It was a pretty dress and I did love it.
I pulled it back out and hung it on the hook.
It couldn’t hurt just to try it on again—see if it really was as perfect as I’d been dreaming it was all afternoon.
Without allowing a second for my conscience to overreact, I unbuttoned my jeans, tore off my top and bra, and crawled into the dress—leaving it on the hanger until I had my arms through, then unhitched it from the hook and let it slide into place around the shape of my body.
It was hard to think I’d be telling him to return this when it felt so amazing on my skin.
As I reached around to tighten the satin bows at the back, I felt a cool touch on my wrist.
“Shh,” someone whispered; I spun around mid-gasp and a tall, handsome vampire placed an elegant finger to his lips. “Shh.”
“Shh.” He smiled and nodded in the direction of the girls.
By turn of his hand, I faced the wall again, closing my eyes when his deft fingers took my ribbons and twisted each one through the loops of the corset, tying them up; it tickled so softly, drawing warmth from inside my chest, making my knees weak. I rested a hand to the wall for support.
“All done,” he said, but as I tried to turn around, he held me in place by my shoulders.
“Shh.” Using the tip of his very cold finger, the vampire traced a line ever so slowly from the base of my neck, all the way down my spine and across my shoulder blades, resting just under where my bra would sit. “I’ve never seen this part of your body before.”
Despite the urge to dissolve under his touch, I held tight to good sense. “David, you can’t just come in here, touching me like that, and expect me to fall into your arms.”
I spun around to protest against his pet name, but all my anger dissipated as liquid adoration melted the green in his eyes.
“You look so beautiful in that dress, Ara.”
“I do?” I frayed my fingers down the diamantes on the bodice.
“A beauty, I fear—” he touched his chest, “—that is a perfection I do not deserve.”
Well, safe to say no one’s ever said that to me before.
He placed both hands in his back pockets and lowered his shoulders, shaking his head. My frown broke into a grin. He just had this way of looking at me, like, behind one eye he showed the human, the cheeky boy from school, while the truth of his thoughts hid within the other; he’d smile from somewhere inside himself, looking at me like he’d never seen me before. And every time he did that, I was lost. All I wanted now was to take this dress off and tell the girls to go home.
“I love you, Ara.” David laughed and kissed my cheek. “I have to go.”
“Hurry up, Ara. What, are you still sewing the seams?” Emily joked.
“It’s a corset, Em. Good things take time.” I turned back to look at David but, as usual, he left without saying goodbye, leaving me to find only emptiness.
I drew a breath to quieten my heart, then stepped out to show the girls my dress.
“Oh my God!” Emily jumped up and ran to me. “Ara, you look like a princess.”
Alana shook her head, walking slowly over. “No way, she looks like an angel.”
“Look at the way it sets off her eyes. They’re bluer than the sky against that dress, Ara.” Emily ruffled the layers of my skirt, then sighed. “I wish I could find a dress like this.”
“You will. Hey, why don’t we all go shopping next week? We’ll find something just as perfect for you,” I said.
“Yeah, I mean, not hate it, but I’d rather do other things,” she said.
I shook my head. “I’m sure you and I are kindred spirits, Lani.”
“Perhaps.” She shrugged. “Except I have better taste in boys.”
As I turned away, chuckling softly, I caught my reflection in the window; the sky was dark, and though the howling wind and the pattering rain outside made my stomach sink—for fear there might be a storm on the way—I saw only a smile on the face of the dark-haired beauty in the glass.
“Oh my God, Ara!” Emily grabbed the price tag, her mouth gaping. “Was this dress really a thousand dollars?”
Crud! My shoulders rolled forward. “Actually, yes. David bought it for me.”
“What?” Alana picked up the tag and flipped it over, searching for a sale price, I guess.
“He wanted me to feel special. I tried to stop him, but he did it anyway.” And without that cheeky grin distracting me, I found it so much easier to be mad at him.
Emily sat down on my bed, her gaze distant, hands folded into her lap. “I can’t believe it, Ara. I never thought I’d see the day when David Knight fell in love.”
“Did you not think he was capable?” I asked.
“No. I’m sorry. I didn’t. I was sure that, ten years from now, when we met for our high school reunion, he’d be America’s most eligible bachelor.”
She had no idea how right she was. Ten years from now, I’d be so much older than him, and our high-school-sweetheart-romance would be a memory I thought about when I was alone. “He might still be,” I added with a light giggle. “Just because we’re in love now doesn’t mean we’re gonna get married or anything.” Only, I knew we would—if things were different. We loved each other enough to commit to a lifetime together, but I just couldn’t commit to eternity—and David couldn’t commit to a life.
“Are you serious?” Emily stood up. “He spends a thousand dollars on a dress, because he wants you to feel special, and you’re not sure if you’re going to marry him?”
I sighed, feeling utterly defeated. I wished I could tell her the truth. I knew she’d understand—be able to give me advice and take some of the burden of life and death decisions off my shoulders. If it just slipped out, if I just said it, right here, right now, maybe David wouldn’t be that mad with me—maybe he’d understand that I needed someone to talk to. And if Emily helped steer my decision toward becoming immortal, then David would only be grateful, right?
I opened my mouth and, as Alana sat down in my desk chair, with my pillow in her lap, the squeaky hinge woke me to reality. I snapped my big gob shut.
Emily squinted, studying my face. “There’s more to it, isn’t there?”
“More to what?” I shrugged casually and started untying my dress.
“Is it…are you still in love with Mike?”
“What? I never said I was in love with him.”
Of course she couldn’t. How could anyone? David was perfect. Why would I not want to marry him? “What’s to understand, Em? David and I—we’re in love, but we want different things in life.” I grabbed a shirt off the end of my bed. “Eventually, we’ll have to go our separate ways. We both know that. David understands.”
“Who are you trying to convince, Ara? Us, or yourself?” Emily asked.
I held my dress in front of my chest, pulled the shirt over my head and, once covered, stepped out of the dress and threw it on the bed. “What does it matter? It’s not like you’re losing him, Emily.”
She shook her head. “It matters because I care about him. We’ve been friends for years, Ara, and I’ve never seen him like this. He’s happy. And it was like he knew you were coming—like he predicted it, or something, because, about a month before we even met you, he changed—became the David everyone else can tolerate.”
About the time I arrived at Dad’s. “So?”
“So, he smiles. He laughs,” Emily continued. “And the only time that hasn't been true, since the moment he finally asked you out, was the day of Nathan’s funeral. What’s going to happen to him if you don't love him like he loves you?”
Her ignorance just made me insanely mad. “Who says I don't?”
“You just said you had no plans to marry him. Ara—” She pointed to my door, “—that boy is practically picking out goddamn rings. You have no idea how lucky you are.”
“I do. Actually.” I sighed, dropping my arms to my sides as I sat on the bed, wishing I could fall into her shoulder and cry hysterically. “I hate that we can’t be together. More than you know. But it isn’t my decision to make. Not really. There are outside factors stopping us from being together.”
“Why should it matter? When you love someone, you give up everything for that,” she said.
I kind of laughed. I didn’t know Emily went so deep. Everything she said was true, though, and it hurt. I just wasn’t brave enough to risk everything for love. My mother taught me better than that—taught me to follow my head, because the heart could lead a girl down paths that may destroy her life. I just wanted to forget about decision-making for the summer; just wanted to enjoy the time I had with David and maybe, somewhere in time passing, the answer would just come to me. “That’s the worst advice I’ve ever heard, Emily.”
She opened her mouth and drew a long breath. “You’re just too blind to see the logic.”
Emily sat on my bed, shaking her head. “Sensible people die alone, Ara—like my gran and my Aunt Betty. My dad says if you don't fight for love, you have nothing to fight for.”
Despite numerous arguments I could squash that statement with, I decided to sever the conversation instead. “I’ll keep that in mind. Shall we watch that movie now?”
The quiet hum of restful breathing filled my room under the howling of the wind outside. I laid awake, wishing I could put my bedside light on to illuminate the dark, scary corners of my room. I hugged my copy of Wuthering Heights and internally sent despise in waves of anger to the mattress on the floor. I should’ve told Emily I hate scary movies.
My phone lit the roof green for a second; I flipped over and reached across the gap between my bed and nightstand, cautiously, in case The Bogeyman reached up to grab my hand, then tucked my arms back in quickly with my phone in hand. The message on the screen read: Call me if you need me.
But, it wasn’t him I wanted to call.
The green glow remained on my face and hands, and Emily stirred as the keypad bleeped when I pinned in the digits of a familiar number. I knew I should call my boyfriend, but in the darkness, surrounded by the fear of a storm outside, all I wanted was to hear the homeliness of Mike’s familiar voice. And with the mere buzzing of the ringtone down the line, the eerie feeling of isolation slipped away a little. Pick up. Come on, Mike. Please, pick up.
“Hey, beautiful. What’s up?” he asked, bringing me home with the sound of his voice.
“What happened?” he asked quickly. “Are you okay, Ara?”
“Oh, baby girl. Why do you do it? What movie was it?”
Mike laughed. “It’ll be all right. I’ll be there in a few days, then I’ll sleep by your wardrobe and keep the monsters from coming out to get you.”
I chuckled. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Ha, yeah, I remember that night. How old were you then?”
“Well, I’m sending a hug through the phone for ya, okay?”
“Okay,” I whispered, actually feeling a little better with that thought.
“Hey, I was thinking ‘bout you before you called. You must’ve read my mind.”
“What were you thinking about this time—me in a blender or something?”
“Ara, I don’t only reflect on memories of you in pain.”
“Hm. Seems like you do.”
“No. It was only the ice cream truck one.”
I couldn’t think of one, realising then that I was wrong. “So, now you expect me to document every conversation we have.”
“Ara, what is wrong with you tonight?”
“What do you mean what’s wrong with me?”
“Yeah, when you twist my words around until we get in a fight. Don’t do that. I’m not trying to fight with you, baby. I was just…I wanted to call you…I was thinking about you—then you called. It surprised me, that’s all.”
“You should be used to it.”
He paused. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been that in tune with each other, Ar.”
Emily rolled over and stirred with the disruption of my voice through the perfect silence.
“I’m still here, Ara. I just…I need a few seconds, okay?”