Will swallows his fears and takes his new body out to a dangerous party spot.
|Previously: "BoM 21: Turkish Delight (Not)"
The Invalid and Her Bodyguards
The Warehouse! The word itself makes you shiver. It's the most dangerous party spot in the city ... and the most exciting!
By day it's an abandoned brick warehouse, rotting beside the railroad tracks, in the old, bombed-out industrial part of town; a haunt of transients, drunks, addicts, and thugs. But on weekends it's a club run and patronized by the city's high school students. Bands and DJs blast out music from a stage; there's a saloon where beer, liquor, weed, and harder drugs are sold alongside regular snacks. And upstairs are rooms where mattresses and sheets can be rented by the hour.
Only high school students can get in; even security is provided by high school football players and wrestlers and the like. How it stays open, no one knows, but it probably has to do with payoffs to the police and city council members by whatever gangsters secretly organize and supply it.
You've never been. Alexis certainly never has. You cover your mouth with your hands and drink deeply of the warmed air there. Over your fingertips you stare at Erin with wide, watering eyes. She looks almost as frightened as you feel.
"Who's playing tonight?" Julian asks Matt. He doesn't look freaked out.
"Bastian and his friends. I was gonna skip or, you know, hang out upstairs." He rolls a shoulder and smirks. "You and your girl there I guess could—"
"Yeah, I guess we could go," Julian says as Erin's eyes pop out. "It'd be fun, won't it, babe?" He kisses her sloppily on the cheek, and she winces.
"Well, I'm gonna go ahead and head out," Matt says, and he shakes out his long, brown hair as he stands up. "Drew comps me free shots when I help him set up." He slaps his friend Joshua in the arm. "You comin'?
"Huh? Sure. You comin' too? Can give you a ride." Joshua drops his arm around your shoulders, and that's when you realize he's talking to you. You turn to find him leering down his nose at you.
"Alix is going to a party with some of our other friends," someone says, and you're so shocked and horrified by Joshua's come-on that not until Erin kicks you under the table do you realize she was the one who spoke. "Babe, I think I wanna go with her, party with them," she tells Julian.
You're about to grasp this lifeline when you catch Eileen Piper's face out of the corner of your eye. She is draped across your duplicate, her head resting on his shoulder with her chin tilted up. Her eyes are half-closed—she looks like she's about to pass out—but they glint with contempt as she stares at you.
"No, I forgot to tell you that fell through," you tell Erin as you return Eileen's gaze. You feel yourself flushing. "So I'm up for a night at the ... the Warehouse." By now your heart is racing. "I don't wanna stay in on a Saturday night."
From the recessed speakers, the singer's voice rises to a wailing shriek in the silence that ensues. "I guess we'll follow you guys in a bit, then," Julian rumbles. "I wanna get a burger or some KFC before hitting the club." He glances away, his expression tight. But Erin stares at you with wide eyes and a slack jaw.
* * * * *
She and Julian try talking you out of going—Erin says she'll spend the evening with you, if that's what it takes to keep you out of danger—but you're adamant. "I've never been," you say as you cluster around Julian's truck in the parking lot outside the cafe. "You've never been either," you tell Erin.
She squirms and darts Julian an embarrassed look. "No. But I really don't think it's your kind of scene, Alix. What we did last night is more your kind of— And it was really awesome! Wasn't it, babe?" She nudges Julian.
But you insist on going, and you're sure you'll be alright if you can stick close to Julian. So he relents (a little more quickly than you'd have liked him to, honestly) and says that he and Erin will pick you up at your place in ninety minutes. "We're not gonna stay out there past two," he warns you. But since your own curfew has always been eleven, and Alexis is never out past midnight, you are actually fine with that hour.
It takes you a long time to pick out an ensemble, for you have no idea what it will actually be like out at the Warehouse; you only have your stereotypes to guide you. You wind up in a pair of distressed jeans, a t-shirt, and Alexis's favorite tan windbreaker. You wince as you regard yourself. You're going to look like a total noob, you can tell.
You feel a little better when you see that Erin has also dressed down in "invisible casual." "Julian called around, made sure we'd have lots of guys out there to hang out with," she whispers to you in the foyer of your house while her boyfriend is using the hall bathroom. She rubs your arm. "Roman and the guys. Alec and Jesse. Jason Rowe." (That's another football player.) "You'll be okay."
"I know I'll be okay," you hiss back at her. "Stop treating me like I'm an invalid or something."
Except you are. Voices belonging to Alexis and yourself are shouting in the back of your head that the Warehouse, even if it's safe, is too "exciting" a scene for someone of Alexis's constitution.
But then the toilet flushes and Julian comes out, and there's nothing to do but go with.
* * * * *
There's a whole pack of people in the WHS parking lot, where they are rendezvousing to carpool out to the Warehouse. All the ballplayers from your party last night are there, along with their girlfriends, plus a half-dozen more of their friends as well. It might be your imagination, but they all seem to go out of their way to say "Hi" to you and tell you how happy they are to see you going, and to assure you that you'll have lots of fun. "You're gonna ride up front with me, right?" Roman says, and he drags you into a light hug.
You clasp him back, and drink deeply of the spicy, pine-scented cologne that clings to his black, silk shirt. The muscles beneath are hard and you can feel their curves.
"What do you do out at the Warehouse?" you ask him once you're on the road. He's driving his truck, and you're squeezed up next to him, with Erin and Julian on the other side of you; a dozen more are riding back in the bed, and you can hear them laughing and shrieking even over the grumble of the motor.
"Same sort of stuff as any party," he says. "Except less supervision." He puts his arm around you; that and his assurances make you feel better. "First dance with me?" You nod and snuggle up to him.
Why am I doing this? you wonder. I won't even be able to see Eileen and ... Will out there, and that's the only reason I'm going. I'm going to have to pretend to be Alexis and that means pretending to have this hard crush on Roman.
But you're so frightened, both of the upcoming scene and of the dangers you suspect it poses to Alexis, that you feel real relief as you cling to him. My tall, dark, knight, says a voice inside your skull.
The Warehouse looms dark and grim after you've parked at it. There are no windows, and the only light—aside from the acrid vapor-lamps that flare against the nearby grain elevator—spills out through a narrow door at the front. But the brick walls thump and tremble with the beat of the music within.
It's still only ten o'clock when you arrive, so the "bar"—a series of plywood tables set up around the perimeter of one of the ground-floor rooms—isn't crowded. Your group breaks up into smaller pairs and trios and scatters about to purchase drinks from the (mostly) tattooed and pierced guys who are manning the stations. You keep an arm around Roman and let him draw you over to where two of them are guarding a couple of large kegs.
"Hey, you did show up. Hey!" A heavy hand lands on your shoulder, and you whirl inside Roman's embrace to find that Joshua guy from the cafe smirking down at you. He totally ignores Roman to address you. "Me and Matt and the rest of us are in there." He jerks his chin off toward another room, and grins. "Got a place saved for you."
Roman gently squeezes your shoulder. "Who are you?" he says.
"Joshua Cheswick," says the other, and puts out a slender hand that Roman ignores. "Hey, you're not going together or nothin', right? 'Cos Alix didn't say nothin' about you when we were making out at the coffee shop."
His words jolt you, and you can feel Roman freeze in place. You can't even stammer out a retort. That leaves Joshua free to keep prattling.
"Yeah, we were out at the Turk's Head earlier," he says, "me and her and some other guys." His eyes glint over a smirk that seems to grow more and more bold. "That's when we all decided to come out here, hook up again, have some fun. Whatever you're gettin' here, I'll treat—"
"I think you've got the wrong girl," Roman says.
Joshua snorts. "Fuck, no I don't, man, I think you must'a got the wrong—"
But a resonant baritone drowns him out: "He says you've got the wrong girl." A strong arm grabs him. "Come on while you've still got some teeth to call your own."
Joshua squirms once, then collapses as a tall, strapping figure in a letterman jacket hauls him off. His captor briefly glances back over at his shoulder at you.
Your heart rockets. He's taller and darker than Roman, and his eyes flash with authority. A rumble like thunder seems to come up through the floor, and the crowd melts before him as he pushes Joshua into the next room.
There he shoves Joshua into a booth and drops down next to him. Opposite them, you can just make out the faces of Eileen Piper and Will Prescott peering back with shocked expressions.
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