by Kimberly Loth
5. I Know Places
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Aspen’s nightmare walked through the door of the Purple Dragon. It’d been three years since she saw the face that haunted her dreams. Marc should've never found her, yet there he stood, seemingly unsure of where to go. Stubble peppered his jaw, and thick eyebrows came together as he scanned the room. Bitterness crawled across her tongue.The burgundy mug slipped from her hand and shattered; hot coffee seeped into her sandals. She ripped her eyes away from Marc. Dark brown liquid carved a path through the crevices and slid into the cracks of the faded wood floor. Breathe, she reminded herself. The smell of coffee beans and chocolate chip cookies filled her nostrils.
Brad glared at her from behind the espresso bar and reached for the broom and dustpan. Everything moved in slow motion. She looked toward the door, ready to face him again, but Marc was gone. Time sped up. She spun in circles, searching for him, praying he wasn’t behind her. He had disappeared. Was he really here? For a while his face had been a regular participant in that time between semi-consciousness and sleep. On those days, she pictured him everywhere. Except for the dream just before she left for Hawaii, she hadn’t thought of him in nearly six months. She wondered if she saw him because of the dream.
She hated the fear consuming her. Aspen was the queen of everything dangerous. She played with bears, jumped out of airplanes, and chased after dragons. In third grade a boy at school dared her to jump off the top of the school—she broke her leg but won the dare. Nothing scared her, ever.
“Aspen!” A squeal erupted in her ear. Tori hugged her from behind, and Aspen stiffened, still fearing what she couldn’t see. Then Tori dragged her over to a table, and Aspen sat down, looking everywhere for Marc.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve missed you so much. At least you made it back in time for the party. It was so not cool that you disappeared on us for the last three weeks of summer. How was Hawaii? Lots of hot guys?” Her voiced squeaked a little, like it always did, sounding as if she were getting over a cold.
Tori paused for a moment, reached across the table, and grabbed Aspen’s purse. She plucked out the Guava Lip Smackers. “Coty went home yesterday. I cried all night, and you were on a stinkin’ airplane. I think I’m in love with him, but how can I love him in California? He promised to call and text and e-mail every day, but I bet one of those beach sluts takes advantage of him.”Coty showed up at the beginning of the summer. Tori knew he was only a summer fling. He probably already had a girlfriend in Cali, but it was Aspen’s duty as BFF not to mention that. Besides, she felt woozy. Could she even stand?Tori pulled out a box of mints and looked up at Aspen. “Are you feeling okay? You don’t look so hot.”Duh. Of course she didn’t look good. Control was her thing—nothing rattled her—this was a fluke. Aspen wondered if Tori could see her shaking. Tori put on Aspen’s lip gloss and then tossed it into her own bag. If Aspen had been feeling normal, she would’ve been annoyed. Tori always took her things. Over the course of the last several months, she also changed her appearance so she looked more and more like Aspen. Her short red curls had morphed into straight blonde hair, except not as long as Aspen’s. As it was, tonight, Aspen didn’t care. This was one party she needed to ditch.“Jet lag, I think.”“You need something to drink. But first, tell me about Hawaii. I heard you missed your flight.”“Who told you that?”
“Rowan. Normally I ignore his texts, but since you never had your phone on, he was the only way I had to keep tabs on you.”Aspen’s brother and his big mouth. He’d say anything to impress Tori.
“Well, he exaggerated. We didn’t miss our flight to Hawaii. Just the one out of Idaho Falls. We caught the next flight and still managed to make the connecting plane.”“how was it? What’d you do?” “I got pictures of a fire dragon. Do you want to see them?” The red dragon hadn’t gotten close to her like the black one, but she still got good pictures.Tori’s face scrunched up, and she shivered. “No. And don’t talk about them. They’re creepy.”
“Then don’t ask,” Aspen snapped.Tori pouted, and Aspen backtracked. “Tori, I’m sorry. I’m not feeling well. I think I should go home.”
“But you just got here. Let’s get something to drink, and you’ll feel better.” Tori gathered up her things, looped Aspen’s purse over her shoulder, and pulled her off the stool. Aspen looked toward the door, just to double check Marc wasn’t standing there anymore. Tori stopped, and Aspen ran into her.
“What are you doing?”
She grinned and pointed. “I think I found Coty’s replacement.”Marc stood in the doorway to the stairs, next to the espresso bar. He turned his head, and for a moment, stared straight into Aspen’s eyes. He gave her a crooked grin, and the acidic taste of bile rushed up her throat. She turned and threw up all over the floor.
Kimberly Loth can’t decide where she wants to settle down. She’s lived in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Utah, California, Oregon, and South Carolina. She finally decided to make the leap and leave the U.S. behind for a few years. Currently, she lives in Cairo, Egypt with her husband and two kids.
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