Authors: P. T. Michelle
So I sigh and snuggle close. “Let’s just say I learned my lesson. Why are you still awake?”
She flutters her hand down my cheek. “Can’t sleep. Dad found yet another doctor to drag me off to, this one even more expensive than the last specialist.”
I meet her gaze. “He’ll never give up, Sophie. Not as long as there’s
chance you can beat this. We
want that. Even five percent is five better than zero.”
Clasping my hand, she folds our hands between us. “I know, but he needs to focus on building his business while it’s growing, not finding new doctors for me.”
I squeeze her hand. “You know Mom can’t handle this kind of stuff.”
“That’s not what I mean—” She cuts herself off and sighs. “You know I don’t want to die, right, Cass? You know I’d be here for you through thick and thin if I could.”
I blink back sudden tears. Sophie has always been the ray of sunshine in our family. I used to tell her all my troubles because she always made me feel better. When she learned what Jake did last year, if she’d been stronger and able to go to school, she would’ve told him off in front of everyone. But she did give me good advice that helped me learn to cope and let it go.
Which I thought I had…until tonight.
Kissing her bone-thin hand, I give an encouraging smile. “You’re going to be okay. Dad will make sure of it. And I will take care of Dad.”
“You promise you’ll help him stay on track, Cass?”
I nod and squeeze her hand. “Promise.”
She closes her eyes and then opens them, her dark irises glistening in the moonlight. Releasing my hand, she touches my hair once more. “I miss having hair; I loved how dark and shiny it was. When I return, I’m going to come back as a raven.”
I don’t like it when she talks about dying, but I’m not surprised she’s talking about reincarnation. She’s always had a very enlightened viewpoint. It’s her choice that surprises me. “Why a raven? Are you tired of being human?” I tease.
She shakes her head. “Ravens have strong constitutions. They can survive the harshest conditions and can eat just about anything. Not to mention, since I’ll have wings, I can fly anywhere I want. I’ll explore the world.”
I frown. “Birds don’t live as long as people.”
“They don’t die of cancer, that’s for sure,” she snorts out, then turns wistful. “Ravens can live up to forty years. That’s plenty of time for me to see you go off to college, get married, and raise a family.”
She’s beaming. I haven’t seen her smile like this in a long time, so I play along. “You planning on spying on me?”
“How else am I going to watch over you?”
Her sentiment makes my heart hurt. I cup her cheek. “You’re going to do that anyway, big sister.” Kissing her forehead, I slide out of her bed. “I’d better get some sleep. I have to help mom price out the stuff she’s taking to the consignment store tomorrow. Who knew we could accumulate so much junk?”
“Good night, Cassandra. I love you.”
“Love you too, Sophie. Now get some sleep and don’t worry about Dad.”
My conversation with Sophie bumps around in my mind as I pull my covers over me. But the second I close my eyes, more snippets of memory from tonight spark and flicker, bringing forth images I wish I could forget. Someone must’ve drugged my soda. That’s why I didn’t fight back…and why I passed out. As my heart races with anger and disgust, I bite my lip to keep my crying quiet. Swiping the tears away, I sniff back my worries and vow to tell Sophie what happened tomorrow. She’ll help me get through this. She always does.
ow about ‘Claret’ with a French pronunciation? You’re the journalist, Talia. Be more imaginative with your fake name.” I shut my car door as quietly as I can in the darkness, but it sounds like someone slammed a Dumpster closed, making my heart pound double time. A bird gives a low croak in one of the trees across the street. I instantly seek out the source of the sound. With a painful twist in my chest, I nod at the raven in the dim light and quickly kiss the inside of my wrist.
I wish I had told you that night, Sophie, but it helps to think you’re still here watching over me.
Coming around from her side of the car, Talia fiddles with the red cape’s tie around her neck. “Are you ever going to tell me why you do that?”
I shake my head, lips twitching. “Just remembering something.”
She holds my gaze for a second like she wants to say more, then furrows her brow. “So names…what’s wrong with ‘Ella’? It’s subdued and understated—”
“Do you really think ‘Ella’
outfit?” As we walk, I eye my roommate’s sexy costume—a black leather corset over her peasant-style thigh-high dress, four-inch heeled boots, and a velvet-hooded cloak brushing against her fishnet covered legs—then shoot her a “give-me-a-break” look.
“Sarcastic much?” Talia mumbles and pats her newly dyed blonde hair around her carnival mask while we head up the long driveway leading to the Blake’s Hamptons estate. Cutting her gaze my way, she slows a little. “Are you getting cold feet, Cass? Pretending to be Celeste to get us into this party was
Talia and I are as close as sisters, but we also have a code we’ve gone by ever since we became friends: Leave the past in the past. She has her baggage. I have mine. All that matters is that we’re there for each other when the need arises. Attending this party is proof of that unspoken pact.
Tonight, we both get something we want.
is our ticket in,” I remind her. “The party invitation she posted on her wall, bragging about being invited, states attendees must wear a mask and use a fake name.” Pointing to myself, I continue, “
goes with my French maid costume. Do you want me to pick your name?”
While Talia exhales and shakes her head, my insides continue to coil tight. Just saying Celeste’s name does that to me. I’m proud of the fact that I no longer let my past rule me on a daily basis, but it sure as hell is riding me hard right now. It doesn’t help that I spent most of today winding myself up about the event tonight, to the point I haven’t eaten. Even now nausea is tumbling around in my rumbling stomach.
Everybody who’s anybody will be at this exclusive party. Not that I care about any of that crap; it means there’s a possibility Jake might be here too. I seriously doubt he’s grown a conscience now that he’s about to graduate college. The memory of Celeste’s innocent expression back in ninth grade when she told me that Jake liked me rushes to the front of my mind. Like an idiot, I asked him if he’d like to go to the movies. His answer was to snort and loudly turn me down in front of the whole school. I can still hear his sarcastic tone grinding in my ears along with his laughter.
“You might look like Celeste, but you’re nowhere near her level. It’s bad enough she turned me down for Friday’s dance, but I don’t do middle class substitutes. Go back to being a nobody and stop trying to pretend to be someone you’re obviously not.”
There were at least three other instances throughout high school where I overheard Celeste turn Jake down. Her responses were different, but she always ended her rejection the same, “Too bad you ruined your chances with Cass.” Of course that pissed him off, which inevitably stirred up a new round of gossip that lasted for weeks afterward. I could ignore that, but my anxiety that Jake might come after me, all because I looked like the girl who was too good for him, always spiked in the aftermath. It’s like I couldn’t get past it.
Damn Celeste Carver for shattering my naive belief that we’re all created equal. And
Jake Hemming for ripping away my dignity. Celeste might not know everything Jake did to me after that embarrassing set up she engineered at school—as far as I know no one knows what happened during Shelley’s party—but she never apologized for putting me directly in his path in the first place. It only took six years and loads of therapy for me to overcome the negative self-worth Celeste initiated and Jake fully inflicted upon me.
I might not be able to do anything about the past now, but I’m not above taking advantage of an opportunity to exact some payback either. Celeste cancelling her appearance at the party, then announcing she’s going “social media free” for a weekend was just too perfect a scenario to pass up.
I just hope Jake skips this soirée. The thought of crossing paths with him makes me want to hurl. I swallow several times and fist my hands. The tension flexes the skin along my wrists, making the old scars itch under my French maid costume’s fancy cuffs.
No more dwelling on Jake shit.
Resisting the overwhelming urge to rub my irritated skin, I grind my back teeth and tug the fitted sleeves down. Long sleeves were a requirement for my costume. Unlike mine, I’m pretty sure Celeste’s skin is a blank slate.
“I’m sorry.” I breathe out, hoping to calm myself. “I’m just a bit tense. I’ve never impersonated someone before.” At least that’s partially true. Knowing you can pass for your nemesis’ twin versus actually pretending to
her are two entirely different things.
Talia nods, offering a sympathetic smile as we get closer to the door. “Vengeance against Celeste will be yours, but the last thing I want is to stand out at this party and alert Mina Blake’s over-protective brothers to my presence. As soon as I get in there, I’m making a bee-line for the shut-away heiress and hope she’s willing to share why she really quit college.”
“You have major persuasive skills, I’ll give you that, Talia, but I doubt Mina will just spill the beans about a potential drug ring on campus just because you bat your pretty green eyes and ask nicely. Why don’t you at least appear to have fun for a bit first before you attempt to pump her for details for the school paper.” I smirk and finger comb my dark hair around my own mask before adjusting the off-the-shoulder sleeves on my fitted silk blouse for maximum cleavage potential. “And bonus…if you give yourself a chance to relax, you might actually have a good time.”
We step up to the door, and just as I start to ring the bell, Talia smooths the hood over the edge of her hair.
“Stop fidgeting with your hood,” I say curtly. “There’s no way they’ll recognize you with that mask on. Even I think you went to extreme lengths dying your red hair blonde. A wig would’ve sufficed.”
Talia immediately drops her hands and tucks them under the cape’s velvet folds, saying in a low voice, “I can’t help it. If I get caught trying to see Mina again, I’m sure a restraining order will be in my near future.”
I purse my lips and adjust the tiny fancy apron over the short, black silk skirt. “Maybe give up the idea of trying to talk to Mina tonight. That’s one way to guarantee you won’t get caught.”
“I’m not the only one with an agenda, Miss Vixen-of-Vengeance,” Talia says, her voice pitching slightly. “Care to call yours off?”
Making sure the choker around my neck is centered, I adjust my own black mask once more. Talia doesn’t know the whole story. I told her about Celeste setting me up, but not what came later at Shelley’s or the fact it dragged on. I just couldn’t put the rest of the painful memories into words. I’d done enough rehashing in my own head to last a lifetime.
If Talia knew everything, she’d pass up her opportunity to interview Mina just so she could help me. But if there’s even a remote possibility she’ll also have a good time tonight, I want her to. She works entirely too much. My gut tells me her own past drives her to succeed, so I want her to take some time out for herself, just once. “Not a chance I’m giving up.” Needing a distraction from dark thoughts about the past, I smirk and flick a foil wrapper in front of my roomie’s face. “Just in case.”