Her dress was too tight, she couldn't breathe. The damn thing wouldn't stop riding up, her fingers grasping at the hem of her bright red mini dress Amelia had picked out for her. Why was it so tight? Who makes these things? She shifted uncomfortably. There are too many people in here. Did she even know these people? She scanned the room below from her seat at the top of the stairs, and found a few familiar faces but the rest were complete strangers. Jason hadn't even acknowledged her yet and he was already three beers in. Amelia's such a liar.
Just keep drinking.
She took another sip from her red solo cup she had been given from her excited friend in an effort to loosen her up. She was starting to think this party was more of an excuse to drink and flirt with boys than celebrate her birthday. There wasn't a birthday cake or group to sing to her in sight.
You always do this. Get out of your head.
Taking another look at her phone, she sighed. 11:23. Only a minute had passed since the last time. Would anyone even notice if she left? This thought brought her back to Theo. She hadn't seen him since they had arrived and Amelia had pulled her away. She unlocked her phone and quickly found his name, pressing her finger down to call him.
The harmony of his favourite Fleetwood Mac song made her look behind her to see Theo waving his phone in front of him. "Missed me?"
She smiled, a weight lifting off her shoulders as her stomach unraveled and her heartbeat slowed. Theo sat next to his best friend, taking the cup out of her hands and sniffing it before crinkling his nose and putting it down on the step beside him.
"Let's go home," she sighed, shifting to rest her head on his shoulder. His body tightened slightly for a moment, before breathing in the scent of coconut deeply and relaxing into her. Whenever he would drop her off at her house, the same scent would linger in his car for the short drive across the street and he'd often find himself sitting in his driveway until it drifted out through the vents.
I just really love coconut, he thought.
Theo watched Pia's head sway from side-to-side, then abruptly shoot up as she fought to keep herself awake. Her bare feet rested up on the dashboard of his dad's old Nissan, heels having been tossed to the floor of the car as soon as she sat down. By the fifth red light, she had given up on the mission and let herself fall asleep and her head hit the window with a quiet thud. All he was left with was the hum of Van Morrison coming from the car's sound system as he drove through the suburban streets.
His eyes moved from the road in front of him to the girl beside him during the entire thirty minute drive, and before he knew it, he was pulling up to the Lancaster's one-story home. After Pia's father left when she was four, her mother was forced to move them out of her dream home and into a less affluent neighbourhood, where the windows lacked the picture-perfect shutters and locking the doors wasn't just a good idea but a necessity.
The house was unusually dark that night, with the light outside of the front door having been turned off. Theo leaned over to nudge his sleepy friend awake, her body shifting before she was able to take in her surroundings and realize where she was. Her eyes glanced out the window for a few moments, the haze around her slowly fading away allowing her to realize where she was.
"I fell asleep," she mumbled, her voice emanating a husky tint causing her to clear her throat.
"Yeah, nice observation, Sherlock."
She faked a silent laugh, "Thanks for driving." She grabbed her heels in one hand and her bag in the other before pushing the car door open. Her body ached as she slithered out of the car, using all the energy she had left to keep her upright long enough to get her inside and into her bed.
She could see her bed now, hear it calling for her as she reached into her purse to grab her house keys. She rattled the black handbag, hearing the keychain clinking along inside telling her it was there somewhere. Pia used the light from her phone screen to find her keys, wrapping the keyring around her index finger and looking back up once she reached the front door.
It was when she looked up that her body tensed immediately. Something wasn't right.
The red front door was left ajar only slightly, but that was enough to make her nervous. Almost immediately, she turned around and ran back towards the grey Nissan still sitting at the curb.
"What? Did you forget something?" Theo asked, having rolled down the window on the passenger's side.
"The front door's open."
It could've been a mistake. Her brother could have come home late with friends or the Bell's could have been over and thought they closed it properly when they left. But Pia knew her mother well enough to know that this was a surefire sign that something was wrong. Her mother constantly worried about the safety of their neighbourhood. Even if they had lived in a much nicer area, she still would've told her to keep pepper spray in her purse and always be vigilant. She grew up with the rules mandating her ability to leave the house being she let her mother know when she arrived at her destination and whenever she left to come back home.
Even when she spent nights out, there was almost a guarantee that her mom would still be awake when she got back home. She always claimed she couldn't fall asleep without both her children safely in their bed. Pia was pretty sure her mother hadn't had a night's rest since her older brother hit his teenage years.
Without hesitation, Theo took the keys out of the ignition and got out of the car. He followed the redhead up the front doorsteps and watched from over her shoulder as she hesitantly pushed the front door open.
"Maybe it's broken," he spoke quietly. He knew now unlikely that was, but couldn't find any other reason to calm the situation as the duo entered through the door.
The house was dark, but otherwise exactly as she had left it. Everything was in its rightful place as she hung up her jacket on its rightful hook and tiptoed throughout the home.
"Why aren't we turning on the lights?" Theo asked as she looked around the kitchen.
She shrugged, opening up the fridge door to illuminate the kitchen, "They never do that in CSI."
He chuckled, poking his head around the corner to the hallway leading to the three bedrooms. He looked into the fridge while Pia moved around the corner. She poked her head in the first doorway to the left, looking into the brightly decorated bathroom that was empty of any intruders. The second door to the left was her brother's room and she opened the door only enough to stick her head through and make sure there was any strangers looking around.
The next room to check was her own, the third door on the left and across the hall from her mother's. Her own door was left open, and the clothes strewn about the floor was a mess she owned from earlier that night. Her makeup still scattered across her desk, closet door left open and almost emptied with all her clothing finding new homes on the floor.
Nobody in here.
Pia sighed and dropped her purse onto her bed, already feeling better. There was one last room to check, but she had already decided everything had to be fine and she'd ask her mother in the morning about the door. As she left her room to find where Theo had gone, she made a stop across the hall and opened the door to her mother's bedroom.
The light from the streetlamp outside peaked in through the drapes, allowing her to see her mother laying in her bed. She was still sitting upright with pillows built behind her back, a book left on her lap. Without disturbing her, she closed the door quietly and then headed back out into the main rooms of the house.
Theo had been distracted. He had spent seconds looking through the fridge only to discover a freshly baked lasagna sitting there asking to be eaten and enjoyed. That was enough to make him forget about the task at hand and focus on grabbing a fork and begin eating out of the baking tray.
He was mid bite when Pia came back into the room. The light from the fridge at his back as he sat at the dining table eating. When he looked up, he saw her eyebrow twitch as she raised her arms exasperated. "Your mom made lasagna, P."