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Scarlet left my room later that night. It wasn’t terribly late and I was still wide awake, the usual meds not doing much for me to pass out. 

She gave me a cute little smile and a wave before pushing herself out of my window out into the chill night. I decided to read a book or something. Something to help me wind down and maybe fall asleep naturally.

I got up to find my phone. Usually it was in my pocket but it wasn’t now and I grabbed my bag to search around. Not there, either. Frustrated, I started pulling the sheets off the bed but they were empty. It wasn’t on the floor around my bed, either. Where was the last place I had it?

Oh shit, I’d left it in Lee’s room, charging at her outlet. It was too late for me to go back over there. She was a night owl, but we had school tomorrow so she’d probably be getting in bed soon.

With a sigh, I flopped back onto my black comforter, staring at my ceiling. Without a phone I felt naked. After a while, I forced myself back up and got the laptop and started going through photos again, knowing the dangers of getting too sucked into the editing process. My eyes were more tired than my body, and my body more tired than my brain, which was still stuck in the interrogation room. I knew too much to be innocent but too little to be truly guilty, right? I hadn’t done anything a decent person wouldn’t’ve done in my situation.

I clicked through some photos of Lady Arachne, trying to spot any impurities that needed to be addressed. But her succulent cactus flesh was smooth, taught and perfectly blackish. Her thorns were spiny eight-pointed bursts that looked like spiders. Only one of the clusters was missing a leg, and I opened the free ripoff of photoshop to find one that could replace it. Sierra was quite proud of her photo editing skills, so I didn’t usually talk too much about this part of my skill set, but it was there. Sierra was also a lot better at fabricating things from nothing while I was much more apt to do things like, copy one of a cacti’s spines from one part and paste it into another part, scaled and rotated so it looked natural, but covered up an imperfection.

This was what I was in the process of doing when there werewas a few quiet taps at the window.

I got up, eager to get a hug from Scarlet but stopped as I started to open the window.

It wasn’t Scarlet, but Lee. She held up my phone explanatorily. I pushed the window open and held my hand out.

“Thanks, it could’ve waited.”

Lee shrugged, gave me the phone and then put her hands on the window frame. “What are you–?” but I stopped because she was already halfway in and her center of balance tipped and her entire self slid into my room with barely any noise.

“Uhm, okay,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” she told me. “Sometimes I get really caught up in myself and I wanted to make sure it was okay for me to ask about… stuff with Scarlet around. I know its, like, a weird thing for you–”

I put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay,” I reassured her.

She had removed the day's makeup and was mostly ready for bed, even in sweatpants and her hair had been combed out of its styling.

“Are you sure, Lexi? I did kinda wanna ask without your girlfriend around… she’s very sweet but I don’t understand much of how you two met or ended up together or even what she's like when I’m not around, you know. I just really want to make sure you’re okay and everything.”

I sighed. We had just talked about this and it was late.

“I know you just care about me Lee but… I’ll be okay. You know, things aren’t all sunshine and daisies but it’s not sulfur and brimstone either. I have a girlfriend who I love very much, and a brother that cares about me and a mom.” I pulled at a bit of my bangs and twirled it between my fingers. “And… I have a best friend that cares about me enough to trek over to my house and return my phone to me at two in the morning.”

Lee shrugged. “I just… I can see you’re struggling and I know that Scarlet has drank your blood. She’s had mine too and I remember how tired I felt the next day. Not to mention, you don’t know if vampirism is spread through the bite like it is in fiction.” 

“It’s not that simple,” I told her.

“Did you ask?” she pointed out.

“No… but she would have said something if it was dangerous, you know.”

“Does she know?” Lee sat on my bed, evidently not going anywhere.

Lee,” I almost snapped at her, and then lowered my voice so Mike could keep sleeping peacefully. “Now’s not the time for this conversation.”

“But she’s always with you,” Lee gestured to my room, which was currently empty. “I thought she’d be here with you tonight.” Her hand dropped back down to her lap. “I just… feel like you can’t be straight with me about everything.”

An easy breath later, I sat next to her and put my hand on hers. “I appreciate you want to protect me,” I told her. “But it’s not my place to talk about other people’s secrets.”

She nodded, looking sad, then turned to pull me into a hug. “You know I’m here for you if you need somebody to hit someone over the head with a frying pan right?”

“Of course, and the same goes for me, too.” I presented her with my pinky which she hooked with hers without question.

And then she leaned her head against my shoulder, looking exhausted. “Do you know… about Josh?” she asked.

“I know he got attacked by somebody, and the police naturally are looking into our group in depth since we haven’t exactly gotten along with him in the past.”

She nodded. “Do you think it was Scarlet, though?” she asked.

A pit fell in my stomach as my skin prickled with that familiar pre-panic feeling. “I-I couldn’t say either way.”

“I’m probably not supposed to tell you this, but I overheard the detectives talking when they questioned me. They were talking about what kind of person's teeth would match the bite Josh had. And they were asking some expert if they looked human at all.”

Lee did know a lot more than she was letting on, then. My stomach roiled and I shifted to pull a blanket over my shoulders as the chill set in. In doing so, I disrupted Lee and she picked her head up to examine my expression.

“It’s gonna be okay,” I told her. “I don’t know anything for sure, Lee. And I don't want to know for the sake of the police not being able to get anything out of me. But you know if she did go after him… I don’t know if I entirely blame her. It wasn’t a good thing,” I rambled. “But… if someone has to be attacked…”

I shook my head.  It wasn’t okay and I didn’t really know what I was saying.

A few soft taps at the window drew our attention. The pink eyes shined on the other side, flashing in my bedroom’s light. I got up in a hurry and forced the window open so Scarlet could climb in, much more graceful than Lee had.

Scarlet looked at Lee, confused, and then to me. 

“She was just dropping off my phone,” I explained to her. I looked back at Lee. “You should get home.”

“Yeah,” Lee agreed and got off my bed. “Get some sleep, Lexi.”

She started to go for the window and Scarlet scampered out of her way and then jumped onto the bed, folding her legs underneath her.

In the midst of this there was a knock at the door. Scarlett snapped her gaze to stare at it and Lexi started to haul herself out of my window.

“Lexi?” Mike's voice asked from the other side.

“Uhhh…” I panicked. Not only was I awake past my poorly enforced bedtime, but Lee was currently trying to figure out her center of gravity as she teetered on the window with a pained expression.

Scarlet, at least, bolted into my closet and silently pulled the door shut behind her.

“Lexi,” this time Mike's voice was stern as he realized something was up and the door knob turned.

“Shit,” Lee breathed as her legs kicked in an attempt to scoot her weight forward just a bit more to get out

But it was too late.

Mike opened the door and saw Lee’s lower half still stuck in the window as she went limp. He folded his arms angrily.

I tried to look innocent as he glared at me.

“Do you need a push?” he asked Lee.

But she finally got her waist over the frame and the rest of her quickly followed as she fell in a heap outside.

“I’m okay,” she said.

“Go home,” Mike told her, very obviously annoyed. “Lexi and I need to have a talk.”

Lee went quiet, realizing she may have just gotten me in trouble.

But I knew better. Lee wasn’t at fault here. This was all me.

I put a hand to my forehead where my brain was trying very hard to come up with a plausible story for all of this, but it was way too much for anything to make sense.

Lee gave me a pitying wave goodbye and set off back toward her house.

I turned to Mike, who still had that disappointed scowl on his face. And then he came over to pull my window shut and locked it.

“Come on,” he told me and walked back out to the living room.

I took my last breath as a free, ungrounded teenager and set off after him. I spared just a quick glance toward my closet, but Scarlet was well hidden in there.

Hopefully, she wasn’t too scared.

24