Kinsley plopped down on the bench next to me, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “So, I was thinking...”
“Oh God! You know better than to do that!” I said with a laugh.
She stuck her tongue out at me. Across the table, Devon, Harlow, and Bella leaned against the table, straining to hear our conversation over the raucous cafeteria noise.
“Alright, here goes. So, I was thinking about what happened yesterday.”
“Okay, go on,” I said hesitantly.
“Well, I thought it might be a good idea to have like, a group séance for Genesis.”
Kinsley huffed, obviously displeased with the ‘NO’ vibe I was emit‐ ting. “Harlow lives in this fabulous house downtown and her parents will be out of town this weekend so we could have it there.”
“Jesus, Kinsley. Is anything sacred anymore?”
“Well, your little witchy-bitchy friends knew so it was only fair that my girls knew about Gen’s grave too.”
“They were there!”
“Oh, come on Colette!” Harlow pouted. “This may be the only time that we can do this.”
Bella nodded in agreement. “And while I’m not sure how these things work exactly, what if Gen is somehow able to tell us who is responsible for damaging her grave? Is it not worth it then?”
“Is there ever anything you don’t tell them?” I growled, rubbing my temples as I tried to ease the migraine forming there.
Kinsley wrinkled her nose. “Just the part about you and Abel being a ‘thing.’”
Devon’s jaw dropped. “Oh my God! What!”
I rolled my eyes. “We’re not a ‘thing,’ we’re just...hanging out.”
They all burst out laughing. All, except Kinsley. She sat with her arms folded across her chest, her eyes narrowed in disapproval.
“Is that okay?” I asked softly. “I know you two, uh, used to- ”
“Let’s not revisit that tumultuous time,” she snapped. “Besides, I’ve moved on with Galen.”
“But I will say this: I think you could do better.”
Better? Than Abel? Was she delusional or just in denial?
Kinsley cleared her throat, then forced a smile. “We’ve gotten off track here, girls.” She flipped her blonde waves over her shoulder, then turned expectantly to me. “Well?”
As much as I didn’t want to follow through with what Kinsley thought was a ‘bright idea,’ I also didn’t want to continue being haunted by Genesis. Besides, after what she had done yesterday to help Emerson, I was sorta indebted to her, right? I sighed heavily. “Fine.”
Kinsley squealed with excitement, throwing her arms around me, and smashing my face against her bosom. “Awesome! Everyone will be there!”
“Everyone?” I asked with alarm.
The silence was my only answer as the four girls exchanged telling glances.
“Kinsley!” I demanded.
“Well, I couldn’t not tell Galen about what happened. He is my boyfriend.”
“And Hunter and Jagger? Do they know everything too?” “Well, Bella tells Hunter everything...”
Bella nodded emphatically. “It’s true, I do.”
“And Galen tells Jagger everything...” Kinsley continued.
Devon scoffed. “And that’s true. I swear Jaggs had more of a relationship with Galen than he did me. One time, we were making out in the back of his car and then Galen called-”
“I get it,” I muttered, dismissing her with a wave of my hand while trying to suppress my gag reflex. Why did Devon’s reference to her dating history with Jagger bother me? It was Abel that I wanted. Right?
“So, we’ll meet at Harlow’s at nine and-”
“What about Fallon and Scarlett?” I interrupted Kinsley’s ramblings.
Kinsley wrinkled her nose. “What about them?”
“You’re inviting them too, right?”
Silence again. “Kinsley,” I moaned.
“Harlow!” she deflected, glancing in the redhead’s direction. “Invite them.”
“Ew, no thank you!” Harlow snapped.
“If they don’t go, I’m not coming,” I said defiantly.
She looked to Kinsley for help, her eyes pleading. “Kinsley?”
Kinsley’s glare was unwavering. “I’ve already paid for the medium, Harlow. Invite them.”
Harlow stood up and slammed both palms down on the table, causing Bella to jump and spill her carton of milk.
“Don’t worry about it, Har. That was my bad,” she grumbled, trying to sop up the mess with a pile of cheap cafeteria napkins.
Harlow ignored her and instead turned her nose up, balled her delicate hands into fists, and stomped off across the cafeteria. Just before she reached their table, Fallon scrambled to her feet and backed away, visibly uncomfortable with Harlow’s presence. Scarlett gazed up at Harlow with amusement and Abel’s eyes sliced to me. A few sentences were exchanged before a scowl covered his features and he mouthed a single word to me: ‘No.’
I rolled my eyes before turning back to Kinsley. “Medium?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “Yep. I asked this renowned local medium to help us. Her name is Madame Lagos.”
“Seriously? Is she even legit? How much is she charging?”
“She’s not,” Kinsley said with a shrug.
“But you just said-”
“I always get my way, Colette,” she said, her full lips twisted into a taunting grin. “Haven’t you figured that out yet?”
I WALKED through the back door of my house and into the kitchen. My mom stood at the sink, washing dishes. “Hey sweetie,” she said, looking up at me.
“Hey,” I replied, setting my book bag down on the table. I sat down and propped my chin in my hands.
“Oh no,” my mom said slowly, drying her hands off on a dishtowel and joining me at the table. “I’ve seen that look before.”
I frowned. “He wouldn’t even talk to me today.” “Abel?”
“Yep,” I said with a nod. “I think he was purposely avoiding me.”
“What makes you say that?”
My mind quickly replayed the day’s events, scrolling through the instances where Abel had ducked into the men’s restroom to avoid me in the hallway and skipped classes that we shared.
“Ugh, I just know.”
My mom smiled. “So why not just call him?”
“I tried texting him. No response.”
She leaned over and kissed the top of my head before standing up. “Well, you’ll figure it out.”
I scoffed. “That’s it? That’s all the motherly advice you’ve got?”
“What do you want me to say, Colette? I mean, you’ve got two choices, right? Sit and mope or do something about it.”
Damn, she was right again. How was she doing that?
“Thanks,” I said, giving her a quick hug before heading upstairs. I had just reached the second-floor landing and was about to walk into my room when I heard Emerson’s voice down the hall. I crept to her doorway and peeked into her room. She was sitting at the edge of her bed, her back to me as she stared straight ahead.
“Em?” I called softly.
She didn’t turn around, but her head lifted and a few seconds later, I heard her soft voice, barely registering above a whisper. “Death didn’t hurt.”
I took a deep breath. What to even say to that? I plopped down next to her on the bed, playing with the ends of her wavy blonde hair. “It didn’t?” I asked hoarsely.
She finally turned and looked at me. “Boo-Boo said when she died, it hurt. She said her heart broke.”
Ugh. Those words pierced my soul, shattering it into multiple pieces. How was I even having this conversation with my three-year-old sister?
“Emmie, sometimes when people leave this Earth-”
Her blue eyes flashed. “She didn’t leave. She’s always here. This is her home.”
“Was,” I said emphatically. “Was her home.”
The ceiling lights began to flicker and hum incessantly—a precautionary warning to watch my fucking mouth.
Emerson’s lips began to quiver. “When I died, did your heartbreak?”
Bitter tears stung my eyes and my throat constricted, unable to formulate words to convey the anguish I felt. I simply drew her small frame into my arms and like I had before at the banks of the river, rocked absently back and forth. After a few moments, I heard her soft snoring and realized that she had fallen asleep. I placed her gently on her bed and planted a quick kiss on her forehead before leaving her room. I walked down the hall to my room and shoved some clothes and candles in an overnight bag. After picking up Genesis’ necklace and prom photo, I headed downstairs to the living room where my dad was relaxing on the couch, reading a book.
“Hey, I’m off. I’ll be at Harlow’s. Call my cell if you need anything.”
He smiled up at me. “I’m glad to see you’ve made friends, Coco. What’s in store for your Friday night?”
I shrugged. Order up another round of lies! “Ordering pizza and watching movies. Probably nothing else too exciting.”
“So, what’s the verdict on the kids around here? They into the same hobbies as the kids from back home?”
I laughed. “Um, not really. But it’s a welcome change if that makes any sense.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, sometimes change is good. And other times, it can be the death of you.”
I TURNED my car onto Gaston Street, scanning the houses for the address Bella had texted me. I pulled up in front of the largest house on the street, a sprawling Southern-style estate with a double-decker porch and ornately carved columns. Symmetric floor-to-ceiling casement windows flanked with shutters lined the front façade and the hand-laid brick walkway featured an extravagant iron fence that spanned the length of the meticulously landscaped front lawn. Several cars were already parked along the street in front of the house, including Kinsley’s red convertible and Abel’s truck. I climbed out of my Mustang and headed up the steep steps of the front porch. I rang the doorbell and waited.
Harlow and Bella greeted me at the door moments later, both wearing long, flowing robes.
“Well, it took you long enough!” Bella whined, grabbing my hand, and pulling me into the darkness of the house.
She led me into the dining hall, where everyone was already gathered around a massive wooden table held up by ornately carved legs. Candles were strategically placed around the room, providing the only light. A large crystal ball was featured prominently in the middle of the table, surrounded by several miscellaneous items that looked to have previously belonged to Genesis and Sebastian. Everyone gathered at the table looked up and stopped talking when I entered the room, but my eyes instinctively flew to Abel.
His green eyes devoured me, holding me hostage as I tried to avert my gaze. His jaw tightened before abruptly pushing back his chair and storming out of the room.
I narrowed my eyes and stomped after him into the unlit parlor. Only seconds later, I felt his hot breath on the back of my neck. Being so close to him was risky...arousing...erotic.
“Look, you can try avoiding me but I’m not letting you get away that easily,” I muttered to the surrounding darkness.
“Rawr pussycat,” he murmured in my ear, sending chills up my spine.
I spun around, guided by his eyes that glistened through the darkness. My heart pounded furiously, practically begging to burst from my chest. “Excuse me?”
“Admit it, Colette.”
I could just barely make it out, but I saw the edges of his mouth curl into one of those mischievous grins. My legs became wobbly as I imagined what those lips would feel like on other parts of my body.
“That you want me.”
“No, I... I don’t.”
Suddenly his lips were pressed against mine, and I swear I saw stars. His hands explored my body, squeezing my ass before sweeping across my tailbone and up the back of my shirt. I leaned into him as his ravenous kisses explored along my neck and shoulders. My skin tingled with each sensation, spasms of pleasure cascading through me. Suddenly, harsh light flooded over us, snap‐ ping me back to reality. I shielded my eyes from the unwelcomed intrusion to see Fallon staring at us, her face twisted into a scowl as she tapped her foot impatiently against the wide-planked hardwood floor.
“Ice Princess and her Muppets are ready to start. Can you two please post-pone the make-out session for later?”
Abel released me and I fumed in silence, yearning for more.
Where was the super glue at in this bitch? I’d glue his motherfucking hands onto me right then and there!
He looked down at me and smirked, almost as if he had heard my thoughts. As he walked by, he leaned close to my ear and whispered, “I want the same.”
My jaw dropped. How was he able to do that? I certainly hadn’t expressed that sentiment aloud! Before I could contemplate the ever-evolving mystery that was Abel Campbell, Fallon’s face appeared in front of mine, her hand waving incessantly back and forth, trying to jar me from my reverie.
“Colette? You still with us?”
“Huh?” I shook my head, trying to refocus.
“Come on,” she urged, grabbing my hand, and leading me back into the dining room. I placed the prom photo and Genesis’s necklace on the table with the other items.
Moments later, Scarlett joined us. “So, this should be interesting,” she mused, smiling to herself.
“This has got to be the dumbest damn idea Kinsley has ever had,” Fallon whispered.
I shrugged. “Yeah, I’m not hanging my hat on the prospect of this working.”
A small figure in a flowing black gown swept into the room and faced us. Her skin was more wrinkled than a crumpled-up paper bag. Her beady brown eyes peered at us from within the depths of her hood. She motioned for us to sit with long, bony fingers and when she opened her mouth to speak, her voice was no more than a child-like whisper, “Shall we get started?”
We all took our seats around the circular table. Abel sat next to me while the medium positioned herself at the head of the table. She opened a leather-bound book and lit two white candles.
“Let us all join hands,” she requested, reaching for Galen and Kinsley’s hands. They obliged and the rest of us soon followed suit. “Thank you all for coming and thank you Harlow for inviting us into your glorious home. This evening, we gather to invite only the spirits of Genesis Long and Sebastian Campbell to come forth and join us. It is with absolute trust and good intentions that we make this request. Hear my voice and if possible, please give us a sign of your presence.”
All eyes were wide with anticipation as we waited eagerly for something... anything to happen. But it didn’t--no swirling magic, no flickering candles, no unexplained drafts. Just dead silence. I glanced at the medium, who appeared undeterred. She took a deep breath, then tried again.
“Genesis Long and Sebastian Campbell, join our circle now! We invite you to communicate with us,” she commanded in her soft voice. Still holding Kinsley and Galen’s hands, she lifted both above her head as if summoning from the heavens above.
With a gush of wind, the butler’s pantry door suddenly swung shut and the candles around the room were snuffed out, casting the room into darkness. Frightened cries rang out, causing my ears to hum. The room was thrust into chaos. The sounds of chair legs scraping against the wood floors mixed with panicked breathing.
“Stay around this table!” the meek voice of Madam Lagos urged through the shadows of obscurity. “Who is here with us? What is it you seek?”
“This is fucking creepy,” I heard Fallon mutter.
A portentous heaviness settled over the room, igniting each of the candles in unison as a dense draft disturbed the items on the table. In one sweeping motion, the prom photo of Sebastian and Genesis was flung into the air, then spontaneously burst into flames. Kinsley broke into sobs and started to flee from the room, but empty chairs glided across the floor and into her path, forming a blockade. Galen attempted to run to her rescue but was flung around like a ragdoll, his body making a sickening thud as it made contact with the wall. Kinsley knelt over him, crocodile tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Stop!” she pleaded to the medium.
The old lady ignored her and began chanting unintelligibly. As her chants increased in pitch and fervor, wine glasses from the china cabinet flew out and smashed against the walls, causing all of us to cover our heads. I watched with trepidation as a tall figure appeared in the reflected glass door of the built-in cabinet. His eyes were pitch black, devoid of any human emotion while blood gushed like a soupy fountain from his mangled head. His breathing was raspy and strained, as though his chest had been crushed.
As my eyes met his, my breathing stifled. My throat became my own worst enemy as it started to close in on itself, crushing my larynx. My fingers clawed desperately at my neck, drawing blood as I struggled for air. Encroaching shadows danced within my field of vision as I felt myself tumble into a catacomb of decay. I was enveloped in darkness, suffocating as dirt was piled relentlessly upon my chest. My lungs burned for oxygen and my voice was hoarse, emerging as nothing but pathetic squeaking instead of the blood-curdling screams that resonated in my head. My life was slowly slipping away, a fading reminder of dreams unfulfilled.
Abel’s commanding yell caught my ear and my restricted airways eased, allowing me to breathe once more. I felt his arm around my shoulders, drawing me into his protective embrace.
A wretched shriek arose from Sebastian, insufferably loud and painful. Each of us covered our ears, trying unsuccessfully to snuff out the intolerable pitch. When the scream finally subsided, we watched helplessly as Genesis’ locket drifted through the air to Sebastian’s outstretched hand. With emotion that could only be categorized as sorrow, he stared forlornly upon the pendant.
Madam Lagos clambered to her erect stature of 4′11", puffed out her chest, and slammed both hands palm first onto the table. She hunched forward and turned mechanically until she was facing Sebastian. “Sebastian Campbell, there is evilness within you that you must cast aside!” she cried out.
A devious smirk contorted his face and with a flick of his finger, the medium was launched into the air and against the full-length mirror along the opposite wall. Shards of glass rained down upon her small body as she lay in a crumpled black mass against the cabinetry.
And then, with the blink of an eye, Sebastian vanished just as quickly as he had appeared. I buried my head in Abel’s shoulder, trying to dispel from my memory all that had just occurred. Hunter and Jagger ran over to check on Madame Lagos while Kinsley, her perfect face marred by black streaks of mascara, leaned against a disoriented Galen. Bella, Devon, and Harlow were still seated at the table, their bodies trembling in fear.
“She’s been cut pretty badly, and her breathing is shallow,” Jagger announced to the room. “We need to call an ambulance.”
Harlow nodded and unsteadily climbed to her feet, reaching for her nearby cellphone. She rambled briefly to the dispatcher on the other end of the line before hanging up and rejoining us in the dining room. Immediately, her face fell in despair. “Oh my God! My parents are gonna flip out! Look at this mess!” she cried, gesturing wildly as she glanced around.
“We’ll clean it up,” Devon promised, squeezing her shoulder.
She nodded numbly but slumped into a chair and wiped tears from her crystal-blue eyes.
Minus Kinsley who was bandaging Galen’s bruised ribs and an emotional Harlow who was tending to an unmoving Madam Lagos, we worked with reticence. Exchanging only glances, we set to work reanimating the dining room. At long last, we won the battle and emerged as a united force of sweaty, fatigued friends. Soon, paramedics arrived, and we spun a web of deceit, concocting a farce of Madam Lagos stumbling into the china hutch. As they wheeled her out on the stretcher, a vision of Sebastian grinning manically popped into my head, causing my blood to grow cold.
Moments later, and with our collective group submerged in absolute silence, we gathered around the stone fireplace in the living room. The embers of the fire popped, providing the only blips of sound. Finally, Scarlett broke the lull, uttering words that only she would in such a situation: “Well that was a stupid fucking idea.”
Kinsley’s head snapped up and her aquamarine eyes flashed with anger. “Do you seriously have to be a bitch all of the time?”
Scarlett laughed haughtily. “If I were anything but, you wouldn’t recognize me.”
Kinsley rolled her eyes. “I was trying to do something nice, honestly. Whatever just happened, whatever that was...” Her voice trailed off, her eyes drifting to the floor as if searching there for answers.
I stood up and walked to the periphery of the room, lost in my thoughts. Abel followed, wrapping me in his embrace and kissing the top of my head.
“So, you finally got to see your brother again,” I grumbled, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “Was it all you hoped it’d be?”
“That’s not my brother, Colette.”
I smiled sarcastically. “Really? Cause it sure as hell looked like him.”
He released me and stepped back. “Let’s not do this.”
“Do what? Make excuses for him trying to kill me? Cause, believe me, I’m well past that!”
“I told you “NO’ to this séance. Remember?”
My eyes blazed with fury. “And why was that? What else do you know that you won’t tell, Abel?”
“You’re not ready,” he said evenly.
I shoved him, frustrated by his evasiveness. Like a brick wall, he didn’t budge. “I’m not ready?” I asked, my voice dangerously low. “Not ready to know why your psychotic brother is hurting people? Are you fucking serious?”
He cupped my chin, his intoxicating green eyes peering into my soul. “Colette, I would never let anything happen to you.”
I sneered and wrenched myself free from his grasp. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t think your brother gives a fuck.”