The Devil's Reprise
“Get in here, bitch!” she yelled. “Stop being such a wallflower; you’re blending in with the hay.”
I rolled my eyes and shuffled my way through the crowd of people, most of them my friends, some of them just random dudes who had decided there was nothing better to do on a Saturday night in Ellensburg than crash a girl’s going away party. Oh well, there was a reason I was having the party in a barn anyway—less damage could be done by drunks, friends or not. Oh, and I could keep my dad and my brother, Eric, out of it.
I grudgingly walked out into the center of the circle, looking around at the sloppy grins and glazed eyes. Despite me yelling earlier about no smoking in the barn, a huge cloud of pot smoke rose from the back of the crowd, followed by a poorly hidden cough.
I was never very popular—in high school or out of high school. But ever since I came back from going on tour with the now-defunct Hybrid—ever since I recorded their crazy collapse for Creem—I’ve become something of a local celebrity.
Okay, that’s totally stretching the truth. I don’t really have more friends. I don’t get stopped on the street or anything. But I’m no longer boring Dawn Emerson, music freak and rodeo queen. I’m Dawn Emerson, the girl who survived a deal with the Devil. Not that anyone believes what I wrote in the article. They all think I was using metaphors.
And it wasn’t my deal with the Devil, either. Though sometimes, lately, it feels like it was.
Sometimes things seem a bit too good to be true.
“Thank you, everyone, for coming,” I said as Mel nudged me in the boob, hard. I glared at her and pushed my wavy red hair out of my face before smiling at everyone. “I don’t really know why we’re having a party since I’ll only be gone for three weeks, but—”
“Cuz maybe you’ll almost die again,” someone from the crowd yelled. My money was on the dude smoking pot.
Everyone laughed. I did, too. A fake laugh, but the more I’d tried to tell people how much of the article was true—that guitarist Sage Knightly had made that deal with a demon on the shores of Lake Shasta, that everything he was given was slowly taken away from him before he reached the age of twenty-eight, that people in his band actually died and Sage and I had almost followed that same fate—well, people tend to look at you like you’re crazy. The paranormal isn’t widely accepted, even though it was the ‘70s and I thought civilization was coming along in leaps and bounds.
“Well,” I went on, “we’re also here to celebrate the end of the Vietnam War!”
Even though we had a few soldiers among us in the barn, my words were met with greater applause. The damn war had just dragged on so long that, in the end, I didn’t know many of my friends who actually supported it. We just wanted it over with, and it finally, finally was.
The music went louder, CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising” filling up the space from hay to rafters along with resumed chatter and the crisp clack of beer cans opening. I was glad my horse, Moonglow, was out at pasture; otherwise she would have gone nuts.
“Geez, Dawn,” Mel said, giving me the stink eye. “You could at least act like you’re having fun.”
I looked down at her and patted her afro. Mel was a tiny little thing with a bubble butt and a bubble rack, complimented by her waist-high jean shorts and backless fringe top. As usual, I towered over her. It didn’t help that I was wearing platform shoes.
“I am having fun,” I told her, putting on a smile. “I’m just…” I looked around the barn at the couples making out on the hay bales, the doofuses doing keg stands in Moonglow’s stall. “No, I’m having fun. This is ace.”
She snorted and took a lengthy swig of her drink, the foam spilling onto her cocoa-colored chest. “Wanna lick that off?” she eyed me with a sly grin.
“Don’t tell me you’re getting all experimental on me,” I warned her, giving her a playful shove. “I’m sure you’ll find someone here to lick that off for you.”
“And what about you?” she asked, grabbing up a few strands of hay to wipe off the foam, while her eyes darted around the barn, looking for any eligible bachelors. “You finally gonna get laid or what? Perfect time, just before you go to Europe. No strings attached.”
I hated getting into this conversation with her. I’d been single ever since I came back from the tour last fall. I guess it was kind of weird; I mean, I was twenty-two and technically unattached. But…I was busy. Finishing my studies at the University of Central Washington and working as a part-time music journalist had taken up all of my time until now. I barely had time for a horse, let alone a boyfriend.
Not that I needed a boyfriend for a roll in the hay.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. Then, knowing she wouldn’t be satisfied with that, I added, “Maybe.”
“I think you’re going to change your mind by the end of the night.”
Now I snorted and folded my arms across my B-cups. With my freckles, red hair, and tall build, I wasn’t exactly Morgan Fairchild. Even if I weren’t so picky, it’s not like dudes were throwing themselves at me. “You sound oh-so-sure of yourself. I pretty much know everyone here and, sorry, not shagging anyone in this vicinity. Not tonight. Not ever.”
“Uh-huh,” she said in a strange tone, her eyes focusing on something across the room. I followed them.
And then the barn seemed to roll to a stop.
He was standing in the corner, drinking from a red plastic cup and laughing with some girl I went to high school with. Not the girl I’d caught him cheating on me with a year ago, thank God, but there he was. I hadn’t seen him once since we’d broken up.
And dammit if it still didn’t hurt somewhere deep inside. I was so over him, it wasn’t even funny. My heart was hung up on someone else. And yet, looking at him made me feel weird, torn in two. Part of me wanted to bury the hatchet and let bygones be bygones, but the other part was like, fuck that, you cheated on me, you asshole. Prepare to die.
“Why is he here?” I seethed under my breath, my eyes stuck on him. He looked good, which was kind of annoying. Tall, lean muscle clothed in fashionable denim bell-bottoms and a paisley shirt. His hair was shaggy but the kind of cut you knew took hours to blow-dry just right. He wasn’t the stoic, all-black-wearing, muss-up-your-hair-and-go type of man.
He wasn’t Sage Knightly.
But who was?
“I don’t know, don’t you dare think I invited him,” she said. “But every young adult in Ellensburg is here right now; it’s Popular City, Dawn. He’s probably visiting his folks and…oh shitballs, he’s seen us.”
She was right. Ryan was now staring at us—staring at me—with a charming grin on his face. I guess the combination of the leggy redhead and the curvy black chick was always noticeable no matter where we were.
“Aaand he’s coming over here,” Mel spoke with her mouth hidden by the beer. “Night, John-Boy!” And with that, she turned on her heel and scooted herself through the crowd, disappearing in seconds flat.
Fuck this. I smiled awkwardly now that I was in Ryan’s tractor beam. He was coming over, closer and closer.
Be strong, Dawn, I told myself. He’s no one. You’re someone. You’re Rusty.
“Hey, Dawn,” Ryan said as he approached, lowering his cup by his side, like he suddenly wanted to hide the fact that he was drinking. Or maybe he was planning on shaking my hand.
I firmly kept my arms folded across my chest and smiled as breezily as possible. “Ryan. Didn’t think…well, this is a surprise.”
He looked at the ground, kind of sheepish for a moment, and I was suddenly flooded with millions of memories. Most of them good. Ah, shit. Time to put down the beer.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to show up like this. I was visiting the ’rents and Steve, you remember Steve.” He jerked his head toward the back of the barn, where I’m sure Steve was. I didn’t need to look to remember Ryan’s idiotic best friend. “Anyway, Steve heard from someone about your party, and he said we should go check it out, and I figured you wouldn’t mind. Do you mind?”
I sucked at my teeth for a moment, thinking it over. I did mind. But if I minded, he’d think I still cared. So I just shrugged. “It’s cool. Everyone’s here anyway.”
He scratched behind his neck while shooting me a shy glance. “Well, thanks for letting me stay. You know, you and I haven’t really, uh, talked in a long time.”
I swallowed slowly. And whose fault was that?
“No, we haven’t.” I stared him down.
He rubbed his hand along his jaw and looked over my shoulder at the open barn doors.
“Want to go for a walk?”
No. Not really.
But he reached out and touched my elbow with his fingers, pointing me in the right direction, and I found myself walking beside him. Even in my platforms, he was about the same height, and as we passed through the barn, our bell-bottoms swishing against each other, I knew we looked good together. We always we did. Tall, athletic, wholesome—Ryan and Dawn.
But I certainly didn’t feel wholesome. And as we walked out of the barn and into the night air, Ryan walked closer and closer beside me with a swagger that suggested brand-new sexual confidence. He certainly wasn’t wholesome either.
“I sure do miss this place,” he said, nodding at the horizon. The sun had set, leaving purple and periwinkle clouds to settle on the rolling hills that bordered the valley. Moonglow was off in the distance, a hazy figure against the desaturated fields and far-away farmhouses. It was already stinking hot here during the day thanks to Ellensburg’s dry, desert-like climate, but the evenings were still cool and fresh, smelling like new hay and night-blooming flowers.
“Yeah, I’d miss this place, too,” I said. “I guess Seattle is quite the change.”
We walked for a bit, stopping along the fence with its broken boards. My dad had been sober for nearly ten months now, which was great, beyond great, but it didn’t mean the repairs around the farm were getting done any faster. Usually it was up to me to take control. But at this point in my life, I was used to it.
“Seattle’s nice,” Ryan said, leaning on the post and gazing into the distance. A breeze ruffled his hair, and I was struck by how handsome he still was. Sometimes ugly deeds don’t make someone ugly. “But it’s cold and wet and the chicks are uptight.”
I couldn’t help but smile and leaned on the railing beside him. “Chicks aren’t much different here, you know that.”
“You’re not uptight,” he said, bringing his eyes to mine. “You’ve changed. A lot.”
I cleared my throat and looked down at the grass, which was becoming more grey and grainy as the light disappeared from the sky. “How so?”
There was a pause before he said, “You’re more confident. You walk tall.”
“I am tall.”