It was the night of her birthday and Kingsley was having a fantastic time.
Her siblings had taken her out for the day, this being the first time in what seemed like ages since all of the O?Connors, in-lawed included, had been together in one place at the same time. First they had gone out to see a movie, some comedy that turned out to be much funnier with all of them making their own commentary, and then they ventured out to a fancy restaurant for dinner. They hadn?t stayed at the restaurant for long, of course, seeing as how the snobbish atmosphere didn?t quite take to the rowdy bunch of Irishfolk, so they headed to a nearby pub instead which turned out to be much more perfect for their tastes.
They had spent the entire night there, singing and laughing and having a good time. With nine O?Connors, it was no surprise that they knew how to party and even little Kingsley, who was now only seventeen, enjoyed herself immensely without even having a drink. There had been only one hiccup when Quillan, her older sister, got a phone call; something to do with her closest friend going into labor and asking for her to be there. Brandon, Quillan?s husband and Kingsley?s favored brother-in-law, convinced her to go support her and after a sincere apology to Kingsley, along with a promise to take her out shopping later that week, Quillan left to go to the hospital. Kingsley didn?t mind; she had gotten a day of shopping out of the deal.
After another hour or two, the O?Connors decided to head home. Kingsley was supposed to ride back to the house with her brother-in-law but after a great deal of coaxing, and a pointed look or two at Brandon, Fallon, her cousin, convinced the both of them that Kingsley should spend the night at her place. Kingsley couldn?t figure out why Fallon had been so determined to get her to stay with her but she figured that it had something to do with her birthday and so after giving each of her siblings a hug, and an especially long one to Brandon, Kingsley climbed into the car with her cousin.
She watched Brandon?s car pull out after them but she couldn?t figure out why he followed them after taking a turn in the opposite direction of the house. She was confused, also, when a second car pulled up fast behind him, seeming to have been cut off by him right at that turn. She tried not to sound too concerned when she pointed all of this out to Fallon, who instantly started watching her rearview mirror almost as much as the road, but as they watched the lights speeding up behind them, it was obvious that something was wrong.
The second, unknown car kept trying to pass Brandon but he managed to keep it at bay, swinging first one way and then the other, swerving to block any possible way through. The two girls didn?t know what to do and so they just kept on driving, trying to get to Fallon?s place as quickly as possible. But it didn?t happen quickly enough.
As the second car tried to again speed past Brandon, he cut his wheel too sharp and ended up clipping it with the nose of his car. The second car hit its brakes as it started to spin, the lights flashing as it went around until, as of a sudden, they were just gone. But Brandon?s car kept on spinning, his lights like a red and white strobe in the dark pitch of the night. Both of the girls gasped and Fallon slammed on her own brakes but there was nothing that either of them could do. They watched as Brandon?s car fishtailed off the side of the road before straightening out, just in time to slam, head-first, into the thick trunk of a tree.
The next thing Kingsley knew, she was sitting in a hospital waiting room, waiting to see if her brother-in-law was going to live.
All of the O?Connors had gathered there and Kilean, the second oldest, had gone off to the maternity ward to find his twin sister. Kingsley sat next to her own twin, Jamie, in a seat next to the TV, but its noise nothing but a distant hum to her as she stared off straight ahead, seeing nothing but a blur of what had happened not an hour before.
The elevator doors opened and Kingsley lifted her head. She saw the blonde streak of her sister as she bolted from between the barely open metal doors, Kilean trying to reach out after her but failing to grab before she was too far gone. Logan, however, the oldest of them all, managed to grab Quillan?s arm as she tried to pass him by and Kingsley watched as she sprung back toward him like a too-stretched bungee cord. She watched as her sister tried to struggle, squirming and flailing and quickly breaking down into a fit of hysterics. A string of curses screamed out between flashes of white hot tears but Logan just continued to hold onto her, standing like a statue of stone.
Finally after what seemed like hours even though it was only mere minutes, a man in a long white coat stepped out from a pair of swinging doors and moved over toward Quillan. Kingsley couldn?t hear what he had to say, even though Quillan had stopped thrashing and crying and moving all together to listen, but all she knew was that before he was even done talking, that thin strand that had been holding Quillan together broke and she crumpled toward the ground, becoming nothing more than a sobbing mess who?s own legs couldn?t seem to support her. Logan held her up, holding her tight to his chest as her once laughing face became something twisted, turning a horrific shade of red as the tears came crashing down, her body wracked with sobs. Kingsley knew she should get up and join the rest of her family, all of whom had moved to circle Quillan, but she couldn?t seem to move. Every inch of her had grown incredibly cold, so much so that she could feel her entire body going numb.
It was the night of her birthday and Kingsley?s brother-in-law had died.
Kingsley woke with a start, gasping for air and drenched in cold sweat. She found that she was freezing, her teeth beginning to chatter almost immediately and her fingers and toes were already numb. The Irish girl shivered as her breath came out in a tiny puff of white smoke and she looked down to find the figure of Toby beside her, an instant feeling of relief and comfort falling over her like the drape of a warm blanket. She could even feel the small trace of a smile dust across her lips.
She reached out a hand to touch him, he being in the rare position of lying down and not facing her and there was a wool blanket tugged up about his shoulders. But just as her hand came across that muscled mound, Toby turned. But this was not the Toby that she knew.
His eyes were of a devilish red and his mouth was carved into a snarling, lipless sneer. His teeth were tipped into points and his tongue, which had come out with a terrifying hiss, was cleft down the center into two. His hands, once callused yet gentle upon her, now appeared more as claws that came grasping at the much smaller girl as he lurched, grabbing and snaring and tearing clothing, hair and flesh as he forced himself atop of her, a scream caught in her throat.
Kingsley awoke with a gasp, that scream still strangling her as she struggled for breath. Sweat poured from her body and she was shaking where she laid, tangled up in both clothing and blankets, all damp and cold from her terrible nightmares. Her breathing was shattered, quivering and shaking as she fought to hold back the tears. It wasn?t until she felt the warm breath blowing against her ear and the reassuring strength of an arm wrapped around her waist that she realized that Toby was there, that he was actually there.
She had turned her head to look at him, frightened for only a moment that she?d again find that terrifying monster in his place, and this time she couldn?t hold back the tears. They were silent, though, and warm against chilled cheeks and she couldn?t resist lifting up a hand to touch very gently to one side of his face, tracing the curve of his cheek down to the hard line of his jaw all the way to the point of his chin.
No matter what had happened that day in the past, Toby had made it something that she could enjoy again. No matter what had happened between them today, she knew deep down in her heart what she felt. No matter what had gone unsaid, she knew what she had wanted to say, and Kingsley knew that she believed it.
She took in a deep breath and let it out slow, forcing all the shivering and quaking out of her body as she studied the face of the man sleeping beside her. She risked waking him and brought her mouth to his, letting the soothing warmth reawaken within her and rest calmly upon her nerves. In response, Toby made a low sound, his arm tightening around her middle and pulling her in close. Kingsley let him tug her in, curling into his arm and nestling her head down against his chest.
It was the night of her birthday and Kingsley fell back asleep wrapped up in Toby?s arms, comforted by his protective embrace and listening to the heartbeat of the man that she knew she loved.