A/N: Disclaimer: Any resemblance to real people and places (except for states and cities) are coincidental. Where song lyrics are used, due acknowledgements will be made (if they aren't mine). There is going to be a central mystery which will be revealed in the final chapters.
I stare at her, my best friend since Eighth Grade, her normally bright and smiling features darkening with gravity. What a proposition I've put forward for her to consider! It seems almost ridiculous, but I'm strangely ready for it…
"Okay. Let's get this right. You love him, don't you?" she asks, trying to keep her voice down in the crowded cafeteria.
I nod, feeling a little ashamed. I wonder what she really thinks of my plan…
Susan sighs and shakes her head. "Then why would you do something like that? How can you even contemplate doing it?"
I click my tongue impatiently. I've told her a thousand times, but it seems she still doesn't understand.
"I told you, Suz! I want him to know that it was no laughing matter for me! He deserves this…"
She laughs shakily and holds up a hand. "Hang on. What makes you think it would work in the first place? It's all superstitious crap, believe me…"
"Well, we'll see about that won't we? Science doesn't explain everything, Suz. You never know…" I widen my eyes and try to lighten things up a bit with the private joke. It doesn't really work, because she just frowns.
"Look, I just hope you'll give this more thought. Sometimes jealousy and hatred can have forces of their own. Don't do things you'll deeply regret later. Don't- for your own good, Nikki…"
"Are we going to L.A Mom?" I ask, heart pounding like mad.
Please say yes, please say yes…
I want to scream and tear my hair right out of my head, but I stop myself just in time. They don't know. And if possible, they should never know.
"Omigosh! I bet Debbie's going to wear that ugly grandma dress from the battery ad!" titters Mielle, my fifteen year- old sister.
"I think she'd look nice in any kind of dress," observes Mia, her twin. "Anyway, I can't wait till we're invited!"
Oh yeah. They can all clap their hands in anticipation of the upcoming event. While I remain in my own little world, suffering these reminders of the Wedding in silent torment. I knew it all along. I knew it was going to happen someday soon, but not this soon…
"Would you shut up about weddings already?!" I exclaim angrily. "Weddings, weddings, weddings! Isn't there anything else for you to yap about?!"
They look at each other confusedly.
"Why does she hate weddings so much?" mutters Mielle.
"She doesn't, really. I figure it's just this one."
I know why, sisters.
It's because I've been in love with the person we call 'bro', for ten years. And now, Brenton's finally getting married.
"What kind of dress would you like to wear, Nikki?"
-Seven months later-
"Hurry! We're going to be late!"
"Mia, your hair! I told you not to straighten it! It doesn't suit you!"
"Mo-om! How can something that suits Mielle not suit me?"
"Mia! How long are you gonna stand there? You're hogging the mirror!" whines Mielle.
"Nikki, how about putting some make-up on? Stop glaring. You can't go to a wedding looking like a vicious animal!"
"Please! No! At least I'm going to this stupid wedding! What more do you want?" I growl through gritted teeth.
"Shut up," hisses Mom. "Don't let your Father hear you. Think of all the things Tony and Cecilia have done for you. They're our best friends after all. And we're simply going to their son's wedding. I still don't understand why you're so angry about this. What's your big problem?"
We get into the car and drive off. I gaze emptily through the window, not seeing what passes by my eyes. I tried to choose a long, black Gothic-style dress, but of course they didn't let me have it. So here I am, clad in pearly grey.
I glance at my excited family, all looking so animated. If only they knew how badly this is hurting me…
We make our way into the hotel. Finally reaching the reception hall, I watch as they drift towards people they know, my sisters eagerly discussing the decorations and dresses, I suppose, with the other girls.
My eyes seek one person only. I look around the room, wishing I could get the hell out of here, and wondering where he could be.
Maybe Ms Bride is helping him with his tie right now, and they are both smiling tenderly at each other.
I blink away the thought, continuing to watch out for him
They walk out slowly from the front. Hands clasped lightly, yet so surely. Like they know that nothing could affect their accursed conservative union. Wait and see, my dear stuck- up bridal pair.
Wait and see…
He spots me and then lets his eyes sweep away to the wall as quickly as he spotted me. And then the slightly amused quirk of the mouth. That's how he looks at me. Ever since his sister revealed my secret to him. I can't even imagine that I used to play with him when we were younger. It seems like an extremely distant dream.
As the aforementioned sister skips towards me, I wince and try to look amazed.
"Wow, Amber! You look great! I love your dress!"
"Thanks! I'm a first- time bridesmaid, you know…"
I smile, hoping it looks real, and attempt to extricate myself from useless preppie girl talk.
"…Debbie looks like, absolutely stunning, doesn't she? They look so great together, don't you think?"
I nod again. "Uh-huh… look, I really need to go to the… bathroom?" I gulp.
She gives me a quizzical look and shrugs. "Sure…it's that way."
I pretend to follow her directions and turn in the opposite direction as soon as she's out of my sight. I need to look for a place where I can hide. At last, I walk into a small room with a piano. I notice a long window seat at the far end, and stretch myself across it, wishing I could fall asleep here and never wake up…
Sleep leaves me and I groggily sit up, glimpsing at my watch.
It's a quarter past nine in the evening.
Only three hours have passed me by. Great.
Half in a mind to leave the hotel altogether, I mope around the room, arguing with myself, until I collide with the piano. Sitting down on the stool, I run a hand along the keys. And start playing the only tune that comes to my head, over and over again.
"That's a rather sad song. Where've you been, sis? Everyone's been wondering where you could be."
I almost freeze when I hear that voice, but carry on playing, not caring that half the notes I'm playing are wrong. What's he doing here alone anyway? I thought he's supposed to be stuck on his Debbie's arm.
"Um. It's the f-first movement of Kin-Kinderscenen. I-I think I'd better go join the guests …"
I run out of the room, not even looking once at him. It's all too much. And I'm hoping to wreck his life very soon. I hate to admit it, but it makes me feel very depressed. I don't want to do it, but I must. He put me through this pain, he laughed at me, and I want to push it right back to him. I want to have the last laugh.
I will show him just how venomous unrequited love can sometimes get...
-A year later -
"Nice place you've got here."
The medium nods grimly and beckons me to the consulting desk. I seat myself on an old mahogany chair and begin to feel soothed by the sweet, smoky smell of joss stick incense.
"Ahem. How may I help you?" he asks, both hands on the table. He's one of those middle-aged guys you can't guess the age of. He might be thirty, he might be sixty. He looks very professional though, let me tell you that.
I tell him about my plan, highlighting exactly what I want and how the whole thing evolved. At the end of it, he exhales ruggedly, giving me the same look that Suz gave me a year ago.
"Er… I'm not sure if I can…"
"Please? You must help me!" I plead, putting on that innocent look which has always fooled everyone. Which is very contradictory, since my scheme is far from innocent.
The man ponders for a moment, chin in hand.
"Do you realize how much suffering and harm you'll bring to the family? It's very destructive…"
I get up from the chair.
"Yes. I know. I've considered all the ethical and moral complications surrounding it, and I don't give a fuck! I'm willing to get what I want elsewhere if you won't help!" I snap, heading for the exit. "This is a hundred dollars walking out your door. Goodbye!"
"No! Wait!" he cries, hurrying towards me.
I knew he was desperate for the money. Most of them probably are…
"I'll do it."
I smile, feeling evil. And this is the girl who used to hate thoughts of ill-will towards other living creatures, human or otherwise. Love hasn't made me beautiful. It has slowly transformed me into something undoubtedly ugly.
"Thanks. Thanks a lot," I whisper, suddenly feeling lost.
He takes the ingredients from me (consisting of a strand each of Brenton's, Debbie's and my own hair) and carries out the spell, chanting lines upon lines of strange incantations that make me shudder. I almost perceive a cold draft enveloping me, and as I glance at the medium, I realize I'm not alone in the feeling.
It has to be my imagination.
He ties the hairs together, wipes something across it with a brush, and puts the interlocked hairs into a small, black bag.
"Here. You have to keep this safe. If anything happens to it, I'm afraid you'll be forced to endure horrible things yourself."
I take it gingerly from him with a silent 'Thanks'.
Paying him, I start to leave, but stop at the door.
"This… this thing wouldn't really work, would it? It's not... not that real, right? Right?
He shakes his head slowly. "It's up to you whether you want to believe or not, but as far as I know… it's real. They used to do it all the time in ancient times, but the powers of dark magic have become forgotten through the ages. The faith in them has weakened." He looks at me pointedly. "However, I can't assure you that the powers themselves have weakened too."
I shrug. "Well… thanks for that."
He gives me the sympathetic look I get from almost everyone.
"How old are you?"
"Eighteen," I reply shortly, pulling my jacket closer to my body. The room seems to have gotten colder, and the incense smells… sickening somehow. Like a tomb…
I know it's all in my head.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, looking pretty much like a creepy guy from a horror movie.
"It's the way the candlelight throws a shadow across his face!" I can hear Suz say.
I leave the old apartment quickly; glad to be rid of its manipulative effects. I can't believe I just let myself live a ghost story back there! And I practically forced myself to lose a hundred dollars in the process. How could I be so lame?
As I walk out of the elevator and into the neglected gardens that sit at the foot of the building, I cast an indifferent look upwards…
And sure enough, there he is. Staring back at me with the bottomless, sunken eyes of a skull…