Even though I was told of the surprise beforehand, the magnitude of shouts resonates in my ears, scaring the ever living crap out of me. My body shakes with shock and I have to suppress the urge to cover my ears to drown out the noise.
I stand stupefied while my friends continue to shout a variety of birthday wishes in my direction. Connie is the first to reach me, a sparkling party hat bobbing to and fro on the top of her head. Her smile is infectious and I can't help but get lost in her excitement as she scoops me in for a bear hug.
"Stella. Oh girl I have missed you so much!" Connie squeals. "Please tell me - are you feeling better love?"
I nod my head and smile. Connie grabs my hand and drags me forward, her speed of speech seeming to increase with every step we take. Before allowing me to greet my other guests, she tugs me over to the food table. She points down the food selection, telling me all about the food she has prepared for my special day.
By the time we get to the alcohol section, Evan has joined us and sidles up beside me. He drapes an arm over my shoulder and whispers into my ear.
"Remember you're human now, Stells. Go easy on the alcohol."
Connie is already putting her bartending skills to the test and starts making me a 'birthday martini.' When she's done she puts the fancy cup in my hand and waits for me to take the first sip. The bitter -sweet liquid burns my throat and I fight the urge to shudder.
Evan wasn't kidding. This is STRONG.
"Ok girl I love you, but you have to go mingle now. I need to make drinks for everyone else," Connie says with a giggle.
Evan leads me away from the food table and I give everyone else a proper greeting, making sure I thank them for coming to my party as well. It's a strange thing to be doing really. Thanking people for coming to a fake party. On my fake birthday.
When I finish my short conversation with Gavin, Evan ushers me to the patio doors.
"Why are we going outside?" I whisper.
Evan's face is serious and he pulls me closer to his body.
"There's two more guests you need to greet."
Evan holds the door open for me and I venture onto the wooden deck. Dimly lit candles are scattered everywhere and I smile to myself. Connie really outdid herself for this event. Four large patio chairs center around a low wooden table. A bowl of chips is in the middle, untouched.
Two of the chairs are empty. The other two are occupied by my last two guests - Richard and Jeremy. My nervous eyes glance to Richard. His gaze remains passive as Evan and I take our seats.
And then I finally allow my gaze to travel to Jeremy.
Oh God. He. Is. Beautiful.
He's wearing a simple long sleeved polo with jeans, his left leg folded over his right in a casual manner. His blonde hair jostles with the night wind and his electric blue eyes stare back at me. The corners of his mouth twitch up into a quirk and my cheeks flush crimson in return.
My heartbeat hammers against my chest and my fingers fumble together in my lap. Just looking at him makes me want to cry. And dance. And laugh. And scream for joy.
God I'm a mess.
Evan clears his throat, effectively pulling Jeremy's attention away from me.
"We all know why we're here," Evan says.
He glances towards Richard and then points a finger in my direction.
"You are welcome to see for yourself, Richard. Stella's human."
Richard says nothing but continues to stare at me. His dark eyes look menacing against the candle light and I can't help but fidget in my chair. Richard emerges from his seat and moves closer to me.
I don't dare move.
He takes his two fingers and pushes them against the top portion of my neck. My heart beat hammers through my veins. Richard looks into my eyes, his gaze penetrating my very soul. We sit like this for what feels like forever. Just staring at each other. Richard's fingers pressed against my neck.
And then I hear a rustling behind him and Jeremy's voice cuts through the silence.
"That's enough, Richard."
Richard gives me a final, warning glare and removes his fingers before moving back to his chair.
"Appeased?" Jeremy says with a low growl.
And that's when I realize his voice has taken on a double timbre.
It's my demon!
I could recognize her voice anywhere. And a piece of my mind aches at the knowledge that she is gone.
Richard and Jeremy exchange a wary glance before they both lean into each other, whispering furiously against the ocean breeze. My strained muscles begin to loosen and Evan scoots his chair closer to mine. He offers me his hand and I accept it gratefully, intertwining my fingers with his.
Jeremy watches the action and I see his beautiful blue eyes begin to bleed with black. He is struggling with my demon.
But what got him so upset?
I decide to drop Evan's hand and when I do, Jeremy's eyes snap back to their original shade of blue.
Oh my…he's jealous!
I lower my gaze in an attempt to hide my smile. Minutes pass while Evan and I sit in silence, patiently waiting for Richard and Jeremy to finish their conversation.
Finally Richard straightens his red dress shirt and adjusts his sleek gray tie. He tips his head to me.
"Until we meet again, Stella. Enjoy your birthday party."
And with that Richard extends a hand to first Jeremy, and then to Evan. As they shake hands, they all seem to pass knowing looks to one another. Richard takes a single chip from the bowl on the table and the sound of his loud chewing resonates throughout the room.
He gives us all a parting wave and meanders back into the party. When he opens the patio door, loud music and muted laughter spills into the patio. Connie's shrill laugh sticks out the most and a nervous chuckle bubbles up in my throat.
That girl is something else.
When the patio door is securely closed, Evan's body relaxes.
"So I take it everything went well?" he asks, directing his question towards Jeremy.
Jeremy's eyes land on me, his intense gaze making my knees buckle and my hands tremble within my lap.
"So, we're in the clear now?"
"T-thank you," I hear myself say. "To b-both of you."
I peek up from behind my long lashes and see that Jeremy's eyes are still fixated on me. His face is showing no indication of what he's feeling but his blue eyes are screaming a million different things.
"Jeremy, uhm, how's my demon treatin' you?" I ask timidly.
Jeremy raises his brow to me and draws his hands up to rest directly under his chin.
"She misses you, Stella. And she's very protective of you."
I nod my head. "See? She's not so bad, is she?"
Jeremy gives me a sideways glance before taking a big breath and puffing it out in irritation.
"She's horrible, Stella. I don't know how you put up with her for decades, let alone a few days. But when you're around…her attention is focused solely on you. It's a nice break, to say the least."
I don't know why but I start giggling. "Well I'm not gonna lie, I miss her too. Kind of. Just a little bit."
And after that, another uncomfortable silence radiates between the three of us. All the questions I wanted to ask push to the forefront of my mind. If neither of them is going to say anything, I guess it's going to fall on me.
"So…what happens next?" I ask.
Evan and Jeremy exchange a furtive glance.
"That really is up to you, Stells," Evan says with a sad smile.
"What do you mean?"
Jeremy leans forward, his voice lowering so our conversation will go undetected.
"Your demon is linked to you, Stella. To put it simply, when your human body dies, your demon will destroy me. When I said she's protective of you, I don't think you fully comprehended what I meant. When she sees your human soul die - whether that's tomorrow or fifty years from now - because of the connection you two share, she will destroy my human soul as a means to try and save you."
"B-but that can't be," I stutter in disbelief.
Jeremy silences me with his hand and I see Evan nod his head next to me.
"It's true Stells. We did the research for it. When you die, Jeremy will die too. And then your demon will run rampant."
My eyes widen at the thought.
"But don't worry. We have a plan for that as well," Jeremy says in a strained voice. "As long as everything goes according to plan, we have three human people willing to 'step up' to house your demon should anything happen to you."
I raise my brow and my stomach tightens with anticipation.
"Ok…and those would be….?"
Evan reaches for my hand and gives it an affectionate squeeze. "Richard and Todd have both volunteered. But before it would go to either of them…I would be the first to accept your demon into my body when you die Stella."
I gasp at his admittance and violently shake my head from side to side.
"No. No no no no no!"
I tear my gaze away from Jeremy and look at Evan.
"Evan, you can't do to that. You'll never die then. Ever. Don't you get it?! You'll be stuck here forever and I - I - I'll never see you again!" I shout.
Evan pats my hand in comfort and gives me an understanding smile.
"Stella, someone has to house your demon, unless we want her running amuck and destructing lives everywhere. And when you die, Jeremy dies too. So I had to step up. It was the only way we could get Richard to leave the two of you alone. I know what I signed up for, Stells. You don't have to worry about me."
I can feel my body temperature rapidly rising at all this new information. When I die, Jeremy will die with me. And when we die, Evan will take Jeremy's place and house my demon. For eternity.
"But what if you die before me?" I ask Evan.
Evan shrugs and leans back in his chair. "Then Todd or Richard will step up to take my place. Or they'll find someone else to do so. I'm not all that worried about it right now, Stells. Just know that we have a plan for everything that could go wrong. We're here for you. To protect you in any way we can."
I bite my lip and my eyes flicker to Jeremy. His gaze is still trained on me, his mesmerizing blue eyes watching me like a hawk. From the corner of my eye, I see Connie's eccentric party hat plastered against the patio door. Then I see Gavin pulling her away, his voice urging her to 'let us be.'
I roll my eyes. I love that girl, but damn. She is so nosey.
"Well, I suppose we better get inside," I say as confidently as I can muster. "My party awaits."
Evan and Jeremy look at one another as if they want to say something more. But instead they both stand and move towards the door. Hundreds of butterflies soar around my stomach as Jeremy passes me, his hand brushing against my arm. His touch is electric. Evan follows second and reaches for my hand as we both enter the party once again.
Our fingers intertwine and a faint smile spreads across his lips when I give his hand a reassuring squeeze. I know I have decisions to make. But for tonight, for just one night, I'm going to enjoy my fake birthday. For one night I am going to enjoy having everyone I love under one roof, having fun and celebrating life.
And just for one night I am going to push aside the fact that the two men that are battling for my heart are risking their lives just to save mine.
And just for one night I am going to be human.