A Beautiful Dark, p.1Jocelyn Davies
A Beautiful Dark
For my grandparents Sandra and Mark Messler, who have been saving a place for my first novel on their coffee table since I was old enough to spell
About the Author
About the Publisher
It happened at night. I woke to the sound of the wind blowing my curtains back. I opened my eyes but saw nothing. Not even moonlight. Not even shadows.
And in the morning, the window was closed. A feather rested on the floor beneath it, the only reminder that I’d woken up in the night at all. In the shadows, I couldn’t tell if it was light—or dark.
The air had a brutal edge to it as I stood outside of Love the Bean, the local free-trade coffee shop. Snow from a recent storm had frozen over in the subsequent days’ chill, leaving the roads and the sidewalks in town slick and hazardous. I almost slipped four different times as I walked from my car to the front door. The wind sliced at my neck where it was exposed beneath my hat, and I scanned up and down the street for signs of life.
Welcome to Saturday night in River Springs, Colorado: downtown was dead. Eden’s Gate Market, Big Mouth’s Diner, Into the Woods Outdoor Co.: most of the storefronts were dark.
Cassie and Dan were waiting for me inside the coffee shop. Every year I made them promise not to throw me a party, and every year they didn’t listen. It had become a tradition. So tonight, I’d planned everything. We were starting with celebratory cupcakes and lattes, courtesy of our friend Ian, who worked at the Bean and was always giving us free stuff; then when Ian ended his shift the four of us were going to see the midnight show of Storm Enemy at the Clark Street Cineplex, because I loved, loved, loved terrible disaster movies.
Struggling not to lose my balance on the icy sidewalk, I pushed through the front door.
At first, I thought I’d made a mistake. Except for the recent addition of some fairy-tale-caliber twinkle lights, the room was mostly dark, and completely empty.
“Hello?” I whispered. The door closed behind me with a light jangle of bells. I could hear a quiet, insistent sound. A soft shhhhing.
“Surprise!” Cassie jumped out at me from behind a purple velvet armchair.
“Come on,” I groaned dramatically, finding it difficult to act surprised when I really wasn’t. I should have known she’d ignore my plan in favor of hers.
On cue, probably half of the junior class exploded out from behind various other velvet armchairs and overstuffed couches and from behind the coffee bar. I could see the rest of the girls from the ski team, Cassie’s friends from her band, and Dan’s track buddies. Northwood High School was small enough that most of the different groups got along, and apparently my birthday was enough of a reason for them to converge.
“Happy birthday!” everyone yelled.
“Cassie!” I hit her with my hat. “You promised!”
She held up her hands in surrender. “Sorry. You know I never do what you tell me to do.” She laughed and shook her head. “You never learn.”
Cassie grabbed my arm and maneuvered me through the crowd toward a circle of couches in the back. I could see Dan waiting for us with a mischievous smile and a glittering box.
“Okay, wait, I know you also said no presents,” Cassie shouted above the music as we worked our way through the throng, “but I have no self-control.”
“You better not have spent—”
“Of course not. Don’t worry, it’s total crap.”
When we got to the table, I started to say “I hate you,” but Dan interrupted me by nearly toppling me over in a bear hug. “Aw, don’t be mad! Are you mad? Do you still love us? Because if not, my plan to finally have Cassie all to myself worked.” He punched Cassie playfully on her arm. She rubbed the spot, and I could see the muscles in her cheeks twitch as if she was trying not to smile.
“Please, do you see the apocalypse? Because I’d give up on that happening until you do.” She reached down to pick up a steaming mug. “And even then, it’s negotiable.”
“I’m holding out for a hot zombie,” I added.
“Yeah, or, like, the hot scientist who finds the cure.”
“Or the hot government agent who’s assigned to protect you from the international terrorist who plans to wipe out the nation with the world’s first zombie virus weapon of mass destruction.”
“Because you carry the zombie virus antidote in your blood.”
“It’s a recessive trait.”
“What movie are we talking about?” Dan asked.
“Anyway, Skye,” Cassie said, ignoring Dan’s question and holding the mug out ceremoniously, “this is for you.” She opened her cardigan, and a flash of metallic flask glinted at me. “Seventeen is a big year.”
“It’d be bigger if the apocalypse was coming,” Dan mumbled.
“Did you two start drinking before I got here?” I asked teasingly.
Cassie was decked out for the occasion in a floral minidress under her favorite yellow vintage cardigan, her red hair piled loosely on top of her head. She wore thick, sweatery tights and snow boots that were ubiquitous in Colorado during the winter. Dan was in his navy blue hoodie, the one he never took off. His straight brown hair flopped in his eyes, and he pushed it back. I just couldn’t stay mad at them. They’d been my best friends since kindergarten, and we were still as tight a unit as ever.
“Okay, I admit it,” I said. “You guys are amazing. This place looks incredible.”
“Aw, she likes it!” Dan nudged Cassie. “Don’t get all mushy on us now, Skye.”
“It better look effing incredible.” Cassie sighed. “It took me like two hours to finish making the paper icicles and untangle those little twinkle lights.”
“You are a craft goddess,” I assured her.
“Speaking of crafty,” Dan said, pointing to the present on the couch behind him, “you probably don’t want to hear this”—his voice dropped to a stage whisper—“but we got you something.” He mock-ducked, as if I was going to hit him.
“Hilarious,” I said. “Did you practice that?”
The present was wrapped in wrinkled silver tinfoil with gold glitter glue looping out the words Happy Birthday, Skye.
“The present was totally my idea,” Cassie said.
“But I was in charge of wrapping it,” Dan said, jumping in.
“As if she couldn’t tell.” Cassie rolled her eyes at me. “But don’t open it now; it might be too much for your surprise-averse heart
“Okay.” I laughed. “Plus, I don’t want to ruin this gorgeous wrapping job.”
“It’s harder than it looks,” Dan insisted.
“I’d like to propose a toast. I know I don’t usually like surprises, but . . .” They looked at me expectantly. “This one is pretty cool. Thanks.”
Cassie lifted her mug. “We like doing this stuff. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. And we know birthdays are hard for you.” I gave her a pointed look, which she pretended not to notice.
“To always having each other’s backs.” Dan raised his own mug.
“To seventeen,” Cassie added. “The year it all falls into place.”
Our mugs clinked together, echoing through the noisy coffeehouse as if it were only the three of us.
The twinkle lights cast a fuzzy glow over everything, and the music blasted full-volume out of the coffee shop speakers. More than one person had Cassie’s idea to stash a flask on them. Maggie Meltzer, the captain of the girls’ ski team, fed me shots of Jägermeister from her pink aluminum water bottle as the rest of the team started a dance party around us. Someone else pushed one of Dan’s track friends up against me and then we were dancing, too. From somewhere I couldn’t quite pinpoint, I heard Cassie’s voice float up: “For someone who isn’t crazy about surprises, she’s really taken to this one.”
Eventually I started to feel a little dizzy, like when you swim too far from shore and suddenly realize that you can’t touch the bottom anymore. Pausing for breath, I tipsily made my way back to our couches, using my arms to propel myself off the furniture, swimming against the tide. Cassie was sitting next to Dan, their heads tilted toward each other, their knees almost touching as they talked.
“Hey, Skye!” I turned around to see Ian smiling and wielding a tray of multicolored cupcakes. Cassie and I liked to call him Dan’s best “XY” friend. He had clean-cut sandy hair and a treasure map of freckles scattered across his face. Seeing Ian always made me happy. Not as happy as I often felt he wanted me to be, but still.
“See, we can stick to at least one part of the original plan.” Ian offered me first choice. “On the house.”
“How are you not already fired?” I asked as I picked out a pink-frosted vanilla cupcake with rainbow sprinkles.
“This place would fall apart without me. I’m the sexy handyman.”
I pushed him lightly. “Shut up.”
“Really.” He nudged his shoulder against mine. “Anyway, I’d get fired for you.” He set the tray on the low table in front of the couch where Cassie and Dan sat. Cassie jumped up immediately. “Oooh, sugar,” she crowed, grabbing a chocolate cupcake with yellow frosting.
Ian dropped down beside me. “I’ve got a fifteen-minute break,” he said. “So, were you surprised?”
“You mean even though you all went against my explicit instructions to not surprise me? Just like you did last year?”
“And every year?” He picked up a chocolate cupcake and began peeling off the wrapper, sucking some frosting off his thumb.
“Yeah. Believe it or not, I was.”
Ian nodded to himself, pleased. “So what do you think of the band?” he asked.
I glanced back to the small stage in the corner where three guys were playing indie pop. “Not bad.”
“Not as good as The Somnambulists,” Cassie said quickly.
“Is that what we’re calling your band now?” Dan said, amused.
“But your band wasn’t available tonight,” Ian reminded her. “You had a surprise party to make happen.”
“True.” She reached for another cupcake, splitting it in half with a fork. “I have many talents.” She absently passed me the other half. “I sort of outdid myself tonight, didn’t I?”
“You did,” I agreed. “Next year, though, when I say no surprise party, I mean no surprise party.”
“Like that’s going to happen,” Ian said.
“If we don’t throw you a party, who will?” Cassie asked, before turning her attention back to Dan.
I knew she didn’t mean them to, but her words stung. I thought of my parents. I had such fuzzy memories of them because I was so young when they died, but my mom’s best friend—my legal guardian, who I call Aunt Jo—had given me this whole box of photos from my childhood with them. Apparently every year on my birthday, my mom would bake me a woefully lopsided cake from Funfetti mix, and she’d let me decorate it with chocolate and vanilla frosting in a marble pattern. The cakes were all pretty hideous, according to the pictures, but marble-frosted Funfetti cake was still my favorite dessert. Funny the things I could suddenly miss even though I barely remembered them.
“You look really great,” Ian said quietly, bringing me back to the present.
“Thanks,” I said. “Must be that one-year-older thing.”
“No, you always look great.” He blushed, suddenly fascinated by what was left of his cupcake.
He was wearing a green polo shirt with the Bean logo over his heart. Not exactly sexy. I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I told him he looked good, too. It would just be me trying to feel comfortable with his compliment. Trying to make us both feel comfortable with it.
It was getting hot in there, too loud, too crowded. I never did well with small spaces and large gatherings. I wanted to be on the slopes, skiing, with the exhilaration of the bracing wind rushing over my face. That was where I always wanted to be.
“I need air,” I announced to the group.
“You mean frostbite?” Cassie looked up dubiously. “Have fun.”
“Bundle up, dear!” Dan called in his best grandma voice.
I scanned the pile of coats on the couch for a glimpse of mine. All I could see were my hat and scarf peeking out from under someone’s parka.
“You want company?” Ian asked.
“Thanks,” I said, pretending to be engrossed in searching for my outerwear, “but I’m just going to catch a few deep breaths. Not worth you getting frostbite, too.”
“That’s cool.” He stood up. “I gotta get back to work anyway.”
“The cupcakes were great.”
“I didn’t bake them.” His voice held a strange, disappointed edge to it, and I was left with the feeling that I’d somehow done something wrong.
With a sigh, I watched him walk away. Why didn’t you just say yes, Skye? Would his joining you have been the worst thing ever? No, but I craved the solitude, just a couple of minutes alone. He’d understand. He always did.
After snatching my hat and scarf from the couch and slipping them on, I snuck out the front door.
The cold air swallowed me whole. It felt good, revitalized me. Out here, it was quiet and peaceful. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, enjoying the alone time. When I opened them, the full moon stared back at me, lighting up the mountains below.
I whipped around, embarrassed at being caught having a moment of reflection. Someone was standing against the wall of the building behind me. I could see the outline of a guy’s tall, sinewy frame, but his face was obscured by the shadows cast by the awning.
“Oh,” I gasped. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I can—” I turned toward the door.
“No, stay,” he said. “It was getting too quiet.” He stepped into the light. “I’m not used to living so close to the mountains. I think they create a sound buffer, or something.”
Our eyes met, and something in the way he looked at me made me pause. The blackness of his eyes was magnetic, and something strange flickered through my own in response. I had the weirdest feeling of déjà vu.
It was dark where we stood on the street, but what moonlight there was shone on his face, exaggerating the definition of his cheekbones and illuminating his smooth olive skin. His short hair was so black that it was hard to tell where he ended and the night began. “You’re Skye, right?”
“Yeah,” I ad
He sized me up. “You don’t strike me as someone who would avoid a good time. So there must be more to the story. Anything—or anyone—specific that you’re hiding from?”
“Nope,” I said. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?” His tone was playful, like we’d known each other all our lives and shared secrets.
“Or everything,” I admitted, trying not to smile.
He laughed, and the low sound echoed across the empty street. My stomach twisted. Calm yourself, Skye. I never reacted this way to guys I’d just met. I was usually the cool and collected one. It was Cassie who was boy crazy.
“So do you make a habit of ducking out of your own parties?” he asked.
“Only when they’re thrown for me against my will. Do you make a habit of lurking outside of other people’s parties?” I shot back.
“Without question.” He grinned, showing off an adorable dimple. “You never know who you’ll meet.”
We stood on the silent street for a while, at an impasse, just watching our breath escape in clouds of steam into the night. I wanted to keep talking to him, but my brain felt stuck.
You really need to stop letting Cassie empty her flask into your drink, I thought.
“I should go inside,” I said finally. “They’re going to wonder where I disappeared to.”
“What’d you wish for?”
I turned to face him again. “What?”
“Your birthday wish,” he said. “You know. Closing your eyes. Blowing out the candles. What did you wish for?”
A Beautiful Dark by Jocelyn Davies / Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes