“Well, you know what they say?”

“Yes. They say a lot of things that don’t really make sense. But which one were you referring to specifically?”

“Shut up, David! God, you’re so negative.” I leaned forward to look at him, groaning out loud. “You know, you might not, but I still believe wishes come true.”

“Then what does that make you?”

“Ha! A sick-minded hundred-year-old who has a fetish for teenage drama.”

I laughed too, and looked out over the treetops. “There is still magic in the world, Mr Knight. You don’t have to be a child to find it. Even my dad believes in it, and he wasn’t a child when he taught me to believe—taught me how to make wishes.”

“How can you teach someone to make wishes?”

“There’s a special way to do it.”

I smiled and cleared my throat as I turned to look at David, noticing the tiny silver reflections of stars in his eyes. “Well, when you see the first star of the evening or the last star in the early morning, close your eyes, cross your heart and make a wish. If you keep it secret, then it will come true, one day.”

“And you still believe that?”

“Yes. I do. And no one is going to take that away from me with borrowed philosophy about life.” I took a breath of the cool, dawn air. “When you find that one of your seconds has been wasted on a wish, and you think you could’ve really used that second—really need it back—then I’ll agree it’s wasted time wishing. But not yet.” I looked back to the sky. “Not while I still have hope.”

“My only hope is that you see sense—realise that being a vampire isn’t so bad, and let me bite you—to change you.” David sighed, closing his eyes and crossing his heart.

“Yes. But I will never stop wishing for it, Ara. I know that’s wrong, but I can’t control my heart’s desires.”

“As long as you control your teeth, then I’m fine with that.”

“But you asked me to drink your blood—what if I lose control?” he said playfully.

“I’m not having this argument with you. I don’t want to be a vampire. I just want to be with you. Nothing more.”

“Okay. No more talking about it.” He kissed the top of my head and held me to his chest. “When you’ve decided you can’t live without me anymore, then we’ll talk about it.”

“Okay, well, when you decide you don’t want to be a frail old lady and die, then we can talk about it.”

David breathed out softly. “You know, I’ve never met a girl so eager to die in all my life.”

I shook my head and folded my arms across my chest. “No, David, I’m not eager to die—I’m eager to live.” And for the first time since I lost Mum and Harry, that was finally true. Love had given me a reason to exist, and now, even without love, I wanted a life. We could remain in the bliss of summer romance until winter showed, and I wouldn’t think about the choice I had to make; I just wanted to pretend it wasn't there, because, when the time came to make my decision, he knew, and I knew, we’d be saying goodbye. I could only hope some miracle would come along to save me from the choice of losing the one I love, or killing to be with him.

“Wake up. Wake up.” Vicki slapped my bedcovers. “Time to go.”

I groaned, shielding my eyes as she threw my curtains apart, blinding me with the white glow of morning. “Vicki. It’s Saturday.”

“Yes. I know.” She opened my window, and the fresh scent of cut grass and rain blew in with the light breeze. “Good to see you’ve finally started sleeping with this closed.”

“I didn’t. Dad must have closed it.” Or David. I tried to remember last night, but could only half remember falling asleep against my vampire’s chest, which, instead of bringing a rise of anger for him closing my window, brought only a dreamy sensation all through my limbs.

“Ara?” Vicki said, staring at my face. “Are you awake?”

“Yes.” I flopped back on my pillow. “I don’t wanna go to school today.”

“You know full well where we’re going today, young lady,” Vicki said in an insistent tone.

“Yes, which is why I’m staying in bed.”

“That’s enough. Now, just humour me and your boyfriend, and let him spend some money on you.”

I pulled the covers over my head.

“Be nice.” She ripped my blanket away and dumped it on my chair, leaving me cold in the nakedness of my bed. “Is it really so bad that David wants to buy you a dress?”

“Yes.” I pushed up on my elbow. “I have savings, Vicki. I can buy my own dress.”

“Ara-Rose!” She folded her arms. “Where are your manners?”

She shook her head, sighing, and wandered over to find them, pulling out some jeans and a T-shirt instead. “Get dressed. We leave in ten minutes.”

I flipped my legs over the side of the bed and stumbled to the window. I wanted to grunt at her, but held it in, folding my arms and resting my head on the glass pane instead. Outside, the dull grey clouds hid the sun, making everything under its suppressed glare seem vividly white—lighting up the entire yard and all the garden debris. “Did it storm last night?”

“Yes. You didn't hear it?” Vicki folded her arms, looking out at the clouds as they spilled over and the soft pattering of rain filled the desolate street below.

“Nope. Slept like a baby.” I shrugged. “Maybe I’m just getting over my fear of storms.”

A pensive twist to my lips became the first smile of the day. “Yeah. Really lucky.” Thanks, David.

“And tidy this room,” Vicki added as she closed my door.

With a certain amount of dread, I studied the chaos around me; clothes on every piece of furniture, covering every scrap of carpet—looking remarkably like a storm broke loose in here last night.

I got dressed, then shook my quilt out over my bed and hid my clothes, clean and dirty, in the laundry basket so Alana and Emily wouldn’t think I was a total pig when they came to stay tonight.

“Ara. I’m going to the car—hurry up,” Vicki called.

“Just a sec.” I ran to the bathroom, locking both doors, then smeared another layer of concealer over the bruises David left when he ate me in the auditorium closet. The leftover proof of my insanity looked mean and ugly—like a swollen, purple infection, leaking some kind of clear fluid. But, thanks to Vicki’s shopping obsession, another layer of this two-hundred-dollar bottle of concealer, that could cover up a nose if you wanted to, saw my mark disappear.

I stood back and observed my handiwork. I’d actually healed pretty well for such a short time, really, but a part of me wished it would leave a little scar—a permanent mark to remind me that I was David’s and he was mine. And as that thought entered my head, a giant hand, bearing my name, came down across my brow.

“Sick, Ara-Rose. You’re sick,” I said to the girl in the mirror.

All the common sense I once had evaporated into the background of my subconscious when it came to David—even making me delusional enough to offer him my blood. And in the clarity of daylight, I was glad he didn't drink it. I could see the insanity in it now. But deep down inside, that lust-driven human in me was screaming for him to do it.

Outside, a horn beeped twice. I patted my pocket, slipped my shoes on, and stuffed the last of my savings into my purse as I left my bedroom. But as I reached the front door, a hand grabbed mine.

“Hey!” I screeched, watching my purse leave my grip by force of David’s. “It’s for lunch, or if I need anything else, you know, for the sleepover or, like, girlie stuff.”

“Nice try. If you need anything else, I’ll take you shopping later.” He tucked my purse into his pocket and kissed my cheek, then, as the front door swung open and Vicki called out again, he disappeared. A victory grin spread across my face, though, as I slid into the car, patting the roll of bills I’d stuffed in my pocket earlier. He clearly didn’t see that thought, and since he didn’t check my purse to see the grand amount of ten dollars I really put in there, he’d never know about it.

Vicki parked at the centre of the long, outdoor strip of shops. I jumped out of the car and looked up at the sky. Even though the sun wasn’t shining, as it had been last time I was here, somehow, everything felt so much brighter. The shopping strip was quiet for a Saturday, not that it was usually very busy anyway. It reminded me of my hometown; how there were people out and about, but scattered and far between. I checked my watch, hoping we’d be out of here by the time Emily and Alana came over.

By eleven o’clock, exhausted from moaning and whining my way around the entire shop, I decided enough was enough, but Vicki dragged me to her favourite café and made me order lunch. I just wanted to go home. After trying on thirty dresses, the only one I remotely liked was an emerald-green one—like David’s eyes. But it wasn’t really grand enough, so Vicki said. I thought it was fine.

“So, I still have to find some pretty new underwear and a mask.” I laid my shopping list down on the table beside my plate.

“Well, you can’t get a mask until you have a dress,” Vicki said with a mouthful of salad. “And the underwear you get will depend on the fabric of the dress, too.”

“Because, if you get a satin dress, you won’t want lace underwear.”

“Oh,” I said, swallowing a chunk of salt-coated steak. “I think I’ll just get that green dress then—the satin one. I'm kinda done with shopping for today.”

Vicki stopped chewing, making her glare seem more severe. “Ara. David has given you a lot more than that to spend. The green one’s pretty, but you can do better.”

“I know. But I’m not gonna let him buy the dress, Vicki.”

“You didn’t really think I’d just go along with this, did you?”

She took a deep breath. “I had a feeling you’d protest at some point.”

I smirked, thinking, You’re not as dumb as you look, then.

“Well, I guess it’s up to you, Ara-Rose. But, before we go home, can you please just humour me and try a dress in that store?”

I looked behind me to the window of glitter decorating the front of a very expensive-looking store, with fairy-tale-perfect dresses beyond. “Fine,” I rescinded with a huff. “I’ll be your little Barbie doll for another half hour—but that’s it.”

“Thank you,” she said kindly; I rolled my eyes and finished my steak.

We stepped carefully around the silks and tulles falling over the wooden floor as we entered the realm of couture, and a thin girl smiled from behind the counter before turning her attention back to her magazine.

“This is beautiful,” I said, spinning slowly to take it all in.

“Okay.” I held my arms out. “Dress me up.”

Turns out, you should never say that to an old lady who never had a daughter, in a room with a commission-based sales clerk. I unwillingly tried on every dress in the store, like a dummy, lost in some mind-blank brought on by constant movement and the repeated inhalation of the manufacturer’s fabric preservatives and dyes.

But when they threw a shimmering, sky-blue dress at me, I woke suddenly. It slid onto my body like silk to satin, the carefully tailored lines fitting the contours of my hips like a glove.

I stepped onto the box in front of the four-walled mirror and smiled as Vicki and the clerk gasped.

“You look like a princess.” Vicki almost started crying.

Spinning around slowly, running my fingers over my hips, I marvelled at the soft organza, bunched together at the waist on one side and shrouded with little diamantes. The strapless corset bustle hugged my body until the full, flowing drop of the skirt glided out from my hips and over the ground—like a wedding dress, but blue. And even better, the clerk had pulled the corset so tight my waist became a half-size smaller and I totally looked like I was wearing a push-up bra.

Vicki was right. The dress was amazing.

“We’ll take it,” Vicki all but squealed.

I shook my head. “No, it’s a thousand dollars, Vicki. I can’t. I’ll just get the green one in the other store.”

“I told you. I’m not going to let my boyfriend buy a dress for me. It’s ridiculous!”

“He’s buying it for you?” the clerk asked, astonished.

“It’s just a stupid dress. Who cares? I’ll wear it for a few hours, then take it off and never wear it again. It’s a waste of money.”