“Fuck,” he heard himself saying. It was strange to see her look this alive. Rebecca had never worn anything like this before. The little black dress hugged her curves as she strutted across the room. He had never seen her so confident, so self-assured. The clank of her little red heels fell like drumbeats across the floor. Her hips swayed in the distance.
It was if he had been waiting there for hours, just sitting there in a small chair in the auditorium of Redwood Lake High. It looked exactly like it had been a year ago, when it was set up for junior prom. Strangely, the dance floor was empty. He held a red cup of punch in his hands and blinked, trying to make out her outline in the darkness. Where was everyone, anyway?
Usually Rebecca sported her black hair in a bun and donned very little makeup. Now her lips were a bright shade of red, her wavy black hair sprawling beautifully past her shoulders and onto her waist. Tonight, her head was held high. Her shoulders were no longer slumped as they usually were when she pored over a book. Her eyes glowed in the dark with a wry amusement he couldn’t remember ever seeing her possess. It was if she had undergone a personality transplant overnight.
“Do you like what you see?” she said as she leaned over to whisper into his ear. Her lips teasingly grazed the side of his neck and her hot breath left a chill down his spine. “Or would you like to see a little less?”
“A little less?” he stammered. She smiled coyly. Her dark hair framed her hips and floated past her breasts, which he couldn’t help but notice were more exposed – and pronounced through her lacy dress – than he had ever seen them. She usually hid her ‘assets’ under large, baggy sweaters. He gulped as he suddenly realized why: they probably would have attracted a lot of unwanted attention during AP History.
For a passing moment, he wondered what it would be like to touch them, cup them in his hands. Whether they would even fit in his palms, or overflow—
“Ahem,” Rebecca cleared her throat, and he looked up, startled and flustered. “A tad hyper-focused today, are we?”
“I just, I was just…”
“Staring at my boobs with the intensity of a dog looking at a piece of meat,” she quipped. “Really, Matthew, you haven’t changed at all.”
“Was I supposed to?” Matthew replied defensively. “I mean I haven’t seen you in what – a year? And now you’ve gone all – what – Queen Bee on me?”
A dark, brooding look passed Rebecca’s expression – a strange, unidentifiable emotion flickered in her eyes. What was it? Regret? Doubt? “It hasn’t been a year,” she said hesitantly, as if she was trying to convince herself. “It hasn’t even been a day.”
“Where did you go, anyway?” Matthew asked after a long pause. “We…we missed you.”
“Something tells me you didn’t miss me at all,” Rebecca said coolly. She smirked. “But I think you will from now on.”
“Why’s that?” he asked, staring into her eyes. There was something different about them. He couldn’t make out what it was.
“I’ve just got a feeling,” she whispered, leaning closer. He watched as she removed the straps of her dress and began to guide his hands over her neck. Looked like he was going to find out the answer to his question after all.
“No sleep last night?” Bree Jordan was tall for a girl, standing a little over 5’9, a height that might’ve been a tad awkward if Matthew’s six foot frame didn’t normally tower over her when she wasn’t wearing heels. Her short red hair bounced, shining in the sunlight as they stood around the parking lot. Matthew was sitting on top of the hood of his car as she leaned over at him, grinning.
She cupped his chin, planted a wet kiss on his cheek and pretended examine him with the gaze of an observant surgeon. “Hmm. Dark circles under the eyes…refusing to make eye contact with girlfriend. Oh ho, maybe a wet dream or two?” she teased.
Matthew pretended to wipe the slobber off his cheek, swatting at her playfully. Behind her were some of her usual posse: a smattering of cheerleaders and their football boyfriends, talking amongst themselves.
“No wet dreams,” he replied firmly. “Just some weird shit, that’s all.”
“What kind of weird shit?” Emily’s voice piped up from the back of the crowd. Yet Bree’s friend looked fairly disinterested in the answer: she was too busy applying lipstick and gazing intently at her own reflection in her cell phone camera.
“Just weird shit, that’s all. You know. Dogs wearing heels and dancing. Sumo wrestlers making out,” Matthew replied hastily, listing the weirdest things he could think of from the top of his head. He paused before admitting, “That…girl. Rebecca. She may have popped up,” he noted, casually. Everyone in the crowd seemed to freeze a little and stared at each other awkwardly. Nobody met his gaze head-on.
“She used to follow you around like a little puppy,” Bree finally said, cutting through the silence. She laughed with a glimmer of contempt in her eyes. Her bottom lip quivered a bit.
He could tell Bree wasn’t taking this as lightly as she was portraying. Then again, no girl probably enjoyed hearing her boyfriend having dreams about another woman – let alone a dead girl. The rest of the crowd laughed along.
“Hey,” Matthew replied with a ferocity that surprised him. “Quit it, Bree. There’s no need to be mean about it. She’s dead. Have some respect.”
Bree gaped at him for a few minutes, then shook her head. “What’s with you? She wasn’t anybody important,” she snapped. “At least, not to me. And I for one won’t be going to that weird ceremony –”
“It’s the anniversary of her death,” Matthew said in disbelief. “I mean, the least we can do is pay our respects…it’s just a school assembly.”
“It’s fucking creepy if you ask me,” Bree said defensively, flinching in discomfort. “I mean, this whole week they’ve covered the walls with pictures of her…and seeing her parents on the grounds…God…it’s just all so…tragic, y’know? They say the girl slit her wrists for God’s sake. Do we really need to relive the horror of that?”
Matthew shrugged, pretending to look down at his phone as everyone else continued to chat. He didn’t know whether the rumors about her suicide were true. But why was he so intent on defending a dead girl? She had nothing to do with him. Nothing, he reassured himself.
Except in his dreams, where her dark eyes would look at him expectantly. As if she was literally dying to tell him something. But what? He had never looked at them before that closely when she was alive. Not straight into them, anyhow. They held deep pools of knowing – as if she had a feeling all along about what was about to happen.
There were the other parts of the dream he hadn’t felt comfortable disclosing. Things he couldn’t tell Bree or any of his friends about. The parts where he would see her in that black lace dress – or the time where she wore that red nightie. The few dreams where she wore nothing at all. The weird, unsettling dreams where the blood ran down her wrists but he was too busy moaning while inside of her. The way her legs felt wrapped around his waist as he –
“Good morning!” Matthew’s mother popped her head into his room, greeting him in her usual sing-songy voice. She had always been an irritating, all-too-happy morning person. “Ready for some French toast…with your French test?” she said, winking and seeming overly delighted at her own cleverness.
“Ugh,” Matthew groaned, wiping his eyes. “Do I have to?”
“If you want to get through senior year, you do,” his mom chided. “Now get dressed. You’re going to be late. You’ve been sleeping a lot,” she added.
“Not nearly enough,” Matthew muttered as she left the room. If he was being honest with himself, he wasn’t too far from finally having one of the wet dreams Bree had accused him of.
What was it about Rebecca anyway? Why now? Why her? Was it seeing her pictures in the school halls? Bree’s reprimands? The quiet way Rebecca grimaced whenever she saw him in the halls before she scurried off, afraid he would know how much she liked him? The sorrow in the eyes of her parents as they spoke to the principal about the upcoming ceremony?
The sound of his alarm clock disrupted his train of thought. French test. Right.
The café was a couple blocks from school, just as he remembered it. He hadn’t gotten coffee there in years, not since freshman year. But after bombing that test, he knew he could use a pick-me-up.
As he entered the café, the first thing he noticed was the heavy, eerie silence. It made him nervous. The interior of the café reminded him of the fog-like quality of his dreams – replete with rusty old tables and the familiar, tempting smell of espresso. There were only a few classmates present, sitting quietly in the back tables with their faces tucked behind books. The rest, he assumed, were in the library, getting prepared for midterms.
“Can I get you something, sweetie?” He was happy to see that Old Martha (as he had affectionately dubbed her) was still greeting students at the counter. Her gray, matted hair was tucked messily behind her ears and her big, toothy smile contained the same joy that he always remembered.
“Well I’ll be damned! Matthew Edwards! Why, I haven’t seen you since you were still sneaking those sweet and low packets home,” Martha exclaimed giddily. “How’s that sweet girlfriend of yours – Bree, was it?”
“Nice to see you too, Martha,” Matthew said, laughing and avoiding the question. “Okay if I grab a table and get some coffee?”
“Feel free, hon. My legs are killing me today, though, so we’ll have one of the severs bring it over,” Martha said.
“Y’all have servers now, eh? Fancy,” Matthew teased as he walked over to a nearby booth and plopped his backpack over the table. He stared down at his calloused hands, deep in thought.
Yesterday night these same hands had done some rather unspeakable things. To someone who wasn’t his girlfriend. It was silly to feel guilty about a dream – yet why did it feel so real?
He remembered how Rebecca’s body seemed to quiver under his touch – how her back arched, how her breasts felt cupped in his hands, how her mouth had opened to let out some memorable moans —
“What can I get for you?” The familiar voice startled him so much that he looked up immediately and thought for sure he must be dreaming again.
The waitress was a girl with long black hair and dark eyes – and she looked very much like Rebecca. It was her red lipstick that caught him off guard – it was the same shade of lipstick she had worn in the dream. He blinked.
She looked so much like her that he gazed at her with his mouth wide open. She sounded like her. She even appeared to move like her, swaying confidently as she reached forward to take his mug. But it wasn’t her.
He had to shake himself. Rebecca’s dead, he reminded himself. Dead. Buried. Get a fucking grip, Edwards.
“Um, just…just a cup of coffee please,” he stammered, trying hard not to stare. It was like looking at Rebecca’s doppelganger.
“Maybe an extra shot of espresso?” she gently suggested, smiling slightly. “You seem a bit taken back. Long day at school, hon?”
She emphasized “hon” a bit mockingly, as if she were letting him in on a secret only he knew.
“Uh,” he said, lost for words. “A long French exam. You know the kind –“
“Got it,” she said, nodding understandingly. “Well I’ll go get your coffee then. Oh and hon?”
“Try not to lose too much sleep over it. It’s just a test after all,” she said, winking knowingly.
He watched her walk away, her long hair drifting past her shoulders and onto her backside.
“Do you like when I do this?” she drawled, squirming in his lap.
“Stop,” Matthew pleaded, albeit unconvincingly. “You’re getting me hard.”
“And? That’s a problem because?” she grinned.
“You’re not my girlfriend, Rebecca. We really need to stop meeting like this,” he said, in half-jest.
Rebecca gave him a coquettish look as she slyly guided his hands over to her ass. He squeezed almost instinctively. He had to admit – her nice, round ass was properly spankable. God, how had he not seen how hot she was when she was alive? He had always pinned her as the shy, nerdy type – and she always seemed so submissive when Bree and the girls made fun of her.
But sitting with her legs wrapped around him, topless in a little mini-skirt with her lips painted a shade of pink – made her seem a tad more dominant this time around. She was in control. And he couldn’t deny how much he liked it.
“And who’s fault is that?” Rebecca challenged him. “I am not the one who refused to see what was right in front of him all along. I am not the one having dreams about a dead girl.”
“Didn’t look so dead to me in the café,” Matthew murmured, squinting at her suspiciously as he gave her ass a little smack.
Rebecca smiled wryly. “Gosh, if I knew you were going to make such a big deal about one little visit –”
“So it was you!” Matthew exclaimed excitedly. “I knew it. She looked just like you – I knew it couldn’t be a coincidence – I mean, what the actual fuck Rebecca – what do you think you’re playing at here?“
“Calm down, Edwards,” she said, now sneering. “It’s not like anyone would actually believe you. Besides, you’re not going to be alive long enough to tell the story anyway.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he snapped.
“It means…exactly what I want it to mean,” she said slowly, nibbling on his ear. He tried to cup her face to move her head back. He wanted to look into her eyes – to see what she meant – but he quickly recoiled and dropped his hands.
Her dark and stormy eyes were no more. They were now bleeding and in their place were empty, gaping holes as if they had been freshly gouged out. Blood dripped over his shirt collar and he could feel his neck now wet with something other than sweat. Her breath smelled rancid as she tried to get closer as he struggled anxiously to push her away.
He closed his eyes, praying he would wake up soon.
“What’s wrong, Edwards?” he could hear her saying sardonically with a laugh. “Don’t find dead girls sexy anymore? Thought they’d be easier to deal with than when they were alive.”
Matthew woke up mid-dream, his hands sweaty and clammy. He breathed heavily into his pillow. It was just a nightmare, he told himself. A dream turned nightmare. Fuck. He stared over at his clock. 3 a.m.
Today was the day of the ceremony. None of his friends were going. But he knew he had to attend. He knew he had to find out the truth.
The auditorium was packed with students. It was an impressive turnout – more motivated by regret moreso than memory, Matthew suspected. Rebecca hung with a small group of friends and kept mostly to herself. He had a feeling it was her death – the disturbing way in which she may have committed suicide – that made her more popular than she had ever been at Redwood Lake High.
He was looking around for a seat when he saw it – a flash of red hair in the midst of the students who were standing.
Bree? What the hell was she doing here?
After all her talk about how unimportant Rebecca had been, Bree looked all too anxious as she stared around the auditorium, also looking for a seat. Her gaze finally met Matthew’s, and like a deer caught in headlights, she froze for a moment. Then, without even saying hello, she turned away and marched out of the auditorium without a second glance.
Matthew looked around again uncertainly. Rebecca’s parents were walking up to the stage to give their opening speech. The students had all fell into a silence. He had a choice – go after Bree or sit down at the ceremony and “honor” the dead girl he had a feeling was still alive.
It would only take a moment to talk to her and find out why she was here, he rationalized. Just a few minutes. He found himself walking slowly towards the exit and onto the empty hallway. He caught a glimpse of Bree’s familiar red hair from the back as she walked up a nearby staircase. She seemed to be in an awful hurry.
Trying not to startle her, he followed her silhouette up the steps. The spiraling staircase was oddly lit – shrouded in darkness. He squinted and could barely make out the shadow of her body as she disappeared onto the second floor, into an empty classroom.
When he entered the classroom, he didn’t see it at first. But when he did, it felt like the air had been knocked out of his lungs.
If he didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought it was a basketball in the middle of the dark room – sitting like a trophy atop one of the desks.
Bree’s head greeted him, freshly cut almost like a butcher had neatly prepared it. Her red hair was still intact, limply strewn across her face, wet with blood. Her eyes were gouged – staring at him with the same, gaping holes that Rebecca’s corpse had stared at him with in his dream.
He thought he was going to be sick. Where was the rest of her?
“You okay, hon?” A melodic voice drifted out from the corner of the classroom. His head quickly darted in the direction of the girl standing by one of the desks, watching him intently.
Her long black hair was now in a messy ponytail. Her red lips were smudged. He noticed she was holding a red wig in her hand. She stared at him strangely – not unlike the predatory gaze of an animal about to devour her prey. “Excuse my little performance. I just didn’t think you’d follow me unless you thought I was her. And well, as you can see…there isn’t much left of her now.”
“Don’t worry,” Rebecca said reassuringly. “The bitch got what she deserved. Nice start to the ceremony, right? I always find – especially with girls like me – that a good way to honor the dead is to avenge the living.”
“Rebecca…You’re alive,” Matthew said finally. He could feel the vomit rising in his throat. The stench from Bree’s head was overwhelming. How long had she been dead? How long had her head been sitting there?
“Alive is a subjective term, don’t you think? Alive, dead, asleep, awake, does it really matter? We all end up in the same place,” Rebecca asked, walking closer. “The thing about dead girls is, everyone wants to know so much more about them after they die than when they were actually alive. Missed opportunity, don’t you think?”
He backed away a bit, avoiding her gaze even as she cupped his chin – just like the way Bree used to. Just like the way she did in his dreams.
She tilted his head so he was forced to stare into her eyes – the same, deep pools of darkness that haunted him in his sleep. “What matters is that we’re together. You’ll never have to miss me again.”