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in the dark, with your beating heart

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It starts almost immediately. And really, she should have known. All the lit assignments she studied (and then lent her notes on to Jen), all of them saying something about revenge. That it was empty and unsatisfying.
Needy Lesnicki disagrees.
She staggers out of the venue, catching her breath. The blood on her hands feels thinner than any she’s felt before. The parking lot is quiet except for the buzzing of the streetlights, the distant chatter of fans streaming through the doors. A slick photo is plastered to the wall of the building. A stubbly, guylinered brunette man smirks at the camera, standing in front of his lesser bandmates. Low Shoulder, the poster blares.
She feels a little sorry for the everyday people who paid for tickets for a concert that’s never going to play. But she pockets the switchblade and wipes her hands on her scrubs and takes a deep, unsteady breath. And she starts walking.
The nearest town is pretty close, close enough that she might have been able to get there within the night even when she was still totally human. As is, she speed-walks along the side of the road, shoulders hunched against the oncoming headlights. One car slows to take a look at her, then pulls away with a sharp grinding of wheels on gravel. A small smile flits across her face. Was this what Jen felt like all those years? Powerful? She’d never thought of her best friend as scary, exactly, but she had an energy that intimidated people. A pout from her could make even the biggest guy on the football team melt. Had made Needy melt over and over again. I told you so, Jen’s voice rings in her head. We have all the power. They’re just morsels.
Needy licks her lips. Truer than Jennifer knew.
She needs to get some new clothes, so when she gets to the town, she breaks into a Walmart. The store’s massive interior is a labyrinth without the ugly fluorescent lighting, and once again Needy thanks her best friend’s sharp teeth for the heightened night vision. Blood has made scales grow up her wrists and forearms, so she rinses off as much as she can in a water fountain before paging through the clothes in the women’s section.
This is so crusty, Needy, Jennifer’s voice whines. Aren’t you even gonna pick someplace you could get something cute?
Most of their shopping trips while she was alive had been fashion shows with Jen playing the part of all the models. She tossed hanger after hanger over her arm, asking Needy’s opinion on every outfit and then smiling and rolling her eyes when Needy inevitably told her how good she looked. Like I was going to look shitty, she’d say. But every once in a while, Jen got obsessed with the idea of Needy dressing up with her. They packed into dressing rooms together, trying on the sluttiest dresses they could find. Jen would drape Needy’s hair around her shoulders, her fingers cool and soft when they brushed Needy’s neck. See? I was totally right. You are so salty in that. Her laugh echoed in Needy’s ears. I didn’t know you had tits like that. You’re holding out on all of us, Lesnicki.
Needy yanks a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a new hoodie off the racks and makes for the exit, her heart pounding unevenly.
She remembers reading about an experiment where a bunch of normal people put themselves in an asylum, and by the time they got out, they were actually crazy. Like it was contagious. Needy wonders if hearing voices is like an STD.
Some friend you are, Jen grumbles. I’m still stuck in Devil’s Asshole and you won’t even go somewhere cool? Are you really gonna leave me in that shitpit?
Needy wanders the back roads for a couple of weeks, darting back into the rundown little towns every once in a while when she needs to eat. But the truth is, bar nuts don’t have the same magical draw they once had.
Some diet, right? Jen would smile if she were here, but her voice would be sharp. Guess neither of us need the laxatives anymore.
In death as in life, Jen does not shut up.
It seems like she’s the loudest when Needy is trying to sleep. While Needy is trying to get comfortable on the mud-flecked grass off the main road, Jennifer pipes up like they’re at a sleepover. Wish we had some music. It’s so boring out here.
“Sorry I didn’t bring a six-disc on this road trip.” Needy says out loud.
But as much as she hates to admit it, Needy isn’t about to go back to that psych ward and take the pills like a good little girl. Even if she thought it would work, she wouldn’t. She’s not going to medicate her best friend’s voice away.
Eventually, Needy starts breaking into motels so she can sleep in an actual bed. The carpets usually stink of cigarette smoke, and the lampshades turn the whole room piss-yellow, but it’s better than waking up with bugs in her hair and tree roots digging into her back.
How much has gone down in these beds, do you think? Jen muses. She would wrinkle her nose at the crumpled pillows, the chipping faux-wood tables. Nasty. Her giggle slides down Needy’s brain stem. What are you trying to say, bringing me here? Don’t worry. I wouldn’t tell. Needy can almost feel Jen’s hands on her hips, her lips at her ear.
She doesn’t sleep very well that night either.
One day, she’s walking through a bigger town. It’s too big, if she’s honest with herself. She’s tried as much as she can to change her look since the night of Low Shoulder’s last show, even cut off her hair with a pair of scissors lifted from a Goodwill, but there’s only so much she can do for her face. The next town over should be better pickings. She ducked into the library during its peak hours, hoping not to be spotted, and checked on the slow-but-free internet. A little over 7000 residents. Bad for hiding, but good for staying out of the news.
As she’s heading for the library’s exit, Jen starts shrieking. Needy pitches forward, almost falling before she catches herself on a bookshelf. “Shut up, shut up.” She mutters.
You cannot go! Jen yells. Oh my god, are you blind? I know you are not this fucking stupid, Needy. Blues Clues the situation, now!
“What are you talking about?”
“Are you okay?”
Needy looks up, and one of the librarians, an older lady with a halo of dirty-blonde curls and a purple cardigan, is watching her. So much for keeping a low profile. Way to go, Britney Spears.
Ask her! Ask her ask her ASK HER!
“What?” Needy screams, unable to stop herself. “What the fuck do you want?”
The librarian blanches. “Young lady, I think you need to leave.”
“Yeah,” Needy says, pushing her out of the way. “I do.”
I can’t believe this, Jennifer fumes. You’re really gonna leave me to rot? Maybe you will too. We’re blood sisters, Needy, remember? Now more than ever. Maybe your eyeballs will sink in and your skin will mold like old cheese and-
Needy didn’t know ghosts could cry.
She keeps walking until her legs give out that night, in the middle of a soybean field. The plants are surprisingly soft. Maybe this would be better than those grungy motels. She takes a deep breath, smelling damp earth and chlorophyll and living things.
I tried so hard for you, Needy, don’t you get that? Jen whispers. You were always scared, but I was there for you. I got strong so I could stay with you. I didn’t want to leave you alone.
She goes quiet for a long minute. Needy’s head isn’t ringing from her shouts anymore, and the field is yoga-peaceful. The stars out here look the same as they did when she and Jen had snuck out to go to a party in seventh grade and then got lost in the woods. She would never admit it afterward, but when she realized they were lost, Jen started sobbing. Needy had felt like a knife was being stuck into her heart, cold and sharp. Her invincible best friend had crumpled, getting dirt on her bubblegum-pink cords, and shoved her face into her hands. “We’re gonna die out here! They’ll never even find us!”
Needy had crouched in front of her, taking Jen’s hands. “No, we are not.”
“We are!” Jen bawled. “My phone is almost dead, Needy, and I have no bars and we’re gonna friggin’ die! If we even find a road, we can’t hitchhike home. My mom told me what happens to girls who do that.” She swiped at her face, smearing eyeliner down her cheeks.
“I’m not going to let any of that happen.” Needy said firmly. “Would I lie to you?”
Jen’s tears reduced to sniffling, huffy breaths, the faucet turning off. “I mean....”
“Don’t be a psycho. Look at us!” Needy flung out her hands. “We flew the coop. We’re total badasses, and we’re going to get home and have an amazing story. No way Jake Henderson will ignore you once he hears about this.”
Jen rolled her watery eyes and smiled. “Fuck Jake Henderson.”
Now, lying in the soybean field, Needy’s chest hurts. She wonders if she can die of exposure now, or if that would fail too. It wouldn’t be so bad to die out here.
Don’t be so emo, Jen snaps. Her voice softens. It is kind of pretty, though.
Needy thinks that if Jen were still alive, this is the kind of night where things would be simple. Jen would laugh and throw an arm around her shoulder and say everything she wanted into Needy’s ear, her lips brushing Needy’s skin even when she didn’t need to whisper.
We could play boyfriend-girlfriend like we used to.
She goes back to the library the next night. The windows are old, and the locks are easy to jimmy—she could have done it even before. When her feet hit the floor with a dull thump, the greying, speckled carpet swallowing the sound, Needy whispers, “Okay. What now?”
Jen sighs. Nonfiction. Super dull. You can handle it, right?
Needy runs her fingers over the battered spines of the books, her fingertips alive with sensitivity. When she sees it, she knows.
The names that float over the pages are the same ones she saw when she had to find out what had happened to her best friend.
Stop calling me that, Needy.
She thinks it louder.
The Witch of Endor. Cornelius Agrippa. Thomas Aquinas. She even recognizes poor Meg Shelton, the woman whose neighbors put a boulder over her grave to keep her from rising again. She wonders what the Checks put on Jennifer’s grave. Probably something beautiful and completely untasteful. She wishes she had gotten to see it, but she wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral. Stabbing the guest of honor will do that.
Oh my god, this is taking forever. Can’t you go in the morning so I could at least people-watch? I bet the locals here are serving 19 Kids and Counting looks.
“Could you be quiet for even a second?” Needy hisses. It’s a relief to have no one around, to be able to respond to the voice the way she wants to. “I’m doing this for you, you know.”
Don’t make like it’s so selfless, girlfriend. But the voice is silent for almost an hour, and when Needy cracks the window again to leave, she thinks she feels a brush against her cheek. A kiss.
She keeps on like that for almost a month, a wild, extended study session. The historical accounts are so vague, studded with speculations of mental illness and legend. But slowly, a picture begins to form. Jen even starts helping her.
It wasn’t like that, you know, she says one day while Needy is curled up in the stacks, reading description after description of average, ordinary, everyday people returning from the dead. When I came back.
“I know it wasn’t.” She murmurs. The library hasn’t quite closed yet. She realized two towns back that it was a lot easier to come in about an hour before close and then stay after dark. The librarians never checked on top of the bookshelves. “I was there.”
No, you weren’t, Jen says. Not for the first part.
“Okay, okay.” Needy closes the book. “Tell me what happened.” And she means it. She isn’t just appeasing Jen, because she’s realized that she never found out exactly what happened that night after the Low Shoulder show. Her stomach flips with nerves.
Well, I didn’t run screaming into the streets; that’s for sure. I couldn’t even talk when I woke up. I think they slashed my throat. Her voice is shaky. Metal, right?
Needy’s fingers are trembling on the spine of the book. “That’s awful, Jen.”
Well, it let me stay the the supreme bitch queen of Devil’s Kettle. So they were totally justified in slicing and dicing me like a 4H pig, weren’t they?
She goes silent for a long time after that. I wish I’d been with you. When you got them. I want to know what Nikolai’s face tasted like.
“Probably like balls. Didn’t look like he moisturized.”
Jen gives a barking laugh. His stubble would have gotten stuck in my teeth. Epic flossing needed.
“But worth it." Needy murmurs.
She wonders sometimes if Jen can read her thoughts. All of them. On the nights when the voice is quiet, Needy thinks about what she said. Would there be a body to dig up when she got back to Devil’s Kettle? Or would it be flesh rotting off poking bones? Or worse, a pile of that spiny black tar? She can’t help but picture it as she walks back into Devil’s Kettle. The stars are winking into the velvety blackness that comes from podunk towns. There’s nothing to look at besides the images dancing behind her eyes.
She goes to the Check house first. As she creeps up to Jen’s first-floor bedroom, her skin prickles with deja vu. The night she killed her best friend, the bushes around the perimeter had scraped at her neck as though protecting the family. Now she stands again by the window. The light is off, but she can see the room still. Posters of pop-punk bands, lamps draped in glittering beads, the squashy floral chairs from when Jen was thirteen. And that massive four-poster bed. The only thing that’s changed is the duvet. They probably wanted one without bloodstains.
Needy sways, feeling her knees hit the soft mattress, hearing the wet shunk of a knife slamming home.
Head in the game, bitch. Don’t pussy out on me now. She isn’t sure if it’s Jen’s voice or her own.
She feels along the window for the place where she broke the lock last time. Sure enough, it’s still loose and wiggly. With one hard shove, the window opens. She crawls through and tumbles onto the floor, smacking her head against the hardwood. She tenses with the cold air caressing the back of her neck, waiting for running footsteps. None come.
Needy, seeing no reason to straighten, creeps along the floor, smelling lemon wood polish. As she approaches the bed, she wipes her sweaty palms on her jeans. The room is preserved as though the habitat of a rare creature expected to return at any minute, but the thought that one crucial thing might have been altered is almost enough to send Needy into a tailspin.
The cops hadn’t done much investigating that she remembered; after all, it was clear who had done the deed. She had been found pinning Jen to the bed with a knife in her hand, as guilty as Brad Nicholson had been when his girlfriend had found him fumbling for a condom on top of Jenny Burns. She prays they didn’t take any evidence.
Squinting her eyes, Needy gropes under the bed, flicking her fingers back and forth.
What are you, fingerblasting the bed skirt? Jennifer asks. You know where it is.
And she does. She’s been watching it fall in her mind’s eye for months. Needy reaches, her shoulder protesting, and metal links poke her fingertips. She gasps, pulls, and it’s there in her hand, flaking long-dried blood onto her palm. The rhinestone winks at her in the dark, the silver heart seeming as bright as the day she bought it.
Jennifer is silent. She stays silent as Needy stands and listens at the door, her pulse rushing in her ears. There’s a shifting noise in the kitchen, liquid pouring. The footsteps are light; it must be Jen’s mother. Pain throbs through Needy’s chest, remembering the shock in the woman’s eyes. For a moment, she had felt as surely as if it had been her own mind that she knew what Mrs. Check was thinking. Together, they saw Jen’s life flashing before their eyes—the life Jen and Needy had had together. The years of playdates, then sleepovers, then parties, all coming to a crashing end. Had this always been where it was going? Had Needy hung out in her living room, eaten her food, laughed at her husband’s bad jokes, and had this buried inside her?
The sounds of Mrs. Check migrate away from the hallway, towards the living room. Needy hears her click on the TV, turn the volume down. Slowly, silently, Needy turns the doorknob and slips into the hall, the thick pile of the carpet cushioning her footsteps. But she can’t resist the urge to look.
From the end of the hallway, she can see into the living room, where Jennifer’s mom is sitting facing away from her. As she watches, Mrs. Check salutes the TV with a glass of wine. She mutters something indistinguishable from the chatter of the news anchors. Needy isn’t sure if she even knows what she’s watching or if it’s no more than a blur of sound and color to fill her eyes, to keep the awful silence from pressing in on her eardrums.
For a moment, Needy thinks she might vomit. Then, on quiet cat feet, she turns and walks away. Bypassing the front door, she cracks the door to the garage, grabbing a shovel as she climbs out through one of the windows. She makes for the greenbelt that lines the road all the way to the Devil’s Kettle cemetery.
Branches crunch under her feet, but the rest of the night is still. Too cold for bugs or for people. Not so much as the hoots of a hunting party.
“Almost there, Jen.” She mutters. Still no response. Her stomach is twisting. Once more she’s back in that awful prom night, watching the bright power drain from Jen’s eyes as she yanks the necklace off her throat. Needy hadn’t stuck around to see what happened after she ran with the boxcutter, but from that second on, Jen’s eyes looked dead.
The walls of the cemetery loom out of the dimness. Needy closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, centering herself. She never thought she’d be basic enough for what amounted to meditation, but it had come in surprisingly handy.
All at once, her feet leave the ground. After she’d learned how to levitate while in the psych ward, Needy had understood why Jennifer seemed to like it so much. It was a combination of pure, exhilarating power and giddy fun. She overlooks the cemetery—so many graves looking like toys from this distance. The necklace is warming in her hand.
Needy swoops over the wall and starts prowling over it, vulture-like, looking for the right chunk of carrion. She never visited the Check family plot before. The only time it had been used was when Jennifer’s grandma had died their sophomore year. In a seeming fit of pique, Jennifer had refused to let Needy come to the funeral. Now that both of them are dead to their old lives, Needy thinks that she might understand.
It’s near the back, Jen says finally. My parents hated it. Shitty little corner.
Everything in the graveyard looks shabby in the night, but Needy has to admit that the leftmost corner of the cemetery is particularly grubby. Even the newest grave has lichen crawling on it already, the grass wilting and wet. An ostentatious marble angel stands over it, weeping white tears. She rests one stiff stone hand on the name Jennifer Alison Check.
Needy’s feet are touching the ground again now. The wet, mossy earth presses against her shoes. There’s a crack in one, she’s pretty sure, but between all the library trips, she hadn’t bothered to replace it. She is filled now with a wild urge to run from the cemetery and be in a bright, impersonal, nondescript shopping center, buying new sneakers. She wants it so badly she can almost smell the rubber and canvas.
You promised, Jen whispers.
Needy wraps her hands around the smooth wood handle and takes a deep breath. Then she raises the shovel and stabs it into the earth. It’s still frosty from the cold snap, hard and packed. Needy jerks at the shovel, sending dirt flying behind her. A few surface pebbles flick against her cheek, but she keeps going. The juddering impacts are numbing her chilly fingers and creeping up her forearms. She chops at the ground, breaking it up, before resuming her frenzied digging.
With each strike, the dirt crumbles. She half-kicks, half-throws it behind her, her shoulder muscles protesting as the hole grows deeper. It gapes at her feet like a great clay-filled mouth, the wriggling roots rotting teeth. It swallowed her best friend whole, and she will reach down its throat to get her back.
She thrusts the shovel once more into the ground—crack. Her palm is suddenly bleeding and speckled with splinters. She raises it and the handle of the shovel snaps completely, the metal clanging at her feet.
Needy balls her hands into fists and throws her head back, shrieking in frustration. The second the howl has left her, she claps a hand over her mouth. Over near the entrance, something rustles. A flashlight clicks on, and Needy dives down, presses her back against the chilly stone of Jennifer’s gravestone.
“Who is that? You can’t be in here!” A gruff male voice calls.
Needy closes her eyes, trying to slow her breath. Her stomach muscles are trembling from the effort of holding still. She could take this guy, easy. She could throw him clear across the cemetery, snap him over her knee like a switch. But grave-robbing one of the richest families in Devil’s Kettle will get enough investigation without a murder.
The flashlight bobs closer. She tucks her legs against her chest. If only Jen were here. She chokes back a laugh at the thought of it, of a zombified Jennifer rising from her grave to try and talk them both out of a scrape. She could have, too, Needy bets. Even falling to pieces.
“Whoever you are, get going!” The voice yells. “It’s a crime to break into a cemetery, you know.”
Needy bites her lip.
After an elastic stretch of minutes, the rustling noise recedes. “Damn kids.” The man mutters. “No respect.”
The second the gate swings shut, Needy is crawling forward, seizing the head of the shovel. She slides it under load after load of loose dirt, flinging it over her shoulder. Every second ticks in her mind, telling her that the man might be back soon, might throw her out and warn others to watch for her. Gritting her teeth, she throws aside the broken shovel and jumps into the hole, hands outstretched. She digs at clumps of clay, earthworms crawling over her knuckles. The dirt packs painfully under her fingernails. Need a mani after this, she thinks, cackling under her breath.
Her knuckles strike wood and she draws back, panting. Before she can let herself change her mind, she punches the coffin. Then again. Again. Her hands, numb with cold, are waking up again at the hot runnels of blood. She strikes one more time, and the wood cracks.
Needy digs her fingers into the crack and pulls, hard. It snaps like Nikolai’s ribcage had when she first hit him. Through the hole, ringed with a lace of splintery edges, she can see Jennifer’s face. She’s deathly pale, paler than Colin or the Dead Girls. Any one of them would have killed for the genuine pallor of a corpse. Needy yanks at the coffin lid, gasping, and wrenches it off.
Jennifer is pillowed on a frilly backdrop of ivory silk. Her hair is brushed and smooth, now speckled with dirt, but almost as shining as it had been in life. Her mom must have bought the outfit for the occasion, because Jen would never have worn the demure, high-collared dress the mortician put her in. But her face is the same. The sculpted eyebrows she was so proud of, the lips that quirked easily into a smile, the long nose she complained about until Needy told Jen how much she envied it. Needy can see the little girl and the crying thirteen-year-old and the self-assured teenager and the laughing demon. She can’t stop herself reaching to touch Jennifer’s face.
Her fingers brush the skin, and the mirage breaks. There’s a freckling of blood across Jen’s face where bugs have tried to lay their eggs over the high arches of her cheekbones. Her full lips are hypothermic blue. The skin is drawn tight around her sharp bones.
Before she can even think it, Jen breathes, Yes, I’m sure. Do it. Do it now.
So Needy kneels over her friend again, tucking one trembling hand under Jen’s neck. Her skin feels papery and fragile. She imagines that she can smell the cocktail of Jennifer’s hairspray, sweat, and perfume. With her free hand, she loops the necklace over her throat and clasps it. Then she sits back, letting Jen’s head fall against the cushion.
Needy squeezes her eyes shut. Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes-
Something brushes her raw knuckles. Needy’s eyes fly open.
Jen is squeezing her hand, her filmy eyes staring. “Missed me that much, huh?” She croaks.
“You fucking bitch!” Needy sobs, and flings her arms around Jennifer. She hauls her up, and Jennifer’s hands claw at the sides of the grave. Together, they clamber out of the hole and collapse on the wet grass.
As Needy watches, the cataracts seem to slide from Jennifer’s eyes, leaving them as coffee-dark as ever. The holes speckling her cheeks creep closed, leaving small, dark scars. Her body is heaving with effort, the healing not working quite like it did before. She clamps a hand under her left breast, gasping with pain.
“Jen,” Needy says, unable to hide the nervousness making her throat tight. “Are you-”
“What the fuck is this?” Jen rasps, grabbing her skirt. “Did they bury me in this? Thank god I’m dead, right? Or I would never hear the end of it.” She glances up. “Was it an open casket?”
“I-I didn’t go.” Needy manages. Her brain is lagging, skipping like a scratched CD. Jennifer is shaking her arms like they’ve fallen asleep. Jennifer is here, and the voice in her mind is quiet.
“You didn’t go to my fucking funeral?” She laughs.
“They wouldn’t let me in.” She replies, and a gust of laughter hits her chest like a punch. She’s giggling hysterically, leaning on Jen so she doesn’t fall in the grave.
“You should’ve snuck in.” Jen gasps. “Worn some stupid hat with a veil or-” The sentence cuts off as Jen lurches forward, retching. Greenish fluid jets from her mouth and splashes on the coffin, staining the lining. The smell of formaldehyde drifts up towards them.
“Hello?” The male voice shouts. “I’m gonna get you this time, goddamn-”
Needy doesn’t stick around to hear exactly what the grave-minder thinks of her. She grabs Jen’s arm and runs for the greenbelt, lungs burning with each breath. Even for her new, stronger self, this is too much exertion. Jen staggers beside her. “Needy, I can’t-” She hisses, and Needy tucks her arms under Jennifer’s rubbery knees and keeps going. She can’t enjoy Jen’s shocked expression, because her thigh muscles ache like they did after the high school finally got a real coach for PE. She runs until her toes strike a root, sending them both to the ground. They scramble to their feet, Jen's legs coming to life as she goes faster and faster, laughing giddily.
Needy leads her to the only place she can think of: the road out of town. As they walk, Jen guzzles water, crushing the plastic bottle, and scarfs down trail mix they nicked from an all-night convenience store. The streetlights are few and far between out here, and Needy’s night vision tints the bare asphalt a deep purple. The only sound is the scuffling of their shoes on the side of the road.
“It’s weird.” She’s mumbling. “Being in my body again.”
“How long did it feel like you were out?” Needy asks.
Jen shrugs. “Not sure. I felt kind of trashed, you know. But,” She hesitates, then plows forward. “It’s also weird because I wasn’t like this before. Like, after Low Shoulder.” She doesn’t have to explain. “I mean, sometimes I was here, but other times, I was kind of....off to the side.” Jen cocks her head, as though demonstrating how her soul slid to the periphery. “I don’t remember all of that either.”
Needy’s mouth goes dry. She wants to ask what she does remember, but she also isn’t sure she’s going to like the answer.
“I don’t remember seeing you when I got back from the concert.” Jen says. “I wasn’t shitting you about that; that whole night is blurry. I remember waking up with an epic sore throat. It was in and out after that.” She smirks, but it falls away too quickly.
“Do you remember when you died?” Needy asks, barely audible.
“In and out.” Jen throws a cashew at a squirrel sneaking onto the road. “Mostly I just remember your face. Like, how you looked at me. I remember thinking I’d never seen you that pissed. It looked good on you.”
Needy’s heart is thrumming wildly. It’s hitting her now, what she’s done. Jennifer is back, and she is awash in fear and euphoria and intense, painful relief.
Jen elbows her. “I remember you kissing me.” The words are an electric shock.
“I did not!” The air rushes out of Needy’s lungs. She can feel them hanging there, useless, empty bags in her chest. “You kissed me first.” The tacit admission of guilt is a misstep; she can feel herself stumble. The world is canting around this argument they never had a million times.
Jen points a finger gun at her and fires it. “You kissed me back. How long were you holding back on that one, Lesnicki?” She drags out the first syllable of Needy’s name like she did freshman year, before she realized what it would mean for her to point it out. Before she realized that she needed plausible deniability.
“It’s not my fault you were succubusing all over me. Why did you even start it?”
Jen’s eyes flash in that familiar way, like she’s about to dare Needy to steal a bottle of pricey nail polish or snag a drink from a guy obviously too old for either of them. “Maybe I know my fucking best friend. I knew you were too lasered on Chip-” She cuts herself off and wrangles the smirk back onto her lips. “And you were too chicken.”
For a second, Needy can’t do anything but splutter. “I brought you back from the dead! I am not chicken.”
Jen crosses her arms. “Well, you were then. You were totally Chick-Fil-A and I wanted to make you see it.”
“Because you’re so honest, right, Jen? You keep it real.” Needy can’t help but laugh. What did she even expect? That death would be some kind of freedom for Jennifer, some awakening? Everything else changed, why wouldn’t she think her best friend had? “Except for when you sucked Jake Henderson’s dick to get everybody to start talking about you. Or when you lied and said Mandy had chlamydia so you could be prom queen.”
“Oh, because you’re such a saint?” Jen mock-bows. Her jaw is twitching. “Congrats, Pussy Immaculata. I did that shit to protect us.”
“You’re always saying that.” Needy throws up her hands. “Protect us from what? From stupid football studs? You just want to make yourself the big, swinging dick.”
“If I’m so fucking annoying, why’d you even bring me back, huh?”
All Needy’s responses get stuck, aching in a bottleneck below her jaw. Because you’re my best friend. Lie. Because I killed you. Lie. Because I l-
Needy’s hand snakes out, yanks Jen closer by the collar of her ugly dress, and for the second time that night, Jen looks shocked. Neither of them have any excuse this time. Not Needy kissing her, hard, or Jen biting her lip or Needy grabbing a fistful of her hair. She gets it now. Even before everything, Jennifer could wrap boys around her little finger with just a kiss. Now, under blind stars, her feet planted firmly on the ground and Jen’s tongue caressing her lower lip, Needy gets it.
They break apart and stare at each other for a long moment. Needy can feel her pulse in every inch of her body. She starts giggling. Her head is clear. She can breathe again. Two sets of lungs now support the same creature. She grabs Jen and hugs her. She can’t remember the last time they hugged. “I missed you.”
“Missed you, too. Bitch.” Jen sniffs. She presses her face against Needy’s neck for a split second. Her lips are cold.
Needy shoves her shoulder. “Asshole. You could have said.”
“I did!” She laughs. “A million times.”
And Needy immediately wants to kiss her again. God, how did she ignore this? Every time Chip complained about Jennifer monopolizing her, every time she felt a glittering rush when Jen smiled at her, every time they walked arm in arm into a party, Needy had excused it. She was just so happy to live in the neon glow of her friend’s influence, so happy to have kept the relationship as summer-camp close as it ever was. And that was all. Wasn't it?
“You know, it is wild in your head, Needy.” Jennifer tosses her hair. “I never knew.”
“You want to see wild?” Needy holds out her hand. With a sly smile, Jen takes it.
As they approach the building, Jen slows, and Needy can feel Jen’s pulse rioting in her wrist. “Wait.” She says. “Wait, I saw this.” She stares at the peeling poster, Nikolai Wolf’s sewage stare immortalized on the side of the venue.
Needy squeezes her hand, remembering.
Jen is trembling, her eyes huge and black in her white face. Needy thinks she hears one of her knuckles crack in Jen’s grip. “Got what they deserved.” Jen mutters. “Fucking losers.”
“They were.” Needy agrees, one hand on her shoulder.
“Their music wasn’t even that good.” Jen manages. She turns to Needy. “Helluva rebirthday present, babe.” Then, quieter, “Thank you.”
In a rush of motion, she rips the poster down. Her hands blur as she shreds it, Nikolai’s face disappearing into a pile of white-edged shards. She lurches over to the side of the road and throws it into the ditch. Her chest is rising and falling fast, her hands twitching.
“You okay, Jen?” Needy asks softly.
“Blissed.” Jen nods. She turns on her heel, then, thinking better of it, whips back around to spit on the poster.
They wander down the road. The soybean fields look the same here as they have the whole time Needy’s been traveling. The night wind ruffles the leaves, brushing them against Needy's ankles. She trails off the road to lie down in the whispering. Jen crunches through the leaves and lies down beside her.
“Hey, Needy?” Jen asks. Her voice is small. Not the babyish thing she put on for Roman, but a midnight-secrets voice Needy has only heard a few times since they started high school.
“Yeah?” Needy turns her head. Jen’s profile is almost hidden by the soybeans, a shadow of her eyelashes and the tip of her nose showing against the stalks.
“What do you think I am now?” She raises her hands, black silhouettes against the gleaming stars. “I mean, I think whatever they did to me is gone. Whatever was in me.”
“I think,” Needy hesitates. She wondered about this during those weeks of creeping town to town. Would she even get her friend back, or just more of the demon? “I think you’re something like me now.”
Jen is silent for a while. Needy can feel her turning the idea over in her head. She can’t tell which version of her Jennifer is picturing: nerdy doormat Needy, hanging around her big bad best friend, or Needy with a switchblade, hiding in Low Shoulder’s green room. Or maybe Needy now, lying in a field somewhere in Minnesota, waiting.
“Okay.” Jen says finally, and takes her hand in the darkness.