The hourglass door, p.9
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       The Hourglass Door, p.9

           Lisa Mangum
 

  “Cool. It must be nice to see a familiar face, Dante. Or at least hear Italian spoken properly once in a while.”

  “It certainly is nice to see your face, Abby,” he said, his voice low, and I felt a blush cross my cheeks.

  “So, Abby,” Zo cut in, “did you enjoy the show?”

  “Very much. I hadn’t really heard a lot of your music so it was exciting to hear it for the first time live. You’re really talented.”

  “Thank you.” Zo lifted my hand and breathed a kiss along the inside of my wrist, his lips not quite touching my skin. His hand was strong, the calluses on his fingertips rough. He inhaled deeply. “Ah, yes, I recognize you. You were quite active during the show. Enthusiasm such as yours is . . . refreshing.”

  “Fermati, Lorenzo,” Dante snapped, yanking my hand away from Zo’s mouth. “Lasciale stare.”

  “Appartiene a te?” Zo asked, an amused glint in his dark eyes.

  Dante’s jaw clenched and he looked away.

  I frowned, confused at the byplay. I’d have to ask Dante later what he had said. Either that or start learning Italian.

  “You see, Abby,” Zo turned to me smoothly, “a good performance requires a certain amount of give and take. If the crowd is active and energetic, willing to accept what we are offering, then it makes my life so much easier.” He inclined his head in a formal bow. “So I thank you, Abby, for your acceptance of me tonight.”

  Zo’s smile curved his lips but it never reached his eyes.

  The euphoria I had been feeling shriveled inside me. I shivered and stepped back, bumping into a solid body behind me.

  “Hey, great show, man,” Jason said. “Do you guys have any CDs left?”

  Zo nodded and pointed him in Tony’s direction. “Tell him it’s on the house. A willing gift for a willing fan.”

  “Thanks,” Jason said brightly. “So where are you guys headed next?”

  “Oh, I think we might stay around town for a little while.” Zo’s eyes never left mine. “Take some time to reconnect with our roots before starting up another tour.”

  “Cool. Maybe we’ll see you around, then,” Jason said.

  Dante made a small, inarticulate noise deep in his throat.

  I stumbled after Jason, my exhaustion finally catching up to me. As Jason slipped the CD into his jacket pocket, as he helped me into my coat, as Valerie found her keys, as we finally left the Dungeon, I was acutely conscious of Zo’s eyes on me, watching my every move, and his feral smile remained sharp in my memory, even after I had fallen asleep.

  Chapter

  8

  Zo’s smile stayed with me over the next few days. I saw it in the curve of the moon at night, in the teeth of Jason’s circular saw blade that he used in the shop garage. At those times I would hear again the whisper of his angelic voice, Thank you, Abby, for your acceptance of me, and feel again the shiver along the inside of my wrist where he’d almost kissed me.

  More than once I thought about talking to Dante about it, but every time someone mentioned Zo or Zero Hour around him, his face closed and his eyes grew dark. I didn’t dare bring it up. Plus, I hadn’t had a spare moment alone with Dante since he’d given me the box of chocolates. I would see him at school, and we talked every day after rehearsal, but he was careful never to be alone with me. I sometimes wondered if I’d made a mistake, if maybe he wasn’t interested in me after all, but then I’d see that small smile cross his lips when he said my name and a certain spark in his eyes as they changed from gray to blue when I walked past him and the countless almost-times he reached out his hand for mine before pulling back, tugging on the edge of his gloves instead.

  No, I didn’t think I was mistaken.

  I stayed busy with rehearsals, school, and my friends. There was some general excitement about a week later when someone broke into the Special Collection section at the university library and stole some documents. The police weren’t saying exactly what was stolen or if they had any suspects, and the story was quickly relegated to “old news.”

  Likewise, Zo’s smile was relegated to the back of my mind, and before I knew it, two weeks had passed in a blink and suddenly it was the end of January.

  ~

  “Abby, Jason’s here.” Mom knocked three times before opening the door. “He’s in the front room.”

  “Thanks, Mom,” I said, checking my reflection before running a brush through my hair one last time. “Would you tell him I’ll be right down?”

  “Sure thing, sweetie.”

  Jason and I were long past making formal plans for Friday night dates. I just expected him to show up and he did, every week, at 7:30 for dinner and a movie. I glanced at my watch. Right on time, as usual.

  Skipping lightly down the stairs, I tugged at the hem of my blue sweater and brushed nonexistent wrinkles from my jeans. “Jason, we’ll have to hurry if we want to make the 8:15 show—”

  Jason stood up as I entered the front room. A box of pizza sat on the low coffee table next to a six-pack of soda. “I thought maybe we’d stay in tonight instead of going out. Is that okay?”

  I spied the DVD in his hand: Roman Holiday. “I thought you hated that movie.”

  Jason held the case by the corners and spun it in his hands. “I know you like it.”

  “You’re too good to me.” I grinned. “What else did you bring?”

  “Hand-tossed, thin crust, half black olive and pepperoni, half pineapple and ham, extra sauce,” Jason rattled in a single breath. “A West End Pizza original.”

  “Best pizza there is,” I grinned, grabbing the box and the soda. “C’mon downstairs.”

  Hannah and her friends had already claimed the family room and were sprawled out around a large poster board that was covered with pictures cut out from magazines.

  “Hannah, out,” I barked, jerking my head toward the door. “We want to watch a movie.”

  “No.” Hannah glared at me over the tops of the cards in her hand. “We’re not done with our game yet.”

  “Yeah, and I’m gonna win,” McKenna said, shifting some of her cards around in her hand.

  “You are not,” Cori said. “I already know the Who and the Where.”

  “What are you guys playing, anyway?” I set the soda and pizza on top of the TV.

  “A&B Clue,” Hannah said proudly. “The A is for Austen and the B is for Bront‘. See, we made our own board and we cut pictures out of magazines for the different places and people and weapons. Here’s the ballroom in Netherfield Park from Pride and Prejudice, and here’s the attic from Jane Eyre, and the moors from Wuthering Heights run along this whole side.”

  I snorted back a laugh and glanced at Jason.

  “That’s really creative, Hannah,” he said with a straight face, stretching his long legs out on the couch.

  Hannah glowed with the praise. “Thanks. Would you like to play?”

  “Sorry, we’ll pass.” I flipped on the DVD player. “You can finish your game, but then you guys have got to head upstairs, okay?”

  Hannah held a brief council with her friends. “Okay, but we want two slices of pizza and a soda. Each.”

  “No way.”

  Hannah shrugged. “Okay.” She picked up the die and rattled it in her hand for a solid minute, her eyes never leaving mine.

  “Fine, you can have one slice and two sodas. To share.”

  “Two slices and three sodas.”

  “Three sodas and half the breadsticks.”

  “Deal.” Hannah spun the die onto the board and moved her bottle cap into the Attic. Quickly consulting her notes, she declared, “It was Mr. Darcy, in the Attic, with his devastatingly good looks.”

  McKenna groaned and Cori threw her cards down in disgust.

  Triumphant, Hannah flipped over the mystery cards, winning the game.

  “Gives ‘if looks could kill’ a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?” I said to Jason. “Okay, here are your sodas and here are your breadsticks and there is the door.”

 
After they had left, we set up camp on the couch, the pizza box serving as a makeshift table and the remaining sodas nestled in the cushions between us. As the opening credits played, I tucked my feet under a blanket to keep them warm. “This was a good idea.”

  “No problem,” he said, saluting me with his can of soda.

  We watched the movie in companionable silence. I rested my head on Jason’s shoulder, enjoying the feeling of calm contentment that welled up inside me as he gently stroked my hair.

  As the end credits rolled on the screen, I yawned and stretched, wiggling my toes to get the circulation flowing again. “You’re a good sport. You really could have picked a different movie.”

  “I’m glad you still liked it.”

  “I’m glad you did too,” I teased, standing and picking up the empty pizza box. “You didn’t fall asleep once this time.”

  “Well, just once. There near the end.”

  “The end is the best part!”

  Jason locked his hands behind his head. He watched me for a moment before speaking again. “I was afraid you might be tired of all things Italian.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You’ve been spending a lot of time with Dante lately, and I—”

  “Jason, how many times do I have to tell you—I’m not dating Dante.”

  “I know. It’s just . . . I think you might want to be careful around him. He’s been hanging out with that Zo character a lot and—”

  “Dante and Zo? I don’t think so. Dante doesn’t even like Zo.” I shoved the pizza box into the trash can with probably more force than necessary.

  “Still. You know the break-in at the library a couple of weeks ago? Melissa said her dad said he suspects Zo was behind it. Zo and his band.”

  “Melissa needs to learn to keep her mouth shut,” I muttered. “I bet she thinks Zo is also behind the bank robbery last week and yesterday’s carjacking, doesn’t she? And since Zo is Italian and Dante is Italian, Dante must be in on it too, right? I know—maybe they’re all members of the Mafia!”

  “You have to admit, strange things have been happening around town ever since they showed up.”

  “Strange things happen all the time, Jason, if you’re looking for them.”

  “All I’m saying is that I’m worried about you. I want you to be safe, that’s all.”

  I sighed. “I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap like that.”

  “It’s okay,” he said, crossing the room to stand behind me. His strong hands rubbed at my shoulders and neck.

  Instead of relaxing me, his massage merely pinched at my nerves. Stepping away from him, I busied myself with ejecting the DVD from the player and gathering up the empty soda cans so I wouldn’t have to see the hurt on his face.

  I told myself Dante and Zo could do whatever they wanted in their spare time. It wasn’t any concern of mine. And yet, I couldn’t deny that I felt the tiniest bit unsettled at what Jason had said. The truth was, I could easily believe Zo was at fault for the recent crimes in town. I’d seen his smile; I’d felt his breath on my skin. But Dante? No. I’d also seen Dante’s smile, felt his breath on my skin, and there was no way Dante was a criminal.

  “Abby?” Jason said quietly. “What’s wrong? Can I help?”

  Jason, for all his size and strength, looked lost and small. I set down the DVD and walked back to him. He didn’t deserve to bear the brunt of my frustration and unease. He was doing the best he could. I stepped close and wrapped my arms around him. After a moment he hugged me back.

  “This helps,” I murmured.

  “I’m glad,” he said. “Abby, can I ask you something?” He paused. “Would you like to go to the Valentine’s Dance with me?”

  I leaned back to look him in the face. “You’re asking me?”

  “Well, you are my girlfriend—”

  I shook my head. “Of course I’ll go. I was already planning on it. Dad’s taking Mom out to dinner and Hannah’s sleeping over at McKenna’s house so I don’t have to baby-sit that night. I’m surprised you felt like you had to ask.”

  “I want it to be special. It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, and I know you girls care about that a lot.”

  “It will be special.”

  Jason smiled. “I was hoping you’d say yes. Well, I knew you would, but . . . anyway, I got you something. Hang on.” He ran back upstairs and returned holding his coat in one hand, rummaging through the pockets with the other. “I know it’s here somewhere. Ah!” He pulled out a small black box and held it out to me.

  I took it warily. “You’re not proposing, are you?” I joked.

  “Open it.”

  I cracked the lid back and caught my breath. It wasn’t a ring. It was a delicate gold necklace, the chain shimmering like gossamer thread. A golden butterfly flew from the necklace, its wings spread wide to catch the light. “Jason, it’s lovely.”

  “I saw it and thought you might like it.”

  “I love it.”

  Beaming, Jason reached his hand into his pocket again. “I saw something else I thought you might like.” He handed me a slip of paper.

  “What’s this?”

  “It’s a claim ticket for a dress at Harrod’s. I know you and Valerie like to shop there. The dance is only a couple of weeks away; I didn’t want anyone else buying it, so I went ahead and paid for it. You just have to go pick it up.”

  “Jason, I . . . I don’t know what to say.” It was the truth. As touched as I was by the butterfly necklace, having Jason not only pick out my Valentine’s dress before officially asking me to the dance but then buy it without me took some of the excitement out of the whole thing. “I’m sure it’ll be beautiful. I can’t wait to see it.” I tried to muster up some enthusiasm but fell flat.

  “I can’t wait to see you in it,” Jason said, bending down to kiss me.

  I closed my eyes. We’d kissed a few times since that first kiss on our birthday, but sadly, I’d never felt the same fireworks he did. I wanted to. I wanted to be swept away. I wanted to feel a tingle all the way down to my toes. I wanted my breath to be stolen and time to stop . . .

  With a shock, I realized I wanted to be kissing Dante.

  I broke off the kiss.

  Jason grinned and brushed my hair back from my face. “So it’s a date?”

  “I’ll pick up the dress tomorrow,” I promised. “I’m sure I can convince Valerie and Natalie to go shopping with me.”

  “I’ll plan on it.”

  I knew he would.

  ~

  “Ugh, this dress makes me look enormous. It’s like two hippos are camping out on my thighs.” Valerie tossed a blue dress over the top of the dressing room door. “I can’t wear this one either. And which one of you picked out this green thing? Do you want me to look like Godzilla?” Two more dresses flopped over the door frame.

  I stifled a laugh as Natalie grabbed the hangers and pulled the mass of colored, silky fabric into her hands. “Do you want me to grab you a different size?” she asked sweetly.

  Valerie flung the door open, stalking from the dressing room like an angered queen. “Shopping is not about the size, Natalie, darling, it’s about the dress.Abby knows what I’m talking about.”

  I held up my hands. “Don’t drag me into this. My dress is all picked out and paid for.” I patted the bag draped over my arm. Smiling, I slid past Valerie into the dressing room. “All that’s left is to try it on.”

  I hung the dress bag on the hook of the dressing-room wall. Kicking off my shoes, I pulled off my shirt and jeans. My breath quickened just a little. I wondered what the dress would look like. Jason wasn’t big into surprises. I hoped this one was a good one.

  I unzipped the bag in one quick motion.

  A spill of dark fabric billowed out. My mouth dropped open. The dress was brown. And plain. And there was a bow.

  Gingerly, I lifted the dress off the hanger and held it up to my body. I shook my head in disbelief. I slipped the dress over my head, feeli
ng the slightly rough fabric rub against my skin. It wasn’t much better on me than it had been on the hanger.

  It was loose around my chest and tight across my hips. The sleeves were almost long enough to reach my elbows, but certainly not long enough to reach my wrists. The neckline dipped to a point where a hint of cleavage could be seen—provided I’d had some cleavage, which I didn’t. At least the skirt was long enough—the hem touched the floor—and I knew that with heels it would be the perfect length. I was relieved to see the skirt had some fullness to it, too, a little swish and swirl. Maybe it would be enough to save me at the dance.

  I closed my eyes, silently wishing that when I opened them, I would be wearing a different dress. A dress that fit me, one that I could be comfortable in.

  But no.

  I could imagine so clearly Jason wandering through the store, looking for something he thought I might like. I knew he didn’t have that much extra cash to spend, so he must have stopped by the sale rack first. Knowing Jason, he probably found everything in his price range and then everything in what he guessed would be my size and then picked the best of what was left. For Jason, shopping wasn’t about the size or the dress, it was about efficiency. He had probably picked this dress because he thought it would match my eyes. Too bad it didn’t match anything else.

  And to be fair, the dress wasn’t exactly ugly, it just wasn’t pretty.

  And it was brown. The tag on the sleeve said “Cocoa Foam,” and maybe it did look a little like chocolate, but did Jason seriously expect me to wear this to the dance?

  “It must be nice to have a boyfriend who can shop for you,” Natalie said. I could hear the clink of metal hangers as she hung Valerie’s discarded dresses on the return rack.

  “It might be nicer if said boyfriend had better taste in clothes,” Valerie quipped.

  “Jason’s taste is just fine,” I protested weakly. I clutched at the skirt with numb fingers.

  I could hear Valerie rolling her eyes, even from behind the door.

 

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