“I do believe this is your first football game,” my mother said, grinning from the kitchen sink where she stood draining bow tie noodles.
I shrugged. “I guess.”
She glanced up at me. “And you’re going out with the quarterback when it’s over?” I started to answer her when a soul walked into the kitchen through the closed patio doors. I stiffened. It’d been a long time since a soul had wandered through our house. The soul appeared young. Her hair hung down her back in long, curly blond locks. It seemed to float around her waist. I started to do the standard and act like I didn’t see her, but she stopped directly in front of me and began studying me. Her eyes seemed translucent and her eyelashes were incredibly long but so blond they were almost undetectable. Her head tilted to one side as she walked closer to me, watching me as if I were some sort of science experiment that befuddled her.
“Honey?” My mom’s voice woke me up out of the trance.
I jerked my gaze away from the soul, which proved hard because she stood so close to me that I could reach out and touch her.
“Um, yes, sorry.” Mom no longer seemed amused.
She frowned at me with the colander of noodles held forgotten in her hands. “Are you okay, Pagan? Maybe you should stay home and rest. A whole week of school had to have been difficult after what you’ve been through.” I forced myself not to shiver when a cold hand touched my hair.
“It’s pretty.” The musical sound of the soul’s voice startled me. I jerked back from her.
“Pagan?” I took a deep, calming breath and forced a smile I hoped was normal.
“I’m fine, just a little nervous. I need to finish getting ready before Miranda and Wyatt get here.” Mom nodded and her smile returned. “Alright, then. I guess nerves are understandable when one is going on a date with such a hottie.” She winked and I held my fake smile before turning and fleeing the room. I closed my bedroom door and turned to watch and see if the soul followed me.
“Are you looking for me?” The musical voice came from behind me. I swung around in surprise and let out a startled yelp.
“What are you doing?” I asked, confused. Why had souls proceeded to start talking to me? She giggled and it sounded similar to a chime of bells.
“It is appointed,” she said simply and walked closer to me. I held out both hands as if it would hold her off.
“Don’t come any closer,” I said, realizing for the first time in my life I was completely terrified of a soul.
She frowned. “You’re not very friendly.” I let out a short laugh, “What? I’m not friendly to a ghost who floats into my house and starts touching me? Well, excuse my rudeness but this is a little disturbing.” Her frown seemed to take on an understanding expression. “Ah, yes. Well, I guess I just assumed you were used to us.”
So she knew I could see souls. “Who are you?” I asked again, wishing my voice at least sounded steady instead of unmistakably trembling. She didn’t answer, but went back to studying me silently. “I need to get ready to go before my friends get here. If you have no purpose for being here then could you just go find another house to wander through?” Her tinkling laughter filled my room again. “I do not wander through the homes of people,” she said as if I’d just said the silliest thing she’d ever heard. “It is appointed,” she said again, smiling brightly.
I started to ask her what she was referring to when, once again, I stood alone in my room. I turned around in a circle, expecting to see her drifting around but she was gone.
Needing to hear the normalcy of my mother’s off-key singing while she cooked dinner, I went and opened the door to my bedroom. I needed to see Dank. I wanted answers. Before Dank, souls didn’t talk to me. I had liked it that way. I would like to keep it that way. I did not like the idea of souls walking up to me and touching me and talking to me. I could deal with their presence but I preferred to ignore them and in return get treated like everyone else. I made one more quick sweep of my room and closed my door quietly. Putting some distance between me and the door, I walked to the other side of the room. The last thing I needed was for my mom to hear what I was about to do.
“Dank,” I said aloud. He had talked to me from across a crowded hallway. I figured he could hear me anywhere. But then I wasn’t the expert on soul beckoning. I’d never felt the need to beckon one before. I waited but nothing happened. I turned around to check behind me. “Dank?” I said again, feeling stupid. The room remained empty. With a defeated sigh I went back to my bedroom door and opened it again. I needed to stop playing with the supernatural and get ready.
* * * *
“GOOO PIRATES!” Miranda cheered loudly from her seat beside me. We were up by two touchdowns and the crowd began cheering wildly. Only four minutes left in the game and I hadn’t seen Dank anywhere. Apparently, Kendra hadn’t seen him either because I’d watched her on the football field cheering. She kept scanning the crowd for him.
Her reasons for wanting to see him were completely different from mine of course. Not to mention the fact that hers were not nearly as important. With every scowl on her face, I knew she didn’t see the elusive Dank Walker. I needed to find him before the game ended. Going out with Leif afterward to celebrate the victory would be hindered by the unanswered questions in my head.
“Would you stop scanning the crowd for the rock star and watch your boyfriend,” Miranda hissed in my ear. I should have known she would figure me out.
I frowned. “I’m not looking for the rock star. Football just bores me.”
Miranda laughed and rolled her eyes. “You would date the mouthwatering quarterback and then admit you’re bored by football.”
I shrugged and then turned my attention back to the action on the field. The moment my eyes landed on Kendra, I saw her face light up as she zoned in on someone toward the bottom of the stands. I couldn’t see him from where I sat but I knew he’d arrived. That would be the only reason Kendra would have exchanged her annoyed expression for one of utter delight. I glanced over at Miranda and Wyatt who both were watching the game. Kendra’s expression wasn’t something they were paying attention to.
I reached for my purse. “I’m going to go get a drink, do you want one?” I asked hoping they said no. I didn’t want to be rushed. I needed to get Dank alone and get some answers.
Miranda stared up at me as I stood and shook her head.
“No, the game is almost over and we’re going to the Grill to celebrate. We can get drinks there.” I slipped my purse on my shoulder. “I’m thirsty now. I’ll meet you on the field when this is over.” Miranda peeked around me and out into the crowd. I didn’t have to ask to know she was searching for Dank. Luckily he hadn’t walked into view.
Miranda glanced back at me and shrugged. “Okay.” I turned and walked away quickly before she spotted Dank or decided she wanted something from the concession stand.
Dank stood with his arms crossed, as if he were bored, watching the game on the field. His eyes found mine the moment I came around the corner. A small smile touched his lips. I didn’t have time to deal with his smart comments about my coming to find him.
“I need to talk to you alone, now,” I said in a whisper as I walked past him and into the dark parking lot. I didn’t turn around to see if he was following me. I could feel his presence. Once I knew we were out of sight of everyone else, I turned around and faced him. “Who is she?” I demanded.
Dank frowned. “Be more specific, please.” I sighed and closed my eyes against the distraction his eyes always presented. Seeing him in the moonlight made it hard for me to concentrate. “The soul who came into my house and touched me and talked to me. She said ‘it is appointed’ to me twice.”
Dank visibly tensed and stepped closer to me. “What?” he asked with a look of surprise on his face.
“A soul came into my house. She touched me and talked to me. Souls never talked to me, before you. She even came into my bedroom,” I said in a whisper, afraid someone might overhear me.
“She said ‘it is appointed’?” he asked with a tight edge to his voice. I could tell he was trying to control his temper, I just didn’t know why he was angry. I nodded, watching him closely.
He stalked farther into the darkness and then turned his angry glare up to the sky. “Don’t fuck with me,” he said loudly in a cold, hard voice. I backed away, not sure what he was yelling at. He stood with his back to me taking deep breaths and I waited, wishing I hadn’t brought him out here into the darkness alone.
He turned slowly around. Even in the darkness I could clearly see his blue eyes. They reminded me of bright sapphires reflecting rays of the sun. “I’m going to be watching.” His voice sounded much deeper than before. I took a step backwards, terrified by the startling glow in his eyes and the growl I could hear coming from deep within his chest.
“If she comes near you or any other...soul, comes near you and talks to you again, then you warn them that you’re going to tell me. Do you understand?” I was scared. Not of Dank but of...something.
“Who is she?” I asked again.
A tortured look came over his face before he turned away from me. “Someone who has come to right a wrong.” I stepped closer to him, needing to know more, but he shook his head in protest and then he was gone. I stood alone in the dark parking lot. In light of current events I didn’t like being out here alone. Even if I knew Dank was close enough that he would come if I called him. Cheers erupted from the field, signaling that the game had ended.
My questions were still unanswered. Frustrated with Dank and his determination to be evasive even though he seemed to be the cause of my screwed up life at the moment, I walked quickly back to the brightly-lit stadium. The field was full of celebrating pirates as I walked into the throngs of students and parents. I began searching for Miranda and Wyatt. A familiar chuckle caught my attention and I turned to see Kendra with her hands on Dank’s chest as he stared down at her with a smile on his face. I froze.
He seemed carefree and pleased by the attention of the blond cheerleader, when moments ago he’d been cursing at the sky and telling me to threaten any more talking souls I came in contact with. The urge to walk over to Kendra and jerk her by the hair until she was a good ten feet away from Dank was hard to resist. His eyes lifted from Kendra’s and found me. He nodded as if to say hello before gazing back down at the girl in his arms. I swallowed the feeling of betrayal and tore my eyes off the two of them. Dank didn’t belong to me so he wasn’t actually betraying me. That reminder didn’t make me feel better. At times it seemed as if Dank Walker and the soul were two completely different beings. The soul I trusted. Dank Walker confused me.
“Pagan!” Miranda’s voice cut through the celebrating voices. I turned around, not sure I could face her right now. I glanced back at the parking lot, thinking of a way I could escape. But home didn’t seem safe anymore. The beautiful blond soul scared me. “Pagan?” Miranda called again and I turned my attention back to the crowd, knowing I should go to her. Leif would be expecting me. However, the me he would be getting wasn’t the one he deserved. I wasn’t cheering about the victory. Instead, I was terrified of the unknown.
“Go to them. I’m here. You’re safe. ” Dank’s voice came through loud and clear over the excited voices of the crowd.
Just as before, no one else seemed to hear him. I searched the faces around me for his familiar one.
“Jeez, Pagan, are you deaf! Where’ve you been? Come on.” Miranda grabbed my arm and began pulling me back through the victorious crowd. I let her pull me and forced myself to smile. Leif would expect me to. Miranda and Wyatt would expect me to. I was going to end up being diagnosed as mental if I didn’t get a grip on myself.
“There he is!” Miranda yelled back at me as she pulled me toward Leif. He’d just emerged from the field house, freshly changed into a pair of faded jeans and a clean jersey. I took a deep breath and put a smile on my face. He glanced our way and I waved at him. A huge grin broke out on his face and he ran toward me. Before I knew it he was pulling me up against his chest. I didn’t have time to prepare myself for his lips covering mine. His arms around me were gentle because of my still healing ribs. He reminded me of warmth and safety.
I ran my hands up his chest, hoping to hold onto him a little while longer and pretend I really was safe. His hands slipped into my hair and tilted my head back as he took the kiss deeper. I drank him in. I needed this sense of normalcy. This false sense of security. Leif was real and represented all things secure. I needed that connection to the world. I needed what he offered right now. However, dancing dangerously in the back of my mind, were thoughts of another mouth, which seemed to stir things much wilder inside of me. A craving that represented all the things I feared. I closed my eyes tighter, trying to fight off the desire to have Dank’s arms pulling me close, his perfectly sculpted lips against mine. This was safe. Leif was healthy for me.
He broke the kiss and pulled back only a little and his breathing, I realized, was ragged, unlike mine. He appeared dazed. “That was even better than I’d imagined,” he said breathlessly. The familiar twinge of guilt I’d been dealing with since Dank had gotten under my skin reminded me this was the right choice.
“Okay, you two either need to get a freakin’ room or come up for air so we can go get some food. I’m starving.” Wyatt’s teasing voice broke into the little world we’d been lost in among the throngs of people.
Leif winked at me and slipped his arm around my shoulder. “Let’s eat,” he said, grinning like a little boy who’d just been given candy. I’d clung to him because of what he represented in my life not because I desired him, but I pushed it out of my mind. Thinking about it just made the guilt worse.
* * * *
“After tonight’s game I don’t see how the scouts can keep away,” Wyatt said, grinning across the booth from Leif and me.
Leif chuckled. “One game won’t bring down the college scouts, you know that.”
Wyatt lifted a French fry to his mouth. “A couple more like that one and they will descend,” he said, sure of himself.
Leif’s thumb rubbed my hand. He’d started holding my hand whenever we were together. It was sweet.
“Oh, gag, did they have to come here? I mean, really, why doesn’t he just take octopus-girl to a hotel and let us eat in peace?” Miranda said in an annoyed voice as she flashed a knowing look my way. I glanced over to see Dank walk in the door with a very clingy Kendra at his side. I reached for my soda and decided to study the business cards placed under the Plexiglas on top of the table.
“I think the only way she can get any closer to him is if she wraps her legs around him and he is forced to carry her.” Miranda said in a disgusted tone.
Wyatt chuckled. “Alright, Miranda, leave the poor girl alone. It looks like the rock star has his hands full with keeping her from mauling him. He doesn’t need you making snide comments.” Miranda giggled and leaned over and laid her head on Wyatt’s shoulder.
“Mauling? I like that one. Wish I’d thought of it.” Wyatt shook his head as he crammed another fry into his grinning mouth.
Leif sighed. “She has issues that make her act like she does.” I stared up at him and realized he seemed concerned rather than amused.
Miranda rolled her eyes. “You would know. You dated her for like three years.”
Leif gazed down at me. “Yes, I did, but only because the one girl I wanted seemed to dislike me so completely.” I smiled and squeezed his hand. “I was stupid.” It was true. Getting to know Leif had taught me that judging others wasn’t only wrong but it caused you to miss out on friendships with special people.
His eyes got serious and he leaned down and stopped right before his lips touched mine. “You’re brilliant. Maybe a little slow on the uptake, but brilliant nonetheless.” His lips touched mine gently. Again, I felt safe. A deep growl startled me and I pulled back, staring up at Leif to see if he’d been growling. The confused frown on his face told me it hadn’t been him. His thumb brushed across my bottom lip and the growling started up again. It definitely wasn’t Leif making the animal noises. “You okay?” he asked softly.
“Sorry, I thought you said something.” I explained, forcing a smile. He grinned and dropped his hand from my face. The growling subsided and I glanced around the room.
Dank sat in a corner booth beside Kendra, who appeared to be talking excitedly to another cheerleader beside them. His dark eyes watched me with a possessive gleam. It’d been him. He’d growled. How was he doing that? I could feel Miranda watching me and I didn’t want her asking me any more questions. I turned back to my food and forced a French fry into my mouth. Leif and Wyatt had resumed talking about the game, so I had time to get my focus back on my friends and off Dank. Leif leaned back against the booth and released my hand, slipping his behind my shoulders and then gently pulled me against him.
Miranda smiled. “So, when are we going to go pick out our dresses for the Homecoming Dance?” she asked me. I frowned at her. Leif and I hadn’t talked about the Homecoming Dance. We were dating exclusively but he hadn’t said anything about taking me to the dance. I’d already decided to stay home and watch old movies and eat popcorn that night. Miranda flicked her eyes from me to Leif a few times as if assessing the situation.
“You’ve asked her right?” she asked with an annoyed tone. Leif turned his head and gazed down at me.
“I just assumed that it was understood. Was I supposed to ask?” The concerned frown on his face was adorable. I smiled up at him, hoping to reassure him. I didn’t like to upset him. He seemed so emotionally tender.
“Leif, you’re always supposed to ask a girl to a dance.
Assuming is a bad thing.” Miranda’s corrective tone made me laugh. Leif’s frown eased and he slid his finger under my chin and gently caressed my jaw line with the pad of his thumb.
“Pagan, will you do me the honor of being my date for the Homecoming Dance? The prospect of not being able to hold you in my arms all night is heartbreaking.” Miranda sighed from across the table. “Okay, that was beautiful. Why didn’t you ask me like that?” She asked Wyatt.
Wyatt shot Leif an annoyed frown. “Thanks, buddy. Next time you decide to break out your romantic side, could you do it alone?”
I laughed and Leif continued gazing down at me. I nodded and he leaned down to kiss me. I mentally prepared myself for the growl and the moment I heard it, low and angry in my ears, I smiled.