It had been a month since Mason’s murder.
So much had changed that it was hard to keep up with what was going on. His parents had flown over the next day to take his body back to his home state, Nebraska, but they weren’t allowed to because they needed to conduct an autopsy.
Finally, after three weeks, they allowed him to be taken home, and a few days later, all of his friends flew over for the funeral. The funeral was a mess. His father had downed a bunch of alcohol before attending and got violent when he was told to leave, his family was friendly considering what they were going through, but his mother blamed me for not looking for him sooner.
Hell, even I blamed myself.
My dad had called in state homicide detectives, and they were investigating the crimes as serial murders, that there was a serial killer on the loose. A curfew had been set in place, and no one was allowed to leave their homes after 9 pm unless they were working or had other valid reasons.
Everyone at the party had been interrogated for hours on what actually happened, but the investigator’s main focus was on me, Lily, and Wyatt as we were the last ones to see him alive apart from the killer.
CCTV footage from outside of the lake house showed the suspected killer waiting outside the house for 20 minutes before the police turned up, we weren’t even supposed to know that information, but I had mentioned to the officer that I saw him standing in the tree line watching us.
Apparently, it was a way for the killer to torment us, to know that he was just outside, but we couldn’t do anything. The thought alone brought the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up straight.
Tristan’s family put the house on auction the minute they had the chance and rented a new one closer to town for Tristan, but no one had moved in yet. They were installing top of the range security systems before anyone moved in, which meant the guys were sleeping at other people’s homes.
Jaxon moved in with Lily, Tristan had been stopping with Nora, Wyatt was crashing at the frat house that his friend was in, and Avery was making himself at home in my spare bedroom.
Since the incident, the first day of college was yesterday, and all of us had to attend mandatory therapy sessions twice a week. As soon as we stepped foot on campus, whispers erupted around us, fingers were pointed, and people stared as we walked by. Popularity wasn’t a big thing at our college, there weren’t cliques like there was in high school, but now we had everyone’s attention.
Somehow the situation had brought everyone closer together apart from me. They all wanted to meet up because they felt safer with each other, but I wanted to push myself away.
I wanted to wrap myself in a cocoon, but they wouldn’t let me. I guess I should be thankful that they had stopped me from doing stupid things to myself, like depriving myself of food, but I needed more time to grieve.
Every morning was a struggle to get out of bed. Not because I wanted to continue sleeping but because I didn’t want to put a fake smile on and face the day.
I was having insane nightmares that caused me to wake up screaming in either Avery or my parents’ arms as they tried to calm me. It got that bad that I couldn’t sleep in my room alone without fear of something happening.
The nightmares were so vivid that I was scared to go to sleep each night.
Each one started off the same. I was at the Halloween party, and people were dancing and drinking. I was having fun, but then I would go searching for Mason, and that’s when things turned sour.
In some of them, the room would turn to the funeral, and I would be staring at his body in the coffin. In others, I would be walking in the woods and come to a halt when I noticed the killer strangling him with a thin wire as Mason called out to me, but I would never help.
I would only stare as the killer sucked the life right out of him and drop his body onto the floor like he meant nothing, and then my eyes would move from the lifeless body to the dark figure that had no face.
Sometimes, I would wake up then, but most of the time, the figure would move towards me, and I would be running through the forest screaming for help. The killer would be closing in on me, and just before he reaches me, I would be woken up drenched in sweat with a sore throat.
Those nightmares were the ones that scared me the most.
They reminded me that the killer was still out there, and I could be next.
“Tess, you need to get out of bed.” My dad was crouched in front of me, and I moved my eyes from the spot on the floor to his worrisome eyes. I ignored him and turned over in the bed, so my back was facing him, I knew he was only trying to help, but I just couldn’t do it today.
Hushed whispers could be heard, and then I felt the edge of the bed dip in. I rolled my eyes, thinking that my mom was trying to force me to go to college.
“So, you don’t want to go to college today?” Avery’s voice made my brows raise in surprise, and he took my silence for an answer. “Then let’s skip.” I turned back over and peeped my head from under the covers to see him already looking at me.
“And do what?” My throat was sore from the screaming I did in the night, making my voice sound hoarse. I sounded disgusting, but Avery didn’t seem to mind.
“Well, I’m having a shitty day myself, but instead of moping around, I was thinking of getting my hair cut.” He pointed to his outgrown hair that was curling at the ends. Before everything happened, Avery was known to cut his hair on the regular. He mentioned that he was also having a bad day, but I couldn’t tell, his outfit was put together, and he wore a comforting smile that wasn’t overbearing.
He was hiding his emotions, and it made me wish I could do that.
My hands went up to my black hair, and I looked down at the strand between my fingers, it had grown so much to the point I didn’t know what to do with it anymore. The only thing holding me back over the past year from not cutting it off was that Mason loved it long, but Mason wasn’t here anymore.
He wasn’t here, and I needed to come to terms with it.
The first step of getting my life back on track was working on myself, not hate the person who looked back at me in the mirror.
So instead of pulling the cover over my head and shutting out the world like I wanted to, I ripped the sheets from my body and went with Avery to get his hair done.
I held the mirror up to my face and smiled for what felt like the first time at my reflection.
My black pin-straight hair had been cut all the way to my shoulders and reminded me of those girls I see on Instagram, especially because I was wearing black mom jeans and a baggy band t-shirt tucked inside. I looked like a completely different person, and I loved it.
“What do you think, sweet?” The hairdresser asked, making me look up to her and smile. Honestly, I think short hair made me look and feel badass. It made me actually feel 21 and not like an 18-year-old.
“It’s amazing, thank you.” I pulled some cash out of my purse to pay for the cut and told her to keep the change before walking over to the opposite end of the salon, where Avery was getting his hair done and burst out laughing at the sight.
What was meant to be a simple hair cut had now turned to a bleach and dye trip, so now his hair was silver with slightly darker roots.
The hair itself looked pretty cool, and if I didn’t know him, I think it would have suited him, but it was Avery…and well, let’s just say it didn’t suit his personality. “Don’t laugh.” He grumbled out, but the small smile on his lips told me that it didn’t actually bother him that I was laughing.
“It looks good. I just need some time to get used to it.” I was still laughing as I spoke, but what I said was true. The rest of the group was going to have a field day when they saw him. “Anyways, what do you think?” I asked and done a twirl as I spoke. He looked up in the mirror with a thoughtful expression before replying.
“Eh, it’s okay, I guess.” My jaw dropped at his words in offense even though I knew he was only joking. “I’m just kidding. It looks nice, Tess.”
The woman who was styling his hair also looked up in the mirror and smiled at me before speaking up. “You two are such a cute couple.”
My mood instantly dropped.
I had the urge to crawl back into bed and make myself disappear from the world. I had been doing so well these past few hours that I hadn’t even thought about Mason while being out, and that thought alone made me feel guilty.
Jesus, I was out here getting my hair done with one of his best friends that were making strangers believe we were in a relationship.
Avery must have picked up on my train of thought and smiled at me sadly in the reflection. “It’s okay.”
“It’s okay for what?”
“To not think about him every second of the day. It’s okay to move on with your life, Tess.” I nodded my head and rubbed my arms up and down, I felt uncomfortable that we were having this conversation in the middle of a salon for anyone to hear, but I needed to hear it right now. I needed to be pulled out of my thoughts before they got too deep.
The woman finished styling his hair before taking his card off him so he could pay. He stood up from the chair and walked over towards me. I didn’t have time to realise he was pulling me in for a hug, I wanted to push him away, but instead, I embraced it.
“Just because he’s not here anymore doesn’t mean you don’t get to live your life. It takes time, but one day you will move on, and that’s okay.” His words almost brought tears to my eyes, so I quickly blinked them back. We were already emotional enough as it is.
Where had the old Avery gone that was always immature?
Somehow, within the time he had been stopping at mine, we had become closer friends. He wasn’t overbearing like the others and knew that I needed a little more time. Sure, I wasn’t actually Mason’s girlfriend, and we had only been a thing for over a year, but I had opened up to him like no one else.
I loved him.
It may not have been the kind of love that made you cry happy tears when you looked at each other or the kind that made your heart skip a beat, but it was love for us, and it was going to take me longer than a month to move on.