“It’s getting late,” Lulu says. “You all have been traveling for several hours... you must be tired.”
“Yeah, I guess we are,” Sara mutters, still looking nettled from her close encounter with Lulu’s knife.
“We’ll figure everything out in the morning, then,” Lulu declares. “Christy isn’t here anyways. You four can sleep in this room; the rest of us will be in the shop next door. Holler if anything happens.”
I watch the Asphodels traipse out of the Chen-Pandit gun shop, a feeling of unease tingling at the back of my mind. Lulu is right -- Christy doesn’t seem to be in Obcasa.
Or maybe she’s hiding somewhere, watching and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.
A chill runs down my spine. I turn to the others to voice my fears, but before I can speak, Lulu shouts, “Lights out!”
The ceiling lights blip into nothing. The door slams, and once again, we’re engulfed in darkness.
Paranoia starts to get the better of me. My imagination runs wild -- was that the creak of an intruder’s footsteps? Did the doorknob turn slightly?
I curl up on my side, shivering. The presence of my friends is the only thing keeping me from screaming and running away.
I wish Dean was here.
I find myself longing for the warmth of his embrace, for the protection of his strong but gentle arms. I long for the safety and security that I know I will never find again.
I force my muscles to unclench, one by one. Calm it, Sophie.
Hours later, I drift off into a fitful sleep, my mind still plagued by the nightmares that have worked their way into my life.
I wake at the butt-crack of dawn and can’t fall asleep again, despite the fatigue dragging my limbs down at every movement. Sitting up, I look around at my friends. Sara and Chris are still sleeping peacefully, their fingers locked together. And Courtney...
My eyes conduct a sweeping scan across the shop, which reveals that Courtney’s not here.
I won’t be able to sleep anyways, and I need fresh air, so I might as well go and look for her. Sighing, I stand and dust off my shirt. Casting one last glance back at Sara and Chris, I turn the doorknob and slip outside soundlessly.
I find Courtney sitting on the curb in front of the gun shop, staring at some point in the distance.
“Hi, Courtney,” I say, stopping next to her.
She jumps up, looking startled. “Woah, Sophie, you scared me!”
“What are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” I ask.
“Shouldn’t you?” Courtney counters.
“True,” I acknowledge. “I couldn’t really sleep, and I needed fresh air. And I saw you were gone, so I came to look for you.”
“Oh. Same here, I guess.”
“What time do you think it is?” I ask.
Courtney squints at the horizon. “Four or five, maybe.”
“And Christy still hasn’t come,” I mutter.
“Hey, do you want to take a walk outside the city?” Courtney inquires. “I can’t stand another minute in this ghost town.”
I frown. “Won’t it be dangerous?”
She sighs. “Honestly, I don’t care anymore. I’ll go crazy if I stay here.”
“Okay, then,” I say with a shrug. “Let’s go.”
We settle on the top of a hill looking down at the city. The sun is finally starting to peek over the ridges of mountains in the distance, showering orange and red all across the still star-littered sky.
Courtney and I sit in silence, watching the sun slowly drag itself out of bed in a manner greatly resembling myself on a Monday morning. Puffy white clouds drift lazily overhead, casting shadows over the hillside.
“Do you believe in heaven?”
Courtney’s brow furrows. “I don’t really know. I mean, I’m agnostic, but I believe that something happens after death.”
I nod in agreement. “We can’t just blink out of existence.”
“An afterlife. Somewhere else... on the other side of the stars, maybe.” Courtney points at the pale blue sky, where a few cosmic candles are still winking down at us.
“Do you... do you think Dean is there? Waiting for me?” The words rip a new chasm through me as I force them out.
“Yes,” Courtney says softly without looking at me. “He’ll always be there, watching and protecting you. He loved you -- loved you more than anything else in the world.”
Don’t cry, Sophie, I chastise myself as I feel tears forming in my eyes.
“Listen, I-- I’m sorry about yelling at you and blaming you,” I say, the words tumbling over each other as they rush out of my mouth. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“It’s all right,” she murmurs. “You had every right to do that.”
Unable to bear the pain brought on by this conversation, I stand up and turn away from Courtney. “I’m going back to the city. Are you coming?”
She shakes her head. “I think I’ll stay here for a while longer.”
Relieved, I start making my way down the hill and back to Obcasa.
By the time I get to Obcasa, my feet are sore and numb all at once. The sun is already shining brightly overhead, a constant reminder that Christy had likely arrived quite a while ago and that I might be too late.
I’m standing amongst the rolling hills of lush, green grass just outside Obcasa when I see a familiar figure sitting elegantly at the apex of the tallest hill. Even though I’m far away, I’m absolutely sure that it’s her. I would recognize that figure anywhere.
I start racing toward her, overwhelmed by the thought of seeing her again. I’ve spent so many nights tossing and turning, wondering about Courtney and missing her.
Just then, an indistinct blur plummets out of the sky and smashes into Courtney. It bursts into light so blinding that I have to look away.
“Courtney!” I scream, even though she can’t hear me. “Courtney!”
I have to get to her. Ignoring the pain in my chest, I pour on the speed.
The same blur that attacked Courtney starts hurtling straight at me. As it gets closer, I make out a vaguely humanoid shape -- attached to... wings?
A second later, it plows into me, and we crash to the ground in a jumble of limbs.
“Going somewhere?” a voice drawls in my ear.
My head jerks back, and I view my assailant’s face for the first time.
“You,” I whisper.
“Yes, me,” Christy says with a smile.