Pretty When She Dies (Page 6)

Sweeping her hair back from her face, her gaze flicked to the rear view mirror. A sole car followed behind her. Biting her bottom lip, she drew her bag a little closer to her. The possessions shoved in her bag were all she owned in this world. She felt fragile and afraid.

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You're a vampire, the professor's voice taunted.

Her tongue slid over her teeth for the hundredth time. The sharp teeth she had felt earlier were now gone. Maybe they only came out when she was hungry.

The steady hum of the road was soothing to her frayed nerves. She resisted the urge to turn on the radio. The wind pouring in through the rolled-down windows tossed her hair into disarray around her face, but was effectively blow-drying her tresses.

The car tailing her flipped a turn signal on and disappeared down a side road. The road was barren ad dark behind the truck.

The night was so dark. She couldn't remember it being this foreboding before, but maybe she was just working herself up again. Now that she thought about it, she could see very well. In fact, she could see perfectly into the velvet darkness surrounding her, but at the same time the world seemed-

“More ominous,” she decided.

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It's him. He makes it like this. So horribly dark and wrong.

How could she have been so stupid? How could she have given into him like that? And now her life was gone, just like those students at the frat house, she was dead, too. Nothing she had worked for mattered anymore. Her hard work, her sacrifices, her triumphs, her failures, everything she had ever done, was now wiped out. Years of saving for college swept away. The years she spent working at crap jobs, with hardly any pay and bosses' roving hands, were for nothing. The time sitting at her sister’s side, nursing and loving her as she slowly faded from the world didn’t seem worth it anymore. And her friends, having gone off to get married and have children, seemed like a cruel joke. She had sacrificed her own happiness, but for what?

“He owes me,” she hissed.

She realized as soon as the words left her lips that she was talking about her father. Not Professor Sumner.

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He had guilt-tripped her into going home from Austin when her sister had been diagnosed with cancer. Her brave little sister had actually insisted that Amaliya stay in Austin and finish her schooling. Despite her sister's urgings to remain in school, Amaliya had been so devastated by her father's berating that she had come home.

What followed was three years of sheer hell. She watched her sister struggle to win a battle that she seemed destined to lose from the moment she was diagnosed. It had been the hardest thing Amaliya had ever done. Throughout the ordeal, she had told herself that she would one day go back to the University of Texas and get her degree in psychology, but her sister's illness hung on and her scholarship expired.

Amaliya had stayed out of love for sister, but also because her father had made it damn clear that it was her responsibility to take care of her sister. After losing his first wife to cancer, Samuel had wanted nothing to do with his youngest daughter's treatment. He had staunchly avoided even dealing with the illness and rarely visited his sick daughter. In the end, little Rachel had died wondering if her father loved her.

Wiping a tear away and letting out an angry noise, Amaliya set her jaw. She would go home, tell him to sign over the truck, tell him not to say he had seen her if the police asked, then instruct him to forget she existed.

Cold tears began to flow down her cheeks. It had always been like this with her family. Tense and coarse. They both had little or no tolerance for each other and lived in an uneasy truce. She believed he loved her, but hated who she was. She had always been different from everyone else in the family. It wasn't just because she was the only girl until her sister Rachel had been born; her entire being just seemed at odds with her family's culture.

“Spic blood,” someone had once said to her father. “It just made her lazy and weird.”

Amaliya hadn't understood what the neighbor had meant. It wasn't until her teen years that she finally understood that her grandmother's Hispanic heritage was blamed for a lot of what was wrong with her. Her beloved mother was revered, but Amaliya was considered off. What no one seemed to realize was that it was Marlena who had encouraged her daughter to embrace her uniqueness. Her mother had sacrificed her own dreams to marry the man she loved. She spent her whole life playing the role he had determined for her. It wasn't until her death that Amaliya had understood how her mother had subjugated her hopes and dreams to her handsome, East Texan husband.

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That lesson had stayed with Amaliya. It had spurred her to aspire to an education and take risks in her life.

Maybe too many risks, she thought.

She had been enthralled with her secret date with Professor Sumner, but now her life was over.

The highway began to fill up as other cars began to turn off country roads as people began to make their way home to the bigger towns and Houston. The landscape, even at night, was familiar. It made her weary. Going home was never a pleasant experience for her.

Her slim fingers found the turn signal. She flipped it upwards. The familiar clicking seemed abnormally loud when she maneuvered the vehicle off the highway and down a long country road. The old Wilson house listing in an overgrown field brought back so many memories. She slightly smiled as she remembered tearing across the field after her brothers had tried to lock her in the “haunted house.” She had been so terrified; her fear had infected them. They had all run home screaming. Her mother had tanned their behinds something fierce, then spent a half-hour on the phone laughing with the neighbor over it.

A burned-out blue trailer was her next childhood landmark. It had been the home of her best friend, until the fried chicken cooking on the old stove had started a grease fire. Luckily, everyone had survived, but her best friend, Leslie, had moved far away to the big city of Houston.

She took a right and the truck barreled down the narrow lane that lead to her family's property.

The Vezoraks had lived in East Texas for years since they had come over from Europe. A twenty-acre piece of land was now whittled down to five. The old farmhouse met its end after the elements had worn it down and a strong wind finished it off. Her Dad's new place was a double-wide trailer with multiple additions built onto it. The smell of barbecue smoke and wet earth filled the truck when she turned down the drive.

Her brother, Damon, was standing near the “Y” in the drive. His manufactured home was well lit. Behind him, a few of his kids were running around with sparklers, playing happily. Up near her Dad's home, the lights were dim where she suspected things were winding down. Her Dad was an early-to-bed type.

Waving to Damon, she drove past him. Her brother's fierce, hawkish face looked solemn. He barely nodded in acknowledgment. His look said it all.

She was in deep shit.

A fence separated her father’s homestead from the rest of the property. A few of his cars sat to one side in various stages of disrepair or repair, depending on how you looked at it. The big porch was empty of people. The big barrel next to the steps was loaded with used paper plates and cups. The party was over.

She parked near the fence and took a deep breath. Curious, she did it again, feeling her lungs expand, then contract. She sat in silence, letting her body decide what to do next. Her lungs stayed still, but she didn't feel as though she was suffocating.

“Yep, dead,” she whispered.

The porch light flicked on. She reached over to snag her cowboy hat. It was a bit battered, but she liked it. Tucking it onto her head, she dared to look toward the screen door.

Samuel Vezorak stood on the front steps, arms folded, his face hidden in shadow.

“Hey, Dad,” she said, feeling all her desire to tell him off flow away from her like a fast current. Tears stung her eyes. To her surprise, she just wanted him to hug her and tell her it would be all right. Dragging her bag out behind her, she slid out of the truck and landed with a heavy thunk!

“Finally decided to show up,” his thickly accented voice boomed.

“I…something went wrong,” she said.

“Always does,” he answered, and turned back into the house. The screen door slammed shut behind him as its tight spring popped it into place. He left the inner door open.

Shouldering her bag, she walked over the sand driveway to the front porch. Two old dogs were lying near the stairs, chewing on bones. When she approached, they both looked up, startled.

“Hey, Codger and Shithead,” she said softly.

Shithead whimpered and Codger growled.

Tears blinded her as she realized they knew what she was and were threatened by her presence.

“It's okay. It's okay.”

With a yelp, they both dashed off, leaving their chewed-up bones behind.

“What did you do to my dogs?” her Aunt's fierce voice demanded.

Amaliya turned to see her Aunt/Step-grandmother in the doorway. A wisp of a woman, Mae was not to be trifled with. She had a fierce temper and was one of the worst control freaks Amaliya had ever encountered. Dressed in a faded pink housedress and slippers, Mae shoved the screen door open.

“They just ran off,” Amaliya answered, feeling even more depressed and intimidated.

“Right. I'm sure they did,” Mae snapped. She didn't have but three teeth left and her dentures were definitely not in. No one spoke about it, but it was pretty well known that Amaliya's long dead uncle had busted them out with a baseball bat. Evidently, Mae had burned his dinner. The lack of teeth made her mouth tiny, where it pinched under her long nose and intense gaze. “Your Grandmama already left for West Texas with your cousin Felipe. You're late, girl, and screwing things up as usual. ”

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