Jessica clutched the phone to her chest and sobbed, but there were no tears, and her once-smooth cheeks stayed dry as sawdust.

“Did you get her?” His voice was thick, muffled. She couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment it had begin to change. Sometime in the months since Liz had left, fleeing what she’d mistaken for a moment of passion, the deterioration had set in for real.

Well. Jessica amended the thought, determined to cling to accuracy, as though remembering everything accurately could restore some measure of control to her life. It HAD been a moment of passion, in a way. Elizabeth hadn’t been wrong about that.

It just hadn’t been the passionate of love-making.

It had been the passion kindled to life by hunger…a strange an insatiable hunger…

She shook her head, sending still-silken blonde hair flying. It all fell perfectly into place, settling around her shoulders, the moment she stopped.

She gritted her teeth, but not too hard. Her gums were receding, just a little, just enough to leave her in fear of losing a tooth…or all of them

This was all Olivia Davidson’s fault.

That hippie bitch.

home for christmas

Jessica had known something was wrong, really wrong, that first Christmas they came home from university. Olivia and Liz had hung out together like nothing had changed.

She should have said something then.

Obviously Lizzie had been in shock. There was no other explanation. Her mind must have smoothly wallpapered over the cracks in their perfect world, cracks that went all the way to the foundation.

Cracks that had first appeared when the earthquake struck.

Jessica had never been close to oddly-dressed Olivia. Sure, it had been sad and all that she’d died, but Jessica couldn’t really claim to have been shaken up by it.

So unlike Elizabeth, she’d retained a more or less accurate memory of the events that had unfolded during their senior-year tragedy.

She’d certainly remembered what’d happened to Olivia.

Like, it wasn’t every day someone got squished to death by the Wakefields’ refrigerator.

If someone had asked Jessica, back when she was young, who was most likely to die in a freak refrigerator crushing, she’d probably have guessed Steven. After all, he’d spent a large part of his adolescence standing in front of the thing with the door open, ravenously working his way through the contents.

But nope. Life was funny that way. Instead it had been Olivia who’d met her death at the hands of the appliance, her funky style forever erased.

And now it was Jessica, not Steven, who lived with a seemingly insatiable hunger.

Not for cold cuts and sandwiches, unfortunately…

She looked over at her sister’s boyfriend. Former boyfriend, she amended. “Todd, what are we going to do? She won’t pick up. Liz has never turned her back on me like this.” No matter how much I deserved it, she thought sadly.

Seeing her with Todd had proven to be the one thing Liz couldn’t forgive.

Jessica still couldn’t quite believe it.

Elizabeth and Todd hadn’t even been a couple at the time! They’d both been seeing other people at university: Liz had found a guy so much like Todd he was practically a replicant, and Todd had lost his goddamned mind and gone out with Enid of all things. Jessica shuddered at the memory.

Besides: even if Liz’s wild assumption had been correct and Jessica had been dry-humping Todd or kissing him or whatever Liz had thought she’d seen, what difference would it have made?

Everyone knew Liz and Todd were bound to get together eventually. They’d broken up about a billion times, and Liz was ALWAYS seeing other guys whenever the Wakefields went on vacation or anything. So it wasn’t like Jessica hooking up with him should have been some big, unforgivable deal. Right?

Nothing could have kept Liz and Todd apart forever.

Nothing but this, Jessica thought sadly, looking at Todd.

Because she hadn’t been kissing him that night, and she hadn’t jumped him out of some twisted desire for some Wilkins action.

She’d just been…hungry.

So hungry.

Ever since the last night of that Christmas vacation, when she’d passed Olivia at the foot of the Wakefield driveway.

She’d thought the girl was drunk, or stoned out of her mind on whatever drugs hippy artists did. Olivia had been just standing there, swaying, like she couldn’t figure out how to walk up to the house and ring the doorbell.

“Waiting for Liz?” Jessica had said, breezing past. Which just went to show you that trying to be polite and talk to losers like Olivia did no one any good.

Olivia had reached out and grabbed her by the wrist, stopping Jessica in her tracks. That had been all it took to erase Jess’ store of seasonal goodwill. “Hey, let go of me, freak! Unlike Liz, I don’t tolerate your kind. She’s going to remember eventually, you know. I’m surprised no one’s called you out on it yet. They all went to the funeral!”

Olivia hadn’t answered. She’d just leaned in like she was going to kiss Jess.

Only instead, she’d bitten her, right on the neck.

Jessica shuddered and felt the wound. It had never really healed right. The skin had gone bumpy and grey, and for months she’d been forced to wear scarves and turtleneck sweaters. Her tan had faded, from gold perfection to pale elegance and then, finally, to a grey that even the most skillful makeup couldn’t fix.

Then she’d run into Todd.

And now, she thought sadly, everything was ruined.

If she could just get Liz to listen long enough to hear what had really happened, maybe they could fix it all somehow. Maybe there was a cure.

Todd interrupted her train of thought. “There’s a party at Lila Fowler’s tomorrow night. Want to go?”

She knew they shouldn’t. She knew it would be a disaster.

But the pull of the hunger was just too strong. They’d been holding out on raw steak for months, seeing nobody except her parents, going nowhere. She couldn’t take it any more.

“Sure,” Jess said lifelessly. “Let’s go to Lila’s party.”