Untamed Page 34

Another local, a sibling and close friend of the missing persons, had reported suspecting their whereabouts after receiving a tip via her Ouija board, according to Officer Riley Hughes.

“Normally, I don’t put much stock in spiritual hokum,” Hughes said. “But the girl had been fully cooperative with police during our monthlong investigation for her missing brother and next-door neighbors. She was insistent we at least look. Since several cave-ins took place at the park on the eve of the Pleasance High prom weeks earlier, and considering it was the missing persons’ last reported whereabouts, we thought it was worth a follow-up. We went there expecting to find nothing. Score one for hokum.”

“Al, are you kidding me?” Jenara’s piqued voice pulls my attention from the four-year-old newspaper article. An ornate glass bottle filled with the stones I collected during our “rescue” from Underland sits next to me on the wicker couch. I rub my temples, fuzzy from my trip down memory lane.

Jen rushes across the threshold and shuts the door behind her. “I can’t believe you haven’t even put on your underskirt yet! What’s with you? Twenty-one years old today and already showing signs of senility. Maybe you need some fresh air.”

She cracks the window behind me. A salty breeze drifts in, stirring the turquoise starfish-patterned curtains above my head. My hair flutters, the platinum waves skimming across my bared shoulders and lacy white corset.

I trace the hem of my matching lacy boy shorts, surprised to be sitting in nothing but my underthings. What was I doing before I sat down? First, I ate the birthday cupcake Mom left next to her card on the bedside table.

As if triggered by my thoughts, the paper cupcake liner flutters to the floor on a gust of wind and blows over to Jen’s bare feet. She picks it up and frowns at me. “Ummm?”

“Cupcake from my mom.” I smack my lips, still tasting the bright blue, cloyingly sweet, honey-anise icing.

Jenara crumples the paper and tosses it into the trash. “So, this is you coming down from a sugar high?”

“Maybe?” I attempt to recall the rest of the afternoon’s events. After my snack, I took off my robe to get dressed. While digging through my suitcase for the brand-new choker necklace I had borrowed from Jenara for today, I was sidetracked by the keepsakes I’d packed. Somehow, I ended up on the couch under the window with scrapbook and bottle in hand.

I study the newspaper clipping again. Is this me crashing from a sugar rush, or is it something else?

I feel so strange. My body and mind are relaxed, but my blood is the opposite. It races through the veins under my skin—white-water rapids branching off into a thousand tributaries.

“Come on, zombie girl, let me see some sign of life,” Jen says, only half-teasing. “It’s one hour to sunset, and we still have to fix your hair and makeup. And FYI, that icing stain around your lips does not count as your ‘something blue.’ That’s what the garter is for. How are we supposed to get that off?” Her gaze falls to the bottle of stones beside my thigh. She picks it up and rattles it in front of me. “Unbelievable. Jeb’s out there with Corbin getting sand between his toes, pacing the shore to check every little detail. And here you are, reminiscing.”

Jenara’s wound up about more than just the wedding details. She had to leave a fashion show in New York two days early to get here for this. She’s been in constant contact with her design partner, and their line is stirring up quite a buzz. I have a feeling her career is about to take off big-time. We tried to plan the wedding around her schedule, but this was the only week the beach house was available. So we compromised and made it for the tail end of the fashion show. I told her she didn’t have to come, but she said she’d die before missing it.

Even now, when she’s hitting me with her harshest green-eyed glare, I can tell there’s no place she’d rather be. She’s a vision of softness in her shin-length, flowing periwinkle sundress. Her pink hair sits atop her head in a chic chignon. Dark blue pygmy roses are tucked in at strategic intervals, forming a halo. A few stray pink tendrils coil at her neck.

“You look perfect,” I tell her, dreamily.

She fights a grin and rolls her eyes. “Wish I could say the same for you.”

“Has Corb seen you yet?” My question is rhetorical. The two have been joined at the hip for years, and now that Corbin has almost completed his bachelor’s degree in advertising, he’s planning to move with her to New York by the end of the summer.

Just last month, he asked for “her hand in marriage.” Dressed in medieval chain mail, he rode up to our duplex in a horse-drawn carriage. Jeb had helped him refinish an old Chevy they found in a junkyard. Jeb took the body and scrapped all the clunky, unnecessary parts, making it a shell lightweight enough to be pulled by the two white horses Corbin borrowed from a friend. After adding a sturdy harness, replacing the tires with buggy wheels, and painting the body a glossy white with red trim, they had the perfect Texan knight’s carriage. When Corbin pulled up in Jen’s driveway with three dozen roses in hand and asked her to ride off with him into the sunset, she nearly fainted.

It was old-fashioned—yet modern—and oh so sweet.

Lost in her own nostalgic haze, Jenara admires the sparkly engagement ring on her finger. Her grin breaks loose, along with an attractive blush to her cheeks. “Well, yah. My betrothed approves of my latest creation. But you’re the one who’s about to be in the spotlight.” She tosses the bottle of stones into my opened suitcase and then reaches into the closet for my dress. Jeb and I had decided Jenara’s beautiful creations got a bad rap at prom, and deserved the spotlight in a good memory.

Over the past few weeks, Jenara did a masterful job stitching rips and patching holes with sequined appliqués—one of which she’d found in an antique store, so it was also my “something old.” Any stains were masked with airbrushed periwinkle dye followed by a sweep of glitter. Now the strapless white dress looks brand-new. Or as new as a vintage wedding gown can look when it’s been modified to resemble shadowy, moldering fabric fresh from the grave.

“Come on, Al, get the lead out,” Jenara scolds, losing patience.

I grunt in response.

She tosses the sheer purple-gray underskirt my way and it drifts over my head, surrounding me like a perfume-scented cloud.

“I’ll prep the makeup,” she says. A loud clatter follows as she dumps her cosmetic bag onto the table next to Mom’s birthday card. “Maybe nail polish remover will work on your lips.”

I crinkle my nose. “Yuck . . . really?”

She shrugs. “Desperate times call for disgusting measures.” On the other side of the iridescent netting covering my face, she sorts out eye shadows, liners, brushes, and blush.

My body feels light, like I could float away. It’s partly elation . . . partly nerves . . . and something more. Something I’ve never felt before.

Or have I?

The skin around my eyes tingles, as does the skin at my shoulder blades.

Muffled laughter and footsteps drift through the living room’s paper-thin wall. It sounds like part of the crowd is headed out for a while. The beach house my dad rented has seven bedrooms, a loft, and four and a half bathrooms, but is still barely big enough for my and Jeb’s combined guests. I can’t imagine how packed it will be once the rest arrive.

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