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The Pryce of Love
Quiet Ariadne Pryce. Shy Ariadne Pryce. Nerdy Ariadne Pryce. Ariadne didn’t mind the adjectives that usually preceded her name. She was left alone, and she was perfectly content to sit back and watch the other girls fight for popularity, boys, and grades. Besides, Ariadne was not quiet or shy or nerdy. She was an actress.
“Aria,” Shay said, coming up behind her as she waited for her funnel cake at Valley Fair. She allowed herself to relax in his embrace, knowing that it was what Shay wanted and expected.
“Seamus,” Ariadne responded with just the right combination of purr and innocence. I suppose I love him, she thought with amusement. The only problem was that she’d long ago unplugged her emotions from her actions. She was especially entertained by her own foolishness; she’d been convinced that love was special and distinctly different from vague affection.
Shay stood behind Ariadne as she waited for her food, sweetly clasping her hands. He leaned forward just enough that his chin rested on her head. He sighed quietly. Beautiful Ariadne. His Ariadne, although sometimes he stared up at his dark ceiling and wondered if it was his imagination that she wasn’t quite as invested as he was. One brush of her pale pink lips, silky on his cheek, drove the thought out of his mind and sent it straight into the ground. The thought didn’t stay buried, though; it kept coming back when she wasn’t by his side. Straight, glossy chestnut hair and sparkling emeralds for eyes were never so irresistible to Shay. He had a shady feeling that he was being played, but every time he tried to catch hold of the feeling, he realized that he didn’t want to look too closely and let it slip away into the shadows again.
They shared the funnel cake, Ariadne feeding Shay, and Shay playfully licking the powdered sugar from her fingers. As they walked around the amusement park, Ariadne grabbed his hand and swung their arms and he forgot to be cautious with his adoration for the chestnut-haired, emerald-eyed beauty by his side. Instead, he wrapped her in his arms from behind as they waited to board the Steel Venom, murmuring in her ear. Her coy smile was not lost on him, but he found it appealing and the slightest bit mysterious, which was doubly alluring.
He didn’t realize everything about her was an act; she’d been putting on a show for far too long to be able to stop. If he did realize, he ignored it, allowing himself to be convinced.
Ariadne groaned theatrically when her older brother yanked the bedding out from under her, effectively dumping her on the floor. “Daniel,” she whined. “Go back to college. No one wants you here. Wait. What are you doing up so early?” she demanded, sitting up and narrowing her eyes suspiciously.
Daniel grinned. “First day of school, Sis.”
“Oh, no,” Ariadne moaned, burying her face in the sheets she was tangled in on the floor.
“Oh, yes,” Daniel said, his grin widening wickedly.
“Well, in that case,” Ariadne muttered, settling into the pile of bedding on the floor and closing her eyes defiantly, peeking through one eye to watch Daniel’s reaction, her lips curving up smugly.
He just laughed, which made Ariadne instantly wary. Her eyes flicked open in annoyance and widened when she saw the pitcher in her brother’s hands. He rattled it, grinning devilishly, to show her that he’d thoughtfully added ice.
Her shrieks filled the house.
“Come on, Aria,” Daniel said with a chuckle. “I’m sorry. I am.” His green eyes widened innocently, but he started laughing again at her expression. “How about I give you a ride to school on my motorcycle?”
“What, so the girls can admire Daniel Pryce’s windblown chestnut hair and shining emerald eyes?” Ariadne scoffed. “No, but thanks.” Her voice was heavy with sarcasm, but Daniel knew his little sister adored him. He adored her equally, surprisingly enough. He admired her ability to detach herself from whatever she felt. He’d watched her give the illusion of being quiet, a little shy, and more than a little invested in her schoolwork.
Daniel worried about his sister. Just as he admired her capabilities as an actress, he wasn’t sure if she knew how to feel instead of simply replicating feeling. Everything she said and did had a slightly glossy quality to it, an over-polished, rehearsed feel. Even as she’d cussed at him and pounded every reachable inch of his body with her delicate fists, her eyes had been a little too glassy to be entirely believable.
“They do not,” Daniel protested.
“Oh, yes, they do,” Ariadne said darkly.
“Well, I’m not interested in them,” Daniel amended. “That’s what college girls are for.”
Ariadne rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll ride your bloody bike.”
“Whoa, language, Sis,” Daniel mocked, raising his hands as if in surrender. He backed away before turning and grinning with his back to his sister. He would never get a reprieve from her taunting if she ever knew how much he loved her.
Ariadne tried to scowl at her brother’s retreating figure, but it was somehow replaced with a smile. She shook her head and laughed. The twinge of the first real emotion she’d felt in years frightened the smile from her face. A terrifying memory rose to the surface, and she was too weak to push it down. The last time she’d felt raw emotion was when she was nine and seeing her father’s bloody body on the road in front of her, a dirty tire track on the back of his white shirt, marking the place where his spine was crushed. She’d vowed never to be so weak, so vulnerable ever again.
The sudden surge of unwanted emotion was a blow. The laughter was gone, replaced by stony determination to obliterate any emotions that appeared, because emotion and pain went hand in hand in Ariadne’s mind.
She got ready for school, exuding an unnatural calm. She practiced her shy smile in the mirror, the one she reserved for school. When she was satisfied, she went downstairs to find Daniel.
He was hard to miss in the living room, lying in a pool of dark red blood, a knife lodged in his heart, its handle protruding from his back.
She blinked, tilting her head, her face startlingly blank, betraying no emotion. In fact, her eyes were so devoid of emotion that she almost looked unanimated. She frowned, went to the back door, unlocked it, opened it the tiniest bit, and then peered in the garbage can. Leather gloves rested on top of banana peels, apple cores, crumpled grocery lists, and other unwanted odds and ends. She considered them curiously before plucking them from the trash can and stuffing them down her bra. Then she pulled out her cell phone and called the police, producing the appropriate emotions and injecting them into her voice.
She hung up and waited.
Poor Ariadne Pryce. Ariadne added the new word to her mental list of adjectives to precede her name. It was the second day of senior year and she had resumed the role of sweet, shy, intelligent Ariadne, but she’d also added one trait: heartbroken. Sympathetic murmurs followed her around, but everyone seemed to respect her supposed grief.
Shay was at a loss: approach his girlfriend or maintain a respectable distance? He chose the latter until lunch. His heart thumped unsteadily when he saw her at his locker, her face turned away, slender fingers twisting the cross at her throat, and Shay felt a sympathetic stab of pain for Ariadne’s loss.
He kissed her cheek, his hand brushing her back reassuringly. His eyes searched hers hesitantly, afraid to see the careful blankness he’d grown to expect. Sure enough, her eyes were reflective emeralds, throwing Shay’s emotions back at him instead of providing a window into hers. Who am I to judge the way she deals? Shay thought guiltily, immediately chagrined by his own thoughtlessness.
But her emerald eyes still unsettled him with their blank intensity, the emptiness that seemed to consume—no, devour—emotion. He smiled to hide his unease, but her eyes flashed with understanding. Shay hastily ducked his head to nuzzle her neck to hide his face, which he knew was an open book designed for beginning readers.
He didn’t notice her coolly calculating eyes weighing what she read on his face.
Detective Lawson ran a tired hand through his tousled black hair, his sapphire eyes restless. He had personally investigated the scene of Daniel Pryce’s murder, yet something was off.
Conrad Lawson had heard enough about the sister, Ariadne, to know that her reputation and school record were pristine. Her name rarely came up without remarks on her intelligence, her quietness, her politeness, or any number of other positive traits, but something about her was unnatural and unsettling. Nothing about her set off alarms inside of Conrad, but something was subtly wrong, making him even more suspicious. The air around her seemed charge, almost as if he would be shocked if he touched her.
Conrad was trained to read emotions. He was also trained to detect nervous tics and decide if they were natural or from a suppression of information. Ariadne was a little too easy to read and seemingly had no nervous tics. Conrad had the nagging feeling that Ariadne was completely in control of her outward displays of emotion. It was very subtle, most likely undetectable to Conrad’s fellow detectives, but it was similar to how only one well-versed in spices could pick up the difference in taste between pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla in a batch of French toast.
Detective Lawson rubbed his jaw and picked up his pencil. His investigation so far had been fruitless. No fingerprints on the back door’s knob except the family’s, no fingerprints on the handle of the knife except the mother’s. Of course, they were looking for a killer that was not in the family. But if they were to investigate the little brown-haired girl…
No. Conrad didn’t want to believe the sweet grief-stricken girl was responsible. But he was a good detective, because he was open-minded. He didn’t waste time being closed off to possibilities, no matter how despicable, no matter how gruesome. And something about the girl stirred unease in his stomach. While prodding her for details, he’d had a feeling that she’d been in complete control of the situation, like an actor performing a scene for the thousandth time.
He hadn’t yet suggested to anyone that Ariadne could have killed her own brother, but he already knew that they would be aghast at the mere thought. He knew they had bought the pretty brunette’s performance easily. Admittedly, Conrad had found himself believing the girl. But he was still unconvinced that she wasn’t hiding something.
Conrad reviewed the facts, although he already knew them in his sleep. Unlocked back door. No fingerprints. A knife that was not part of a larger set. No footprints or apparent disturbances in the backyard. Conrad was disappointed with the absence of rain in the past week. If someone had come in through the back door—that is, if Ariadne was innocent—there were no identifiable shoe prints.
Conrad scrubbed the eraser of his pencil along his jaw. He needed evidence. He couldn’t throw accusations around without proof, no matter how strong his gut instinct was; it’d be a fine way to get in trouble with his superiors and possibly even lose his job.
I don’t know what you’ve done, Ariadne Pryce, but I will find out. And your secret is not safe with me, he thought grimly.
Ariadne held out her hand, waiting for Shay to help her out of his Jeep. Instead, he reached in and lifted her out, double checking to make sure the blindfold was covering both of her green eyes. She squealed in pleased surprise, giggling as he dotted her face with little kisses.
Shay had spent twenty minutes driving at random, praying that Ariadne would lose track of where they were. He’d gone to great lengths to keep the details of her birthday party away from her eager hands, and had no intentions of giving the surprise away until the very last possible minute.
He put her on her feet when he got to the door of the bowling alley. Before he opened the door, however, he brushed his mouth across Ariadne’s. She gave a little gasp of surprise, her hands reaching blindly for him. Her hands curled around fistfuls of the front of his shirt and she yanked savagely, reeling him in.
Shay didn’t have time to marvel at her ability to be so soft and shy and quietly intelligent at school but so commanding and confident with him. He was too busy threading his fingers through her hair. His fingers met the bandana’s knot and began to fumble over it before he remembered why it was there. He let his hands drop away sheepishly.
Shay thought back to junior year. Back then, he’d been proud to have had the most girlfriends in his high school years, more than any of his friends or classmates. Now his friends joked about him being whipped. Shay often wondered if they were right.
Why must Ariadne be his singular, most obvious weakness?
Ariadne released the bowling ball and watched as it rolled down the center of the lane. Whoops and applause rained down upon her as the television screen announced her strike. She laughed, and it was genuine. She’d spent the past hour perfecting her smile, aiming for the right blend of appreciation and love for Shay. With each crafty smile, Ariadne found herself loosening up a bit more.
She felt a little reckless, a little giddy, a little punch-drunk, and more than a little crazy. Daniel’s death had been weighing heavily on her heart, but Ariadne found herself forgetting as Shay spoke on her behalf, encouraged everyone to dance, and then cranked the music.
Shay spun a laughing Ariadne through the next few songs until she was dizzy and begging to slow down. When a slow song played, giving Ariadne a momentary reprieve from the giddiness, her arms wrapped around Shay’s neck without hesitation.
“Thanks for the party,” Ariadne said, lowering her voice until it was a husky purr. She dropped her eyes demurely before raising them to meet Shay’s.
He just pulled her closer until her chin rested snugly on his shoulder. She turned her head and brushed her lips across his neck. “I love you,” he whispered.
Ariadne opened her mouth to return his words, a habit she’d grown accustomed to, except they wouldn’t come. Tiny tremors were running through her, little thrills at the words. She panicked at the emotions awakening inside of her. She fought free of his arms and ran for the doors.
She made it to Shay’s Jeep before the tears came, her breath coming in frightened little gasps. She threw herself into the driver’s seat and pounded on the steering wheel, intentionally punching the horn. She saw Shay running for the car, and she quickly fumbled in her purse. She found what she was searching for and shoved it into one of her over-the-knee boots. She hastily wiped away the tears. She flipped down the visor and stared at her reflection until she was in control, her breathing slow and regular, her expression placid and unperturbed.
Shay tapped on the window and pulled open the door. Ariadne turned with an apologetic smile on her face. “Sorry about that. I couldn’t breathe, and I just freaked out.”
Shay looked concerned but relieved that Ariadne seemed fine. “I can take you home,” he offered.
“No, no,” Ariadne insisted. “I’m fine now. Really. Just embarrassed at my own flightiness.” She grinned reassuringly. “Oh, and I love you,” she added easily. She was back in control, but excited adrenaline was coursing through her veins, invisible through her calm façade.
Shay’s smile came more easily at her last words. “Would you like to go back inside?”
Ariadne pretended to consider. She stroked a buckle on her boot thoughtfully. She swung down from the Jeep’s seat. “Actually, come here,” she whispered. She channeled some of the little tingly feelings she’d felt earlier into her voice. She pulled open the Jeep’s driver side back door and climbed up. She motioned for him to follow and he did, pulling the door shut behind him. She reached for him as he reached for her, their mouths meeting in the dark of the Jeep. Ariadne buried her face in Shay’s neck, trying to catch her breath. When their lips met again, she dropped her walls and let herself feel. My first real kiss, she thought, dazed and wonderstruck. I love him, she realized with pleasant surprise.
But she had suppressed too many emotions for too long, so when she pulled the knife from her boot, captured Shay’s hands, and ran the blade swiftly across each of his wrists, even as she kissed him, she wasn’t really aware of what she was doing until she felt warm blood rushing over her hands.
“Ow,” Shay whispered in surprise more than pain. Then he saw the blade in Ariadne’s hand, shining silver in the dark with crimson streaked along the edge. His eyes went to his bloody wrists and slow comprehension and dawning horror creeped into his eyes.
Ariadne’s pupils were huge with fear, wide and dilated in the dimness of the Jeep. The knife fell to the floor with a dull thump. “Shay,” she choked.
“Ariadne,” he whispered. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.” He smiled sadly, and Ariadne could tell he knew. He knew he was going to die. He glanced at his ruined wrists and winced.
“Oh, God, please help him,” Ariadne half prayed, half begged.
“Hey. Don’t.” Shay grimaced and leaned back against the closed door. He reached out for Ariadne, his hands slippery with blood.
Ariadne fell into his arms, sobs wracking her body. “Please, God, please help him,” she kept saying. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ll go away and get help. I’ll never see you again. I’ll leave. Just live,” she sobbed.
Shay kissed Ariadne’s temple. “Shh,” he murmured. “I’m okay, baby.”
His words jolted Ariadne. She fumbled at his shirt, struggling to rip off strips to bind his wrists. He stopped her gently. “Ariadne—”
“I love you!” she screamed. “I love you, and I couldn’t even let myself believe it. I love you, and I’ve killed you. I’ve loved you, but I wouldn’t allow myself to treat you right, because I was too scared!” Ariadne was full of raw emotion, emotion that had never been present before, emotion she had thought she’d been protecting herself from.
Shay was silent.
“Say something,” Ariadne pleaded. “I don’t deserve to ask for anything, but I promise to take your words to Hell with me. I’ll never see you again. While I burn, you’ll fly with beautiful wings and a radiant halo,” she whispered. “Just say something.”
Shay smiled. “I’d rather hear you talk, Aria.” His eyes were drooping, and his face was relaxed; the pain seemed to be gone.
“Seamus!” Ariadne said desperately. “Stay with me, darling. I need to tell you.”
Shay’s eyes opened with some effort. “Okay.”
“After my dad died, I never wanted to feel that kind of pain again. I vowed never to feel anything I didn’t want to. So I learned to not feel. A few days ago, Daniel and I were messing around and some emotion I felt terrified me. I don’t remember grabbing the knife, but…,” Ariadne said shakily, choking on the words, “but somehow he was on the floor, and there was blood. I went upstairs, and when I came back down, I almost didn’t understand. I just understood that I had to unlock the back door and leave it open a little. Then I looked in the garbage and saw my leather gloves, and I knew. Somehow, in my panic, I’d adopted the mind of a killer. I couldn’t remember actually doing it, but I knew it was true.” Ariadne watched Shay anxiously, but his eyes seemed alert. “I’m a coward,” she said suddenly, astonished. “I’m just a coward, and because of it, people die.”
Shay kissed her cheek, but it was nothing more than a gentle brush of his lips; he was too weak from blood loss.
The touch of his lips startled Ariadne. “I’m so sorry, Shay. I will burn in Hell for this, but I will enjoy it, knowing only burning for eternity in the deepest pits of Hades could ever come close to what I deserve.” Tears drew ruthless trails down her cheeks. “Loving someone should never be the reason they die.”
“Ariadne, it’s okay; I forgive you,” Shay whispered, a smile tugging at his lips. “I said I would die for you, didn’t I?”
“Oh,” Ariadne choked. Tears were falling freely, no longer thin streams and creeks of wetness, but great rivers. She grabbed Shay roughly by his shoulders and kissed him, hoping to overwhelm him with sensations to keep him with her. He came to life beneath her, bloody hands caressing her face, and for a moment, a wild surge of hope warmed Ariadne. Certainly someone who could kiss with such vehemence and fervor and conviction couldn’t be dying. But, of course, Shay was. His remaining energy had gone into that last kiss.
He fell away from her, eyes closing wearily. “No!” Ariadne cried. The knife was in her hand again, and before she could think, she was bringing it down with such force that her hand was nearly severed at the wrist. She gagged on the most unendurable physical pain she’d ever felt, but she choked down her screams by thinking of the emotional pain losing Shay would bring.
Shay’s eyes were wide open with alarm, but he was too weak to do anything. “Oh, Aria,” he whispered. “No…”
Ariadne’s lower lip was swollen and bloody from clamping down on screams of agony. But she dug her teeth in deeper and switched the knife to her other hand, which was difficult. Her left wrist was ruined, nearly out of her control. But she managed to close her hand around the handle. She then rammed her right wrist against the blade. This time, a whimper escaped between her clenched teeth and swollen lips.
Shay’s cuts weren’t nearly as deep, so the flow of blood was slower. But he had been bleeding longer. He was too weak to bind Ariadne’s wrists or call for help, but he managed to pull her into his arms. “I love you,” he whispered.
So, this is how it ends, Shay thought. A bit like Romeo and Juliet. I always knew she was my Juliet.
“Except Juliet wasn’t a psychopath who killed her lover,” Ariadne said through gritted teeth.
Shay hadn’t realized he had spoken aloud. “She was his death, in a sense. They were each other’s death,” he countered.
“They loved each other a lot, for two people who were so young,” Ariadne said, her voice tight with pain but somehow wistful.
“She was his entire world,” Shay agreed sleepily. He wasn’t sure if they were talking about Romeo and Juliet or Shay and Ariadne.
I don’t deserve this easy way out, Ariadne thought. I deserve a lifetime in prison. I deserve the worst this world has to offer. Shay will go to Paradise, and I will go to Hades, and we’ll never see each other again. But somehow I can’t bear the thought of risking being happy again without him. I don’t want redemption or forgiveness or happiness; I want what I deserve. I want to suffer for the pain I’ve inflicted upon Shay.
“Kiss me, Ariadne,” Shay whispered, his eyes closed, his breathing labored.
Tears were dried on Ariadne’s cheeks, making her skin feel tight. She called up the strength to kiss him one last time, fighting off the drowsiness that gripped her. Before her lips met his, she quickly forced out words, straining to remember them exactly. “Oh, here/Will I set up my everlasting rest,/And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars/From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last./Arms, take your last embrace. And, lips, O you/The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss/A dateless bargain to engrossing death.” She couldn’t seem to find the breath to say more.
Shay’s mouth twitched up in the faintest shadow of a smile. “Thus with a kiss I die,” he finished.
They were in the same position hours later when Detective Lawson found them, Ariadne on Shay’s lap, arms wrapped loosely around each other, blood all over, lips almost brushing, faint smiles twisting their mouths up, and the knife on the floor, winking in the moonlight with smug satisfaction.
Murderous Ariadne Pryce. Suicidal Ariadne Pryce. Love-struck Ariadne Pryce. Dead Ariadne Pryce.