I pressed against the side of the building, hidden in the shadows, watching Ashley link her arm through Jason's when he hesitated beneath the intricately scrolled ironwork that arched and curled over the entrance like the Angel of Death itself. When she gently eased her fingers through his messy locks of hair, stroking over his earlobe, he leaned into her whispered pleas. I surged with emotions I kept a tight rein on, but my self-control crumbled when his hand pressed her lower back and followed her through the archway.
Anger flared like fire chasing gasoline and jealousy fueled the blaze, momentarily blocking my vision behind thousands of tiny stars. A forced breath heaved from my chest and before I could grasp a rational thought, my feet pounded the pavement, sending me in the path of an oncoming car.
I froze in the headlights, horrid memories flashing in the blinding white until the blaring horn brought me crashing into the present. I leaped onto the curb, clutching my chest and ignoring the foul language as the car continued down the street. Bile licked the back of my throat and I swallowed hard to temper the nausea. Turning away from curious onlookers, definitely not wanting anyone to follow me, I closed my eyes and stepped over the metal threshold separating life and death.
I entered the cemetery.
Silence as thick as the darkness enveloped me, the living world behind the stone walls, completely shut out. I stepped behind a tree and took a moment to let my eyes adjust, scanning the shadows for Ashley and Jason. A taunting giggle echoed, almost sounding haunted. Another deeper, seductive laugh carried on the wind—Jason's.
I summoned all the bravery I could muster, which only filled my pinky finger, and walked toward the lusty sounds. Gravel crunched beneath my shoes, sounding too loud. My labored breaths bounced back to my ears from the nearby headstones as I moved across the grass…trespassed over graves.
Don't walk on the graves…the dead will haunt you. Too late. My dreams had been plagued for months with ghosts, visions of my brother sitting on the edge of my bed, and even at times, sensations of him pulling my hair. But the dreams faded the past month, alerting me a little more of me died along with the memories.
I swiped the unbidden tears from my cheeks, slowing my pace as I came closer to my destination. I could hear Ashley and Jason's voices on the other side of old man Carter's grave—a large medieval looking cross, tipped off center from an overgrown root of the oak tree a few feet away. I hid behind the cross when I saw their silhouetted bodies. Jason had his hands set on her waist, and Ashley's linked behind his neck.
I felt sick.
"Stop this, Ash. I'm not playing your game. I'm with Samantha and I don't want to hurt her." I heard the wet smack of a kiss and my knees buckled. "I said knock it off!" Jason sounded angry, but he didn't step outside of her arms.
"She'll never know. Come on. One night, that's all—like old times."
I watched the shadow of her hand graze down his chest, his abdomen, and blend into the blob of darkness where their bodies met. Jason moaned deep in his throat and rage burned behind my eyes. She's touching him…and he's letting her!
The jagged sound of a zipper pierced the quiet. I slid to the damp grass, unable to tear my gaze away from the nightmare playing out before me. Jason jumped back, away from Ashley's outstretched hand.
"No dammit! Don't!"
"Why not? You used to like—"
"Enough!" Jason roared. He yanked his zipper up. "I'm out of here."
"What? You'd just leave me in a graveyard alone? You're such an ass!"
"Better than what you are. Are you coming?"
"Go to hell!"
"Suit yourself." Jason turned and started walking. Ashley walked closer to where I'd scrunched tighter, not wanting to be discovered. Jason would think I was a jealous freak and purposely followed them…which I did.
"I'll tell everyone it was your fault," Ashley loudly dared. I heard the gravel shift when Jason's steps halted.
"I had nothing to do with what happened that night, and you know it."
A girlish bubble of laughter left Ashley's mouth. "Everyone knows you're an adrenalin junkie."
"I'm no such thing—"
"How you like drive without headlights the nights there's a full moon."
Jason thought it was cool how the moon made everything appear to glow.
"I only do it for a couple of minutes when there's no cars around," he defended.
"Or see if you can beat the train Millpond Crossing."
"I haven't done that since I was sixteen. It's dangerous."
"So is screwing without protection, but that didn't stop you at Ike's party. Poor Sammy…too sad to hang out with her boyfriend. What pathetic excuse did you give her for not answering her constant texts? Bet you didn't say it was because you were hooking up with me."
Jason's voice was close now. "I was drunk…too drunk. Your version of that night is different from how I remember it."
"Is it? Wonder what version Sam would believe?" Ashley moved close enough, the floral fragrance from her perfume wafted over me with the soft night breeze. Her voice lowered, as if she knew I sat a few feet away, listening. "You came to me, Jason, not the other way around. Sam was messed up after the accident and pushed you away. I was there for you."
So that's what happened? Why Jason suddenly acted so weird? I pulled my legs against my chest, biting my lip hard to ward off the tears. Jason slept with Ashley.
After a child dies, homes become living graveyards…family members ghosts passing through each other's lives with haunted faces, silent, until someone does—says the wrong thing. Broken silence proved worse—screaming, wailing, and endless blame. Reality horror shows.
My family imploded. I couldn't handle the constant drama and fastened myself to the only normal things in my life—school and friends. But as the remaining only child, I served as a constant reminder that I, too, could be taken from them at any moment. Smothered, stalked, my whereabouts questioned constantly, I withdrew from any social life, not wanting my friends, especially not Jason, subjected to interrogations, phone calls to parents to verify my stories, or being privately contacted by either of my parents with instructions on how to manage my grief.
Maybe I did push Jason away, but sleep with her…with any girl while I mourned? I didn't know who I hated most right now…Jason for losing self-control and betraying me—or Ashley for letting him.
I slipped on the grass when I tried to stand, sliding into a prone position and guaranteeing a deeply imbedded grass stain on my favorite jeans. No one apparently heard my "ugh" or felt the ground move when I landed, because Jason shouted loud enough to drown out any noise other than his own voice.
"That night turned into the biggest mistake of my life! You've held the threat of telling Sam over my head for six damn months! Don't you get it, Ash? I'm so done with you! No more threats. Leave me and Sam the hell alone. I've played your game and bowed to you demands—"
"Except for one," She shouted back. "Why won't you—"
"Dump Sam and come back to you?"
"To be honest, yes? After everything that's happened, why?"
I lifted my head, afraid to move any other part of my body. I needed to hear his answer, too.
"Because I love Sam. I don't care about you, Ashley. Not even as a friend…not after what you did. You're a nut job. I should to be with Sam right now, not the psycho bitch who caused her brother's accident."
What! Oh my hell! Ashley was the girl in the road?
She slapped Jason, the sound resonating like a fire cracker. I scrambled to my feet, ready to let my presence known when I heard Jamie call my name in the distance. I pressed into the black hollow of the oak tree, praying I wouldn't be discovered. Jason stood only a few feet away and if he knew I'd watched his and Ashley's performance, he'd hate me forever. And Ashley would win.
Jamie sounded breathless by the time she reached her brother and the tramp. She shined the flashlight directly in Jason's eyes. I panicked, watching the blue-white beam stretch my direction, but the same wayward root that tipped the Carter monument, deflected it away from my feet. I held my breath, imagining myself one with the rough bark scraping against my back.
Jason raised his arm over his brow. "Shut that damn thing off."
The light swirled as Jamie talked, gesturing with her hands at the same time. A wayward shaft of light swept across my feet, but no one noticed because another argument ensued.
"What exactly is going on, Jason? Why are you with her?"
Ashley scoffed. I couldn't see her, but I pictured her arm sliding in the crook of Jason's, or her thumb nail scraping a trail down his arm. "We're partners, remember? The last clues are here in the cemetery."
The beam now pointed heavenward with Jamie's crossed arms. "So where's your clue…or is there even one, Ashley?"
"You're such a witch, Jamie. And yes, there is a clue. We just haven't found it."
"Maybe you should change partners. I'll help you." The light flashed Jason again. "What's wrong with your face?"
Jason grabbed his sister's elbow and starting walking away. "Nothing. Come on, I'll help you find Sam." I heard his voice wander back Ashley's direction. "Game's over sweetheart. You lose. Just like before."
Ashley punched the air with her fists. "Drop dead, Jason!"
His answer drifted further away. "Fitting comeback, Ash. At least I have the choice to walk away. Too bad Kevin…"
And just like that, his voice vanished, taking my breath and possibly my last heartbeat with it. Too bad Kevin—what?
"Idiot. I won't be tossed aside like chewed gum. If he thinks he can replace me with that loser bitch, he's got another thing coming. If only she'd stayed away…"
Voices filled the cemetery, unruly and disrespecting of the spirits who owned the hallowed ground. Ashley spun around, heading in the direction of her adoring fans. Once I figured I was safe, I untangled from my oak sanctuary.
"I knew you were close. I smelled your cheap cologne."
My skin and skeleton seemed to rip apart at the shock of finding Ashley, arms folded, waiting on the other side of the tree. I smacked my chest, willing my heart to beat.
"Ashley! You scared the crap out of me!"
She circled me, crouching slightly as if a predatory creature surmising their prey. "How long have been tucked inside that termite infested tree?"
Impulsively, I brushed fingers through my hair, subconsciously worrying actual termites crawled along the shafts and would burrow into my brain while I slept. I swallowed the lump stuck in my throat, feeling my pulse behind my eyeballs from my heart still bouncing in my chest.
"Long enough," I declared, hoping she didn't catch the nervous warble in my tone.
"What exactly did you hear?"
"That you're a skank…oh, sorry, slut."
Ashley lunged at me, grabbing my hair in her fists and forcing me backward until my back slammed a grave marker. Kevin's. Angry and smarting, I butted my head against her face. She jumped back, pressing her hand to her face. A stream of blood trickled over her fingers.
"You broke my nose!"
"Right, like you weren't going to have it surgically altered at some point."
When she came at me again, I moved to the side, putting the tombstone between us.
That's when I spied the envelope glowing white against the charcoal-colored grass—the last clue. Ashley resembled the stone statues dotting the cemetery, turning rigid when I pulled out piece of paper. I stopped breathing all together.