Caitlin Grey (foenix) wrote,
Caitlin Grey

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Black River: The Dead of Winter - Chapter 5.5

        Brendan hung up the phone and took a few steps away from the dead body.  There been talk of Kraftsbury being cursed since he was a kid, even to go so far as to single out the high school itself.  Brendan had never put much stock in such rumours, but the last few weeks were beginning to make him wonder.
        What if he was the one who was cursed?  He was becoming something else, something unknown, but what if this new thing he was evolving into came with a price?  What if he became more powerful with every dead body this town sacrificed to him?
        Brendan grabbed his head and tried to push the thoughts out of his mind.  It was bad enough he was standing over someone's dead body, he didn't need their death on his shoulders.  He kept reminding himself that he was nowhere near when this happened, that it was completely unrelated to anything he was doing.
        The problem was, Brendan was never very good at convincing himself of anything.
        He couldn't stop thinking about who it was laying there.  Even with his sight, he was unable to tell just who it was.  He knew it was a female, but if he knew her, she was no longer recognisable after what had happened to her.
        Long hair was sticky with blood and matted down to her face, obscuring most of her features.  Her face was twisted into a scream, a terrible death mask she would wear forever, and would always haunt Brendan's dreams.
        The more he tried to look away, the more he wanted to look, the more he needed to know.  All it would take was digging the small flashlight out of his backoack and shedding some light on the subject.  Yet he knew that doing so would just make this all the more real.  If he knew who this was, it would be even worse.
        Brendan wondered where the cops were, what was taking them so long?  He wasn't that far out of town.  Had it even been that long?  Was it just a few minutes since he had called the Montroses, or was the sun about to come up?
        After an eternity of five minutes, Brendan's hands were digging through his backpack before he even realised what he was doing.  He had to know.  The worst thing he could think of was what if it was his mother?  And all he did was stand here in the dark, afraid to even know that?
        He pushed past the books for homework that he had no hope of getting done that night, past a half-eaten chocolate bar, and at the very bottom, his fingers brushed against the cool metal cylinder he was searching for.  It slid into his palm, and he gripped it tight, the familiar sensation giving him comfort against the fear.
        Still, Brendan found himself hesitating.  Did he really want to know what was laying beside the road?  He wasn't so sure, all of a sudden.
        And yet he was.  The confusion and indecision was killing him almost as much as the mere fact that someone was dead.
        Brendan took the decision away from himself, and his fingers twisted the top of the flashlight, spraying light into the air with wild abandon.  The soft, off white shade danced through the leaves, rippling through them and causing just as many shadows as light.
        It took no more than seconds for Brendan's eyes to adjust to the sudden infusion of light into the gloom.  But now that the shadows were no longer a problem, the smell decided to become one.  The body had not been here for long, but long enough that even in the cold, it was starting to rot.  Brendan's nose picked up the scent quicker than anyone else would have, he was sure of it.
        With a deep breath and an unsteady hand, Brendan swung the light from the treetops down their trunks, and to his feet.  He was very particular to avoid going straight to the body.  As much as Brendan wanted to get it over with, he had to build himself up to it.  And part of him was praying that the police would arrive and take the decision out of his hands.
        Brendan was keenly aware of just how alone he was out there, how alone he was every night, living off on a distant country road.  This could have been him, or someone he knew, and they would not be discovered until morning.  It was pure chance that he stumbled across her.  Even in his truck, he may well have missed the body, or mistaken her for any number of things not worth investigating.
        If it was his body down there, he would be glad that someone had found him when he did, and he would want them to know who he was.  With that in his mind, Brendan swung the oval of light, with just a brief hesitation when he caught the girl's hair.  His last chance to turn back and remain ignorant.
        But the light did not stop, only pause.  Soon the body was wrapped up in the glow, encircled like a coccoon, but she was too far gone to be protected by such things.
        When his eyes first fell upon the illuminated corpse, Brendan's thoughts went to the worst place possible.  He recognised the dress she wore.  That pattern of flowers, that shade of green, like a field that had sprouted many blossoms upon her skin, was unmistakable.  How many times had he buried his face in that dress when he was a child?
        His heart broke when he thought the woman laying there was his mother.  Reason soon overtook his dread though, when he remembered she had gotten rid of that dress years ago; it had no longer fit her.    What had she done with it?
        It took him some time to remember, not made any easier by what he was staring at and still shaken by what he had at first believed.  The memories soon broke through the haze of confusion, and he remembered his mother had given a box of old clothes to their neighbour.  As such things go in the country, she wasn't that close, but one of the next living things outside of bears and deer.
        As soon as he remembered her, the light flicked almost of its own accord, obeying his subconcious thoughts and refocusing right on her face.
        The lines and imperfections of the lens cast as many shadows as light upon her, making an already grim visage all the more horrific in the harsh glare.
        Beyond the distortions, beyond the blood and the dirt that had been caked and dried onto her face, Brendan thought he could see it.  See the familiar face of his neighbour, Dawn.
        Now that he had light to see by, Brendan could see her familiar wireframe glasses battered and broken not far from her body.  The wings were bent out of shape and pointing in directions they never were designed to go, and more blood smeared across one lens.  He remembered how she was always cleaning them, so fastidious and dilligent.  They were being wiped with her shirt or dress almost as often as they sat upon her nose.  Never more would they be cleaned.  Brendan wanted to reach out to them, fix them, but he had already touched too much of this crime scene.  They would have to remain as they were, as much as it pained him to do so.
        Brendan turned off the light with his curiosity satisfied, but not his sadness.  He walked away and found a tree to rest against.  He knew he could have gone and let the police deal with everything, but he could not bring himself to leave Dawn alone.
        His already lengthy wait came to an end at long last, when the night sky was filled with flickering red and blue lights, and any sounds that may have once escaped the forest was drowned out by the siren songs approaching.
        The darkness was chased away with many lights of many colours, and soon the ten foot area around Dawn's body was lit up like the sun had arisen in the middle of the night.
        Brendan was only hassled by the police long enough to take a statement.  It was fortunate that he was a well known and well liked student.  If he had been, well, Darien...things might have been different.  He told hem what little he could about how he found the body, and his truck back down the street, and every detail he could remember.  Which was not many, but better than they would have had otherwise.
        After his light grilling, one of the officers gave him a ride home, and Brendan recognised him as the same cop that had turned up after Marcus's death.  Brendan thought it best to not bring up that little detail.  The cop might remember that day, even remember him, but Brendan wasn't about to flag up the coincidence any more than it already was.
        Once he got inside his house and hugged his mother tight enough that she started to find it hard to breath.  Remembering his new strength, but so happy to see his mother standing there, he eventually let her go.
        If the police questioning had been easy, the questions from his mother were much more intense.  He went through as much detail as he could stand, and then some before she had enough.
        Brendan struggled to come up with an excuse to get out of the house.  He had spent most of the night wanting to get back, but all he wanted to do now was get right back out of it.  He felt trapped, and he needed to talk to the twins.
        After a quick bite to eat, and endless staring out the windows, Brendan said screw it and grabbed his mother's keys.  They scraped across the tiled kitchen counter and into his hand.
        "Mom!" he called out to wherever she was inside the house.  It had used to be filled with people, but everyone had left for college, and he was the last one left behind.
        "I'm heading out for a bit, I don't want to leave my truck stranded at the yard overnight!"
        He didn't wait for a response, but he heard some mumbling from the living room he assumed was her approval.  He skipped down the narrow staircase from the kitchen to the front door.  Once through the large, glass door, it was even more steps down to the gravel covered driveway that arced along the road, entering at one point and exiting at another.
        His boots crunched the stones beneath them, packing them ever tighter.  The layers had been compressed so much over the years that the once seperate stones were an almost perfect layer now, but there was still bits and pieces that had yet, and would never, become part of the greater whole.
        It wasn't long before he was behind the wheel of his mother's maroon, aging Saturn.  The seat was worn and comfortable for both of them, and he settled into it.
        Brendan had every intention of refilling his truck, but he had other things to do first.  Important things, at least he hoped they were.
        The car was much quieter than his truck, and less lurchy as well.  Rather than drive back down the hill, past the spot where Dawn had been murdered, Brendan turned left at the intersection to the hill, and went even higher up the incline.
        Brendan looked in the rearview mirror and could still see flickering lights further down the hill.  It was definitely better to put more distance between them and him.
        It was a long, dark ride through the backroads, but with enough time and twists, Brendan knew he could reach the Montrose's house without ever having to go through the town.  If it wasn't the middle of the night, he could have gone straight through the woods on foot, and made it there in just as much time as driving.  But not at night.  Well, maybe at night, but it was for the best to not tempt fate and maybe run into whatever had found Dawn.
        When he had checked for a pulse, his fingers had found the twin punctures in her neck almost by accident.  Brendan had only seen them a few times, but he knew too well what they were, though.
        Brendan had taken these backroads so many times, he was pulling into the driveway at the Montrose house before he even knew it.  The trip there was all but a fog, his mind racing with thoughts.
        As he pulled in, the headlights shone upon an unexpected sight.  He knew the twins would be there, but maybe inside.  Instead, they were yelling, and most of it seemed directed at a third party.  A third party he had not expected to find there.
        The yelling came to a halt when the trio was bathed in light and turned to look at the car.  Brendan was out of the car before it had come to a complete stop.
        Darien through his hands in the air at the sight.  "You didn't bring the truck?  Now I have to go get one of my own swords."
        "Oh, so this is when he's funny.  I see what you mean," barked Kevin over his shoulder in Alyson's direction.  Darien had the vampire's coat held tight in his grip.  Kevin could have escape any number of ways, and only half of them would have left Darien bloody, but he decided to let the boy remain in a single piece, our of respect for Alyson.
        "You be quiet, fangface."
        "Such an original insult.  I am so pleased to see the youth of today utilising their intelligence to its fullest potential."
        "I didn't come here to be treated like this!  What do you think this is?  Salem, circa 1692?"
        Alyson pushed her way between the two arguing men, but Darien held on.  All she did was push more distance between her brother and Kevin.  "Will both of you stop this?  Yelling isn't doing anyone any good!"
        That only made everyone yell all the louder.  It was like Brendan had never arrived.  He even felt like he was invisible and watching this whole interaction on the television.
        Brendan saw one problem with all this, and that was anyone nearby.  There were other houses, much closer than his own neighbours.  These were people you could swing by to borrow a cup of sugar without getting into a car first.  All this commotion was sure to draw undue attention.  With each volley of yells escalating in volume, it was only a matter of time.  Not to mention Darien and Alyson's parents.
        The quarterback hooked his index fingers into his mouth and blew a whistle loud enough to startle nearby birds.  A dog barked at the noise from a house down the hill.  The shrill, sharp noise pierced the air and got everyone's attention.  It was counter intuitive to use a louder sound before the loud sounds drew too many ears, but the lone sound would be only of brief interest and then gone.  The argument would have been persistent until people came, or even called the police for the disturbance.  Brendan had enough of those for one night.
        The trio all ceased their shouting, and were staring at Brendan with saucer shaped eyes.  All save for Kevin.  He just looked as calm and collected as always.  Even with Darien's tugging at his coat and rumpling it all the further, this somehow seemed to be an everyday occurance.
        From the gathering shouts to the depths of silence, the contrast could not have been more stark.  A passing motorist could have mistaken the tableau for a group of very strange yard sculptures if they didn't look too hard, and squinted one eye.
        Not surprising, it was Kevin that spoke up first.  "Can we help you?"
        Brendan ignored the man, but not the question.  "Guys, what is going on here?  Who is this?"
        Alyson gave a sigh and tugged at her brother's coat sleeve.  When his hand remained attached to Kevin's own trenchcoat, she yanked it even harder.  Brendan wondered if she used some of her vampiric strength, as that time Darien let go.
        Kevin's coat continued to hang in the air, stuck from years of use and the force of Darien's grip.  The stiff, wrinkled material gave way to gravity and sunk back against its owner, but the impression of Darien's hand remained.
        "Brendan, this is Kevin.  Kevin, Brendan."
        The vampire showed distinct interest when he heard Brendan's name.  "Really?  Brendan.  Well, I'll be damned.  If I wasn't already."
        Before Brendan could inquire what the vampire meant by that, Alyson continued.  "Old friend, vampire.  Yadda yadda.  Came to visit."
        Taking a step back, Brendan began to put things together in his head.  "Whoa, vampire.  Did Darien tell you what I found?"
        "Hence all the shouting and carrying on.  We were discussing things when you showed up."
        "Discussing my ass," muttered Kevin, trying to smooth out his coat to some state that still looked like it escaped from a world without irons.  "They were about to cut my bloody head off before you arrived.  Well, tall, dark, and lurksome was."
        "Oh, I'm still about to do that," Darien said, crossing his arms.  "Just let me get a nice sword and we can continue our discussion."
        "No one is getting any swords!" yelled Alyson.  Kevin looked smug at the declaration, until she added.  "Just yet."  The smug smile faded from one face, and reappeared on Darien's.  The similarity in expressions was almost eerie to anyone watching.
        "I keep telling you plonkers, I have not bloody well killed anyone!"  There was a pause as every single eye stared down Kevin.  "Well, lately.  I am a vampire, damnit!  But I've been good, I just wish I could prove it to you somehow."
        Brendan leaned against his mother's car, and at last addressed Kevin.  "Then how do you explain the dead body I found?"
        "Do you know how many people die every day?  Do you know what fraction of those people are killed by vampires?  I can give you frighteningly exact numbers, boy."
        "But how many of those bloody bodies have a pair of puncture wounds in their neck?"
        Kevin gave a nod and a concerned gaze.  "Well, now we're getting somewhere.  I can see how one might conclude vampire."
        "What with the telltale bite marks, yes.  Not to mention the blood everywhere."
        Alyson and Kevin both turned in shock, "What??"
        "What what?  She was bitten, and bloody.  Vampires.  What's the problem here?  I still have her blood on my hands, for Christsake."
        He held up his hands, and while much of it had been washed off or worn away, there were still some blotches of dried, brown blood here and there.
        Alyson had moved closer to Brendan and rested her head against the car in frustration.  "Kevin didn't do it guys.  He's innocent."
        For the first time, and what would had every chance of being the only time, Darien, Brendan, and Kevin all agreed that was a bit of a stretch.  "Well..."
        Alyson wished she could bury her head even further into the car.  "I'm surrounded by pedantic assholes.  Of this!  Innocent of this!  You know what I meant!"
        "I expect a full apology, boy."
        Darien stared down Kevin, not giving him an inch.  "Still a vampire."
        "Still a git."
        Brendan held up his hand like he was trying to get a teacher's attention.  "Um, why is he innocent exactly?"
        "All the blood."  Alyson saw the look of confusion on Brendan's face.  "Vampire's aren't messy eaters, B.  We don't like to leave a half-eaten meal behind."
        "Well, couldn't he have been interupted?  Or she put up a fight?  Maybe there was cuts I missed."
        "Admittedly, the boy has a point," said Kevin.  "But that chance is very slim.  Maybe interupted, but even then we vamps are hard to shake off our prey.  And if there had been a struggle causing other injuries, we are creatures of habit.  Creatures of addiction.  And you humans are ever so tasty, down to the last drop."
        Darien looked like he had better things to do.  He shuffled back and forth on his feet.  "I hate to admit it, but he's right.  If there's blood, a vampire feeding is far less likely."
        Kevin grinned in triumph, but that lasted just a second.  "But that doesn't mean I trust you.  Alyson still smelled blood when we got here.  Where did that come from?"
        Brendan almost gasped and blurted out, "Oh god, what about your parents?"
        "It wasn't our parents," answered Alyson in an instant.
        "Have you been inside?  How can you be..."
        "It wasn't them."
        Before Brendan could say anything more, Alyson grabbed his hand and sniffed at it.  Her nose almost buried in his palm in a most intimate and disturbing manner.  Brendan thought of dogs sniffing at a lingering scent on their owner's hands, and he was greatful the girl did not have a cold, wet nose.
        Just as he was getting creeped out, Alyson stopped and went over to the other vampire.  She sniffed at him as well, but nowhere near as close.  After a moment, she swiped a finger along the dark fabric of his coat, and her finger came away with a crimson stain that she licked off with as casual grace like it was raspberry jam.
        "So he did do it?" implored Brendan.
        Alyson shook her head.  "Nope, different blood types.  And if he had left such a bloody reminder, he'd be far more bloody than just that one spot.  And if he'd cleaned up, that spot would be gone with all the rest."
        "So where..."
        "He must have spilled."
        Brendan tilted his head to the side.  Kevin provided the answer by reaching into his coat and producing an IV bag filled with blood.  "I brought a juice box.  We're not quite as neat about our feeding habits when we have to do it through a straw."
        The two humans made disgusted faces at the sight of the bag, and Kevin was quick to put it back out of view.  "Buncha nancies here," me mumbled.
        Brendan looked at his watch, then tucked it back under his coat.  "We're not going to solve this tonight, are we?"
        "The Scooby Doo bunch, we are not," replied Darien.
        "As much as I hate leaving this, I have to get going.  I told my mom I was just getting gas for my truck, so I better...crap."
        The twins looked confused by the sudden pause, and didn't need to ask anything for Brendan to elaborate.
        "I just realise a flaw in my master plan.  Get gas, fill up truck, can't drive both vehicles."
        The murder had been forgotten and Alyson smirked so hard Brendan thought her face would split.  "That may be the worst excuse ever."
        "Shut up."
        "You could always run back and forth, moving each vehicle a little bit..."
        "Shut up!"
        "Oh, you could use the truck to push the car up the hill...hey!"
        Brendan grabbed Alyson's arm.  "You just volunteered to be driver number two."
        "How will I get back here?" Alyson implored.
        "Well, little miss vampire, you can run it.  You'll be back here in, what?  Five minutes?"
        "Probably three with no traffic this time of night," said Kevin.  Alyson shot him a glare.
        "Fine, fine!"  Alyson looked from her brother to Kevin and back.  "No killing!  I repeat; NO!"
        "I make no promises," said Darien.
        Kevin tugged at the lapels of his jacket and stuck his nose into the air.  "I shall be a perfect gentleman."
        "Pffff, that would be a first for you," retorted Alyson.
        The pair sped off back into town, where Brendan filled up a gas can and returned to his truck via the main roads.  Alyson was nervous about leaving Darien alone with her friend, and Brendan could tell.  It would be a miracle if the pair didn't shed more blood by the time she returned.
        Brendan inquired about Kevin's relationship to her, and she related much the same information to him as she had to her own brother.
        After filling up the truck, Alyson got behind the wheel of the car and they drove up the hill, until Brendan stopped alongside the road.  She knew why.
        As they got out, Brendan said, "At least the cops have gone on their way.  This is where I found her."
        It was a miracle he could have found the spot again in the dark, but even under those conditions every detail was burned into his memory.  He could have found the spot if he was blind and deaf.
        Alyson knew this was the spot in an instant as well.  The body had been removed, but she could smell the rich stench of death all around, so strong it masked out even the dying trees succumbing to winter.
        The scent of blood made her mouth water, a sensation made all the more palpable by her tasting earlier.  She wasn't 100% sure just by smelling the dried sample, but now that she was right atop the blood-stained grass and dirt, she knew for certain this was different blood than what Kevin had spilled.
        With so much blood around her, the temptation tugging at her all the more now, she didn't hear Brendan speak until he was done.
        "Hmm?" she asked.
        "I said she must have been out for a walk.  I've seen her out like this a few times, walking up the hill, getting some excercise.  Whoda thought that would be what killed her?"
        Alyson backed away from the blood covered ground, but it would take some distance between it and her for the cravings to subside.  "I really doubt this was a vampire.  Even caught, this is...messy.  I won't lie; I'm having trouble not indulging myself.  If it was a vamp, he would be in a feeding frenzy over all this blood.  Can we go?"
        Brendan nodded and hurried her back to the car.  Even closed up inside the vehicle, she could still smell it.  She couldn't get away fast enough.  With both cars at last back where they belonged, Brendan gave Alyson a quick hug, and watched her speed off into the night, like a fiery-tipped blur.
        He didn't sleep well at all that night, the thoughts of the body weighing heavy upon his tired mind.  After hours of tossing and turning he dragged himself upstairs to the kitchen and worked on his homework, so at least the night would not be a total waste.
        The next day, Brendan was awoken by a shrill cry.  He was shocked awake by the noise and sat up straight in the kitchen chair he had dozed off in.  A sharp intake of air filled his lungs.  The noise pierced his ears again and what he had at first believed to be someone's screams of torture was nothing more than the kitchen phone next to his head.
        Brendan shook the cobwebs of sleep and the dust of forgotten dreams from his mind and grabbed the dark blue handset, removing it from its cradle.  In a rare occurance for this day and age, the phone was still corded, but Brendan's mother had found what must have been the longest cord available.  The long coils were bundled up like a green snake upon the coil, waiting to pounce.  Every time he looked at the pile, he wondered why his mother had not bothered to match the colour to the phone.  Brendan could have wandered to almost any room on the second floor with the length of cord available to him.
        "'Ello," he murmured into the phone, or at least he hoped that was what came out.  Sleep still clutched at Brendan and whatever syllables were being forced out of his mouth were not quite under his control.
        As if the phone's cry had not been enough of an assault upon his half-awake senses, the piercing tone from the other end finished the job.  Brendan clutched his forehead and began scanning the kitchen counters for any bottles of aspirin left out.
        The far too chipper for 7am voice called out through the phonelines, "Good morning, sleepyhead!"
        Brendan downed two aspirins and found the ready and waiting coffee pot his mother had brewed before heading off to work at the hospital in the next city over.  The pills were washed down with bitter, black, and hot liquid splashing against the back of his throat.
        Just moving around was already beginning to awaken him further, and the coffee helped.  The aspiring swept away the remains of the fog and at last Brendan sounded normal when he spoke.  "G'morning, Kelly.  To what do I owe the literal wake up call?"
        As much as she could sense Brendan's post-sleep grumpiness, Brendan could sense her pouting at his gruffness, even through the phonelines.  Who needed camera phones? he wondered.
        "You asked me to call, dumbass," was her just as gruff retort.  The facade of cheerfulness had been turned down in volume by his roughness.
        Brendan took another full gulp of coffee, "Ah yes, now that the coffee crew have manned their stations, they do inform me that yes, I did indeed leave you a note.  I'm sorry, K.  Long, long, night."
        "Tell me about it," she said.  Brendan was good and ready to do just that, but as he opened his mouth, Kelly kept right on talking.  "But not right now, I'm meeting up with Rachel for a bagel before school.  See you there?"
        Brednan banged his head against the nearest cabinet, as the reminder came that he had never called his girlfriend to smooth things over.
        "Instead of that, do you mind a third wheel?  Where are you meeting, Dunkins?"
        "Forgot to call Rachel last night, huh?"
        "You do not have any idea."
        "Boy you really are a dumbass," Kelly said, but Brendan could hear the mirth back in the girl's voice.  "See you there!"
        With the other end of the phone going click, Brendan hung up his phone and piled the snake back up where it rested after it had followed him all around the kitchen.  He finished off his coffee in a hurry and grabbed a quick shower and change of clothes.
        It wasn't long before Brendan was driving past the school that was already abuzz with activity.  The school day would be starting soon, and many students were there and dreading the day to come.
        Brendan pulled up to the Dunkin Donuts and saw Kelly's car already there.  He parked right beside it and entered the building.  The girl was just getting her order.  Brendan would have recognised that ponytail anywhere.  He was almost thrown off by the fact that she was using both her arms, one hand holding a bagel, and the other a cup.  Brendan suspected that it contained her usual cocoa.
        As he was about to inquire about Kelly's functioning arms, the door beside him buzzed and a familiar scent filled his nose.  He bought that expensive perfume for Rachel last Christmas, and the Christmas before that.  It had been the most he had ever spent on someone he wasn't related to.
        When he turned, Brendan's eyes were indeed met with a vision of blondeness and beauty that was his girlfriend; a term he hoped still applied.  He had been questioning himself about if he did hope for such a thing, but the moment he saw her standing there in a black and white plaid peacoat and matching beret, he was sure.  That smile of hers filled the room, and his heart, with warmth.
        At least, until Rachel saw who it was blocking her way, and the smile vanished.  She tugged off a pair of black gloves and made some unintelligable grunt that was still as adorable as the girl that made it.
        Kelly had turned around in time to see the two lovers run into each other, her two closest friends.  Her face fell when she saw Rachel's reaction.  Her heart, the heart of an incurable romantic, hoped that just the two seeing each other would rekindle their spark and make all their troubles forgotten.  Then Kelly remembered who it was she was dealing with.
        "Was this a setup by you?" demanded Rachel.
        The brunette tried to explain, but her friend had turned her back to place her order.  Brendan watched as Kelly kept trying to say something, and looking at her full hands.  Kelly often talked with her hands, and she was finding it difficult to do so with both of them occupied, and made all the harder with one of those hands holding a drink that threatened to spill from any wild gesticulations.
        "This wasn't her idea," said Brendan, stepping in for the flustered Kelly.  "I invited myself along."
        "And how did you find out about our little get together?" accused Rachel as she waited.
        Brendan looked sheepish.  "Well, she called and told me..."
        "Ah ha!  So it was some Machiavellian plot by Kelly to get us back together!"
        Before Brendan could ask where his girlfriend had picked up that word, she didn't use any words larger than three syllables for anything other than clothes, her order came up.  The cashier stared at Brendan and he blurted out an order for a coffee just to get the guy off his case.
        "My, aren't we the paranoid one," pondered Kelly.
        "Do you deny it, Ms. Scott?"
        Before Kelly could answer and incriminate herself further, Brendan interceded.  "Look, hon, I meant to call you last night, but..."
        "But what?  You were too busy hanging out with your new friends, Darien and Alyson?"  Brendan heard the added emphasis and venom Rachel added to Alyson's name.  The moment he heard that tone, the derisiveness she put towards Alyson, it all made sense.
        Of course, to Brendan, the idea of Alyson and he being a couple was patently absurd, and he laughed loud enough that everyone in the tiny shop stopped what they were doing.  Most of the looks he got were ones of confusion, but Rachel's eyes glowed red with anger.
        That glare had ended more than one life, Brendan believed.  He was quick to pour water on the situation.  "Rach, look, Alyson is not my type."  She's dead, for one thing, he thought.  "I only have eyes for you, babe.  Darien and I have been hanging out a lot, yes.  We have a lot in common, and we've been practicing some moves.  I've been teaching him football stuff, and he's been teaching me some tae kwon do, that's all.  And you know those two are inseperable.  You can't have Darien without the sister."
        Rachel's angry gaze softened, but it was a long road back before that was a loving gaze.  Worst of all, he had spent a lot of time with the twins last night, but he couldn't tell her that.
        "This is what you wanted to call me about last night? she said, still unsure whether she believed Brendan or not.
        He nodded, "Yes, I just...something came up, that's all."
        "Something with Darien and Alyson?"
        Brendan felt his heart lodge in his throat.  As much as he wanted to tell his girlfriend the truth, he caught Kelly standing behind her, and the brunette shook her head.  Not that Brendan needed the coaching, but the support was appreciated.
        "No, you remember my neighbour, Dawn?"
        "The neighbour that lives half a mile away?  Yeah, I remember her."
        Brendan knew Rachel hadn't bothered to look at a paper or turn on any news.  She was too busy making herself look perfect in the morning to bother with the outside world.  "When I left school last night, I...I found her body.  Something in the woods had attacked her, and there she was, and..."
        The words stopped flowing from Brendan's mouth, and in an instant, Rachel's stare went from bordering on homicidal to full on compassion.  It was like a switch had been flipped inside her head and she had become a different person, back to being the loving, flighty girl Brendan had fallen for ages ago.
        Before anything else could be said, the girl's arms were wrapped around her boyfriend, and her blonde covered head buried in his chest.  Even though it was muffled, Brendan could hear her, "I am so sorry!  I put you through hell these last few weeks."
        At his back, Brendan could feel the heat of the coffee in Rachel's hand, and he wrapped his arms around her small form.  "You had good reason to, babe.  I've been a crappy boyfriend these last few months.  I've been off my game ever since Marcus.  All of us have.  I promise you, we're ok."
        He felt Rachel hugging him tight, even with her small arms the girl packed some strength.  Most of her strength though came from her heart, and most people never got the chance to see that.
        "Besides, the way you've been making googly eyes at Darien ever since he arrived, how come I get in trouble for not even looking at Alyson?"
        "Because we're girls," smiled Kelly.  "We're always right."
        "Ah, of course," Brendan said with a grin as his girlfriend released him.  He paid for and took his coffee which had been ready ages ago.  The cashier just smirked and shook his head at the kids, and took their money.
        "Well, I got my coffee, I got my man back, I think I'm going to rush off to school.  I got some things to take care off for my programming class before then."
        Brendan was too stunned at Rachel saying she had to go do schoolwork to say much else besides, "See you at school!"
        The remaining two still had some time so took a seat in the corner of the shop and enjoyed their breakfasts, such as they were.
        After a few minutes, Brendan stopped himself short of shouting out, "Damnit!" and it came out half-swallowed and mumbled.
        "Whassat?" asked Kelly, around a large bite of bagel.
        "Nothing, just something I forgot to ask Rachel.  Again.  Story of my life."
        "Story of my life just got a lot more interesting," replied Kelly in the most nonchalant way possible after she swallowed her bite.
        "Wait, what?"  Brendan had just been about to ask about her arm when that got sidelined by her statement.
        She cluthced her cup of cocoa before continuing.  "I met a guy last night."
        Brendan smiled wide and gave her a suspicious look.  "Reeeeally now."
        Kelly sat up straight in her chair at the implication.  "Oh ew, no!  He's old enough to be my dad!  At the circle of stones, he came all the way from Chicago to meet me."
        "That's weird."
        "It gets weirder!"
        Kelly stuck out her tongue and continued.  "He told me about who I am, what I am.  About what I can do.  And lots of stuff.  I'm still trying to piece it all together."
        Brendan watched as the girl's fingers drummed against the cup of coffee.  She glanced at her hand over and over again, and Brendan would have been surprised to learn she didn't realise the nervous habit.
        The cheerleader told Brendan a lot of what had transpired the night before, but far from everything.  Kelly kept her little act of bloodletting to herself, as well as Marcus.
        She did share with him that she appeared to be a druid, even if she had yet to figure out what the hell that meant.
        "I guess I'm like a witch, but one who likes trees or something."
        "You did climb them enough as a kid."
        "And fallen out of enough of them."  Kelly winced and rubbed at the back of her head.  Brendan had seen her do this often enough, in rememberence of the day she toppled out of that tree.  It had been almost a decade since, and the pain was long gone, but Kelly knew the exact spot on her head where the bump had been.
        Her fingers continued to drum against her cup.  Brendan reached over and grabbed them, just to make her stop.  "You're avoiding something."
        "That's rich, coming from you."  But he was right.  It was better to just get it over with and blurt it out.  "Brendan..."
        He sat there with his arms stretched across the table and holding onto Kelly's hands, waiting for her to say what she wanted to say.
        Part of him dreaded a declaration of infatuation, so he was ill prepared for the words that at last met his ears when she decided to speak.
        "I think I can bring Alyson back to life."

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