My roommate is a terror. Stumbling in at all hours of the night with strange men in tow, raiding the mini-fridge and devouring my food, leaving her clothes all over our dorm room, rarely going to class, and refusing to clean a single thing.
“Why did you even decide to go to college?” I grumble under my breath as I scoop up her clothes from yesterday and dump them into the hamper.
“Not my idea.”
I jump as she strides in and slams the door behind her.
“My dad insisted.” She yawns and falls into her bed fully clothed, her stiletto heels from last night still strapped to her feet. Her long blonde hair fans out over her pillow and she drapes one willowy arm across her eyes. “Keep it down, will you? I’m tired.”
“It’s noon.” I stare at her. “I have a study partner coming over. And have you seen my black jacket with the Gryffindor patch on the front? I can’t find—”
A heavy snore rises from her delicate nose.
I run a hand through my light brown hair and yank at the strands. When I agreed to her as a roommate, it was out of desperation. I couldn’t afford a single room, and Cecile looked great on paper—a fellow junior who shared many of my same interests. So, I chose her as my roomie. Mistake. It didn’t take long to figure out that her entire roommate questionnaire had been copied from someone else—someone who should have been my roommate. Instead, I got Cecile, replete with her spoiled ways, her utter disdain for me, and her weird quirks.
I startle as she opens one eye and stares at me.
The one eye rolls. “No, dummy. I mean what’s the date.”
“Don’t call me names.” I grind my teeth, but answer her, “October 27.”
The eye opens wide. “Already?”
What was I supposed to say to that?
“That was quick.” She sits up, her slinky red dress stained with something dark along the front. Wine I’d guess, from the smell of her.
“Yeah, that’s sort of how time works.” I toss a Hot Pocket wrapper—it was my last one, devoured by Cecile, of course—into the garbage. “It passes.”
“Hey.” She smiles. She never smiles at me. “What are you doing tonight?”
“What? I’m busy.” I back up a step and grab my phone to cancel with my study partner. No way I’d force Cecile on another victim.
“Let’s go out.” Her eyes brighten, the hangover suddenly gone.
I cock my head at her, not sure if my hearing was shot. “Go out?”
“Yeah.” Her smile widens. “We should party.”
I don’t party. I study. I work at the student union. I tutor in what little free time I have. Everything I do is designed to either get good grades or make money so I can eat. Partying isn’t in my repertoire, and Cecile knows that. “No thanks.”
“Oh, come on.” She rubs her hands together. “It’ll be fun. We can pregame here and then hit the frat houses.”
“It’s Tuesday.” I grab my worn gray backpack from my bed.
“So?” She sits up, her big gray eyes focusing on me for the first time in months. “We can still have a good time.”
“No, but thanks.” I grip the door handle.
Her tone changes, going colder. “I’ll pay you.”
“What?” I turn to look at her.
“I’ll pay you.” Her voice lightens in an ugly, forced way. “To be my designated driver.”
“Since when do you care about driving drunk?” Half the time I had no idea how she made it back to the dorm room. The other half, her red sports car would be triple parked in front of the building.
“Since tonight. Safety first from now on. And like I said, I’ll pay you.” She twirls a lock of her blonde hair around a thin finger. “I’ll give you a hundred bucks just to drive me to the parties and then back here.”
I want to turn the handle and walk out of the room. But money is money. It would take four tutoring appointments to make that much cash, or I could take it from Cecile while sitting in her car and doing homework as she got shitfaced at the frat houses.
“Let’s make it two hundred.” She grabs her little crystal-encrusted crossbody and opens it, thumbing through several bills before pulling some out. “And I’ll pay half up front.”
I can’t turn it down, and she knows it. Cecile may be a reprobate, but she’s shrewd. I’ve noticed that about her—those light gray eyes don’t miss much, even when they’re bloodshot.
With a sigh, I walk over to her and reach for the money.
She pulls it away. “Meet me out front at nine.”
“Fine.” I hold out my hand.
She smiles, her teeth perfectly even and white. “Then we have a deal.”
When I take the money, a shiver runs down my spine. She’s eerily perfect up close.
Cecile lies back on her bed and flings her arm back into place, and I back away.
“Taylor,” she calls, her voice already fading into sleep.
“What?” I open the door.
“Don’t forget. Nine o’clock. Where I come from, if you break a deal, the punishment isn’t pretty.”
“You come from Long Island.” I shake my head and shoulder my backpack. “And I’ll be there.”
Her freight train of a snore follows me down the hall.
“Let’s go.” Cecile is wearing a red tank top and a black miniskirt. And nothing else. Even though fall arrived with a vengeance the week before, Cecile doesn’t seem to mind the cold.
“I thought I was driving,” I protest as she strides to the driver’s side.
“You are, but not until after the parties.” She opens the door. “Get in.”
I yank my door open and toss my heavy backpack between the seats.
She starts the car, the foreign machinery purring to life. I think the engine is actually in the trunk. “You sure you don’t want any?” She pulls a silver flask from the center console, takes a long swig, then offers it to me.
I gawk. “You’re driving.”
“It’ll be fine.” She shrugs and puts the car in reverse, tires squealing as she backs up.
I grip the door handle.
“Scared?” She smiles, and it’s a real one. I can tell because there’s no warmth in it.
“Let’s get to the party in one piece, okay?”
“Sure thing.” She guns it out of the dorm parking lot and hits Campus Drive too hard, the car bottoming out on the pavement for a second, then lurching forward.
“Jesus!” I grip my seatbelt with one hand and the door handle with the other.
“Don’t worry. I need you alive.”
I snap my gaze to her. “What?”
“Nothing.” She laughs. “I just mean I need you alive to drive me home.”
My fingers wander to my necklace, touching the opal stone that is the only permanent thing in my life.
“Clutching your throat again?” She turns to look at me even though she’s speeding through campus, her hand shifting the car’s gears effortlessly. “You must be nervous.”
I drop my hand back to the seatbelt. “You drive like a maniac. Of course I’m nervous.”
Her high laugh causes goosebumps to rise along my arms. “Don’t worry. We’re almost there.”
She’s right, the row of Georgian mansions appears to our left, each frat house decorated with a large insignia of Greek letters. Though it’s a Tuesday night, loud music wafts from every other building, and plenty of students mill around with red Solo cups in hand.
She double parks in front of Omega Nu and kills the engine. “Be a good little virgin and wait here, okay?” She smirks. I want to deny it, but there’s no point. It’s one of her favorite barbs, and my reaction gives away the truth every time she levels that word at me.
Reaching behind her seat, she pulls out an unopened bottle of water. “Here, I got this for you.”
I take it, my eyebrows hitting my hairline. Cecile never did anything for anyone other than herself.
“Stay hydrated. I’ll need you on top of things tonight.” She checks her face in the mirror, her red lips still perfect. “Be back in a bit.”
I stow the water in the cupholder as she gets out. Once her door slams, I pull my backpack up front and drag out my chemistry book along with my laptop. The tight interior of the sports car isn’t the best for doing homework, but I’d rather be in here than the frat house or outside in the cold. So, I get to work.
After about an hour of sketching molecules, I yawn and look up. The Omega Nu house is hopping, all the lights on and the front door wide open. Rap music muscles its way into the night, and more people have arrived, the front porch littered with chatty couples and smokers.
I sigh and reach for the water. For some reason, I stare at the cap and make sure it’s factory sealed. It’s stuck tight to the little plastic ring. Maybe Cecile isn’t going to poison me after all. I unscrew it and take a big drink, then another.
Returning to my drawing, I sketch an octagon, then peer at the combination of chemicals I’m supposed to be rendering. Something warm blooms in my stomach. I blink, my eyes tearing up.
“What the…” I drop my pencil, and my laptop lists to the right.
I get even warmer, sweat breaking out across my forehead as my vision goes wavy. Something’s wrong. Bad wrong. I paw at the door handle. If I can get out, I can get the people on the porch to help me. But I can’t get a grip. The handle seems to be covered in butter.
Without warning, the door opens.
Cecile drops down to her haunches, her face a blur. “About time.”
“What took so long?” Another girl, her image shadowy, prowls around behind Cecile. Her voice is familiar.
“What did you do?” My words slur.