Nocte (Page 23)

Nocte (The Nocte Trilogy #1)(23)
Author: Courtney Cole

I shrug.  “I’m used to it.  There are creepier places.”

He looks at me, unconvinced.  “Oh, yeah?”

I nod. “Yeah. I know of one off-hand.”

“I’d like to see that place sometime,” he tells me. “Or I won’t believe it.”

I smile.  “Deal.  If you tell me what’s wrong with you. Why are you punishing your hands?  What did they ever do to you?”

“I don’t really want to talk about it right now,” Dare tells me, leaning once again against the counter, so casual that it’s painful.  “Unless you’re using one of your questions and I’m obligated to answer.”

I don’t miss a beat.  “I am.”

He sighs because he saw that one coming, and I almost fall into the blackness of his eyes because they’re bottomless wells.  “I’m mad at myself,” he finally says, as though that’s an answer.

“Obviously,” I say wryly.  “But the question is…why?”

He stares at me now, with a painful gaze, something so wretched and awful that it makes my stomach flip.  “Because I can’t change something.  And because I’m letting it get to me,” he finally replies.  “Something that I can’t control.  It’s stupid.  So it pisses me off.”

“Emotions piss you off?” I ask, my eyebrow raised.

He smirks now, and the heaviness lifts.

“They are when they’re stupid.”

He turns to walk out of the kitchen, and I suck in my breath hard.

A tattoo is inscribed across the top of his back, spanning his shoulder blades.

LIVE FREE.

I’ve never seen such a fitting tattoo, for a guy with such a fitting name.  If anyone lives free, it’s Dare.

“I love your tattoo,” I call out to him, as he walks from the kitchen to the bedroom, out of my sight.

“Freedom is an illusion,” he calls back.

I want to ask him why, but I don’t want to use a question, so I let it go.  For now.

He emerges a minute later in a clean shirt.

“We’ve got some gauze and tape up at the house,” I tell him.  “Will you come with me so that I can bandage you up? Finn and I caught some crabs today.  Stay for dinner.”

I’m not asking.  It’s an instruction.  And surprisingly, Dare nods.

“Ok.”

I lift an eyebrow.  “Ok?”

He smiles and the Dare I know is back, the charming and friendly one.   “Yeah.  I want to see if they really scream when you drop them into the pot.”

I must recoil a bit, because he chuckles.  “I’m kidding.  That’s a myth, right?”

I nod.  “They don’t have vocal cords.  But it sounds like a scream sometimes, when the air bubbles out of their stomachs.” 

“That’s a pleasant thought,” Dare says wryly.

“I just don’t think about it,” I shrug. “Because they’re delicious.”

“Sadistic yet practical,” Dare observes as he holds the door open for me.

I grin.  “That’s my hamartia.”

Dare shakes his head.  “I don’t believe in fatal flaws.”

I pause, staring up at him.  “Really?  Then what, pray tell, will be your downfall?”

Dare pauses too, purveying me with his arms dangling limply at his sides.

“There’s a very good chance it’ll be you.”

13

TREDECIM

“How can you possibly say that?” I stutter.  “You only just met me.”

Dare’s lip twitches and he starts walking toward my house.  “I’m a very intuitive guy, Calla-Lily.  I guess you can just call it a feeling.”

I feel like I’m walking on a cloud of confusion as we make our way to my house.  I barely greet Finn when we walk in, and he immediately knows that something is up, although he doesn’t ask for details.  Instead, he just calmly assesses me.

“Everything ok?”  His voice is slow and even, and I nod.

“Yeah.”

He nods.  “Good.  I’m not feeling well, so I’m going to eat in my room.”

He turns and disappears into the back hallway before I can say anything.  I suspect that his absence has more to do with Dare’s presence and less to do with not feeling well.  I sigh as my father comes through the kitchen door.

He glances at Dare.  “Would you like anything to drink?”

“Sure.  I’ll have whatever you’re having,” Dare answers.

My father is gone for a minute, and comes back out with a beer.  “You looked like you could use something stronger than lemonade.”

Dare almost looks relieved, and takes a big gulp.  “Thanks.”

As Dare wipes his mouth with one of smashed up hands, my dad eyes the damage, but doesn’t say anything.

It’s strange how everything is socially acceptable and comfortable, despite the fact that Dare’s hands are mangled and everyone is ignoring that fact.

“Let’s go find the first aid kit,” I tell Dare.  He nods and sets his beer down, and dad heads into the kitchen.

“The crabs will be ready in five,” he calls over his shoulder.

“We’d better hurry,” I murmur to Dare as I lead him through the halls.  We pass the Viewing Rooms and the Great Room and never once does Dare say anything about the Funeral Home smell.

After we quietly walk the length of the halls leading to the basement, I gently push him into a seat outside of my father’s Embalming Room.  “Be right back,” I tell him.

I push open the door, and ignore the instant change in temperature that sends goose-bumps forming down my arms and legs.  I also ignore the reason it has to be so cold in here.  Cold = Death.  It’s an equation that was long ago impressed in my head.  It’s one reason I’d love to move someplace tropical.  Because Warmth = Life.  

I dig in a cabinet for gauze and medical tape, rustling around loudly enough that I don’t hear Dare walk into the room.  It’s only when he speaks from behind me that I jump.

“So, this doesn’t look that scary,” he observes, his quiet voice loud in the silence.

I whirl around, my heart pounding.  “Sorry,” he says quickly, holding up a hand. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”