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Sage and Michael stopped fighting; he cast his boxing gloves to the floor and reached for a bottle of water, while she rested her hands on her thighs to lean forward and pant.
“He’s kicking my ass,” Sage said.
“Must be sober for once,” Merri said dryly from the couch without looking up from her book. Michael shot her a look, but didn’t retort.
“There are far more important things than fighting today, kids.” Gen strolled in, dropped the shopping bags she carried onto the floor by the couch and took a seat with Merri. “It’s Halloween.”
Sage picked up a bottle of water and drank the whole thing before speaking. “Your point?”
“You got me to the stupid school dance last year,” Sage said. “That’s it.”
“It’s not at the school this year,” Merri said, still not putting down her paperback. “It’s at On the Map. Boycott or something.”
Gen nodded. “They cancelled the dance so student council organized something at a club with alcohol instead. That should teach them.”
“I still don’t want to go.”
“But you have to,” Gen said. She held up the bags. “I’ve got costumes. And everyone has to wear one. We have a theme.”
Sage walked over to take a seat on the arm of the couch. “No.”
“And didn’t you tell Cade you were going tonight already, Sage?” Merri said.
“Yes, so that I could come here. And now I’m here—no need to go anywhere.”
“I think you kinda gotta take a break for a couple of hours,” Gen said, batting her eyelashes and smiling innocently. “Otherwise, someone might get really sad about being at the party all by herself and feel compelled to call Cade and tell him where you are...”
Sage’s angry gaze went straight to Genevieve’s. “You wouldn’t.”
Gen picked up one of the three bags and tossed it to Sage. “We’re leaving in twenty minutes to meet Levi, Janine, and Thad there.”
Grumbling under her breath, Sage snatched up the bag and stalked into the bathroom to change.
“You are wicked,” Merri said with a grin.
“Like I said—we have a theme.” She handed Merri her bag. “You have to get dressed too.”
“I’m afraid to even ask.” Merri took the bag and retreated to her room.
Genevieve hopped off the couch, her shopping bag in hand, and turned to Michael. “You wanna come too?”
“I’ll pass.” He gestured to the closed door behind him. “You can change in the spare room.”
She hadn’t been in either of the two spare rooms at the back of the building before, and approached this one with a hint of hesitation. She half expected to find more scary weapons. Instead, she slid opened the door and found stacks and stacks of boxes and trunks lining the walls, some with drop clothes over them.
Nothing to say that there aren’t weapons in the boxes.
“There’s a mirror right across from the door,” Michael called.
She closed the door most of the way and pulled a white cloth from the full length mirror. The frame was dark wood, and she guessed quite old. Bits of dust hung in the air.
“Are you handing out candy?” she asked as she slipped off her T-shirt and jeans, then dug into the bag.
“You’re really funny today,” he returned.
“Mad that I’m stealing your favourite pupil for the night?”
“I could use the break.”
She tugged on the formfitting, black dress, then slipped on matching boots with heels that added four inches to her height. She took the final item out of the bag, stuffed her regular clothes in, and collected it all before heading out of the room.
“I like that mirror,” she gestured over her shoulder into the spare room, “and I think you should totally give it to me because you don’t use it.”
“I’m not giving you a four thousand dollar mirror that’s two hundred years old.”
“I hope you have all this stuff insured.”
The bathroom door swung open abruptly and Sage stomped out. “You have got to be kidding me.”
Gen covered her mouth to keep from giggling.
“Seriously, what the hell were you thinking?” Sage gestured to the faux-leather warrior princess costume she was sporting. “Are you on drugs or something?”
Merri’s door opened next. She seemed much more pleased with her long purple peasant skirt and various scarves. She held an acrylic crystal ball in her left hand.
Gen put on her black pointed hat. “I think this was a great idea.”
“And what is this theme?” Sage asked, still not amused.
“I’m a witch, you’re a warrior, and Merri’s a—”
“Gypsy?” Merri guessed.
“A seer,” Gen said. “That was the best I could come up with. So we’re going as the Children of the Apocalypse. We need a warrior chick.”
“I’m not wearing the skirt,” Sage said.
“Fine, but you have to take the sword.”
Sage returned to slip on her jeans, muttering under her breath as she went.
“Sure you don’t want to come?” Merri asked Michael as she slipped on her shoes.
“Yeah, you could go as the pain in our collective ass,” Gen said with a grin. “You wouldn’t need a costume or anything.”
“You mean he should just wear a sign that says, ‘Hello, my name is Cade’?” Merri said. Even Sage laughed as she returned, and the three moved towards the door. “Don’t wait up.”
“They really cracked down on the alcohol for minors thing,” Levi said, shouting a little to be heard over the music.
Thad took a sip of his beer and grinned. “Yeah. Doesn’t it suck to be under nineteen?” Merri smacked his side, and he threw his arm around her shoulder in return. “You’re not enjoying your coke, darling?”
Gen feigned a laugh, but had trouble focusing on the conversation. She’d seen Janine earlier, when they first arrived, but... She glanced at her watch. Half an hour had gone by. She was supposed to be getting a drink—where the hell did she go?
“I was under the impression that this place wouldn’t have chaperones,” Levi continued. “I think I’ve seen all of my teachers now. Mostly at the bar.”
“Word got around about the alternative dance,” Merri said. “There was a staff meeting or something about it.”
“And you know that how?” Thad asked.
“I happened to be eavesdropping while I was tutoring after school, of course.”
Gen glanced at her watch again. This is driving me nuts... Janine wouldn’t have just left. Gen was supposed to go to her place later to stay overnight. What the hell?
She picked up her drink and stood. “I’m going to go see Sage for a bit.”
Levi looked over his shoulder at where Sage sat scowling on a chair against the wall, by herself. “Someone did explain to her that it should be a fun evening, right?”
“Sage doesn’t like fun,” Gen said. “She’s allergic to it. But she’s a good sport for coming.” And I feel a tad bad for making her because she looks so miserable.
Sage only briefly glanced up when Gen reached her and sat down. “This sucks.”
“I don’t dance.”
Gen leaned back and sipped her root beer. Her gaze moved around the club, still looking for Janine. “There’s a guy over there totally checking you out.”
Sage’s gaze flickered for a moment to the young guy standing several feet away, then she stared straight ahead again. “I noticed.”
“He’s cute...in a boy way. You could talk to him?”
“Or I could kick your ass for dragging me here.”
“Seriously. We could get you drunk. You could party with the cute guy.”
Her eyes shot to the guy again. White teeth flashed as he shot her a smile.
Sage glared at Gen. “I’m not interested in guys.”
Gen’s eyes widened. “Oh. Do you like girls now? ‘Cause I really don’t like you that way—”
Sage stood. “I’m not interested in anyone. I just want to be left alone.” She stalked away and disappeared into the crowd.
So much for being a good sport. If she hadn’t had that brilliant idea to dress in theme, she probably wouldn’t have bothered making Sage go. Of course she didn’t want to have fun.
But I do. Where the hell is Janine?
She took to wandering around the club, both the main floor and mezzanine level. Still no sign of her girlfriend. The ladies room also came up empty.
Worry knotted in the pit of her stomach. I don’t like this. People had died before—a lot of people. Sure, they closed the portal, but who knew what else got out? On the Map had plenty of stupid—and possibly drunk or high—teens running around. Great place for a monster to hang out.
And I’d rather not have my girlfriend get killed...
She stopped at the table she shared with the others to put down her drink and snatch up her jacket. “I’m heading outside for a bit.”
“Need an escort?” Levi asked, but Gen shook her head.
“I’ll be back in a few.”
Maybe Janine has a deep dark secret, like smoking, Gen thought as she made her way through the crowd. So she went outside...for a really long smoke break? Merri did that sometimes, but then usually it was actually to sneak off and make out with Thad.
She pulled her jacket tight around her as she stepped outside. One thing she hated about Halloween in Canada was that it was always too cold to just wear her costume. Every year, when she and Levi went trick-or-treating, they’d have the most awesome costumes, and then they’d have to wear track clothes under them because it would be too damn cold to go out without them.
Though she started to look around the side of the building, the sound of a familiar laugh drew her steps back toward the parking lot. She frowned as she glanced around, scanning the lot of cars and small groups of people milling about. I could have sworn I heard...
Her gaze settled on a head of familiar dark hair. Janine.
Her pace quickened until she was close enough to see a second figure there. Short red hair...she looked vaguely familiar...
The two seemed to be talking, and then the other girl leaned forward and pulled Janine into a kiss. Everything fell into place.
Trish. The ex. Janine’s girlfriend for the past few years, until last spring.
Gen felt her stomach drop and tears fill her eyes, but she breathed deeply. The sting of betrayal was strong, and part of her sincerely wanted to bring out some offense magic and choke the life out of the pair of them.
“What the hell?” she managed.
Janine tensed immediately and swung around. Her eyes widened and face paled. “Gen...” She turned back and whispered something to Trish, then started toward Gen.
“You can go to hell,” Gen muttered under her breath and she spun around and stalked back towards the club.
Genevieve felt a hand on her arm. She halted, but snapped her arm out of Janine’s grasp. “I said, you can go to hell.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for—”
“What, you went out to get some air and accidentally started making out with your ex girlfriend? Were you possessed, or hypnotized, or are you just naturally a lying cheating bitch?”
“Okay, you know, that’s fine. You have a right to be pissed off—”
“Damn right I do—”
“I ran into her when I went to get a drink and we came out here to talk. We needed to.”
“That wasn’t talking.” The kiss played over and over in her head. Heavy tears waited in her eyes but she wouldn’t shed them. Not yet. Not in front of her.
“We just got caught up in talking and...don’t you ever feel that?”
“Feel what? Compelled to make out with my cheating ex in a parking lot and hurt my girlfriend?”
“No, passion. It’s not rational and it’s not something I planned, but... Gen, I love her. I always have.”
But I loved you.
Gen’s eyes burned. Her fingers tightened into fists. Magic spoke to her, begging to be called and used. Make them pay. Make them regret it.
Make her love you like you love her.
“I don’t care,” Gen whispered. “You don’t suck face with your ex when you’re dating someone else.”
“But you’re never here!” Janine bit her lip as she started to cry.
“What the hell are you talking about? I’m here right now.”
“No, you’re not. You’re never here with me. You take off randomly, and when you are around, it’s like you’re not even actually there.”
“So...you’re making out with Trish because I don’t pay attention to you?”
“It’s because you won’t let me into your life!”
Gen shrugged. “And right now, I’m pretty glad about that.” This time she left for the club and Janine didn’t follow.
Merri met her at the door, as if sensing something was wrong. “What happened?”
“I need to go home...”
“Do you want me to come with your or—”
“No, I’ll be okay. Can you get a ride home with Thad?”
“I’m going to go pick up my stuff and then go home.”
And plot horrible revenge by candlelight.
Sage stood at the bar and argued with the bartender for ten minutes before he agreed to get her just a plain glass of water. That they didn’t want to sell the kids alcohol, she could understand, but pushing sugary, carbonated drinks on them instead wasn’t good either. She had one glass of grapefruit juice in the morning—everything else had to be water. She returned to the main floor with her drink and looked for Gen so she could complain some more about being dragged along, but it was in vain. No sign of the witch.
So she makes me come here, and then leaves. It figured.
She spotted Merri and Thad sitting at a table, but they practically had their tongues down one another’s throats. God, she hated P.D.A. It was so rude. She and Hayden never...
Sage gazed down sadly. She and Hayden never did a lot of things because they didn’t have time, but perhaps she would have found public displays of affection more acceptable if she’d known how little time they had. She never would have let him go.
And that’s where her thoughts always went, still. A year later. Even after she’d “accepted” his death, accepted that he was gone forever...she still thought of him daily. Still missed him. Still had trouble, in conversation with others, not saying, “Hayden once did this...” He’d been so much a part of her world for so long that it still seemed strange to be building new memories without him.
She looked up sharply and turned to see a guy at her side. He was the same one who’d been looking at her before. She looked blankly at him for a moment, wondering why the hell anyone would bother talking to her. After putting in so much effort to seem as introverted and antisocial as possible, it was rare of anyone to bother.
He reached out a hand to her. “I’m Darius.”
“I don’t care.” She took a sip of her water.
“I’m pretty sure I know you from somewhere.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s a bad pick up line and I still don’t care.” She turned away from him, but he only followed. A punch to his head seemed to be in order, but before she could swing her fist back, another figure stepped in.
“Hey honey,” Levi said with a quick smile. He took her by the elbow and guided her away from the other guy. “Let’s take a walk.”
As they moved out of the club, she tore her arm from his grasp and sent him a glare. “I didn’t need you to rescue me.”
“You were going to hit that guy.”
“You can get arrested for that, you know.”
“He had it coming.”
“Still. You can’t go around hitting people, or Gen won’t invite you out anymore.”
“You promise?” She sucked in a breath of cold October air. “She made me come here, and then she took off.”
“Do you need a ride?”
She glanced up at him. “Aren’t you staying?”
Levi shrugged. “I’m bored. It sucks not having a date.”
“I’ll say,” she mumbled as she followed him to his car.
“You thinking of dating again?”
She shivered in the cold. “God, no.”
“Hayden wouldn’t blame you, you know.”
“Lev...” She sighed heavily and met his eyes for a moment. “I loved your brother. Him being gone doesn’t change that.”
“Well, if you smack around every guy who hits on you, you probably won’t have to worry about too many more bothering you.”
Kids had rang the doorbell at least a dozen times that evening, despite the fact that Michael had kept the outside light off. It was supposed to be a sure sign that the house in question wasn’t handing any candy out, but that didn’t stop the sense of entitlement of some children.
Michael sat in his kitchen reading a book and sipping a beer. All but the kitchen lights were turned off in the hopes that it would lessen the number of trick-or-treaters intruding on his night.
The front door opened and slammed closed.
He glanced at his watch. Nine-thirty seemed too early for Merri to be home.
Sniffling followed, and then the click of heels across the hardwood. Genevieve went straight to her bag of clothes next to the couch.
“What happened?” he asked.
She swung around and wiped some tears from her eyes. “Stupid teenager stuff. You wouldn’t care.”
“Probably not.” He went back to his book.
“It’s just that I just broke up with my girlfriend,” she continued, obviously missing the part where they agreed that he didn’t care. “And it was supposed to be this awesome night and we were going to go to her place afterwards and instead I found her making out with her ex girlfriend in the parking lot and she said bad things to me and...” She broke down into tears again.
“Want a beer?”
Her shoulders sagged in defeat and she sniffed. “Okay.”
While he pulled out a mug from the cupboard and a beer from the fridge, Gen dropped her bag by the kitchen island and slumped onto a barstool. “I hate dating. I’ve had two girlfriends and they’ve both sucked.”
“That’s par for the course at seventeen.”
“Did you have awful girlfriends at seventeen?”
“No, but then I wasn’t your average seventeen year old.”
“Did you have any girlfriend at seventeen?”
“So you became a man-whore later in life?”
He slammed the bottle down on the counter and glared at her. “If you’re going to be a brat, you can do so at home and not have some of my imported beer.”
Her bottom lip trembled. “I’m sorry. I just feel better when I’m taking my problems out on you.”
“I gathered,” he said dryly as he poured her a beer and topped up his own.
Gen reached for the drink, but he pulled it back. After grabbing two shot glasses from the cupboard, he filled them with Irish whiskey and Baileys. He dropped the shot glasses in the mugs.
“Why’d you do that?”
He slid the mug her way. “It’s an Irish car bomb.”
“I can’t go home drunk.”
“So sleep on the cot in Merri’s room.”
She gave him a faint smile. “You’re being too nice. Are you getting me drunk so that you can kill me later?”
“Bottoms up then.”
Gen folded her arms on the countertop when she was done chugging and rested her head on them. “She cheated on me.”
“Uh-huh. With her ex. And it’s so stupid because Trish cheated on Janine and that’s why they broke up.”
“Trish is your girlfriend?”
“No, Janine is. Was.” She sat up suddenly. “What the hell is wrong with people? Why do people cheat on people? Did you know my dad was cheating on my mom? She left him. What the fuck was going through his head? I think of doing a lot of bad things to plenty of people. Stabbing them and poisoning them and infecting them with leprosy. I even wanted you to burst into flames one time. But cheating on someone who loves me isn’t one of them. Who does that kind of thing?”
Michael poured another shot of whiskey and downed it. “This is rhetorical, right?”
“Seriously, I don’t get it. Can I have another drink?”
One more and she’d probably pass out once it hit her, but at least that would stop her complaining. He mixed up another pair of bombs and handed one to her. She looked ready to topple off her barstool by the time she was done.
“I really...really...like, I really want to know.” She looked up at him with a frown. “Why do people do that? Did you ever...like, ever cheat on your wife?”
A few drinks ago, he never would have answered, but like anyone else, whiskey loosened his tongue a little too much. He leaned his elbows on the counter and gazed down at his glass. “Yes.”
She smacked his arm hard enough that he nearly smacked her back.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” she said.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Damn right I don’t understand!”
“There can be mitigating circumstances.”
“I don’t believe that,” she said stubbornly.
“I’m not that much younger than you are. The difference is that I know what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Michael sighed and reached for another beer in the fridge. “I’m not debating ethics and fidelity with you.”
“Do you regret it?”
More than you can possibly know. “Yes.”
“Do you think Janine regrets it?”
“My brain is spinning. Can I have another drink?”
“Maybe when it stops spinning.”
She rested her head on the counter. “I first saw her when I was thirteen. She went to a different school but we were at the high school for track and field day. I got second place in high jump.
“And I saw her. And she was so pretty. I knew I liked girls. I went home and told my mom and dad over dinner that I liked girls and they just nodded like it was okay. And four years later I was totally in love with her.”
He bit back a remark about how stupid she sounded, and felt a moment of slight guilt. She was just a kid. Kids get their hearts broken and never see the big picture.
It must be nice to be that fucking naive.
“She said she loved her,” Gen continued.
“All the feminine pronouns are confusing.”
“Janine.” Tears brimmed in her eyes again. “She said she still loved Trish. But she was supposed to love me.”
“Maybe she does.”
“But...can you really love two people? Is that even possible?”
“Right, like you know. You don’t love anyone. You’re like...anti-love. Why do I know such weirdos? Sage is allergic to fun and you’re allergic to love.”
“I changed my mind.” He pushed another beer her way. “Have a drink.”
Merri entered her house after midnight to the sound of laughter.
She stepped cautiously through the short hall and looked around into the kitchen.
Gen sat on a barstool—half slumped over the counter—laughing so hard that her face had gone bright red. Although she’d been crying the last time Merri saw her, it wasn’t nearly as out of place as Michael on the other side of the counter, laughing as well.
And Michael doesn’t laugh...this can’t be a good thing.
“Oh god,” Merri said as she walked into the kitchen. “Is it laughing gas? Evil joke demon? Or...did you get high?”
“No, we’re drinking.” Gen put her hand on a nearly empty bottle of whiskey and slid it along the counter. It went too far and began to topple off the edge.
Michael’s hand shot out to catch it, but his coordination was off and the bottle fell to the floor anyway.
Genevieve laughed even harder, and Michael didn’t seem upset about it either.
“Okay, who are you people and what did you do with Gen and Michael?”
“Janine and I broke up so Michael made me car bombs and then he told a joke and it was so funny—”
“You told a joke?” Merri’s gaze went from Gen to Michael, and then back to Gen again. “Is this the apocalypse?”
“I didn’t tell a joke,” Michael said. “I said,” he looked at Genevieve, “that you’re going to die of alcohol poisoning because I’m not going to call an ambulance.”
They both burst out laughing again and Gen nearly slipped off the stool.
“Uh...” Merri took a cautious step back. “Did I accidentally run into that kid you and Sage visited, and make a wish? Is this bizarro world?”
“Put the witch to bed,” Michael said, gesturing in the direction of Merri’s room. “Or she really will die of alcohol poisoning.”
Merri rolled her eyes. “Oh, no. You got her drunk. You can carry her.” She returned to her room and made up the cot in time for Michael to dump a drunken Genevieve on it.
“You never let me drink,” she accused.
“Well, you’re less needy and whiney.”
“I’m glad you’re being nice to her.”
“Letting her get drunk is being nice to her?”
Merri gazed down at Gen, who had all but started snoring. “She was in pain. You did a friend kind of thing for her. It’s good. You too are a lot alike.”
“I’m whiney and needy? I think you need to find a new place to live.”
Merri gave his arm a playful shove. “You might have been. In another life.”
Michael left, and Merri adjusted Gen so she was laying on her stomach and under at least one of the blankets before heading off to change into her nightgown.
Merri stopped near her bed and glanced over her shoulder. Gen still lay sprawled on the cot with the side of her face smooshed on the pillow, but her eyes were open. Well, at least the one not buried in the pillow.
“You wanna tell me what happened?”
Gen pressed her palms into the bed and pushed herself up, but then her eyes widened and she paled. “Okay, that wasn’t a good idea.” After lowering herself down again, she curled her body into the foetal position. “I’m going to be so hungover tomorrow, won’t it?”
“Drink a lot of water.”
“It’s probably some Michael-y lesson to teach me not to complain to him about my stupid teenager problems, right?’
“That sounds like a Michael kind of thing to do. Are you going to tell me what happened?”
“Oh-my-god.” She tried to sit up again, but failed and fell back on the pillow. “Did Sage get a ride home?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“She’s so going to kill me.”
“You’re avoiding the question.”
“Tomorrow.” Gen closed her eyes and yawned. “Tomorrow.”
Whatever happened with Gen—which Merri assumed related to Janine’s absence—she could learn in the morning. At least she wasn’t going home drunk, or worse... Vengeful.