I crept up the stairs, desperately trying to remember if there were any squeaky boards.

“I’m home,” I said from my bedroom door.

The TV muted. “You’re early. How was the party?” Mom’s voice came from their room.

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“Fine, but I’m pooped. Can we talk about it in the morning?” I held my breath as I waited for her to answer.

There was whispering back and forth as they debated. “Okay. Get some rest,” Mom said finally.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the TV’s sound came back on. I threw my belt and shoes in the closet. In the light I could see the blood staining my gloves. I chucked them in my trash.

What was I going to do now? I couldn’t lift my arm up to take off my dress.

Oh well. It was a nice dress while it lasted. I grabbed a pair of scissors from my desk. There was a soft knock on the door. I had a moment of panic before Axel opened it.

“Get in here, and help me,” I said.

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He closed the door and dumped the first aid stuff on my bed. I handed him the scissors. “You’re going to have to cut the dress off me.”

I could feel his breath on my back. He was investigating my cut without touching it himself.

He sighed. “This looks really bad, Tess. You need stitches.”

“Don’t say stitches. That involves needles and I don’t do needles.” The thought of them made me queasy. “It doesn’t even really hurt. A few butterfly bandages will do. Just cut the strap and move the material away from it. Then pour a bunch of peroxide on it until it stops fizzing.”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’ll do it. But Mom’s going to find out in the morning and she’s going to say you need—”

“Don’t you dare say the ‘s’ word again. I really don’t need them. I’ve had cuts worse than this.”

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“No. You haven’t,” he muttered. The scissors sliced through my strap. “Stay still. This is probably gonna burn like a motherfucker.”

He poured it down my shoulder, and tears filled my eyes. “Shit. Blow on it or something.”

“Seriously? I don’t want to get that close to it. It’s bubbling up like crazy.”

“I don’t care what you do. Just do something!” I dug my fingernails into my hands to take my mind off of it.

“Okay. Okay. Hang on.” He grabbed a book off my shelf and started fanning it.

It totally wasn’t helping. “The peroxide was a bad idea.”

“You know what a good idea is? The emergency room. In fact, it’s a fantastic idea.”

I rolled my eyes. “That’ll take hours. No way. I already said it twice, but I’ll say it again. I don’t need stitches. You can’t make me get them.”

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“Fine. But you’re just being a stubborn baby.” He poured more peroxide on it.

“Fuck! That burns,” I said when I could get air enough to talk again.

“See. You’re such a baby.” Axel started digging through the clear plastic bin that had all the first aid supplies in it. He came back with a tube of antibiotic ointment.

“Don’t use your finger.”

He showed me the Q-tip in his hand. “Please. I want to touch that as much as you want me to.” He rubbed it on and put an extra-large bandage over the cuts. “So you going to tell me whose ass I need to kick?”

Nope. Not a chance in hell. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It definitely matters. No one hurts my sister and gets away with it.”

I wanted to cry and scream and hit something, but none of that would help me right now. “Can we talk about it tomorrow? Please. I’m hurting and tired and sad. Really, really sad.”

He stood there, staring at me for a while. “Okay,” he said finally. “We’ll talk tomorrow.” He handed me an ice pack.

“Thanks,” I whispered.

“Take care of your lip. Okay?”

I nodded.

When he left, I grabbed the scissors again, and cut down the front of my dress. It was one of the only dresses I actually liked. It was a damn shame to have to destroy it completely. Once it was off, I studied the material and saw four inch-long rips where my left shoulder blade was.

How did Dastien manage to do that with his bare hands?

I snorted. It didn’t matter how he’d done it, but it sure sucked that he had.

I threw it in the trash and grabbed a giant sleep shirt, slowly easing my arm into it. As I put peroxide and ointment on my bottom lip, my mind drifted back to Dastien. Something was off about him. Okay, so maybe the biting and scratching thing was it, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t get any visions when we kissed. And that connection. Intense didn’t even begin to cover it.

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