April missed her reflection. She was hoping that she was putting lipstick on in the right place. Faith was beside her, trying to apply eyeliner.
“This is such a disaster,” April sighed.
Faith looked at April’s face. “Well, you have some on your fangs but otherwise it’s fine.”
April ran her tongue over her teeth. “I mean this whole situation. It isn’t what I had planned.”
“Oh? Which bit didn’t you plan?” Faith placed her pencil back into her case. “Melinda going insane? Throwing a dead man into a ravine? Random vampires turning up at the door?”
“I didn’t think there were any other vampires. I thought Caleb was the only one.” April’s eyelids fluttered as her mind drifted.
“Lilith doesn’t seem so bad…”
“I don’t trust her,” April hissed.
“Right,” Faith said, feeling defeated. She didn’t want to ask, but she had to know. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to get what I’m owed.”
“Are you sure you’re not joining us?” Faith settled beside Melinda and reached for a hand that was promptly yanked away. “Please Mel, for me?”
Melinda turned her face away and humphed.
Faith sighed. “Fine. But just so you know, we’re not bringing anything back here. We’re planning to use and lose at the club so you won’t have the chance of leftovers.”
Melinda shook her head. “Leftovers? They’re people Faith.”
“That didn’t stop you savaging Paul, did it?”
“I didn’t! You don’t listen!”
Melinda pushed past Faith and stormed into the adjacent bathoom, locking the door behind her.
She could hear April coming down the stairs and a hushed exchange of words. Finally she heard the front door open and Faith call out. “Bye then, Mel.”
Melinda didn’t respond, waiting for the soft clunk as the door closed and the weighted silence that filled the house before she unlatched the bathroom door.
She looked around the living room wondering what to do with herself now. Maybe she should go and see Lilith. But what if her friends were right? What if she was some sort of smiling assassin?
Oh, how she craved normality. She thought about what she would usually be doing in the evening if she was at home.
She would finish up her college work and then head down to eat dinner with her mother. She’d fill herself with her mother’s experimental dish of the day and laugh at her funny little stories about the children in her class. Then they would settle down together to watch a movie, usually some sort of drama. When her father got up to go to work, she might lie out in the garden with him under the velvety sky.
She would let her father’s voice wash over her as he named every glistening dot. She was sure he made some up just to make her smile; she couldn’t imagine anyone would genuinely name their constellation find Space Blob.
She missed him so much that it hurt.
Melinda pulled her phone from her pocket. The girls had agreed not to contact their families for a while but, screw them. She must have been going through some sort of rebellious phase. She tapped the little image of her parents and waited for the call to connect.
Her father’s professional voice sounded from the speaker. “Good evening, Bucket residence. Chuck speaking.”
“Dad, it’s me.”
His voice melted and Melinda felt all her tension going with it. “Mellybean! How are you?”
“I’m OK. Are you?”
“Yes,” he lowered his voice, “other than the usual apprehension about what on the planet your mum might be making for dinner. It’s very orange… how’s the road trip?”
“And how’s Faith? You girls keeping out of trouble?” he teased.
Melinda paused. “You know Faith, always dragging me into some sort of chaos.”
He chuckled. “It sounds like fun. I’ve got to admit, Melinda, when we got your message we were a bit surprised, but I’m so glad you decided to take some time out. I think it’ll be really character-building for you. I did it myself, in my youth… one sec.” The line became muffled as he clumsily tried to cover the receiver. “It’s Melinda… OK.” His voice was back with clarity. “Melinda, your mum wants to say hi.”
More muffled noises.
“Hi Mellie!” came the upbeat warmth of her mother’s voice.
“Hi Mum. How are you?”
“Keeping on.” Melinda could hear something change in her mother’s voice as she continued, “Are you OK? You’re not lost are you? I told you, you could have taken my car, you didn’t have to get a rental. If you’ve broken down in the middle of nowhere you just say the word and I’ll come get you.”
Melinda did feel very much like this was the case but smiled through the tears that should have started. “Everything’s going great, Mum. We’re… we’re having a real adventure.”
“Oh I’m so pleased, Mellie. Hey, what do you make of this Sandy Moss story?”
“Sandy Moss?” The name stuck in her throat.
“You haven’t heard? It’s all over the news.”
Melinda crossed the room and turned the TV on. It wasn’t even a news channel that sprung up yet the screen displayed the headline: Sandy Moss Dead at 48.
“Oh my gosh,” Melinda whispered.
“I know!” Babs exclaimed in her daughter’s ear, her words coming without breath, like always, “I can’t believe she was 48! There wasn’t a wrinkle on her! Inner beauty, that’s what that was. They’ve been showing her movies all day. Do you remember the last scene of A Kind Heart, where she’s sobbing at her son’s bedside, begging the reaper to take her instead? You know how much I cried the first time we watched that — I didn’t think I could ever cry any harder — but you should have seen me watching that today, I was an absolute wreck, wasn’t I, Chuck?” Melinda heard her father agree in the background, “A wreck, Mellie! Iconic. The woman was a legend. And they think her husband did it! What’s his name now? That lawyer… Thomas?”
“Travis,” Melinda choked around the growing lump in her throat.
“But personally I think it was the butler. It’s always the butler.”
Melinda couldn’t tear her eyes away from the rolling headlines: Concern grows for April Moss, 18.
“April is missing.”
“The daughter? Yes. They think she might have escaped when whoever killed Sandy went on his rampage at the mansion, but if you ask me I think she was bumped off with her mother and they just haven’t found her yet. Or maybe she was kidnapped, she was utterly gorgeous. Perhaps that was the butler’s motivation. That’s it! The dirty man. He’s probably got her locked up in a sex dungeon somewhere, or sold her to perverts. I bet Sandy died trying to defend her daughter! Oh, poor Sandy. They slashed her throat and stole her daughter.”
“Apparently. Isn’t that just horrific?” She took a rare breath. “You went to a party at her house once, do you remember? You were about eight?”
The lump in Melinda’s throat was so large now she was surprised any sound came out round it at all. “I remember.”
“Well, I know I was quite upset about it back then, but thank goodness you and April didn’t get along! Imagine… you could be embroiled in all this now. It could be you in the butler’s dungeon. It could be your face plastered all over the news. Oh, Mellie, it doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Melinda could not speak.
“Oh shoot – Mellie I have to go, I can’t leave your dad in charge of dinner, not after the last time. Chuck, here, let’s swap.” More fumbling, then her father’s voice once again filled her ears.
“I miss you, Mellybean. I haven’t had a moment of peace, what with all that wild speculation. Did you get the money I sent?”
Melinda found her voice. “Yes, thanks Dad. You didn’t have to.”
“Well, I can’t have my girls starving or squatting in squalor, can I?”
She looked around at the ramshackle house. “Dad?”
“Would you still love me if I was… if things were different?”
He laughed so loudly that she had to hold the phone away. “The existential teen road trip, hey? Been there.” He lowered his voice again to ask, “are you sure you’re alright?”
Melinda replied with what she hoped was a positive-sounding noise.
“OK,” he said. Melinda could tell that she hadn’t convinced him at all. “Do you want to share?”
He would encourage her to come home. She’d attack him…
“No. Not yet.”
“Alright. When you’re ready to tell me, I’m ready to listen. And know that yes, I’ll still love you.”
Melinda wiped the tears from her face. She didn’t know she could cry this much, especially as she was supposed to be undead now. The liquid was murky and seemed to get thicker the more she cried. She wondered if one day it would dry up completely.
She could hear beeping in the background. “Is that the smoke alarm?”
“Yes, it appears it is.” Chuck sounded distracted. She muted her mic so he couldn’t hear her crying. “OK. If you get the chance, make sure you’re looking up at the sky tomorrow night, about eleven. Should be a spectacular one, I’ll be there.”
Melinda could hear her mother’s frantic voice in the background.
“I forgot that you can’t put foil in the microwave! I’m sorry but I really need to go, Mellybean. Your mum’s on fire. I will call you. I love you.”
“Love you too,” she replied, not realising that her mic was still muted. By the time she had figured it out he had already gone.