Life is like a flame.
It burns bright for a while then it flickers and fades, until finally, one small breath extinguishes it and we’re left with the ashes.
The house was quiet, but I still waited ten more minutes to leave, making sure I heard the sounds of my dad snoring.
I’d gotten grounded for a month the last time I got caught sneaking out.
I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.
I crept over to my bedroom window, sliding it up as quietly as I could. It squeaked, and I halted my movements, holding my breath to make sure no one in the house stirred.
I all but jumped out of my skin when the door to the bathroom that connected my room to my sister’s opened.
“Cael, what are you doing?” she asked, standing there in pajama shorts and a tank top. Her eyes were wide, reminding me of a doll.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I whispered, nodding at my half open window.
“Mom and Dad are going to kill you if you get caught,” she hissed, padding into my room like she owned the place. Nosy little sisters were good for nothing. I missed the days when I could bribe her to keep quiet with candy.
“I can’t miss this party, Cayla,” I groaned. “I’m the quarterback. I have to be there,” I reasoned.
“I want to go.” She squared her shoulders defiantly.
“No,” I hissed through my teeth. No fucking way was I bringing my sixteen-year-old sister to a senior party. It wasn’t because of her age that I wanted her to stay behind, but the way I saw my friends looking at her. Cayla was too sweet and innocent to get wrapped up in one of those fuckers. I’d kill them if they touched my sister.
“Fine, then I’m going to wake up Mom.” She turned on her heel to stalk out of my room.
I reached out and grabbed her arm, my fingers digging into her skin. “No,” I said sternly. “don’t be a little tattle-tale bitch.”
Her eyes widened at my harsh words. Yeah, Cayla and I bickered like most siblings, but we also got along better than most too. She wasn’t used to me being so rude.
“Let go of me.” She yanked her arm from my grasp. “You can be such a dick, Caelan.” She headed back toward the bathroom and stopped in the doorway. “I won’t say anything to Mom and Dad about this, but you owe me.”
“Deal.” I smiled.
She started to leave, but something in me made me say her name. “Cayla?”
“Yeah?” She stopped, her blonde hair swishing around her shoulders.
I swallowed thickly. “I love you, you know that, right?”
She rolled her clear blue eyes at me. Cayla and I looked a lot alike—so much alike that many people believed we were twins.
“I see what you’re doing here, but you still owe me, dickwad.”
I chuckled. “Believe me, I know.”
I was surprised she hadn’t put up much fight. I think she knew the real reason I didn’t want her to go, and probably wanted to avoid me getting in a fight—which would result in our parents finding out that we had both snuck out.
“Have fun.” She smiled, closing the bathroom door.
“Night, Cayla-belle,” I said softly, so low that she couldn’t hear me.
I eased the window up completely and eased outside, crouching on the roof. I waited a minute to make sure Cayla wasn’t going to reappear—or one of my parents—then closed it.
I tiptoed down the eave of the roof, spotting the taillights of Kyle’s car waiting down the street for me.
I lowered to my stomach, sliding over the edge, and grabbing on. I dropped down to the ground, careful to tuck my body so I didn’t injure myself.
Getting down was the easy part of sneaking out. Getting back up … Now that was a different story.
I jogged down the street to Kyle’s white car.
“Dude, what the fuck took so long?” he asked when I finally slid into the passenger seat.
“My sister caught me,” I muttered.
Kyle grinned, and I didn’t like his smile one bit. “Why didn’t you bring her? She’s hot, I’m sure someone could’ve had some fun with her.”
I glared at him, my fists clenched. “Don’t talk about my sister like that.”
Kyle raised his hands in mock surrender, a smirk playing on his thin lips. “It’s the truth. A lot of the guys would love to have a piece of—”
I punched the side of his face.
I didn’t care if he was my friend or not.
No one talked about my baby sister like that. Hopefully, he’d learn from this and so would the other guys.
“Fuck, Caelan, did you really need to punch me?”
“Yeah, I really did. Maybe that will teach you that running your mouth about my sister is a bad idea,” I retorted. “Would you want me to make comments about your sister?”
“My sister is fourteen,” he countered.
“Mine’s only sixteen,” I continued to pin him with a glare.
“Fine, whatever, dude. She isn’t worth getting punched over for no-fucking-reason,” he hissed.
He finally pulled away from the curb.
“Where’s this party at?” I asked.
After we’d won the football game, I had to head home for dinner—my parents were really big on family time. Sometimes “family time” could be a major pain in the ass since it kept me from doing stuff with friends, but when I heard some of them talk about how messed up their families were I was silently thankful for my overbearing parents.
“The Cove,” he answered, winding around a turn too fast. I knew better than to complain—he’d only speed up.
The Cove wasn’t really a cove at all. It was a rock formation near the lake that provided great shelter from the surrounding neighborhoods. As long as we kept the noise level reasonable, most people didn’t know we were out there.
“Leah is going to be there,” Kyle said casually, watching me out of the corner of his eye for a reaction.
I’d been going after Leah for a few weeks. She always tried to blow me off, but I could tell I was breaking down her walls. It wouldn’t be long until I had her right where I wanted her. She was enjoying playing hard to get, and I was enjoying the chase, but it ended tonight. I’d have her.
Kyle parked a block over from The Cove and we walked from that point. People would get suspicious if a bunch of cars were parked too close.
I turned at the sound of my name, my lips curling up as I spotted Leah.
Her shiny red hair was curling down her back, and her lips were coated in some kind of shiny gloss that I was desperate to taste.
“I’ll see you later … I guess.” Kyle winked, heading on without us.
“You know,” I told Leah, “you shouldn’t be standing out here all by yourself where anyone could get you.”
“Oh,” she purred, striding forward, “is the big bad wolf going to eat me?” she asked, purposely letting her breasts brush against my shoulder.
“Maybe.” I smirked, staring down at her.
“And maybe—” she stared brazenly up at me “—I want him to.”
I’d been waiting weeks for this moment, and I wasn’t going to let it pass me by.
I reached out for her, my hands finding the curve of her butt, and pressed my lips to hers.
She let out a soft little moan that stirred something inside me. I pressed more firmly against her as her fingers pulled at my hair. I knew she was a feisty little thing. I nipped at her bottom lip and then plunged my tongue inside her mouth. I wanted her, and I wanted her bad, but we were standing on the street, and I did value my life. If I got caught, my dad would be pissed enough to string me up by my balls and leave me to die, so I broke away.
“That’s hardly over,” I warned her.
She giggled, reaching for my hand. “I hope not … and it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s over.” She bit her lip, running her fingers over the hard-on pressing against my jeans.
My breath hissed through my teeth as she felt me up.
I led her through the tall grass and around the large rocks where the party was roaring. A small fire provided warmth, but it wasn’t large enough to attract unwanted attention. Someone played music from their iPod dock and bodies swayed.
“Dance with me,” Leah pleaded, pulling me toward everyone else.
I wasn’t a dancer, but I agreed just for the pleasure of watching her sexy little body move.
She grinded against me, and I closed my eyes, tilting my head back.
“If you keep doing that,” I warned her, grabbing her stomach and rubbing my thumb against the underside of her breast, “I’m going to haul you out of here and make you scream my name.”
She looked up at me, her green eyes sparkling in the moonlight. My throat tightened as her tongue flicked out to moisten her pouty lips. “I wouldn’t complain.”
“Fuck,” I growled, my hands tightening against her.
I wanted her, and I wanted her bad.
“Come on.” I pulled her away from everyone else and into the tall grasses. I kept dragging her until we were far enough away that we wouldn’t be found easily.
I sunk down on the ground, pulling her with me onto my lap.
“You’ve been teasing me for weeks.” I lifted her shirt off her head. “This ends tonight.”
“Just make it good,” she challenged.
“Oh, trust me, baby, you don’t need to worry.”
When we returned—clothes and hair mused, but completely satisfied—the party had grown even larger. It seemed like everyone in our senior class was in attendance.
People wanted to talk and congratulate me on the game. I smiled and nodded—but, honestly, I didn’t really care. Football was fun, but it wasn’t my whole life.
I sat down on the ground, beer in hand, with Leah between my legs. Her head rested against my chest.
When the sun started to peek above the edge of the lake, we all knew it was time to leave.
I said goodbye to Leah, giving her a long lingering kiss. Tonight had been good, and I wasn’t ready to let her walk away just yet.
“Come on, Lover Boy.” Kyle pried me away from her lips.
I laughed, calling to Leah, “See you later?”
She nodded, her cheeks flushed with happiness.
Kyle dropped me off at the same spot he’d been waiting for me earlier. I walked slowly toward my house, my head bowed.
When I finally looked up, ready to cut across the side yard to the back, so I could get back to my room, I noticed that the front door was slightly ajar.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
My parents had woken up and found me gone. I was in so much trouble it wasn’t even funny.
I swallowed thickly, my heart pumping in my chest as I made my way up the front steps into the house. There would be no point trying to sneak in. I had been caught and I had to face this.
When I pushed open the front door, I was surprised to find the house in disarray. Drawers were open, lights smashed, and our belongings strewn about everywhere.
“What. The. Hell,” I gasped.
My heart raced even faster.
Something bad had happened. It looked like someone had broken in and tried to rob us.
I walked to the back of the house, to the kitchen, expecting to find my mom and dad there calling the police, but it was empty.
“Mom!” I called. “Dad!”
Silence greeted me.
Maybe they had run to the neighbors’ house? Or were at the police station? Or—?
Something told me that neither of those things had happened.
Dread settled over me, sliding through my body like toxic sludge.
I swallowed thickly, heading for the main staircase.
I took the steps slowly and came to a standstill when I reached the top.
My shoes were growing damp with it.
“Dad!” I dropped to my knees, not caring that his blood now soaked my jeans. “Dad!” I screamed again and again—willing him to answer. I rolled him over, choking on a sob as his lifeless eyes met me. There was so much blood. God, it was fucking everywhere, seeping out of a series of knife wounds on his chest.
I released him, running for my parents’ room.
“No!” I yelled, when my eyes took in the sight of my mom lying on a blood-soaked mattress, her eyes focused on the ceiling. There were cuts and slashes all over her. I couldn’t mistake the sound of her blood dripping from the bed onto the hardwood floors.
I ran to Cayla’s room next, praying that she had hidden and was okay—or better yet, hoping I’d wake up and find this to all be a nightmare.
“Cayla!” I shouted, clutching my stomach as it heaved violently.
Like my mom, she was lying in her bed. Her eyes stared straight at me—the color so light it was almost white. Her normally rosy complexion was now a grayish-blue color. Her throat had been slit open, the blood coating her, the bed, and the floor. Her mouth was open in a never-ending silent scream.
I fell to the ground, sobbing hysterically.
“Cayla,” I cried, crawling on my hands and knees over to her bed. “Cayla, please! You can’t die! Cayla!” I smacked her cheeks, shook her, yelled at her, and none of it did any good.
She was gone.
They were all gone.
I pulled my phone out, fumbling to press the right buttons.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Help! You have to help me! They’re dead! They’re all dead!”
“Who’s dead, sir?” the calm voice asked me.
“My family! They’re dead! God, they’re all dead!”
“Sir, what’s your address?”
I couldn’t answer the woman. I had lost all capability of speaking. A strange noise was escaping me—half crying, half screaming.
I shook Cayla some more, hoping in vain what I saw would disappear and she’d wake up and tell me I was crazy.
I’d rather be losing my mind than face this reality.
When I knew that Cayla wasn’t going to wake up, I sat on the floor beside her.
I rocked back and forth, sobbing, my blood-covered hands running through my hair. I kept muttering under my breath, “This isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t real.”
That’s how the police found me.
Even five years later, I still felt like I was stuck in that room rocking back and forth beside Cayla.
Only now, I said, “This is real.”