Tate was smitten.
Nobody else in that house mattered.
Not the other dead fuckers. Not the pathetic mother. Only Steffie.
Day by day he could tell she was warming up to the idea of spending forever with him.
He could, and did, sit next to her and watch her every movement for hours. When she talked to her friends from her hometown on the phone she had a habit of running her fingers absently through Tate’s curls. He loved that. She didn’t mind the way his eyes drank in every inch of her mannerisms, her vocabulary, and her very essence.
He even sat still for hours once, letting her draw a charcoal rendition of his face onto one of her many blank canvases. Then one day everything changed.
Steffie came home from school, soaked to the skin from a random afternoon downpour, her mouth set in a pensive scowl. All of her emotions made Tate nervous; like she was a skittish puppy he had to tiptoe towards in order to love. He snuck up behind her and slipped his arms around her middle in a way that usually elicited some sort of sarcastic remark. This time she just pushed his hands off of her.
“Don’t touch me, Tate,” she said, sounding fatigued.
“What did I do this time?” he asked nervously.
“I don’t know why I expected anything from you, you’re a fucking ghost! You’re not real!” she shouted, throwing her house keys at his face knowing for a fact that they would hit him.
The keys nicked Tate’s chin but he didn’t move, all he could do was stand still and absorb the malice radiating off of her.
“I was just hoping that maybe you were the least fucked up thing in my fucked up world, but I was so wrong. No wonder I need therapy, I’m fucking delusional. I’m just glad I got curious while I wasn’t at home, because if I would have asked you, you would have given me some manipulative string of lies that I would have gobbled up like it was candy.”
Tate wanted to pretend he didn’t know what she was talking about, but he did. He knew exactly what she’d found out. The only question now was if he could change her mind about the way she now felt about him.
“I know you’re still curious,” he said slowly. “Can we talk about it in your room? I promise I’ll tell you anything you want to know—the truth—I just don’t want your mom coming home in the middle of it.”
Steffie looked at him hard, trying to figure out what game he was playing at. Finally she shrugged in acceptance and led the way to her bedroom. Once inside, Tate locked the door and immediately started unbuttoning her shirt.
“Stop, Tate, we’re supposed to be talking,” she said angrily, trying to bat his hands away unsuccessfully.
“Yeah well I’m not going to let you catch a cold just because you’re pissed off at me,” he said, taking her shirt off and wrapping a blanket around her shoulders. He grabbed the towel hanging on the back of her door and began drying her dripping hair. “I can’t really defend myself to you at this point, Steffie. You asked around, you saw the newspaper clippings, and you already decided right then and there that you were gonna cross me off your list. If I was a good guy I’d tell you to go ahead and do that, to run far away from me and stay there—but you and I both know I’m not a good guy.”
Tate went over to the window to watch the rain as it worsened. “I’ve got a lot of hate in me, because I haven’t had a lot of love shown to me. The dam I tried to build to keep the hate in broke, and I shot all those kids at my school because I wanted to. It felt good and I’m not sorry I did it. I got my punishment by dying, and the world hasn’t changed one damn bit. It’s still ugly and disgusting so for the longest time I’ve been happy with death.”
Steffie sighed and wrapped the blanket tighter around her shoulders. “What changed to make you unhappy with your just desserts, Tate Langdon?”
He turned to face her and felt his lips curl into a smile. “You moved into this house, and you showed me what love feels like. You fought me for a long time, but when you let me in it was something I’ve never felt before. I’m a changed man for you, but you’re going to let my past make you forget about me. That’s a far worse punishment than death, Stef.”
He watched the emotional struggle in her eyes and knew that he’d won. She walked over to him and planted a soft kiss on his mouth. “I know I’m going to regret this in the morning, but you’ve got one night to convince me.”
“One night is all I need,” said Tate with a triumphant smirk.