Authors: Heather Crews
Dreams for the Dead
Dreams for the Dead
Copyright © 2014 by Heather Crews
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the author
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
she noticed him because they were both standing alone, or because it was Sunday night and the bar was dead. He leaned against the mirrored wall looking mysterious and intriguing. Her laughter trailed off and her dark reflection over his shoulder grew still. Leila’s chatter receded behind her. The man was pale and shadow-eyed, with an angular jaw and long straight hair.
, an inner voice warned her.
She didn’t intend to listen.
Just like a shadow, he vanished quickly—there before she blinked and gone after. Dawn Larkin’s blue-green eyes searched the bar with annoying vigilance, but all she could see was Leila waving to her from the booth she’d chosen for them.
“This place is dead,” Leila said, glancing around.
There were only a few small groups scattered around the bar, their voices soft and constant in the background. The place was saturated in the surreal, monochromatic haze of a red darkness. The air smelled like cocktails and sweat and the faintest spice of incense. A strong, shoegazey melody poured from unseen speakers and seeped into the darkest corners of the room, settling in the walls, becoming a part of the building so the notes would echo silently for years and years.
“Nothing ever happens on a Sunday,” Dawn said. “Even in Las Vegas.”
“Well, Jared said he’d be here tonight.”
Dawn craned her neck, but she was looking for the mysterious guy she’d seen, not Jared. “Do you see him anywhere?”
“No. He’d better get here soon. I was hoping he’d be my boyfriend for the semester.”
“You mean your next future ex?” Dawn teased.
“I’m keeping my options open.”
“As always. Anyway, how did you meet Jared? Does he go to your school?”
“I met him on campus. He doesn’t look much like an art student, but you never really know.” Leila lifted the camera hanging from her neck, adjusted the settings, and snapped a picture of Dawn. Frowning, she reached for her glass and jiggled the ice cubes. “I’ve been having trouble with my BFA project.”
“The dream photographs?”
Leila nodded firmly, her sleek black hair slipping over her shoulders. She leaned forward and talked about use of color, layering negatives, and other things having to do with photography. Dawn didn’t understand any of it. She meant to listen attentively, but her mind wandered. Zach had gone to see a friend’s band instead of coming with them tonight. The band was too grungy for her tastes, and the crowd was a little rough. Besides, she liked weird, tiny bars like this. Places nobody knew about and anything interesting could happen, though nothing usually did.
why I think I should switch to black and white film,” Leila was saying. She finished off her drink and slammed the glass down theatrically. “I’m getting another. Should I get you something, too?”
“Yes. No. Yes. Aren’t I driving?”
Leila raised an elegant brow. “What do you want, hot stuff?”
“Uh …” Dawn searched her mind and named the first drink she thought of. “Vodka and coke?”
“You mean rum and coke?”
rum and coke?”
“No one drinks vodka and coke, Dawn.”
Smirking, Leila walked away to the bar. Dawn’s eyes traveled around once more in search of the mysterious stranger she’d seen. For some reason she began to feel an unexpected, perverse excit
ement that reminded her of certain nights when she’d walk home from work. Those nights the wind would make eerie howling noises and she’d rush past the dark hulking shape of an oleander bush, breathless from trying to walk faster than shadows.
Her heart stuttered and sped when she saw Leila coming back to the booth with two drinks and a guy,
guy, who looked just as dark and mysterious as Dawn had expected. For a second she was breathless, excitement tingling in her hands. She fussed with her long brown curls and tried to look nonchalant.
She hoped the guy wasn’t Jared.
“This is our new friend, Tristan,” Leila announced, scooting in to the center of the booth. “He knows Jared! Says he’s on his way.”
“Hi,” Dawn said, relieved and shy and slightly suspicious. She wrapped her hands around her cold glass and jiggled one leg out of time to the music. Tristan slid into the booth so he was sitting across from her.
“We might go to the Egg House after this,” Leila said. “Want to come?”
“I don’t eat eggs,” Tristan said.
“They have other stuff besides eggs.”
“I don’t eat breakfast.”
Leila made a face at Dawn and started talking about art, her default conversation topic. Tristan sat wordlessly on the outer edge of the booth, slouched low so none of the dim light touched his face. Dawn took tiny sips of her too-strong drink and reminded herself he was just a stranger. There was no reason to want so badly to be held in his gaze. Besides, he seemed to have something against breakfast.
It had been a long time since she’d felt so strongly about a guy she’d never even spoken to. Not since high school, she thought, when crushes were numerous and fleeting. Not even with Zach. It was a dizzy, hot, mildly obsessive feeling. Tristan was leaner and paler than the guys who usually attracted her, but he was very tall, which she liked because she was tall herself. There was also some dangerous, sexy quality about him that was, of course, hard to resist. This quality was also unnerving. Dawn didn’t know him, but he made her feel things that weren’t entirely comfortable. In a pleasant sort of way.
He’d been staring pensively at his hand on the table when suddenly he glanced up from beneath lowered brows. A smile forced its way onto his lips when he met Dawn’s curious eyes. His remained dark and his smile faded away, as if it taken a lot of effort from him. His face was no less appealing without one.
She glanced down. She could never easily meet the direct gaze of a stranger.
art,” Leila was saying. “Don’t you like scary art? I like to be
“I like abstract expressionism,” Tristan said quietly.
“I like … uh, da Vinci?” Dawn ventured, naming the first artist she could think of.
Leila shook her head and sighed, knowing Dawn was a lost cause when it came to art. “Sure you do. What about su
rrealism? Those weird landscapes and crazy figures …” She looked back and forth between Dawn and Tristan, excited. “Can you imagine if you got stuck in some weird other world with rules you didn’t even know and you couldn’t find your way home? That’s the scariest thing to me. Hey, how many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?”
Thanks to Leila, Dawn had seen enough surrealist art to appreciate the joke. She laughed dryly, glancing at Tristan to share in the moment. He wasn’t looking at her. He wasn’t looking at an
“I might as well get another drink while I wait for Jared,” Leila sighed. “Dawn?”
“I’m good. I’m driving, remember?”
“No, thank you.”
“Okay. Be right back.”
Tristan stood to let her out and then sat back down. Alone with him, Dawn felt both nervous and excited. And they really
alone. The other groups had left. There was only Leila, who kept glancing at the door in anticipation of Jared, and the bartender.
“Do you … do you come here a lot?” Dawn stammered. She adjusted her glasses, a nervous habit.
“Wh-what do you do?”
“Uh … odd jobs, mostly.” His body tensed almost imperceptibly, which made Dawn draw her eyebrows together. Obviously he didn’t want her to know something, which was fine, since they had only just met. But his terse answers flustered her anyway.
“Oh.” She fiddled with her glass. Leila was still at the bar, chatting with a guy who might have been Jared. “I, uh, just got off work,” she said pointlessly.
“Where do you work?” he asked automatically, though it was obvious he didn’t care about the answer.
“Endpapers. It’s a used bookstore.”
She brightened. “Yes! Do you?”
“My sister reads,” he added after a moment.
Silence stretched between them. Dawn turned to glance at Leila again just as her phone buzzed. She pulled it out of her pocket and read Zach’s name on the screen. It was only the first time he’d called that night, but for some reason Dawn was annoyed. Guiltily she slipped the phone back in her pocket, unanswered.
“Your boyfriend?” Tristan asked in a low voice.
“Yes.” Her eyes flicked over his unreadable face. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Not at the moment.”
Her drink tasted like gasoline. She tried not to make a face as she sipped it, and smiled to hide the grimace. She would never order a vodka and coke again.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
Following Tristan’s gaze over her shoulder, Dawn turned and saw Leila leaving the bar—leaving the
—with the guy. Annoyance hardened her jaw. This wasn’t the first time Leila had left her all alone in a place where she didn’t know anyone. She would always come back, maybe in five minutes or maybe half an hour, but there was never any way to know for sure.
“Hold on,” Dawn grumbled, slipping out of the booth. Tristan didn’t acknowledge her.
Maybe it’s better I don’t get to know him
, she thought with a tinge of regret.
In the parking lot, she spotted Leila and the guy standing beside a dark blue Corvette. She’d hoped Leila had just gone to join him for a cigarette or something, but he was opening the car door for her and she was getting in. What the hell were they doing? Dawn stared at the hand pressed on Leila’s lower back. Something about the way the guy curved toward her beneath the streetlights seemed sinister and predatory. An uneasy feeling stirred in Dawn’s gut.
“Leila!” she called, her voice just shy of panicked. She ran toward them. “Hey, where are you going?”
“We were just leaving,” the guy informed her coldly.
Dawn looked up at the guy and nearly reeled from his gaze. Messy brown hair fell into his leaf-green eyes, which blazed with fury, with such
“Well, s-so was I,” she stammered, her voice a strained whisper. “And she’s my ride.”
“Sorry, Dawn,” Leila said, sounding weirdly bright and oblivious. She smiled. “Are we going to the Egg House?”
“I … don’t know. I’m not really hungry.”
They walked arm in arm away from the guy, hair limp and sticking to their shoulders. Dawn eyed her friend, wondering if Leila even had a clue about what had just happened. She certainly wasn’t acting as if she’d nearly abandoned Dawn to climb into a stranger’s car for no apparent reason. It was almost as if she hadn’t done it at all.
What is going on?
“Was that Jared?” Dawn asked.
“Yes! Wasn’t he hot? Like a male model.”
No, he was creepy.
“And intense. He’s very intense.”
“You were just going to leave with him?” Dawn demanded, hurt and bewildered. She’d wanted to talk about this calmly, but her unease spiraled out of control. “You were going to leave me there by myself? Without a ride?”
“What? No! Can you hold this for me? I’m afraid I’m going to break it.”
“Sure.” Dawn, biting her lip against further admonitions, took the camera and looped it around her neck.
Leila shook her head, long black hair swinging. “God, it’s so hot. I feel like a wilted lily.”
“What? It’s only in the eighties.” Dawn reached for Leila’s purse as they neared the car. “Hey, where are your keys?”
Leila grabbed her purse back and pawed through it. “Shit! They probably fell out in the booth. I need a different purse. This happens all the time.”
They turned and headed back the way they’d just come. It was after two in the morning and the atmosphere on the street had turned menacing. The only people left were those who had nowhere else to go, nothing better to do than lurk at the edges of alleys or loiter in a 24-hour El Salvadorian restaurant. A man with a gray beard rode a bike past them, a silver spray-painted cherub figure strapped sideways behind his seat.
The bar was a black cinder block cube without any windows. It stood unattached at the end of the cramped strip mall like a dreary afterthought. The Corvette was still there, Dawn noticed with u
nease, but she didn’t see Jared anywhere.
!” Leila cried, tugging on the glass door.
Suddenly a hand came down hard on Dawn’s shoulder. She shrugged it off violently, turning at the same time. It was Jared.