The floorboards creaked and she flinched to see the bedroom door opening.
Tensley tapped it open. “You’re awake.” A rush went through her when he even muttered words. Oh god, this wasn’t good. There was the tension from the moment she had woken up in the night and spoke to him. She had been drunk off of lack of sleep and his blood. She wasn’t thinking properly. He wasn’t smirking or laughing now, but once he saw what she was wearing, he swallowed. “You look––” He hesitated, eyes lingering over her bare parts. The towel was short and clung from her chest to mid-thighs. There was plenty to linger on. “Wet.” He cleared his throat. It was the first time she had seen him so flustered. She turned fully to face him. Her mouth went bone dry.
“I just had a shower,” she said as soft as possible.
He lightly laughed, more in his chest and wandered into the room. His eyes wouldn’t leave her though. “You’re torturing me.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
He smirked. “You do it all the time.”
“I’m sorry for misleading you.” Her voice was as harsh as she could make it. His white smile glimmered in the dimly lit room.
Molly narrowed her eyes. “What?”
“It’s the bath scent you used.” She almost laughed at the fact that he knew it so well. “Maybe we can bathe together.” Molly was glad it was dark; heat came up in waves.
“No,” she concluded. He paced back and forth.
“Hm. You say that a lot.”
“You ask inappropriate questions a lot.” She couldn’t believe this was the same person from the night before. She noted he was putting back on his demonic facade.
He shortly laughed. “It’s in my nature.” Quickly, she looked back at him.
“Bull,” she miffed, glowering. He raised both his brows, astounded.
“The little princess has a foul mouth.”
“Don’t call me that.”
In a flash, he was in front of her and she gasped. If his hands hadn’t snatched her wrists, she would have fallen over. Her heart pounded rapidly in her chest. His dark eyes glowed. “Would you like me to call you something else, princess?” His finger caressed the engagement ring. For once, his expression was serious and gentle. Molly used her other hand to hold up the towel that was already slipping off.
Be strong. “Call me Molly,” she spoke.
He softly grinned. “Molly.” And his free hand grabbed the towel––and wrapped it back around her. “We wouldn’t want to expose you yet.” Her blush grew redder if possible and she could hardly control her breathing. He––he was being nice. He wasn’t pulling off the towel and gawking.
“Thank you,” she whispered, golden lashes dropping and slowly making their way back to his face.
A weak smile formed to his sculpted lips. His finger rubbed across her engagement ring and left tingles. “Vena amoris.” Molly furrowed her brow. “It’s Latin for vein of love. Traditionally, people thought a special, powerful vein ran from the fourth finger on the left hand.” His finger traced down her hand and up her arm, leaving a trail of goose bumps. “Directly to the heart.” His finger ran down her collarbone and halted above the towel on the top of her breast. His smile was light and it caused her to stop breathing. She was boneless. “I can feel your heart. It’s wild. Are you nervous?” Her whole body felt red now. She pressed both her hands to his chest, but he didn’t stop leaning forward. Her back hit the wall and her entire body shook in his embrace—shuddering from the feeling of him so close. He breathed out hotly.
“Tensley,” she began, but his thumb pressed to her bottom lip and gently, he opened it.
“Stop denying me. Start desiring me.” She hesitated, gawking at his sexual, dark eyes.
Then she pressed her lips to his thumb.
Turning eighteen was supposed to mean ultimate freedom. At least that’s what Molly Darling was led to believe. But Molly, continuously checking over her shoulder as she walked down Madison Avenue, felt anything but that. Not an adult and certainly not free, not when her birthday brought the memory of the three shadows that promised to return for her.
She ignored her buzzing phone and focused on the brownstone ahead, littered with people lounging on the steps. As she approached the townhouse, she once again glanced over her bare shoulder. No one was there but the nervous drumming in her stomach wouldn’t subside.
“No one’s coming,” she said softly to herself and fixed her sunglasses. She smelled like ballpark franks and chili dogs from the dinner with September in Bay Ridge after the celebratory Yankee's game they’d gone to. That was the fun part of her birthday, all the birthday surprises from her best friend. “Stop worrying—no—one’s—coming. You did the right thing.”
In the past, the not-fun part had been waiting for the shadows. Each year when they inevitably didn’t appear, she would miss Stella’s extravagant birthday party that was thrown supposedly for her.
The shadows, Molly concluded, weren’t real; simply an illusion her family all had experienced thirteen years ago. On her eighteenth birthday, she was perfectly fine with that reality. She didn’t wait to gather in the living room like the years before. Instead, she snuck out before her parents noticed her absence and was headed to the party. When she was sure she was out of the clear of being caught, she proudly pumped her fist.
Tonight would be different, she promised herself.
As she entered, people danced all around her, tossing alcohol down their throats. She assumed Stella’s parents were out of town. Too many bodies surrounded her, making it almost impossible to move. Molly continued into the densely filled beige and black room, and suffered a mini heart attack at the antique vases being used for large cups. Her co-workers at the Met would be just as livid as she was. At the moment, she was purely astounded at how clueless people could be. Deep breathes, Molly. Be cool, be carefree. Relax.
She spotted her host. Stella Vanderbilt. Dark crimson hair framing her sharp features. She stood in the midst of the chaos, calm and collected. She belonged there. Like the sun, everyone––no, the world and the very universe––revolved around her.
Along with Stella came Tina Fitzgerald. Tina was more like Mercury. The ancient Greeks believed Mercury was two separate objects, one that rose in the morning, and the other at night. Likewise, Tina possessed the ability to be two different people: the devoted catholic good-girl with her parents and the dare devil, in-touch-with-her-sexuality-girl with everyone else.
Their friendship with Molly was cemented in that their families were old, country club friends. They attended charities together, they exchanged business deals, and they even occasionally went on oversea trips together. They were expected to be friends. Above all, it looked good. And as her mother had pointed out: It’s all about appearances.
Even though her mother’s words were meant to be fleeting, they nestled deep within Molly’s tiny, vulnerable mind and borne uncountable thoughts of doubt, dread and fear. She knew how she looked to others. The suffocating feeling that filled her chest when the kids at the school told her to pluck out her eyes as a sly, taunting remark. She looked like a freak, and a freak was never accepted. Stella and Tina at the age of eight were her only saviors to stay afloat if she wanted to be accepted by her peers.
“Molly!” Tina hollered over the booming music. Molly timidly weaved through the crowd of bodies and joined the girls in the middle. Tina threw herself over Molly, giggling and splashing her wine. “You came!”
“Yeah,” she said, awkwardly hugging her back.
Stella smiled, showcasing her white, straight teeth. “For once, you attend your own party. It’s a miracle!” She rose her glass, her brown eyes sharp and gulped some of the red liquid down. Molly never told anyone why her parents forced her to stay in every night on her birthday. If she did confess to someone, the whole situation became more real. To begin with, why would anyone even believe her? “So where’s the slut?” She leaned forward a bit, swaying.
“Her name’s September and don’t call her that,” Molly scolded, frowning.
“Relax,” Stella whispered, a hint of a drunk smile playing at her lips. Molly glowered at the typical tactic used to shut her up. Stella and Tina giggled, trying to hide their inebriated state. “You need something to drink, Molly.”
Molly shook her head. One glass of wine, and she would be a loose cannon. “No, I’m fine.”
Stella snaked an arm around Molly’s shoulders and guided the two of them away from Tina. “You need to get drunk and get laid. It’s your birthday!” She played with Molly’s curls, her eyes raking over Molly’s bashful expression. Her eyes narrowed in on her sunglasses. “And take off those damn things! Jesus Christ! People won’t give a damn about your eyes tonight.”
Molly waved Stella’s hands from her sunglasses and gave her a pinched look. “I need them.” Her glasses concealed the shock and horror of her almost-colorless eyes. She felt naked without them. Exposed to a world of cruel, heartless people who hated anything out of the ordinary. Yep, that’s me. On the rare chance someone accidently did see her eyes, she blamed their strange luminosity on a genetic mutation.
“Do you remember Mol, when we were like twelve,” Tina said, coming out of nowhere and embracing her from behind. She smelled like heavy smoke, and brand new Gucci shoes. Molly shrugged her shoulders. “You had braces and a flat chest and pimples. Big pimples. All over your face. And those pink braces.” How could she forget? She spent most of her preteen years with hunched shoulders and a bowed head. That was over though.
She was free, wasn’t she? If freedom meant cleaning up wine bottles before the maids or her dad could find them. Or going to parties like this one because not going would give up too much of her social capital that she’d worked so hard for, then yeah.
She supposed she was.
“Tina.” Stella began giggling in a shrill squeal. “Don’t bring that up on her birthday. She’ll cry.” Molly folded her arms, staring off into the endless crowd.
“It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to,” Tina shrieked, flailing her arms around and falling against some boys from the lacrosse team. Somehow, her tongue ended up in one of their mouths and she forgot about Stella and Molly.
“She’s just wasted, Mol, don’t mind her. You’re gorgeous,” Stella said, squeezing her shoulder for comfort. “You’re so sensitive. You know, guys don’t like girls like that. Maybe you should grow a pair.”
Unconsciously, Molly felt over the silver ring on her finger. Since the day it was put on her finger, she hadn’t been able to remove it. As her finger grew, the ring resized. Her parents had tried everything from butter to a dremmel tool. They thought of taking her to the doctor but how would they explain? The ring was a clear sign that the night years ago happened, even if she tried to ignore it. She spent her early teenage years desperately searching books about demons, but none of them pointed to the belief that they existed.
“Happy Birthday Molly,” a voice interrupted Stella’s slurred speech. A tall guy built sturdily with broad shoulders and cheerful eyes walked over to her. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Michael.” Her cheeks flushed. She smiled at him and tried, unsuccessfully, to stand comfortably. Somehow, she couldn’t find a casual-looking pose and ended up fidgeting where she stood.
“I’m so glad you came, bud,” Stella said, pulling him into a tight hug. Wrapping one arm around her, he glanced down at Molly and grinned.
“It’s nice to see you at one of these parties. Finally.” He chuckled, moving past Stella to face Molly. Stella winked at her, which caused heat to race across her face.
“Me too,” she added, ignoring Stella’s smirk. He wrinkled his brow and she realized she hadn’t made sense. “I mean––to finally come to one.” She gazed down, her skin burning. God, she was bad at this. He was sweet and cute and kind—and she fumbled over words. “My family’s strict.”
“I know,” he said, his smile faltering. Her heart stung. She shook her head, trying her best to force a smile.
“Plus, these parties are usually lame.” She giggled, her voice holding fake sarcasm. She smirked at him, and he let out one blunt laugh.
“Then why bother?” He knitted his brow.
God, she didn’t know. It just seemed the thing to do. She picked something and hoped it sounded okay. “Cake?”
Michael’s face lit up. “I love cake.”
“Me too.” Molly smiled back.
“Uh, you guys,” Stella cut between them, frowning, “There is zero cake here. No one would have cake at a party like this, it’d just get thrown back up again.”
Molly bit her lip and awkwardly glanced away from Michael’s face. She needed to be bold, be brave and get the courage to tell him how she felt. She wanted to grab his hand, yank him upstairs and show him how she felt. Her mouth parted--
“Hey,” a girl with bleached hair attached her entire body to Michael’s. Molly's mouth clasped shut and her heartbeat slowed, a hot flush burning all the way to her hairline. “You’re looking fine,” Blondie purred to Michael. She didn’t even bother to look at Molly.
Michael smiled widely down at the tall, athletic girl. “Thanks Bonnie. You look pretty good yourself.”
Molly cleared her throat, catching Bonnie’s attention.
“Well, aren’t you the perfect gentleman, Michael.” Bonnie laughed. “Is this your girlfriend?” The girl stared at Molly and she felt like a spotlight shone down on her.
“Uh, no. We’re just friends. This is Molly. Molly, this is Bonnie,” he introduced.
Molly didn’t even get a chance to reply to them, her smile fading as soon as they looked away, engaging in a steamy, yet humorous conversation without her. Friends. Just friends. This was the type of chat she wanted to have with him. How many times had this happened? Seeing him with another girl and by the next day she was his girlfriend. Just say something, Molly. Flirt, show him you’re interested.
“You look good in your football equipment,” she blurted out. Once she neared the end of her sentence, she slowed her speech and watched as Michael cocked a brow at her. She resisted the urge to slap herself for such an embarrassing comment.
“Uh, thanks Molly.” A tad of heat consumed his olive tone cheeks. Beside him, Bonnie smiled sweetly.
“You do though, Michael,” Bonnie added cheerfully and again, the attention went back to her. “Do you wanna go get another drink and I can tell you how your last play against the Boston Cardinals sucked?” Bonnie teased and Michael laughed loudly. Molly’s heart sank. She wasn’t overbearing or forward. She was plain nice which made it more difficult to watch Bonnie monopolize Michael’s attention. Molly searched her mind for anything she knew about football and sadly, realized she knew nothing. Damn my poor knowledge of sports.
Finally, his eyes swung back to Molly. “Well, I’ll talk to you later, Molly. Happy Birthday.” Before she could say anything witty or sweet, he was gone, chugging his drink and laughing loudly with Bonnie. Amongst the sea of bodies, thrashing along with the heavy beat, she felt out of place.
Someone stepped on her heel and she winced. She turned to see a girl from school. Her name was Lucy, if she remembered correctly. The girl’s tube top hung low, her makeup smudged. She stared at Molly and examined her closely. “Psycho bitch,” Lucy muttered.
“What?” Molly’s shocked reply barely made a sound
“You heard me,” she slurred, swinging drenched hair over one shoulder. A red flush of shame crossed Molly’s face and chest. Molly recalled Lucy’s cruelty from the elementary playground. She threw snowballs and stones at Molly and called her a freak. Molly was glad no one knew how frightened she could sometimes be by her own reflection. “People think Stella Vanderbilt’s a bitch,” Lucy continued. “But the real bitch is you. Not to mention fucking psycho.”
Lucy’s beady brown eyes narrowed as she stared at Molly. People mistook her quietness, her shyness for being a snob. But they were wrong. Molly bowed her head, gazing at a multitude of shoes as the feet inside them danced by. Someone caught Lucy by the arm and pulled her away, laughing.
Stella was nowhere in sight and Tina was too drunk to comprehended what occurred, even if Molly complained to her. Without thinking, Molly grabbed a flute of wine and gulped it down. The burning sensation eased the humiliation, the pain and the torment she’d endured in the short time she’d been at this horrid party.
It didn’t take long for the alcohol to absorb into her bloodstream and she swayed. The overcrowded room spun and she followed after. So much for going to work without a hangover.
She was cursed. People looked, but they kept their distance as if she carried a deadly disease, as if she would rip their heads off and devour their flesh. Rumors followed her constantly, and for good reason. Once in ninth grade, she’d ripped the door off with one hand. Her hands would shake in gym class and she would break a baseball bat in two pieces. She didn’t understand what was happening to her. The strength came at the most random moments from the young age of six and she could never control it. The looks she usually got after one of her incidents were the same looks she saw in their eyes now.
She couldn’t stand the scorn she felt from the look in their eyes and curled her arms around her middle, wanting to vanish. Her chest tightened. She darted through the crowd; head bowed and stumbled upstairs into the living room. The room was spacious, framed with crown molding and decorated with old portraits of European countryside. She felt like she was in Florence, Italy. She so badly wanted to be transported somewhere else. One of her passions was language and she loved learning French, Spanish, etc. With her heart fixated on India, she hoped to learn Hindi. She would love to teach abroad. Or teach anywhere.
A large, bronzed oval mirror hung over the fireplace and when she peered back at herself, she frowned. She stepped closer, her Louboutins clicking against the old oak-paneled floors. Once she was close enough, she took off her black glasses and held her breath. Her eyes were a blinding, bright white right now, moist with tears; red, puffy veins forming in them as wetness streaked down her face.
Someone hissed. She spun, dropping her sunglasses, and saw a dark figure lingering in the doorway. All the sounds from the party below boomed into the room and she could barely hear herself think. She squinted, but the figure only became more distorted.
“Hello?” she questioned. Maybe it was Stella’s dad, but they weren’t supposed to be home. Another hiss echoed into the room and this time she knew something wasn’t right. She leaned back against the fireplace. It wasn’t Stella’s dad, for sure. A feminine figure crept into the room. Hisses began, one after the other, musically bouncing off the walls. Molly bit her lip and clenched the edge of her dress. An icy finger of dread slid along her rigid back.
A bellowing cry exploded from the same figure. Molly fell to her knees, cupping her ears. The mirror shattered, glass scattering across the floor and over her hair and body. She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t move. Her entire body shook. Then the cry stopped and she gazed up to see a woman.
The hood that concealed her monstrous face had fallen. Her face––her face was contorted and pale and the woman's dark eyes stared back at her, her movements becoming stiff. Hissing began again and Molly followed the sound. The hideous sound was coming from the dark snakes, slithering from the woman’s hair and she was walking directly toward Molly. The snakes were her hair.
I must be wasted.
She crashed to the floor and crawled backwards, her heart pounding fast, her voice aching to scream out.
The woman’s harsh voice echoed throughout the room as she spoke words in a language Molly had never heard before. Not English, not French, not Spanish—nothing understandable. Her gold-tinted hands glinted in the dim lighting as she waved them manically.
“Daemon,” she snarled. Molly cringed at the name. She remembered the shadow from years ago, the man’s curved mouth moving as he spoke that same word.
The snakes coiled through each other and over the woman’s brow, and when she saw Molly wobbling by the mantle, her mouth broke open into a razor-tooth snarl. She raised a hand and swept each of the dining room chairs out of the way, sending them one by one into the ivory chair rail molding.
“Please.” Molly entire frame shook, begging that this creature would understand she wasn’t a threat. “Please don’t hurt me.”
The woman sent the chair at the end of the table into the wall and Molly grabbed one of the iron pokers.
“Stay back.” She warned. The woman advanced, her eyes bloodshot and wild. She froze as Molly’s eyes aligned with hers and stilled and simply gawked, engrossed in something—in her stare? Her hard, sharp face looked as if it was made out of stone, the rest of her body was covered in a ratty, black cloak. As soon as Molly’s eyes left hers, the woman moved again. Molly swung the poker franticly as the woman approached. “Don’t. Don’t come any closer or I’ll––”
The woman lunged, swung her hand and hit Molly’s cheek. Molly fell instantly, numbness spread across her cheek and pain throbbed through her jaw. The poker fell out of her grasp and slid across the floor. She screamed when the woman sat down hard on her back and took her wrist.
Molly’s muffled cries for help didn’t even carry out of the room. She thrashed and fought but the woman’s heavy, brass hands held her down. They were cool against her bare skin and soon she felt something sharp poke the white flesh on the back of her neck. The woman lowered her mouth against Molly’s trembling throat. First, her wet, long tongue dabbed at her pulsing vein, and then her sharp teeth softly dragged across Molly’s throat. Molly arched her back only to find the snakes swaying far too close to her eyes, snapping their mouths at her.
A deafening roar filled the room. The woman and her snakes hissed and instantly her weight disappeared from Molly’s back. Molly curled into a defensive ball. All she heard was a hissing shout followed by a thud.
For a few seconds, Molly didn’t move. Her heart pounded so quickly she thought she might have a heart attack. When she cracked her eyes open, there, a few feet away, laid the woman, her snakes slowly decaying and her dark eyes lifeless. A figure stood above her.
“Damn gorgon,” muttered a deep, male voice. He kicked at the dead reptiles.
No words left Molly as she lied perfectly still. She was drunk, that had to be it. She didn’t understand what it was that she was seeing. Oh, right, insanity is in my genes, maybe I’ve finally gone off the deep end.
“Is she dead?” a female voice asked. Heavy footsteps filled her ears.
“Does she look alive?” he spoke roughly. Molly silently inched her way into a shadow in the corner of the room, elbows on fire as she crawled along the glass-laden floor. She reached for her sunglasses and put them on to conceal her eyes.
“I wasn’t talking about the fugly gorgon,” she snapped, “I was talking about the girl.”
A chilling silence filled the room and Molly didn’t dare move. The man took a step toward her, but stopped when Molly grabbed the previously discarded fire poker. His eyes fixated on her trembling figure.
“You going to kill me with that?” He laughed, bluntly. His shadowed face concealed his features.
She raised the poker as a warning, her arm shaking violently. “Stay away from me,” she threatened, surprised she had found her voice.
The woman folded her arms, an amused smile pressed into her thin lips. “She thinks she can kick your fucking ass.”
He took another step closer, pacing himself this time. “A Manhattan princess? Fight me? No—no—no.” When Molly’s back hit the fireplace, it startled her and he took a hold of the poker and pulled her closer. She gasped at his closeness, at his rich, heavy cologne scent. His sharp jaw line, his high, sculpted cheekbones, the mischievous glint in his dark, gray eyes fringed with thick black lashes, were all familiar to her somehow. Her wide eyes attached themselves to his smug, bee-stung lips and she watched as he lazily transformed them into a smirk. He placed the sharp end of the poker to his abdomen and intently watched the color leave Molly’s face. “Prove me wrong, by any means, Ciccia.”