My toes were tipped over the corner of the street, as my hands played nervously with the macramé bracelet on my left wrist. The Chapel cast a shadow over me blocking the slowly setting sun from my vision. My nerves began playing evil tricks on my stomach and I closed my eyes trying to focus on the scent of the Festival, most especially the cotton candy stand to my right. The air was delicious and, with enough time, I felt the butterflies in my stomach slowly turn to hunger. I casually glanced over my shoulder watching as two little boys eagerly waited their turn in line, eyes honed in on the worker who was wrapping the cotton candy around a giant cone. I suddenly wondered if I would have enough time to eat one before my date showed up. I turned back, stepping to my left to make sure I could still see Abby and Willa sitting on the park bench beside one of the craft booths down the street. Willa sent me a reassuring wave as I checked my watch for the twentieth time. It was exactly fifteen seconds until five o’clock. I sighed knowing I didn’t have time for a snack.
I jumped, a prickle of fear running down my spine as someone cleared his throat behind me. I spun around to find the two small boys gone with nothing but hints of their laughter lingering in the air. In their place, standing a little too close for comfort, was none other than my mystery date in all his gorgeous glory. “Good evening.” He grinned, showcasing the two cones of cotton candy he held in each hand. “I come in peace.”
My stomach growled at the sight of the cotton candy while the rest of my body yearned for something else entirely. “You’re sneaky.” I accused, backing away from him until my heart stopped skipping. Except, the further I stepped away, the easier it was to admire the subtle changes in his attire since this morning. He wore jeans now, dark and slightly faded, with a soild grey t-shirt that looked so soft it could be silk. I assumed he was attempting to make this so called date as casual as possible, or he somehow knew exactly how to turn me on.
He held the pink cone out to me, twirling it around under my nose. “You are just unusually unobservant.” He commented, winking at me.
I scowled at him, reaching forward to the grab the blue cone from his hand. He didn’t look as surprised as I’d hoped, as if I’d done exactly what he’d expected. Then, as if to prove he didn’t care about the color change, he plucked off a piece of pink candy, swirled it around his finger and stuck it in his mouth. My own mouth began to water as he licked it from his finger. “Thanks for showing up.” He added, and this time he actually sounded sincere. “I had my doubts whether or not Reid would let you out of the house.”
“So did I.” I mumbled under my breath, but I managed to keep the light smile on my face. I hadn’t seen Reid at all today and I’d been too busy to track him down. Sera had approved of my plan and her opinion was the only one that really mattered. “So, do I get a name now?” I said, trying to change the subject.
He returned my jeering smile and glanced briefly over his shoulder at Abby and Willa. He waved, smiling at them like he was their long lost friend. He seemed to find their presence amusing. When he finally turned back to me, his hand was held out in greeting. “Julien D’Abigne.” He took my hand in his, squeezing it gently. “Nice to meet you, Miss Daniels.”
“Julien.” I muttered to myself, making sure I remembered the name. I reflexively turned around anxious for Abby and Willa’s approval. I found them, standing in the exact same spot, their eyes wide with shock. Willa’s mouth was slightly gaping, as she held onto Abby’s arm for support. Before I could make some kind of gesture to catch their attention, Julien had already spun me back around. He was behind me now, whispering softly against my ear in a way that made the butterflies return. “If I didn’t pass inspection, they would have been over here by now.” He laughed against my skin.
I pulled myself together long enough to give him a doubting look to which he frowned. “I am not a bad guy.” He said, defensive but then he smiled. “Bad guys don’t eat cotton candy, especially if it’s pink.” He pulled off another piece, sticking it his mouth. “Pink isn’t good for the bad guy persona.” He began to walk, motioning for me to join him. I followed slowly behind him, looking back one last time at Abby and Willa. Again, they only managed to stare back at me in disbelief.
I huffed through my annoyance at them and hurried to catch up with Julien. I still had no idea whether or not I should turn back. Their faces didn’t exactly make me feel confident in my decision. “Why do they look so surprised?” I asked, running up to his side.
His lips curved over his teeth with an increased air of smugness. “They looked completely normal to me.” He was laughing when he glanced over at my scowl. “ Okay, maybe they were a little surprised. It’s probably just because I usually don’t hang out with Witches.” He glanced at me again, this time in hopes of catching my reaction.
I stopped walking and for a moment I had no reaction at all. My hand paused with my cotton candy half way to my mouth. He stopped too, realizing what happened. His face held a look like he was about to laugh but was waiting for the punch line. I swallowed hard, my heart pounding in my chest. He knew about me. Past experiences flashed through my mind: my foster parents screaming at me, school kids teasing me and most importantly, Reid asking me to leave town. “Y-y-ou know?” I stuttered.
He walked back toward me, looking around to make sure no one in the crowd was paying attention. Luckily, I was still just another girl walking down the street. He quickly wrapped his free hand around mine and began coaxing me to follow him again. “It’s not that big of a secret.” He whispered. “Our families have known about each other for a long time.”
“It doesn’t freak you out?” I asked, still waiting for the hysteria to begin. He was acting too calm about the whole thing, I wasn’t used to acceptance.
He wrapped his arm around my waist, pulling me against his side. “I’ve met stranger people.” He assured me, but I felt like he was teasing me again. “Though not by much.”
“Okay, smart guy.” I shot back, pushing away from him. “Enough about me. Tell me something else about you, besides your name and the fact that you think you know everything.”
He made a humming sound as he pretended to think of something to tell me. “I recently graduated from Tulane University.” He admitted with a smile. “In fact, I was born in New Orleans. My mom moved us to Haverty when I was thirteen, but I still consider New Orleans my home.”
He paused, waiting to see if I would comment. I gave him a quick nod to let him know that was nice, but it wasn’t enough. “I live on St.Claire Boulevard, a couple streets over from here.” He added. “In the big brick house with a million red Tulips in the yard. I admit, it’s not as majestic as Frog Hollow, but there aren’t many places that are.” He was smiling to himself, because he knew I was hanging on his every word now.
“Go on.” I encouraged.
“Since graduation I’ve taken over my grandfather’s job at the Haverty Bank, which is two streets that way.” He said pointing his finger around my back to our left. The fact that he used that as an excuse to run his fingers across my shoulders didn’t go unnoticed.
“A bank.” I acted impressed. “Sounds exciting.”
He pursed his lips, pleased with my reaction. “Almost as fun as books.” He replied.
Despite the playful tone, I wasn’t oblivious to his motives. I knew exactly what he was doing. He was attempting to gain my trust. Unfortunately for him, it takes a lot more than a few local connections to stop my suspicions. “You said you don’t hang out with witches, why is that?” I mimicked his casual stance and continued eating my cotton candy.
He turned around walking backwards down the street now that we’d escaped the crowds. He waved at someone over my shoulder and I turned to see that Abby and Willa were very casually following us. Abby smiled, too sweetly to be genuine. “I’m not really their type.” He grinned. “I’m not a McGregor.”
The name stung in my mind and I knew that it was familiar. It only took one more look over my shoulder at Abby’s face to recall my conversation with Cari at the diner that night.
“You mean, like Grady McGregor?” I asked, dropping my voice. “Abby’s boyfriend?”
“That would be the one.” He sighed. “Abby’s been dating him as long as I’ve lived here and everyone knows Willa is tragically in love with his younger brother.”
“What about Reid?”
“He isn’t a witch and honestly, he’s not really my type.” He laughed at his own joke as he leaned over to elbow me in the side. “C’mon, lighten up, Daniels. It’s a Festival, we’re supposed to have fun.”
I made a face to insinuate that I was having a grand time, but continued my questioning. “I was meaning to point out the fact that you make it sound as if you, Reid and Grady aren’t really friends.”
He continued to look forward, and for the first time he wasn’t smiling. “No.” He said, finally. “We are not.”
“Why?” I persisted.
He came to a sudden stop at the corner of the street. He stepped forward and leaned around the corner, and suddenly his original smile was back on his face. “How do feel about heights?” He asked, peering back at me.
I could feel the annoyance at his avoidance swell inside me, but I decided to let him off the hook. As he had pointed out, Abby and Willa hadn’t run to my rescue yet, so he couldn’t be that bad. Although, it was becoming obvious that he was hiding something from me. “I’m not really a fan.” I said, answering his question. “I have a weak stomach for that sort of thing.”
His grin widened. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
He took my hand pulling me forward and as I rounded the corner of the building I saw what he was referring to. Down the street, in the middle of an open area meant to be a small park, was a giant Ferris Wheel painted in bright colors of white and red. I could feel my stomach churn just looking at it.
Before I knew it, Julien had pulled me into the long line winding through a row of metal guard rails. He waved at Abby and Willa again, who took a seat on a nearby park bench. I was too busy to really notice, because all I could do was stare up at the thing reminding myself that this wasn’t a good idea. “What’s wrong?” He said, bending down to look me in the eye. “You’re turning yellow, and not really the pretty kind, to be honest.”
“That’s a big Ferris Wheel.” I said, taking in a deep soothing breath.
He bit his lip with laughter, before looking around to make sure no one was close enough to listen. He bent forward and whispered it anyway. “I’m sure its nothing you couldn’t handle.” He assured. “Just remember that you can make it stop at any time.”
I gave him a stern look, to which he rolled his eyes. He grabbed my hand, interlacing his fingers with mine. “I’ll be with you the whole time.” He promised, tightening his grip. “Just finish your cotton candy and try not to think about it.”
I took another breath and nodded. The Ferris Wheel was even higher than I expected, and I could feel myself flinch with every turn it made. Julien chuckled under his breath next to me. I was starting to believe that he enjoyed watching me suffer. Finally, after the third loop, he stretched his arm out around my back, opening them out to me. “It’s much safer over here.” He smiled, looking at the foot of space between us.
I hadn’t noticed that I was clinging to the side of the cart for dear life. The Ferris Wheel made another loop, and the cart swayed in the wind and with one swift movement I curled into his side. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder, apparently pleased with his grand scheme. “Much better.” He commented, scooting into my side.
I did feel better, but I refused to admit that he was right. It was amazing how much difference sitting next to him made, and I relaxed against him as we made another loop. Once at the top again Julien began to point stuff out to me, local highlights, the main one, according to him, was his house. I was also surprised by how easy and comfortable the conversation came between us. I was laughing despite myself, and if I was being completely honest, I was having fun. The festival looked so much different from up here, just the tops of different colored tents, and tiny people buzzing back and forth between them. Although, I knew Abby and Willa was down there somewhere, I felt alone with him for the first time.
That’s when it hit me, like a crash of lightening stripping me of any security I’d felt with him. It was as if I’d fallen from the Ferris Wheel, back down to the real world, where I knew I couldn’t really trust anyone besides my family. The doubt I felt slowly started to eat me alive. As much as I wanted to smile, and laugh as he told some stupid joke, I couldn’t. Panic rose inside me, and I suddenly wished that I would have told Reid about our plan, because I knew that he wouldn’t have stood idly by and watched me make a mistake.
I knew it would happen before I consciously chose to do it. I remembered the words Julien had laughed into my ear. The sound of gears creaking to a halt startled the rest of the crowd, but Julien, sensing my stiffness next to him, knew it had been me who stopped us at the very apex of the loop. “What did I do now?” He asked, glumly. “I thought for a second there you were enjoying yourself.”
I turned in the cart to face him. I could hear the shouts of workers beneath us, yelling for everyone to remain calm. “Why?” I asked him. “Why did you ask me here? I know there is a reason and I’d rather not fool myself into some kind of fake security with you, only to be disappointed later.”
He frowned at me, his crystal blue eyes turning down. “You still don’t trust me.”
“Its not in my nature.” I admitted. “And its not like you’re the only person.”
His brows knotted together as he stared directly at me. His hand came up to cup itself beneath my chin as his thumb ran across my cheek. “I know it must be hard for you.” He whispered. “Going through life, unable to trust anyone.”
“Answer my question.” I growled. My eyes closed at their own accord when he brushed his thumb over my cheek again. I silently cursed my weakness for him. When I opened them again, his intentions were all too clear on his face and I had only a moment to gasp before he leaned forward and kissed me.
It wasn’t brief, and it wasn’t innocent. I could feel every emotion that I’d seen in his eyes, and I reacted like only a girl deprived of love would; I kissed him back. The sounds of the festival continued around us, workers were wracking their brain trying to figure what stalled the ride, and all the while I was letting down my guard that I’d held solid for so many years. I melted into him, my own desire too strong for my rational thoughts.
He pulled back stopping the kiss before I did, and looked at me. “I came by your tent because I was curious about you.” He panted, fingers caressing my skin again. “I asked you out because you were beautiful and a complete smart ass to me. I pulled you on this Ferris Wheel, so I could do that without an audience.”
I swallowed hard, still trying to catch my breath. It didn’t help that his breath was coming out heavy and deep against me. I could still feel the doubt, it was like a nagging pain inside me that never really went away, but, at the moment, it felt almost numb.
“Do you believe me?” He asked searching for any sign of my decision.
I did. For some unknown, irrational reason I believed him. He hadn’t proved anything to me yet, but that didn’t seem to matter anymore. He hadn’t convinced me with his words, but rather how he made me feel. I fell forward, my head landing softly against his and I sighed as the weight lifted off my shoulders. I finally trusted someone again. It was unbearably refreshing. The Ferris Wheel started moving again, my silent answer to him.
Once our feet made it back to land, and we assured the frantic workers that we weren’t angry about the malfunction, he led me deeper into the park, his hand still in mine. We walked by a large pond, families were fishing and children were feeding bread to the ducks. He led me up a small hill to sit in the shade beneath a Maple tree. I spread my dress out on the ground at my side, nervously picking at the bottom of the hem. He scooted closer to me, letting his hand rest behind me on the ground. “I didn’t mean to provoke you earlier, or make it sound so harsh.” He whispered, playing with the long strand of hair that fell down my back. “I apologize if I was insensitive about what you’ve been through.”
“How did you know?” I whispered back. “Is it that obvious how screwed up I am?”
He rose up, his cheek resting against my bare shoulder. “No. I know the face of constant doubt, Emerson. I have to look at it in the mirror everyday.” His fingers played along my shoulder, dancing their way down my arm. “Everyone knows your story here, but not everyone will understand how you feel.”
“And you do?”
“I want to try.” He pulled my chin around to look at him. “I can be your friend. I know you have your family, but I promise, I can be a very good friend to you.” He involuntarily licked his lips. “If that is what you want.”
My eyes stayed locked on his wet lips, and I suddenly had no idea what I wanted. “What do you want?” I asked, instead.
“A chance to know you.” His face was closer now, his breath brushing my cheek. “And maybe, if at all possible, a chance to kiss you again.”
I bit back a smile, causing him to laugh. I could feel him inching forward, and I knew I wanted that too. His lips were almost to mine when I watched his eyes flicker past me. “What?” I whispered, and I turned to follow his gaze.
Sure enough, Abby and Willa were sitting under a similar tree not too far away, but surely he’d known that all along. I realized, too late, what had caught his attention. Standing in front of the girls with his eyes narrowed in our direction was Reid. I gasped, everything in me tightening and I reflexively moved away from Julien as if he’d just caught fire. My doubt didn’t matter anymore, because Reid’s quickly filled that void.
Julien cursed under his breath, but his hand continued to hold me in place. Reid wasted no time stalking toward us, and I felt Julien’s urgency rise. “Emerson.” He pleaded, quickly. “Look at me.”
I nodded, but I couldn’t stop glancing over my shoulder at a fast approaching Reid. “Don’t listen to him.” He urged, pulling my eyes back to him. “Don’t believe everything he tells you about me, okay?”
I just looked at him, my eyes wide in disbelief. I’d read his expression correct earlier; there was something definitely wrong between Julien and Reid. “Promise me.” He said again, his voice forceful.
I nodded, about to open my mouth to ask a thousands new questions, but he stopped me. His lips were on mine again, desperate and urgent. It was much shorter than last time, but it held the same mind numbing power. “Don’t believe him.” He said again, and before I could look up he was gone.
I stared at the blank space in front of me, my mind twirling in all directions. I was quickly pulled back to reality as I heard Reid scream my name behind me. “Emmie!” The anger was evident in his voice, but even I hadn’t predicted it to sound so harsh. “What do you think you’re doing?”
I stood up trying to regain my composure. I brushed off my dress as I watched Abby and Willa running up behind him. “Nothing.” I said innocently. “I was on a date, until just now.”
I realized too late that I shouldn’t have said it, but Reid was already stepping toward me, eyes glaring with fury. “You were on a date with Julien D’Abigne?”
I winced, unable to fight off the harsh tones of his words. That one, small, simple action confirming his question sent him over the edge. He bit his lip, desperately trying to hold back whatever words wanted to come spilling out between them. I winced again, and he spun around to take out his anger on his sister. “Are you trying to get her killed?” He screamed at Abby. “Because I could think of a less cruel way.”
“We’ve been with her the entire time.” Abby explained, breathless from running up the hill. “He wasn’t going to hurt her!”
Reid glared at her, speechless until Abby dropped her head. “That’s what I thought.” He hissed. “You should have known better.”
He turned back to me, his teeth bared. “Now you, come with me.”
We began walking back through the park, the girls following silently behind us. I knew better than to speak, I didn’t want to catch more stares than we already were by Reid mumbling incoherently to himself. Within minutes I knew exactly where he was taking me, the path was becoming familiar to me now. He stomped past the tent where Sera and Jade stood talking pleasantly with my customers and didn’t even bother to look up. I smiled pathetically at them, the guilt evident on my face.
The bell above the bookstore screeched loudly as Reid swung it open and guided me inside. As soon as the door shut, he finally found it safe enough to give me a piece of his mind. “Of all the people in this town you decide to hang out with, you choose Julien!” He growled through his teeth. “I thought we made a deal, that you wouldn’t put yourself at unnecessary risk.”
I looked at him confused, as the bell rung again and the entire family joined in our argument. “I don’t understand.” I tried to explain. “What is so wrong with him? He seemed nice enough to me.”
The green light in his eyes faded to black. “Well, if that’s all it takes to let his tongue down your throat, then…”
I gasped at myself as I watched my hand smack loudly across his face. However, it had stopped him from finishing because I didn’t want to hear the rest of it. “I may have made a mistake.” I yelled at him. “And if I did, I will admit to it. But let me make one thing clear to you, Reid. You will not throw it in my face, or degrade me because of it.”
His hand touched his cheek, flaming red now from the harsh contact. The anger was still there, but the fire was gone. “You made one hell of a mistake.” He said slowly, opening his jaw to stretch out the muscles in his cheek. “Excuse me, for loosing my temper at the thought of him killing you while I watched.”
“What happened?” Sera interrupted. She stepped up, placing herself between us and then looked back to Abby and Willa. “Who was she with?”
“That’s right.” Reid growled. “Ask your precious daughter that question! She is the one who let Emmie run off on a date with a Vampire!”
Sera raised her eyes in shock as she looked to the girls. “Mom.” Abby whined. “Its just Julien D’Abigne.”
“He’s harmless.” Willa added. “We all know that.”
“Wait!” I screamed in the background. “Julien is a what? That’s ridiculous.” But no one seemed to hear me. My cracking voice faded into the far corners of the store without notice.
“He’s a Vampire!” Reid interjected, yelling at Willa now. “You know, like the ones that could be responsible for Fiona’s death. Or have your forgotten about that? Maybe you just don’t care anymore.”
Willa leaped forward, but Abby held her back. She slowly stalked toward her brother, and I watched as the light also faded out of her eyes. “Don’t you dare accuse us of not caring about Fiona.” She screamed. “I can’t help that you’re a hypocrite.”
“What?” He yelled back.
“Your best friend is a werewolf! But I don’t see you flipping out because he’s at my house every night.”
My mouth was opening now, speechless. Flashes of fanged teeth and wild dogs howling at the moon were flashing in my head, but I couldn’t make them take on the faces of Julien and Grady.
“Grady is different, you know that.” Reid continued. “But if I suspected that his family had anything to do with Fiona’s death, I would have a problem with it.”
“You have no proof that the vampires do!” Willa reminded him. “You barely know Julien.”
“I know enough.” He assured her.
I’d finally reached the limit of my mental capacity and it was all I could take. My head was spinning, a thousand thoughts trying to force their way through for my comprehension. I began screaming at them, begging for someone to please help me understand, but my voice was silent to their own argument. I needed answers, and if they wouldn’t give them to me, I knew someone who would. I knew where Julien lived. I’d find him and make him admit to deceiving me, if that was the case. I darted past them, but Reid caught my arm. “Where do you think you’re going?” He said, rounding on me.
“To find the Vampire.” I hissed at him. “Maybe he’ll actually take the time to explain it to me.”
“The hell you are.” He growled.
“He won’t hurt me.” I insisted, but that only caused him to laugh.
“No. He’ll just bite you and let you go so he can have the pleasure of stalking you until you fail to amuse him anymore.” He pulled me against his chest now, holding me in his arms. His lips dropped down between us whispering low enough that only I could hear. “I will not loose you that way. Witch or not, I will stop you.”
“Alright.” Sera said loudly behind us. “That is quite enough.”
I stayed quiet, waiting for her to walk over and pry Reid’s hands from me, but she didn’t come right away. “Emmie will be staying with me for the remainder of the evening.” She announced to everyone, but I felt Reid flinch as she placed her hand on his shoulder. “You’ve done your job, she’s safe now. Now you’re free to leave.”
“I’m not leaving.” He told her pointedly. “No offense, Mom, but you all never seem to see the danger in anything.”
Sera sighed behind him, and I could see her drop her hand from him. “Then I guess you won’t mind helping Emmie watch the tent?”
“Not at all.” He said evenly.
“Mom.” Abby groaned. “He’ll only torture her all evening.”
He pressed his lips into a hard line, straining to keep to his voice calm. “If torture means keeping her alive, then yeah, her evening is going to suck.”
“I said that is enough.” Sera proclaimed and the room fell silent again. “Now, Abby, why don’t you and Willa go find Grady and Zeke?”
Abby was about to protest again, but Willa tugged her arm. “Let’s go.” She whispered. “They need some time alone.”
Abby glared at Reid. “Be nice.” She hissed, walking out. “I know that’s difficult for you most of the time.”
Reid only made a face in response and we stood there and watched them all leave one by one. Once the door closed, I began trying to straighten my dress, but his arms were still on my shoulders. “Do you mind?” I grumbled trying to shrug him off.
“I do.” He spun me around, until I looked up at him. “I still have something to say to you.”
He moved forward and I could feel myself backing up until my back hit the counter. My breath was shaking at his intense posture in front of me. He was so close now I could feel his breath on my skin. “You will not do that to me again.” He said in the same cool, controlled voice as before. “Do you hear me?”
“I didn’t know I was doing anything so wrong.” I tried to explain.
“Don’t lie to me.” He said, loosing control only for a brief moment, but he quickly recovered. “You knew.”
“I-I-I..” I began but he cut me off.
“I don’t want to hear an excuse.” His voice was still harsh but he leaned in closer and I finally realized that he was hugging me. “You will not do that to me again.” He repeated.
My breath shook as I leaned into him. He held me like that, the bare minimum of contact between us, until finally he jerked away from me. “We need to go back to the tent.” He said, unable to even look at me.
I couldn’t help but remember my wish from earlier today, when I pretended that the locks on my windows meant that Reid actually cared about me. Now, I knew he cared, but it wasn’t as comforting and satisfying as I thought it would be. I stepped up to stand beside him, but not close enough to touch him. “I’m sorry that you care.” I whispered.
He looked down at me, the green shine finally back in his eyes. “Me too.” He sighed and walked out of the store without looking back.