Once we arrived at the cabin, I checked my phone and saw I had a text from Josie. It said to let her know as soon as I arrived so she could escape her annoying little brother. Her parents owned the cabin down the road from ours and were also spending the weekend at theirs.
I texted Josie and told her we had just arrived. She replied saying that she’d meet me in five minutes after she ditched her brother. By the time I carried my stuff up to my room, unpacked, and came back downstairs, Josie was at the door with her little brother in tow.
Josie and I were complete opposites when it came to fashion. The first thing I noticed was she had switched out her blue streaks for purple and was wearing her favorite red plaid pants, with a black studded belt, and a rock t-shirt with the sleeves cut off over a black tank top. Josie loved the punk rock, glam look and pulled it off very well. Two years ago she had dyed her hair platinum blond after her idle, Gwen Stefani.
“Oh thank god!” Josie shrieked, running to me and giving me a hug causing her bangle bracelets to jingle in her excitement. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Hi Jake,” I said, waving to Josie’s six year old brother who stood nervously by the door. As usual, his dirty blonde hair was a ratted mess and long overdue for a haircut. His shorts and t-shirt were covered in filth, proving he already spent half the morning playing in the dirt.
“Oh yeah, my mom made me bring him.” Irritated, Josie called to Jake. “Don’t just stand there.”
Jake ran over to me and hugged my leg. I patted him on the head feeling something sticky, but was too afraid to ask. I told him my brothers were in the living room and he could go play video games with them. His pale green eyes lit up with excitement as he took off. I waited to make sure he found them. Josie could have cared less and took off towards the kitchen leaving tiny bits of dried mud in her wake from her dirty Converse shoes.
“Hey Jakey boy, what’s up?” Dean said as he slapped him a high five. I knew Dean and Xander wouldn’t care. Jake was a good kid so they didn’t mind him hanging around - probably because they had the same maturity level.
When I knew Jake was okay, I proceeded to the kitchen where Josie had helped herself to an apple after throwing her favorite L.A.M.B purse on the counter. “So what’s on the agenda for tonight?” Josie asked, sinking her teeth into the apple.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to get away. We’re supposed to be spending ‘family time’ together,” I said, air quoting the words.
“Fudge that. This is our last weekend together before we head off to school. Can’t you get out of it?”
“Josie, it’s not like we won’t see each other again. We are going to the same school.”
“Yeah, but it’s a big school and we’ll be taking different classes,” she voiced concern.
“I’ll see what I can do, but no promises. My mom was really excited about all of us being here together this weekend.”
“Yeah, well, that might change. I overheard my dad say they were working on some big deal this weekend that would require most of your dad’s attention.”
“Hello Josie,” my mom said as she walked into the kitchen.
“Hi Mrs. McCallister,” Josie greeted, cheerily.
“I just talked to your mother and she wanted me to let you know that she would be at the spa all day and your father would be busy working and asked that you make sure Jake gets something to eat.”
“Typical. Where else would she be?” Josie groaned.
“You and Jake are more than welcome to join us for dinner,” my mom offered. Josie accepted, not wanting to have to spend all day alone with her brother. “What do you girls have planned for tonight?”
I looked at my mom questioningly. “I didn’t make plans because I thought we were doing family stuff.”
My mom’s shoulders dropped and I could see slight disappointment in her eyes. “Unfortunately your father has some business to take care of tonight but he assured me it would not interfere with the rest of the weekend.”
I reached for my mom’s hand and squeezed it gently. My father rarely put his business before his family but sometimes even he couldn’t control it. I could tell my mom was trying not to let it bother her. She knew he would rather spend time with his family than be working.
Josie perked up at the news of my freedom. “Good, now we can go to Kevin’s party tonight!” she cheered, a little too enthusiastically.
“Kevin’s?” I asked skeptically.
“Oh, sorry, we can do something else,” Josie suggested.
“No it’s fine,” I replied, not wanting to spoil her night.
Kevin was Kyle’s twin brother. I haven’t seen or talked to him since Kyle’s funeral. I knew I’d eventually run into him and I thought it might be a good thing to see him and talk to him. Maybe talking to him would help.
Josie and I spent the rest of the day in my room talking about school. Wondering what it would be like, all the different classes we were taking, the new people we would meet, and so on.
We switched topics while Josie started to raid my closet for something to wear tonight. “Seriously Ella, you need to update your wardrobe,” she said as she threw clothes all over my bed and the floor.
“What’s wrong with my wardrobe?” I asked a little offended.
“None of this is suitable party wear.”
“That’s because I didn’t pack my suitcase nor did I plan on going to a party this weekend.”
“Well…that settles it. We’re going shopping,” she said, hands on hips, smiling.
With a sigh I obliged and asked my mom if she wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on Jake while we went shopping. “No problem honey. Just be back in time for dinner,” she said, reaching into her purse and handing me some cash and the keys to the car. Josie took my hand and pulled me out the door in a hurry.
We spent about two hours shopping at the local Mall. Every outfit I picked out Josie vetoed. I told her she would just have to pick out an outfit for me. I crossed my fingers hoping I wouldn’t regret that decision later.
Before we hit the next store we decided to stop at the food court to grab some lattes to refuel and that’s when we ran into Kevin. “Hi Ella…Josie.”
“Hi Kevin…how are you?” I asked, a little hesitantly.
“Good…I,” he started to say until his girlfriend, Marissa, interrupted us.
Marissa wrapped her arms around Kevin’s neck and gave him a kiss that said, ‘He’s mine’, obviously not realizing who Kevin was talking to. Kevin pulled back and cleared his throat, nudging Marissa. “Oh hi Ella,” Marissa said, giving me a friendly smile and glaring at Josie. “I didn’t even recognize that was you.”
“You’re coming to the party tonight right?”
I was about to tell her yes, when Kevin butted in, “I’m sure Ella has better things to do than hang out with a bunch of drunks.” I had a feeling he thought me being in that house would be hard.
“Actually, I don’t…Josie and I will be there.” I smiled at Kevin trying to let him know not to worry about me so much.
“Great! See ya tonight,” Marissa said. She glared at Josie again before walking away and shaking her behind as she joined the rest of her friends.
I could see Josie’s face was starting to get red and decided to end the conversation before she opened her mouth and I would have to help her out of a sticky situation. “I’ll see ya?” I directed at Kevin.
“Yeah…I’m glad you’re coming,” he said, giving me an awkward hug. He waved goodbye and I watched him as he rejoined his girlfriend. I wished I could have talked to him, just the two of us, to see how he was doing. I was more concerned about his well-being than my own.
“That was weird,” Josie said interrupting my thoughts. “You sure you want to go to the party tonight? If not I completely understand.”
“Josie it’s fine, really. Besides, someone needs to be there to protect you from Marissa.”
“Ha!” she scoffed. “More like someone needs to protect her from me.”
“C’mon.” I put my arm around her waist and pulled her in the direction of the next store. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Josie and Marissa despised each other. I only heard the rumors, but Josie denied every one of them. Josie was my best friend so if she said something wasn’t true I believed her.
We ended up being very successful in our little shopping trip. The outfit Josie picked out for me was surprisingly my style and definitely something I’d wear.
After dinner I showed my mom the outfit I bought and then Josie and I got ready for the party. I slipped on my new jeans and top Josie had picked out for me while she spun in front of the mirror checking herself out. Since she picked out my outfit she was kind enough to return the favor. I selected a cute, cap sleeved, short, black dress. I think the only reason she agreed on it was because it had a low cut neckline.
After I dragged Josie away from the mirror, we took Jake home and then headed to the party. My mom dropped us off and I told her I’d call if I couldn’t find a ride home. I probably could have walked back if I wanted to. It was only about a mile. But no way would my mom let me walk home at night in the woods.
I gave my mom a kiss goodbye and then hopped out of the car and waited while Josie fiddled with her dress. “It’s fine,” I groaned and smacked her hand away. If she adjusted the top any lower her boobs would pop out. She rolled her eyes at my disapproving look and dragged me toward the party.
I only made it halfway down the walk way when my feet suddenly felt like they were sinking in quick sand. I paused outside the expansive, two floor cabin watching all the other party goers walk inside. I was a little apprehensive about coming tonight. I thought I could deal with being here, but I was beginning to have second thoughts.
Josie noticed my hesitation. “You can still change your mind if you want,” she said, looking at me sympathetically.
I took a deep breath and let it out. “No. I can do this. I should do this.”
Josie smiled at me reassuringly and took my hand. “Baby steps.”
I gave her hand a light squeeze as she led the way inside. The cabin was packed top to bottom with kids from our high school and a few from who knows where. There were drinks and snacks everywhere and the music was blaring. I got a few odd looks and stares from some of the kids as we made our way through the house. I heard the whispers as we passed by. “Can’t believe she’s here,” “Oh my god,” “Wow,” they said.
“Just ignore them,” Josie said softly as she gave some short brunette the evil eye.
Halfway through the crowd we were stopped by Marissa. “Ella! So glad you could make it!” she cheered. Stumbling, she gave me a sloppy hug; indicating she had already started drinking. I just smiled at her politely. “C’mon, you need a drink!” She navigated through the horde of bodies and directed me into the kitchen. I look over my shoulder at Josie, pleading with my eyes to help me, but she was distracted by some cute boy she had struck up a conversation with.
We ran into the rest of Marissa’s clan inside the kitchen, and it was obvious they’d already had a few drinks themselves. “Hey guys, you remember Ella,” Marissa said shoving me into the midst of her group. The girls said hi and I smiled back politely. “Okay, Ella needs a drink!”
“Um…I’m okay, really,” I said, trying to kindly dodge the offer.
“Nonsense!” Marissa said, handing me a cup full of god knows what. “It’s a party…drink!”
“Why not?” I shrugged. Maybe it might help me relax a little. I took a sip of the beverage handed to me and regretted it the moment it hit my tongue. I tried hard to hide the disgust from my face. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted.
Marissa watched my reaction. “Good, right?” she asked, misunderstanding my wide eyed expression. “Chloe made it.” I regretfully swallowed and nodded my head. “Here try this,” Chloe said, handing me a shot.
“Did you make these too?” I asked Chloe, trying not to sound panicked.
“No,” she replied.
I sniffed the shot. It smelled like chocolate so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I sucked it back and kept my fingers crossed that I kept it down. It tasted like a Snickers candy bar. I licked my lips savoring the taste. I enjoyed it so much I took another. “Woo!” they all cheered taking another one as well.
“Let’s dance,” Marissa shouted, making a conga line into the living room.
I reluctantly followed and found Josie in the designated dancing area already talking to a different boy. I strode right up to her and bumped her with my hip. She grabbed the cup from my hand, took a sip, and instantly spit it out on the floor. Marissa’s crew shrieked and scoffed at Josie. “What the hell was that? Ugh it was nasty!” Josie was never one for subtlety.
“Nice going, bitch!” Marissa squealed.
“C’mon Ella, let’s go where there are less toxins,” Josie said, narrowing her eyes at Marissa and escorting me outside to where there was a bonfire going. I let go of their little squabble knowing it would blow over the second they got a few more drinks in them.
Once outside I felt like I could finally breathe. The fire was warm and inviting. I took solace in the calm of the flames. People were standing around cooking hotdogs and roasting marshmallows. Josie skewered a marshmallow with a stick and handed it to me. “I don’t know how you can stand hanging out with them.”
“I wasn’t hanging out with them. I was just being polite,” I said. Josie rolled her eyes at me and I nudged her with my elbow. She cracked a smile and I laughed as we enjoyed the fresh air.
I twirled my marshmallow in the fire so it wouldn’t burn. Through the flames I caught a glimpse of a familiar face off in the distance. My heart sped up for a second before I realized it was Kevin. That was the problem when you dated a twin. They weren’t identical but still similar in so many ways it was easy to confuse them. My eyes flickered back to Kevin. He was sitting by himself on the edge of the dock, staring out into the open water. My therapist told me that I shouldn’t be afraid to talk about what happened. That I should open up to people because talking helped. I wasn’t exactly convinced she was right, but I thought I should give it a try. I turned to Josie and handed her my stick. “I’ll be right back,” I told her. She looked at me confused. I pointed in the direction of Kevin and she nodded her head that she understood.
I took my time walking down to the dock, contemplating what I would say. I never really talked to anyone about the accident, but if I was going to do it now I knew Kevin would be the one I should talk to first.
When I reached him, I could tell there was something wrong. His back was rigid and shoulders were tense which told me he wasn’t in a sociable mood. I approached cautiously. “Is this seat taken?” He jumped slightly. I gestured to the empty spot next to him. He quickly relaxed when he saw it was me and patted the seat alongside of him.
Neither of us said anything at first. I stared out onto the lake watching the moon glisten off of the water, casting a beautiful, bright glow. It almost seemed magical. “It’s my fault,” Kevin said, breaking the silence.
“What’s your fault?” I questioned, confused.
“Kyle’s dead because of me.”
“No he’s not. Why would you think that?” I always blamed myself for Kyle’s death. Saying it was my fault because it was my idea to come up to the cabin that weekend. Hearing Kevin blame himself made my chest hurt.
“The weekend you guys were supposed to come here, was supposed to be the weekend after.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, not understanding.
“I wanted to use the cabin that weekend so I told Kyle he had to come the weekend before or I’d rat him out for sneaking out while he was grounded. It should have been me, not him.”
“Kevin don’t say that. It is not your fault.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “There’s no way it would have made a difference when we went. I think it would have happened regardless. Some things you just can’t control.” I didn’t really believe that, but I didn’t know what else to say so I just recited what everyone else kept telling me.
With his shoulders slumped, he cocked his head to the side and looked at me. “How are you handling it? You can’t tell me you really believe that bullshit you just fed me.”
“There’s no getting anything past you is there?” I sighed. I should have known better. “It’s not easy, trust me, but I’m dealing.”
“I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No…it’s okay…it helps to talk about it.”
“It does,” Kevin said, putting his arm around my shoulder. “Kyle really loved you, you know.”
“I know.” I tucked my hands in my lap.
“He always told me to keep an eye on you. To make sure you were okay in case one day he couldn’t be here to do it himself.”
I smiled. Kyle was many things and one of them was having a way of sometimes being overprotective. I wouldn’t have expected anything less. “Almost sounds like he knew this would happen.”
“Weird right?” Kevin said, thinking it over for a minute. “But then Kyle always knew things no one else did. I’ve always wondered about that.”
He was right. Kyle had incredible intuition. Sometimes he would jokingly say that he was psychic and I would laugh with him. I missed his laugh.
“How are you coping with everything?” I asked. Kyle had once told me that being a twin; him and his brother shared a different type of bond than other siblings. He said it was hard to describe but the best way to explain it was that they could feel what was going on with each other even when the other wasn’t around, like they knew if the other was hurt or needed help. I always thought that was fascinating.
Kevin looked down at his hands as if the answer to all his problems was somehow written there. “It gets a little easier each day.” He let out a sigh and took a sip of his drink. “Sometimes I feel like he’s here with me. You know, like watching over me. Does that sound weird?”
“Not at all,” I said, giving him a sympathetic smile. “I feel that way, too, sometimes.”
“Plus this helps.” He held up his cup.
I stole the cup Kevin was holding and took a sip, instantly spitting it back out. I remember that putrid taste – Chloe’s concoction. “Uh…how can you drink this?”
“It’s rancid. I know,” he chuckled. “But it does the job.” He guzzled a big gulp and made a face. “On second thought,” he said, pouring the rest of it into the lake as we both laughed. “You have a beautiful smile. You know that?” Tilting his head slightly he stared at me with a strange look in his eyes.
“Thanks,” I blushed. “You know Kyle used to –” before I had a chance to finish my sentence he kissed me. I pushed him away, stunned. “Kevin!”
“I’m so sorry…I…I don’t know what I was thinking.” I’d known him and Kyle since I was five and Kevin was always the rational one. He never made crazy decisions or rash moves. I was so beside myself I didn’t know what to say. This was very unlike him. “Shit, I’m sorry. I really messed up didn’t I?” he said, embarrassed.
“It’s okay,” I said trying to make him feel better. “Don’t worry about it. It was nothing. Minor lapse of judgment,” I joked, hoping to relieve some of the tension. I knew deep down Kevin wasn’t the type of guy to take advantage of me. I knew he was hurting and sometimes you do things to numb the pain. I was more concerned than I was mad.
“I can see why Kyle loved you so much,” he said.
We sat there for a moment in awkward silence.
“C’mon, let’s go back to the party and get a real drink.” He laughed as he stood up and then helped me to my feet.
“There you are!” Marissa called from the end of the dock. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Where have you been?” I turned to Kevin and gave him an apologetic look before wandering off to find Josie.
I found her inside dancing with a few of our friends. They looked like they were having fun so I walked over to join them. Josie embraced me in a tight hug when she saw me. “You okay?” she asked. I knew she was wondering how my talk with Kevin went.
“Yes. Yes I am,” I smiled feeling good for the first time tonight. I thought having to face my past would be a bad idea, but it ended up giving me some closure. Something I never thought I could get and now that I did I could look forward to all the great things to come in the future. I knew I would never forget Kyle and I knew a part of me would never stop missing him, but I had to move on. I wasn’t ready before, but I think I am now. Feeling more at ease, I closed my eyes, and swayed my hips to the music and just let myself go.
Josie and I spent the rest of the night dancing and hanging with old friends. I ended up having a good time and was glad I came. Sometime around 1:00 am, I called Dean to come pick us up. I did not want to wake up my mom this late; even though she told me to call her no matter what time it was.
After I hung up the phone with Dean, I stayed outside, and waited while Josie flirted with one of the many boys she met tonight. I caught a glimpse of her through the open door. She was laughing and playfully hitting the guy she told me earlier ‘had good potential’. I smiled thinking how much I would miss her. Even though we were going to the same school, she was right. We had no idea how often we would really see each other.
A light breeze picked up and I shivered as a cold chill ran down my body. I rubbed my hands up and down my arms trying to warm myself. “Here,” Kevin said startling me. He placed a jacket gently over my shoulders.
“Thanks,” I said pulling the jacket tighter around me. When I slipped my arms through the sleeves I realized it was Kyle’s favorite jacket.
“I can’t…” I began to take it off.
Kevin put up his hand to stop me. “He would’ve wanted you to have it.”
“Thanks,” I said again just as we heard a crash inside the house.
“Shit…I better get back in there.” I waved goodbye as he jogged back into the house to investigate, leaving me all alone outside.
Unable to fight off this violent chill that overcame me, I looked around. I got the strangest feeling. It wasn’t the first time I felt this way.
My eyes shifted to a dirt path that led into the woods. There was something there. I moved closer, trying to get a better look, and as I did, the knot in my stomach grew tighter. I ignored the warning and continued forward, putting one foot in front of the other. Once I reached the dirt path, I slowly crept closer to the entrance of the woods. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something move, but it was so fast, it was just a blur.
I froze, holding my breath, too frightened to move.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I screamed and turned, fist at the ready.
“Whoa! Ella! Chill it’s just me,” Dean said, stopping my fist from decking him in the face.
I put my hand over my racing heart. “You scared the shit out of me!” I took a slow, deep breath, trying to decrease my heart rate.
“I called your name, but when you didn’t turn around…are you okay?” he asked, concerned.
“Yeah, I thought I saw something. I guess it was nothing,” I said, looking back over my shoulder into the empty woods.
“Lucky for me you don’t pack that hard of a punch. Can’t afford for my pretty face to be damaged.” I rolled my eyes at him and gave him a slight shove. He draped his arm over my shoulder and dragged me to the car.
“Where’s your partner in crime?” Dean asked.
“She’s busy getting some guy’s phone number,” I said, pointing in the direction of the house.
“No worries, I’ll save her.” Dean winked at me and jogged up to the house.
“Dean don’t!” I shouted at him, knowing he had something up his sleeve. I followed him into the house.
“Josie! There you are!” Dean said acting relieved.
“You know how worried we get when you wander off,” he said, to her in a condescending tone.
Josie looked at Dean confused. “What?”
“C’mon now, let’s get you back to the hospital so you can take your meds.” Dean slowly started to push Josie out the door.
“Dean stop it,” Josie said. The guy Josie was talking too looked dumbfounded. “He’s just kidding,” Josie laughed nervously.
Dean stood behind Josie gesturing and mouthing the words ‘she’s crazy’ to the guy. Josie saw his eyes go wide and she turned to scowl at Dean. Dean just shrugged his shoulders looking innocent. Josie turned back around and the guy was gone. “You’re such a dick!” She punched Dean in the arm.
“Ouch!” He rubbed his arm, pretending she really hurt him.
Josie stormed toward me huffing and puffing. “You know what your jerk brother just did!” Before I got the chance to speak she continued. “He made that guy think I was crazy.”
Dean came up behind Josie and threw his arm around her. “Chillax little one. I was doing you a favor.”
“What, saving me from a nice conversation with a cute guy?” She crossed her arms and pouted.
“He was a douche bag…trust me.”
“Takes one to know one.”
“Ouch! That hurt.” Dean dramatically stumbled and placed his hand over his heart. Josie just rolled her eyes and got in the car. She stayed silent the whole ride home.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Josie said when we pulled up to her house. “And Dean, since you scared off my date, I think it’s only fair you take his place. It’s obvious you have the hots for me and acted out of jealousy.” She batted her long lashes at him.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but it was for pure entertainment purposes only. And I don’t play with children, so you’ll have to find someone else on the playground to stalk.”
“Whatever!” she huffed as she got out of the car.
“Bye Josie!” I shouted from the passenger side window. She waved back without turning around and headed inside.
I turned and smacked Dean. “What?” he laughed throwing his hands up defensively. I just glared at him as he put the car in drive.
Glad to be back at our cabin, I went straight upstairs to my room. On my way there I noticed there was a light on in the den. I knew it had to be my dad, so I decided to stop by and say goodnight. I popped my head in the door to see my dad’s face buried in paperwork. “Come in Ella,” he said without even looking up.
Surprised, I asked, “How did you know it was me?”
He smiled and looked up. “Parental intuition.”
I stifled an eye roll. “I’m not disturbing you am I?”
“No. I need a break. Have a seat.” I sat down in one of the comfy green leather chairs across from his desk. “How was the party?”
“It was nice.”
“Were you drinking?” he asked in his fatherly tone.
He eyed me suspiciously. “Let me smell your breath?”
“Dad!” I said a little annoyed.
He tried to hide his smile. “Is there something bothering you?” he asked, shifting into his concerned father mode. Leaning back in his chair, he crossed his arms over his chest giving me his full attention.
“No, everything’s good.”
“Ella, you know you can talk to me about anything.”
“I know.” I twiddled my thumbs contemplating whether or not to tell him about what I may or may not have seen in the woods earlier tonight. I decided against it, concerned how he might react.
He studied me in my silence before eventually he let it go. “If there’s nothing else I’m sorry, but I have to get back to this,” he said, referring to his paperwork.
“Oh, sorry.” I pushed myself out of the chair and made my way to the door.
“Ella?” I turned around. “I meant what I said. You can tell me anything, even if you think it sounds crazy.” His eyes were intense and serious through the dim glow of his office lamp.
I smiled, my hand on the door. “Thanks, dad.”
“Get some sleep, it’s late.”
“Goodnight dad,” I said before closing the door behind me. Once I reached my room I crashed. Too tired to even change or wash off my make-up.