Some days I’d felt nothing but anger, but today, I let it slip off my shoulders with a deep breath. What had become of Carissa couldn’t tarnish her memory forever.
Ash smiled. “I’m thinking my dress will be a hit.”
Lesa sighed. “I don’t know why you don’t just go naked. That little black dress you found is little and nothing else.”
“Don’t tempt her,” Dee said, grinning as our food was delivered to the table.
“Naked?” Ash scuffed. “These goods aren’t showed off for free.”
“Surprising,” Lesa muttered under her breath.
It was my turn to elbow her.
“So, are you going to the prom with anyone?” Lesa asked, ignoring me as she waved her grilled cheese sandwich at Dee. “Or are you going solo?”
Dee shrugged one shoulder. “I wasn’t going to go, you know, because of… Adam, but it’s my last year, so… I wanted to go.” There was a pause as she pushed her chicken tender around her basket. “I’m going with Andrew.”
I almost choked on my bun. Lesa gaped. We stared at her.
Her brows rose. “What?”
“You’re not…like, going out with Andrew, are you?” Lesa’s cheeks flamed—Lesa’s. “I mean, if you are, cool and what not.”
Dee laughed. “No—God, no. That would be way too weird for the both of us. We’re friends.”
“Andrew’s a douche,” Lesa said what I was thinking.
Ash snorted. “Andrew has taste. Of course you would think he’s a douche.”
“Andrew has changed a lot. He was there for me and vice versa.” And Dee was right. Andrew had simmered down a bit. Everyone had changed. “We’re just going as friends.”
Thank God, because even though I didn’t want to judge, Dee hooking up with Adam’s brother would be way too weird. And then Ash dropped the bomb of all bombs as I munched on a thick french fry. “I have a date,” she said.
I think I might’ve developed a hearing problem. “With who?”
One delicate eyebrow arched. “No one you would know.”
“Is he…” I caught myself. “Is he from around here?”
Dee bit down on her lip. “He’s a freshman at Frostburg. She met him at the mall in Cumberland a few weeks back.”
But that didn’t answer the question burning to be asked. Was he human? Dee must’ve read what I was dying to know in my eyes, because she nodded and grinned.
I almost dropped my soda.
Holy country roads take me home, because this was an alternate reality if Ash was going to prom with a human—a subpar, ordinary old human.
Ash rolled cerulean eyes. “I don’t know why you guys are staring at me like you’re on the wrong side of special.” She popped another fry into her mouth. “I would never go to the prom alone. For example—”
“Ash,” Dee said, eyes narrowing.
“I went with Daemon to the prom last year,” she went on, and my stomach twisted into knots, which was made worse by the secretive smile that graced her full lips. “That was a night I’ll never forget.”
I wanted to punch her.
Taking a deep breath, I forced a smile. “Funny because Daemon hasn’t mentioned that night.”
Ash’s eyes flashed in warning. “He isn’t the kiss and tell type, dear.”
My smile turned brittle. “That I know.”
She got my message and that conversation was thankfully dropped and Dee started talking about some TV show she was watching, which somehow sparked another argument between Ash and Lesa over who was the hottest guy on the show. I’m pretty sure those two would argue over the color of the sky.
I took Lesa’s side.
In the car ride back, Lesa turned to me. “So, are you and Daemon getting a hotel room or anything?”
“Uh, no. Do people really do that?”
Lesa leaned back and laughed. “Yes. Chad and I are getting one at Fort Hill.”
In the front passenger seat, Ash snickered.
“What are you doing, Ash?” Lesa asked, her eyes sharpening. “Planning to stay at prom and beat up the prom queen?”
Ash laughed in her seat but said nothing.
“Anyway,” Lesa drawled. “You and Daemon haven’t done it yet, right? Prom—”
“Hey!” Dee shrieked, startling us. “I’m sitting here, remember? I don’t want to hear about this.”
“Neither do I,” Ash muttered.
Oblivious to them, Lesa stared and waited. There was no way I was answering that question. If I lied and said yes, I’d scar Dee for life and if I told the truth, I was sure Ash would go into a detailed synopsis of their past sexual activities.
Finally Lesa dropped it, but it was all I thought about thanks to her. I sighed, staring out the window. It wasn’t like we weren’t ready. I guess. I mean, how do you know you’re really ready? I don’t think anyone seriously does. Sex wasn’t something you could plan. It either happened or it didn’t.
Getting a hotel room with the expectation of having sex? Hotels were so…so skeevy.
Part of me wondered if I’d been living in a cave or something, but I hadn’t. At school, in-between classes, I’d heard other girls talking about the things they hoped and planned to happen after prom. I’d heard guys talking, too. But I had my mind on other things, I supposed.
And who was I to judge? A few days ago I’d really believed the reason Daemon wanted to come over to my house afterschool was to…do it. But heck, at the rate we were going, we’d be fifty before anything like that happened.
Pushing the whole subject out of my mind by the time we got home, I said goodbye to Lesa and even Ash. I couldn’t wait until I saw this human college boy.
Dee and I were left alone.
She started toward her house while I stood there like an idiot, unsure of what to say. But she stopped and then turned around. Her lashes were lowered as she fidgeted with the edges of her hair. “I had fun today. I’m glad you came.”
She shifted her weight. “Daemon’s going to love that dress.”
“You think?” I lifted up the garment bag.
“It is red.” She smiled, taking a step back. “Maybe before prom we can get together and get ready…like with Homecoming?”
“I’d love that.” My smile spread so fast I bet I looked a little crazy.
She nodded, and I wanted to run up and hug her, but I wasn’t sure if we were there yet. With a little wave, she spun around and headed up her porch. For a moment, I stood there with my dress and let out a happy sigh.
This was progress. Maybe things would never be like they were, but this was really good.
Heading inside, I hugged my dress bag close and kicked the door shut. Mom had already left for work, so as I took my dress upstairs and hung it on my closet door. I wondered what I was going to make myself for dinner.
Pulling out my cell phone, I sent Daemon a quick text. What R U doing?
He responded a few moments later. With Andrew & Matthew, getting dinner. Want smthing?
I glanced at the bag, recalling how flirty the dress was. Feeling naughty, I texted him: You.
The response was lightning quick, and I laughed. Really? And then, Of course, I alrdy knew that. And before I could respond, my phone rang. It was Daemon.
I answered, grinning like an idiot. “Hey.”
“I wish I were home,” he said, and a car honked. “I can be there in seconds.”
Heading down the steps, I stopped and leaned against the wall. “No. You rarely get guy time. Stay with them.”
“I don’t need guy time. I need Kitten time.”
My face flushed. “Well, you can get Kitten time when you come home.”
He grumbled and then, “Did you get a dress?”
“Will I like it?”
I smiled and then rolled my eyes when I realized I was twirling my hair. “It’s red, so I think so.”
“Hot damn.” Someone yelled his name—sounded like Andrew—and he sighed. “Okay. I’m going back in. Want me to pick you up anything? Andrew, Dawson, and I are going to Smoke Hole.”
I thought about the hamburger I just ate. I’d be hungry later. “Do they have chicken fried steak?”
“With homemade gravy?” I inquired, starting back down the steps.
Daemon’s laugh was husky. “The best gravy around.”
“Perfect. I want that.”
He promised to bring me home a hungry man’s portion and then hung up. I went into the living room first and dropped my cell on the coffee table. Then I swiped up one of the books I’d gotten this past week for review and headed to the kitchen for something to drink.
Flipping over the book, I read the blurb and had to slow down because I almost walked into a wall. Laughing at myself, I stepped through the doorway and looked up.
Will sat at the kitchen table.
The book slipped from my lifeless fingers, falling to the floor. The smack reverberated inside me, all around me. I sucked in a breath but it got stuck around my heart pounding off my ribs.
My eyes had to be deceiving me. He couldn’t be here. And he couldn’t look the way he did. It was Will… It was but it wasn’t. Something was dreadfully wrong with the man.
Will sat hunched over the table with his back to the fridge. The last time I’d seen him, his dark brown hair had been thick and wavy, with a hint of gray at the temples. Patches of his skull shone under a thin layer of mousy hair now.
Will… Will had been a handsome man, but this man who sat before me had aged dramatically. His skin was sallow and drawn tight across his face. No fat or form whatsoever, and he reminded me of the skeleton decorations used to scare children at Halloween. Some sort of rash affected his forehead, looking like a blotch of raspberries. His lips were incredibly thin, as were his arms and his shoulders.
Only his eyes were what I remembered. Pale blue, full of strength and determination, they fixed on mine. Something else sharpened them. Resolve? Hatred? I wasn’t sure, but what shone deep in them was more frightening than staring down a horde of Arum.
Will let out a dry, painful-sounding laugh. “I’m a sight for sore eyes, aren’t I?”
I didn’t know what to do or say. As scary as hell as it was that he was here, he was in no shape to do a thing to me. That gave me a little confidence.
He sat back against the chair; the movement looked like it hurt and winded him.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
Will stared back a long moment before sliding a hand over the table. “You’re smarter than that, Katy. It’s obvious. The mutation didn’t hold.”
That I got, but it didn’t explain why he looked like the crypt keeper.
“I did plan on coming back here after a few weeks. I knew the sickness would be rough—I knew I needed time to get control of it. Then I’d come and we’d be one big, happy family.”
I choked. “There would be no way I’d let that happen.”