It’s funny how changing your clothes or hair can turn you into a completely different person. The girl reflected in Jared’s mirror was smiling but I didn’t feel it upon my lips. My auburn hair was in loose curls that faded into my choppy bangs. I hadn’t bothered to ask why they had a curling iron.
Brielle would have been proud. My face was dusted with silver glitter, eyes framed with thick lines of kohl. I ran my hands down my sides, over the sleek black dress I’d picked out at Hot Topic, edged with lace and offset with a few chains around my wrists.
There came a slight knock at the door, and then Jared himself came in. he was dressed down in slim black jeans and a tight grey shirt that stretched across his muscled chest. “Wow,” he breathed, closing the door a bit and stepping towards me. “Ruthless. You look great.”
I laughed a little, though it was nervous and shaky. “Thanks,” I said, because I wasn’t the kind of girl who could say witty things like ‘not as good as you.’ Which would have been a very true statement.
“C’mon.” He turned away from me then, back towards the door. I found myself wishing his eyes were still upon me. When I extended my hand to place it lightly upon his shoulder, he looked back with those soft green eyes.
“I know,” he murmured, offering up a gentle smile. And I knew that he did, and that was all that mattered to me. Because it had been three days but it felt like three decades and I was alone in the world, completely alone, and he knew. So maybe I wasn’t so alone after all.
The house didn’t look so different, although the coffee table had been moved against the wall and some food was out in the kitchen. Richard was arranging some beer bottles in the fridge. Dread was nowhere to be seen.
Richard must have heard us enter over the sound of the clanking glass. Standing up and closing the fridge, he spun to face us. “Damn,” he smirked. I could feel a deep blush creeping over my cheeks. “I don’t know how we’re going to keep everyone off of you.”
Jared rolled his eyes, stepping closer to me. “Ha ha,” he said sarcastically, emphasizing. “Where’s Dread?”
As if on cue, the door opened and the dark hair boy came in. He wore a plain black shirt and his usual sneer. Out of habit, I dropped my gaze to the floor, to the black heels Jared had insisted I splurge on. When I dared to look up again I was surprised to feel Dread’s lifeless eyes on me. “Well. At least the girl will attract people. We should be able to make some money.”
Jared’s voice was like venom. “Just get the coke, okay?” Dread rolled his eyes and turned to leave, to retreat to his room. That was when I realized he wasn’t wearing his chain. It was the first time I’d seen him without it since I’d arrived. Then he was gone, and both Jared and Richard were looking at me, and I was wondering what Brielle would have done. Like she would have cracked a beer and gotten the party started herself.
But I was not Brielle. I leaned back against the counter and waited. Watching the sun disappear below the horizon as a drowning child might slip below the surface of the violent waves. Watching the minutes on the clock pass slowly.
It wasn’t long before the house was filled with people. I wandered through the crowd with wide eyes, my heart beating in time with the pounding bass. At some point Richard had stuck a joint in my mouth, so I was feeling sort of fuzzy. Like I was trapped in a glass box, watching everything else go on around me. Not there. Far away.
Are you having fun? The whispers in my mind had me on edge. This time when it spoke, I froze in place, nervous eyes looking around, scanning an ocean of faces I didn’t recognize for the voice I knew so well. I knew the way she’d be standing, the expression she’d be wearing with her head cocked to the side.
A hand on my forearm brought me down, back to the living room, to the place I needed to be. Warm brown eyes were upon me, eyes that expected an answer. The most I could muster was a nod. “I asked if you were having fun.”
A slow sigh of relief escaped from somewhere within me. “Yeah,” I replied once I found my voice, even though it was a lie.
The guy standing before me smiled. It was a combination of inviting and wolfish, but to me it just seemed friendly. “I’m Adam. You wanna go somewhere to talk?”
Now that he mentioned it, I did. The music was too loud; I felt too trapped. I dared to reach out a lace my fingers through his, leading him down the hall to Jared’s room. With the door closed, it was easier to focus, easier to breathe.
Adam set his cup down on the dresser before plopping onto the edge of the bed. Only then did I pause to get a good look at him. He was rather beautiful, in that tanned, toned way all California boys were. He was smiling up at me, welcoming me with his depthless eyes. I could have drowned in them. Maybe that was just the weed talking.
“Parties aren’t really my thing,” he spoke in a low, sensual voice. Had my throat not been so constricted, I might have asked why he was there. But I was sure I didn’t really want to know the answer, so instead I stood by and stared. “Sit by me?”
Easy, measured steps got me to the bed without stumbling or doing anything equally stupid. I sat down beside him, close enough for my bare leg to rub against his dark blue jeans. They looked expensive.
“Why do they call you Ruthless?” He asked me then.
I shrugged. “Jared thought that Ruth sounded too Christian. Ruthless seemed more dangerous.” I needed to seem dangerous, didn’t I? Innocent was not an option here.
“I like Ruth,” he murmured. “It’s softer. Delicate.”
Before I could be certain of what was happening, Adam was upon me, pushing me gently onto my back. He used his elbows to keep his weight off of me, cupping my face with one hand while the other teased the place where the hem of my dress met my bare thigh. His mouth was hot against mine, pleading for entrance as he slid his tongue over my bottom lip.
I managed to push him off, gasping for air. “What are you-”
“Shh,” Adam cut me off. “It’s okay, baby. I promise it wont hurt.” His hand had made its way up my dress, his thumb now trailing over my hip. Adam kissed me harder, pulling at a fistful of hair. I thought about screaming, crying for someone. But no one would hear me over the music, and Adam’s grip upon me was too strong to break anyway.
Seconds that felt like hours passed. With rough hands he’d managed to unzip my dress and was working at my bra. His alcohol and weed induced haze was slowing him down, but the obscenities he whispered more than made up for it. “I’m gunna fuck you so hard-”
The door opened with a click that was barely audible, but to me it was like a chorus of angels descending upon me. After that everything became a blur. Adam pushed me into the bed, trying in vain to hide. “What the-” That was Jared’s voice, his green eyes flying from Adam’s guilty face to my terrified expression. Then came the shouting, the swears and threats. Adam was out the door in seconds.
I realized I’d closed my eyes, holding tight to Jared’s comforter, pretending I was back in Wintersburg. Bad things didn’t happen in a place like that. I imagined Brielle stroking my hair, wiping my tears, comforting me even as she laughed. “You would have liked it,” she’d have told me.
When I opened them, I was still in Jared’s room, and it was his hands petting my hair. “I’m so sorry, Ruth,” he whispered to me. my name sounded perfect falling from his lips. Without knowing quite what I was doing, I crawled over into his lap, threw my arms around his neck and pressed myself against him. After a moment of hesitation he held me to his chest, pressed his lips against my cheek to wipe away some tears.
Before he pulled back, I turned my head to meet his lips with my own. in spite of everything else, I felt safer in that moment than I had for as long as I could remember. Safer even than Brielle had made me. “Stay with me,” I begged. Jared only nodded, and so I let myself fall back into the bed. Without hesitation I pulled off the dress and dropped it onto the floor. Then I slipped beneath the blankets, and the blonde boy laid down next to me.
It was Jared’s face I saw in place of Brielle’s. It didn’t take long to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.
One ring. No one came to the door. I’d tried knocking already so I reached out to ring it again. I knew she was home. She had to be home. With a frustrated groan I let myself in. the entire downstairs was dark, no lights to guide me. I knew it well enough not to run into things anyway. Past the table, up the stairs. The hallway seemed to stretch on for miles, and then I was standing outside her bedroom door.
One knock. I waited. Nothing. “Brielle, come on.” No familiar laughter or excessively poppy music in the background. “Shit.” I turned the handle and stepped into the room. It had been her room since forever. The walls were the same pale pink she had chosen when she was four. A wide, open window filled the room with natural light and the occasional burst of stale Arizona air. Then a desk, a mirror, a dresser.
A bed. The bed where we’d spent countless nights, laughing until we cried or crying until there was nothing to do but laugh it off. It was where she had lost it to Luke. Where she had held me in her lap and told me never to cut myself again. Where I had dared to lean in and kiss her.
Standing there, I couldn’t scream, couldn’t cry. Couldn’t move either. I stared down at it all, white blonde hair and pale, pale skin. Everything the queen of a place called Wintersburg should be. Those icy blue eyes that had so chilled me were lifeless, gazing out to a place no one else even knew existed.
I walked to the bed, knelt down beside it. I was careful not to touch her; she looked so peaceful. I couldn’t bear to disturb her. I wished I could be so at ease. “Hey,” I whispered. No reply, of course.
I realized I was crying then, but only when the tears dripped onto her face, onto her perfect cheekbones, rolling over the contours of her smooth skin. “Brielle.” I dared to reach up, to trail a finger down her jaw, cringing at how cold she already felt. “Fuck, c’mon, Brielle. Wake up!”
The sobs became hysterical. I was screaming, screaming, and I knew she could hear me but she never moved at all. I collapsed into the bed as the smell of blood finally registered in my nostrils. Lifting my head, I saw it in my hair, red droplets to blend with the auburn layers, falling back onto her white comforter. It was embroidered with a mass of elaborate butterflies; they appeared to be swarming her body, dancing around her limp form. And she was all caught up in the flutter of their wings.
I looked up to her face one last time. Serene. Like she was in a wonderful dream, but soon she would wake up and everything would be okay. Like she wasn’t unconscious on her bed as her life bubbled out from the gashes in her wrists.
The pink walls faded to black as I fell to the floor. The last thing I heard was my own desperate pleas, begging her to come back.