The world had turned blue.
For such a cool colour, it felt warm; beneath lay a smooth, darker shade, whereas above the hues altered regularly in rough quadrilaterals. Light filtered through this soothing pattern, gently illuminating the claustrophobic, closed space beneath. The scent was different but familiar; woody and soft, like the beach at dawn. However, despite the comfort being extreme, it was becoming difficult to breathe; the trapped air had grown stuffy and oxygen-depleted, so she pushed the pressing roof away and struggled to sit up, head pounding.
The bright glow that filled the room immediately blinded Tabby; shielding her eyes with one weary hand, she glanced downwards at the rumpled covers surrounding her aching body, which - she finally realised with a jolt - belonged to Andy. Memories of the night came flooding back; the wild gig, her numerous drinks, his sudden kisses…
But nothing else would allow itself to be recalled. She vaguely remembered a long, difficult walk…must have been the one here, she guessed. Despite this, she had no recollection of what had happened after they'd arrived. He wasn't in the bed with her, at any rate - at least he clearly hadn't been for a while. Her head gave an unpleasant throb as she groaned and sat up straighter. Her hair felt horrible after being soaked with sweat the previous night, and she was perfectly aware that her make-up would be smudged all over the place; burning scarlet at the thought of him seeing her like this before realising that it was most likely already too late. She wondered where his parents were, and whether or not they knew she was there.
And that's when something clicked.
What if we had…happy time? she thought in shock; immediately feeling stupid for being so slow on the uptake. Instead of being excited by this thought, however, resentment rose up in her stomach; if they had, she couldn't remember a second of it - and surely, because she was so drunk, it would have been rape…it was definitely illegal, in any case…
She forced herself out of the guilty bed, struggling not to pass out from the intense throbbing of her brain – noting that she was still fully-dressed and taking this as a good sign. He could easily have redressed me, though… Lurching messily towards the door in the corner and yanking it open with the little force she could muster, she locked herself inside the breezy en suite. The small, high window was flung wide open; blind flapping in the cool air from outside. She took deep breaths to calm herself; stomach threatening to flip over, writhing with anxiety and pain… Tabby grabbed hold of the spotless sink's rim with white knuckles, squinting up at her reflection in the polished mirror. She'd definitely been right about her bedraggled appearance.
She shakily splashed water over her pale face, managing to wipe away most of the mess around her eyes with tissue. Running trembling fingers through the knots, she tamed her wild hair as best she could before stumbling back out into the bedroom.
Steadying herself, she gasped.
"Er…hi," Andy greeted her uncomfortably from his seat on the bed. He'd already made it; the cover now lying neat and square across the mattress, pillows re-fluffed. Tabby stared at him, surprised eyes demanding an explanation.
"What the hell happened last night?" she hissed, aware that there may be others in the house who hadn't been alerted to her presence. He sighed.
"You really don't want to know."
"Uh, I think I do," she pushed scornfully, feeling angry. "It's kind of my business-"
"Trust me on this."
She glared at him. "I don't think I do."
He shrugged. "Fine," he said, standing up to face her defiant expression.
"Excuse me - you get me drunk, take me home and don't expect any questions in the morning?" She too stepped forwards; trying to intimidate him into giving her a satisfactory answer even from her height, folding her arms tightly across her angrily pounding chest.
He simply looked blankly down at her for a few long moments, something struggling behind his eyes, before turning away and walking out of the room.
Tabby sank down in his vacated seat, fuming. He owed her an explanation - how dare he not give me one? She simply had to find out what he did to her during the long, drunk hours of the night; no matter what it took.
The second she heard him re-enter the room, she quickly leapt up and slapped him hard across the face. He dropped the phone he was holding; Tabby's sudden movements made her head spin and she had to return to a stationary sitting position. Andy gaped at her, hand rubbing his jaw as he retrieved the handset.
"What was that for?" he demanded quietly, hurt flashing across his face. Tabby sat motionless, trembling with cold fury.
"Just tell me what happened," she growled.
"Keep it down, my parents are still asleep," he warned, staying a safe distance away while handing her the phone. She took it questioningly, anger not forgotten.
"Call your mother," he said detachedly. "Your mobile was ringing like mad last night and I had to answer it and tell her you were safe."
"She knows I'm here?" Tabby blanched. "She'll kill me!"
"Just call her," he sighed again, sounding bored as he herded her back towards the bathroom door. "And for God's sake, keep your voice down."
She fought back a tempered scream as he shut her inside the tiled room, regret of the previous night and hatred at his words boiling dangerously in her stomach. She released the hot steam with a shuddering, single breath, before dialling her home number.
"Hello?" The voice that answered was male, and she froze. Holding the handset away from her ear, she stared at it, not sure what to do as the stranger repeated; "Hello? Is anyone there?"
She put it back to her ear and swallowed. "Um…sorry, I think I have the wrong number…"
"Tabby, is that you?" Her forehead creased in surprise; her name sounded strangely familiar when spoken in the man's voice.
"Yes…who is this?"
"It's me, Dad! How are you? It's so good to hear from you…"
Her eyes were wide as she answered shakily. "D-Dad…what are you doing at our house?" There was a confused pause at the other end.
"Eh? What do you mean?" her father asked, clearly nonplussed. Tabby tried again, equally astounded.
"Why are you in Blackthorn?"
"Blackthorn?" The town's name took a second to register. "Oh - isn't that the place you and your mum are living now? How are things down there?"
"They're fine, but that's not the point!" Tabby struggled to keep her volume low as she tried to make sense of the situation. "Why are you at our new house?"
"…Sweetheart, I'm nowhere near your new house." He sounded mildly worried. "I'm at home - your old home."
Her mistake suddenly became clear and she literally hit herself in the forehead; she'd dialled her previous number by accident.
"Heh…turns out I did get the wrong number. I was trying to call mum," she admitted meekly. There was a short, hurt silence from her father and she felt immediately guilty. "But I'm glad I got it wrong!" she amended quickly before he could hang up in disappointment. "It's great to talk to you again."
She almost heard him smile. "It's fantastic to talk to you too, Tabbycat," he said fondly. "How long has it been now? A month or so?"
She quickly did the calculations. "Uh…only about two weeks, actually."
"Crikey, it feels like a lot longer. I miss you, you know. We both do."
At his last three words, Tabby felt herself stiffen. Her father seemed to sense this and quickly moved on.
"So…I guess you wanted to call your mother urgently? You know how she feels about handling electronics with lots of buttons…I can't imagine you putting her through that kind of stress regularly." He tried to lighten the mood by chuckling.
"Yeah, something like that." She tried to make her tone as light as possible as they said goodbye. "Talk to you again soon, Dad."
"See you later, alligator."
"In a while, crocodile," she murmured before hearing the disconnecting click from the other end. Sighing, she took care to dial her new number the second time; hoping she could think of a decent explanation on the spot as her mother picked up after the first ring.
"How did it go?" Andy inquired when she stepped back through the door - though his voice and expression seemed devoid of interest. Tabby merely dropped the phone heavily onto the covers next to him in reply, and he sighed. "I take it she wants you home…could you walk yourself? It's probably the best idea right now…"
"She's coming to pick me up in a minute," Tabby said numbly, hardly able to believe what was happening. So confusing were his actions and feelings that every emotion cancelled the others out; one minute he'd been acting like her boyfriend in every respect, and now it was as though they'd suffered a bad breakup. The fact her memory of the night wasn't exactly intact worsened the pain – how could she be sure she hadn't done something that made him act this way? Nevertheless, she thought, he owes me an explanation. It's obvious that I have no idea what happened, surely?
"You better wait downstairs in case she rings the bell and wakes my parents," Andy mumbled, avoiding her gaze as he opened his door for her. She could feel one of her emotions begin to overtake the rest and quickly followed his instructions, for fear it would display itself before she left. He didn't follow her down.
Tying her shoelaces slowly in his cold porch, she felt her bottom lip begin to tremble and silently begged it to stay put. For goodness' sake, don't cry just yet… She fought angrily against the tears, blinking hard, willing the salty drops to retreat back into her ducts and stay there; at least until she was safely home. She sniffed quietly and then jumped a mile.
"Are you crying?"
She spun around to face Andy, an identifiable expression finally twisting his features into a look of genuine concern. She felt another confused quake run deep though her heart.
"No," she said quickly, looking down; but her wet eyes had already given her away. She thought she saw him make a move towards her; but when she glanced back up, he was swaying indecisively on the spot. He had to tell her now. "Andy, please explain to me what went on last night," she murmured, taking care to keep her voice free from anger; she needed an answer. He looked at her in silence for several long seconds before finally opening his dry mouth.
"Tabby…if I didn't feel ready to kill myself right now, I'd tell you exactly what happened." He paused to moisten his lips. "I need to put right my own problems before you know about anything."
Tabby was about to inquire crossly when the sound of an engine rumbled to a halt outside; Andy's reflexes acted fast as he darted forward and opened the door so that her mother wouldn't blow the horn or ring the doorbell. "Go, quickly," he urged her as she stared at him, exasperated. "My parents will be up in a minute."
Defeated, Tabby decided to do as she was told; knowing she had to stay on his good side in order to discover the truth about his unexplained actions. She stepped out into the drizzling rain, shivering as the damp seeped through her clothes - the soft click as he shut her out seeming to echo emptily through the soggy atmosphere as a tear slid down her cold cheek.
The next week that passed was excruciating. Andy was obviously still not ready to divulge anything to her as he kept a deliberate distance; every day as a result, the notion that she may no longer be a virgin seemed to become more and more of a reality. She lay in bed at night, staring up at the dark ceiling and wondering whether or not she should feel any different. More persistent, however, was the niggling fact that she couldn't figure out what 'problems' of his could be preventing him from lending her the knowledge of what could be, essentially, a milestone in her life; perhaps he simply hated himself for taking advantage of her (if, indeed, he had) while she had been unaware of it? But that explanation seemed, somehow, too simple…
The only other member she had been in regular contact with, unsurprisingly, was Ollie. It had been decided that they could at least hang out with each other at school - as they were in the same year, it would be less conspicuous. The lack of communication between the rest of the group had become so complete that Tabby found herself wondering whether Graffiti had ever really existed; the only proof she had was the EctoSketcher's weight in her pocket, the warm wooden crucifix that lay against her chest day and night, and the occasional hate-filled glares from Dean.
This, however, clearly wasn't enough to convince her the organisation was still alive - she definitely hadn't prepared herself to react to a sudden emerald glow that filtered through the papers of her schoolwork as she slouched, bored, in her final class of the week. Sitting up quickly, she wrenched the visual blockage out of the way just in time to see the letters fade - closing her eyes, she strained to read the temporarily-burnt message on the inside of her lids. She could only make out the words 'mall' and '5pm' before all traces disappeared entirely; but it was enough to let her know that the game was still on. She smiled, a forgotten thrill resurfacing as the lesson came to an end.
"We're actually shopping?" Dean sounded disgusted as each surprised pair of eyes fixed upon Andy's calm expression. Tabby wasn't sure what she'd expected from a meeting at the mall; one of the possible explanations being that the church was too predictable a venue to be followed home from, or that there had been a sighting nearby. Instead, as it turned out, they were there to embark on a less supernatural task - although the idea of an evening that involved retail therapy seemed enough to make Dean vomit.
"Yep," Andy confirmed with a grin, "but not for clothes…unless you really wanted some new fishnets, Deanyboy." Dean scowled as Tabby struggled to conceal a snort.
"If I wanted drag, I'd borrow from you," he grumbled pointedly.
"So what are we here for?" Tabby asked, tentatively trying the ice with Andy as she fought to repress the disturbing mental image of Dean in a short black dress and blonde wig.
"It's time for a bit of an upgrade on our traditional methods." His eyes held an excited flare as they finally met hers for the first time in days. She breathed a sigh of relief as he rubbed his hands together. "Right; Ollie, you go with Dean to look for a nice, powerful water pistol," he began, handing the latter a small wad of notes, "and Tabby and I will-"
"You WHAT?" Ollie looked both baffled and amused as he gaped, wide-eyed. "What on earth for?"
"We've always needed a more efficient way to ensure the Holy Water hits our target," Andy winked. "Tabby and I are going to look for a more precise digital thermometer that beeps when there's a rapid change in temperature, just to make things easier."
Tabby felt her pulse begin to race as they entered the huge, glass-fronted shopping centre and split up, knowing that Andy's choice of pairing inevitably meant that he was ready to open up at last. She wondered how she would feel if he confirmed her suspicions as they passed by dozens of shopfronts adorned with lifeless mannequins; although surprise, she guessed, was out of the question. She'd thought about it too much for that eventuality to come as a shock. Andy slowed his pace beside her and she looked up expectantly, heart suddenly in her throat.
"So…" he began; and stopped.
Tabby swallowed and smiled awkwardly. "So."
He started again. "So…do you still want to know about the fateful events of Saturday night?" He grinned, clearly trying to lift the mood slightly. Tabby braced herself, seeing this as an attempt to prepare her for the worst.
"Sure, why not?"
"You're so bad at trying to sound unfazed," he half-laughed, strolling casually to a halt outside a less busy store and leaning against the front. "You're worried, and it's understandable."
"Why?" Tabby asked quickly, no longer making any effort to conceal her interest. This needed to be over and done with.
He sighed as though it was obvious. "The way I acted the morning after…you must have assumed that it was, indeed, a stereotypical 'morning after' job," he really did laugh this time. "But the reality won't seem half as terrible to you as it did to me. All that happened after we got to mine was that we kissed on my bed a bit." Tabby gawped at him and he amended the confession sheepishly. "Okay - a lot. But it hadn't progressed any further from that when you randomly passed out - it was then I realised that what I had been doing was very, very wrong. You're too young and were in no state to have control over any of your actions…so I tucked you up in my bed and slept downstairs."
Tabby stared at him, dumbfounded, a dark blush beginning to creep over her cheeks. "Is that it?" He nodded, eye contact unfaltering. She took a deep breath and gazed blankly down the wide walkway, mind not registering the hundreds of other people busily milling around in the space. "Wow. I am so unbelievably pathetic."
He made to put an arm around her shoulders but drew back, seeming to decide against it. "Did you really think we'd-?"
"I meant about passing out," she mumbled, embarrassed. "That must have looked so bad."
He laughed again before looking serious. "I guess it did, a little…but not as bad as I feel about keeping you in the dark this long. I've just been very, very angry at myself for even daring to consider taking advantage of you - I don't trust myself around you any more…"
Tabby silently agreed, but was by no means about to let him torture himself. "Don't be stupid, you were drunk-"
"That's no excuse," he said firmly, expression set. "It's not going to happen again, and I'm sorry."
She was about to accept his apology with a hug, if he'd have let her, when someone bobbed up beside them.
Andy jumped but grinned when he saw their mousy assailant. "Not yet," he admitted. "How about you?"
"Dean's not really helping," Ollie dropped his voice as the accused loitered a few metres away. The headphones usually seen around his neck were in their intended position, covering his ears as he stood staring aimlessly into shop windows, tapping the drumbeats out on one leg.
"Tell you what," Andy said, turning to Tabby, "could you look for the water pistol? I'm not trying to offend you, but to find this thermometer we need two people who know what they're looking for." He tried to assure her with a smile as she made a move to protest, although he clearly couldn't see the real problem. He wouldn't understand it, either… Deciding that Dean shouldn't be much of a problem anyway if his apparent absorption in the music was anything to go by, she let it drop.
"Sure," she feigned a confident smile, "where shall we meet you when we're done?"
"Outside again, I suppose," Andy replied. "See you in a bit!" Both waved as they turned to wander off in search of an electrical store. Reassured that she and Andy were back on good terms, Tabby began to embark on her own allocated quest; neither knowing nor caring whether or not Dean was following her.
Her eyes had been listlessly scanning each equally irrelevant shopfront she passed when Dean's voice made her backtrack.
She retraced her steps back to a toy store she must have seen without it having registered, keeping her eyes averted from Dean as he stepped inside.
Blinding colour and noise buffered her senses the moment she entered; toys of all shapes and sizes in bright shades lined the shelves and sat glaringly in bargain baskets, irritating, electronic tunes mingling in the air to produce a racket that was almost deafening. Small children weaved precariously through the teetering stacks, dragging their bored parents by the hand behind them, squealing as they caught sight of something they wanted. Eager to leave as quickly as possible and definitely not desiring to rake through the overwhelming piles of plastic junk, she stepped up to a young, spotty store assistant. He had obviously been forced into wearing an oversized clown outfit complete with spinning bow tie and comedy red nose, looking very awkward as he spotted her approaching.
"Do you have any water pistols?" Tabby inquired, only just managing to suppress a snigger as he blinked down at her.
"Um…yeah, over here," he seemed to process her request rather slowly before leading the way to the wall at the very back of the long store, waddling slightly as he struggled not to fall over his massive shoes.
She was vaguely aware of Dean behind her as the assistant waved towards a large display of plastic pistols before tripping away again. The models ranged from little cheap squeezable ones for keyrings to gigantic pump-action monsters that would require two people to operate; she had to crane her neck to see these as they towered above her.
"What do you think?" Tabby turned to Dean cautiously, not particularly expecting an answer. He had removed his headphones, but proved her suspicions by shrugging disinterestedly. She sighed and reached for a medium-proportioned water gun with a good-sized tank. Her fingers had scarcely made contact with the plastic, however, when the bright, offensive spotlights above their heads flickered once and went off altogether.
Every child in the place began to scream. Tabby drew back sharply from the rows of guns and spun around to face Dean, hands covering her ears. She could only just make out his equally surprised expression in the blinking light from multicoloured LEDs surrounding them; at least the toys had stopped whirring noisily as their potential young buyers went into panic mode, parents making a move to drag them out of the shop. As she followed them with her eyes, she came to realise that the power in the entire mall had gone off; the walkway outside, although slightly lighter because of the skylights, had become equally bleak.
Almost everyone had left now; they were the last ones, standing frozen at the back of the huge store as a rumbling began beneath their feet.
"W-what's happening?" stammered Tabby as the floor shook, stacks of toys wavering dangerously around them. Dean's eyes suddenly widened and he grabbed hold of her arm.
Without asking, the warning and fear in his quiet voice made her obey; whipping forwards as they hurried in the direction of the exit, she saw the reason.
The heavy metal grate was sliding steadily downwards, the horrible scraping sound reverberating painfully through her teeth. They sped up, dodging baskets and towers, fighting against their protesting lungs to escape faster than the unbreakable steel gate could trap them inside.
There was only about a metre left of space at the bottom now; panic gripped Tabby's heart as she realised they would have to throw themselves underneath it to have any chance whatsoever. As they pelted the last few metres, all hope vanished. A damning, rattling clunk signalled their capture as they crashed helplessly into the hard metal and were flung backwards by the impact. There was no way their cries for help would reach the ears of anyone now; the mall slowly emptied in front of their eyes as they peered, frightened, through the small gaps between the links. Dean sank to the floor, back against the barrier between them and the rest of the world. Licking his lips slowly, he raised his head to look into Tabby's terrified eyes.
"This could be a problem."