“Get your adorable butt up here,” Asher called out from the upper deck.
The girls and I giggled, Marcy making kissy faces at me as I left them down in the lounge of my father’s luxury yacht. They could try to hide it, but I knew they were all jealous of the gorgeous guy calling me. My Asher.
After a year and a half together, seeing his gorgeous face still makes my lip quiver. Asher Dunkin is easily the most attractive guy to ever walk the planet Earth. He’s tall, with just enough muscle to look strong, but not like an overly gym-obsessed goon. His tan skin looks even more golden against the color of his teal button-up that he wore tucked into his tan Docker shorts. “Have I told you how much I love this outfit on you?” I asked playfully, winking at him as I met him by the railing. I looked out at the beautiful, crystal clear waters that surrounded us on every side, the shoreline just barely visible off of the starboard side, and marveled at the natural beauty of the sea.
“Only every single time I’ve worn it since you bought it for me.” He smiled at me as he pulled me by the hand to stand in front of him. I giggled when he put his hands on my hips, kissing the back of my head and then leaning his head against mine.
“Get a room!” Frank yelled jokingly from the lounge, and Asher turned quickly to flip him the bird with a laugh.
“Not an option,” Marcus, our captain for the day, called from his spot in front of the controls, reminding us all nonchalantly that we were not technically alone.
I spun around, leaning my back against the railing, and pulled Asher by the collar back over to me. I hate when he lets his attention get drawn away from me, especially by someone like Frank. Everyone but Marcy knows that the only reason he hangs around is because he’s had a thing for me since we were pretty much in diapers. Looking back down their way, Eve and I shared an eye roll as Marcy stood up and came to sit in front of Frank, blocking me from his view with her body in the yellow bikini I shouldn’t have lied and told her looked good.
Asher reached out and held my chin, rubbing his thumb over the small cleft there. “I love you, Serena,” he told me with a big white smile, his aqua eyes seeming to reflect the color of the water around us. Then he leaned down and pressed his full pink lips to mine, smiling against them as our friends began hooting and hollering.
“I love you, too,” I grinned at him, fixing my smeared cherry lip gloss.
“Let me go get you a drink, beautiful,” he said, pinching my cheek and heading down the stairs.
I stole a glance up at Marcus and smiled to myself when I saw that he was just sitting in his chair in front of the controls, playing on his phone. I always specifically requested Marcus as our chaperone because I knew he didn’t actually give a crap about what we did. He just navigated and keept us out of trouble without being overbearing like my parents would be if they were here. They would never let me get away with having this many people, or the beers that we have hidden down at the bar on their boat. They especially wouldn’t approve of Asher being here.
Although Asher is drop dead gorgeous, and as sweet as a freaking puppy, he doesn’t exactly come from the same kind of background as me and my other friends. My father owns multiple electronic companies and he’s done pretty well for himself, to put it lightly. Honestly, he probably does actually have money coming out of his ass. He makes sure to send me to the best schools and summer camps, keeping me away from the riff-raff, he says. That didn’t stop me from meeting Asher at a concert in the city on New Year’s back home in California. It was pretty much love at first sight for me, but I only became more and more into him the more I got to know him. We keep our relationship a secret from my parents because if they ever found out that I’m in love with a poor kid, they’d send me away for mental help for sure.
I love him, though. I couldn’t care less what my parents or even some of my friends had to say about it. Asher is sweet, charming, funny, and everything else I want in a guy. He’s it.
I looked up at the cloudless blue sky and smiled as the sun warmed my skin. The Bahamas were gorgeous this time of year. Marcy, Eve, Pearl, and Court came with me and my family to stay at our vacation house, and Asher tagged along with Dylan and Frank with their parents. The whole summer has been a dream, having all my friends here. Today was the last hurrah. Our flight back home to the states would be bright and early, and I just wanted to soak this up as much as I could before we left.
I reached up and pulled my long blonde hair out of my clip and let my loose, beachy curls fall free, the wind whipping it around me. “God, I am so lucky,” Asher whispered into my ear as he passed a cup to me, blocking me with his body from Marcus so I could take a big swig of the beer.
“Yeah, you are,” I joked, running my hand down his strong jaw. “I don’t want to go home.” I admitted. and Asher kissed my forehead, looking out over me at the horizon.
“To your mansion in Beverly Hills?” he said. “How awful for you.”
I frowned into my cup. “Don’t be like that,” I scolded him, swatting his chest with my hand. “I don’t want to have this fight again.”
“I’m sorry, babe, it just sucks,” he mumbled. “When I get home, I have to go back to my tiny apartment with the even tinier bedroom I get to share with a snotty seven-year-old.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “Your brother is not snotty, he’s adorable.”
“Easy to say when you don’t have to live with him,” he quipped.
“Whatever,” I shrugged my shoulders, turning to pull him down to kiss me. “I’m sorry,” I told him, leaning my head against his. “I’m glad you got to come with us this summer. It’s been the best summer of my life.”
He gave me his movie star smile. “Mine too.”
He may be poor right now, but with a face like his, there was no way he wouldn’t succeed in the future. I mean, he could be a model, or an actor, or anything really, with a face like his.
I turned my head to the side in time to see all of my friends coming up to join us on the deck, Frank holding a speaker up over his head, the music bumping loudly. “Let’s dance!” he shouted, and we all cheered, swaying our bodies to the rhythm.
After a few hours of more dancing, laughing, and a little drinking, we were living up our last day to the fullest. I couldn’t keep my hands off of Asher and he told me how perfect he thought I was about fifty more times before the sun slowly started to set. A slow song came on and we all coupled up, Eve and Court settling for each other when all the boys were taken.
Asher pulled me into his chest and pressed his hands to the small of my back, holding me closely to him as we swayed back and forth to the music. The salty air whipping around us in the constant ocean breeze was almost as intoxicating as his touch. Leave it to Frank, though, to ruin the mood.
“Countdown!” he hollered, breaking up all the couples and clearly dissing Marcy at the same time. We all turned to face the horizon, watching the giant orange sun dip closer and closer to the water. “Ten- Nine- Eight…” we chanted together, all feeling the buzz and the urgency of our summer coming to an end. “Two-One!” We clapped and cheered as the sun finally hit the water, the tradition we’d started the first day we got here, coming to an end.
But our happy moment was short lived.
Out of nowhere, a loud crackle of thunder assaulted our ears, making all the girls scream. I knew something was wrong instantly. I’ve been out on boats since I was a little kid, and I know that storms don’t just appear like this. The sky above us began to turn dark grey, angry clouds seeming to form out of nothing and swirling over our heads, and the wind was blowing so hard that it made a screeching sound as it wrapped around the sides of the boat. Giant waves began to crash into the side of the yacht, making even a seasoned boat-goer like me begin to doubt the strength of my sea legs.
My heart rate quickened, my green eyes bulging as four bolts of lightning shot down from the sky and hit the water all around us. “Get below deck, now!” Marcus screamed, his own expression echoing the fear that I saw on all of my friends’ faces, too. I turned to my left to look up at Asher, right as rain began to pelt us from the clouds above.
“What’s going on?!” I screamed over the noise, and he looked down at me in bewilderment, the rain making his light brown hair look black.
“I don’t know!” he shouted. “Come on.” He pulled me down to the stairs behind all of our friends who were already panting and shivering down in the lounge. I was staggering behind him when suddenly, another huge wave came, rocking the boat so hard I was afraid it might actually tip us over, the motion making my stomach flip. The wave threw my balance off so badly that when the boat leveled back out, I was leaning too far the opposite direction and I screamed, grasping at the air as I fell over the side of the railings, hitting the water hard. “Serena!” Asher screamed, leaning over the rail.
I tried to tread water, but the waves were insane, seeming to come from every direction and at a constant pace, crashing into me with enormous force. “Help!” I screamed, water smashing me in the face and burning my eyes. My head was above water long enough to see Asher jumping in after me, but then another wave swarmed me, pulling me down.
My lungs hurt from all of the water I was swallowing, my eyes and throat on fire. As good of a swimmer as I am, I felt completely helpless as I kept getting pulled further and further out into the open waters, the waves making it impossible for me to get to the surface. I barrel-rolled, my white cotton dress getting tangled around me.
Out of nowhere, the waves began to slow, the water going still. I threw my arms out, pushing up to swim as hard as I could, but I was yanked back down. In shock, I turned my head back, panicking as my air supply was running out, to see my dress was wedged between two big stones. I turned and tried to pull it free, but I was out of energy.
Realization hit me hard and fast.
I was dying. Right here, right now. Seventeen short years was all that I was allowed on this Earth. Had I not been surrounded by water, I feel like tears probably would have been coming out of my eyes. I struggled still, but my mind had already come to the conclusion that it was a hopeless effort.
I saw something in the corner of my vision, and I turned my body, expecting to see Asher, coming to my rescue, but instead, what I did see made me scream, only quickening the water flow into my already-bulging lungs. Swimming slowly towards me was some kind of…monster. It had an upper body like a human, but the lower half was…something else. It had black scaly patches and its face was drooping unnaturally, wild black hair fanning out around its head. I didn’t think it could get worse until the thing smiled at me, exposing its sharp little daggers for teeth, and right before my eyes closed and I finally gave into the pain, I watched as it lifted a webbed hand and waved.
That was the day I died. The day my perfect life was shattered.
Now? Now, I steal souls for a living.