If You Dare: Chapter 20

After

Violet

I call Mom. She answers on the third ring with a tired, “Hey, hon.”

My heart squeezes. I’m hon again. Even for just a second, she’s forgotten to be disappointed in me.

“Hey, Mom. I have a favor to ask.” She sighs into the phone and I press on before she can object. “Can you take me to Chloe’s grave today? It’s her birthday.”

Chloe and I had already made our plans for her birthday by the end of April. We’d go to the movies first thing in the morning and sneak from theater to theater, watching as many movies as we could until we got kicked out. Her favorites were romcoms and horror, a dichotomy I could never wrap my mind around. Then we’d head to the ice rink and we’d “skate,” which would translate to her skating and me watching safely from solid ground. My plan was to have my book written by then so I could print it and sign it and give her the first copy of my first-ever book. Dedicated to her.

She and I thought my first book would be inspired by my life. Fun, romantic, maybe even smutty.

Now if I were to write a book based on my life, I’m pretty sure it would be shelved as horror. I’ve been jumping awake the past three nights, just as Wes squeezes the life from my throat in my nightmares. As all twenty-five Devils track me down and pin me to the ground while they each take their turn.

What would’ve happened to me if that security guard hadn’t found us? Would Wes have fucked me? Shoved his cock down my throat? His hand was on his fly.

The crazy part is . . . I wouldn’t have tried to stop him.

Mom lets out another sigh, this time with a note of sympathy. “I can’t today, hon. I’m working a double. Maybe this weekend.”

Panic rises in my chest. This weekend isn’t Chloe’s birthday. I need to be there for her today. “Please, Mom. It won’t take long—”

“Violet, you shouldn’t be going to the cemetery today, anyway. The Novaks will be there.”

I flinch. I know she’s right, even if I don’t want to admit it. Before the accident, Chloe’s parents loved having me around—it’s hard to imagine them celebrating her birthday without me. “I need to give her this gift.”

The little stuffed duck that I won at the carnival. Chloe coveted Ducky as soon as I held him in my hands. It’s not much, but I want to give it to her for her birthday. Especially since I never did manage to write that book.

If that night had gone differently, if Chloe was still alive, would I have written my first book? Would Wes be my boyfriend instead of my bully?

“You can leave it there this weekend. You don’t need to be stepping on her family’s toes today.”

If I can’t get a ride to Chloe’s grave, I’ll just have to walk. Diamond really needs a bus system, but luckily the cemetery is only a few miles away, just outside of the town square.

I don’t care what I have to do. I’m visiting my best friend’s grave on her birthday.


Sunlight beams onto the rows of gravestones, some of them fading under the sun’s harsh rays.

The cemetery is blessedly empty. Even though Chloe was my best friend, I don’t want anyone to see me visiting her grave. They’ll only hurl horrible insults my way. All I want is to be left in peace to mourn my best friend. I may be the one responsible for her death, but I didn’t want her gone either. That’s what no one seems to get. I’m just as devastated by her loss as everyone else. If I could take back what I did, if I could take back that whole night, I would. I would switch places with Chloe in a heartbeat.

I kneel in front of her headstone. Chloe Novak. 2003 to 2023. Beloved daughter, sister, and friend.

The words blur, and I tuck the stuffed duck at the base of the stone. I can almost feel Chloe’s ghost grinning next to me, whispering thanks.

“Happy birthday.” And those two words are all I get out before the sobs wrack through my body. “I am so sorry,” I whisper. “I’m so sorry, Chloe.”

“Still willing to switch places?” a deep male voice asks behind me.

I jump out of my skin and whip around, the sob caught in my chest.

Wes looms above me, a bouquet of flowers clutched in his hand, dangling down at his side.

Shit. I didn’t think he’d be here until later with his parents.

“What?” I ask, my brain scrambling, trying and failing to make sense of his words.

“You said you wished you were the one who died that night.” His voice and eyes are flat, emotionless.

“I do.” I mean it with every thread of my being.

Part of me—a stupid, moronic part—hopes he’ll sweep me up in a hug, rub the back of my hair while we cry together over the girl we both miss so much that her loss is a weight pinned against our chests, crushing and suffocating.

He doesn’t, of course, and the sob builds in my throat, but I manage to swallow it down.

When silence falls over us and Wes doesn’t make a move to strangle me, I try one more time. “I know you don’t want to hear it, Wes, but I’m s—”

“Shut the fuck up, Violet.” He lifts a hand, the words coming out without his usual venom, but the order makes my lips clamp shut. Like he’s too exhausted for his revenge plot today. “Get the fuck out of here or I’ll bury you here myself.”

I hold up my hands, backing away from Chloe’s grave. “Okay. I’m leaving. I’m s—” But I stop myself, knowing that for some reason, sorry is the last word Wes Novak wants to hear from my mouth.

I half run toward the parking lot, getting away from Wes as fast as possible before he changes his mind about letting me leave unscathed. Before he shoves my face in the dirt and makes me eat it.

When I reach the parking lot, my breaths heave from my chest. Wes sits in front of Chloe’s grave, the side of his body facing her stone and his arms resting on his knees, like he’s chatting with her casually. Until he swipes across his cheek with a thumb.

I turn away, giving him the privacy he deserves. Toward me, his exterior is cold, hard. But somewhere deep down, that softer part of him, the part that made him the Wes I knew before, is still in there.

I’ve always known he has a big heart. Bigger than he ever likes to show. I once thought I had a place in it.

But I never will.


Wes

The fucking stuffed duck. The prize she won at the carnival. The little duck Chloe instantly squeezed and cooed over the second it was in Violet’s hands.

The duck that reminds me of our first kiss. When I pressed my lips to hers and wondered how I’d gone an entire lifetime without kissing her. When I knew there was no way I’d be able to stop myself from kissing her again.

Watching Violet sob in front of my sister’s grave stopped me dead in my tracks. Like I almost forgot she had a heart in there. That before Violet killed her, they were best friends.

But the last person on this Earth who deserves my sympathy is Violet Harris.

If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be celebrating my sister’s birthday at her graveside. I wouldn’t have bought her fucking flowers because when she was alive, she didn’t even like them. Said they were boring, unoriginal. The type of gift every girl got. The kind of gift that didn’t require any thought.

If she were still alive, she’d be mocking me right now. You’re so unoriginal, Wes.

Without her, I am.

A deranged part of me wanted to drop to the ground beside Violet and pull her in for a hug. Mourn over my sister together like we would have if Violet hadn’t been the one responsible for putting her in the ground in the first place.

The sickest part of all of this is the one person I want to comfort me is the reason I need comfort.

Mom and Dad arrive carrying trays full of saplings and hand shovels so we can plant them around Chloe’s grave.

“Wes, your father and I were just talking on the way over. Remember that summer when Chloe was about twelve and she got really into gardening? Then that wasp stung her on the foot?”

I chuckle. “Yeah, and she got mad at me for killing it.”

Mom laughs. “Not a single thing grew, but she was out there every day.”

I swallow down the lump in my throat.

“Is that Violet we just saw?” Dad asks, like she’s an old friend and not our worst enemy.

“Yep.”

Mom sinks to the ground beside me. “Did you get to have a nice chat?” she asks in her soothing honey voice.

“No, Mom, it’s Violet.” I grab a shovel and stab into the ground. “We don’t have nice chats.”

“You used to,” Dad says, as if I need the fucking reminder.

“I’ve always thought you and Violet would make an adorable couple.” Mom plants a sapling in the shallow grave I dug, patting the soil around it.

“I know.” There was a time I wanted Violet. Wanted her in every sense of the word. But that’s never happening now.

Mom grabs my hand, hers covered in dirt because she forgot gloves. Or she didn’t want to bring any, hoping the cool earth between her fingers would make her feel closer to my dead sister on what would’ve been her twentieth birthday. “I just want you to be happy.”

“We both do.” Dad pats his shovel against the soil where he’s planted a sapling on the other side of Chloe’s grave. She’d love to be here doing this with us.

“Not sure how to be,” I admit, staring at the words on her headstone until they start to blur.

“You start by forgiving Violet,” Mom tells me. I open my mouth to object, but she cuts me off. “Violet is a good girl, Wes, and she was such a great friend to Chloe. She genuinely feels bad about what happened.”

“She should.” I still don’t get how they can forgive her so easily. How they can just shrug off Chloe’s death like someone else didn’t cause it. Like her best friend didn’t betray her in the worst way possible.

Mom faces me, brows furrowed but gaze tender. “You can allow yourself to feel happy, Wes. That doesn’t mean you’ve stopped grieving your sister or love her any less.” I can’t swallow down that fucking lump in my throat now. “You and Violet are both grieving someone you loved so much. You can help each other through this, but instead, you’re making her loss worse for you both. Chloe would be so upset if she knew you were closing your heart off to her best friend just because you’re ashamed of feeling happy.”

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