TW: Graphic murder and recollections of violence.
She was staring at the mirror, observing her finely-tuned features, when the phone rang. The quiet vibration caused her head to turn, curious as to who could be texting at this hour. She picked up the phone, cold brown eyes reading the message distantly. Sure enough, it was Leola. Are you coming tonight? The black text read, glowing against the comparably dark room. Another message arrived, the device sending a second vibration through her arm. Cara told me Brandon’s there, it said. She set down the phone with a quiet click. Inhaling slowly, she rolled back her shoulders, still staring at her reflection. It was just another night, just another party, she told herself. Despite her best efforts, the solemn, desperate reassurances didn’t chase away the butterflies swirling in her stomach. They didn’t dry her sweaty palms.
Fingers shaking, she lifted the crimson tube of lipstick to her mouth and carefully applied a thick coat. Rubbing her lips together, she gave her reflection a final look.
Momentarily satisfied, she drew back, meticulously putting the lipstick tube back behind the mirror's cabinet. She was wearing a stunning crimson suit, which outlined the curves of her body and draped into perfectly fitted matching pants. When combined with crimson gloves, eyeliner, lipstick, purse, and curled brown hair, even she had to admit she looked gorgeous. Gorgeous, and utterly unlike the shy bookish girl who’d stood in front of the mirror minutes before.
The walk to the car had been silent, both her head and heart quieting in an attempt to keep her from losing her nerve. But, once she pulled out of the driveway and headed to Leola’s dorm, she couldn’t stop her brain from wandering. Brandon, Brandon. A senior a year older than her, a tech major and basketball player. Her finger tapped the steering wheel, a smooth pitter-pattering rhythm. The dead silence of the vehicle seemed to whisper and scream in her ears as she drove. But, all too soon, she pulled into the parking lot near Leola’s residence hall. Now taking ragged breaths, she forced herself to walk up the stairs. She and Leola had been placed in different residence buildings in their freshman year. At first, it was tiresome and annoying. Now, the awkwardness faded with age, the pair couldn't care less.
The walk to her dorm had been slow and awkward, her suit receiving judgemental glances from students throughout the halls. She ignored the colorless heat warming her cheeks and somewhat foolishly continued her falsely confident strides. She kept her head high and her back straight as she walked through the dimly lit white-tiled halls, hearing nothing but the occasional conversation and the clack of her red sandals. After what felt like hours, she stopped in front of Leola’s dorm, room 227. Making up her mind for the last time, she turned the handle, not bothering to knock. The room was dark and cozy, covered in dorm decorations like world maps and posters. With a high-pitched squeal, Leola sprang from the chair wearing a lapis lazuli suit, featuring the same makeup and cut as Suree.
“Suree! You look amazing,” she exclaimed, wavy blond hair bouncing as she leaned in for a hug. She smelled wonderful, like cinnamon and mint.
“So do you!” replied Suree, watching her friend’s blue eyes shine with a grin.
“Are you ready?” she asked, pulling back to examine Suree. “I didn’t think you were coming!” she said, grabbing her phone from the suit's back pocket. Suree cringed, seeing the same message she'd read earlier.
“Shit. I’m sorry, Lei. I have a lot on my mind,” she said, turning away from Leola to the skewed furniture. Pinching her nose, she collapsed with a sigh, hardly caring as her suit wrinkled.
“Suree! You're so dramatic. Don't worry about it. We're here now, aren't we?” Leola said, graceful legs folding to sit on the floor in front of her friend. There was a momentary silence, a silence filled with contemplation.
"So... You ready?" Leola asked innocently, looking back a Suree.
“Not. Helping,” Suree said, burrowing further into the cushions.
“Oh, c’mon, Suree! You’ve been wanting to do this for months. When Brandon sees you, he won’t even know what hit him,” she said, looking at her reassuringly.
“You think so?”
“I know so.” she finished with a flourish. Suree stood, straightening her jacket and pants firmly.
“God, okay. I'll go,” she said, a determined look crossing her features.
“That’s my girl! I’ll drive,” said Leola, leaping off the floor. She ran out the door, her pants nearly getting caught on the messy furniture as she ran past. Suree chuckled, following Leola into the hall. The lock closed behind her with a soft click, seemingly sealing her fate.
The car ride to Cara’s party was quiet. Leola tried to start conversation, but Suree was too lost in thought to reply. The nervous tapping started again, this time on the fold of her pants as they drove the short distance to Cara’s. Cara shared a two-story house with her cousins near the college, making it the prime spot for weekend parties. When they parked, the rave was pulsing with multicolored lights, the waves of conversation loud and laughing. Suree could almost feel the music pulsing through her, and they weren’t even inside. Leola jumped out of the car and nearly ran to the passenger side. Suree held back a snort. Leola had enough energy for both of them.
“Ready?” asked Leola, opening Suree’s door. A bright toothy smile shone on her face, her expression revealing no hint of stress for her friend.
“Ready,” muttered Suree, getting out of the car. The walk to the door was quiet. Suree could almost hear their hearts beating. Giving Leola one final look, Suree opened the door. They entered with a flourish, letting everyone gape at their outfits. They were ridiculously, horribly overdressed. No matter, Suree thought, grinning at Leola through her anxiety. It was all part of the plan. The pair wove their way through the party, picking up drinks and chatting up friends. She tried to lose herself in the familiar music beat and heartbeat of the party, even spending some time dancing. Despite her best efforts to calm herself, familiar nausea worked it’s way up her throat. She set down her drink, leaning heavily against the nearest dusty windowsill. The party began to swirl around her, making her head spin as swiftly as a broken carousel. She barely had time to turn away from the crowd before she felt the slow rise of vomit. The alcohol burned twice as much coming up, and she soon found herself turning to the nearest bathroom for sanctuary. With a piercingly dramatic gasp, Leola noticed Suree’s condition.
“Suree! Are you okay? What happened?” she yelped, stumbling away from her crowd of friends to her side. Suree waved her off, ignoring the heat working its way up her neck.
“I can manage,” she said, bluntly dismissing Leola. A twinge of guilt poked her stomach when she saw Leola’s face crumple, if only for a moment. She hesitated for a few moments, observing the stubbornness written into Suree’s features. Backing up, she held her hands aloft.
“Jeez. Fine. Call me if you need me, okay?” Leola said, not bothering to hide her dismay. Suree agreed hastily, making a beeline for the bathroom located at the back of the hall. She could barely keep herself from slamming the door as she walked inside.
Leaning against the sickly yellow wall, she took deep breaths, the nausea fading in an instant. Only then did she look at her suit. Covered in vomit, it was utterly ruined. She groaned. Really? She thought, taking off the suit and laying it on the floor with a wet squish. A weak stomach? Tonight? Luckily, she’d brought an extra outfit in her purse, her past self rightfully anticipating every worst-case scenario. She changed quickly, wrapping the suit in paper towels. She looked in the mirror. Not bad, she thought, placing her hands on her hips.
The dress wasn’t too terrible. A soft banana yellow, it hung gracefully off her form and stopped just below her ankles. The folds of the bottom were frilled and light, making a fluffy appearance she adored. The only problem was the neck, which dropped a slightly risqué six inches. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, but it would do. Anyhow, it matched her makeup. She froze. Peering at her reflection, she swore colorfully. Her face was a mess of smeared colors, the meticulously done makeup ruined. Looking through her purse, she found a yellow bandana and tied it over her face, cursing at her blasted luck all the while. As a final touch, she put her hair into a messy bun, she carefully unlocked the door and slipped out. Setting her features into a mask of boredom, she tiptoed down the hall.
Her cheeks were burning with embarrassment through the cloth, and she most definitely didn’t want to see Leola or her friends. She only had one option left, her alcohol-fuzzed brain thought hazily. Like an eagle hunting prey, she sought out Brandon, searching the floors and hallways for his hulking form.
She found him almost immediately, dancing on the second floor with his friends. Whether it was the alcohol or her own stupidity, she blurted the first words that came to mind. At this point, she hardly cared about appearance.
“Brandon?” she asked, stumbling towards him. He stopped, turned in a full circle, and smirked at her, slowly looking her up and down. Her ears pounded, heart racing. She probably looked like a drunk mess to him, she realized. Oh, well. Too late to turn back now. He was wearing a clean white T-Shirt and dark blue jeans, blond hair mussed, and a Solo cup in hand.
“What can I do for you, Milady?” he asked calmly. His friends chuckled around him, making the flame inside her grow hotter.
“Can I talk to you? Outside, maybe?” she asked, shakily jerking a shoulder downstairs. He shrugged.
“Sure. Why not?” he said, winking at his friends, who started to hoot. She started down the stairs, ignoring the disgust welling inside her as her sandals clicked on the steps. Once they were outside, the party contained in Clara's wooden box of a house, she dropped all her mirrors and illusions. Standing nearly eye to eye with him, she trembled. Not with dizzying fear though, but with icy rage.
“Do you remember her?” she asked, her words sharp as knives and eyes sharper. He gave her a sluggish, confused look, cocking an eyebrow.
“Kani Pandya? Freshman prom?” she hissed, throwing daggers with her voice. He merely watched her, a vague look of confusion crossing his face.
“You crashed her prom last year. Thought it’d be funny to get her drunk and take her the edge of campus. By the lake, remember that place? You left her in the woods,” she said casually, prowling around him with a careful hand on the cold metal in her side. He turned with her, humor playing in his eyes. It only enraged her further. She snarled, a huntress moving in for the kill.
“You HURT her. You STABBED her. You thought it was FUNNY. She was ALONE,” she screamed, so loud that he backed up, holding out his hands in a false sign of peace.
“She died there, alone, bleeding, and out of her mind with fear,” she said, shaking. “The phone call- I will NEVER forget her voice as she begged me to help her. NEVER. And you- you don’t even remember her?” she asked, fire turning to heartbreak. Her hand trembled and fell to her side. He still said nothing, the glimmer of drunken humor remaining.
“She was my sister. I loved her with everything that I was,” she said, her voice turning to a throaty whisper. “And you don’t even remember her,” she finished, visibly drooping. He started to come forward then, holding his arms out cautiously, as if she were a spooked animal.
“There’s been a misunderstanding, little lady. You need to calm down,” he slurred, narrowing his eyes. The rage grew, her posture visibly tensing. And this man, no, this boy, had audacity to laugh. The sound wormed out of him like a snake, the spittle-ridden noise chilling her bones. It was his last and most consequential mistake. With a shrieking roar that tore out of her very being, she drew the blade hidden in the side of her dress and stabbed him fiercely. She hardly cared about the horrid squelching noise and the drunken fear in his eyes, watching with fierce revenge. Ten times, the exact number of wounds found in her sister’s cold body. When she tore the knife out for the final time, she knew by the glassy look in his eyes he was no more. She watched nonchalantly as his blood drained from him, brighter than wine as it soaked the dewy grass. Hardly caring who saw, she stripped out of her bloody clothes and back into her suit, wrinkling her nose at the smell. She shoved the crimson-stained dress back into her purse, along with the knife, her gloves, and bandana. It’d have to be burned later, she thought numbly. Scrambling up the wall, she clumsily but silently opened the window of the downstairs bathroom and hopped inside. The door was carefully locked by Leola. To anyone and everyone, she’d been in the bathroom the whole time.
She called her friend with blank eyes, making up a story about endless vomit and needing assistance. Leola had the call on speaker, as was the plan. She had a solid alibi, with many potential witnesses. Leola knocked on the bathroom door and opened it with a click, eyes asking a solemn question. Tired but satisfied, she nodded. Leola’s fierce eyes filled with tears. Her sister was yet another of Brandon’s victims. Before his demise, he was a cold-blooded murderer, a horrible boy taking advantage of a system set up against young female victims and their families. But now, she thought, striding to the dance floor, he was gone. If it was the right thing to do, perhaps she’d never know. Now as she swayed to the music, there was only one thing on her mind. As clear as daybreak, she saw his blood, the blood brighter than wine.