Chapter 8: Challenge
"All set?" Jakob asked, nudging a brick into place on top of the tarp with his foot.
I surveyed the room, taking in all of the furniture and the floor covered in white tarps, and the green tape around the doors and one wall.
Shawn had fixed the hole I put in the wall, and since it needed to be repainted anyways, took me to the hardware store and gave me permission to pick out whichever colours of paint I wanted for the room. In the excitement of it, I'd completely forgotten about the mystery bunch of lavender. I'd thrown that in the garbage as soon as I'd recovered from the shock. "I think we are," I said, stooping to pry open two cans of paint, revealing one pale purple and the other rich lavender. "Which wall do you want?"
He gestured to the wall with the window. "I'll take that one."
I nodded and poured some paint – the dark lavender – into a tray and passed it to him. I poured the other, lighter purple paint into another stray and started rolling it onto the opposite wall.
"Hey, Amye, guess what?" Jakob said as I was just finishing up the last wall's second coat a few hours later.
"What?" I turned, expecting to see a finished wall across the room, but he was right behind me, and I jumped.
With a laugh, he used his thumb to smear paint across my cheek. "Paint fight, that's what," he announced, and ran to the other side of the room.
"Oh, you're so on," I countered, dipping my paintbrush into the tray. I chased after him and painted a thick line straight down the back of his T-shirt.
"Ah!" he shouted, "I can feel it through my shirt!"
He turned on me with a paint roller, and coated my back in paint. I shrieked and splattered him in paint, missing most of it, and ending up splattering the dark wall with light paint. "Oops." I giggled.
"We can scrape it off and fix it," Jakob said as he pulled a paintbrush of dark paint and flung it towards me.
"Actually, I kind of like it."
Jakob stood still for a moment. "Really? Ah!" he yelled again as I took his momentary distraction as an opportunity to drag my brush down the side of his face.
Within less than five minutes, both Jakob and I were coated in paint, and all of the walls were splattered with both colours of paint. Finally, in the middle of our war, Jakob grabbed me by my waist and tackled me to the paint-covered tarp. We lay there tangled up in each other's limbs, laughing and staring around at the mess we made.
"You're right," Jakob commented. "It doesn't look too bad at all."
"No, I think I'll leave it like this."
Jake disentangled his arms from around me and propped himself up on his elbow. "What about leaving you like this, and we'll just go to lunch now instead of dinner later? I like this look." He brushed a purple lock of hair out of my face.
I laughed and craned my neck up to kiss him. "No, I'm going to make you help me wash this all out of my hair later. Then we can go out."
I usually found any social drama petty, except for when it involved my targets. I mused over that as I sat alone in the shadows in the corner of a human restaurant, drinking whiskey that wouldn't affect me anyway, at a table outside human earshot from where she was sitting with her date, but a good deal within mine.
I followed the story easily. His previous relationship had ended only the day before one with Amye started. She had promised to end another relationship, I discovered as I got into her thoughts, probably with the boy from the photograph, but had yet to still. She hadn't told him that. Yet.
She hadn't told him about me yet, either. She was afraid to. I wouldn't either. But she knew the first time I was in her house. She had suspicions at other times. Like the lavender that she'd been trying so hard to forget, but still nagged her from the back of her mind despite her denial. She'd been making connections to me for the last month, ever since I'd first marked her. Somehow, she'd seen me kill half of my recent victims. How was she doing it? I would have smelled her there. So she was a prophet. That would make this more challenging, more fun.
She was almost certain that I was responsible for so much of it, but not certain enough to say so. But the man, the one whose preschool daughter had answered the door to me: she'd told him. I'd have to be more cautious from now on. I couldn't control her thoughts. I'd tried, but she was either strong-willed or defective. Maybe they were the same in this case. I could get nothing out of her but telepathic communication, and that was weak.
I knew what that meant though: she would scream when she thought someone could hear her. She would talk. She would run. She would fight, and wouldn't be able to stop her from trying any of it. She could say something to someone before I got to her. Like to the kid sitting across from her. My secret wouldn't be safe anymore if she did. That was a problem. One wrong step and our carefully planned dance would be over. I wasn't controlling every movement anymore.
A laugh drew my attention back to Amye and her date. A casual joke made between them and the waiter as their meal was delivered. For just a moment, the boy's attention shifted just far enough that whatever block in his mind he was using – where he learned that from, I was very curious; they took years, decades, even, to perfect – dropped briefly, and I saw his thoughts for just a few moments, plenty long enough, before he snapped it back up, looking around with suspicion.
How very curious. I felt the smile creeping onto my face, and a plan began forming almost immediately in my mind.
The boy excused himself. As soon as he was past her chair, Amye's eyes flicked up. She looked straight at me. Her eyes bored into mine, and they were past mere recognition. In the back of her mind, she knew she was terrified. But she knew she would be courageous. She would face her fear of me and whatever it was I would bring down on her. It was like she was daring me to hunt her down. An all too acceptable challenge.
Oh yes, I was playing an incredibly dangerous game with this one. How exciting.
"I got you something," Jakob announced, sitting beside me on the living room couch. He produced a thin white box from the bag he'd brought in with him and handed it to me. "Shaelyn and I picked it out for you."
I took it reluctantly, feeling guilty that he had bought me something else, again. I looked at the box, then at him.
"Just open it," he sighed.
I lifted the lid and pushed the wrapping aside. Fabric brushed against my fingers, and I recognized the feel of satin. "What's this for?" I pulled the rich purple dress from the box and held it up so that it shimmered in the light.
Jakob only smiled. "You dropped something."
I looked down, and I had. I gently folded the dress back into the box and picked the envelope off the carpet. Inside was an invitation printed on heavy beige cardstock.
"A Red Carpet Affair?" I read. "What's this?"
"The school's spring formal. It's tomorrow night. I have two tickets. You're holding yours."
I stared at him, trying to find words. My mouth opened a few times before I finally choked out, "You - got me this for the spring formal."
"No. I got you the dress and shoes." He handed me the bag. "Shae thinks they should fit. You're the same shoe size."
I glanced tentatively at the heels with thick black ribbons. They didn't look too high or too flimsy. I hoped I'd be able to wear them.
"So, I'll pick you up at seven?"
I stood in front of the mirror in my room at 6:55 the next night and just stared at myself. Jenna was here to visit for the weekend, and had done my hair so that it gathered at the back and hung in loose waves down my back. She had given me smoky eyes and ruby lips to go with it. I looked like a stranger. I never wore makeup or dressed up for anything.
The dress was beautiful and fit perfectly, crossing in the bust and the waist wrapping around my side to give me more cleavage and shape than I thought I had. I ran my fingers over the jeweled halter strap and then down the smooth material that fell just above my knees. It even complemented the cast.
"You look beautiful," Jenna said behind me, her hands on my shoulders.
Above us, the doorbell rang. I looked up at the ceiling.
I strapped the shoes onto my feet – they were surprisingly comfortable – and Jenn handed me the clutch I'd dug out of my closet. I threw my phone, which Shawn had convinced my mom to return early, in among the ID cards and money and extra lip gloss.
"Don't forget the camera," Jenna added.
"I know, I know, I've been to dances before," I answered, snatching the little digital camera off of my desk.
I led the way upstairs. Jakob waited at the door, looking incredibly handsome in an all-black three-piece suit with a bow tie to match the dress he'd given me. Shawn, not my mom, was with him. They were laughing, and Jakob cut off halfway through whatever he was saying when he looked up at me. "Hey." His eyes raked over me, making me feel very put on the spot, but then he met my eyes again and grinned. He ambled up to me and kissed the back of my hand. "You look incredible."
I smiled shyly and ducked my head. "We'll see you when we get back?" I said, turning to Shawn.
He hugged me quickly and awkwardly. I don't think he was used to any affection yet from us. "Call if you need anything."
We left. Instead of pulling into the hall, though, Jake drove right by it, showing no sign that he knew he missed it. Before I could say anything, though, he pulled into an A&W a block up the street.
"Dinner?" he asked, pulling the keys from the ignition.
"Dressed like this?"
"Wouldn't be the first time." He shrugged. "Besides, it's even better than just dressed like this." He reached into the backseat and procured a red and white checkered tablecloth and a floral centrepiece.
"No way." I'd only ever heard about people doing this before, on the internet and in books.
He answered by coming around and opening my door for me, and offering his arm to me as soon as he'd helped me down.
People stared when we walked into the restaurant and Jakob swiftly set up our table, and they gave us even stranger looks when he pulled my chair out for me and then went up to order. I soon forgot they were even there, though. That was one of the best dinners I've ever gone out for.
The parking lot of the hall was packed when we got there. So was the chandelier-lit lobby. People were crowded around the gold and red sheathed tables for the ticket takers, and were shadowed by arches or colourful balloons. Red carpets led from the front entrance through every door, and people with cameras flocked along them.
"Smile," Jakob whispered, and pulled me in to pose for a photo.
We found our way to our table across the dance floor, passing the table where Jessica sat and rummaged through her purse, a boy who I assumed to be her date beside her.
Since the party, we'd pretty much divided into two separate groups. Jessica had pulled away from the rest of us. Sarah had followed. Connor, torn between being Jakob's best friend and Sarah's boyfriend, had opted to stay with them tonight, Jakob had said.
So Jakob and I met at our table with both of his siblings and their friends, and Andrew with his date, a pretty blonde girl I'd met once named Zoey, who greeted me instantly with a hug that almost knocked me off my heels.
"Tonight's going to be so much fun!" she announced.
I arrived at the banquet hall about halfway through the dance. I made it inside easily. Blocking the minds of these people was made so much easier compared to how impossible Amye was. Add looking the part: I dressed in a simple black suit, and I moved through the people in the lobby and hall without even being noticed. I searched minds and found Amye inside, dancing, completely unaware of my presence. I searched some more and found others. Finally, I found who I was looking for: the ex-girlfriend. Time to stir things up a little.
She wasn't anywhere near Amye. In fact, she was avoiding her and the boy – Jakob; that was his name – completely. Too easy. I reached into her mind and planted a suggestion.
Then I slipped, invisible, into the girls' washroom, and one-by-one, directed them back into the lobby. I waited until she showed up alone. She walked up to the sink and drew out a tube of lip gloss. Silently, I drew my knife.
"Hello, Jessica," I said, watching myself coming into her view in the mirror through her eyes. I clapped my hand over her mouth before she could scream.
The vision came around ten o'clock while I was dancing with Jakob to a slow song. My knees buckled and everything spun. It was Jakob who caught me.
"Are you okay?"
"I need to sit down," I huffed, squeezing my eyes shut against the migraine. He obliged by half carrying me back to the table.
"What's going on?"
"I'll be fine. It'll pass in a minute." I barely had time to think about how this might give away the secret I'd been trying so hard to hide from everyone, especially from Jakob, and then I was launched headfirst into it.
The darkness of the dance floor was gone. Now I was standing in a fancy public washroom with solid maple stalls and faux marble countertops. It was completely empty, nothing out of the ordinary, but then I heard it: soft sobbing, a couple of protests mangled by tears coming out of the stall at the back. I pushed on the door. Nothing. It was locked. The crying continued.
That was when I realized that the music coming from outside the bathroom door was the song that was playing around me.
I wrenched myself out of the vision so hard that I almost flew backwards out of my seat. "Shit," I hissed, and bolted for the door. Jakob followed.
As I burst into the washroom, the fair stall opened, and a girl with flat red hair in a pale blue dress already stained red with blood staggered out and collapsed on the floor.
My first aid training from when I taught horseback riding back in Calgary kicked in immediately, and I rushed to her side to attend the two neat, but deep cuts straight up her wrists. Too deep, I thought, for her to have managed to do it entirely to herself.
I heard Jakob yelling at a student to call for help, and I realized that we had drawn a crowd.
I turned my attention away from them and to Jakob for the moment. "Do you have anything for a bandage?" I asked as he knelt beside the girl's other arm and examined the wound. Vaguely, I heard someone say that an ambulance was coming.
He shook his head, looking a little stunned, and turned his head and scanned the crowd, finally demanding the scarf of one of the girls standing in the doorway watching everything unfold with wide eyes.
She hesitated, but then threw it to him. He ripped it half easily and passed a piece to me, which I wadded up and pressed to her arm. Too quickly, though, she was bleeding through the hastily made dressing.
"Here," Jakob said, putting his hand over mine. "I'll take this, I'm stronger." I looked at the cast on my wrist and realized he was right. I slid my hand out from underneath his, and he shifted over her, using the floor as leverage to put more pressure on her arms. "Check her vitals," he suggested.
Grateful for direction, I did. I brushed the girl's hair out of her face, and froze. "Jake…"
"What?" His eyes followed mine, and he trailed off. Alarm swept over his face, and for a second, I thought he might be sick. "Jess," he breathed. "Shit, this isn't good. What's her pulse like?"
I checked it. "Weak. Rapid. Breathing, too."
He paled. "Fuck. Jess, stay with us." He pressed harder on her arms. "Keep checking," he said to me.
It wasn't long, but it felt like forever before we finally heard shouting from behind the crowd for the paramedics to be allowed through. Within seconds, they were beside us. Jakob didn't move off of Jessica while they worked. I stayed silent and listened to their medical terms that I didn't understand, but Jakob seemed to understand perfectly, and jumped right into their conversation.
"Her name is Jessica. She's eighteen. She has a platelet disorder. He blood doesn't clot properly. We found her pretty much right away and we're doing our best, but she'll keep bleeding. O-positive blood."
The paramedics had her on a stretcher and were carrying her out almost immediately, leaving Jakob and I, a pool of Jessica's blood and a crowd of anxious bystanders. Suddenly, I felt uncomfortable.
I rushed out of the washroom as quickly as I could make myself move without running. One of the vice-principals held people back, and I gave him a grateful smile as I passed. He nodded back.
I went for the closest quiet corner I could find, and turned to Jakob. "We need to go to the hospital," I stated simply.
"Are you sure you want to? I'll understand if you don't."
"You know as well as I do that we have to," I huffed. "So I appreciate your trying to spare my feeling or my pride or whatever with this whole Jess versus me thing going on lately, but I think this trumps a fight over a boy. Friends right now or not, I still need to make sure she's okay. So I'm going to get Sarah and Connor and the guy Jessica was with tonight, and we're going to go, okay?"
He nodded. "You know this is why I love you, right?"
I somehow managed I smile. "Get the truck. I'll get everyone."
I wove through people, avoiding questions from students and teachers alike, and forced my way back into the hall. The music was still blaring, but only a small number of blissfully ignorant people still danced. Most were standing around talking, gossiping, trying to find out what was going on.
I heard my name being shouted over the music, and looked up at Andrew, who was barrelling through everyone to get to me.
He pulled me into his arms. I collapsed into his shoulder. "I saw… what happened?"
"I had a vision." A tear leaked out of my eye. Built-up stress, I told myself, wiping it away. "I think we saved her. We're going to the hospital. I can't stand around here and wait for news."
"Do you need me to come?" He let go and held me at an arm's length.
I sniffled. "No, it's okay. I've got Jake. Come to the hospital later if you want to, but do me a favour and enjoy the rest of your night with Zoey."
"Make sure you call Shawn."
"I will. I have to go find Jess' friends." I excused myself, grabbed my purse, and beelined for the table where I'd seen Jessica earlier in the night. Thankfully, Sarah and Connor and the boy who I thought was Jessica's date were sitting around it.
Excitement flashed in Sarah's eyes. "Did you hear?" she gushed. "They just carried someone out of here in an ambulance. I wonder what happened. I wonder who it is." She continued. God¸ I wanted to strangle her.
"God damn it, Sarah, shut up!" I snapped, and she stopped in the middle of her gossip. "It's Jessica, okay? Jessica's hurt, and they're taking her to the hospital. I came to get you so that you three can pull her stuff together and meet us there."
The colour drained entirely from Sarah's face. I could tell even in the dark. "What happened?" she asked so quietly that I had to read her lips. Her mouth hung open.
"I don't know," I answered honestly. "Come on."
Sarah stared at me for a second, then finally snapped out of it. "Mike, Connor, come on."
Shaelyn caught up to us in the lobby, phone in her hand. "Jake texted me and –," she broke off, staring at me. "Amye, what the hell is all over your dress?"
I looked down, and saw what she did. Suddenly I was grateful that the commotion was still at the washroom, far from where we were. This wasn't something I needed the whole school to see.
"Is that blood?"
It was. What had been flawless purple satin half an hour ago was now soaked through. Almost the entire front of the dress was stained dark red.
"Let's go," I answered, and almost ran through the door to Jakob's waiting truck.
A happy Thanksgiving to all of my fellow Canadians out there :) I hope you all enjoy being home for the weekend if you're a student like me, and your turkey or whatever else you may be eating tomorrow (or today? It's 12:30am here :p), and any parades that may be going on where you live. I'm looking forward to ours.
Anyways, what's to talk about this update? That two week thing or whatever it was clearly didn't happen, but this is a far more timely update than what I've been giving you before. I hope this one was enjoyable. I'm already working on the next chapter for you! (alongside the next chapters for two other stories. Lately, this one's been taking priority, so another may for a short while; we'll see where I'm feeling inspired this week.)
All the other frosh students out there, I hope you're getting nicely settled into wherever you're living now. I know I'm finally starting to be able to call my residence apartment 'home'. A surprisingly big deal. And good luck to you on your midterms!
All the best until the next update,