Amy Ross brings readers an inventive modern retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“If I could rightly be said to be either,
it was only because I was radically both.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson,
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Now I remember why I hate costume parties.
I’m pushing my way through the mob stuffed into Jared Kilpatrick’s living room, getting shoved an inch backward for every two inches of progress. The bodies surrounding me are wearing far less than usual, and I’m disgustingly aware of their alcoholic sweat pressing up against my own damp skin through nothing more than a layer of black mesh or bondage tape. The air is rank with an aromatic cocktail of adolescent hormones and cheap drugstore body spray, all heightened by the buzzing excitement of Friday night, Kilpatrick’s legendary Halloween party and the promise of a whole weekend to sleep off its excesses.
I have a plastic cup of beer over my head, and I’m trying to keep it steady, but three boys dressed absurdly as some kind of steampunk submarine are crossing in front of me, forcing their way toward the kitchen while a peg-legged pirate tries to manhandle me from behind. One corner of the papier-mâché sub knocks my wrist and sends a foaming splash down on me, the pirate and his stuffed parrot. I curse under my breath, but my annoyance gives me an extra boost to shove my way forward and finally break through to the sliding doors opening onto the back porch.
The shock of cold autumn air raises goose bumps on my skin, thanks to my beer-damp clothes. This polyester lab coat wasn’t exactly designed for Midwestern fall weather—especially with nothing underneath but leggings and a black bra. Maybe Sexy Mad Scientist wasn’t the greatest idea for a costume, but at least I could throw it together with stuff I had lying around the house—protective goggles, latex gloves, a lab coat borrowed from a neighbor, plus about three cans of hair spray to make me look like I’ve been electrocuted.
I relax against the railing and watch the crowd through the glass doors. There’s something about a party where you know everyone but they all look different. Someone will speak to you in a familiar voice and you turn to find yourself face-to-face with Cleopatra or an evil clown or a giant cereal box. It’s disorienting and leaves me slightly seasick. Everyone is disguised, and everyone wants to be noticed. Not that I’m any different.
I turn away from them and lean out over the backyard as I pull my phone from my pocket. It’s too late in the year for fireflies, but the lawn is dotted with glowing tips of cigarettes and joints clustered in twos and threes, and the effect is not so different. The manicured backyard extends into low bushes and then the gently sloping fields beyond. The nearest neighbors on this cul-de-sac aren’t visible from this angle, but off to the left there’s a twinkling of lights from town, the view partially blocked by the twinned hulking forms of Donnelly and Lonsanto corporate headquarters. On sunny days, their curved, mirrored surfaces catch the sunlight and reflect the clouds and green and gold corn fields, but tonight, picking up the orange glow from the town’s streetlights, they look almost eerie.
“Lulu! You cannot abandon me like that.”
My cousin Camila’s voice nearly startles my phone out of my hand. She’s the only reason I even came tonight— these red-cup ragers are really not my scene. When I first started at London High, I used to hit the local scene with Camila pretty regularly. For a while it was fun and exciting to drink our way through the town’s liquor cabinets and hook up with different boys every weekend, but I lost interest in that stuff pretty quickly. People wonder these days what Camila and I see in each other, and if we weren’t family, I’m not sure we’d see much. We don’t move in the same circles or listen to the same music, and while she’s practically famous in the party circuit around here, I prefer nights curled up in my pj’s, marathoning old TV shows. But she’ll be graduating this spring and starting work, and she acts like this means we’ll never see each other again. I know she’s just being dramatic, but I let her talk me into coming out again with her anyway, “for old time’s sake.”
Tonight she’s dressed as a jockey, which is probably an excuse to wear tight pants and carry a riding crop. “Sorry,” I say. “Thought you were right behind me.”
“I was, but I got distracted by the guy in the horse mask.”
She fondles her riding crop appreciatively. “Apparently he’s been very bad.”
Camila lifts her chin in my direction, as if daring me to make a comment about her shamelessness, but I just shrug.
She’s picked up this kind of talk from the rich kids who throw these keggers—they think it makes them sound sophisticated— but she’ll have to try harder if she wants to shock me. I may spend more time at home with my books than hooking up with boys, but that doesn’t mean I’m a prude.
“Sounds promising,” I tell her instead.
“I thought so, but he wouldn’t take off the mask and I got weirded out. What if he’s ugly?”
“He’s wearing a horse mask,” I say, glancing back down at my phone. “Got to be hiding something.”
Camila snaps the phone out of my hand.
“You’re at a kegger with the entire junior and senior classes,” she says over my objection. “Not to mention your favorite cousin. Who could you possibly be texting?” She scrolls through my messages. “I knew it.” She holds up the phone triumphantly. “Can’t take even one night off from the boyfriend.”
“Jek’s not my boyfriend,” I mumble as she hands me the phone back. “He said he might come tonight. No way I’d find him in this mob scene, so I was just—”
“Jek, at a costume party?” Camila giggles. “Now that’d be something. What would he dress up as? A chemical equation?”
I decide not to mention that Jek went as a water molecule to his eighth birthday party.
“I told him he didn’t have to wear a costume.”
Camila swats me lightly with her crop. “Of course you did, spoilsport. All you cared about was him seeing you in yours.” She eyes the plunging neckline of my lab coat meaningfully.
My phone buzzes.
Camila raises her eyebrows. “Well? Is he here?”
I check the message.
“No need to answer,” she says. “The disappointment is written all over your face.”
“He’s watching a movie.” I slide my phone into my pocket. “Might stop by later.”
“That translates to ripping bong-loads, right? Something tells me he won’t be peeling himself off his couch anytime soon. Remind me, why are you so into this loser?”
“Stop it. You could not be more wrong about him.”
“Oh, I see,” she says sarcastically. “So he’s not a huge pothead?”
The truth is, Jek has all but given up weed. But since he’s mostly replaced it with even stronger substances, I’m not eager to argue the point.
“He’s not just a pothead, all right? He’s also a genius. I’ve seen both of you high, and I only remember one of you poring over an advanced neurochemistry text.”
“Fine, fine. I get it. But you’ve been hung up on Jek ever since you were kids, and he still looks at you like you’re his sister. I think it’s time.”
“Time for what?”
“Time to make a move, Lulu. Make a move or move on.”
“What do you think I was doing, inviting him here tonight?”
Camila snorts. “He may be a genius, but he needs some things spelled out a little more clearly. Why are you wasting time at this party when you could be over at his house, stripping off that lab coat and unzipping his pants? Even Jek couldn’t miss that signal. Probably.”
“Camila! Geez.” I wrap my lab coat more tightly around me. “It’s not like that, okay? We’re best friends, we always have been, and…and if that’s all he wants, that’s fine. I’m not going to force myself on him.”
“You wouldn’t be forcing him. There isn’t a boy in the world who would turn down that offer. Unless…”
“I don’t know…maybe he’s gay.”
“He’s not gay,” I say, maybe a little too sharply. Camila gives me a look and I let out a sigh. “Or, I don’t know. I guess he could be.”
“You of all people should know. Doesn’t he tell you everything?”
I shake my head. “We don’t talk about stuff like that.”
“So that’s it, then,” she muses, leaning back against the railing. “That explains a lot, really. But in that case, Lulu, you should really give it up and focus on the fine-looking boys in front of you.” She gestures at the throng inside the party.
“But how can you be so sure? He’s never shown any interest in me, but he’s never shown interest in anyone else, either. Of any gender. I think his brain just doesn’t work like that.”
Camila gives me a sidelong glance. “It’s not the brain I’m talking about.”
“Shut up. What I mean is, yeah, I’ve known him for ages and yeah I kind of like him, but all he cares about is science.”
“Science and getting high.”
I ignore her. “He’s not like the other boys in this town. Doesn’t have his mind in the gutter all the time. He’s got other interests.” Camila wraps her arms around herself, looking dubious, but I don’t let that stop me. “Chemistry is his one true love,” I explain, “and nothing else will ever compare for him. You want to know why I’m interested in him, well…that’s why. I love his passion.”
“Lulu, honey,” says Camila with something like pity. “Wouldn’t you rather have a boy who’s passionate about you?”
I shrug and she shakes her head.
“You’re hopeless, you know that?” She hoists herself up on the porch rail.
I don’t give her an answer, but the fact is, I do know it. My feelings for Jek are just as hopeless as Camila says. I’ve done everything I can think of to get him to notice me, and Jek’s not an idiot. He’s got to know how I feel, and if he hasn’t shown any interest yet, he isn’t going to. The only rational response is to move on.
But I’m not quite ready to be rational yet. Maybe he needs a little more time. Maybe he just needs some encouragement. Maybe if I’m patient, he’ll wake up one day and realize I’m the one he’s wanted all along.
I squeeze my eyes shut, disgusted with my own thoughts. If I said any of that out loud, Camila would be the first to tell me how I’ve had my mind addled by too many romcoms and fairy tales. I don’t need the lecture, so I keep my thoughts to myself.
Lucky for me, Camila has stopped watching my face and moved on to more exciting spectator activities, like narrating all the town gossip while a dozen little soap operas play out through the window, as if it’s our own personal flat-screen TV.
“Hmm, looks like Val and Erik are still together. Guess she never told him what she did to his car. And Brandon is way too drunk again. Third time this week, from what I heard.”
“Quit it, Camila,” I grumble.
“Come on… Don’t you want to know what’s going on in this sad little town?”
“I don’t like gossip. People are entitled to their secrets.”
“Oooh,” she says, ignoring me. “Natalie Martinez, returning to the scene of the crime.”
“Camila, I said—”
“Shh, I know, but this is different. It’s not about what she did, it’s what got done to her. If some sleazebag attacked her, don’t you think it’s my duty to let everyone know? For
the safety of future potential victims, I mean.”
I cast her a doubtful look. Camila’s been known to exaggerate.
“Did some sleazebag attack her?”
She shrugs. “Hard to say, really. It was last Saturday night, at Matt Klein’s kegger. I got there late because I was…” She trails off. “Well, never mind what I was doing.
The point is, when I got there, she was slipping into one of the bedrooms with this half-Asian guy. Floyd or something. Lloyd? Hyde. I’d never seen him before.”
“That’s your story? People do that all the time, Camila. You do that all the time.”
“I’m not judging, and I’m not done! As far as anyone can tell, she went in perfectly happy and willing, but she came out twenty minutes later looking like she’d seen the devil himself. She started yelling at this guy in front of everyone, calling him a freak, saying she’d never agreed to that.”
“Oh, so now you want to know,” Camila teases.
I turn away from her, annoyed that she caught me in her trap. “So don’t tell me,” I huff. “You’re the one who brought it up.”
“Yeah, well…whatever it was, it was apparently too kinky for Natalie to say out loud. She did say she was going to call the cops on him, though.”
“Shit,” I say, interested again in spite of myself. “What happened?”
“Somehow it all died out. Natalie left the kegger in tears with a friend, and I expected to hear sirens within minutes, but no one ever came. As far as the gossip mill is concerned, she never told anyone what happened. No one official, at least. But then again, Natalie’s gotten around a lot since her dad got sick last year. Maybe she’s afraid no one would believe her story.”
“What about the guy? Hyde?”
“Beats me. At that point, no one wanted to admit to knowing him, let alone inviting him. I don’t blame them…
There’s something funny about that guy. Something off.”
“What do you mean?” I say, no longer bothering to hide my interest. Camila’s too deep into her story to give me a hard time about it.
“I don’t know…” she says, staring off at nothing as if she’s replaying the scene in her mind. “He’s sort of weirdlooking.”
She shivers. “Something about his face.”
“What, like a scar?”
Camila squinches up her forehead, like she’s trying to remember, but after a second she shakes her head. “I don’t know. Maybe.” She shivers again and slides off the porch rail. “Come on, it’s freezing out here. Come back inside with me and at least try to have fun?”
I heave a long-suffering sigh, but a few minutes later we are giggling uncontrollably at the sight of Dracula, Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes trading keg stands, and I have to admit I am having a pretty good time—at least until Camila decides to join them, and ends our evening early by getting spectacularly drunk and puking all over Kilpatrick’s kitchen table. After that, I don’t have much choice but to get her as cleaned up as I can, then tug and shove her toward the front door, through a crowd that seems to have only gotten bigger and rowdier in the past couple of hours.
Once I’ve gotten a weakly protesting Camila through the door, I turn and give one last glance around the party on the off chance that my eyes will land on Jek. Camila’s right—it’s pretty unlikely that Jek would show up to a kegger, but he did say he might. But before I get a good look,
I’m knocked off balance by some guy shoving his way into the house. I tip backward into Camila, and she goes stumbling down the front steps, where she wobbles a moment before pitching heavily to the ground.
“Watch it, asshole,” I call over my shoulder as I hurry to her side. In return, the guy spits back a slur so vile that I spin around to face him, shock and fury pulsing through me. “What did you call me?”
The dark-eyed boy tosses a bored glance over one shoulder and opens his mouth as if to follow up on his comment. But something about my face must change his mind, because his eyes widen in what looks like panic, and before I know it he has slithered back into the crowd.
“What was that all about?” Camila asks hazily as I help her to her feet.
“I hate costume parties,” I mutter. “Hard to give someone a piece of your mind when they’re dressed as…”
I grasp at a word or an idea for a second, but it slips away from me. “I didn’t get a good look at him,” I tell her with a shrug. “Some kind of angel? Or a demon.”
Camila giggles as I maneuver her into the car.
“Well, which was it?”
“I mean, like a fallen angel,” I explain, but I can’t put my finger on why I think so. I try to conjure up a mental image of him, but I don’t remember him wearing anything special or carrying any props, and his face is now a muddled memory. I can’t quite get a fix on whether his nose was big or small, his cheeks sharp or soft, his skin dark or light— all that stands out in my mind are those intense black eyes, and the strange fear I read in them.
We hope you enjoyed this sample of Jek/Hyde by Amy Ross!
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