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Authors: R.L. Stine

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chapter seventeen
TROUBLE AT ARI'S HOUSE

DESTINY FELT SWEAT RUN DOWN HER FOREHEAD
.
Her nightshirt clung wetly to her back.

She blinked, reached a hand to her throat, and smoothed two fingers across it.

No wound.

She blinked some more, realizing she was gazing into bright sunlight. From the bedroom window.

She jerked herself upright, breathing hard. A dream? Yes.

It had been a dream—all of it. I didn't walk home last night, she remembered. Fletch Green gave me a ride.

But the feeling of walking home through the park…the sparkling fireflies…her sister stepping out of the darkness…transforming into the gigantic hawk…All so real.

So real she thought she could still feel those bonelike
claws wrapped tightly around her waist. She could still feel the suffocating rush of wind as the giant bird carried her into the sky.

Could still feel Livvy's fangs…

Does my twin sister really have fangs
?

A soft cry escaped Destiny's throat. Yes, it was a dream. But the rest of my life is real…and it's a nightmare.

“Dee! Dee!” She heard Mikey calling from downstairs. She jumped out of bed, gazing at the clock radio on her bedtable.

Oh, no. Late. I have to give Mikey breakfast and get him off to day camp. She brushed her teeth, pushed back her hair with her hands, and went running down to the kitchen in her nightshirt.

“Where's Dad?” she asked Mikey.

He was dressed in denim shorts that came down past his knees and a blue-and-red Camp Redhawk T-shirt about five sizes too big for him. He gripped a stuffed lion in one hand. He'd had it since he was a baby. These days it looked more like a washcloth than a lion.

He shrugged. “Work. He woke me up. Then he left. I'm hungry. And so is Lester.” He waved Lester the Lion in Destiny's face.

She popped two frozen waffles into the toaster. “We're a little late. You'll have to eat your waffles fast.”

“Take the crust off,” he said, sitting down at the table, plopping Lester in front of him.

Destiny turned to him. “Crust on waffles?”

“Yeah. Take off the crust.”

He had become the fussiest eater. He suddenly had rules for everything. And he found something wrong with everything put in front of him. A few nights ago, he had even refused to eat the french fries at Burger King because they were “too curled up.”

She poured him a glass of orange juice and handed it to him. “No pulp,” she said before he could ask.

He tasted it gingerly, a tiny sip. “Too cold.”

“What are you doing at day camp today?” she asked, brushing back his thick mop of hair with one hand.

“I'm not going to day camp,” Mikey replied. He pounded Lester on the tabletop for emphasis.

“You have to go,” Destiny said, lifting the waffles from the toaster. “Ow. Hot. There's no one here to take care of you.”

“You can take care of me,” he said.

“No, I can't, Mikey. You know that I'm starting my summer job today, remember?”

“Well, I can't go to camp. Hey—you forgot to cut off the crusts. And I don't want butter. I want syrup.”

Destiny took the plate back and carefully pulled the edges off the waffles. “And why can't you go to camp?”

“Because they're showing a movie at the theater.” He took another swallow of orange juice.

“You like movies,” Destiny said, handing the plate back to him. “So what's the problem?”

“It…it's cold and creepy in the theater,” he replied. “There might be vampires in there.”

 

Destiny stopped in front of the diner and checked her hair and lipstick in her reflection in the front window. The name
FOUR CORNERS DINER
was painted in fancy gold script across the wide window.

Destiny chuckled. It seemed an odd name for the little restaurant since it was located in the middle of the block. Surrounding it on both sides were small, two-story brick and shingle buildings that contained clothing stores, a bank, a CD store—shops that catered to Community College students.

She turned and glanced at the campus. Four square, granite buildings around a narrow rectangle of patchy grass and trees. Not the most beautiful campus in the world.

Destiny let out a sigh. I made the right decision, she told herself. I couldn't go away to college and leave Dad and Mikey now. I'll go to the Community College for a year or two. When things are more in control at home, I can transfer to a better school.

When things are more in control
…

She turned and hurried into the diner. The smell of fried grease greeted her. Bright lights made the long lunch counter glow. A ceiling fan squeaked as it slowly turned.

Destiny counted three people seated at one end of the counter. Two guys about her age and an older woman. The four booths in back were empty. Mr. Georgio, the owner,
stood behind the counter, setting down plates of hamburgers and french fries for the three customers.

“Mr. Georgio, sorry I'm a little late,” Destiny said, glancing up at the round Coca-Cola clock above the coat rack in the corner. “I had trouble getting my brother off to day camp.”

“Call me Mr. G., remember?” he said, setting plastic ketchup and mustard dispensers in front of the customers. He walked over to her, wiping sweat off his bald head with a paper napkin.

He was a thin, little man of forty or forty-five. The white apron he wore over black slacks and a white sport shirt hung nearly to the floor. He had big, brown eyes, a thick, brown mustache under his bulby nose, and a split between his front teeth that showed when he smiled.

“Late? No problem,” he said. “We're not exactly packing them in today.” He motioned with his head to the three customers.

“Summer is slow,” he said, wiping a grease spot on the yellow counter. “Most of the students aren't here. There are only a few classes. My business is students. Breakfast and lunch. You'll have a nice, quiet time, Ms. Weller. You can read a book or something.”

“Please, call me Dee. Remember?” Destiny said.

He smiled. “Okay, you're Dee and I'm G.”

“Could we have more Cokes?” a guy at the end of the counter called, holding up his glass.

“Take care of them,” Mr. G. told her, pulling off his apron. “And clean things up a bit, okay? I've got to go out.”
He pointed to the kitchen window behind the counter. “You remember Nate? The fry cook? He's back there somewhere. Probably sneaking a smoke. He's a lazy goof-off. But if you have any questions, he'll help you out.”

Destiny had worked some weekends at the diner, so she already knew her way around. She waved to Nate through the window, carried three glasses to the soda dispenser, and filled them with Coke.

The bell over the door clanged as two more customers came in. Destiny didn't recognize them at first because of the white sunlight pouring in through the front window. But as they settled into the first booth behind the counter, she saw that she knew them. Rachel Seeger and Bonnie Franz, two girls from her class.

Destiny picked up two menus and carried them over to the booth. Her two friends were talking heatedly, giggling and gesturing with their hands. But they stopped their conversation when they recognized Destiny.

Rachel's cheeks blushed bright pink. She had light blond hair and really fair skin and was an easy blusher, Destiny remembered. “Hey, Dee. What's up?” she asked.

“You waitressing here?” Bonnie asked.

Destiny laughed. “No. Just holding menus. It's like a hobby of mine.”

The girls laughed.

“I have a summer job too,” Bonnie said. “At the campus. I'm filing stuff in the administration office. Yawn yawn.”

“Are you making any money?” Destiny asked.

Bonnie shook her head. “Eight dollars an hour. And my dad said he had to pull strings to get me the job. I mean, like hello. I could make that at McDonald's, right?”

Destiny handed them the menus. “Know what you want?”

“Not really,” Bonnie said.

“Are you working this summer?” Destiny asked Rachel.

She made a disgusted face. “I couldn't find anything. So I'm just hanging out this summer. You know. Partying. Getting ready for college. You're going away, right, Dee?”

“Uh…no.” Destiny hesitated. She didn't want sympathy from her friends. “I decided to stay close to home and go here.” She motioned out the window to the campus. “You know. It's kinda tough times at home…”

“Have you heard from your sister?” Rachel asked, blushing again. “I mean, she and Ross have been gone so long.”

Destiny lowered her eyes to the yellow tabletop. “No. Haven't heard anything yet.”

Rachel gripped the big, red menu with both hands. “Do the police still think they ran away together?”

Destiny saw Bonnie motioning for Rachel to shut up.

“The police…they don't know
what
to think,” Destiny said honestly.

“Sorry,” Bonnie muttered.

The two girls stared down at their menus. An awkward silence. The conversation had ended.

Destiny raised her pad to take their orders. Everyone treats me so differently now, she thought. I used to hang
with Bonnie and Rachel and goof with them all the time. Once, a sales clerk at The Gap made us leave because we were laughing too loud in the dressing room.

But now, people feel sorry for me. They feel awkward. They don't know what to say.

“Could we have a check?” a woman called from the counter.

“I'll be right back,” Destiny told the two girls. She hurried along the counter to take care of the woman's check.

As soon as she left, her two friends started chattering away again.

 

After work, Destiny decided to drive over to Ari's house. She'd been thinking about him all afternoon.

I'm going to apologize for last night, she decided. What happened at the club…it really was my fault.

Ari wanted to celebrate, to have some fun. And I was a total drag. I should have tried harder to forget my problems, to just go with the flow…

She pictured him dancing with that red-haired girl. Thinking about it gave her a heavy feeling in her stomach.

Ari is going off to school soon. And I'm going to miss him terribly. I have to be nicer to him.

Yes, I'm definitely going to apologize.

Thinking about last night, there was no way to shut out the memory of her meeting with Livvy. Turning onto Ari's block, sunlight burst over the windshield. And through the blinding white light, Destiny saw two blond girls standing
on the front stoop of the corner house.

“Oh—!” she let out a cry.

The car moved under the shadow of trees. The two girls disappeared into the house.

Destiny frowned. Every time I see a girl with blond hair, I think it's my sister.

Livvy was so mean to me last night. Has she completely forgotten that we're sisters? It's only been a few weeks, and she has changed so much. She looked so pale and thin and…and worn out.

Livvy acted so cold and angry. I hardly recognized her.

Destiny saw the tall hedge in front of Ari's yard, the white-shingled house rising up behind it. She turned and pulled into the drive—and stopped.

“Hey—”

Two police squad cars blocked her way, red lights spinning on their roofs.

“Oh, no.” Destiny's heart started to pound. She felt her throat tighten.

Ari's dad had a heart attack last summer. Has he had another one?

Hands trembling, she pulled the car to the curb in front of the neighbors' house. Then she went running up the driveway.

The front door was open. She burst inside. She heard voices in the front room. Someone crying.

“What's wrong?” she shouted breathlessly. “What's happened?”

chapter eighteen
WHO IS THE NEXT VICTIM?

DESTINY RAN INTO THE LIVING ROOM. SHE SAW ARI'S
mother hunched in the tall, green armchair by the fireplace. Her head was buried in a white handkerchief, and she was sobbing loudly, her shoulders heaving up and down.

Mr. Stark stood beside the chair, one hand on his wife's shoulder. He was very pale and, even from a distance, Destiny could see the tear tracks on his cheeks.

Two grim-faced, young police officers stood with their hands in their pockets, shaking their heads, speaking softly to Ari's parents. They spun around when Destiny entered the room.

“What is it? Where's Ari?” Destiny cried.

But even before anyone answered, she knew. She knew why they were crying. They had bad news about Ari. Maybe the
worst
news…

“No—!” Destiny screamed, pressing her hands against her face. “No. Please—”

No one had spoken. But she knew.

Mr. Stark came across the room to greet her, walking stiffly, as if it took all his effort. He was a tall, heavyset man, and now he was walking as if he weighed a thousand pounds.

He put his hands on Destiny's shoulders. “It's Ari,” he whispered. “It's horrible, Dee. Ari…Ari…” He turned away from her.

“What…what happened to him?” Destiny stammered.

Mrs. Stark uttered a loud sob across the room.

One of the police officers studied Destiny.

“I'm Lieutenant Macy,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Are you Destiny Weller?”

Destiny nodded. Her throat felt so tight, it was hard to breathe. “Yes. How did you know?”

“We've been trying to reach you all day,” he said. “The phone at your house…it rang and rang.”

“I started a new job today,” Destiny said. “Is Ari—?”

Macy had bright blue eyes and he kept them trained on Destiny. “I'm sorry. He's…dead.”

A cry escaped Destiny's throat. Her knees folded. She started to collapse to the floor, but Macy grabbed her gently by the arm and held her up.

She struggled to catch her breath. It felt as if her chest might burst open.

“Come sit down,” Macy said softly. He led her to the green leather couch in front of the window.

Tears flowed down her cheeks. She fumbled in her bag for some tissues. “What happened?” she asked Macy. She gritted her teeth. She didn't really want to hear.

“We were hoping you could help us out with that,” Macy said, leaning forward, bringing his face close to hers. “You were with Ari last night, right? You were at the dance club?”

Destiny nodded, dabbing at her tears. She glanced up to see Mr. Stark staring down at her, hunched behind Macy. She glimpsed the pain in his eyes and turned away.

“Well, a young couple found Ari at the edge of the parking lot there,” Macy said. “It was about two
A.M.
Were you still with him then?”

Destiny stared at the officer. His voice sounded muffled, as if he were speaking underwater. Ari dead in the parking lot? Two in the morning? She struggled to make sense of it.

“No. I…left early,” Destiny said finally.

Macy stared at her, waiting for more of an explanation.

“We had a fight,” Destiny said. “Well, no. Not really a fight. An argument, I guess. And I…I left early.”

“How early?” Macy asked.

“I left around midnight, I think. I got a ride home with a friend. I remember it was a little after twelve-thirty when I got home.”

“And was Ari still at the club when you left?”

Destiny nodded. “I…think so. Yes. Yes, he was.”

“You saw him there before you left?” Macy demanded.

Destiny nodded again, wiping at her tears. “He was
dancing. I saw him dancing…with another girl.”

Across the room, Mrs. Stark uttered a loud sob. Mr. Stark hurried over to comfort her.

Destiny raised her eyes to Macy. “How…did Ari die?” she whispered.

Macy's blue eyes burned into hers. “Strangest thing. He had two puncture wounds in his neck. His blood was completely drained.”

 

“Do you really think Livvy did it?” Ana-Li asked.

Destiny shook her head. “I don't know what to think.”

They were sitting on the couch in Destiny's room above the garage, the room she had shared with her twin. The couch divided the long, low room in two. Destiny hadn't touched anything on Livvy's side. She'd left it exactly as Livvy had it.

When Livvy comes back, it will be ready for her.

That's what Destiny had thought. Until now.

“Livvy and I talked outside the club,” Destiny told Ana-Li, folding her arms tightly in front of her. “We didn't really talk. We just screamed. I mean, Livvy did the screaming. She was awful to me. She…she's changed so much.”

Ana-Li took a long sip from her Diet Coke can, her dark eyes on Destiny. “What did you fight about?”

“Nothing, really. I begged her to come home. She told me to leave her alone, to stay out of her life. That's all. But it was the way she said it. So cruel. As if she
hates
me.”

Ana-Li squeezed Destiny's hand. Her hand was cold
from the soda can. “Livvy wasn't angry enough to murder Ari—was she? I mean, she's known Ari as long as you have. No way she'd murder him out of spite or something.”

Destiny sighed. “I don't know. I don't know what to think anymore. I thought I knew her. I mean, she's my
twin
sister. But now…I don't know her at all.”

“You can't believe she'd murder your boyfriend,” Ana-Li said. “It had to be someone else, Dee. It's just too sick.”

“Yeah. Sick,” Destiny repeated. “That's the word. This whole thing is sick.”

“What do the cops say?” Ana-Li asked.

“They've been back to question me three times. They interviewed the red-haired girl. She said she danced with Ari a couple of times, and then she didn't see him again. She thinks he went off with another girl, but she doesn't really know.”

“That's a really busy parking lot,” Ana-Li said. “Didn't anyone see anything strange going on?”

“So far, no one has called the police,” Destiny replied.

“The police know there are vampires in Dark Springs,” Ana-Li said, tapping a long, red nail fingernail on the Diet Coke can. “They help your father and his vampire hunters, right? So they must know—”

“They're trying to keep it quiet,” Destiny interrupted. “The cops didn't reveal what really happened to Ari to the news people. They don't want to start a panic.”

She let out a cry. “I just can't believe my own sister could do something so horrible. But she was there. And she
told me how thirsty she was.”

Ana-Li shuddered. She set down the soda can. “Dee, there's something I have to tell you.”

Destiny blinked at her. “What?”

“I'm leaving for school early,” Ana-Li said. “I can't stand it here anymore. I'm leaving on Saturday. It's just too frightening here. I have to get away.”

Ana-Li didn't give Destiny time to reply. She hugged her, then turned and, with a sad wave, made her way down the stairs.

Destiny remained on the couch, feeling numb. Unable to stop the upsetting whirl of thoughts that troubled her mind.

Ari is dead.

Ana-Li is leaving.

My friends are all gone.

Will I be next?

Will I be the next victim?

BOOK: The Taste of Night
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