drove ahead with Fallon and Scarlett to try and find Emerson.”
I pushed myself up to a sitting position, a flood of memories coursing through me. “Shit! Emerson! Abel, we’ve got to get back.”
He put a hand on my shoulder to steady me, his voice soothing and collected. “Okay, hold on. Calm down. Just take a sec.”
I ignored him and stumbled to my feet, holding onto his shoulder for balance. “I’m fine. Let’s go,” I declared, standing upright, and marching towards his truck. Halfway there, I turned back and noticed Abel was standing still, his arms crossed over his chest with a smirk on his face.
“What are you doing?” I called back to him, flailing my arms for emphasis.
“I was just waiting for a ‘please.’”
“Move your ass, Campbell!” I snapped, my inner bitch shining through.
The grin on his face disappeared and he cleared his throat, clearly taken aback by my decree of dominance. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and ambled up the deep shoulder to the driver’s side of his truck.
Inside the cab and already buckled into my seat, I retrieved my phone from the cup holder and had already dialed my parents before Abel resumed his position behind the wheel.
“Hello?” a deep voice asked, tinged with hopefulness. “Dad, It’s me. Did you guys find Emerson?”
“Not yet. Chief Miller, your mom, and other officers are out looking for her. I stayed back with Mason just in case she happened to wander back.”
My heart sank with his answer. “Okay, Dad,” I mumbled. “I’ll be there soon.” I hung up and leaned over to look at the speedometer. “Can’t you go any faster?”
Abel’s surly expression seemed to signify that his patience was quickly waning. “Sure Colette. I’ll just shift this thing into ‘warp speed’ and we’ll teleport our asses there.”
I swallowed hard, trying to suppress my desire to push him from the driver’s seat and take control. Unlike my scuffle with Kinsley, I succeeded in maintaining my composure and kept my butt planted in the passenger seat.
We reached the edge of town, with Abel making quick work of the business and downtown districts before turning onto Greenwich Cemetery Road with squealing tires. When Abel pulled into my circle driveway just moments later, I hopped out before his truck had even come to a complete stop.
“Christ, Colette. Just wait a goddamn minute!” Abel yelled after me.
But his pleas fell on deaf ears. I had almost reached the top of the porch when I saw her out of the corner of my eye. Standing at the edge of the yard, pointing to something I couldn’t see from my vantage point by the front doors. My breath caught in my throat. It never got easier to see her: those vacant blue eyes, the blood that covered her body, her cracked, purple lips. She was appalling in every sense of the word. But at that moment, a silent understanding emerged. She was helping! A thousand questions raced through my mind, the most prominent being ‘why’, but time wasn’t on my side to contemplate the reasons just then.
I raced down the length of the porch, my feet cursing as they pounded against the concrete. As I neared the edge, Genesis started moving, quickly disappearing behind the side of the massive plantation home. She was headed toward the backfield, where slivers of the Wilmington River traced the edge of the property.
From behind, I could hear Abel calling my name, each time more urgent than the last. He had followed me up the porch, his footsteps echoing my own. I leaped from the porch, my arms flailing wildly in the air as I struggled to maintain my balance. My landing was far from pretty and I was fairly certain rocks from the gravel driveway would be permanently embedded in the soles of my feet, but I barely noticed. Genesis stood at the bank of the river, staring down as the gentle waves lapped at her feet.
I approached slowly, uncertain how she’d react as I neared. My lungs were burning in my chest, my sides starting to cramp. I finally reached the river and with my arrival, Genesis slipped away. I barely noticed her departure. Instead, my eyes were transfixed on something floating in the water: the lifeless body of my three-year-old sister.