Authors: Ketley Allison
By Ketley Allison
Published By Ketley Allison, LLC
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Ketley Allison, LLC
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Cover Image Copyright © 2013 by Ivan Mikhaylov, Used Under License from Shutterstock.com
To Mom and Dad,
For supporting my dream, no matter how impossible.
I was never supposed to live.
At least, that was what my mother would scream at me during her rages, her face twisted into savage fury as she lunged at me—either to kill me or mutilate me, I could never really tell.
! You are an
!” she cried before charging at me, her right arm raised high as if to slay me in one swift, ferocious plunge.
Yet, for reasons that still escape me, she would never make that one final move. She would always stop mid-leap, her face frozen and twisted for a few terrifying seconds before I would see her body slacken, her tendons snapping and releasing like broken cords as she fell heavily to the floor, just before reaching me. What I remember most clearly was that moment of calm, chilling stillness, just before her legs would collapse beneath her, where her eyes, wide and unblinking, would focus solely on mine. Even when the rage turned into haggard despair and she crumbled before me, she would never look away.
That memory, that horrifying image of my mother that I could never entirely erase, was the first thing that entered my mind when my world started falling apart.
The beginning of my destruction started out suspiciously enough. White blurred into black in front of me, the steam rising like smoke and clogging my breath as I stirred,
clink, clink, clink.
My face was heated, too hot, and I swiped a quick hand over my damp brow before I mustered up a smile.
“Here you are.”
“Oh, uh, no. I ordered a white mocha. Not a
I lifted tired eyes to his face, lowering my chin in apology. “Shoot, sorry. Just hang on a sec.”
“Yeah well, hurry up would you? I have class in like, two minutes.”
Then maybe you shouldn’t be stopping three blocks away for some chocolate coffee
. My smile didn’t transmit my thoughts as I grabbed the still steaming cup. I adjusted my apron as I walked back to the coffee station, wincing as the hot cardboard began to scald my fingertips. I swore as I thunked it down onto the counter and the coffee hit my hand.
Holding my hand against my stomach, I used the other to grab a fresh cup and tried to ignore the sounds of impatient patrons behind me.
What was wrong
with me today?
I felt normal, but not quite. My mind felt thick, my focus slightly wavering on the edges, enough to make me slightly dizzy. I blinked, trying to bring clarity back to both my vision and my thoughts as I fiddled with the espresso machine. Once started, I leaned my forehead against the cool cabinet doors above, waiting for my heated, slick skin to finally cool down.
“You okay? You look like you’ve found a hidden portal in that espresso.”
Macy Forrester’s warm brown eyes were trained on mine as I glanced behind me and at her.
“Is it a portal back in time? ‘Cuz I could really use a do-over this morning.”
I squinted, trying hard to focus on her. She went hazy for only a moment before my eyes readjusted.
“No, I’m fine, it’s just been a busy morning,” I finally replied as I turned the dial on the milk steamer. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to banter with my best friend like I usually did.
Macy raised her perfectly plucked brunette eyebrows. “You’re not seriously stressed, are you? You should have seen my morning. I usually bomb Natural Science, but this morning was a particularly epic explosion.” Her eyes followed me as I walked past her and dropped the guy’s
mocha in front of him. “Mixed up my molecules. Probably destroyed the atmosphere. It wasn’t pretty.”
“You know me, always in my own head.” I smiled at her, hoping I looked more normal than I felt. “Sorry I missed your near-explosion, though.”
“More like my near-death. ” She leaned her elbows on the pick-up counter, making herself at home.
My shift-mate, a sullen girl named Andrea, made sure to give Macy the stink-eye as she plopped a drink on the counter beside mine. Macy smiled serenely in return.
The guy held out dollar bills to pay, but I waved him away. “On the house. Sorry about the mistake.”
Pleased, he turned away without so much as a thank you, making room for the next person.
“Large coffee. Extra light.”
I nodded, twisting around to pour coffee out of the decanter and narrowly avoiding crashing into Andrea. The rush before the university’s four o’clock classes was starting, and with only Andrea and I on the floor, it was becoming exhausting and cramped behind the counter. I powered through, refusing to succumb to my dizziness, even if it was making my surroundings tilt sideways. Rent was due soon. I couldn’t afford to miss it.
“So I have gossip,” Macy said, oblivious to the people navigating around her. The sound of their voices and footsteps ricocheted against my body, clogging my ears, their movements like clusters of nits clouding my eyes. It took severe effort for me to keep my attention on Macy as I ran around, grabbing milk, pouring espresso, blending frappes.
I clutched the espresso lever a little tighter. “What about? You know I’m always the last to hear it.”
Macy sighed extravagantly before saying, “Which I will never understand, since I’m always the first, and you’re my best friend.” It didn’t seem to occur to Macy that I didn’t go to NYU with her. Or any college for that matter. “I saw someone today. Well, a guy and a girl, but you know who I care about.”
I smiled weakly in response. While most people found New York City streets to have an endless supply of strangers, mysterious and boring alike, Macy seemed to run through all them like tepid water, always thirsty for the next—especially if the next turned out to be an exotic, tropical waterfall.
“Well, have you scoped him out yet?” I asked, only half curious. My mind was more concerned with the increasing demand for coffee and this weird fugue-state that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. Flu, maybe? Low blood sugar?
“No, but I’ve heard rumblings,” she answered. “He just transferred to NYU. I think. He wanders around campus at least. Definitely not homeless, though.” Macy nodded her head, agreeing with herself. “Must be a student. Anyway, Amanda and Liz have both talked to him, and they say he is way,
hot. Even up close.”
I gave myself enough time to turn my head to whisper back in mock-seriousness, “Could this be it?”
“You mean, could he be the answer to all your dreams?” She leaned farther over the counter, her eyes hopeful. “Maybe.”
It was Macy’s goal to set me up with my soul mate, a goal she’d never given up despite two years of knowing me and my tendency to stay away from everyone, even the male models Macy would so shamelessly plop down in front of me, her own set of Ken dolls she wanted me to fall in love with.
I turned back around too fast, crashing into Andrea. Coffee spattered as the cups Andrea was holding fell to the ground. I teetered on the edge of impact beside her, barely avoiding sending both of us into the hot mess. I threw my hand up against the counter for balance, my growing sweat causing my hand to slide sharply to the right, skidding against the metal as I faltered.
“Aak!” Macy staggered back, her hand going up to wipe her forehead. Then, because that exclamation didn’t quite cover her pain: “Hell mother! You ass! F—uh, fountain…” she finished, using her remaining good eye to track a mother with a stroller as she walked by.
Her tone was flat, almost lifeless. Even through my dizziness, I was surprised. Andrea wasn’t the friendliest, but she usually forgave my coffee mistakes. She and I had been working here together for two years now, and I thought we’d developed a sort of grudging acceptance of each other.
Confused, my mouth began to form a question, but no sound came out. Because once I looked at her face, my vision cleared, my ears popped, and my body steadied. And my eyes widened in horror.
She gave me a cold smile, only one side of her mouth tipping up at me before she walked around me without another word, without even an apology, turning the corner smoothly before she was completely out of sight.
“Did—did Andrea get braces or something?” I managed to ask as soon as she was out of earshot.
“That chick’s a piece of granite. A rude one,” Macy said as she continued to wipe her forehead. “She didn’t even flinch when you smacked into her. No, I don’t think so. Then again, my eyes were too busy being scalded to look up.”
“Huh,” I said, continuing to stare at the spot Andrea had just vacated. “Weird.”
“What’s weird?” Macy smoothed down the front of her sweater-dress and adjusted the strap of her book-bag before she resumed her position, looking back at me as I continued to stand in the center of the service area. “Emily?”
“Come on, it should
take this long to pour a cup of coffee.”
Grumblings all around. Macy made sure to give them all a good glare. “Oh, get to class already.”
I blinked a few times before I mentally rejected what was in no way possible in the first place. I focused back on Macy and was relieved that I could see her, clear as day. Even more reassuring, I no longer felt like I was in a coffee shop tilt-a-whirl, the ground once again secure beneath my feet.
“Nothing. Never mind. Welcome to Cream of the Cup, what can I make you today?”
I resumed taking orders, trying to shake off the image and the feelings that came with it as probably a strange flashback from my past. Nightmarish childhood images that I hadn’t really thought of since moving in with my aunt ten years ago. Frightening images. That had to be what was happening to me today.
Because there was no way I just saw blackened, rotting rows of fangs when Andrea curled up her lips.
“All right dude, I gotta go.” Macy’s face took on a determined look, her face flushed; a trait of hers that always clued me in to when her emotions were running high. I laughed, shaking off my vision of Andrea as nothing but a product of my overactive and slightly disturbed imagination. “Mace, take a breath! You haven’t even met him yet!”
“Yeah, well you just wait,” she said. It sounded ominous, as if she already knew the effect he would have on us both.
I continued to laugh, relaxing as the warmth of it covered any last traces of unease.
If only I knew then just how right Macy was and how doomed we both were upon meeting him. If I had known, then maybe I would have acted. Maybe I could have prevented.
I could have saved us.
The rest of the evening was thankfully uneventful. As the hours ticked by, the coffee crowd at Cream of the Cup
died down and Andrea was back to her surly self, no rotting incisors in sight.
As soon as the clock hit ten, I closed up shop, wiping down the workstation and relaxing under the dim lights. Muffled horns and sirens sounded outside the window, but I found that a comfort as I turned off the stereo system and listened to the sounds of my city. My home.
I waved to Andrea as I headed downstairs to the lockers, untying my apron as I descended. My skin felt sticky from drying sweat, and I badly wanted to get back to my apartment and have a long, hot shower. I hummed under my breath as I turned the combination lock, eager to put in my earphones and zone out as I walked home.
My head shot up at the sound. I looked left, then right, but only saw an empty row of lockers, tilting slightly due to the cracked foundation underneath them. Andrea was long gone, leaving me alone in the basement. I eyed the shadowed corners a little more warily.
The fluorescent lighting above me flickered, and I looked up.
Frowning, I stuffed my apron in my locker and grabbed my purse, cursing again as the cord of my earphones got caught in the grooves of the metal door.
No way. No way was I going to be that girl—the one who calls out
all trembling-like before she trips and is attacked from behind. No way were these stupid earbuds going to be the reason I was murdered in a dank, moldy basement.