“No,” I said again. “But if you want, we could write something together.” It was a loaded offer. I was going to use her and I knew that the moment the words came out of my mouth.
She took in a deep breath, tried to hide a smile and failed. “When?”
“I don’t care.”
“Now?” Camille asked.
I hadn’t included her in the invitation. Camille’s words were sharp and her sentences short. They were nice. Very readable. But very different than Sofia.
I considered this as my gaze wandered back to my mother and Christopher Arlington.
Camille caught that and said, “Your mother is very…”
“Flirty?” I finished for her.
Sofia laughed. “He does that every year. Not just with her, either.”
I nodded. “I know. I’ve written about him a lot.”
“Oooooo,” came out both their mouths.
Then Camille laughed. “Well, if you want to know what happens next, we can show you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Too sharply.
Sofia leaned in, cupping a hand to her mouth, and whispered, “We know where he takes them.”
“Come with us and find out.”
So I did. We went to the south edge of campus, which was not too far from the theatre building where the party was, and stopped just before entering the woods.
“We gotta take off our shoes,” Camille explained. “They’ll just get ruined.”
“You’ve done this before?” I asked.
“Every year.” Sofia laughs. “We write about him too.”
“He’s fodder.” Camille giggled. “Dirty, erotic fodder for sexy stories we sell online.”
“Really?” I asked. And this time it was me who couldn’t hide her smile. “I think I’d like to know more.”
So we slipped off our shoes, hid them in a bush, and padded along the well-worn path leading into the woods with bare feet.
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN – CONNOR
I’m sitting in a chair holding a drink.
Everyone is here for the party. The butterflies have clear wings and the balloons are lavender. My parents’ party, I realize. I’m at my parents’ anniversary party.
I look around for everyone else. Sofia is dancing with Hayes in the middle of the room.
Bennett is on his phone. Having a furious text conversation with someone.
Camille is drunk, spinning in circles, arms outstretched, reaching for butterflies.
And Kiera… God, she looks beautiful in her long black gown. The skirt is made up of layers upon layers of sheer fabric and she’s twirling near Camille. Delicate fingertips lifting her dress so she doesn’t trip, smiling up at the balloons and butterflies like Camille.
“Kiera?” I say.
And even though there’s hundreds of people here and the hum of conversation drowns out my words, she hears me. Because she stops spinning and wobbles, dizzy, trying to find my face.
“Are you drunk?” I ask.
“We’re all drunk, Con,” she says, stumbling forward, hand out, reaching for me. “Come on, let’s dance! It’s a party!”
I’m confused by this. Sofia and Hayes. That makes sense. Bennett ignoring a party for his phone. Total sense. Camille, drunk and giddy. Check.
But… “Kiera,” I say, getting up. Wondering for a second how my drink mysteriously disappeared from my hand, but not really caring. “What are you doing?” I ask, approaching her. She’s spinning again. Just like Camille.
“I like it now,” she says.
“Like what now?’
“The dizzy. If I give in, it’ll go away.”
She stops abruptly and grabs my shoulders, looking me in the eyes. “The bad people, Connor. If I just… let myself be dizzy and… and believe,” she says, whispering that last word. “If I just believe… Oh, I know!” she says, spinning again. “I’ll write it down. I’ll write it down and make it real.”
“Kiera,” I say, grabbing her hand to make her stop. “What are you talking about?”
“Shhhhhh,” she says. But when she does that, she turns into Emily. “Don’t say it too loud, Connor. They’re listening.”
My eyes are closed and when I open them the first thing I hear is my father’s laughter. Others join in as I blink away the fogginess inside my head.
“What do you think of that, Connor?” my father says.
I have to blink several more times to make him come into focus. But even then, everything and everyone around him is blurry. Like he’s the most important man in the room in a spotlight of clarity and everyone else is just… murky, amorphous figures.
“Here’s your speech, Connor,” a man says, thrusting a paper at me.
I look up at the man, recognize him as Steven, and take the papers automatically.
“All you have to do is read it,” Steven says.
“It’s almost time,” another voice says. I look up, searching for it, but never manage to find who said the words.
“Louise?” my father says. “Is he OK?”
A woman bends down in front of me wearing a low-cut gold and black dress. Flashing a small penlight at my eyes.
I blink and push her hand away. “What the hell is going on?”
“Connor,” the woman says, “Do you know who I am?”
I look at her, my fucking head pounding like I was in a bar fight. “No,” I say. “Who are you?”