Taking one last look in her mirror, Stevie nods to herself. “Perfect.” She mumbles. The top from Quinn looks perfect paired with her flouncy black crinoline skirt. With the outfit, her hair teased high, and fake tattoos creating a sleeve up one arm, she’s the spitting image of her favourite singer. She knows most of the people at the party won’t know who she’s supposed to be, but she doesn’t care. She sends a text to Charla, asking if they can meet outside of Paul’s in about ten minutes. The reply comes quickly.
Shaking off the last of her nerves, Stevie heads upstairs to say goodbye to her father. It’s late for trick-or-treaters, but he sits diligently in the living room, waiting for the kids he’s sure will come and empty the rest of the bowl of candy.
“Are you going out, honey?” He calls over the railing.
“Yeah. I’m meeting Charla. We’re going to a Halloween party at Paul’s.” She comes up the stairs.
He looks up from the files in his lap. “I’m glad you’re going out. You’ve been keeping to yourself too much these last few weeks.”
“You know why, Dad.” She had explained what had happened that night at the bush party to her father. She hadn’t known how many kids were going to go home and tell their parents, so she’d had to tell him before he found out from someone else. The discussion had been surprisingly uneventful. She had told him she was interested in dating girls. He had said whatever made her happy. There was a little more, but his immediate acceptance had been a pleasant surprise. She had told him almost everything, except about Quinn. That was still just hers.
“I know. But, that’s no reason for you to give up your social life. Don’t let Chelsea drive you into becoming a hermit.”
“I won’t.” She gives him a quick hug before heading to the door.
“Don’t be late. You have school tomorrow.” He calls, once again looking through the files open in front of him.
A few minutes later, she’s parked down the street from Paul’s house. Leaving her coat in the car, she hurried down the sidewalk. She’s a little early, but she hopes to find Charla waiting for her. The sound of music and laughter increases as she gets closer. As she approaches the driveway, she sees two people waiting on the sidewalk, one a giant sheep and the other a sexy zombie bride with a bloody veil hanging in front of her face.
“Charla?” She calls. She sees the sheep nod. Smiling, Stevie skips forward, happy to be out of the house. To be having some fun. Not to have to worry about Chelsea or Kevin, or anyone. She starts towards the house, but they stop her.
“We’re going to get some more beer from the car.” The voice coming through the sheep’s head is so muffled Stevie can hardly make out what she’s saying. Stevie’s pink stilettos are not made for a lot of walking, but she jogs behind them, trying to keep up. They round the corner two blocks later and stop at a light blue, old model car.
“Whose car is this?” Stevie looks around, suddenly feeling less confident. She notices that they’ve left the noise of the party behind. “Charla?’ she stares at the sheep for a moment, trying to find a way to see beyond the mesh. She turns to look harder at the bride, but the veil is too tattered and dirtied to allow her a good look. Suddenly, realizing she doesn’t know who she’s with.
Before she can register what’s going on, she feels hands grab her from behind. Dragging her towards the hedge behind them. Stevie’s feet hurry in tiny steps, as she tries not to fall. Her left shoe comes loose, falling from her foot. She kicks the other off to keep her balance. She tries to resist the pulling as she watches the girl in the sheep costume keeping an eye on the sidewalk.
She refuses to believe it’s Charla. That she would have invited her to the party for this. That she’s that evil. The grip on Stevie’s arms tightens. She opens her mouth to scream. The bride’s hand flies over her lips. Stopping the sound before it can begin. The sidewalk beneath Stevie’s feet changes as they drag her closer to the bushes. First frosted grass. A brief relief from the scraping cement. Then twigs. Rocks dig into the soles of her feet. Rough. Painful. She yelps into the palm pressed to her face as a sharp stone tears the skin of her foot. Her eyes water. More from fear than pain. The branches of the bushes dig into her arms. Ripping at her skin. Her clothes. Her hair. She feels a tug on her new shirt, the fabric pulling apart.
Then the bushes are gone. Open air hits her skin. She looks around, trying to figure out what’s going on. They’re in the old playground. The equipment old and rusty. They’re not alone. Two figures wait for them. Also in costume. Also masked. She’s hit with the sudden need to know who is doing this to her. More important than anything else in the world. More important than getting away. More important than stopping them. She tries to shake it off. To figure out a way to free herself, but she can’t. All she wants to know is who.
A fist flies from beside her, small but strong, connecting with the skin of her cheek. The punch is strong. Very strong. Someone with absolutely no fear. Fingers covered in large rings. Oddly shaped. Not something anyone would actually wear. These are for maximum damage.
Stevie struggles. Her flight instinct kicking into high gear. She has to get away. To save herself. Another pair of hands reaches for her. Holding her steady. She can’t see who it is. Another girl steps in front of her. Costumed in a beautiful dress. The kind you’d see at a masquerade. Full face mask, complete with feathers. The costume itself is so beautiful. Stevie can’t help but admire it for the briefest second before the blue eyes behind the mask move into the light of the street lamp.
“Brianne.” She gasps as the next fist connects with her mouth. Her head swings to the side. She tastes the blood pouring into mouth. The fists keep coming. She can no longer struggle. No longer hold herself up. She feels blows hitting her face one after the other. The hands holding her release. She yells at her body to react. To flee. To save herself. Her body betrays her more than these girls. Limp, she falls to the ground. Her face bouncing as it meets the compacted dirt. Dust fills her mouth, her nostrils, her eyes. Her hand lays open. Unable to close. She tries to pull it tight against her body but her muscles scream. She opens her eyes the little she can through the swelling. She sees metal. Flat and close to the ground. Railings rise out of the flatness. Caution tape wrapped around the structure. Her brain searches her memory. Merry-go-round. She wonders why it’s taped off. Anything to take her thoughts away from where she is.
She’s forced back to the present when a foot meets her abdomen. Another stomps on her legs. Into her back. Again and again. They just keep coming. She closes her eyes. Succumbs to the pain. As she reaches the verge of unconsciousness, she’s pulled back by a hand in her hair. Pulling her face off the ground. “Who do you think you are? There are rules. You don’t just get to do whatever you want, you disgusting, dirty pervert. Learn your place.” The voice is full of menace, but clearly Brianne’s. “You deserve this. And if you don’t want to get it even worse, you’ll push your sick gay lifestyle back in the closet.” The hand releases her hair. Her face fall and slams back into the ground. She feels the heel of a shoe drive itself into her open palm. As she blacks out, she imagines that she hears a distant voice calling her name.