part one: natalie

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Written by Mikel Andrews

She knew she shouldn’t have gone.

From the moment she’d opened the invitation Danica had sent her, right up until she’d put on the uncomfortably tight black dress roped in unfashionable frills and got in the car with Jessica, Natalie knew the whole evening was a bad idea.

I can’t, she told Jess.

You can, Jess replied. And you will. You are. End of story.

That was Jess for you. The perfect bride-to-be—and Natalie’s future sister-in-law—with hair that ran like caramel and mocha down around her shoulders, and natural veins of gold, she was on the opposite end of a spectrum that began with Natalie.

All pale skin, thick glasses, and poor posture, Natalie felt like her whole inclusion in the wedding was a joke. The rest of the bridal party—Danica, Elise, even Mary from what she understood—were these classically gorgeous bombshells that looked like they should be painted on the side of a World War II plane somewhere. Natalie, as various boys at various times in various high school hallways had pointed out, looked like a vampire. And something told her they didn’t mean it in the sexy, Hollywood way. It wasn’t fair; Nat wasn’t even into the whole “vampire thing,” so she couldn’t even take it as a compliment on any level. She was more of a mystery fan when it came to literature, a detective at heart. Her favorite shirt read “Holmes is my homeboy” on the front. Nobody got it.

Bottom line, the other girls in Jess’s wedding were older than her, prettier than her, and—worst of all—they knew it.

Let’s call this bachelorette party what it really was: High School, Part 2.

But—and this was a massive but—Jess was going to be family, and family still meant something to Natalie, blood or not. And Jess meant something to her brother, Eric.

Thinking back, Natalie reminded herself of the first day her big brother brought home Jess from college. Natalie was still a freshmen—no, sophomore—when she came to Thanksgiving Dinner with Eric. She was this beautiful, bubbly, full-of-life thief.

Yes, a thief. One that had stolen Eric from the family.

From Natalie.

And yet the thief hadn’t wasted any time in coming over and introducing herself to Natalie, giant grin and bright blue eyes disarming the little high school vampire. Jess asked her name, how she liked high school—she was even showing Natalie how to tease her hair by the end of the night. Natalie knew she was a keeper even then.

Luckily, her brother picked up on that too and proposed last fall.

So now here she was—all dressed up, one place to go. She was doing this. This was the top of the roller coaster, that first peak, where you knew you couldn’t get off the ride. That moment where your only option was two evils. Risk and riskier.

Nat, are you with me?”

It was Jess, to her left. Driving. Or rather, she was driving. The car was parked; Jess was depositing the keys into her purse. She was looking into the rearview, adjusting her tiara that spelled out BRIDE in obnoxiously fake pink diamonds.

Blood diamonds, Natalie thought. Out loud, however, she answered, “With you. Yeah. Yes.”

We’re here,” Jess told her.

Oh, God,” Natalie sighed quietly.

Jess shook her head carefully. “No—He’s not gonna be here for this. Trust me.”

Natalie eyed her suspiciously. Jess looked eerily serious—it was an unusual look for her.

And of course she couldn’t hold it for long. She broke out laughing, shaking her head. “Lighten up, will you? This is a bachelorette party—try and have the slightest amount of fun.”

Natalie nodded, staring deep into her lap. “I won’t ruin your night, Jess.”

Hey, look at me,” Jess said, turning solemn again. She took a long, manicured nail and used it to pick Natalie’s chin up. “The only way you’d ruin it is if you missed it. And you’re already here…Sis.”

Even Natalie, who was so used to rolling her eyes at sentimental little lines, couldn’t help but smile at that one. “That does have a nice ring to it, huh?”

Right?” Jess laughed. “Oh. There’s one more thing—”

Before Natalie had time to duck, cower, swat, or execute any of her favorite deflections, Jess had plucked the glasses from her face and tossed them haphazardly into the backseat as if they were a gum wrapper.

Natalie instantly went into squint-mode and cried out, “Hey!”

Jess had her by both wrists before she could dive after the glasses. “Don’t!”

Jess, I—”

Need them for reading—I know, I know,” Jess said mockingly. “Not a lot of books where we’re going.”

No, I—” Natalie tried.

Really need a boyfriend?” Jess interrupted. “Couldn’t agree more.”

No, you—”

Already have one? Correct again. Although technically at this stage he’s called a fiance,” Jess continued. “Natalie! Give it up! One night without the Coke bottles isn’t gonna kill you.”

Natalie thought otherwise. “You can’t do this.”

I am,” Jess replied, very matter-of-fact. “Look, just try this. Try something.”

Or what?” Natalie pushed back.

Jess frowned. “Or you might graduate college without learning anything.”

Oh whatever,” Nataliewhispered to the window. Even as she sighed it off, however, Jess’s words rang true; haunting cathedral bells at the back of Natalie’s head.

College wasn’t all term papers and GPAs—even Natalie knew that. And, stupid as it sounded, Natalie hadn’t done even one thing she’d seen college kids do in movies. No class-skipping, no toga-partying, no quad-streaking—Natalie had never done anything wrong in her entire life.

But the idea that she might be doing college wrong kept her up at night.

Natalie sighed. “Alright, alright. But if I publicly flirt with any posters or load-bearing walls—it’s on your conscience.”

Jess laughed, rolling her eyes. “Jesus, Natalie—you’ll live through the torturous hell that is my bachelorette party. Promise.”

I’m going to hold you to that,” Natalie replied.

Perfect,” Jess said with a painfully sweet smile. “Now get out of the damn car and get your ass on that bus.”

Natalie did just that, although it was a little shaky in the heels—or hooves, as she’d grown to calling them. She followed after Jess, planting step after practiced step, pretending for just a second that she looked as good in her black dress as Jess did in hers. Doubtful, though, considering Jess wore a sexy little cocktail dress, curved in all the right places—and none of the wrong ones. The only thing similar about Natalie’s dress was the color.

After all, Jess had a very strict dress code. Her bachelorette party wouldn’t be a white t-shirt affair, no matter how clever the matrimonial pun printed on the front was. No, this was strictly black dress event. All business. The tiara was a gaudy as Jess was willing to go.

And maybe a sash, she’d admitted to Natalie on the car ride over.

Unfortunately, Natalie could see the bus wasn’t of the coach variety that she’d expected. She was hoping it was one of the cush Greyhounds that she’d taken to Vancouver on a Band trip.

Right, Natalie thought hotly, as if Danica would splurge for something classy.

Seeing the “party bus” firsthand, however, it was clear to Natalie that the Maid of Honor hadn’t splurged on anything. In fact, said bus was so far from the bus she took to Vancouver—and far too much like the bus she’d taken to the Science Museum in 4th Grade.

Ahead of her, the great big Twinkie of a vehicle loomed in the soft glow of a flickering streetlamp, practically laying on the curb like a tired dog.

It’s just an old school bus,” Natalie whispered to herself. And she wasn’t wrong. The party bus was a former school bus, painted black with metallic-purple racing strips that might have made it stylish if it were 1982.

As if Natalie were one to talk.

Oh, I almost forgot,” Jess said in front of her. She spun around and faced Natalie head on. Without her glasses, Natalie found Jess’s face less-defined, less crisp. Still gorgeous, though, shimmering in the overhead lamplight. “Here.”

Jess drew something from her clutch and held it out for Natalie to take. Natalie squinted at the whitish rectangle. “What is it?”

It’s a fake,” Jess answered.

A fake what?”

Jess laughed. “You’re joking right? Here, just hold onto it. Chances are you won’t even need it—nobody cards a bachelorette party.”

Suddenly, Natalie couldn’t breathe. A cold chill burst upwards from the small of her back, sending goosebumps down both her arms.

A fake ID?!

It was stupid—really stupid—but it hadn’t occurred to Natalie that the girls would be going to bars—like, actual ones. In her mind, she pictured these sort of supper clubs or concert venues. Places she could just waltz in and out of without having to be older than she actually was.

Just shy of 21, however, Natalie had a dilemma. An ethical gray area. A freakin’ problem.

Jess, I—I don’t think—” she started and stopped with a sigh. “I can’t.”

Jess made a disapproving click through her teeth. “You really gotta shake that word from your vocabulary.”

If I get caught—”

Nobody cards a bachelorette party!” Jess cried out, getting in Natalie’s face. The playfulness in her voice was gone. Her eyes narrowed. “Take it.”

The battle was over—and the outcome was the same: Jess wins. Flawless victory. All Natalie could do was let a little sigh slip out and chase Jess around the bus. It was monstrous, black, and…running? The beast was rumbling; the purr of a saber-tooth.

A scream shattered the quiet street. Natalie turned away from her scrutiny of the ride in time to see Jess being charged by two women about her age with a third lingering behind, strolling at a casual pace. Her initial panic faded as the faces of Jess’s assailants came—relatively, without glasses—into focus.

The two blondes in the lead—one dishwater, one platinum—were undoubtedly Danica and Elise. Natalie had never met them before, but even she had Facebook. Also, Danica had called her once—the minimum duty of the Maid of Honor.

As the girls squealed and tried to untangle themselves from each other, Natalie watched the redhead that kept her distance. She blew out a final puff of smoke, burying the butt with the tip of her boot. Tattered black leggings climbed up from those boots, and her dress was mostly drowned out by the metal-tinged leather jacket that hung off her petite frame. She never smiled and her eyes were barely open.

That has to be Mary.

While Natalie had spent a considerable time trying to deduce how exactly Danica had locked down the MoH position, the biggest mystery of this wedding was Mary. Who was she? It was the one question Jess hadn’t answered—and the one that Natalie knew not to ask. You could just tell from Jess’s face when Mary was mentioned; the topic was off-limits.

Natalie,” Danica said slyly. “So, so glad you could make it. I like the dress—so hot.”

It was literally the most fake phrase Natalie had ever heard uttered. Danica wrapped her arms around her, cocooning her in awkwardness. The girl smelled like a weird combo of booze, cigarettes, and strawberries, and the black-and-glitter circles painted around her eyes gave her a trashy, creature-of-the-night thing going on.

Hi, Danica,” Natalie returned. She stiffened as Elise approached her.

Hey. I’m Elise,” the other girl said, taking her hand and pumping warmly. Natalie thought she said hey in return, but wasn’t sure. She was too taken aback by the bronzed goddess in front of her. Tall, lean, and more perfect than perfect, Elise was all but wearing a halo as she smiled down at Natalie.

H-hi,” Natalie stuttered. She had a strange feeling, like she was speaking to royalty or something.

Okay, bitches, the night is young and so are we!” Danica proclaimed. “Let’s get the party started—load’em up!”

That was all the fanfare and majesty that the bridal party was going to get: Danica slurring into the night air. Something told Natalie that for Danica, the proverbial party had already started. Maybe it was the way she smelled, the way she spoke. Maybe it was the way she crotch-flashed the driver and licked his bearded face as she boarded the bus.

One of the two.

Jess, Danica, and Elise disappeared into the bus. Natalie held her herself one moment. Top of the roller coaster, she thought. Or can I still get off?

While she thought it over, Mary stepped in front of her, butting in line. It was a swift, sultry motion that teleported the mysterious girl in front of her. Mary threw a half-grin over her shoulder.

Too kind,” the redhead said in a smoky, tired voice.

Uh, no problem,” Natalie replied. “You’re Mary, right?”

Good guess,” Mary answered. Then she squinted at Natalie. “Or does my reputation precede me?”

No, no, I—I just narrowed it down,” Natalie mumbled. “Deductive reasoning.”

Ah. Well, Watson would be very proud,” Mary said with a curt nod and pinched smile. She followed the other girls onto the bus, tipping a nonexistent hat to the bus driver. “Boatman,” she greeted him.

Natalie did something she rarely did, especially in public: she grinned. Nothing explosive, like Elise’s smile, but a quick, crooked lip-tug that plagued her early grade school photos.

She didn’t know why, but for some unholy reason Natalie liked this Mary character.

The keg was tapped before the bus was even put into gear. Danica bit at the first foamy cup of brew, looking like something rabid, something vicious. Shaking her head, she let the foam spray wildly about the bus. She laughed and screamed and rambled obnoxiously over the bus driver’s entire speech. Danica was that one kid in class that Natalie couldn’t stand.

Ever the good student, Natalie strained to hear the driver’s instructions. What if there was some rule she desperately needed to know. One of those If-you-only-remember-one-thing-about-tonight-make-sure-it’s-this type deals. The older man—who bore more than a striking resemblance to Grizzly Adams—was saying something about the stops, the towns they’d be circling through, drive times and departures. All pretty standard. His voice sounded like a flight attendant on a horse tranquilizer.

Natalie wondered how far off that was from the truth.

She also wondered about the strange twiddle of his fingers as he talked. Natalie had only seen it once before the night she’d stayed over at Krissy Wilkin’s and her family made Natalie go to Saturday evening Mass.

She’d seen the priest doing the same thing with his hands as he gave the sermon. Except he’d been holding a rosary.

Natalie shook it off and took a seat. Then she stood. Then sat again. Then took to the aisle. Needless to say, it took a good few miles to adjust to the roving bar-on-wheels. And not just to the motion, but to the party scene in general.

The windows were blacked out—making it a little easier—and she found that if she focused on the twinkling white Christmas lights strung around the interior, she could breathe. She held onto a red plastic cup of beer that Danica had poured, but didn’t drink it. For a minute or two, she thought she might survive the whole evening without imbibing any spirits.

Yeah, no, I could do this. Totally.

She pictured herself faking a sneeze while switching a full beer with an empty. Or very subtly draining a cocktail into a vase of flowers. Or—

Danica handed her a bottle of something and made her chug.

Look at this one!” Danica laughed as Natalie’s throat caught fire. Natalie strained to hold back the bile that lined her mouth, breathing into her shoulder, knowing that if she buckled, she’d vomit for sure.

And, despite Jess’s very heartwarming reassurance, that would probably ruin her night.

After the initial burning had passed, replaced by a strange warmth that rode the blood through her veins, Natalie managed to break away from the girly-girl world that hovered around the keg and made her way to the back of the bus.

Back where Mary had set up shop, casually sprawling herself across the seat.

Hey. I, uh—I forgot to introduce myself,” Nat said quietly, barely louder than the music. “I’m Natalie.”

Hola,” Mary replied, giving her a wave but not making eye contact. A half-empty cup of beer took up her other hand.

Have, uh, have you known Jess long?” Natalie asked, clutching the leather seat nearby as the bus rumbled over something.

Mary nodded slowly. “My whole life.”

Her answer was like lightning striking a tree in a field. Natalie was lit up with questions; they clawed at the back of her throat along with the remnants of a vaguely fruit-flavored poison. Why wasn’t Mary the Maid of Honor then? And why hadn’t Jess mentioned her before the engagement?

Why was Mary there?

Natalie meant to ask one of the questions, truly she did. But her mouth didn’t seem to open in time. She watched as Mary felt around her many pockets for something, finally revealing a lackluster metal flask emblazoned with a simple raised cross on the front. She offered it to Natalie.

Natalie shook her head. “I’m not much of a drinker.”

Mary took a hearty pull from the flask, then forced it into Natalie’s hand. She stood up and squeezed past.

I’m not much of a talker,” Mary said right into Nat’s ear.

Peering behind her, Natalie watched Mary lurch her way back to the herd reluctantly. Danica handed the fiery-haired girl the pass-around bottle with an insincere smirk. Mary returned the look and drank from the bottle like it was water.

Natalie noticed the warmth in her veins was failing, the fire dying out. She brought Mary’s flask to her thin lips and poured fuel down her throat.

The first few bars came and went—and still she hadn’t been carded. And the bars weren’t what Natalie expected either. There were no nightclub-esque settings or VIP rooms. Actually, there weren’t really rooms in general. The bus seemed to be winding around the suburbs of the city, hitting small town dives. Most of the places didn’t seem to know the girls were even coming. Natalie watched more than a few locals bristle like cats and walk out when Danica roared into the tavern, announcing that, “Ladies and gentlemen! The party is here—line up the shots!”

Natalie did however notice a pattern; a series of events that, no matter the bar, the girls couldn’t deviate from.

First, the “Big 3” would belly up to the bar. Then Danica would order a round of something that made the bartender’s eyes roll. Elise would shake her head and pay—debit card, not cash. Then about fifty pictures were taken of Jess and her girls holding the tiny glasses before a shot was ever drank.

Occasionally, Mary would join them for a shot, but only if she got to pick it. Danica’s shots were always pink or blue, Mary’s were always brown and came straight from a single bottle.

Shot or not, Natalie noticed, Mary’s next move was to chat up a local. Natalie couldn’t imagine what Mary had to talk about with a stranger at every bar in every town, but it looked like the type of thing she’d done before.

A pattern, sure, Natalie thought, but what’s her MO?

There she went again. Thinking like one of her books.

Natalie didn’t really have a pattern. Or at least not a very good one. She spent a lot of time in the restrooms, counting cracks in tiles and porcelain, washing quick dashes of her drink down the drain, and, on occasion, tidying up a messy counter if it needed it.

Frankly, she was a little sick of her pattern. She promised herself that at the next bar, she’d find a new one.

The next bar happened to be a little dive called The Attic in the small town of Cold Spring. Outside, the bar was all faded white bricks and splintered window frames.

Inside was—well, the bricks were red. There was that.

However, Natalie marveled at how every section of the wall was covered with stuff. Old bicycles, jerseys, signs, a few guitars, a grill from a very old truck. The stuff itself wasn’t all that impressive, it was the fact that it had all faded to the same brownish tone. Natalie felt a little like she was inside an aging photograph.

Part of her wanted to stay right there, in that spot, counting rusted license plates the rest of the night, but she also remembered her promise to herself. She looked at the long, wooden bar and found the Big 3 exactly where they should be, and Mary a couple stools down.

Danica was already pounding on the bartop, so Natalie knew she didn’t have much time to get in on the round.

She planted herself right next to Elise. “Make it four.”

Jess, Danica, and Elise all turned in unison. “Make what four?” Danica asked.

Whatever you’re ordering,” Natalie said bravely. Then, glancing at the red-and-leather girl down the way, added, “And one for Mary too.”

Mary turned quickly, her hazel eyes were luminously wide. For a second before they narrowed into a glare. On the opposite end, Jess’s face looked shocked, but when she finally picked her jaw up, the bride smiled at her sister-to-be, nodding. That a girl, she mouthed.

Five shots of something reddish appeared before them. Danica toasted something, but Natalie didn’t hear what and then it was down the hatch. The liquid tasted like candy, Natalie decided.

Mostly. Except for the burning part at the end.

All the empties landed on the bar in an unsteady rhythm. Mary’s first, Natalie’s last, and the rest in between. Jess laughed as she wiped a streak of runaway red from her chin.

You ever had one of those before, Mary?” Danica called down the bar.

Mary leaned in, shaking her head. “Typically, I like my shots made with booze.”

Natalie hid her grin as the other girls oohed and hissed at the taunt. Danica’s eyes became malevolent slits. The moment had just about died when Danica piped in.

It’s called a Red-Headed Slut,” Danica spat. “Just figured you’d heard of it.”

Heads swiveled. Mary kept her eyes on her low-ball.

Can’t say I have,” she said after a second. “Ever heard of a Blond Crack Whore? They’re pretty good.”

Danica jumped up from her stool. “Excuse me, you dumb bi—”

Watch it,” Mary cut her off, drawing a nail file out of nowhere and aiming it down the bar at Danica. “There are ladies present, Danny Boy.”

Natalie watched the pointy strip of metal at the end of her nose; the file didn’t waver a millimeter.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s Jess’s last night of sanity and I wouldn’t want to waste it,” Mary said, after a moment. Then she called down to the bartender. “Barkeep, another round, por favor.”

Looking directly at Danica, Mary added, “Red-Headed Sluts all around.”

After the second round—or maybe it was the third?—the night started to move in a choppy sort of fashion for Natalie. The party stayed at The Attic for minutes or hours or days or seconds. Natalie’s night flowed like a poorly-edited movie.

One minute she was baring her teeth like a lioness in the bathroom mirror, another she was fist-pumping to a jukebox. Once in a while, someone’s face was in front of her, talking, but she never remembered the words for more than a few fleeting seconds.

She did seem to remember vividly the moment the boys had shown up. Beautiful specimens, like models. So much so that Natalie thought they might be strippers and panic gripped her around the throat.

But they weren’t strippers, were they? No, no. Just nice young men with morals, ethics…and dimples. Lots of dimples.

They cascaded into The Attic, seemingly from every entrance, high and low, wearing blazers and polos and button-ups. Of course it didn’t take them long to sidle up the Jess’s bridal party, buying them drinks and trying out cheesy pickup lines. Natalie thought they might be celebrating something too. Jess’s digital camera flashed endlessly, courtesy of Danica chronicling the whole evening with flip book precision.

After the boys arrived, Natalie was never thirsty. A full glass was always in her hand, even when she could have sworn she’d just finished a drink.

Flashbulbs exploded in her face like fireworks. Danica kissed her cheek, holding the pose while Elise snapped the photo. More fire poured down her throat. Jess danced between two of the guys. Natalie squinted—did one of them just lick her throat?

Take the picture!” Jess was screaming.

Natalie was holding the camera—when did that happen?—and the two guys Jess had been dancing with were posing on either side of the bride-to-be, grinning with stunningly perfect teeth. Jess had her arms around each of their shoulders, hoisting herself up off the sticky floor.

Nat snapped the shot, but didn’t bother to check if it had turned out. She suddenly had the urge to visit the little girls’ room.

Someone had turned the lights out. She was vaguely aware of the mirror in front of her. At least she hoped that the shifting silhouette in front of her was just her reflection. Natalie clawed at the wall, scraping her nails frantically trying to find the light switch.

When she did, though, she wished she hadn’t.

The bathroom ignited in sterile hospital white, singeing her eyes and forcing them shut. Eyes open or closed, the room swam all the same.

Maybe she’d had enough cocktails for one night.

A few deep breaths and a few sloppy sips of tap water later, she was at least beginning to gain her bearings. Sort through the facts. Learn her place.

This wasn’t her world.

Boys, booze, and dancing? Not Natalie’s thing. She was painfully aware that though her drink had been filled, albeit endlessly, none of the guys out there had really bothered to talk to her, get to know her. They were only interested in Jess, Elise, and Danica. Picking them up on the makeshift dance floor. Keeping their hands at the smalls of their backs.

They hadn’t come for Natalie, and they certainly hadn’t stayed for her either.

Wiping away excess moisture from her eyes, she saw a little plaque on the wall that she hadn’t noticed before on her several field trips to the rest room. With all the tacky signs, posters for upcoming live music shows, and hand-scrawled phone numbers, she hadn’t bothered reading much of anything on the walls.

That’s not like me.

But this little plaque finally caught her eye. And then spat in it.

She squinted to make sure she was reading it right.

Vampires Not Allowed

Was it a joke? Was it a cosmic prank by the universe that she had to read that exact sign—that stupid, kitschy little sign—at that exact moment?

I get it,” she said to no one. I look like a vampire. I don’t belong here. Crystal clear.

That ‘excess moisture’ in her eyes manifested into full-blown tears. They poured hot down her cheeks. She didn’t really know why she was crying, or why it was suddenly so important to her that she mattered. Mattered to those boys outside, mattered to the bridal party. Mattered to anyone.

But she had to. She needed something. Something tangible, something she could latch onto. Something to keep her upright.

The weight of the camera hanging from her wrist by a strap became heavy. Natalie forgot she’d brought it with her—she’d have to return it.

And she would. Soon enough. But first she was going to find some proof.

It had to be there, didn’t it? Somewhere in the camera had to be a little candid of her and one of the guys chatting it up. A hand on her back. Something.


Proof, proof, proof.

The first few photos weren’t even from the current evening. There was one of a waterfall, one of a little girl in bright red coveralls. Natalie started to wonder to whom the camera actually belonged. Eventually the images started to look familiar: inside the party bus, outside the first bar, Jerry’s Place. A close-up of flesh. Three consecutive shots of Danica slamming a Miller Lite, either the same bottle or three different ones. Jess screaming as she grabbed an annoyed Elise’s chest.

Natalie kept advancing the screen, her search becoming more feverish by the second.

The tears surged.

Cold, hard realization set in: Natalie was hardly in any of them. Maybe a pale shoulder here or a flash of a hand there, but nothing like the posing beauty queens that stood out in the others. She supposed Mary wasn’t really in them either.

Mary. Natalie had completely lost track of the fourth bridesmaid.

As the photos neared the end, Natalie noticed something very odd.

Her and Mary weren’t the only ones missing from the pictures.

The boys were missing too.

That can’t be right, Natalie thought. Were these all from the other bars?

No. No, of course not. There was the picture of Danica kissing her sloppily, the goofy junk on all the walls. These photos were from The Attic—but none of the guys were in them.

Can’t be right—can it?

It wasn’t until the very last picture that Natalie put a hand over her mouth and gasped. It was the one of Jess holding herself up on the shoulders of the young men. The one Natalie had taken herself of the three of them.

Except that Jess was the only one in the frame.


What the—”

A scream erupted from outside the bathroom. At first, Natalie just assumed it was Danica, signaling that even the most mundane of events was happening.

But it didn’t sound like Danica. And it didn’t sound mundane either.

Natalie hesitated only a second before reaching for the door. Her fingers billowed above the latch for a moment, then she clamped down, turned, and she was back in the world of the bar.

A world of anarchy.

Total chaos.

Elise was the one screaming. From underneath the counter, hiding behind stools like a convict behind bars. Above her, Jess balanced precariously on the bar, kicking with her high heels at the faces of the young men that she’d just been posing with. Their hands were raised or—no, they were reaching for her. Jess was terrified, screaming for them to stop.

And then Elise cried out. “Dani!”

Natalie followed her gaze across the bar to the main entrance. Danica stood on buckled knees, the door clattering shut behind her.

A bright red spray of blood ran from a gash in her throat.

No. Not happening. No, no, no, no—

The Maid of Honor lurched towards Natalie, pleading silently, one hand stretched outward, one hand holding her neck.

no, no, no, no, no—

Natalie didn’t know what to do. She was frozen to the floor. Her jaw moved like she was saying something, but no sound came out. She was a statue of fear-rippled flesh. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of one of the guys reaching for Jess. He turned away from the bride, lowering his hands as he focused on someone behind him.

On Natalie.

He flashed her a smile, cold and needle-tipped. His eyes were such a pale blue that they almost looked white.

And then he came at her. Not quickly—not like a gale, like she expected. Just took a step in her direction. A single, deliberate step.

Then another.

And another.

A powerful grip took her by the arm, digging claws into her skin. Natalie found enough of her voice to yelp a pathetic plea before she was spun around into the face of her attacker.


The redhead kept her grip on Natalie’s arm. Her eyes went wide, blazing. Her voice was all business, all action, as she told Natalie what to do next. Her sole purpose.


So Natalie moved.

continued in

 part 2 vamp


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