I step into the dining hall and stop just inside the double doors, clutching my notebook and pen to my chest as I get my bearings. The dining hall reminds me of an upscale prep school’s cafeteria, all dark wood and plush carpet. A buffet is set up against the far wall. Crystal chandeliers dot the ceiling, illuminating the large room with their electric glow.
All around the room, people sit at round tables with white linens, eating and talking to one another. I recognize a good number of them and realize where I am. This is where all the characters in my head hang out. I relax and smile as I scan the room once more, comfortable because everyone in here is like an old friend.
My gaze falls on the nearest table and I do a double take as I recognize Lacey, Seth and Miles from my friend Stacie’s book. Curious about why they’re hanging out even though they’re not my creation, I head their way first. Miles sits a little apart from the other two, his arms crossed and a pout on his face. His brown curls fall over his forehead and his glasses have slipped down his thin nose, but he’s too distracted by Lacey and Seth to worry about himself. The young couple’s heads are together, their noses practically touching as they gaze into each other’s eyes. I can see why Miles is upset and I feel bad for him as I approach the table.
“Hey, guys,” I greet them as I stop at their table. Lacey and Seth jump apart like I burned them. I try not to laugh as I sit down next to Miles and offer him a friendly smile.
“How’s it going?” I ask him. He studies me for a full sixty seconds before unfolding his arms, sitting up and finally pushing his glasses up on his nose.
“Just waiting,” he grumbles, heavily sighing as his eyes dart to Lacey. She notices and blushes, ducking her head so that her long brown hair covers most of her face. Seth is the only one who will meet my gaze so I direct my next question at him.
“Not that I’m not thrilled to see you, but why are you here? I didn’t create you,” I say to him. He shrugs one broad shoulder and rakes a hand through his black hair.
“You’ve helped create us,” he replies, his deep voice causing goosebumps to pop up on my arms. His green eyes bore into me as though he can see my reaction to him and I’m suddenly anxious to move on.
“Okay, well, enjoy your stay,” I tell them and jump from my seat, making a mental note to ask Stacie why her werewolf freaked me out.
I turn away from their table and my eyes fall on Kat and Brick from Seth’s pack sitting two tables away. Kat has a perpetual scowl on her face, her brown eyes narrowed. She harrumphs and flips her red hair as she says something to Brick. I look away before they notice me staring and turn their deadly gazes on me.
A breath I don’t realize I’m holding whooshes out of my lungs as I spot Ashley Holbrook sitting with Tristan Deveraux, Brady BLAH and Shane BLAH – my werewolves. Ashley spots me at the same time and says something to Tristan as she waves for me to come over. My shoulders relax and a smile stretches across my face as I walk over to their table.
“Erin!” Shane and Brady chorus as I sit down. I grin at them as I set my notebook in front of me and uncap my pen.
“Hi, guys.” I immediately feel at home with them and realize how much I’ve missed them since wrapping up their story over a year ago.
“So, when do we get to hang out again?” Brady asked, wiggling his blond eyebrows. I laugh out loud, wondering if he can now read my mind.
“Soon,” I promise. “I obviously have a lot going on right now.”
I raise my arms and sweep them around to indicate the other characters sitting all around us. He nods in agreement, the playful twinkle in his brown eyes. I sigh; I forgot how much I love these guys.
“What’s with them?” Tristan asks, a bit of a growl in his voice as he juts his chin towards where Seth, Lacey and Mile sit near Brick and Kat. The tension skyrockets at our table until Ashley lays a hand on Tristan’s arm.
“Behave,” she murmurs to him. “They’re not hurting anyone.”
“Yet. They don’t even belong here,” he argues.
“They’re just visiting,” I tell him. “You know I’ve been helping Stacie with her book about them. Well, apparently they think I helped create them so they wanted to hang out. I don’t know more than that except that not here to cause trouble or hurt anyone.” I wryly smile. “The only one they want to hurt isn’t allowed to come here.”
Tristan growls and I turn around to see Kat and Brick getting to their feet. I look back at Tristan and frown at him, giving him my best mean-mom-glare. After a minute of locked gazes, he backs down.
“You need to reign in your temper.”
He nods, his eyes downcast.
“I’m sorry,” Ashley suddenly apologizes. I shake my head at her.
“You don’t have to apologize, Ashley. Tristan knows better; he has plenty of enemies already.”
The back of my neck prickles and I know the table of vampires sitting nearby is listening in to our conversation. Ashley’s gaze flits to them and her blue eyes widen before she hastily looks away. She clears her throat and looks at me. We share a knowing smile; Gabriel flusters everyone.
“Anyway, I can’t wait to work with you again,” Ashley tells me. “I really like the new beginning you have in mind. I get to meet Tristan sooner.” She grins at her boyfriend and I know she’s tempted to reach up and tossle his chocolate brown waves.
The gaze on the back of my neck intensifies and I know it’s time to move on. I jot down a few notes about the interaction and get to my feet. With a wave and promise to see them soon, I leave their table.
My eyes meet midnight blue ones set in a pale face and I’m momentarily frozen to the spot, my breath caught in my throat. A smirk uplifts the corners of blood red lips and I can’t hide a responding smile as Gabriel gazes at me. He always has that affect on me. I take five steps to that table where he sits with Alyssa, Mandi and Lily. Alyssa and Mandi sit next to each other on his left, identical in their blonde hair and light blue eyes, though Mandi’s are hidden behind glasses. Lily sits to Gabriel’s right, her red hair spiked around her head like a crown.
I lean down and kiss Gabriel’s cheek. “I knew you had it in you,” I tell him quietly. His pale cheeks turn slightly pink and I stifle the need to giggle. Directly next to him, Alyssa huffs and rolls her eyes.
“You’re really getting around, aren’t you?” she snidely says to me. Before I can say anything, she shimmers and then disappears from the table. I look from her suddenly empty chair to Gabriel. He grins enough to show his fangs.
“She still annoys me,” he says simply and I grin at him. She annoys me, too.
I only stay a moment longer, knowing I have to move on to other tables. Everyone here seems to want to talk to me. I can feel their eyes on my back. I touch Gabriel’s shoulder and walk away.
I scan the tables looking for one particular couple that I need to talk with. They’re the reason I brought the notebook and pen; we have a story to write together. I see Gavin and Ronnie sharing a table with Ronnie’s best friends, Andi and Shawn, near the windows and beeline in that direction. I’m a couple tables away when a light touch on my arm stops me. I look down and smile at Nobody Reynolds, a street rat with supernatural abilities. She shares a table with Jack Armstrong, another supernatural boy who rescues her in the only story I’ve written about her. Today she looks relatively clean; her brown hair isn’t greasy and her brown eyes seem to sparkle with something other than her unnatural ability. She almost looks happy.
“Hi, Nobody, how are you today?” I ask her. She hesitantly smiles, her eyes scanning the crowded room.
“I know you have a lot of people to talk to, but I just wanted to ask if you’re ever going to share my story?” she wonders.
“Would you like me to?”
“Then I will.”
Her smile turns genuine and she glances at Jack before she continues. “Do you think we could write another one? I have so many things left to do and I really enjoyed working with you.”
“Thank you. Of course we can. It might not be for a couple months, but I would love to write another story for you. You still have rock people to fight off.”
Her eyes grow big as saucers and I struggle not to laugh as I leave her and Jack. I already know how that story will end; if things work out, they should both be fine.
My smile is still on my face when I finally sit down with Gavin and Ronnie.
“Saved the best for last, huh?” Gavin teases.
“Of course,” I agree. I flip the notebook open to a new page and position my pen. “We have a story to write.”
“Oh, finally?” Ronnie exclaims. I nod.
“Yep. So what do you want me to write about?”
Ronnie and Gavin start talking at the same time and I laugh as I tell them to slow down and then start furiously writing everything I hear them say. I can’t tell you much, but I can promise this will be a sweet, romantic story.
I hope you enjoyed a small journey into my head. I have a feeling this dining hall will be a frequent stop for these chats - there are so many characters I didn't get to chat with here! And I hope my dear friend, Stacie, doesn't mind seeing her characters in my head. They've taken up residence along with all the others I love. :)
Happy Monday, everyone!