Actions

Work Header

My ghost, where'd you go? What happened to the soul that you used to be?

Chapter Text

“Ronnie, you don't understand. I can't stay in that house anymore, I feel like someone's watching me all the time.”

“If this is some kind of joke, it's not funny at all. You know how seriously I take the supernatural.”

“God, Veronica, I'm not kidding. I can literally feel that look on me. And it's everywhere, no matter what part of the house I'm in. My parents say I'm paranoid, but I know how I feel.”

“Will you calm down, okay? Tomorrow I will visit you in the new house, and we will bring to light all the ghosts.”

“Thanks, V. You're the best friend.”

“Try to sleep, I love you.”

“Love you too.”

 

Toni put the phone down on the nightstand and pulled the covers tighter around her. She was already eighteen years old, but in this house, she could not sleep without a light source. Her favorite nightlight lit up some of the room, but it wasn't enough. Besides, it cast weird shadows that made everything even scarier. Or maybe it was what Toni had found on the Internet about that place that made it scarier. Not so long ago, twins her age had died here. The feds thought it was a suicide and the case was hushed up. At least one meticulous young detective thought so. Locals also avoided this place, because for a few days, Toni did not see anyone nearby. Her parents needed to find out more carefully, and not buy into the low price of realtors who want to get rid of this terrible Gothic castle.

The floorboards creaked ominously, forcing her head under the covers. Oh, if her former friends could see it now, they'd laugh for a year. But that, at least, was nerve-racking. She slept here only a few nights, but she could only sleep for a couple of hours.

“Let's scare her some more.”

The whisper came directly over Topaz's face. She screamed and jerked back the covers. It always seemed funny to her that in horror movies the victims ran straight into danger instead of hiding away. But now she felt the adrenaline rush of not being able to lie down and do nothing. A pair of brown eyes stared at her. The guy loomed over her. He held himself in the air in a horizontal position, and his eyes were as frightened as the girl's. She could not breathe or move, her body as if weighed down by weights. Is it possible that she just fell asleep and sees the tenth dream? Or is this guy real? What about the girl sitting on the windowsill filing her nails? Is this some kind of trick?

“Who are you, and what are you doing in my room?” Toni was terrified, but she managed to say the sentence in a more or less calm and slightly defiant voice.

“Are you kidding me?” The redhead stopped what she was doing and was beside the bed. “Can you fucking see us?”

“You're not out of thin air, why shouldn't I see you? How did you get here, this is the second floor?”

“Jay, do you understand? She sees us!” The guy moved and now stood with, like two peas similar to him, girl. Toni did not have time to blink during this action.

“But it can't be. No one has noticed us yet!”

Images from the Internet began to blink in Toni's mind: police tape, a coroner's car, a tear-stained Mrs. Blossom, and a photo of eighteen-year-old twins attached to the document. Topaz suddenly burst out laughing, causing the twins to look at each other blankly and stare at her again.

“Are you fucking ghosts?”

The girl seemed to grow bolder. She threw back the covers completely and even sat up in bed to enjoy the picture to the fullest.

“Are you the Blossoms who killed themselves here?”

“Actually, I'm too beautiful and young to kill myself.” The redhead grunted, tossing her hair over one shoulder. Her skin was hideously pale, paler than her brother's. “We were killed, dear.”

“Cheryl! We can't tell her that.” The guy was outraged by the behavior of his sister.

“Do you see anyone else who can hear us? And you seriously think anyone would believe her Ghost stories? That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say.”

“Why are you here? Who killed you?” Toni didn't believe them for many reasons. Yes, the resemblance was on the face, but it may be too skillful makeup. Or it would all evaporate as soon as she woke up. And let the fact that she pinches her hand a minute, is not helping. She's definitely sleeping soundly. So if she was safe, why not pleased her nightmares and talk to the ghosts?

“We were killed here, weirdo! I just told you! And we don't know who it was. Just that we've done something to that asshole, because who else is going to put us to sleep and open our veins?”

“No, I think she's wondering why we stayed in the house. Can I sit?”

Toni nodded, raising an eyebrow as the bed buckled beneath the boy.

“The thing is, we don't know. Maybe the house is cursed, and everyone who dies here remains a Ghost.”

“This isn't American horror story, Jason. It's just that sometimes fate can be a bitch.”

The girl was obviously bored during a conversation. Even the fact that she had been able to talk to someone other than her brother in the last few years, which was how long it had been since their deaths, did not please her. Toni, of course, arranged such an answer, because she did not even believe in the reality of what was happening. But it didn't escape her that the twins were very reluctant to answer questions about their deaths, and looked as if they were coming up with answers as they went.

“Why didn't you show up earlier?”

“Well, you know, we've tried everything. People only hear the sounds of our pranks, so we lost hope. But you're different. Can you imagine what it was like for me to talk only to Cheryl for two years?”

Topaz smiled. It was as if she were talking to an ordinary classmate from the last school rather than having a small talk with a dead boy whose soul is locked in her new home. But can not only soul?

Toni reached up and tucked a strand of bright red hair behind his ear. That's what caught the attention of the selfish sister. She materialized next to Toni, even though she'd just been looking at her family photos across the room. She suddenly grabbed the girl's wrist. Her skin was icy. Toni's instincts told her to keep girl's warm, but she pushed those thoughts away.

“It's crazy.” Cheryl whispered in awe as she studied girl's wrist, running her fingers over it, sending goose bumps all over the pink-haired woman's body. “We need a lot of effort to touch simple fucking things. And here to touch the person, without making any effort...”

Topaz came to herself and jerked her hand away. It no longer seemed unreal, so it frightened her.

“Can you leave my room, please?”

“Sure.” The boy was gone in an instant, only a slightly rumpled sheet reminding that he was sitting on the bed. But his sister didn't leave so quickly. She was standing beside the bed, staring into Toni's eyes, frowning.

“We're not done yet, Antoinette! And this is my room!”

Toni opened her mouth to protest, but Blossom was gone. The girl could only lie back in bed and cover herself with a protective blanket. She had nothing more to fear, for all her fears had left the room at her request. God, how absurd! Her heart was pounding in her chest. She had experienced a meeting with ghosts, and it was an indescribably strange experience. But now she wanted to get to the truth. She should to act alone, because to tell about this-to get a direct ticket to a mental hospital. But Topaz loved mysteries with all her being, and with that thought she sank into her first serene sleep in a long time.

-

Toni woke up late. The delights of summer vacation made themselves felt. But it was unusual for her to get up almost at lunchtime. Mom never disturbed her on weekends and holidays, because she spent a lot of time studying, did not forget about the parties with a friend, so very exhausted. But sometimes Toni just needed to get up early so she wouldn't feel like a vegetable all day. She got out of bed and went straight to the shower to wash away her drowsiness.

After all the water treatments, the girl wrapped herself in her favorite terry robe, put on slippers and went downstairs. She stopped in the middle of the stairs and closed her eyes blissfully. The delicious smell of freshly baked pancakes, which she loved to eat with currant jam, began to spread throughout the house. Mom didn't work, so Toni could enjoy her cooking. But dad worked like hell to make sure his family didn't need anything. The girl almost carelessly continued to move, but then she was flooded with memories of why she again stopped abruptly.

Those guy and girl were so real that it stirred the mind. But the girl was so sound asleep that she might have thought of something. Although not one of her dreams did not remember her in such detail. She looked around and, seeing no one else, whispered loudly.

“Jason?”

It was quiet for a few seconds. And then she saw a red-haired boy in shorts, a long t-shirt, barefoot, with disheveled hair. It was as if he, like Toni, had just woken up, but it wasn't as if the ghosts needed sleep. The scream lodged deep in her throat, but Toni just stood there blinking her eyes while Jason, too, was silent, turning cards between his fingers. She had just noticed the letters written by black marker on his forehead.

Asshole

Just like his sister, Toni thought, and she saw girl in front of her.

“God, what took so long?” Cheryl was annoyed again. She was also dressed casually in short shorts and an oversized shirt. Her hair was in a bun and she wore no makeup. Topaz thought for a moment that she was not seeing yesterday's cover model at all, but some best friend staying at her place overnight.

On the girl's cheek was written in bold letters:

Gay

But Toni didn't care, just continued to stare at the twins.

“Jay, she looks like she has seen a ghost.” Cheryl grinned, waving a fan of cards in front of the pink-haired girl's face. “Come on, I want to keep playing.”

“It can't be real." Toni finally whispered.

“Well, of course you're just hallucinating. Can we leave it at that?”

“Wait, what about my parents?” Cheryl was about to evaporate, so Toni grabbed her arm just above the elbow. But the girl immediately hit Toni, knocking her hand away. Apparently she was terribly unaccustomed to physical contact for a few years.

“Don't touch me! Jason spent half the morning spinning in front of your mom, but she didn't see him.”

“What about my dad?” Toni wanted to find some proof that she wasn't crazy.

“Well…” Cheryl laughed, which Toni thought was insanely beautiful. “Jay was afraid that if he saw him, he would kill him like a thief. But I dare you to grieve, he didn't even notice me, which is impossible, of course. He literally walked through me, yelling at someone on the phone.”

“But why do I see you? This is pure madness!”

“It is, but, alas, it is your burden! Good luck with that.” Cheryl disappeared, slapping her brother on the shoulder.

“Forgive her, she doesn't trust people. But she's good person, really.”

The boy smiled good-naturedly and, wishing Toni a good appetite, followed his sister. She stood there for some time, until Amelia came out of the kitchen and called her to the table. Toni decided here and now, whatever it took, she would find out what had happened to these guys.

-

Veronica came in after dinner, as she had promised, but Toni had only eaten by this time. Ronnie was the most punctual person in the world, but she didn't push her friend, knowing that after what had happened in New York, she was still not herself. The girls went upstairs to get Toni dressed so they could walk around the city. Still, they had to settle in before they could enroll in their final year at Riverdale high school. The girls had been best friends for years because their parents shared a business they ran in New York and here.

Topaz did not tell her friend about her visions, because she would definitely put it down to depression.

Veronica first time came to girlfriend in visitors, since their relocation, so has arranged herself a small tour on mansion. Lodge was a connoisseur of art and could talk for hours about styles of architecture.

Toni, meanwhile, was choosing what to wear. She took off her robe, leaving only her underwear, and stood by the closet, choosing thoughtfully. She jumped and would have fainted if Cheryl's cold fingers hadn't closed around her shoulder.

“Whoa, whoa, and I already miss the way people faint at the sight of me.” Cheryl smiled, giving Toni a chance to steady herself on her feet.

It took her a moment to realize how she stood before the Ghost, and she hurried to grab the robe and put it back on. Blossom ignored her as she lay down on the girl's bed, or rather on her own.

“Why are you here, Cheryl?”

“You know, Jason's too kind and shy, but I'm not. I'm tired of being here alone and talking to him. So get used to it, now you're a hostage to circumstances. Also, who's that beauty did you bring with you?”

Toni looked at the girl as if she were insane. She was insanely brazen. Topaz had never been in contact with such people, and she had always walked a mile around them, except once. Girl unwittingly evoked the case. For one thing, she just hadn't forgotten yet. If in the last time she was busy moving, and suddenly appeared ghosts, then now all again surged on it. And secondly, Cheryl was exactly the same as he is. Like Colin.

Topaz paused, turning away from her companion and hiding her tears. But Blossom simply left her no choice, appearing in front of her face and touching her hot chin with her long fingers.

“Why are you crying?”

“Go away. Get out of here, Cheryl! I don't need anyone else invading my personal space.” Toni slapped Cheryl on the shoulder and yelled at her. Blossom gasped with indignation and stood for a few seconds, just opening and closing her mouth.

But then she looked away, pursed her lips, and was gone. Even more unexpected than she appeared.

At that moment the door to the room burst open and Veronica rushed in.

“Hey, what are you yelling at? Toni, why are you crying?”

“I can't be in this house anymore. She'll just make me nervous!”

“Who is she, dear?” Ronnie came over and hugged her. Topaz sobbed at her friend's shoulder.

“Nobody. I just need to clear my head.” Toni took a deep breath. She could show Cheryl who was in charge, but she couldn't do it now. She didn't like that some dead girl had upset her by sheer insolence. She wasn't a simpleton either.

“He literally walked through me, yelling at someone on the phone. We have to visit Pop's.”

Toni nodded. She wiped her eyes and went back to the closet. A couple of times her gaze fell on the rumpled bedspread on which the redhead lay, but she decided to ignore that. She couldn't think of her now. She didn't want to think about her at all.

Topaz chose one of the many plaid flannel shirts, denim overall, and sneakers. She loved her comfortable style, but she never minded sexy dresses and high heels that looked great on her height. She curled her hair a little and hid bags under her eyes and tears under makeup.

Veronica was waiting for her outside in her new Firebird. Her father was in jail for some fraud while Toni's father dealing with the problems. But girls never interfere into it, until have them were loving parents and money, thanks to which they, nor in than itself not denied.

“I could take my bike. It is smaller and more convenient.” Toni put on her sunglasses and sat in the passenger seat.

“Firstly, you're in no condition to drive now, the move hasn't been good for you, and in the secondly, I just have to try out a new car. It's another gift from daddy for not being around us right now. When will he get tired of cajoling me?”

“I'm fine, Ronnie, I'll get over it. As for uncle Hiram, it's working, why would he stop?”

“You're right, it works flawlessly.”

Thank God they'd closed the subject, and Lodge didn't press her friend to tell her exactly what had happened at that party. One day, Toni will be ready to tell.

Veronica found out about this diner recently. She asked her butler, Smithers, who had lived there for a long time, about the best places. Her mom and dad used to live in Riverdale many years ago, but V was lucky enough to be born in the Big Apple and enjoy the pleasures of growing up.

She pulled the car to a smooth stop in the Parking lot of the most colorful establishment they'd ever met on the way. Pop's diner was decorated with neon signs that only threw off the glare of the sun in the daytime, because there was no need to turn them on. There were not many cars, but inside it was quite the opposite. Most of the tables were occupied, but the girls were lucky to find some space.

Veronica, like a true negotiator, went to order while Toni looked around. In the farthest corner, by the window, sat a group of guys who looked her age: a pretty blonde, a redheaded kid who looked a bit like Jason, and a guy in a strange crown hat. They were deep in conversation, and Toni stared.

Not so long ago, she and Veronica and a few other guys from the class were sitting in a Starbucks drinking the best latte there was. They talked a lot about personal matters, and now, none of her former friends, except Veronica, did not even inquire about her condition. It was very sad.

Tony didn't have to sit alone long enough to wait for Veronica. Girl very quickly made to order: beloved burgers, cherry and strawberry milkshakes. Everything they always ordered in NY. Toni had moved on from what had happened in the house, and now she was determined to talk about something good with her friend. They hadn't talked much lately. Since the incident in New York, Toni had wanted to talk to no one but her parents. She didn't tell them the whole truth, of course, but just as much as they needed to know to sue. In order to move out of the city at all. Maybe soon, Toni would be ready enough to tell her friend. But definitely not now. At the moment, other things were on her mind. For instance, what happened to the Blossoms? How could she ever find out what had happened to them? She wasn't a fucking detective. Of course, she liked all these films about detectives, and in her case, even with the horror genre, but who didn't? How to look for evidences? She had no idea. So she needed someone to help her. Perhaps she would find it here in Riverdale, or contact someone in New York. Or maybe she'd ask her father, who knew a couple of cops, to help her. But she was distracted by Veronica.

“Look, I know making new friends isn't exactly what you want to do right now, but those guys look good. Maybe they're our age, and we'll be in the same class? Don't you want to acquaint with them?”

Toni gave a vague shrug. Ronnie was right, because the last thing she wanted right now was to have small talk with strangers. But after all, she could just sit and think while Veronica amused herself. She could not deny friend such a chance, after she took care of her. Topaz nodded, allowing Veronica to get up from the table and walk over to the table across from her.

“Hey. I'm Veronica, this is my friend Toni. Do you mind if we sit down with you?” The pretty blonde, who was very much engaged in conversation with the guy in the strange hat nodded and smiled widely. Her appearance was very suitable for this smile, because she was cute, harmless and shone like the sun.

“We will be glad. The boys and I noticed you, too, but to be honest, we're too shy to go first.”

Veronica walked over to the table, picked up her order, and invited Toni to join them. The red-haired boy moved close to the window, freeing up enough space for the girls on the same type of red sofa of the diner.

“Well, guys, what would you tell us about your city? Toni and I just moved here last week, and we'd love to get to know everything.”

"Are you sisters?" The blonde asked.

Both girls laughed and shook their heads.

“No, we're just very close friends. We are, indeed, like sisters, but not blood relatives. By the way, we didn't introduce to each other, what's your name?”

“Oh, my God. My bad!” The blonde smiled apologetically. Toni noticed that the smile was glued to her face. “My name is Betty Cooper. This is Archie Andrews.” She pointed across the table at the guy who nodded awkwardly at Veronica. “This is Jughead Jones.”

Now she pointed to the guy next to her. The one with the strange hat.

“Jughead? Very interesting name!” Veronica wanted to laugh out loud. Jughead! How can you even call a child like that? But she said nothing. She wasn't the most sensitive person to others, but she didn't want to spoil first impression about her. Maybe someday she'd tell this guy it was ridiculous to have a name like that, but not today.

“I really like your name, honestly. It's very unusual.”

Toni raised one eyebrow and looked at Veronica. Of course, she knew that her friend was lying, because she saw through her. She'd been friends with her for eleven years. But she just smiled and sipped her cherry cocktail. Veronica's choice was incomprehensible to her, because she had always disliked cherries, but this cocktail seemed to have been created with divine intervention.

“Well, can you tell us anything about yourself? Why did you move?” The red-haired guy seemed to be the kindest of the bunch.

Jughead was the scowl, and Betty's shifty eyes told she was hiding something. But Archie... He really was an open book. At least Toni had seen a lot of guys like that. They were ready to woo you forever, spray compliments, kiss on the cheek, even carry a briefcase, but when it came to some serious actions-they merged.

Maybe that's why Toni didn't date guys anymore. Was she disappointed in them? Or not? No, of course not. How can you be disappointed in someone you don't even know yet? It was just easier with girls. She was one of them, and she knew what they might want. But Veronica liked to breed guys. She didn't even seem to pursue the idea of finding a boyfriend to date seriously. She just liked to torture them, make them fall in love, and then say things like, "Sorry, you're not right for me."

“Our parents are in business, so we moved here.”

“What's your last name?” The boy in the strange hat finally spoke. He looked as if he didn't like talking to strangers. Perhaps only with this company. Archie was probably his best friend, and Betty was his girlfriend. He is so used to them that he does not feel out of place. Even now, he was looking at the two girls very warily, as if they were up to something. But seriously? Two seventeen-year-old girls?

“My name is Veronica Lodge. My parents used to live in Riverdale and have decided to return home.”

“Yes, I think I heard from my father! Certainly, heard, they studied under together with him. Hermione and Hiram, aren't they?” Archie put in a word to get Veronica's attention. He looked as if he liked her. She smiled and nodded at him to amuse his vanity.

“And what about you?” Jughead looked at Toni, who shrugged. Well, she didn't want to talk to anyone. She was thinking about what had happened in the house. About Cheryl invading her personal space, and it was unpleasant, frightening, kind of weird. Why would anyone bother with her if she hadn't done anything wrong?

“Oh, it's Antoinette Topaz. Our fathers have a business in common. They're partners, and now that my family's in a bit of trouble, Mr. Topaz is helping us out a lot, isn't he, Toni?”

Lodge tried her best to include Toni in the conversation so that she would open up. She had to talk to someone else. Veronica knew about the shrink Toni's parents had sent her to see. But no matter how hard she tried to find out, the reason was behind seven locks. Toni nodded blankly.

“You're not very talkative, are you?” For some reason, Jug wanted to start the conversation with Toni. Veronica seemed to him the usual stereotype of a rich bitch who can't find her place in life without dad's money. And Toni was different, like his friends on the South side. Was she a recluse in her society of rich snobs? He might want to know her. Will she be useful for blue & gold? Will she investigate the mysteries of the small town with him and Betty? He shook his head to clear it. Why would he think about some new girl when he had his own team — his best friends, whom he had known since childhood?

“Where are you living?” Betty asked. Anywhere else, it would be inappropriate. But this city, like all its inhabitants, was an open book, so it would be impolite to hide anything.

“I'm staying in Pembroke, where I think my parents used to live. And here is Toni secured, indeed, stunning castle. I was just there. It's Thornhill on the outskirts of town. Have you heard about it?”

“Oh, God. Toni, I'm so sorry.”

“What is it?” The girl finally came to life. Did these guys know anything about her house?

“My cousins Cheryl and Jason lived there. They were a few years older, so we didn't talk much. Some time ago, they... A tragedy happened to them. They killed themselves.”

“Gosh, Toni, did you know that?” Veronica was very much surprised. Perhaps after a while she would believe Toni that she heard strange noises there. She was terribly superstitious. If she were told that the Blossoms had been killed, she would certainly believe that their ghosts were still there.

“Yes, I read about it on the Internet.”

“No wonder you've developed nightmares about it, babe. Where were your parents looking?”

“Yeah, Ronnie, really? My parents don't have to worry about a house right now.”

“I'm Sorry, T. I didn't mean it.”

Guys, silently watched the unfolding quarrel. But they did not want to get involved in other people's showdowns, especially related to business.

“Do you know anything about what happened? I'd like to know more.”

“No, we don't know anything!” Jughead was so abrupt that Betty instantly seized his arm and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

“Actually, all we know is that Jason cut his wrists, and Cheryl followed. Their parents did not seem to be at home at the time, so the twins were not found until the next day.” Betty was much calmer than Jug. But it was obvious he didn't want her to share even the official version with the newcomers.

“I still don't understand how they could do that.”

“They didn't do it!” Toni knew what she was saying. She started protecting the guys who terrorized her for days on end. Guys, who couldn't tell her anything about it because they were dead.

“What makes you think that?” Jughead put his hands on the table as he approached Toni across from him. “Do you know anything?”

“I don't know anything.” The girl wanted to look away, but she knew what it would be like, so she stared straight at the guy. He was like her in character, just as stubborn and distant. “I just don't think the story is that simple. I read the police reports. It seems that they are written by someone's order.”

Jug thought about it, and maybe he regretted it, but he asked.

“What do you think about the paper?”

“What?”

“Betty and I run the school newspaper. We could use a fresh look.” Cooper nodded frequently in agreement.

“I'm just a photographer, but if there's anything I can do to help, I'd love to.”

Veronica started talking about the cheerleading squad with Betty, then switched to music lessons with Archie. Toni was bored. For some reason, she wanted to go back to that hated house and talk to Jason. He seemed very nice and intelligent. She didn't really want to see Cheryl, but it seemed even her cold company would be better now.

“Look, V. I want to walk. Why don't you stay with the guys?”

“But, Toni! We wanted to go for a walk together.”

“Really, V, it's okay. I really want you to make friends, and I'll just take a break from everything.”

“Well. As you wish.”

“It was nice meeting you guys. I really hope to see you at school in a week.”

“Yes, we are nice to meet you, too.”

The guys said goodbye, and Toni walked out of the cafe. It seemed to her that even breathing became easier. She only needed a couple of real friends to be happy. Large companies, where someone constantly shouts and tries to attract attention, pushed her away. Toni took a deep breath of the warm, clean air and walked toward the house. Good thing she remembered the way.

-

“Why are you so angry? Cheryl?”

She tried to concentrate, trying to snatch a few photos from the stand in Toni's room.

“I don't know, okay. I don't like her. I want her to choose another room, not mine. Why should I lie in another bed now, when I was so used to mine?”

“There's something wrong here! What have you done before? I heard her scream.” The guy bypassed his sister and pushed her in the opposite direction. “If you mess around in her room, we'll never be friends!”

“I don't want to be friends with her. You see, I'm violating her privacy. Has anyone thought about my privacy?”

“And I want to be friends with her because she's cute.”

“It's your choice.” Cheryl gave up all attempts to annoy, because it required strength, which was not. She went to the door to open it, but the door opened itself, colliding with the girl. Cheryl was taken aback, because usually passes through them, not faced.

“God, Cheryl, I'm sorry.” Toni offered her hand; genuinely sorry she'd opened the door so abruptly. But she couldn't imagine the twins host the place without her permission again.

“Everything you touch becomes tangible to us. It's absurd. I don't need your help.” Cheryl stood up herself, brushing her rumpled pants with a straight face. “I refuse to tolerate you. When no one saw us, it was much easier to annoy them and kick them out. This is our house and my room.”

“I'll leave you.” Jason disappeared. He knew Cheryl was explosive when she was angry. And perhaps, if they find out the relationship, they will disperse peacefully.

“It's my home now, too. I'm sorry you've been treated like this, but I'm not going to tolerate it. Get out!”

“Hell no! This. Is. My. Room.”

“And this is my private life, and you're in my way.”

“You're not a tram, move over. I sleep in this bed; I do makeup in front of this mirror.”

“You're a Ghost! You don't have to sleep, eat, and do makeup. You're gone!”

Toni cried out. Luckily, the house was empty; apparently her mom went to the center for groceries.

“Is that what you think?” Cheryl narrowed her eyes, and her lips closed in a straight line.

“No, wait.” Toni sank wearily to the edge of the bed, placing her head between her hands. “I'm sorry; I didn't mean to say that. I know you feel everything, no matter what. And you're as disgusted and hurt by the whole situation as I am. But I can't make concessions alone.”

“What do you want from me? I've lived here my whole life, I can't just change everything.” Cheryl stood a few feet away, arms crossed over her chest.

“But you'll have to at least try, please! I can't have another enemy so soon.”

“What do you mean?” Her gaze became interested, as if Cheryl, for once, was interested.

But Toni would not continue this conversation with a girl who, at the very least, was unpleasant to her.

“Nothing. I just said too much.”

“Everyone has their dark secrets, Antoinette. I'll consider your offer, but I won't promise anything.”

Cheryl decided to leave the room through the door like a normal person.

“Thank you, Cheryl.”

She wanted to chuckle or to laugh naive girl, but she is not expecting said quietly.

“You’re welcome.”

And literally ran out the door.

 

Toni decided to disconnect for a while from the outside world. She knew her mother wouldn't bother her until dinner, and Veronica was definitely busy seducing baby Archie. The girl never took up the reconstruction of her room. She loved aesthetics: her favorite photos hanging on the wall on a special rope, the ones she made herself and was very proud of. She wanted to put things in their own way, but did not find the strength and time.

Now she had it all, and could do something more serious than a photo on the stand and disassembled clothes. Girl looked around, to understand with what start. She noticed things on the high wardrobe that didn't belong to her. Cheryl would be furious if she knew what the girl was doing, and she would. But, a little later, and now Toni had a chance to learn a little about the twins.
She put down a chair because she was small to reach the top. But, by simple manipulation, she managed to get a very dusty box. Perhaps the Blossom family simply forgot these things when they moved, or simply deliberately did not take them with them.

Or maybe they did not belong to them at all, because before Topaz there were several other tenants who moved out for unknown reasons. For obvious reasons only for Toni. There wasn't much in the box: a few postcards, apparently written by Cheryl's desperate fans, a couple of diplomas for winning school science fair, who would have thought that Cheryl cared about studying, a few cups from cheerleading competitions, a cute Teddy Fox in uniform, apparently the mascot of the team, and one thick folder. Toni put everything aside except for it and dusted it carefully and opened it.
It was a photo album that clearly belonged only to Cheryl. Each photo was marked with a red marker. Here is a photo of Jason dressed in a football uniform, and the signature in his sister's patterned handwriting

proud of you, JJ.

In another photo, a redhead was standing with her arms around a blonde, and they were laughing about something. She didn't look at all like the Blossom Toni had met. She glowed with happiness from within.

Polly is my favorite sister-in-law. Someday I'll give you this photo so you know how much I love you. I am very happy to become an aunt, you are my only family.

This girl looked a little like Betty, and Toni had taken the picture out of the album to show Cooper the next time she saw her. Was this girl somehow involved in the family's tragedy, or did she know more than anyone in town because she was close to them?

Basically, the album was baby and teen photos of the twins. Toni liked them very much. Of course, they were taken by a professional photographer, but several were photographed with a simple camera. On these photos the twins were separately and make different faces, maybe even a photographed each other at this point.

What could have motivated someone to kill them? Why didn't their parents fight for the truth and just accept the idea of their suicide? How did the whole city believe that such cheerful guys committed suicide?

Toni put the photograph away in her personal diary and put the box back in its place. She was sure that Cheryl knew of her disposition, and would be indignant if Topaz removed it.
Little by little the girl put away old and unnecessary things in boxes to take to the attic, and her things appeared here and there.

It was dark when she finished. It bothered her that no one had broken into her room in such a long time, but apparently the twins were getting a little used to the respect of others. The girl washed her hands of dust and decided to find my mom who I haven't seen all afternoon. The woman had apparently gone straight to the kitchen after her return. She was setting the table when Toni came downstairs.

“Oh, honey, you're just in time. Can you help me with the dishes? I didn't bother you.”

“I was cleaning the room, mom.” Topaz took the plates from her mother and went into the dining room.

“It's time you were. We moved in a week ago, and you're still acting like a stranger. Are you all right, sweetheart?”

“Yes, mom. I'm fine! Where's dad, isn't he coming to dinner?”

Toni hadn't seen her beloved daddy at all lately. She and her father had a terrific relationship, perhaps even better than Veronica's. It is because Hiram was always trying to buy the heiress's favor, and Jonathan didn't have to. Toni loved him with all her heart. But when he filled in for Hiram while he was in prison, things changed. They saw each other so rarely that Toni began to forget his laughter.

“He'll probably stay at work overnight. I don't like it either, sweetheart, but daddy has always been devoted to his work. You know how proud he is of what he has achieved.”

“I know, mom, but I really missed him.”

“I'm sure he'll be spending at least a day with us soon.”

Toni nodded sadly. Yes, she had always feared that her father's work would be more important than his family, even though he had sworn otherwise.

She and her mother ate in silence, in comfortable silence. Apparently Cheryl and Jason were engaged in something very exciting, since they did not even make a sound. Although the house was very large, they might be trashing Toni's room now. Well, Cheryl could, and Jason seemed to have grown out of it. But who knows?

-

“Are you just going to lie there?”

“She asked for space, I give it to her.”

“But we can help her with something. I just want to talk to her.” Cheryl and Jason had taken a guest bedroom on the second floor so they wouldn't be disturbed.

“I'm comfortable being alone, and you can do whatever you want. I already told you that, just leave me here.” Cheryl certainly didn't like the prospect of Jason leaving her for some strange girl, but they'd been hostages in this house for more than two years. She would have endured.

“You shouldn't be alone. I've been thinking.” Jason sat on the bed and Cheryl looked at him. “What if Toni isn't the only one who can see us? Wait, don't say anything.”

Jason cut her off at once, for she loved interrupting. But now she just nodded.

“So, several families before Topaz had moved into our house, but all of them were old. What if only our peers see us?”

“I think it's wise, Jason. But how are you going to check if we can't leave the grounds of this house?”

“Actually, I have a plan. I want to talk Toni into throwing a party to celebrate the end of the summer holidays.”

Chapter Text

The girl ran down the hallway. She knew it well. It was a corridor that led from the building where they were celebrating to the street, but somehow it didn't end. But the guy behind her was getting closer. He seemed to be breathing down the girl's neck as she off her heels and finally broke out into the street. In the pitch darkness it is difficult to see anything, but she presses the key fob on the keys and sees the glow of the car alarm. She picks up the hem of her dress and runs to the car she borrowed from her father for the evening. But as soon as she gets closer, someone pushes her right on the hood. He pushes her.

“Did you think you could walk away like this without saying goodbye?” The guy pinned her against the car, hovering over her. She didn't know what to do, but she tried to pull away from him.

“Please let me go. You're hurting me.”

“You're hurting me because you broke my heart. You wanted to date my sister! How could you if you knew I loved you?”

“You're just a sick bastard, you knew all about it before I told Monica.”

“You will pay dearly for humiliating me in front of everyone.”

His hand went under the hem of her dress, and the other clenched around her throat as she tried to pull away.

“Please, don't. She'll never forgive you.”

“It's worse for her.”

The guy began to pull off underwear on slender legs, while the girl wheezed from his grip and cried.

“Please… You're hurting me.” Toni was shaking. Perhaps, deep down, she knew it was a dream, but she couldn't open her eyes.

“Toni. Toni, wake up. Come on, open your eyes.” She jumped up in bed, colliding head-on with the frightened boy. Jason rubbed his forehead awkwardly and removed his hand from her shoulder.

“I'm sorry, I think you had a nightmare and Cheryl asked me to wake you up.”

Blossom stood there, leaning over the girl and gripping the iron headboard until her knuckles were white.

“Thanks.” The girl was embarrassed that she had disturbed the guys when she asked for space.

“What was that?” She looked at Cheryl, who was more frightened than Jason.

“It's a nightmare, never mind. I shouldn't have bothered you, I'm sorry.”

“Toni, you can tell us, really.” Jason squeezed her shoulder reassuringly.

“There's nothing to tell, I tell you. Just a bad dream.”

“Antoinette... I know we're not the best conversationalists, but we can listen and not tell anyone.”

Cheryl pushed herself away from the headboard and sat down on the other side of the bed. Now Toni sat between two twins who, more than anyone else in her life, wanted to understand and help her.

“He was my best friend's brother.” Toni took a deep breath, closing her eyes. Dr. Morella told her to tell someone. It was about two months ago, when her parents had paid for a psychologist, but she had never been able to tell her.

The twins sat and looked at her in silence. Their eyes told Toni that they were there. They are ready to listen to her without saying a word.

“A few months ago, she decided to celebrate her birthday in one of the most expensive clubs in New York. She had invited only her closest friends, so there was hardly anyone I knew except her and Colin. I'd known him for years, as Monica and I grew closer. I told her how do I feel about her that day, and Colin lost his temper.”

Toni took a deep breath and lifted her chin slightly to keep the tears from running down her cheeks. She continued.

“I didn't stay because I saw his anger. Monica and I said goodbye, and I promised to come to her the next day to discuss it in person. He caught up with me in the parking lot and tried to rape me.”
Cheryl put her hand on top of Toni's, resting on her bent knees, and squeezed.

“I told my parents, they sued him. That's when my relationship with Monica went bad, and their family hushed it up. Then he tried to get at me, and even sent a man who very skillfully hinted to me to keep quiet.”

“Do your parents know? It's so illegal that no corrupt cop will get past it.” Cheryl whispered, but anger filled her words to the brim.

“No. My parents have been through enough. To some extent, we moved because of that too. I learned everything and asked my parents to pick up the application. I started a new life, and thanks to you, I can get rid of the burden of the old one.”

“We're happy to help you in any way we can.” Jason leaned forward and put his arms around her. She was so comfortable with them now. There were no pitying exclamations that Veronica would have given her if she told her first, so Toni took a deep breath.

“Go, Jason.” Cheryl broke her brother's and Toni's embrace, shoving him on the shoulder. “Antoinette and I need to talk girl to girl.”

“Are you sure, Toni? If you want, I'll make her disappear." Jason rose from the bed, smiling at Topaz.

“No. It's alright. I think that at least five minutes she is able not to humiliate anyone.”

“Four, actually, but that's enough for me.”

When Jason left, the girls fell silent. Cheryl really wanted to support Toni. She is, quite a bit, of course, but entered the position of the girl. She was sorry that such an asshole appeared in girl's life.

“Well, I wanted to say I'm sorry. No one had the right to invade your personal space. And now I understand why you were so mad about me. Sorry. I really wish I could fix this. I've come across something similar, though I don't remember much about that day. But I know how disgusted you must be.”

“Thanks, Cheryl. You don't have to sit here with me right now, but you do. And Jason said you heard me screaming... Watching me again?”

“In your dreams! I was just passing my room.”

“Come on.” Toni reached out to hug the other twin. She knew she would feel the difference of a hug. After all, Jason and Cheryl, even though they were twins, were insanely different.

She didn't believe Cheryl would allow herself to be hugged at all. But she allowed, and Toni didn't know how to describe it. Cheryl's skin was very cold, like a real dead man's, but at the same time, it wasn't repulsive. Toni wanted again to give all her heat to the girl.

“Well, it's enough! Know you can't strangle a ghost.”

“Damn, you ruined my plans.” Topaz wiped the tears from her eyes, smiling a genuine smile.

“Go to bed. And if you feel uncomfortable, just call me. I can't promise I won't spoil the mood even more, but I'll try not to. But of course, make no mistake, we're not friends.”

“Thanks.” Toni rolled her eyes. “And say thank you J.J. Surprisingly, with you my worries and fears recede into the background.”

“Good night, Toni.”

Cheryl disappeared and Toni went back to bed. There was no sleep in either eye. Not only did she share such a huge secret with someone who fully supported her, so Cheryl also called her Toni. It seemed like a small thing after the way Cheryl had treated her earlier, but somehow it made her want to smile.

 

-

 

Toni thought she'd be up late again, but this time, her mom ruined her plans. She hadn't fallen asleep until dawn after the night's incident, so she wasn't happy about that. She didn't even look out from under the covers when mom came into the room.

“Hon, I didn't want to wake you, but Veronica's here. She says you've been ignoring her since yesterday.”

“That's bullshit.” Toni mumbled, wrapping herself in covers tighter. “Just because I didn't use my phone for a day doesn't mean I'm dead.”

“Language, Toni. And don't be silly. She thinks you need to talk to her about what happened in New York. She's your friend, you can trust her, and you'll feel better.”

“Mom, I'll feel better when you leave and let me sleep. Please.” Toni never argued with her mother. She had great respect for her work, concern, so do not even dare to be rude ever. But now… She didn't understand, but something inside her had changed.

“Okay, but then don't whine that I didn't warn you.”

Amelia took a deep breath and left. Topaz relaxed, pushing back the covers because it was stuffy. She wanted to dedicate this day to her beloved bed. It was very large and soft. And she smelled like something special. For as long as Toni could remember, her mother had loved the lavender conditioner that kept her bedclothes fresh. But in this room there was an irrepressible smell of sweet perfume. She was sure Cheryl sprayed them every time she left the room.

Toni wanted to know all the details of the twins' lives. How do they dress at all, in what do they want, or are their things still stored here somewhere? How do they hold objects in their hands if they are literally made of air? Although, this is debatable, because she feels them very well.

The girl lay with her eyes closed, but she would hardly have fallen asleep again. Well, so be it. She wanted to hug the delicious-smelling blanket to her and never leave the room. Until the end of holidays has remained a measly week, and young girl will have face a new school and new classmates. Although, she knew perfectly well that all people are the same, and here, as elsewhere, there are nerds and bastards.

“Wake up and sing, I'm an early bird today!” Ronnie stormed into the room, carrying two cups of coffee. But Toni didn't like coffee, she'd smelled it from the stairs.

“My room has turned into a thoroughfare.” Toni muttered under his breath, but aloud he only whimpered. She didn't want to get up. She didn't want to lose the heat. For some reason, she remembered how warm her heart had felt after embracing the twins. They were wonderful. She was beginning to like Cheryl. Ah, not in are terms of likes, of course. How could she like her in that way? Toni frowned.

“Why you so sullen with the morning?” Veronica put the cups on the desk and jumped into bed to her friend.

“Why did you come so early?” Toni picked up her cell phone. It was only nine o'clock in the morning, and the lock screen was full of missed calls and unread texts.

“Aren't you glad? Since when? Toni, what's going on with you?”

“Let's start with the fact that you woke me up!” Toni got out of bed and walked barefoot across the floor. It made her shiver a little. It was a little cold in Thornhill, but that didn't take away its charms.

“So what? You used to get up at six to go for a run.”

“And what did you tell my mom about me shutting myself in? Just because I'm not telling you something personal doesn't mean I'm hiding.”

Topaz noticed out of the corner of her eye that her friend hadn't closed the door. The door to the room opposite was also open. She could have sworn she caught a glimpse of long red hair.

“But you always told me everything. Remember the time Bill kissed you and you first admitted you liked girls?”

Toni wanted to stop it. Veronica could say what Cheryl could hear. And then she would make fun of her.

“I like both girls and guys. Bill was just nasty. And it's not the same. It's something I don't want to remember because I let it go. I told someone, Ronnie. Just accept it.”

“I know about the psychologist. Are you talking about it?”

Topaz bit her lip. She could tell the truth, but that would only add to the problem, so she nodded. She lied to her best friend.

“Okay. Since you've forgotten all this, I want my old Toni back. Remember our coolest parties? I want the one in your house!” Veronica rolled over on her belly, propping her head on her fists. She could go from being the sexiest latina to a little kid in a second, and back again.

“Um, I don't think that's the good idea.”

Her gaze went back to the door opposite, and her eyebrows went up. In the room directly across the hall, Cheryl was standing in front of the mirror. She was turning from side to side, trying on a dress. But the fact was, she wasn't wearing it yet, and she was standing there in her underwear. Toni's cheeks burned horribly as she looked down at the delicious, toned ass in the lacy lingerie. God, she's a ghost, why is she so sexy?

Her breath caught and her throat went dry. She went back to the bed and sat down so Cheryl wouldn't see her.

“Although, you know, I definitely need a distraction.”

-

“She agrees.” Jason was bouncing around the room as Cheryl tried on another dress she'd recently found in a dark nook in the attic. Their parents did not take their things, and the new tenants moved everything to the attic. But Blossom is used to wearing one outfit only once, then replacing it with another. So she didn't like that for two years, her wardrobe is not updated. Since Toni could see them now, Cheryl was determined to get her to buy something new. At least if she goes to this party. And she wouldn't miss it. If a miracle happens and someone will see them, will be able to communicate with them, then she certainly will not miss it.

She'd been alone most of her life. Yes, she let guys flirt with her, but it never went beyond kissing.

“Are you finally going to lose your virginity?”

Cheryl was at her brother's side in an instant and slapped him on the back of the head, then returned to the mirror.

“Just because you and Polly got past fourth base doesn't mean everyone had to.”

“Come on, no offense. I know you would never let a guy do that. And you wouldn't have the guts for a girl.”

“Jason Corey blossom, I won't discuss my sex life with you.”

“A sex life that doesn't exist, aha.”

“Aha. So, how did you get Veronica to organize to this party?”

“I didn't do anything because I was afraid of being disappointed that she wouldn't see me. I want this party, even if I can only dance with Toni.”

Cheryl pursed her lips. It was her backup. If she didn't find someone, she could always enlist Topaz's help. She didn't like her, nothing like that, she was just too kind to say no to a redhead. And it seems that after last night, they will be able to get closer. Again, not that she wanted to. Or did she? No, they could just be friends, nothing more. For Jason and no more. She would never admit that she was interested.

“I'll still be the most beautiful, even if I'm not seen.”

“Of course, miss Perfect. Do you want to go to the pool?”

The twins were just happy that, on the whole, they were no different from themselves. They could not leave the house territory limit, no one noticed them, and they did not want: to eat, drink and sleep. Otherwise, they were exactly the same. They could dress up, but Cheryl spent hours in front of the mirror, trying to pass the time. They could go swimming, warm themselves by the fireplace. Just touch everything and do whatever you want, even though you had to make an effort. They would have been bored out of their wits if they hadn't been able to reread the Blossoms' magnificent collection library, which for some reason their parents hadn't taken away. What can I say, their mother did not even come to the wake, which was arranged here.

“Since you insist.” Cheryl tossed the dress on the bed and went to the closet. Of course, she unintentionally chose the room opposite her ex. Maybe on purpose, but no one can prove it. She took her bathing suit and sent her brother downstairs to wait for her.

-

“What am I doing here?” Blossom rolled her eyes as she sank reluctantly into a armchair in the living room. She didn't like the idea of Jason using such a vile method to force her down. And he'd promised she'd have fun tonight. Girl even only briefly thought, that he decided to to lift their prohibitions about bullying a new hostess homes, but here is she, seen directly in the same the most room.

“Similar question.” Toni wasn't as angry as the redhead. She was a different person by nature, but even she hated that Blossom was always acting like a bitch.

“Come on, girls. We live together, wouldn't it be nice to get to know each other better?”

“No!” The two girls spoke at the same time, glancing at each other. Toni looked embarrassed, and Blossom just rolled her eyes. On the one hand, Toni was curious. Judge for yourselves. She was in a situation that would have envied any hero of a second-rate horror movie. But on the other hand, her life is full of problems. And it was quite comfortable, not plunging into the terrible secrets of the mysterious town.

Cheryl just didn't care. She had long since become unaccustomed to human society, and she had never had the opportunity to get used to pleasant companionship. So she planned to stay on the same level of relationship with Toni as she had from the beginning, passive-aggressive. Even though she was trying to get along with them and show her good nature in every way, there was nothing to thank her for (she might be throwing a party for them, but pink-haired didn't know what a simple school drinking could mean to the twins, so there was nothing to thank her for).
“And I'm very interested in learning something new. Do not think that two years in a Gothic tomb with elderly owners, changing every couple of months, managed to learn something interesting.”
Toni liked the fact that this guy didn't look like his ever-disgruntled sister. He was cheerful and sympathetic even when it didn't really make sense. But it was also most alarming. Sometimes it seemed to her that he had more pain in him than he cared to show. She couldn't blame him, though.

“What do you suggest?" Toni didn't want to sit down in the only available armchair next to Cheryl, so she didn't want to give Cheryl another chance to taunt her for no reason, so she sank to the floor next to the other twin.

“Truth or dare, but without dare. If you don't want to tell the truth, you can just share some breaking news. By God, I think I'm decades behind the times.”

“Actually, I don't mind. I don't really have much to do. School wouldn't start for a few days, and Ronnie had new things to do.”

“How about you, Cher?”

“Do I look like a hormonal teenager who's interested in games like this?”

Toni snorted, but didn't insist. Sometimes she thought she was attracted to this mysterious person, she liked her mystery, but then red-haired and word and deed showed what a bitch she was, and Toni cursed her interest. So she was not averse to enjoy the company of her brother, who was much nicer.

“But you can join anytime you want.”

“Then why don't we just fuck the game and talk like guys who want to be friends?”

Jason smiled and nodded. His white smile always baffled Toni. Not in the sense that she didn't like him, even though he was cute. Rather, it was a disarming smile, and when Topaz saw it, all doubts about this guy disappeared.

“To begin with, we know absolutely nothing about each other. Of course, the fact that I'm just a dead boy in your new home might suit you.” Jason shrugged, scratching his nose with a finger. Toni was surprised that he spoke so calmly about the terrible thing that had happened to him and his sister. She had never met a murder in her life, and she had never met a man who had been murdered… Toni heard Blossom squirm in her armchair and realized that this was a very uncomfortable conversation for the girl.

“I don't think we can do it without a drink.”

The corner of Jay's mouth lifted slightly. Topaz was still unaccustomed to the fact that these ghosts could appear and disappear as they pleased. But the redhead already again sat in front of her with a bottle of some wine from the cellar. He handed her the dusty bottle, and she accepted it gratefully. Of course, ghosts didn't care if they were communicating with a human or something else, but she still wasn't used to it. She couldn't put two words together with these two. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to accept his invitation.

“You won't?”

“No, alcohol doesn't work on us anymore. So we don't drink or eat. Of course, we can do it if we want to, but the taste immediately dissolves and ceases to exist. If, for example, I eat a burger, then after a couple of seconds it will not taste like anything.”

Topaz nodded, taking in the new information that had come to her. She turned the bottle over in her hands, familiarizing herself with the label. Her parents had hardly ever bought such wine. After her father agreed to work at Lodge industries, they had no money problems, but they still knew their value, and would never spend a huge amount on green glass with grape liquid inside. But the Blossoms apparently had a different vision of life.

Toni set the bottle on the floor between her knees so she could pull the cork, which she didn't do immediately.

“Can I help you?" Jason smiled, but she shook her head, letting out a satisfied sigh as she completed the task.

“You can ask me a question."

“That girl who came to see you, who is she?”

“Veronica?” Toni frowned, taking a sip of wine straight from the neck, because the twin did not bother to bring her a glass, and she did not want to go to the kitchen. The taste was beautiful, but it was revealed not immediately, but only after a couple of moments. At first, Toni just wanted to spit out the stagnant liquid, but she restrained herself. Then the drink felt better. “She's my best friend, and we're like sisters. Our fathers jointly own the company that our grandfathers used to own. It's kind of a dynasty, and my parents think Ronnie and I should take their place in the future. At least, uncle Hiram. My dad wants the best for me, and this business, it's not something you can take a young girl into.”

Toni bit her tongue, not wanting to go into too much detail. Yes, as with Colin, she could open up to them, knowing there was no one to tell them. But she didn't like sharing information about her father's business. Topaz took another sip, feeling the warmth radiate through her.

“My father has a firm, too. He's probably running a company now from New York, where he and mom fled after the incident with us.”

“Jason.” Toni looked around, hearing the steely note in the redhead's voice. She hadn't planned on joining in, had she?

“Is something wrong, miss perfect?” It was a familiar movement for Toni to bring the bottle to his lips at regular intervals. “I thought you weren't going to talk to us?”

No, Topaz was not going to get drunk, because she had a difficult relationship with alcohol, but thanks to him, it was easier to communicate, definitely.

“None of your business. I speak to my brother. And he knows very well that he must be quiet for a little while before you tell him a fascinating drunken story.”

The pink-haired girl clearly did not understand what this girl's problem was. Cheryl wasn't trying to please her, but there were times when she was caring and involved, weren't there? So why is she acting like a bitch? Who was she supposed to pretend to when they were just the three of them and no one else was going to see them?

“Whatever you say, spiteful. To your health.” Toni chuckled as she took a last sip and set the bottle, which was one-quarter empty, aside. She retained the ability to think clearly and assess the situation, at the same time, feeling much more relaxed than at first. Didn't even Cheryl piss her off anymore?

“Tell me about school. Please, since your sister doesn't like sharing family secrets, we can usefully talk about something neutral. After all, I have to go there very soon.”

“In our time, there was a lot of fun. I'm not my sister, of course, and my score was too average to be a leader, but my football career was on the up. I was planning on going to college on a sports scholarship, well, before I met a girl.” Toni saw Jason shift his gaze abruptly; were so many topics off-limits to the twins? What were these teenagers hiding?

“Okay. But I'm not a sports fan. What about basic classes? I would like to go to an English class, I like to read classics and discuss with guys who have not gone beyond the tenth page.” Topaz straightened her legs, leaning back and resting her palms on the floor. In her peripheral vision, she could see Blossom junior even more clearly now, as she climbed into the armchair with her feet and she leaned her head against the back of the armchair.

“Uh, Cher?”

“Two years ago, there was taught by Mr. Lewisohn. He is quite competent in teaching, because he was once a writer himself. But you really have to learn from him, because he requires 100% commitment.”

“Thanks, I appreciate your contribution to my future education.” Toni smiled, tilting her head slightly and giving Blossom a smile. The girl nodded, smiling briefly, and then becoming serious again. Toni rolled her eyes at the reaction.

“Come on, Cheryl, you don't always have to be so distant. Why not just spend a cozy evening with the three of us chatting about stuff?”

“I pass, Toni. I have nothing to tell you.”

Topaz took a deep breath, tilting her head back and closing her eyes, then exhaling noisily through her nose. She had never met a more complex and contradictory man in her life.

“’Kay, I'm sorry. No pressure. Well, Jay, it's your turn.”

“Mmm, okay. What's your favorite TV show?”

 

The evening passed as quickly as never. Toni hadn't even noticed it was past midnight, had even managed to shout a couple of times to her mother, who had come from the wing, where she and her father had settled, to drink water in the kitchen, that she had just decided to sit and read a book in silence. Fortunately, Amelia did not ask why she should not do it in her room, and did not come to see what kind of book (there was no book) her daughter had chosen.

She and Jason laughed a lot and talked about everything as if they'd known each other forever. His idea to become better acquainted it was not easy brilliant, it was a very necessary step that the girl lacked. But she couldn't get his younger sister out of her head, who very soon, after a few awkward moments with her, decided to leave the guys alone. Toni didn't want to admit it, but in the time she'd spent in the house, Cheryl had at least begun to occupy some of her thoughts. Not only was she a stunning beauty (Topaz couldn't remember the last time she'd met someone so attractive), but the mystery that followed her everywhere was a magnet. And pain… There was no denying that they both had pain in their lives. Not just physical, as at first glance it may seem, because Cheryl has been caused such physical pain. No. Toni saw in her sadness and bitterness much more than mere mutilation. She saw the look of a broken man who had lost meaning and hope in everything. She had seen that look for some time in her own mirror. She said goodbye to Jason when her eyes couldn't stand the light anymore and she wanted to sleep like hell. Alcohol was a great idea, but it acted like a tranquilizer. She struggled up the stairs, stumbling several times, but still standing. She did not want to turn on the light so as not to torment her eyes, so she decided to go straight to bed as soon as she went into the room.

The pink-haired quickly pulled her t-shirt over her head, tossing it to the floor, then took off her shorts, remaining in her underwear and socks, and fell onto the bed, moaning contentedly at the softness of the bedclothes. Then she realized something was wrong.

She jumped up in bed as she realized that her eyes had caught on something when she first entered the room, but her tired brain did not care. Or rather, caught on to someone.

“Cheryl, what the hell?”

The girl mumbled, grabbing the blanket to cover herself. Of course, in darkness hardly can be was see her nudity, but it was unpleasantly is in such a form of. Just like the time Blossom had driven her to hysterics.

“Sorry, I…” The redhead sobbed, and then stifled a groan. Toni noticed that her hands shot up to her face.

“Hey.” She rose from the bed, dragging the blanket. She stopped a couple of feet from the intruder who stood at the window, staring out into the night. “Are you okay?”

Cheryl shook her head, sniffing and refusing to take her hands off her face.

“Cher ... Tell me. You don't have to hide it, whatever it is. You know you can trust me.”

“I can't trust anyone, that's the problem. I don't want to trust someone who will break my heart again. You're a human being, Toni, and I've long been just a strange creature who wants to find its peace. But I'm not, because I'm cursed as part of this terrible family.”

“Don't say that. I don't know you, Cheryl, I won't lie and comfort you. I don't know what you've been through, but why don't you try to let me know? Don't you want to open your soul?”

Cheryl smiled ruefully, wiping her tears with the back of her hand. Toni wouldn't have thought ghosts could cry, but after all, there were many things she'd never imagined before. It is unlikely that anything will surprise her.

“I want to open up, start trusting someone. But it will only complicate things. We should just stay away from each other. As much as I did not want reverse…”

Blossom whispered the last part, but Toni caught the sentence, and her thoughts clung to it involuntarily. Is it said the same Blossom who couldn't stand her presence? Who hates that Toni now owns her house, her room, that her brother hangs out with her?

“I'd like to be your friend, too, you know. We can try, Cher, please. Jason was right, we're going to live together, so why not just go with the flow instead of making things more complicated?”

The redhead sniffed, looking up at the pink-haired. In the darkness, her eyes glowed in a peculiar way, as if they were illuminated by some inner fire that Toni had no doubt lurked in this seemingly cold-blooded girl.

“You don't want that.”

“What do you want, Cheryl? Stop thinking about others and deciding for others. Do you want to try?”

Cheryl looked away, embarrassed, and nodded awkwardly. Toni wouldn't have thought she could be so embarrassed. After all, she knew so damn little about Cheryl Blossom.

“If you're in, so am I. Let's try and see what happens, Blossom.”

Chapter Text

This party was supposed to be Toni Topaz's crowning comeback. She planned everything down to little things like the color of the cups. Yes, she did not want to see the red ones who come to ordinary parties. She ordered the glasses, because everyone will be drinking champagne. She hadn't spent money in a long time and could afford a fancy party. The theme was a masquerade ball. The girl picked out a costume, decorating the house, ordered the food, and the drinks. Veronica, the initiator of this action, had only to come. She was also gathering guests because Toni didn't know anyone, and calling someone from New York wasn't very smart. Although, she knew that the Lodge would do it. She will be proud of any achievements of the friend and will invite someone that those admired and bit the nasty tongues.

Rumors were many in the first time. Colin is spreading rumors, mostly, and then Monica. She immediately did not believe her best friend and decided that she was an ordinary slut who decided to grab her brother. And Toni was so depressed she couldn't argue. She just ran away. But all the sweeter was her return.

 

And here is, until the end of holidays remained just one day. Toni wanted to throw a party the day before the last day, which was reasonable. Young people always drink a lot, and the next day, they could all come to their senses instead of trudging to school. But Ronnie insisted on the last day, because otherwise it would be uninteresting. Toni had been sitting at her computer typing a single message for half an hour. She typed and deleted, typed and deleted. She wasn't mad at Monica anymore; she wanted to make peace with her, because some part of her deep down still loved her. Topaz wanted to invite her, to see her, perhaps for the last time, but she was afraid.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

Toni shivered.

Cheryl had been different lately. She and Jason often visited the girl, helping her with the planning of the party. Toni laughed a lot with them, getting more used to their presence, but Cheryl always sneaked up on her at least once a day.

“Cher, a heart attack is just around the corner.” Blossom rested her hands on the back of the chair, pressing her knuckles against Toni's back.

“Come on. You're exaggerating. Look…” The girl became embarrassed by her request, but to anybody else it would not be addressed. “Can I borrow your laptop if it's not busy?”

Topaz immediately closed the e-mail tab. She wouldn't have dared to write anyway. She pushed back her chair and stood up.

“It is at your disposal, if your fingers do not slip past.” Toni smiled at the girl. She's really changed a lot. Topaz was pretty sure that what Jason had said more than a week ago was true. Cheryl was a wonderful girl, but she showed it so reluctantly.

“And one more thing.” Cheryl turned away and looked down at the floor. “Can I... can I…”

“What is it, Cher? You know you can ask for anything, right?”

“Can I use your credit card?”

Topaz held her breath as she noticed the flush spreading across her pale cheeks. Well, for the sake of such moments, it was worth not thinking about the bad. It wasn't the first time Cheryl had been embarrassed in front of her. But every time she was beautiful.

“Sure. Everything is for my ghost.” Toni laughed and went to the closet to get her purse out of her bag and her credit card out of it. “What are you going to buy?”

“It's a surprise.” Cheryl regained her composure, biting her lip savagely. Toni didn't understand why such simple gestures affected her, but they did, even though she knew they would never work.

“Okay, but know, it's not unlimited.” Toni grabbed the phone off the desk and left Cheryl alone. She went downstairs to call Ronnie for details.

Mom and dad were only too happy to be out of town. Jonathan finally got the day off. He had never been away from his family for so long, but lately it was as if he were living at work. Toni asked for a house for the party, and her parents happily agreed. If it meant the return of their vivacious daughter, they were both hands for it.

Toni ran down the stairs, her eyes sweeping the room. The entire ground floor was already decorated in gold and black. The servants her father had hired for the occasion had done their best. Now they were cooking for the evening in the mansion's huge kitchen. By the evening was almost all is prepared, remained only sending out invitations and wait. Toni was hoping that Veronica dealt with this.
“Don't panic!” Ronnie didn't even say hello when she accepted the call. She knew at once why Antoinette was calling.

“I'm not panicking; I just want things to be at their best.”

“Have you found your outfit yet?”

“Of course, a dress and a mask, and you?”

Ronnie covered the microphone and whispered, but Topaz heard it anyway.

“Archiekins, wait a bit, I'm almost done.”

“Okay, okay.” She returned to the conversation with her friend.

“Be honest. I spent a whole week making a big party, and you were just hanging out with Archie?”

Not so long ago, Ronnie decided to give a chance to a simple boy, and Toni was insanely happy for her. Archie wasn't like Veronica's former boyfriends, and if she liked him, it was true love.

“Hey, no! Archie and I are still having a candy-bouquet period, which he is coping with perfectly. You don't mind if I invite Archie, Betty and Jughead, do you?”

Topaz considered. She didn't really want to see the pretty blonde and her strange boyfriend again, but she could just avoid bumping into them all evening. Her house was too big.

“God, no, of course. Well, since you've got it under control, I'm going to get ready. The party's only eight hours away.”

“I'll see you tonight.”

“Okay.”

-

Toni stood in the middle of the hall where music was playing. People she didn't know were everywhere. Veronica obviously overdid the number of guests, but at least they stuck to the dress code. Lodge appeared at her friend's side very soon. Her mask almost completely hid her face, but from the provocative cut of her purple dress, Toni guessed who she was.

“God, Antoinette, you look beautiful.” Ronnie came over and kissed her friend on the cheek.

Topaz didn't know who she was preening for, but her pink hair fell in voluminous curls over her shoulders. The black off-the-shoulder dress barely reached mid-thigh, and she was in love with the lace of the black masquerade mask. Secretly, in her heart, of course, she knew who the outfit was for.

“I so hope you find a worthy boy or girl here. I won't lie, I've invited some old friends, so don't be too hard on me if you meet someone you know.”

Toni started to nod, but her gaze was suddenly drawn to the girl. And she wasn't the only one! It was impossible not to look at her. The Cheryl's appearance was not a surprise, because the twins honestly shared with the girl their plan-check. But Topaz's jaw was clearly on the floor.

Cheryl ran her hand gracefully over the banister as she descended from one step to the other. Her feet were elegant on the tile, and Toni could hear the sound of her heels even through the music. It was the perfect surprise if Cheryl wanted to drive Toni to suicide, too.

Her blood-red ball gown trailed down her slender legs, but the neckline didn't hide her charms. She wore her hair on one side as best she could, put on bright red lipstick, and her mask was enviable.
Everyone started whispering around them.

“Who is it, Toni? Why is she coming down from above? You've been hiding her in your room the whole time? Gosh!” Veronica giggled, squeezing her friend's elbow. “Is that your new girlfriend?”

Topaz was not able to reply. She just kept her eyes on Cheryl, who was looking for someone in the crowd.

Looking for her.

Blossom stepped down onto the tiled floor, heading straight for her friends, and grabbed two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter. It took Toni a moment to realize that the twins were right. All their peers could see them. It made her sad, because she wasn't the only one anymore.

“Antoinette!” The girl's voice was very velvety. Maybe she hadn't realized that there was no point in being around Toni anymore. Although, whom to deceive, all eyes were riveted on it. Blossom handed Toni a glass while she stood still.

“Toni.” Ronnie shoved her, and she finally wakes up.

“I'm sorry; I'm a little out of my depth.” Topaz took the glass, her fingers clasping hers. Her skin didn't feel so cold anymore, or was Toni just used to it?

“I'm Veronica Lodge, and we don't seem to know each other?”

“Lauren Crowberry, nice to meet you!” Cheryl smiled exquisitely, lifting her glass slightly. “Can I take Antoinette away for a minute?”

“Oh, more than a minute. I have to see my boyfriend and his friends. Have fun.” Veronica winked and disappeared, leaving the girls alone.

Toni looked away from twin's searching brown eyes. She sipped her champagne, perhaps too sharply, for it went straight to her head.

“How do you like my surprise? I certainly didn't waste your money?”

“You look amazing!” Toni wanted to admire her, but she couldn't think of anything less banal.

“And you look gorgeous, Antoinette. Look at you!” Cheryl's eyes flashed, or maybe Toni wanted to think so. She was becoming more and more dependent on the girl's opinion, and she didn't like it.

“Where was Jason? Your experiment seems to have worked. He doesn't want to enjoy the party?”

“He would come down later, so as not to attract attention. Don't you think the two red-headed twins in the house where they were killed won't arouse suspicion?”

Toni would have thought so.

“I'd like to spend some time with you if the hostess can find it for me.”

“I always have time for you!” The champagne was beginning to warm Topaz's body from the inside out and let her tongue spin her thoughts. She'd been thinking about a lot lately. Should she lie that Cheryl's body, clad in a set of sexy black lingerie, had never dreamed of her?

“Well, then I think you'd like to dance with me. Isn't that right, Antoinette?”

Toni moaned, which was hidden by the music. It was crazy how close they'd gotten in a few days. She was beginning to adore the way the letters of her full name (she had hated it until recently) rolled on Cheryl's tongue.

“Of Course, Lauren.”

Toni took her hand, pulling her closer. Blossom by surprise, almost dropped the glass but managed to put it on the table.

“Impatient?”

“What? No, of course not. I just want to dance.” Topaz felt ashamed. The champagne didn't work hard enough to make her lose control. But Cheryl was right, the girl was fascinated.

“Don't worry, I like bad girls.” Toni blushed as Cheryl wrapped her arms around her neck and approached to whisper in her ear. Oh, why did she feel as if her heart sank into her heels and then rose and began to beat somewhere at the level of her throat, which made it impossible for her to swallow? Cheryl wasn't exactly reacting the same way.

But Cheryl was just shaking inside. Jason was right about her. She never let her feelings develop, ever. Because if her parents found out, they would have sent her to some conversion therapy. It had been so hard to get used to Toni, but she couldn't deny that the last few days with this girl had been the best of her life. Her mother had always found such feelings deviant.

But she's not here now, no one can stop you. You want it. You want her.

Cheryl could see the devil dancing on one shoulder, offering her a taste of the forbidden fruit, and an angel on the other, begging her to stop, not ruin their amazing friendship, and go upstairs.

Toni's hands rested uncertainly on the redhead's slender waist, and they swayed slowly to the tune. Many couples hardly danced: taking something illegal, sitting on the stairs, others took all the free sofas and were ready to have sex right on them. Toni knew they wouldn't behave for long. Especially, if there are guys here from New York.

But right now she didn't care about the possible destroyers of Thornhill. She wanted to enjoy the moment with Cheryl. They were close, of course, but not like that. It was intimate, but not vulgar. She felt Cheryl's hands drop from her neck to her shoulders.

“Aren't you cold?” It was an absurd question, and Cheryl knew here was hot.

“No. I'm stuffy. Shall we go outside?” Toni looked into the girl's eyes, and only realized how close they were. She literally feels someone else's breath on her lips, causing her legs to give way. Cheryl glances at those plump pink lips parted on the floor a few times, and then pulls away.

“Do you think it would be wise to show these drunks the way to the pool?”

“I don’t care.”

“Then let's go.”

Blossom inadvertently took the girl's hand, and she unintentionally intertwined their fingers. But they both liked the feeling.

 

Veronica watched from afar as the two departed. She noticed the way Toni was looking at the girl. And, God forbid, they will have something. Jughead and Betty had just arrived, but they seemed uncomfortable. They shuffled awkwardly around Archie and Ronnie, who were holding hands and chatting.

“Where's Toni? I thought she was throwing this party?” Jughead looked around, but only frowned when he saw a group of teenagers kissing.

“I think she's a little busy right now.”

Ronnie noticed how Betty didn't like the mention of Toni from the Jug's mouth. She was definitely jealous. Poor girl, she had no idea Toni would never look at a guy like Jughead. Yeah, and as much as she pretended, Veronica knew she wouldn't look at boys at all.

“Guys, why don't you go have fun like everyone else here?”

“I don't feel like I want to.” Jughead grunted, his arms crossed over his chest. He was dressed in such an unsuitable costume and in the invariable crown-hat. Apparently he knew nothing of style, and Betty was too much in awe of him to tell him. Archie didn't even resist when Veronica chose his suit.

“Well. No offense, but I want to dance. Archiekins!” Poor Andrews was simply dazzled by the beauty of Lodge, literally ran after her like a dog. Obediently, he put his arm around her waist and escorted her to the dance floor.

“Great.” Jughead looked around and, seeing nothing suspicious, pulled Betty toward the stairs. “We finally have a chance to see the devil's lair from the inside.”

 

-

 

“Have you swum here before?” The girls stood at the edge of the pool, still holding hands. The water shimmered in every shade of blue, and the many lanterns reflected from it.

“No, I haven't yet.”

“You have to before it gets too cold.” Without a word, Cheryl hooked her fingers into the zipper of Topaz's dress, pulling it down.

“What are you doing?” Toni recoiled. She held on from the last forces. When she wanted, she always got everything. But she couldn't want a ghost – that was wrong.

“I'm helping you undress for a swim. Are you shy, Antoinette?”

Blossom laughed, shaking her head from side to side. She threw off the mask, and then unzipped her dress until it fell to her feet. Toni wanted to howl, her gaze sweeping over every inch of her bare skin. Gorgeous figure, red lace lingerie set. It was enough to make Toni feel hot in the most uncomfortable place.

“I didn't know you could flirt! I thought you were just killing people with your sarcasm.” Topaz sighed before shaking off her already unzipped dress. Then she untied the ribbons that held the mask to her face.

“I learn quickly, especially when I want to.” Blossom didn't wait and jumped into the pool.

The cold drops hit Toni's skin, but she stood transfixed as Cheryl floated to the surface and swam to the edge.

“I'm waiting for you.” She whispered. It was the most romantic and sexy thing Toni had ever heard in her life.

Toni sat down on the tile, carefully lowering her feet into the water. But Cheryl was too impatient. She grabbed the girl's hands and pulled her toward her. Topaz shivered from the sudden change in temperature, but Blossom's body was on fire, helping her settle in. Her hands moved to Toni's neck, and Cheryl was insanely close.

Antoinette imagined touching those lips very gently. And Cheryl, so impatient Cheryl, greedily kisses her, biting her lips, beckoning her with the most skillful tricks of her tongue.

“I want to kiss you right now.” Topaz pulled Cheryl around the waist, nose to nose.

“God, me too.”

 

“Girls, we have uninvited guests!” Jason screamed, appearing at the wrong time.

Cheryl and Toni jumped away from each other, and Toni, although she didn't want to, inadvertently wet her hair.

“Jason!” Cheryl shouted at him in a childish way, slapping the water with her hand.

“Sorry, sorry.” He turned away as soon as he saw what they looked like. “I know it's not a good time. But it's Betty and Jughead, pacing the floor. I'm sure they're already in your room.”

Toni climbed out of the water, offering her hand to Cheryl, who accepted it with a smile.

“We need clothes and towels, Jason. No, Toni needs it. I could just end up in my room.”

Blossom disappeared, reappearing with a stack of Toni's belongings. She smiled and thanked him.

“Meet me in the lobby in five minutes. And we'll talk about it later, Antoinette.”

The twins disappeared. Toni stood there, dripping, clutching dry clothes. But all she could think about was the redhead.

-

“Don’t you think that's fair to Toni?” Betty whispered as she stood directly over Jughead, shining her flashlight. They did not dare to turn on the light in her room, because at a later time it might seem suspicious.

“I don't think so. I'm not going through her dirty laundry. All I need to do is make sure the Blossoms take everything, and we can't find anything.”

“I think I should have told her about our investigation.” Betty pursed her lips. She didn't want to be friends with this girl because Jug was interested in her. But, as the saying goes: keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. He and Jones have been digging into the Blossom's case for months. Ever since Betty's older sister, Polly, had given birth to twins last year, she couldn't bear the thought of Jason passed away voluntarily. She knew how close he and Polly had been, and perhaps she was the only one besides her sister who knew of their planned escape. If Jason hadn't died, he and Polly would have been gone in a couple of days. But the destiny has disposed differently.

The girl had been locked up in the Sisters of quiet Mercy for a long time when she had assumed that the Blossoms had been involved in the deaths of their own children. So all Betty had to do was sneak around like a mouse, looking for more and more pieces.

“I thought so too, and then I saw her with a girl. She's not like us, Betts. She's a posh socialite whose worries end in booze and bed. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't trust her.”

“But she is really interested in this story.”

“Can we leave it at that?”

Jughead climbed into a chair, pulling a cherished box from the closet.

He examined every small detail under the steady light of the electric torch, also noticed one blank page without a photograph.

“Nothing interesting, just your cousin's junk. It's empty. But this is curious. Either this photo never existed, or our new hostess has already examined these things. For days there were no leads, and now we have, though there is someone to talk to. Maybe you're right. We need to get Toni involved, but only to find out what she knows.”

-

Toni was dressed in minutes. She'd put her dress on one of the folding chairs, so dragging it across the house wasn't a good idea. And Veronica might have asked something, though she didn't have time for it now.

She'd seen the twins' backs from the doorway, so she hurried toward them, pushing everyone in her way. Jason, and thanks him for that, didn't go through her stuff and just grabbed the shorts and t-shirt hanging on the chair. Guests looked back at the outfit of the girl, but noticing her mistress of the house, returned to their conversations.

“You did well to keep your mask on.” Jays was still standing in his brand-new tux, which Cher must have chosen because it was so dainty. And his sister changed into slacks with arrows and a black open top.

“These idiots, one of whom is our cousin, know us.” Cheryl crossed her arms over her chest. “Jason saw Betty Cooper and Jones Jr. in your room. Before that, they searched the entire floor.”

“What do they want?”

“They've been here a few times since we died. But, no owner will not let short-sighted teenagers in an expensive mansion. These detectives must have struck a gold mine when your courteous friend invited them.”

“Then I want to stop this immediately. I didn't want any strangers going through my things.”

Toni went upstairs while the twins didn't know whether to go for her. They couldn't be recognized in those masks, plus they were dead. But they still didn't want to face people from the past. But they'd gone after Toni because Cheryl wasn't going to leave her alone with the south side jerk.

“Toni, wait.” The redhead caught up with the girl, leaving her brother behind. “What happened in the pool...”

“Not now, Cher, please.”

 

Toni wanted to talk about it. But she was afraid. It wasn't right, in any dreams or thoughts. She had never been shy about her attraction to girls, but her attraction to the ghost… But the problem was, she wasn't just a ghost to Toni. She was a girl whom she met not on her own initiative, but now she wanted to know her herself. She wanted to be friends with her or try something more serious. But that made the thoughts thicken, hinting at absurdity. They weren't just a couple of girls who could have fun and forget. They lived in the same house, Toni bumped into Blossom everywhere. She had occupied all her thoughts lately, but it was too unreal. Mom would say it didn't matter, because it might be the first time Toni had ever fallen so deeply in love. But she couldn't even tell her mother.

Topaz decided to switch to the annoying teenagers, whose flashlight was already shining from under the closed door. The girl opened the door, standing on the threshold and crossing her arms over her chest. Two heads simultaneously turned to her, and photo album has fallen out from boy's hands.

Without a word Topaz went to them and took her things from him. She put everything back in the box and put it on the closet. She did all of it without words, without even looking at the guys, who did not dare to move.

“Are you satisfied?” Toni took a deep breath. She didn't expect to be friends with them, but she was definitely disappointed in them.

“I'm sorry, Toni, please forgive us. We honestly didn't want to intrude on you, it's just that we're conducting our investigation and we need help. Betty tried to make excuses so Toni wouldn't get angry and throw them out, but she wasn't going to. She knew they would leave, and then she would have to deal with an angry Cheryl.

“Why didn't you just ask me everything? Or didn't you ask to see my room?”

“You wouldn't understand our intentions.”

“I would, Jughead Jones, because I'm interested in it myself. I need to know what happened here. It's important to me.”

“But why?”

“You have your reasons, I have mine.” And these reasons are now at the request of the girls was waiting in the corridor not to face their cousin. “Do you want to cooperate or not?”

“Forgive us again. And we'll be waiting for you tomorrow at the office of our school editorial office. If you find anything, we'll be happy to know. And share everything we found ourselves.”

“Okay. You can continue to have fun if you want, I'm not offended.”

“No, I don't think so. This isn't exactly our place; we'd rather spend the evening at the Pop's, right Betty?”

On young girl was understandable, that she not wants stray, because there still was Archie in companies this incomprehensible Veronica, but guy’s word was law.

They left, leaving Topaz alone with her thoughts. She sat on the bed, leaning against the headboard, bent her knees, and nuzzled them. She had to sort herself out so she wouldn't disappoint Cheryl even more.

 

The twins disappeared for a moment as Cooper and Jones went out, closing the door softly behind them like thieves. Although they have already been revealed.

Then they reappeared opposite the door to Cheryl's old room. They stood leaning against the door of their last resting place.

“What did she tell you?"

“She didn't tell me anything!” Cheryl closed her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. “She pisses me off with every cell of her little body. She thinks she knows everything, she knows the right thing, and I'm just a spoiled girl.”

“But you want every cell of her little body?” Jason smiled until Cheryl saw him. He could see how much she cared about Toni, and he was overjoyed. He had experienced love in his short life, and she had not. She was always too self-conscious to be open and truly happy. It was a fantastic miracle that she was given another chance to find her person. Jason knew that Topaz was special.

“Yes.” Cheryl looked as if she might cry. Her brother took her by the shoulders, forcing her to open her watery eyes.

“Tell her that, because she needs to know she's not alone. She sees how amazing you are, but she also sees how stubborn you are. I think she's just afraid you'll push her away if she confesses.”

Cheryl nodded.

“Yes, I will. I'll make her take the first step.”

“God, Blossom, you're unbearable. You don't have to force her.”

Cheryl waved it away, and for the first time in her life, she took the first step. She went to the door and knocked softly.

 

Toni didn't notice when she started to cry. Her whole life seemed like a bad dream, because there was always something in the way of her happiness. Whether it's the judgmental looks from the outside when she first admitted to being bisexual, whether it's Colin, or the fact that Cheryl is dead.

She was briskly wiped the moisture from her cheeks when there was a knock at the door. She thought Ronnie had lost her, because no one else in the house would have knocked. Except Jason.

“Come in.”

But it was Cheryl. She looked as depressed as Topaz. She looked around the dark room, trying not to meet the pink-haired girl's gaze.

“Cheryl?”

“Yep. I promised a conversation, Antoinette!” She had approached, and was now standing quite close to the bed. Her voice was exhausted, something was similar to a husky Topaz's tone because of the tears have been shed. And Toni just thought for one second that Cheryl is also experienced because of the incident in the pool. Because of what almost happened. Topaz would have killed herself for not taking the chance. She wanted to kiss the redhead.

“Don't you sit down?” Toni moved to the middle of the bed, beckoning the girl to sit beside her. And she sat down on the bed, looking anywhere.

“You didn't want that, did you?” Cheryl wanted to tell her how she felt, to tell her how important Toni was in her life, but for some reason that phrase came to mind. She was afraid of the question, or rather the answer to it, because it could put a fat point.

“I wanted it so bad, Cher. You just have to understand that the last person I tried to build anything with betrayed me. It's hard for me to trust someone again, and feelings are... It's so hard.”

“Do you think it's that easy for me? I've never been with a person I've ever felt the same way about as you.”

“Really? I didn't know.”

“Are we talking? Maybe that's the problem? We communicate purely because of Jason, we practically do not know anything about each other. We doubt what might not happen at all, but we just don't know.”

Topaz found Cheryl's hand in the darkness and began tracing patterns with her fingers. She liked what the girl said because it was true. She knew almost nothing personal about Cheryl, nothing that would help her understand her.

“I want to know everything.” Topaz admitted in a whisper, and her fingers moved higher, going up to the elbow and up until her fingers began to play with the girl's long, gorgeous hair.

“I've always wanted to tell.” Cheryl whispered, too. It was the closest contact she had ever shared with anyone. It wasn't vulgar or crazy. Only infinitely romantic: the party was going on downstairs, and they were sitting upstairs in the dark. Toni was also touching her so intimately that Cheryl's skin crawled.

Topaz suddenly leaned forward, touching Blossom nose to nose. Her hand moved to her sharp cheekbone.

“Can I…?” Toni breathed on her lips, forcing Cheryl to lick them. She didn't answer, determined to take the initiative. Who, except Cheryl Blossom, will be the first to kiss the girl she likes?

The redhead kissed often, skillfully, but never kissed a girl. It was unimaginable, and in front of closed eyes, indeed, the proverbial fireworks exploded. Toni's lips were soft and plump, and the crimson lipstick was very sweet to the taste. It literally made Blossom run her tongue over her lower lip to taste it. Toni touched Blossom's cheekbone, tracing the line of her jaw to her chin. Cheryl wanted to pull the little girl even closer, but she only touched her fingers timidly to her waist. Toni didn't mind at all. She parted her lips slightly, allowing Cheryl's tongue to penetrate and touch her own. Toni pulled away for a moment to take a sip of oxygen and leaned back, crushing the other's lips with her own. She placed her other hand on the other cheek, her thumbs gently stroking the girl's cheeks. This kiss expressed the deepest feelings that girls could not express in words, and therefore revealed them through touch.

The kiss slowly but surely grew softer and more tender. The girls were slower, deeper tasting all the charm of the each other's lips. Toni felt like she was fainting, but it was just the lack of oxygen and the beautiful Cheryl in front of her that was acting like it.

“It was…”

“Shh...I know.” Toni was happy that Cheryl had taken off her mask. It seemed out of place, because it hides such beautiful features. Topaz tilted her head slightly, wet kisses brushing girl's cheekbones, tracing the line of her jaw. Cheryl breathed deeply, digging her fingers deeper into the girl's ribs.

“Stop, Toni.” Of course, of course, she didn't want to stop, because it was indescribably beautiful, but they had to.

“Sorry, I got carried away.”

“No.” Cheryl smiled, studying every tiny freckle that covered Topaz's neat nose. They had sat long enough to get used to the gloom, and now they could see each other clearly. “I'm very impressed with your skills.”

Toni blushed, looked away, and bit her lip. But she hissed, for her lips were swollen and red with pressure.

“You don't want to go downstairs, do you?”

Cheryl shook her head. The last thing she wanted right now was to run into Toni's annoying friend, or the worthless Jones who might have lied about leaving and was now wandering around the most secluded corners of the house.

“Good, because I wanted to stay here.”

Toni removed her hands from Cheryl's face and moved on the bed to lie down.

“Will you accompany me?"

“Will you let me stay in Topaz's royal chambers?”

Cheryl playfully crawled up to Toni, hovering over her.

“This is your room, too, miss Blossom.”

Cheryl lay down, giving Toni a small kiss on the corner of her mouth. Topaz moved closer, resting her head on her chest and wrapping her arms around her waist.

“Can we stay here until morning?”

“Sounds like a good plan.”

Cheryl put her arm around Toni's shoulders, pulling him closer, and closed her eyes blissfully. How grateful she was that Jason had pushed her. She was really happy. Perhaps for the first time.

Chapter Text

Cheryl stayed up all night. One of the advantages or disadvantages of ghosts was that they didn't need sleep. All she could do was close her eyes and let her thoughts drift into the darkness to disconnect from reality, but tonight she couldn't. All she could think about was Toni, her body pressed against hers, her nose pressed against her carotid artery. She tossed and turned in the redhead's arms, but she didn't move an inch. Strangely enough, Blossom was quite comfortable in the company of another person. She lay with her eyes closed, stroking the younger girl's back with careful movements and smiling. Toni mumbling something cute in her sleep, which made red-haired nervous.

Dawn crept up almost imperceptibly. Blossom opened her eyelids as the first rays of sunlight broke through the curtains. She wanted to push Toni back a little to get up and close the portieres more tightly, but Topaz pressed herself even closer to her.

“No, no, no, lie with me a little longer.” Toni muttered into Cheryl's neck.

“I'm not going anywhere, T. I just wanted to close the curtains to let you sleep.”

“I'm comfortable, just lie down.”

Cheryl smiled as she returned to her original position.

“Sleep, okay? It's only seven in the morning.”

“But I have to go to school today.” Toni whimpered. She was awake now and would not have fallen asleep. The fact that Cheryl had been with her all night only added to the awkwardness of the morning. But Topaz was happy that the girl had not left her.

“You can call your parents and ask them to let you stay at home.”

Cheryl didn't want Toni to leave either. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thought that Topaz would forget about her once she went to school. She will find live friends, with whom she will be interested, a live girl with whom she can go on a real date or introduce her to her mother. With Cheryl, she had no possibilities at all. In a way, she even blamed herself for not giving Toni a choice. She just had to bury those feelings and let Toni find the right person, not a ghost.

Toni interrupted the Blossom's self-loathing in her quiet, sweet, but dissatisfied voice.

“I promised I'd go. It was a condition of having a party. I need to find Veronica and ask her to organize the cleaning before my parents’ return, while we go to school.”

Reluctantly, Topaz opened her eyes, scanning the room and the girl in front of her. She was embarrassed to find that she had thrown her arms and legs over the frail apparition. She started to pull away, but Cheryl caught her arm around her waist.

“What's wrong?” The redhead's voice trailed off.

“I just feel like I made you uncomfortable with my bear hugs.”

Cheryl felt like a stone had been lifted from her shoulders, at least for a while. Toni didn't try to take her hands away now, just lay peacefully on Cheryl's chest.

They both jumped on the bed as the door swung open.

“God, my head hurts.” Veronica tumbled into the room. She didn't look her best. The dress was rumpled, the zipper not fully fastened. There were hickeys all over her neck, and the makeup on her face was almost completely worn off. Her hair was disheveled and her heels were gone.

“Oops, am I interrupting?” Lodge smiled like a Cheshire cat as she watched the two embarrassed girls. “So you and I both lost our virginity today?”

Toni gasped, and the redhead's eyebrows shot up.

“Veronica, fuck no! What are you talking about?” Toni jumped out of bed to push her friend out the door before she said anything else inappropriate. “Wait for me downstairs.” Topaz whispered before slamming the door in her friend's face.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry.” Toni went back to bed, kneeling in front of Cheryl.

“It’s okay. You need to help your friend and get ready for school. Don't worry about the mess, Jay and I will handle it.”

“You don't have to, but thank you.” Toni reached out to leave a kiss on the girl's lips, but froze a few inches away. She didn't think but Cheryl might have changed her mind overnight or didn't want to hurry. And now Topaz was making a fool of herself.

“Kiss me already and go save your friend.”

Cheryl grinned as Toni gave her a light kiss on the lips and practically ran away. Blossom sprawled on her king-sized bed and stretched. This girl just knocked her out of the rut, and to earn her favor Cheryl will have to try very hard. She is hardly the most enviable candidate for the place of Antoinette's girlfriend.

 

“Why are you so drunk?”

“Archie and I had sex! It's the first time I've ever gone this far with a guy. And he's just an ordinary guy, he doesn't even have a multi-million dollar business, he doesn't have anything.”

“You've only known him a week, Ronnie, and you've already given yourself to him?”

“Like you're so shy? Who slept in the same bed with this red-haired bestia?”

“Cher… Lauren's not a bestia, and we just lay there and hugged. We didn't fuck, Lodge!” Toni took a sip of cold water. Her thirst was excruciating, as if she had drunk not a glass of champagne, but two bottles, and even walked on Sahara.

“We didn't fuck either, we made love! Are two different things!” Lodge had taken the pill Toni had found in the kit and was sitting on a bar stool by the kitchen corner. All of the guests had already gone home, but they left a mountain of garbage.

"Of course, it took me nearly two weeks just to kiss Laur, and you a week to lose your virginity."

“You're just jealous, Toni. Tell me honestly!” Veronica swiveled in her chair, looking around the room. All the decorations were ruined, and glass from broken glasses lay on the floor. “Have you seen Monica?”

“What?” Toni choked on her cold water and began to cough. Ronnie had to pat her on the back.

“What? I thought I'd invite someone from New York, and then Monique called me. I didn't know you already had another candidate!”

“Where is she?”

Toni looked around, startled. She wasn't ready to see Monica and talk to her. Definitely not now.

“I don't know. She said she might be late. Maybe she didn't come at all. I didn't see her.”

“Damn, you can't scare me like that, Ronnie. I haven't seen Monica in ages, or so I think. But I'm pretty sure I'm not ready to see her. And next time, warn me first. And if Colin decided to attend, would you mind, too?”

Toni turned away from her friend, crossing her arms over her chest. She might never be able to think about her ex-girlfriend's family again without a sharp pain in her chest. Why couldn't anyone have warned her that rich kids could get hurt, too? She would have taken any measures to avoid it.

“Don't sulk, T. And I would never let him in here, no matter what happened between you two.”

Veronica put her hand on her friend's shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly, and brought the girl back to reality. In that reality, where she had to go to a new school, where she knows no one (almost no one), and certainly does not have the same reputation and authority as in the last school.

“We have to go to school. Go home and get cleaned up, I'll see you at that diner on the way in half an hour, okay?”

Lodge wanted to say something else, perhaps in her own defense, perhaps something stupid again about the night before, but when she looked at Toni (at her exasperated expression), she changed her mind and just nodded, turning around and trying to walk carefully, without tripping over the empty bottles, to the door.

“Call me when you're there, I might be late.”

-

When Toni returned to the room to change and pack her bag, the bed was empty. Not that she expected Cheryl to be waiting for her, and why should a girl follow her after a simple kiss? She just wanted to take one more look at the beautiful redhead before heading off into the unknown.

But on the other hand, Cheryl's absence meant that no one was distracting her from her thoughts and dressing.

She showered quickly, put on her usual ripped jeans, t-shirt, and denim jacket, gathered up her books, and slung her briefcase over her shoulder before heading downstairs. If half an hour ago the entire first floor was littered with debris, broken glass and spilled alcohol, now everything looked more than decent. There were only a few troubles here and there, but Cheryl (dressed, oddly enough, in a wide gray tank top, yoga leggings, and a bun on her head), tried to get rid of the effects of a stormy night as soon as possible.

“Heeeeey.” Toni jumped when Jason suddenly appeared beside her. Not that she was standing in the middle of the living room watching Blossom as she bent down to pick up the rest of the glass and toss it in the trash bag, although she was. But the twin's appearance frightened her terribly, as if someone had caught her in the act.

Cheryl, who had heard someone else, merely glanced over her shoulder, giving Toni a smile, and went back to her work. Topaz felt a flush creep up her cheeks, and her heart seemed to expand and fill her chest.

“Hey, Jay.” The pink-haired cleared her throat as she stumbled to the door to put on her converse shoes and grab her motorcycle keys from the stud on the wall.

“How was your night?"

You didn't have to be stupid to know what the twin was getting at. The tone of his voice betrayed him. He was so excited that he was literally jumping up and down, even though Toni knew that a bundle of energy could not afford such acrobatic movements.

“Great, Jason. I'm in a hurry to school.”

She opened the door to go outside and get rid of the personal details of spending time with Cheryl, but the redhead managed to grab her arm.

“Be careful. Don't ask anyone questions about us.” Panic replaced her embarrassment now, for the boy's playful mood had vanished in an instant. “And don't think you'll escape the details. Now you live here, so I'll find out all about what happened between you.”

A sweet smile spread across the boy's face again, which unsettled Topaz even more.

She nodded to let Blossom get away from her and closed the door behind her as she walked up the driveway to the garage to get out of there. She had never imagined that she would ever want to run away from her own home to the four corners of the world, rather than face a reality that was beyond anything she had ever faced in nearly eighteen years.

There is no, of course, fear of unknown nature creatures long is gone (clearly affected time, conducted in this strange city of, Yes and society those the most twins, which were endearing), but a sense of panic because, that someone killed in house, where she sleeping every night, and murderer until now unknown, absorbed her all more. Even the kiss with Cheryl (seems, the girl of her dreams, after all she never met someone so much beautiful within and outside), unfortunately was receding on the second plan, after all every time, when Toni watch on twins, she evoked the, that someone damnably brutally with them was treated. She thought most about their parents… She wondered why a powerful couple like the Blossoms hadn't put all their money into finding a cold-blooded killer, or if they were really stupid enough to believe their children would commit suicide.

She glanced at the watch on her wrist, knowing there was plenty of time, but she was only minutes away from meeting Veronica (who would undoubtedly be late). So Topaz opened the garage and walked straight to the Harley parked in the corner. Her parents did not understand daughter's commitment to such a dangerous vehicle, but Toni did not enjoy driving car at all, did not experience the feelings that visited her every time she got on a motorcycle.

She took a rag from the shelf to wipe the slightly dusty seat. There was no need to use the bike lately, so she was kind of glad her parents weren't there, and today was the first day of school, because she would have to get to it herself. She took the helmet out of the trunk, carefully putting it on and straightening her hair under the lining of faux leather and foam, in the trunk she put her backpack, and only then was able to sit on the motorcycle. She ran her hands over the steering wheel, remembering how recently she had ridden her iron friend through the streets of New York, how she had broken hundreds of rules when she and her "friends" from school had raced. It was definitely fun, but the incident with Colin and the last weeks spent in a new place, opened her terrible truth-she finally began to grow up. Her values had changed, which undoubtedly had its pros and cons, but for the moment, nothing should have bothered her.

She was a teenager who had to live life to her heart's content (even if she knew she couldn't), so she got off her bike to roll it out of the garage and shut the place down. She took one last look at the house hidden among the many trees in the once famous maple grove, glanced at the Blossom family cemetery, which gave her the creeps, and hurried to start the engine to get out of the place.

-

Of course, Veronica was late, and Toni wasn't surprised. But the first class (probably an introduction for her and Ronnie, since they were new) was still forty minutes away, and Antoinette's stomach was clamoring for food. It was a sin not to take advantage of the situation, so Toni immediately ordered onion rings and a milkshake, as soon as her foot set foot in the local "elite" institution.

She didn't choose a seat in the hall for Ronnie's hangover, so she just sat at the counter and waited for her food to be ready. The cafe was really nice, very cozy and homely, but, as in the whole city, there was something strange, its own energy, or something. And this stand with photos of local residents, did not add charm to the institution, as it probably seemed to the owner. Of course, some botanist interested in the history of the city, it will be interesting to ask the owner about all the people depicted in black-and-white and color photographs.

There were a lot of town dwellers (Toni thought they were Riverdale people, because they were very friendly with Mr. Tate, shaking his hand), Toni liked a little the quality of the photos, which she understood, as at one time was fond of photography. But the concept itself… Toni believed (and for that, thanks to Veronica, who loves all this supernatural stuff) that a photograph could hold a piece of the soul of the person it depicted, and keeping so many souls in one place wasn't the best idea.

But then Toni's eyes caught on what she thought was a very interesting photograph. Perhaps the photographer did not even realize that he could capture an important moment. Toni thought no one realized.

She leaned slightly over the counter to get a better look at the color photograph. It was odd (hell, this town should have been called Strangedale instead of Riverdale) that the stand was behind the counter and could not be approached. But apparently Mr. Tate collected the photos as his own collection.

So, the owner in this photo was shaking hands with a middle-aged man, they were both smiling, and apparently did not even notice that the table that was located in the background, sat twins: Jason looked very frowning, his eyebrows were drawn to the bridge of his nose, and his hands, clenched into fists, rested on the table. Cheryl, on the other hand, was crying as she pressed her hands to her face, apparently trying to pull herself together and not ruin her reputation in public. But the most striking feature of the curtain story was Clifford Blossom, violently waving his arms and apparently shouting at his children.

There seemed to be nothing suspicious about the photo (most people thought so), but Toni glanced at the piece of paper only once (it was too painful to look at friends who were no longer alive), focusing all her attention on the date printed in gold letters in the lower left corner.

September 20, 2017.

And, of course, Toni never forgot the day that took the lives of such beautiful people as the Blossom twins.

September 22, 2017.

Toni almost jumped in her seat, sitting up straighter in the chair when Mr. Tate came out of the kitchen, carrying a tray with her order. Her palms were sweating, her breathing was labored, and she felt as if she would fall if she tried to get to her feet. It was as if the worst secret in the world had been revealed to her, and now she had to hide everything she was thinking about, although one look at the owner of the cafe was enough to give Toni the feeling that he already knew her secret.

“Can I help you with something else?” The man set the tray on the counter in front of Topaz, preparing to return to the kitchen. Customers at such an early hour were not much, so the man could do some other things, leaving the main work on the waiters. Topaz thought only for a second (she should have thought longer, decided not to talk, but of course she didn't) before she nodded.
“Mr. Tate, may I ask you a very personal question? And you will promise that this conversation will remain only between us?”

The man frowned; it was unusual to see the frown on this good Samaritan's face. He came closer as Toni leaned over the counter again. She had even forgotten about her breakfast, about the fact that she had actually chosen this place to wait for Veronica, and all she could think about now were the Blossoms.

“Do you know what happened to the Blossoms?”

She probably thought, Toni hoped, that she thought she saw a flicker of fear in the older man's eyes for a second, but she was a very good judge of character. He glanced around as if to make sure no one was listening, and leaned over the counter, his hands on the surface.

“What exactly do you want to know, miss Topaz?”

“Why is no one investigating what happened at Thornhill?”

"You needn't go into the details of the story, my dear. I will answer your question only because you have to live in the house where the tragedy occurred. No one will investigate this case. Mr. Blossom was very adamant about his children; he wouldn't let any police officer take the crap out of the house. The suicide of his children was a dark stain on his reputation, so he hushed it up as soon as possible, and together with his wife left the city. Miss Topaz, I strongly advise you not to go through someone else's dirty laundry. I know you're interested in the history of where you live, but believe me; you don't want something that can hide in the dark.”

Toni was even more frightened. She sat looking directly behind Mr. Tate, at the very photograph that had brought such a stupid question to her mind in the first place. Jason wasn't just warning her, she needed to keep her mouth shut and not get involved, especially not so openly.

“Hey, Topaz.” Topaz practically screamed, her fingers gripping the table top as a hand fell on her shoulder. “It's just me, and we're practically late the first day, shouldn't we go?”

The pink-haired girl glanced at the proprietor, who was now standing a little away from her, looking into the interior of the establishment, brows drawn together thoughtfully, and arms crossed over his chest.

“We should.” Toni looked at her breakfast pityingly, shoving a few onion rings into her mouth in a quick motion (it was a mystery to her how she could have swallowed a morsel of food after such a tale of sheer horror), taking a sip of her cocktail, and getting to her feet. She looked at Veronica, who was smiling all thirty-two teeth, not even knowing what her best friend was getting into, and tried to smile back. “Let’s go.”

The girls left the cafe, the horrible bells ringing again over the door, sending shivers down Toni's spine. She glanced back one last time, horrified by Mr. Tate's gaze through the window, then hurried to turn away and get on her motorcycle, to get as far away from here as possible.

“Pop Tate? To what do I owe the call? Didn't I tell you not to bother me about nothing?” “You asked me to notify you, Mr. Blossom, if anyone was interested in your family. So, recently, Thornhill was acquired by married couple with a child. A young girl, Antoinette Topaz, was interested in the Cheryl and Jason's deaths. I think she doesn't think it was a suicide.” “Thank you, Tate, you're doing a great job that I'm paying you to do.” “But Mr. Blossom, she's just a little girl who's curious. You don't need to take any action. I only called because you asked me to report if anyone poking their nose into this case, not because I think she's dangerous. You won't hurt her, will you?” * beep * * beep* * beep*

-

“Cheeer?”

Blossom rolled her eyes as she continued to wash the dishes. She was exhausted, because cleaning required a lot of concentration, but she desperately wanted to do something nice for Toni. The girl had revealed so much to her last night, something she'd thought she'd lost forever.

Cheryl had never felt so alive, so real, no matter how absurd it sounded. But there was one drawback, Blossom smiled at her thoughts, after that kiss she couldn't stop thinking about Toni for a second. Even now, in this state (if she were alive, sweat would have been running down her body long ago, and it was a little scary, because Toni's parents could come, and her mother clearly would not like what she saw: how the dish sponge itself soaps the plate, hovering in the air over the sink), she could not stop dreaming about the pink-haired's full lips, about her warm tanned hands resting on her cheeks, about her beautiful brown eyes, which sparkle with gold specks when she smiles.

“Oh my God, answer me!”

Jason appeared right in front of her, forcing her out of her thoughts, though not in a very pleasant manner: she screamed, dropping her plate into the sink, where it miraculously did not break.
“Jason!” Cheryl sounded irritated and intimidating. “What the hell do you want?”

“So you can stop dreaming about your little princess and pay attention to your attention-hungry brother. You spent the night at her place, cleaning up after her wild party, and I can't even get the details of what happened between you two.”

Blossom practically laughed at the older boy, who pouted and crossed his arms over his chest. A lock of red hair fell across his forehead, but he did not change his expression to blow it away with his usual motion. At times like this, Cheryl thought they weren't even dead.

It's just that she's being punished again for talking disrespectfully to her mother, and Jay wants to ask her to cover for him in front of their parents so that he can safely escape on a date with cutie Cooper.

“Tell me something, Cher.”

He needed only to stamp his foot in annoyance to look like the little child he had always been. Of course, Jason had always been the redhead's protector and hero, a few minutes older than she was, but she'd always thought of herself as wiser, more responsible, and stricter. She could easily have been his older sister.

Blossom took a deep breath as she washed up the last plate, wiped it, and set it on the dish rack. She wiped her hands on her apron and took it off, hanging it in the usual place Toni's mom had used for kitchen paraphernalia. She didn't even look at her brother as she walked past him into the living room to sit on the couch, turn on the TV, and relax, but (this was the hallmark of their family) Jay just wouldn't give up, materializing next to her. She even took a pillow to hit him, for he was beginning to get on her nerves, but as she lifted it into the air the pillow passed through her fingers, falling back on the sofa. Her power is literally melting before eyes. Still, she had to concentrate for several hours to keep Toni's parents from getting too upset about the state of the new property.

Although, this party was no match for the party that was held here for the twins' eighteenth birthday. Then Thornhill Minor was virtually defeated, and she still remembers, as father and mother scolded their.

“We kissed! Are you happy?” Cheryl wanted to snap, but the tone of her voice was haggard rather than aggressive.

“What? How was it? Did you get past second base?” Jason leapt to his feet, turning to his sister, lifting his legs to the couch to cross them under him. He even picked up the pillow Cher had dropped to rest it on his lap and rest his elbows on it. He struck a pose: I want to know everything! She had never seen so much enthusiasm in her brother's eyes except when Polly had returned his declaration of love. That night he literally cried with happiness, Cheryl also cried with him, rejoicing for the only loved one.

“It was magical!” Cheryl closed her eyes, resisting the urge to touch her lips with her fingers. She'd spent the night unaware that Toni was sleeping next to her in her arms, that she was real, and she'd chosen Cheryl out of all the possibilities. But maybe she wouldn’t? Was it a fleeting desire?

Jason's smile faded as he noticed his sister's sad expression.

“Hey?” He reached out to squeeze her shoulder. “What are you thinking about?”

“She's alive, JJ. I can't make her choose me; I can't promise her any of the things that real people, real couples, usually do. I will not burden her when she has a real chance of a healthy and happy relationship.”

These thoughts suddenly filled the girl's head, as if they had risen from the deepest recesses of her mind. They were always somewhere in the subcortex, but she managed to block them for a while.

“Come here.” Blossom removed the pillow from his lap, moving to take Cheryl in his arms. She returned his embrace willingly, resting her head on his shoulder.

“What if she wanted to find out the truth? I can't put her in the same danger we put ourselves in, Jason! Better push her away before it's too late. Every moment of my existence would be agony if anything happened to her.”

Cheryl began to cry, clutching her brother's hand in hers.

“You can't decide for Toni, Cher. You must speak to her frankly, but don't you dare tell her the whole truth. She likes you, I've seen the way she looks at you, and believe me, if she gets suspicious like you and I do, she won't just let it go.”

“I can't lose her, either. I sound selfish, but I want her by my side.”

Jason smiled ruefully as he kissed her hair.

“You're not selfish, Cheryl. You're just my little sister in love.”

-

God, Toni could have sworn this was the most exhausting day of her life. Her morning had definitely not gone well since she'd staked everything at the roadhouse, but she'd never imagined that their transfer would make such a show. Apparently Mr. Lodge donated some funds to this institution, because the Director literally carried Veronica in his arms, including her. He even personally attended the first lesson, where they were introduced to the class. Well, seriously, she was practically an adult girl, forced to stand up and introduce herself as if she was an eleven-year-old who found it difficult to make friends. And then all hell broke loose…

They were released from classes so they could get to know the school better, to attend the fair of interests held annually on the first day of classes. Ronnie, of course, only saw the familiar faces: Betty, Archie and Jughead, and went to them, completely forgetting about her best friend. But Toni wasn't at all offended. She needed to comprehend what she had seen, what she had heard. What terrible thing could Clifford Blossom have done that even a regular diner owner would be afraid of, even though the maple king no longer lived in this town?

The girl went aside, not to disturb other people, to look for the interest group. She occasionally glanced at the brunette who was whispering sweetly to Betty, standing across the cheerleaders' table. She caught Jughead frowning gaze, who clearly remembering her promise to tell his about the photograph she'd taken out of the album, which was now in her personal diary.

She didn't want to talk to him now; she hoped she could postpone the meeting until evening. Something about the man repelled her. Perhaps it was only a first impression, for he and Betty were not in the best position to rummage in her room. Perhaps he was not a bad guy, and help in the case in which the girl now wanted to plunge headlong, it would clearly not hurt. She was a little afraid of getting involved in something even the cops didn't want to investigate. But, Gosh... One look at Cheryl, one touch to her, and she couldn't think of anything else but punishing the bastard who'd done this to her. And Jason, of course.

“Hi.” Toni turned to the source of the voice, which suddenly called out to her. Hell, she'd thought she was pretty well hidden in that nook.

“Hi.” Before her stood a guy with a big smile on his face and an outstretched hand. Oh, and he was wearing a very tasteless red sweater.

“Kevin Keller.” She shook hands with the stranger, determined to be a little friendlier for the first day at least. Who knows how many acquaintances she will need?

“Toni Topaz aka a new girl.”

“Oh, I know. My father's the Sheriff. And as strange as it sounds, he checks everyone who comes to this city.”

“Because of the Blossoms incident?”

Toni immediately caught a strange movement in his eyes, as if he were trying to hide his gaze from her. But that's just what it was that look: fear, surprise, remorse, sorrow?

“Sorry.” Toni finally took her hand away, smiling guiltily. She was already really obsessed with the new mystery, but even if she was right, seeing the strange reaction of a new acquaintance, it was not worth it to advertise. “I sort of live in the same mansion, and my thoughts lately revolve only around the mysterious family.”

Topaz tried to smile amiably, perhaps even succeeded, because Kevin was no longer looking at her suspiciously.

“It’s okay. If I were you, I'd go crazy. These twins were the most fateful couple in school, and then this happened to them.”

The boy took a step forward, leaning slightly toward Toni.

“Frankly, my father participated in investigation a bit, just a couple of hours before the feds, or people who called themselves feds, cordoned everything off. Clifford Blossom wouldn't let anyone else get involved, and my dad was surprised when it was ruled a suicide the very next day.”

Then Toni realized she'd hit a gold mine. The boy was harmless, of course, and there was no need to try to connect him with the incident, but he was surprisingly talkative, which was not to be said for his reserved appearance. Well, he didn't look like a gossip at first sight-just a nice, kind gay guy, nothing more. Of course, she immediately guessed that the guy is gay. Did the mythical gaydar work? She wasn't sure. It was just that he was wearing that sweater, and he was giving a very obscene looks at the boy in the sleeveless jeans' jacket.

“By the way, I didn't just walk up to you without reason.” Keller seemed to remember something. He pointed to a table in the far corner of the room, at which his object of adoration was seated. And next to him sat a tall guy in a leather jacket with his feet up on the table. Toni read the sign above their table: Snakes and swords. “My boyfriend and a few other members of the Southside serpents had started a creative team a year ago, and Jughead had mentioned that he had met a new girl photographer. He was talking about you, right?”

Fucking Jughead Jones!

Toni couldn't say she wasn't flattered by the attention, but she didn't even consider societies seriously. Maybe she wanted to work with Jones, but only for her own purposes, to find the evidence she needed. But to give her precious time to a group of outsiders, when she still has something to do? Although, frankly, these guys clearly didn't look like they were doing anything creative, or anything at all. Especially the tall guy in the leather jacket.

But then Topaz looked back again, noticing Veronica, with her arm around Betty's shoulders, chirping sweetly in her ear, and they were both laughing, and then Ronnie turned her attention to the red-haired boy, giving him a sweet kiss.

She pursed her lips, turning to Kevin, who was waiting for her answer. Lodge had always been able to fit in easily, no wonder she'd made new friends in such a short time.

“You know, I'd like to hear what you have to offer.”

The Sheriff's son smiled happily, inviting her to follow him.

-

The boys were not what Toni had first thought they were. Kevin and Fangs were the sweetest couple she'd ever seen. You could literally see the hearts eyes of each of them as they looked at their soulmate. There was Sweet Pea… Toni may have found her new best friend in him. He was moderately sarcastic, but even under his tough exterior, she could see how much he cared about his friends, especially Fangs, whom he shamelessly called his brother.

She definitely missed a male friend, especially after Colin's betrayal. After all, the girl did not want to be disappointed in men because of one bad shot. A little later, when Toni and Sweet had hit it off so well that they were making jokes together, Jug came up to them, clearly pleased that his plan to attract the new girl had worked.

He politely pulled Toni aside, asking about the notorious photo, but the girl did not tell him anything. It wasn't that she didn't trust the guy, though she didn't (but who could blame her? He made a bad impression), just talk about it at school did not want to. So she compromised by meeting him at the Pop's that night. She had time to think about whether to talk about the mysterious moment captured on the stand at the diner, and she also needed Cheryl's permission to show Jughead a picture of her and Polly. After all, perhaps no one other than the twins and most Polly did not know the secret that opened the inscription under this photo.

In the meantime, she could safely get home, all alone (not at all surprised that Veronica wanted to spend time with Archie, she herself desperately wanted to see Cheryl), spend time with the red-haired girl, wait for her parents to return, and in the evening, with a calm soul to share with Jughead her experiences.

Nor did the detective who had first suggested the violent death of the Blossoms leave her mind. She reproached herself for not having thought to find him sooner, to talk to him, even though it was unlikely that a cop would reveal the details of the incident to an ordinary teenager.

She stopped her motorcycle in the driveway of the house, which was completely empty, which meant that her parents had not yet returned from a well-deserved vacation, and she had a chance to be alone with her personal ghost. For some reason (she really couldn't find a reason for it), her mood immediately improved as she walked to the door of the mansion, pulling her keys out of her pocket, with the intention of going inside. It was crazy, two weeks ago, that she couldn't look at this house, couldn't stay in it for more than a few minutes without panicking, but now this place seemed filled with special warmth that warmed her soul.

Within was suspicious quietly, girl already a bit accustomed to the, that twins do interact with her, not giving bored, but now they, apparently, were than something are busy.
Cheryl really did her best. If Toni hadn't been part of last night's party, she would never have guessed that there was nowhere else to go this morning – everything was littered with garbage. It was brilliant now, but Toni didn't really care. Her mother had given her permission to have such a night, she wouldn't have scolded her for the mess. All she wanted to do was see Blossom, run her hand through her silky hair, and pull her to herself for a kiss. She had never thought that another girl's lips could be so sweet, so magnetic.

The girl's heart throbbed pleasantly as she climbed the stairs to her room, hoping to find the twin there (preferably resting in her bed). But disappointment washed over the pink-haired as her room met her with a cold emptiness.

“Cheryl?” Toni looked out into the corridor, calling the younger Blossom. Her voice echoed through the empty floor, vibrating against the walls. No one answered the first or subsequent calls. Topaz even tried to call Jason to make sure nothing was wrong, and Cheryl just for some reason (maybe a bad mood) decided to ignore her. But there was no answer.

It made her a little angry, and then upset, and in the end she just lay down on her bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. The girl truly did not understand what she could be guilty before the twins. Had she done something wrong? Had she gone too far in her investigation, touched on something she shouldn't? But even so, how could the guys know about it? Unless they could read minds at a distance, which was impossible because they couldn't read minds at all.

Toni spent about an hour in an amoeba state, just doing nothing, trying not to even think, because the thought that Cheryl would now just ignore her made her want to cry. No one had ever shown such feelings for her; she had only fallen in love once, so she wasn't ready for a broken heart.

But as time went on, her meeting with Jughead was approaching, and basically, she was ready to face what this guy could dig up, but she wanted to do something else before she left. She got up in bed to pick up the laptop from the desk and sat back down on the soft surface, opening the lid and turning on the device.

She did not even have to search long, because she prudently saved the page of interest in advance. The article had the same shocking effect on her. This time she quickly looked through it down to the review investigator arrived on the scene immediately after the Sheriff Keller.

She already knew (had read in this article, and not only), that local Sheriff immediately same summoned cops district, and only through some time Blossom ordered all move away, leaving only his "trusted" faces. She still couldn't believe that this man had anything to do with the deaths of his own children. How could anyone touch such a fragile, young, innocent girl as the younger Blossom? And what about Jay? Are there such cold-blooded people who are capable of taking the lives of so young children who still have their whole lives ahead of them? Of course, Toni wasn't that naive… This world was the worst embodiment of injustice and violence, though she had no idea that at some point she would have to face something so terrible.

Toni wiped tears from her cheeks, trying to focus on the cop's name so she could find it online. Honestly, she thought it would help her pass the half hour before meeting Jones, because how many Arthur Clains could there be in the area? A hundred? A thousand? But she was unlucky, clearly unlucky in many ways.

The very first link told about the mysterious disappearance of a young, starting a brilliant career family man Arthur Clain a little more than a year and a half ago.

Topaz felt hot, and then cold. She could not be mistaken, because the photo looked at her smiling guy with a police uniform, one hand holding a little girl in the air, and the other embracing his blond wife. The girl immediately grabbed her phone from the bedside, the photographing screen and then, with a quick movement, closing the tab and closed the laptop's lid. Her heart was pounding in her ears. She could feel beads of sweat trickling down between her shoulder blades, and the room was suddenly unbearably hot, making her want to get up and open the window. Her lungs were constricted, and the air she wanted refused to enter her body, giving her life. If Toni had never encountered such a thing, she would have panicked terribly, but all she did was throw her legs up on the bed, assume a reclining position, bend her knees, and lean forward so that her head was right between her knees.

Her panic attacks haven't been a big surprise lately. She was still acutely aware of her first attack, which had occurred the moment she returned the house that fateful evening. She was very lucky that her father was not confused and helped her through it, showing a simple technique.

What the hell had she just seen? It could not be true that the only person who had taken an interest in the case and decided to go against the maple Baron had disappeared without a trace. She didn't even want to go into details. The fact was enough to dampen all her enthusiasm, giving way to an overwhelming fear.

She did not even notice that the door to the room opened slightly, and in the small space between the door and the jamb appeared something. Something that was very worried about Toni, that was biting her lips, which, if she were alive, would have long ago, shed life-giving blood, but it did not dare to disturb the pink-haired by choosing to observe from a distance.

Toni calmed down a bit, getting to her feet with a quick jerk to grab a photo from her diary and immediately, without hesitation, go to the Pop's. She could not sit still a moment longer. Her panic suddenly gave her a picture of Cliff Blossom coming to his old house to deal with an unwanted, meddling girl. Toni ran down the stairs, put on her converse, and grabbed her usual bunch of keys. She reached for the handle of the door, which swung open, sending the girl screaming backward.

“God, Ant, why are you shouting like that?” Her mother stood in the doorway, one hand gripping the handle of her suitcase, the other clutching her heart. Topaz exhaled, rushing forward into the arms of the uncomprehending Amelia.

“Honey, you're scaring me, what happened?”

Toni had never in her life wanted to share anything with her mother like now. But she knew that not only would the woman not believe her, calling her a little fib, but a more reasonable reason to keep quiet was that Topaz simply could not set up her parents like that. God knows, she was terrified of getting into some shit, but even in this desperate prospect, she would never put her loved ones in danger.

“It's okay, mom. It was just much unexpected, and I missed you. And now I'm in a hurry to meet with a representative of the school newspaper, I kind of signed up to him in the creative group.”

Amelia relaxed visibly, nodding at her daughter's words.

“Come home early and say hello to dad, he's in the garage.”

“Kay. By the way, the house is in order, in case you were worried.”

Toni smiled at the woman, who was similar as two drops of water, but it was worth it to walk out the door, the smile immediately faded. After talking to Jones, she had to weigh the pros and cons to decide exactly whether to get involved or not. But she knew that if she ever caught another glimpse of that shock of bright red hair, she wouldn't have a chance to say no.

-

“Are you crazy?” Jason screamed as his sister shoved him into the basement and followed, slamming the door. They stood in utter darkness and silence. In fact, she couldn't make him, so he went himself, because he knew what would happen if he angered the little bestia.

“No, I just can't stand it.”

“You know you're going to hear her, right? You can hide under the water in the pool, but when you think about her – you hear her!” Jason snapped his fingers, which was like a thunderclap in the silence. “Ghost magic.”

“Not funny, asshole.”

Blossom let out a weary breath as she carefully descended a few steps to reach for the light switch. The basement of the mansion was almost identical to the rest of the interior, except that the walls were not decorated with shiny wallpaper, and were lined with brick. Downstairs they found a wine cellar and a small room with cushioned chairs and an oak desk. They often enjoyed spending time here, emptying their parents' collection of wines of various varieties.

The redhead froze in place, noticing several cardboard boxes, which before here not was, is logical, after all on them large black letters, left marker, was withdrawn "Toni-3 year" and " Toni-6 years."

“God help me deal with this.”

Cheryl groaned in exasperation as she slumped into one of the red velvet armchairs, her hands on either side of her face.

“Cher…” Jason sounded condescending, which infuriated her. If would she has remained modicum drop forces, she would in relish took one of bottles (even strange, that their parents not bothered take from collection, in rush grabbing only several the most expensive bottles), and has thrown in his beloved brother. “Stop going against your feelings already. If you ignore Toni, it won't make it any easier for either of you. You have to talk to her and warn her, if you just leave her, she'll go into it head on and get hurt.”

“I know, God, I know.” Cheryl rubbed her eyes wearily with her knuckles. She wanted to burst into tears for real, and not just to utter a couple of random tears all that was available to her in her present form. She was always an emotional person, and if in public it was manifested by shouting and swearing, then at home-she just loved to release all the pain that she was caused by random and even family people, through tears. “I don't want to lose her, but I can't, Jason. I have no experience in such things. I'll disappoint her; definitely, I'll hurt her, that's what I'm afraid of.”

“This is normal.” Red sat down on the arm of Cheryl's chair. He put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing lightly. He was grateful to be able to touch her, for he was used to soothing her on such occasions. “You just don't have the experience, and yes, life is a bitch that gave you a chance to fall in love without being alive. But when will you get another chance? I know heart-to-heart is a sore subject for you. But you have to learn, better late than never.”

Blossom looked up at her brother, her eyes clouded. He was right, he was the damn perfect boy, he was always right, and sometimes it hurt and sickened her to admit it.

But it was even more unbearable to hear Toni's sad voice when she tried to call the redhead and was disappointed when she didn't come. Then Cheryl heard another strange sound, like a sob.

She glanced at Jason, who pursed his lips. So she wasn't imagining it. The guy almost opened his mouth to, she was sure, tell her to go and look after Toni, but the redhead beat him to it, closing her eyes, and at the same time, finding herself in front of familiar doors.

She didn't want to disturb her privacy, her first thought was to just walk into the room without Toni seeing her (Yes, she had the ability to be seen only when she wanted to be seen), but that wouldn't be fair to the pink-haired girl she'd chosen to ignore. So Cheryl opened the door only slightly, thinking that she would only go inside if something happened to Toni, or if she saw her.
Cheryl bit her lip, seeing the wet streaks on the girl's cheeks as she sat cross-legged on the bed, staring at something on her laptop. She looked upset and frightened, which made the redhead desperately want to go into the room and hug her, comfort her, but she could not bring herself to move, and unfortunately or fortunately, Topaz could not see her, because Blossom had prudently chosen this position.

She hated herself for her cowardice. She remembered, a few years ago, she also often sat on this bed, sobbing and wishing that someone would come and take her away from this terrible house, comfort her, cuddle her and tell her that everything would be fine. Toni was in her place now, and she didn't lift a finger to help.

She could also see Toni struggling with her panic attack.

Cheryl closed her eyes, finding herself back in the basement, next to Jason, who was just opening a bottle of the 1997 Chateau Margot that Blossom had adored in her day. She could taste it now, but it was no longer pleasurable or slightly dizzy. How she wanted to get drunk now.

“Everything's okay? You're fast.”

“It's bad, but I'm not a bitch enough to ignore her and then show up at the moment of her panic attack.”

The girl came closer, snatching the bottle from the struggling twin's hands and lifting the neck to her lips to take a long drink. The liquid passed down her throat, burning a little, and she even smelled the faint notes of grapes and the smell of antiquity, but everything evaporated, giving way to absolute emptiness.

Blossom took the bottle away from her lips, only to swing it and throw it against the wall, sending the green glass flying across the basement and the liquid staining the brick, trickling down it to form a puddle at the foot of the wall.

-

Toni wasn't even going fast. Usually, as soon as she got behind the wheel of the bike, all unsolicited thoughts were erased as she flew into the wind, really enjoying life and fleeting freedom. But all she could think of now was that this freedom could be broken at any moment. Her life can only end because she fell in love with the wrong person. God, not even with a person. But what choice did she have? How could she resist? No, she couldn’t. The choice tore her to shreds, made her doubt herself, in Cheryl, and then it all fell into place. She remembered the worried expression on Clifford Blossom's face, and she felt a sudden surge of rage.

A few minutes late, she finally parked in front of the Pop's, noticing a bike that might have belonged to Jughead Jones standing alone against the background of the family minivans. She got off the bike, slinging her helmet over the steering wheel and taking the keys from the ignition. She didn't have to worry about anything happening to Harley, because she was still on the safe side of Northside, even though she'd heard about southern kids visiting the local establishment. After all, she had no idea who they were, so she couldn't judge them.

Honestly, Topaz wasn't even surprised when she walked into the room and saw Jughead girlfriend's invariable blond ponytail at the table. Betty might be handy if she had to tell them the secret that Polly was pregnant with Jason's child. Although, she wasn't sure that for a couple of detectives, even one fact of the Blossoms' background remained a mystery.

“Hey, Toni.” Betty smiled sweetly, moving a little away from Jughead, to whom she really stuck like a bath leaf. Toni thought for a moment that it would be nice to bring a loved one here on a date. They could sit in a cozy place, cuddle, and play with food as she liked, but her brows drew together as she remembered that the only person she wanted to spend a romantic evening with couldn't leave the iron-fenced grounds.

“Hi, Betty. Jug.” Toni nodded slightly, determined not to put it off, and immediately laid the picture on the table, face down, and put her hand on top of it. “First I want to know your intentions in relation to this mystery.”

Jughead seemed about to protest. Toni was beginning to think that they would descend again to a silly argument, when each wanted to know more about the other's intentions than he was willing to tell about his own. But Betty was surprisingly ahead of him.

“Polly, my sister, dated Jason for almost a year. They were very fond of each other, planned to get married, but then...” Betty was embarrassed. “You know what happened next. And my sister is locked up in a horrible religious orphanage, and they won't let her out of it, and they won't let me see her. I just want to see her and my nephews.”

Toni sighed in surprise as Jughead put his arm around Betty's shoulders, letting her lean into him and bury her face in his neck. It seemed that the blonde was about to cry, but she restrained herself.

Topaz flipped the photo over, showing only Cheryl and Polly hugging and smiling. And that smooth signature that made Toni smile and cry at the same time. She was so happy to be an aunt, but someone took it away from her.

“I'm sorry, Betty. If I had known, I wouldn't have played this silent game and would have given the picture away.”

“Tell me, why is this important to you? If you're just doing this for fun, we're out of the way, Toni. We may be putting ourselves in danger by rummaging through Clifford's dirty laundry, and I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt unknowingly.”

“I'm in, Jug. Don't doubt me. It's just that I can't live in this house knowing I'm sleeping in a murdered girl's bed.”

The brunette and the blonde exchanged puzzled glances, shifting their dumbfounded gaze to the pink-haired one who tried to remain calm.

“What did you say?" Jones whispered, leaning over the table to get a little closer to the girl. “What does it mean?”

“I have no hard evidence, if that's what you're talking about, just a photo on Pop's booth.” Toni didn't turn to look at the cash register to avoid attracting too much attention, and the guys prudently did the same. “In the background, Clifford is seen getting very angry at the upset twins, and a couple of days later they are found with their veins cut. Also, I have this.”

Toni unlocked the phone, opening the photo and placing the device on the table, pushing it closer to the couple.

“This guy tried to investigate a "suicide" and then went missing under mysterious circumstances. Someone, and the three of us know who, really doesn't want outsiders around the twins' case. Why would Blossom hide something he had nothing to do with?”

Jughead nodded to himself, locking the phone and returning it to its owner. She sat for a couple of minutes, thinking about her next line.

“Delete it, and we'll take the picture of Polly. Toni, are you sure your curiosity is reason enough to put yourself in danger?”

Topaz bit her tongue to keep from snapping and saying she was the only one reasonably interested, but all she said out loud was what she thought was true.

“I just want justice. Even if I didn't know these guys, they don't deserve this fate.”

Betty nodded sadly, and her boyfriend continued.

“We need to find this detective's family and talk to them. But it must be done very carefully, the Clifford everywhere eyes and ears.”

Toni swallowed nervously. She decided not to tell the guy, or rather, she decided not to embarrass herself that she was asking about the incident as a possible murder, right in the middle of the diner. Anyway, it was her problem, and the guys had nothing to do with it.

“That's all I can share.”

“Honestly.” Betty hesitated a little. “We have very little information. We weren't allowed in the Blossom house, and after you moved in, there's clearly no trace of the old family, except for that useless box of Cheryl's trinkets. All we know is that Polly was inconsolable after Jay died. They wanted to run away together a few days before he died. And when she thought Clifford was guilty, they put her in a mental hospital. She can't be there, the kids can't be there.”

“Calm Down, Betts. Toni is our fresh perspective on the situation; she'll help us figure it out.”

Toni nodded.

“I'm with you, Betts. We will investigate and punish those responsible.”

Topaz smiled reassuringly, but deep down, she didn't believe what she was saying. Perhaps they will suffer a fate even worse than that of the twins.

-

Veronica was so insistent that Toni had to stop right in the middle of the road, but then, a little prudence prevailed, and she rolled the bike to the side of the road. Her friend was simply unbearable; Toni sometimes did not understand her. Sometimes she ignores her best friend, who is almost her sister, all day, and then she longs to meet her so that she calls for the sixth time in a row.

It was dusk when she was returning from her meeting with Jug, and she was anxious to get home. What they were getting into had obviously discouraged her from adventure, and mostly from night walks in the middle of the woods (fucking Thornhill, on the outskirts). But it was better to accept the call, because she did not want to face to face with an angry Veronica, who will be waiting for her on the threshold of her house. She wanted to be alone tonight (not really, but the only person she wanted to be with ignored her).

“Yes, Ronnie.”

“Holy shit, Topaz. Do you have any idea how worried I was?”

“No, I can't imagine. You left me at the mercy of the school societies, choosing the company of beloved Archie.” Toni snorted. She wasn't even offended anymore, just a little upset by the fact that Ronnie definitely needed something or she wouldn't have called.

“I thought your girlfriend would keep you busy. Doesn't she go to our school?”

“She's not my girlfriend. And she's not local.”

“Whoa, troubles in paradise?” Lodge chuckled. And, Toni wasn't wrong, the brunette was not pursuing any goals by calling her, she was just bored. As usual, Toni was a distraction.

“I'm on my way home and I'm standing on the side of the road in the dark. If you don’t have anything serious, I'll probably get to a safe mansion.”

Ronnie started to say something, but Toni couldn't listen anymore. A black car pulled to the side of the road a few yards away, and the driver dimmed its headlights. No one was going out, and the cabin was dark. Topaz's heart was pounding and her throat was dry, making her swallow hard. Ronnie's voice faded into a background static before Toni dropped the call and quickly stuffed her cell phone into her pocket before revving the engine. She swung her leg over the seat and slammed on the clutch. Rocks from under the rear wheel flew in different directions as she picked up speed, already racing on the asphalt.

She thought her panic was making her crazy, but as soon as she glanced behind her, she saw the headlights of the car that was not half a mile behind her. The girl sobbed, which she remembered vaguely, as she had all the way home. But her cheeks were wet and cold when she flew into the grounds of the mansion, as soon as the gate opened a little. She braked sharply, sending gravel flying in all directions, then, without even bothering to drive the motorcycle into the garage, jumped off the vehicle, snatching the keys, almost breaking them in the lock. She ran into the house, running straight up the stairs to the second floor and into her room, locking the door.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that no one would dare touch her in the house, not even the almighty Clifford Blossom, but the tears did not stop, and her body continued to tremble. Did he send someone to watch her? But how could he know? She really hadn't taken Jug's remark that the man had eyes and ears everywhere seriously. She was so scared.

“Toni, honey, is everything okay?” Topaz shivered, clutching the pillow to her face to keep from crying out loud and frightening her mother even more. She caught her breath quickly, trying to clear her voice.

“It's okay, mom. I'm just really tired and sleepy. I ate at the cafe, you can have a dinner without me.”

“Toni…”

“Mom, I really want to be alone. I had a difficult first day at school.”

She even heard Amelia take a deep breath, but thanks to her mom, she didn't say anything, and a few moments later there were footsteps on the stairs. Toni pulled off the sneakers she'd forgotten to take off downstairs and got to her feet. She wanted to go to bed and sleep and forget everything, as if it wasn't happening to her.

The girl stood in front of the mirror, looking at her reflection: frightened, tearful, her makeup dripping. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling more tears begin to fall and her lips begin to tremble, when suddenly a hand fell on her waist. Toni started, leaping to the side and suppressing a cry of terror.

“Sorry, I’m sorry.” Cheryl whispered, staggering to the side and raising her hands in the air.

“Don't t-touch m-me.” Her voice trembled, sending a vibration through her body. She snagged the buttons on her shirt, trying to get rid of her clothes and get into bed.

“Toni, please, what's happened?”

“I already told I am fine.” The girl growled through her teeth, pulling off her shirt and reaching for her jeans. She didn't even think about Cheryl seeing her in her underwear, because there was nothing she didn't see, and embarrassment was the last thing on the agenda.

“Don't think you can fool me.” Blossom frowned, crossing her arms.

“What do you care, Cheryl? You've safely ignored me for so long, and now you've decided to play caring? I don't need it. Leave me alone and get out of my room.”

Toni shivered when the makeup remover touched her cheek, it was cold, illuminating, and her skin was already warm from the irritation that was rolling over her in waves. She just wanted to be alone, to let her emotions run free, not to hold back like this. Is it much to ask?

“I'm not going anywhere until you talk to me.”

“Why are you so selfish?” Irritably, Toni tossed her napkin on the table in front of the mirror when the rest of her makeup was gone and her skin began to breathe. She was furious, coming close to the ghost. She wanted so badly to slap Blossom on her haughty face, even though she knew it would be useless, since the Ghost could vanish in a split second. Toni just didn't understand why the red-haired playing with her feelings. “If you're starting to ignore me, why are you showing up here again, like you care about me?”

“Because I care.” Cheryl practically screamed, leaning forward and placing her hands on the girl's cheeks. “I'm worried about you; I'm afraid you might do something stupid and get in trouble. I'm afraid you'll get hurt.”

Toni stared at her, her mouth slightly open. Cheryl knew something? Something to help them get to the truth? This interested the girl, for a moment making her forget about the danger that was already gathering like thunderclouds over her head. But most importantly… It seemed that Cheryl does really care.

“You're so stubborn.” Blossom ran her thumb over the pink-haired girl's lower lip, focusing her gaze on her lips. “I can see why we've hit it off so quickly – you're anxious to get to the truth, too, even at the cost of your own safety. But Toni…”

The redhead shifted her gaze, and Toni saw her eyes glisten as if the ghost was about to cry.

“Don't do it, no matter what you plan, no matter what you decide. Please, I'm begging you.” Cheryl suddenly pulled Toni toward her, wrapping her body in the familiar cold, pressing her body against the younger girl's half-naked body. “Don't leave me, T. T., don't make me go through this pain again and again and again…”

“Cher? What are you talking about?" Toni pulled back a little, knowing that now she might discover something she had not even suspected in her little journey through the detective nooks and crannies.

“My father…” It was obvious that Cheryl was fighting with herself not to reveal the truth to the girl. The redhead was aware that the Jason’s warnings – not an empty phrase. If Toni found out the truth, and not just guessed, but the facts, she just wouldn't be able to stop. Cheryl was literally putting her in even more danger. But the dam had collapsed, and Blossom couldn't lie anymore, couldn't hide it.

Toni leaned in, leaving a kiss at the corner of her plump lips, brushing her forehead against Blossom's.

“Tell me, Cher. You can tell me.” Toni was no longer worried about this uncomfortable posture. The cold that had been gradually replaced by warmth as the girl warmed the redhead again (even if it was just her imagination) was disappearing, giving way to the comfort and security that the younger one felt in these arms.

“My father ordered our murder. Jay and I found out about his drug business, which he covered up with maple syrup. It happened just a few days before the incident. Jason was going to turn our father in to the police and give up all family business, just run away with Polly and their future children. And I just supported him, as I always did. But when we went to the police... I still wish we'd gone to Keller, decided to go to the bigger department, fools.” Cheryl snorted as she wrapped her arms around Toni's neck, moving impossibly closer to her. “Everything was bought there; everything is always bought from him. And the cop we went to just turned us in to dad. And, in the end, he decided to make do with less sacrifice than a multimillion-dollar business. Just got rid of two problems.”

Toni didn't even say anything. She couldn't find the right words, and she certainly wasn't going to mention the surveillance that might have been put on her by someone whose name she no longer wanted to utter without savage disgust. If only an hour ago, she had tried to get rid of the vile assumptions, but now, the truth was suffocating with its inevitability.

Topaz simply took the girl's chin, forcing her to look at her, and touched her lips to hers. She didn't know how else to express her sadness, to say how sorry she was. Blossom moaned, moving her hands from pink-haired's neck to her waist to draw her closer, and deepened the kiss, slowly turning it more sensual and passionate.

Toni liked the feel of that calm, that happiness that made her heart swell when their lips met. No, there was no miracle, this kiss did not make her forget what had happened, did not hide the truth from her, it only proved for the hundredth time that she was ready to fight. For Cheryl, for Jason. For her own sake, after all, she couldn't live as she had before, not while this monster was free.

“Don't leave me, Toni.” Cheryl whispered, pulling back slightly as Topaz's lungs ran out of oxygen. “If you interfere, it won't end well. I know it's going too fast, I'll understand if you don't want it, whatever it is. Just promise me you'll be safe, even if you're not around me.”

“Shut up.” Toni pressed her lips to hers again. It was fucking inexplicable that the ghost's lips attracted her more than the lips of any live person she'd ever kissed. Life is a strange thing, but Toni is not going to give up without a fight. She pushed the girl toward the bed, never stopping to steal her kisses.

Cheryl, not fully used to that with Toni, her body suddenly becoming material, tripped over the pink-haired girl's converses and fell straight onto the giant soft bed, pulling the laughing Topaz with her.

“Toni.” Girl, that on lucky for Toni chance, proved pressed to mattress fragile the body, turned head, lest to sever a kiss. “Promise me.”

She was so serious that Toni's heart sank at the knowledge that she was about to lie to the girl's face. No way in the world would she stop seeking justice. Unless the men in black came and erased her memory, of course.

“I promise.” Toni discreetly crossed her fingers behind her back, leaving a kiss on the exposed area of the redhead's neck, causing her to roll her eyes. “Now take off your clothes.”

Blossom laughed, raising herself slightly on her elbows.

“Excuse me? You haven't asked me out on a date yet, and already there are demands.”

Toni's eyes widened and her cheeks flushed.

“No, no, no, that's not what I meant. I mean, you can take off your jeans and t-shirt and lie down with me. You're staying the night, right?”

Cheryl couldn't refuse this little kitten. She put her hand to Topaz's hot cheek, her thumb stroking her cheekbone. God, she had no idea what was going on now, what was going to happen next, but she didn't want to give it up, didn't want to lose it.

“As you wish, Princess.”

Chapter Text

Toni stirred, pressing harder against Cheryl's chest, where she'd actually been sleeping, when the phone rang for the third time. In her sleep, she felt Cheryl kiss the top of her head before sitting up slightly and apparently turning off the sound on the annoying device.

Topaz had no idea how long she'd slept, maybe an hour, maybe seven. She and the redhead did not fall asleep immediately (Toni simply could not stay away from her seductive mouth, but she had to stop when her own lips began to hurt from the constant friction), then they talked for a long time, sharing silly stories from life, which Topaz considered just a chic pastime. It helped her to calm down a lot, and her fear faded, and her thoughts of Clifford were at least temporarily clouded. She could spend the whole night just lying on Cheryl's chest, playing with the tips of her perfect red hair while the girl squeezes her waist and talks about a high school camping when she was nearly bitten by a snake. But physiology took over, and Topaz began to feel like she was falling asleep. She warned Cheryl, earning her last, most tender kiss of the evening and Goodnight wishes.

But now their idyll was over. Someone was trying hard to reach Topaz. And she could give a hand to cut off, immediately calling the name of the annoying caller.

“Cher?”

“I’m here.” Blossom returned to her seat, hugging baby Toni again.

“It's Veronica, isn't it?"

“Yes, she's been calling several times. Just ignore her, you need more sleep.” Blossom pressed her cheek to Toni's head, lightly stroking her hair as the fingers of her other hand gently traced circles on her flat stomach. It was so comforting that Topaz suddenly wanted to skip school and stay in a pleasant embrace forever, but she had a lot to do. Meeting with Jug, for example, who was supposed to get information about the detective through his father, who now worked as a Sheriff on the Southside.

“What time is it?”

“You've got almost an hour and a half to get up, don't worry. I'll make sure you don't skip school.”

“Bore.” Toni yawned at the slight snort of the red-haired beauty. Her chest filled with such warmth, just feeling this girl next to her. And when she thought about how they felt about each other, she just couldn't believe that anyone could love her. After all, God knows, she wasn't perfect at all. But maybe that was what she and Cheryl were like – both broken and needing to be glued together by overwork. They complemented each other. “But I think I'll take the offer.”

 

-

 

The next time Toni woke up on the alarm clock, the first thing that caught her eye was the absence of her beautiful red-haired deity next to her. She turned, thinking Cheryl had just gotten out of bed, but the girl wasn't in the room, and after a minute, she knew why.

“Damn.” Toni hid her head under the covers when she heard a scream as the door opened. “Do you realize that I thought you were dead? Why couldn't you pick up the phone? My chauffeur took mom away for the night on business, so I couldn't come, and I had to lie myself that nothing happened to you on the way, that you just forgot to pull your head out of your ass and call me.”

Topaz groaned as Ronnie pulled the covers off her. It had been cold again in the freaking mansion this morning, and she desperately wanted to keep warm, so she huddled against the last of the heat.

“All right, get up now. Today is a very important day, and if you hadn't ignored me, you would have known about it.”

Toni wanted so badly to argue with the girl, to tell her that the brunette had been the one who'd dumped her in school. But somehow Topaz didn't have the strength to argue, or rather, she needed the strength for something else. Today, in truth, was indeed an important and difficult day. If Jughead succeeded, they could go to the detective's family, no matter how dangerous it was, given the events of yesterday. She wishes she didn't have to go to school at all, or at least not go outside. Toni remembered the night before, when she had raced down the road like a madwoman, and her mind had been thinking of new ways to keep her from going home. Option with a shot from a gun won, but nothing happened. She could only hope that it was a random car, or at least that Clifford had made sure that she knew nothing and would no longer follow her.

“Okay, I'm kind today, so I'll let you in on the plans. Yesterday, Betty and I signed up for the Riverdale Vixens' qualifying round, which will take place today. You were also signed up, but with a note that you will show the dance in a few days.”

“What? What the hell, Veronica?” Toni sat up, looking at her friend in disbelief. She'd better be joking, or Topaz would just commit murder in her room. “I'm not going to waste my time on some cheerleader squad. I don't even like to dance.”

“Bullshit! You're an amazing dancer, and it's a crime to sit around in class when you can do social activities. Betts and I have already prepared a dance with a very impressive climax, and you have plenty of time to catch up with us.”

“I've already signed up for an art group. If you want to dance in front of your football player - it’s your business, but don't get me involved.”

Toni was madly angry. Ronnie was so impulsive that sometimes it was off-balance. Yes, Topaz liked to hang out, in her spare time from school, she liked to dance, to show her sexuality, which was more than enough, but now the last thing she wanted to do was dance.

“So be it, you can think about it.”

Topaz opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it again. Such insolence was no longer tolerated, but she closed her eyes and counted to ten. She had to behave as usual, at least with her parents and Ronnie, and she had enough of Jughead and Betty who were privy to the dangerous business.

“Well, I'll think about it. Now leave me alone and let me change.”

“So rude.” Lodge clutched at her heart. “You are lucky, Antoinette, that your mother invited me to breakfast, or you would have had to endure my company.”

Now Toni really wanted to throw something at the girl, she even got out of bed, slowly approaching the table and choosing what would not be a pity to break. Veronica followed her gaze and grinned as she walked out the door.

 

The girl took a deep breath. She put her hands on the surface, gripping the edges of the table, looked up at herself in the mirror. Her face was free of makeup (it was a good idea to clean it before going to bed), her cheeks were unnaturally pink, her eyes were cloudy, and her eyes were tired. Her insouciance faded with each passing day while she was in this house, in this town. She didn't recognize her old self at all, for better or worse. Topaz closed her eyes, feeling the soft, confident touch on her waist, forcing her to straighten up and lean her head back against Cheryl's shoulder. This girl had become so relaxed around her over the past few days that it was good to see her. Toni had always wanted someone to be there for her, someone to support her, someone she could rely on.

“What can I do?” Cheryl pressed her nose gently against the curve of Toni's neck, leaving a fleeting kiss on the hot skin. The red-haired woman's arms were tightly wrapped around the slender girl's waist, and her languid breath sent shivers all over her naked body. Topaz didn't have time to put anything on while still in her underwear, but something changed. Something about Cheryl…

“You... you're hot...”

“If it's a compliment…” Cheryl chuckled, making Toni smile and slap her hands.

“No. I mean, sure, you're hot, but right now I'm talking about your body temperature. How is this possible?”

Cheryl thought about it, shrugging vaguely. She wasn't an expert in ghost business. All her knowledge was based on personal experience, and she had never encountered such a thing before. She could not even feel her temperature, for she was not hot or cold. The only thing she'd felt lately was her stomach fluttering and her heart sinking as she hugged the pink-haired girl like that.

“You keep me warm.” Blossom blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“Can you kill Veronica?”

Cheryl laughed.

“Excuse me?”

“You asked what you could do. I'm asking you to kill Ronnie, she's annoying.”

Toni pouted like a small child, placing her hands on top of the arms crossed at her waist. She wanted to stay there, but she could hear Veronica's displeased tone, clearly complaining to Amelia about her best friend's behavior.

“I mean, I can help you put on an audition dance if you decide to. T.T., you need to live a normal life.” Cheryl sighed, resting her chin on the girl's lower shoulder. She knew exactly what the girl was thinking now, and she desperately wanted to take her away from Clifford's affairs. “Go to school, go to parties, and try out for the support team. Remember what you promised me?”

Topaz only nodded, not daring to lie to the girl again. She needed to translate the subject urgently.

“So will you help me avoid embarrassing myself in front of the team?”

“Honey, you're talking to a former river vixens' captain. I was the best dancer in this town. And now…” Cheryl removed one hand from the girl's waist to gently take her chin and turn her around. She left a wet kiss on Toni's lips. “Go take a shower, you might think it's hot in here, but you're cold. When you get back from school, I'll have a set of ideas ready.”

“You're the best.” Toni focused on the brown eyes opposite, which glowed with tenderness. She wanted a day of snotty romantic melodrama: hugging Cheryl, watching a movie, eating popcorn, kissing. But all she had to do was investigate the murder of the girl who had become everything to her lately.

“I know. Go before I decide to go with you.” Blossom played with her eyebrows, drawing a laugh from Topaz, who reluctantly pulled away from the older girl and went to the room next to her bedroom. When she turned around, staring at the door, then again turned out to be alone.

 

-

 

Toni didn't want to go to school on her bike. Of course, she'd told Veronica that she just didn't want to drive, but she didn't really want to be alone. As annoying as Ronnie was, she didn't leave the girl when she asked her to. Now she was driving her to school.

“How's Lauren?”

“Who?”

Toni thought for a moment, catching her friend's puzzled gaze. But it immediately dawned on her, and she hastened to correct herself.

“I don't know, Ronnie. We didn't talk anymore. I don't think she's interested in me.”

“You literally slept together, don't mess with me. What happened?”

Toni bit her lip, quickly coming up with another excuse. She couldn't tell Veronica the truth. The girl was a believer, believed in many supernatural beings, but Topaz could not guarantee that her friend would not consider her crazy. And, to be honest and selfish, Toni wanted to keep the secret to herself. Although there were some useful things she could learn.

“It didn't work. Look, can you tell me something?”

Ronnie nodded, forcing her to go on and clarify.

“You once told me that you did research on various spirits; do you remember anything about it?”

Lodge rolled her eyes as she shifted gears and put both hands on the steering wheel again.

“You are literally familiar with a connoisseur of the supernatural. Don't hesitate to ask.”

“You might think I'm crazy, but I've already told you about the strange noises I hear at night. Why do you think ghosts can stay locked in a house?”

The girl could not hide the sympathetic expression on her friend's face. Of course, she now thought that Toni's nerves had gone mad, that she was afraid of every sound after the accident. But for now, Topaz was fine. She would rather think that Toni had gone crazy than know that she had fallen in love with a dead girl.

“Theoretically, if a person was killed in the house, or he died, for some unnatural reasons, it can remain as an immaterial shell.” Lodge paused, as if remembering something very important. “Oh, that's right. I read somewhere that a soul can stay locked in a house if it has unfinished business related to someone or something in that house.”

Toni nodded. It all fitted perfectly with her situation. The twins did not have time to reveal the whole truth about their father, and did not complete their work, so they were probably stuck and doomed to eternal suffering.

But doesn't it mean that if Toni proves Clifford's guilt and helps put him in jail, the twins will be free? Did she really have a real chance not just to get revenge, but to help the guys? And didn't that mean she'd have to let Cheryl go after all?

“Did I answer your question?” Ronnie looked at her friend, who was visibly sad.

“Yes, thank you.” Topaz turned to the window, watching the tiny drops of rain trickle down the glass, symbolizing her mood. She didn't say another word until school.

 

-

 

She didn't want to stay after school… She was so tired of being a good student, a good girl, she just wanted to relax in her last year at school, not sit in the gym after hard lessons and watch a crowd of girls eager to get on the team. If her friend and Betty hadn't been one of the contenders, she wouldn't have been dragged here. But the shape of some of the cheerleaders, probably those who were already on the team, gave free rein to the imagination. But she had no need to dream of the bodies of other girls when there was an ideal in her house that was worthy of the least-adoration. She just pictured Cheryl in the captain's place, pacing between the girls, giving them clear instructions. She was clearly a strict but fair leader. Or maybe not very fair. For some reason, it seemed to the girl that the redhead had behaved in the same way at school as when they first met: she was a cold, unapproachable dictator, the Queen of the school. And she was even a little flattered that Cher was so soft with her.

“Hey.” Toni reluctantly dismissed the fantasy of a redhead in such a short skirt, looking up and meeting Jughead's smiling face.

“Hey, Romeo.” She didn't even have to ask, because the guy clearly came to look at his girlfriend. “How did you let this happen?”

Jones chuckled as he adjusted his hat before sitting down awkwardly next to the girl.

“Betty had long wanted to try it, but she didn't have the courage…”

“And then Veronica came. I know the feeling. But keep your beauty away from this beast. She can teach her not-so-good things. Ronnie likes to corrupt the innocent.”

Jug frowned a little as he stared into the hall, where his girlfriend was standing with a brunette in her arms, laughing at something. His brows drew together.

“I thought… I could see that she was interested in Archie.”

“Oh ... No.” Topaz laughed, which made Jones even more uncomfortable. “Not in that sense, Jug. It's just that Ronnie is very groovy; all sorts of thoughts are generated in her head every second. I'm sure she didn't even want to be a cheerleader until Betty told her about the possibility. She likes to try new things.”

The guy visibly relaxed, not even suspecting that the new friend’s next phrase will make him tense up again. He really came without a second thought, just to support his girlfriend, who was already going to dance with the new girl.

“Did your dad find something?”

Jones shook his head, causing the girl to feel disappointed.

“This is very difficult, especially since after the disappearance, the cops are tracking all inquiries about this person. We must be careful not to be suspected of something we did not do. But dad's trying. At most, it will take until the weekend.”

It was at least something. Toni hadn't expected it to be that easy. Professionals have worked with it without achieving anything; it would be foolish to think that a couple of teenagers will reveal the great secret in a couple of days. But there was nothing unattainable about it.

“Kay. Let's forget for a second that we're investigating a brutal murder and just enjoy the show.”

Just after that, all the voices in the hall fell silent, giving way to music. B and V were clearly in their element. Their movements were honed, and it didn't even take them a day to adjust. But Topaz could assume that Betty, who had clearly been burning with this dream for years, had already set the dance in advance, and Ronnie was just a talented girl who grasped everything on the fly.
But there were particularly sexy moves that Toni was sure were the younger Lodge's prerogative. The pink-haired glanced at Jones, who was in a state of shock, his pupils dilated and his mouth slightly open. He clearly did not expect this from his quiet girl.

But the last touch of the performance made everyone gasp, especially Jones, who even leaned forward a little, rising from the bench, in order to quickly follow down and pull his blonde from Veronica's arms, or rather, to remove her away from the ubiquitous lips of the brunette. But they immediately went in different directions to a storm of applause and friendly shouts of cheerleaders.
“Not that I didn't warn you.” Topaz chuckled as Jughead plopped down on the bench beside her in exasperation. “New people always adding new problems to the old environment.”

No, Ronnie wasn't a problem, because she'd probably already forgotten what had happened, hugging the Vixens captain and accepting congratulations on joining. But Toni was clearly a problem. Even if she had planned to solve the problem herself.

 

-

 

“Why are you smiling?” Blossom put the book down on the bed, looking directly at her brother with a frown. They were in Toni's room. As much as Cheryl agreed with Jason that this was a possible violation of privacy, it was the only place she felt safe. Not even counting the fact that she was literally killed in the adjoining bathroom. She didn't think Toni would mind a little intrusion, but she hadn't.

“I'm just happy for my little sister.” Jason lay across the bed, his head propped on his hand, watching the red-haired girl as she tried desperately to concentrate. She would never have admitted that she had read only a few lines in the last hour, for now, lying on this bed, she was haunted by warm memories of the two previous nights, and this room no longer evoked the sadness and loss of a past life. Now something new, something beautiful, was being born here.

“Don't stare at me. I'm still the same Cheryl Blossom, the former Queen of the school and head bitch.”

Jason laughed loudly, and then screamed as Cheryl kicked him.

“You are no longer the evil fury that our classmates remembered you for. Baby Toni has melted your heart.”

“That's not.” The redhead was indignant, putting the book down again. “She just... I…”

“Fact! You're in love, and it makes you better, more agreeable.”

Blossom snorted, but didn't deny it. Perhaps her brother was right, for she felt a radical change in herself. She no longer wanted to stare at everyone with her icy, arrogant gaze (not that anyone but Jay and Toni could have seen her angry over the past two years). But she was really beginning to feel the same way that her brother had described to her when she started dating with Polly Cooper.
And suddenly she felt terribly sad, sad for Jason. This eternally joyful and smiling guy could not even see his beloved, could not see his children. And her nephews… Could life be any more unfair than having children grow up without a father?

Previously, the girl would have sacrificed her happiness without hesitation, for the sake of the happiness of the only person close to her, but now it was simply impossible. There was nothing she could do about Polly being off the radar, and she couldn't bring herself to give up on Toni. Not after what she had already learned. Jason loved Polly, they had been dating for more than a year, and Cheryl had never been allowed to experience that wonderful feeling. Oh, how grateful she was that her mother was not there now. She didn't miss her parents at all. And how can she misses the man who ordered her murder, and the woman who has not only humiliated her all her life, but did not even ask about what happened to her only children.

Cheryl only missed nana Rose. The woman stayed in the mansion a little longer than the rest of its residents, so Cheryl managed to say goodbye to her. If before she had only smiled indulgently when her grandmother claimed her supernatural powers, now Blossom simply prayed that Rosanna would come to visit them again.

Immediately after their deaths, when Cheryl woke up, she immediately went downstairs, meeting face to face with a stunned grandmother. Rosanna pretended not to notice her granddaughter (she shouldn't have, because the girl was dead), but Blossom Junior could not hide the fact that a few tears rolled down her cheek. She was always kind to them, even if she sometimes tried to hide it. No wonder it hurt her to lose both her grandchildren overnight.

“Hey, why are you frozen?”

Blossom shook her head, trying not to think about her grandmother again. She had no idea where Clifford and Penelope had taken her, or if she was still alive. So there was no point in tormenting yourself with memories.

“Mused. Now leave me alone and let me concentrate.”

“Yeah, like you haven't been thinking about a naked miss Topaz all this time.”

“Jason!” Blossom sat up, waving her book, just as the door to the room opened.

The twins froze, waiting to see Toni, who would either be happy to see them, or… No, she definitely wouldn't mind their company. But all they saw was her mother coming into the room first, followed by Toni's father.

“I still think it's a bad idea.” Jonathan crossed his arms over his chest, standing at the edge of the bed. He had no idea that two pairs of eyes were watching him. Jason sat up, nodding to his sister to follow him and leave the people alone. But the girl held up her hand, asking him to stay. There was something about Antoinette's parents' behavior that she didn't like.

“Do you want her to follow the example of the children who lived here, sooner or later? She's been acting crazy weird lately. Her behavior, her mood, it all changes with every second. She'd just dropped Veronica's call yesterday and hadn't even called her back when she'd come home almost at night.”

The woman moved forward, sitting at Toni's desk with the obvious intention of searching everything on it. Cheryl was outraged by Amelia's behavior. Was this even allowed? This is a real invasion of privacy!

“You know that Veronica is overly dramatic. This is an irreplaceable trait of her character. We must not violate her trust by going through her personal belongings. What if we don't like what we find?”

“That's right, get some sense, Johnny. What if she never got over the situation with Colin and decided to start taking drugs? What if she was hooked on something serious?”

“Our daughter is not a drug addict!” The man raised his voice, still not taking part in his wife's affairs. Meanwhile, she checked the drawers in her daughter's desk, flipped through several of her notebooks, and already started checking her laptop.

“I don't believe it either. But yesterday she was madly nervous. And when she came home after meeting the mysterious boy from the school society, she didn't even go out for dinner, just locked herself in the room. She has something going on, and if it's unrequited love, I'll be happy, because our girl never brought anyone to the house. But if it's alcohol or drugs, I want to know now so I can help her as soon as possible.”

“God, she's crazy.” Jason sat down next to his sister as she tried desperately to remember if Toni had kept anything "interesting" on her laptop.

“She's worried, and I understand her.”

“What do you mean?” Blossom bit her lower lip to keep from giving her brother something she wasn't proud of. “Cheryl? Did you tell her?”

Red screamed, and Cher started to ask him to be quiet, but Jonathan and Amelia didn't move, because of course they hadn't heard anything.

“I should have told her. She'd rather know what she was up against than think it was an interesting game and get into it up to her ears. She promised me to stay out of it, and I believe her.”

“I wouldn't be so naive.” Jason crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at his sister. It wasn't that he was angry; he was just upset that the redhead couldn't keep her mouth shut, and now a beautiful girl like Toni could get hurt.

“Jay…”

“What is it?” Amelia's voice was so unexpected that the twins turned sharply in her direction. They had already forgotten about the presence of the new owners of the house. The woman's voice was full of concern and bewilderment, which made Cheryl tense up. Toni might have found something before the girl told her, because she was too curious and fearless. And that strange night last night when Toni came home in tears? She had successfully managed to lull Blossom's vigilance, for she had only just remembered the incident. But now she would not forget it until she had spoken to the girl again. This time it's more serious.

Topaz's father finally joined in their impromptu investigation, moving closer to the table and leaning his back against the chair where his wife was sitting.

“A missing detective? Maybe she was interested in some novel?”

“There are plenty of detectives in our house, look.” Amelia pointed at the laptop screen, pointing at something specific. “This guy was investigating the Blossoms' suicide. And now he was missing. Oh, my God.”

Jason and Cheryl looked at each other, sharing a wary look.

“Do you think she's that deep?”

“If only she didn't get involved with those Nancy Drew-style would-be detectives. If they get Toni into something dangerous, I'll rip the blonde's ponytail off.”

“Betty, her name is Betty. And you forget, Cheryl. She's Polly's sister.”

“So what? Now she's allowed to pretend to be someone else and put other people in danger?” Blossom was furious. Indeed, if Toni hadn't met the couple, perhaps the story would have stopped being relevant as soon as she found out about it.

“Stop it, Cheryl. So far, you're the only one to blame for all this. They would circle around the truth and, finding nothing, just go about their business. But no, you fueled her hatred. You'll have to deal with it yourself, or face the consequences yourself.”

Blossom opened her mouth to protest. She had already turned on her favorite bitch mode, which she thought she'd gotten rid of for a while. She would have liked to take it out on her brother (although, to some extent, she agreed with him and understood his anger, because he was very worried about Polly, and therefore for her sister). But Jay wasn't going to listen to it anymore, and he did what he always did when he was offended – just left. She snorted, determined to give him time to calm down.

“Well, at least she's not a drug addict.” There was relief in the man's voice, though it was unlikely that he fully realized that what they had found was many times worse.

“Yes. But she disappears in the evenings, investigating some nonsense. Does anyone really think these children were murdered? Their parents would have turned over every stone on the road if that option had been possible. It's just that sometimes kids make stupid mistakes.” Amelia pulled out of browser, turning off her laptop and closing the lid. “The main thing is that we did not allow this. We need to have a serious talk with her. When will you be home for dinner?”

The man thought a little, apparently remembering his schedule for the next week.

“I think I can spare Saturday night for this kind of thing. Are you sure we should push her? It's Toni, she'll come to us and share her experiences, as she always did.”

“But the fact is that she's not our baby anymore. Now she's grown up, and she has secrets that we need to get rid of.”

Cheryl continued to sit on the bed, not moving a millimeter, while Amelia and Jonathan put everything in order, so as not to give away their presence in the room of their daughter. She stayed where she was after they left.

She had to decide whether to tell Toni what her parents had done or not. Although, this decision was not of paramount importance. She was simply obliged to shake out of the girl all that she had managed to find out about the Blossom family, about Clifford, and today, she had to put an end to the pink-haired girl's interest in this case.

 

-

 

Veronica and Betty's performance was the most beautiful thing that had happened that day, Toni was sure. She had to stay in the gym for another hour, because Ronnie refused to leave the place until everyone was performing, and she would not see her competitors for the post of team captain in the face. Yes, if for pretty Betty, who, by the way, Jughead no longer let go of himself all evening, getting into the team-was already a dream come true, then the ever-competitive Lodge clearly would not stop there.

That's how Toni sat in the middle of the unfolding drama, and then she had to sit between Jughead and Veronica, because the guy literally burned one big hole in her. But the day was over, and she said goodbye to the guys without forcing Ronnie to drive her home. She could have taken a taxi to Thornhill today, because there was less chance of being followed again. She also dismissed the possibility that her taxi driver was a killer when a blue minivan pulled up outside the school, driven by a middle-aged woman. It turned out that she worked part-time in a taxi to save money for her son's College. They chatted a little, but the girl was glad when the iron gates of her "favorite" mansion appeared in the distance. This woman, like probably all the residents of the town, was strange. Or she was normal, just Toni was not at ease, having moved from a large metropolis to a small town surrounded by dense forests and shrouded in a veil of secrets.

She got out of the car, stretching her legs a little, and said a polite goodbye to the driver, heading straight for the grounds of her new home. The lights were on in the first-floor windows (yes, she was coming home again in the evening), so her mother was cooking dinner or relaxing in the living room, so she wouldn't be able to get up to the top without being noticed.

But Toni really didn't want to talk to her mother. The woman clearly had some suspicions because of the strange behavior of the only child who had recently experienced such a trauma. But Topaz couldn't explain what was bothering her, so she wasn't ready for a frank conversation.

Most likely, for this very reason, she decided to take a little walk around the territory. The weather was bad, and she wanted to drink a mug of hot chocolate and crawl under the blanket. Preferably by the fireplace. Preferably with a beautiful redhead. But, in the end, the landscape was amazing, it was a sin not to admire it. And Topaz only now realized that she had never walked the grounds.
She would have walked to the maple grove, inhaled the scent of the leaves from the trees that were almost ready for juicing, but no. As soon as she looks around for a way forward, her eyes immediately stumble on the tombstones, terribly covered with fog. And it seems like she should turn around and go in a different direction, but she can't. Some frenzied energy like a magnet attracts her to the cemetery of the red-haired family.

Here's another oddity. Didn't Clifford have enough money to keep the house but not live in it? Didn't he really care about the generations of his relatives buried underground? What if this house was bought by a bunch of scumbags who thought that other people's corpses didn't belong on their land? What if someone had ruined the twins' graves?
And, of course, without even realizing it (she had no idea how grave looks, as he came up close to it), she went straight to the tomb of one of the infamous red-haired burn on a hole in her heart. A marble slab covered with a beautiful steel rose. Toni could have sworn that there was someone in their family who cared about the fate of the two teenagers. Clearly her parents would not have bothered to make their daughter's last resting place so beautiful.

Daughter. Sister. Beloved granddaughter.

She had a grandmother, or grandfather, someone who loved the girl, despite her slightly defiant nature. And Toni's soul was undoubtedly warmed when she realized that red wasn't so alone.

“My grandmother put up this tombstone.” Topaz screamed, clutching at the headstone to keep her balance, and stabbing the phalanx of her finger with a steel spike. Her scream was replaced by a hiss of pain. She turned to see the sad red-haired running her hand over her brother's headstone. “They ordered me a black marble that had nothing written on it. Apparently, I was just a dark stain on their great reputation. But my grandmother was indignant, and within a few days my tombstone was replaced. I used to come here a lot.” In those days, when the house was rented by different tenants, especially when this house was rented by a strange man who liked to watch certain movies in the living room at full volume. Blossom cringed in disgust, remembering the fat man who had crushed their beautiful furniture with his body and brought all sorts of girls to the mansion.

“And now I have no desire to visit my own grave.” Blossom crouched down, touching the faded roses that lay beside the headstone. She couldn't remember who had left the flowers there. Perhaps some concerned resident who had rented this mansion at some time.

“Cher.” Toni also sat down next to the girl. On the one hand, she did not want to interfere and put pressure on her, but on the other hand, which was clearly winning, she wanted to hug her. It was a huge plus that next to Topaz, Cheryl involuntarily took a material shell, so pink-haired did not have to worry that her hands will pass through the girl when she put her arm around her shoulders, putting her chin on her shoulder. Their faces were only a few inches apart, but Toni didn't pursue any motives, she just wanted to show that she was there.

Blossom put one arm awkwardly around the girl who was facing her, leaning her head against her waist.

“Why are you getting into this, T.T.?” You'd think Cheryl would be angry. Honestly, as soon as the girl heard this phrase, she tensed, thinking that now they cannot avoid a major quarrel, but red remained cool. “I told you to stay out of it, just live your life.”

“I don't understand, Cheryl.”

Blossom drew back slightly and turned her head, looking deep into Antoinette's eyes. She knew the girl was lying to her, but she couldn't be angry with her. In a way, she could never be angry with her. Even after the very first time they met, when she tried to ignore the girl's presence and be rude to her in every way, but she was disgustingly good at it.

“Look me in the eyes and tell me you're not doing in this story at all, Toni. If you lie to me, I'll find out, remember that.”

Toni bit her lip, but didn't look away. She was just wondering what to say. She could lie, not really believing that red would figure out her lie, but at the same time, she did not want to start their relationship (relationship?) with lies.

“Listen, Cher.” Toni removed one hand from the girl's shoulders, taking her free hand in hers. “Let's pretend that we've switched places, and you suddenly find out that the person responsible for my death lives happily and with impunity while I'm locked up in a damn mansion in this godforsaken town. Would you just leave it at that, or try to help me?”

“Help? What are you talking about?”

Toni smiled softly, leaning closer to rest her forehead on the redhead's.

“I spoke with Veronica, who are interested in spirituality and is an expert in the supernatural. She said that according to legend, ghosts are imprisoned in the house if they have unfinished business, directly related to their death. I think if we punish Clifford, you and Jason will end your case…”

Toni didn't finish. She just couldn't say it out loud. It had been easier before, and she hadn't even thought about what would happen afterward. She was only determined to prove Blossom's guilt, to punish him for such a terrible act. But now, now she was beginning to realize what would happen if the plan worked. If it worked, she could lose Cheryl.

“You could be free.”

Topaz whispered, closing her eyes, trying to concentrate so she wouldn't cry. She needed to convince Cheryl, give her the go-ahead, not make a tragedy out of something that might not work at all.

“I'm going to be very careful, Betty and Jughead help me; they are also very interested because of Polly, who was locked up in a mental hospital with the twins. It would be easier for everyone if Cliff went to jail.”

Cheryl was silent, forcing Topaz to open her eyes and pull back to look at the girl. But she pulled away only to feel soft lips on hers a moment later. She was becoming so pliable in the hands of this girl, but she loved it. She put her hand on the back of the redhead's head, deepening the kiss, but not too much.

“You're the most wonderful person in the world, Toni Topaz.”

Cheryl drew back, looking reverently at the girl's features in the evening gloom. Her brain didn't take in the information the pink-haired girl had just dumped on her. She wasn't used to someone risking themselves for her, to someone wanting to help, to take care of her. And here, she found everything she'd ever wanted in one person.

“But it's so dangerous. You have no idea what a bad man he is. If he's not afraid to hurt his own children, I'm afraid to think what he might do to you or the guys…”

The redhead sobbed, though no tears came out of her eyes, and put her hand on Topaz's cheek, which was unnaturally hot in their different temperatures. She gently stroked the girl's cheekbone with her thumb, even afraid to imagine what might be her fault after all. Still, she had never been able to keep her mouth shut.

Toni put her hand on top of Blossom's on her cheek. She had to tell her everything. If they were already sharing everything, she didn't want to hide anything. They could handle it, but only together.

“I think your father sent someone to follow me yesterday.” Cheryl's eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to change her mind and give Toni an ultimatum, but the girl interrupted her in advance. “But it was only because of my stupidity. I was much more careful today, and I will continue to be so. Please, Cheryl, let me calm your soul and mine. Let me help the girl I'm crazy about.”

“You should talk to your parents.”

Toni stared at the redhead, who had jumped from topic to topic so deftly.

“They think you joined a gang or got into drugs. You have to convince them not to be too interested in your life and accidentally see what they should not see.”

“Did mom go through my things?”

Blossom was surprised. She wanted to hint as gently as possible to the girl about the heinous act, but she guessed herself.

“Don't be surprised. Once, I got bad grades for a month because Monica dragged me to parties. So my mother practically sent me to a clinic for drug addicts, although I did not even touch anything forbidden, I did not even drink alcohol, I just danced until I fell. She will definitely have a dinner where she will be interested in my life. I'll just say what she wants to hear. My mother is sometimes too obsessed with taking care of me.”

Cheryl nodded, deciding they had enough problems for one day. She rose, forcing Toni to follow.

“Come on, honey, meet me at the house, you're all cold.”

“Lie.” Toni blushed slightly at the cute nickname. She loved how Cheryl could ignite something in her that had never been recognized before with a single phrase.

“It’s true.” Blossom smiled, leaning down to give the girl a fleeting kiss, then pulling away, only slightly scorching her lips with her imaginary breath.

“Cheryl!”

“You'll get yours when you get back to the heat.” Blossom took a dramatic step back as Topaz reached for her, and in a split second she was gone.

“Little devil.” Topaz laughed like a kid. It was still a secret to her how they had jumped from such a scary and confusing topic to such a sweet and tender interaction. They had to fight, like all teenage couples do. But there was something special about them (not the fact that Toni was human and Cheryl was a ghost, no), like the fact that they both seemed to have very deep feelings.

Chapter Text

It was the worst week of Toni's life. And no, it had little to do with the fact that Ronnie had made her attend all the Vixens training sessions to, as she said, "gain experience”. It was just that she had spent the entire week searching for any additional information about the Blossom case, other than the one that Jughead's father had never been able to get. She felt much better after talking to Cheryl, because now the younger Blossom stayed with her every night (and later every night), helping her with the investigation. Cheryl shared information about how she and Jay accidentally stumbled upon a package of drugs in their barn. They were looking for oars from the old boat that Jason and Polly wanted to use to cross Sweetwater (very old-fashioned, you'll agree, but there would be a car waiting for them on the other side). In the end, they found only more problems on their head: during the search, they accidentally turned over a barrel of maple syrup, which even more so was not the famous family treats. Far from it, the barrel was filled to the top with bags of white powder.

Of course, first they all cleaned up like nothing happened, and then they had a very emotional conversation when Cheryl tried to convince her brother to stay out of this, and just go with Polly and their future children away, but Jason was adamant, will not want to leave his beloved sister in the society of mad old hag and a drug dealer.

Needless to say, Jason, as an exemplary son and citizen, first tried to talk to his father in a good way? Of course, he did not openly mention their discovery to his father, just tried to warn him. But it worked on Clifford like a red rag on a bull, and he even made a scene in Pop's when Jason said that he would not be in charge of the company one day, perhaps only if there was nothing illegal in its history.

And then the well-known story that they made the wrong decision and went to the police.

Cheryl avoided telling her exactly what had happened just before they died, but Toni didn't insist. If she had heard any details, since Cher didn't remember anything after a certain point, she would certainly not have left Clifford alive. She would have found a way.

In the meantime, they worked very well and found a lot of useful information, such as where Clifford and Penelope currently lived, what happened to the company, and were not at all surprised by the fact that the maple Empire was thriving, even no longer owning a maple grove.

They've tracked down all his business partners. At some points, Toni felt as if she was in some low-budget detective-mystery film, where at the end of the main character, that is, herself, was waiting for either a happy life or death. Although she did not believe that she would get so easy options. Only one thing was wrong with this job – Jason. The guy was extremely categorical. As Cheryl explained, he had no ulterior motives just that the good guy didn't want to put Toni in danger, no matter what arguments she made. Toni was not surprised, of course, it was a dangerous business, and who but the twins knew how it might end. But the fact that Cheryl wasn't scared this time, determined to finish the job and support the pink-haired one, meant a lot to Toni.

 

When she woke up in the morning, the first thing she thought about was that it was Saturday. Today was the day when she didn't have to get up very early (which is why she woke up when the sun was already up), rush to school, sit in the stands until all the cheerleaders (let's be honest, half of them were at least incompetent) spent two hours learning simple moves. Then she would listen to almost the same length of argument from Veronica about how she couldn't wait for Topaz to finally be in the group, and they could both break up the neighborhood school team at the competition in six months (Toni's nerves at this point noticed that she might not live that long, but of course she didn't say). But not today!

She turned in the arms of the red-haired woman, who was holding her tightly. It seemed a little strange to Toni that the girl was lying with her eyes closed, as if she were asleep, although Topaz knew for a fact that Cher had not spent a single minute in her sleep during the week that she had shared her bed with her. But, God, Toni had never seen a more beautiful picture. The red-haired woman's brows were slightly furrowed, which showed that she was thinking about something, her lower lip was slightly protruding, and most importantly-her pale skin, which was illuminated by the morning sun rays.

Topaz couldn't get enough of the fact that the redhead had decided to spend so much time with her. Of course, at first, Blossom joked that she was just taking the chance to sleep in her own comfortable bed. But one night, Toni remembered that it was two days ago, it was so sweet that she remembered even the glowing numbers on the dial at the time – 2:46 am, Cheryl said something cherished.

She said that she had never been so happy (they spent almost three hours in bed, just talking about everything and occasionally stealing each other's kisses). The girl admitted that death no longer seemed so terrible to her, because while she lived, she had not been able to feel even a fraction of what Toni had made her feel. Toni almost said the very words she had never said to anyone in this context. She wanted to show Blossom her love, to make her understand that she would always be there for her (even if red had a chance to rest).

But she's glad she didn't say it then. She would have time and a better moment to say it, and she was sure Cheryl understood everything after the kiss the pink-haired girl had given her.

“I know I'm very beautiful in the sunlight, but it's not nice to stare at people.” Blossom's lips curled into a grin as Toni stopped admiring her, snuggling against the redhead's chest. She, in turn, left a kiss on the top of her head, and the grip on the younger girl's waist tightened. “Good morning, Princess.”

“Really good. I can't remember the last time I slept so well, and it's only been a week of school. What happens next? What about College? God, I'm not going to go to College anyway, I'm going to take an academic year and go somewhere else.”

“Have you thought about which College you want to go to?” Cheryl was really interested. She had already learned this girl and learned that despite her pompous coolness and ostentatious aloofness, she was very responsible and good at school, just like Cheryl had once been.

“Yep.” Toni snorted in disgust, knowing that Blossom had managed to figure her out again. “I was thinking about Brown or Smith to please my parents, but I might consider other options that would appeal to me more. What about you? And don't tell me that Cheryl Bombshell didn't send out her resumes to a hundred of the most prestigious colleges.”

Blossom laughed when Toni used her long-forgotten nickname, which terrified all the freshmen at Riverdale high.

“In fact, I only considered one school – Highsmith College. My mother was a student at this College, and I was trying to please her in every way at the time. I liked their program, too. But, as you can see, no one even gave me a chance to fulfill my dream.”

“Babe…” Toni rose from the redhead's chest and settled into a sitting position. “Let's make a pact that at least until the next crucial step in the investigation, we won't mention it. How would you like to go on a date with me? I just had a couple of days off.”

The red-haired woman broke into a smile, rising abruptly, smashing her lips against those of the pink-haired girl, who wasted no time in pushing Cheryl back onto the bed. With a deft movement, she straddled the red-haired woman, taking her mouth again in the sweetest and most insatiable kiss. Blossom's hands immediately traced the taut muscles of Topaz's back, and her fingernails traced light lines on her dark skin, hidden only by a strip of the athletic bra she preferred to wear at night.

“Wait, Cher…” Toni pulled back slightly, catching her breath. Her hands rested on the pillow, on either side of the cascade of red curls that spread across the silk bedclothes. She loomed over the pale girl. “We haven't even been on any dates; we haven't discussed who we are to each other. I just... I want you to understand that this is all very important to me. Perhaps you have no idea how I feel about you. How strong these feelings are.”

“You're everything to me, T. T. I didn't see the point of my existence until I met you. I'm very serious, too. And I know it doesn't make any sense for you to call a ghost your girlfriend, but if I were alive…”

“Shut up.” Toni so liked to stop the girl's thoughtless and stupid speech. She leaned over the red-haired woman's neck, biting at the soft, pliable skin that was, of course, there was no trace after her manipulations, but the effect was undeniable, causing the red-haired woman to bite her tongue and groan involuntarily as she arched toward Toni. “I WANT you to be my girlfriend, you know? I want to spend silly evenings with you playing games like truth or dare, although it's hard for me to imagine that at this point, I don't know anything about you. I want to watch movies with you, eat popcorn and fight for what's left of it, and then have a pillow fight. I want to fall asleep and wake up with you. I want to love you.” Toni leaned over her pale pink lips, which were not hidden by the blood lipstick, to run her tongue over her lower lip, asking permission. “I want to love you right in this bed all night long.”

Cheryl broke down, placing her hand on the back of the younger girl's head, kissing her hungrily, igniting a new passion that she had not yet had the opportunity to feel.

Topaz groaned blissfully, anticipating something she had never dared to do before. But suddenly there was a deafening noise in the room. It was a normal phone call, but the girls were so wrapped up in each other that Toni jumped slightly as she fell onto her free side of the bed. Cheryl giggled when she realized what kind of noise they were afraid of (of course, she already had the most terrible thoughts: from the constant fear of Clifford's persecution, to Toni's mother, who suddenly bursts into the room and finds her daughter in the air, kissing an empty space).

“God, I'll kill that hobo.” Topaz picked up the phone, answered it, and flopped back on the bed, closer to Cheryl, who immediately snuggled up to the pink-haired girl, putting her arm around her waist.

“What do you want, Jones?" Toni didn't want to sound rude, but Oh, my God, when she forgot about the shitty situation they were all in and went to bed with the most beautiful girl on the planet, this young would-be detective bothered her. At nine in the morning, besides!

“Can we meet at Pop's in an hour?”

Topaz checked the time again, and then glanced at the redhead, whose head was resting right next to hers on the pillow. Her bright brown eyes glowed with happiness as she looked at Toni, which made the younger girl's heart melt.

“Is this necessary? I kind of wanted to take the day off, at least once a week.”

“My father managed to find the address of that detective's wife. Are you coming, or should I take Betty with me?”

Topaz's blood immediately boiled with adrenaline. She sat up in bed, trying to ignore Cheryl's pitiful exclamation at the loss of her company.

“No! I'll be there in an hour, not a minute later. Tell me all about it at breakfast, and then we'll decide what to do next.”

“Okay.” Even through the phone call, Toni could recognize his grin. “I still don't understand why you're fighting so hard for this story.” Topaz glanced at the cute redhead. “But I like your enthusiasm. If you're late, you'll pay for my breakfast.”

Toni rolled her eyes when the guy hung up. She would never allow herself to be late, because this guy was literally a bottomless barrel. She couldn't afford to pay for his appetite.

“What about a free day? Day off?” Cold fingers ran between Antoinette's shoulder blades, literally begging her to lie back and continue their interesting occupation. But in a way, she was grateful to Jones. She needs a distraction to calm her libido. They were both not yet ready for such a step, especially since she still didn't realize how it would feel with a ghost. She was lucky that Blossom could barely control her material form when she was around her, but it still seemed strange and unusual.

“I'd really like to stay, Cher. But this is one chance in a million. Do you realize that this is going to be a huge step in the investigation?”

Cheryl nodded, which gave Toni the strength to get out of bed. She only had an hour to pack up and get to the diner. But Blossom grabbed her wrist at the last moment. She had to get up, causing the blanket to fall, exposing her flat stomach and firm chest, which was visible because several buttons on the shirt she wore at night were undone (Toni still does not understand how her clothes can look so hot on Cheryl).

“Promise me you'll come back to me? Promise me you'll be careful not to let a tramp get you into trouble!"

“I promise.” Toni wasn't lying. Of course, she could not even imagine what might happen to them, but she was determined not to leave her parents and this girl. “You still owe me a date; don't think you'll get off so easily, Blossom.”

 

-

 

Not that Toni was angry – no, she just really wanted to spend Saturday at home. Preferably by a warm fireplace, with a blanket, a cup of hot tea and something delicious. But she had to ride into the storm's icy gusts on a motorcycle, wrapped more tightly in her leather jacket and glad to be wearing the helmet that saved her from meningitis.

Riverdale was now officially a strange town because of the rapidly changing weather. An hour ago, she'd been basking in the sun that filtered through the dark corners of the mansion, and now she was ready to chatter her teeth against the cold. As soon as she got to the cafe, she immediately flew inside the diner, only getting off the bike and quickly putting it on the bandwagon. Fortunately Pop Tate had hot drinks, so she immediately ordered coffee, looking around the diner and finding Jughead Jones sitting in a corner booth and eating his invariable order: fries and a burger.

Topaz rolled her eyes, thanking the owner of the place and paying for her coffee, which she immediately picked up to go to a table with a classmate. In fact, she hadn't visited this place very often in the past week, because she still had fresh memories of talking to Pop and then being followed by a mysterious car.

The girl was not stupid, she understood that these events are connected, that in this town it is better not to trust anyone and keep your mouth shut. It was even clear to her that a good Samaritan like this old man simply feared Blossom to the core, as any sane person would, and that was why He had acted so abominably.

The girl went to the guy and sat down opposite him. He didn't seem to notice her, just nodded curtly and continued to nibble at the burger. She would never understand why this skinny guy, who was probably even slimmer than she was, had such a brutal appetite.

She waited obediently for him to finish his meal, sipping her stunning coffee as she did so. Whatever man Pop was, he was still a great cook. Finally, after a while, she didn't notice, but it felt like an eternity, and Jug pushed his empty plate away, washed it down with a milkshake, and folded his hands in front of him, clearly preparing to begin the story.

She liked the way he could articulate his thoughts. She only recently learned that the guy did not just start an art group. He was a writer, and not a bad one, from what she had read. So she waited for him to start a fiery speech.

“It was insanely difficult, and my father still doesn't understand why I need this address. But recently, he's been trying to please me in everything, so he didn't push me too hard, and I didn't tell him. So, as it turned out, the address of this family for a year as hidden and removed from all public sources. After the family announced a reward for any available information, they were simply bombarded with false information. So they, with the help of the FBI, decided to go into the shadows. But dad knows some tough guys from the NYPD who've been helping him in every way they can for a week. And now, we have a real chance to get to the truth.”

“Do you think it would be so easy to ask her about something? I think she's been through enough, and she won't want to go back to that stage of her life. It's been almost two years. I'm sure even the most loving wife has lost hope.”

“If she refuses to speak, we'll just ask for his papers.”

“Come on, the FBI had cleaned out his house anyway, not only to find clues in the investigation, but also to make sure he didn't find anything significant.”

“Trust me, Toni. If we ran into a real cop who didn't mind getting dirty to get to the truth, he certainly had a secondary archive that the no one had access to. This is our main mission for today – we need to find out what the Blossoms' family secrets kept Arthur Clain!”

 

-

 

As soon as the girl saw the address where they were supposed to get, it became clear why this detective was so zealously digging in this case. He and his family lived in Centerville, just outside Riverdale. He just wanted to sweep away all possible options, make sure that the criminal didn't continue to roam the streets, killing everyone, until one day he got to his family.

It was lucky for Toni that Jughead had volunteered to help her in this matter, since it would have been easy to find the right house for him, when she would have been busy all day. Topaz was not good at navigating space, especially in small, unremarkable towns where all the houses were the same. But Jughead felt like a fish in water. They both rode their motorbikes to get there faster and get away as quickly as possible. For the girl it was a revelation that this calm and clearly interested in writing more than in fights guy was in a biker group. It was no longer a secret to Topaz that Riverdale was divided into two sides: North and South, which these sides were at war with each other, though she did not understand what exactly sparked this feud. During her entire stay in the town, she had not seen any aggression of its inhabitants towards each other, so it was probably only a conditional separation.

It took them only an hour and a half to drive into the suburbs and stop at a small two-story white house of the same type. Such houses you can usually see in the advertising of some well-off area, where young families are invited. "You will be comfortable and safe here." Toni pictured a billboard with this sign on it on this less-than-perfect lawn, and then the Clain family had bought the house…

They didn't risk getting too close, so they parked across the street, where there was a vacant lot similar to the one where children usually play amateur baseball. For a while they just stood on the road in front of the house, not daring to come any closer, as if the house was a monster that would devour them if they set foot on the porch. Now the most important thing is that this woman, only seeing two teenagers in leather jackets, who arrived on motorcycles and asking about her missing husband, did not call the police, because they clearly did not want any extra problems.

Jughead stood with his arms crossed over his chest and his brows drawn together, obviously thinking about how best to start a conversation with Mrs. Clain. Topaz was thinking of something else: if Clifford had been able to track her down after one sloppy question, what were the chances that it wasn't Mrs. Clain and little Amanda who were waiting for them in the house, but Blossom's thugs?

“Okay.” Jug gathered his thoughts, at least, Toni hoped. She'd never been very good at words, but this guy's talent for talking anyone to death could come in handy. “The longer we stand here, the more likely we are to attract unwanted attention. Let’s go.”

Topaz followed him as if by instinct. She didn't want to be left alone on a deserted street (God only knew why a street with only four houses was empty on a Saturday afternoon). They didn't even notice any cars that would be rolled into this part of the town. If Centerville itself was full of life, it was as if It had stopped long ago.

There were no animals on the property. Topaz had hoped to see at least an unfortunate evil dog, which would mean that the family was protecting its territory from intruders. But apparently Mrs. Clain was too tired of it…

Jug paused for a moment before tapping softly on the door. He pretended to wait for Toni to come closer, because they were both involved, but she knew he was just looking for an extra couple of seconds to gather his courage.

At first the house met them with deathly silence. Jones knocked several times, but the hosts stubbornly refused to accept guests. For a moment, Toni thought that no one was really home. They didn't know Mrs. Clain's schedule. Perhaps she had gone to stay with relatives or was visiting someone, and they were just unlucky. And after a while, Toni hoped they weren't going to get lucky, until she heard a thud of footsteps.

The door swung open in front of them, and a young woman of about twenty-seven appeared, dressed casually in a dressing-gown over her pajamas, with a bunch of hastily gathered hair. She clearly didn't expect to see anyone on her doorstep on Saturday, much less two curious teenagers.

“Hello, Mrs. Clain. We were wondering if you could help us answer a few questions about your husband.”

The woman's expression immediately changed from puzzled to furious. Toni even took a step back, afraid that she would do something drastic. But the blonde just sighed wearily, starting to close the door.

“I've been asking to stay out of this for a long time. You'd better get off my property before I call the police. I'm sick of stupid teenagers who think that giving hope to a desperate spouse is fun.”
But Jughead wouldn't let her close the door in their faces. After all, there was too much at stake, and talking to this woman was their last serious lead. They obviously couldn't go to the police and tell them that Clifford Blossom was the killer without putting some hard evidence to it.

“We don't know anything about your husband's whereabouts; we're here for another reason. Please, you are our last hope.” She was taken aback by the sound of Jug's voice, not mockery or anger, but genuine despair. Toni was surprised, too. Although, she was well aware of how much this guy loved Cooper, who was clearly suffering while her sister was imprisoned in a strange place. Also, Toni was ready to do whatever was required of her for the girl she loved.

“What do you want from me?”

Jones glanced awkwardly at Toni, as if asking her to take part in persuading this lady.

“Mrs. Clain, can we go inside, please? It wouldn't be safe to talk about such things here.” Topaz blurted out, only realizing at the last moment that such a remark might frighten the widow (and Toni had no doubt that this woman had been a widow for more than a year and a half) even more. Jones also stared at the pink-haired girl, ready to reproach her for her inappropriate words.

But, apparently, the blonde is already used to this. She nodded, suddenly opening the door a crack and stepping aside for the guys to come in. They looked at each other, but did not hesitate, for fear that the woman would one day simply change her mind and not want to risk it. Toni came in last, closing the door behind her. The mistress went straight, the girl assumed that the kitchen, inadvertently leaving strangers to look around and take off their shoes.

“Mommy? Mommy, who's here?” Toni was squatting on her heels, untying the laces on her boots, when she heard the light patter of bare feet on the stairs. She looked up, meeting the eyes of a little princess in pink pajamas. She smiled so the girl wouldn't be scared, and to her surprise, Amanda smiled back.

“Am, go upstairs. Mom will talk to these guys and come to you.”

“But I don't want to, mummy! I'm hungry.”

The blonde sighed, shifting her gaze to the guys, who were unshod and clumsily trampling on the door. She did not want to argue with her daughter, wasting precious time when she could answer their questions and turn the strangers away.

“Okay. Go brush your teeth, brush your hair and wash your face, then go down to the kitchen.”

The girl smiled, showing the absence of two front teeth, and ran back to her room. Toni's heart ached at the sight. Little Amanda looked no more than five years old, maybe even younger. It was cruel to take her father away from her when she needed him so badly. Topaz knew exactly what it was like to have her father out all the time, when he couldn't pay attention to her. And this girl will never see her dad again…

“Come into the kitchen.” The blonde went forward, calling the guys to follow her. They followed her willingly. Topaz had time to see a few photos on the wall, which clearly showed a happy family, which was destined to break up. They entered the spacious kitchen, sitting awkwardly at the kitchen island. The woman poured them each a cup of tea, sitting across from them and looking at them expectantly. Jones couldn't refuse the treats, and neither could Toni. To be honest, they were both terribly cold on the way because of the constantly changing weather, so a cup of tea warmed not only the soul, but also the body.

The guy took a few quick sips, cleared his throat awkwardly, and began the most important conversation for them.

“I know that our visit is very unexpected for you, and we apologize for any inconvenience…”

“Please, young man, can you get down to business and we'll go our separate ways peacefully?”

“I'm sorry, of course. We are two very interested people. But we're not interested in your husband's disappearance, but in a case he's been working on recently.”

The blonde pursed her lips in displeasure. There was no need to guess, her expression made it clear that the subject was at least distasteful to her. But Jones continued.

“As I said, we are both interested, for reasons that are only clear to us. We don't require anything substantial from you; we just need to know if your husband still has any papers on this case? They would be very helpful.”

“Unfortunately, I can't help you. The FBI had been here almost every day for a month after Arthur disappeared, even taking the contents of his trash bins in his office and garage. I don't think there's anything left…”

The woman took a few sips from her own cup, looking away from the guys to the opposite wall, as if interested in a picture of the sea surf that hung tawdry in the middle.

“Mrs. Clain…” Toni came into the game. She couldn't afford to leave empty-handed. This was a time when not only she and Jughead were hoping for answers, but also Cheryl, who was waiting for her at home, in whose arms she now most wanted. But more than anything, she wanted justice, which was impossible without the help of a detective's widow.

“Brittany, please. That surname doesn't mean anything anymore without Arthur by my side.”

“Brittany…” Toni moved a little closer, reaching out to place her hand on the woman's hand on the kitchen table. “I lost a loved one, just like you.” Toni went all-in, not even thinking about how she would explain the situation to the dumbfounded Jones. But, after all, she could always lie to him; it didn't take much imagination. “The man your husband may have suspected, and who may have been responsible for his disappearance, is responsible for the death of my loved ones. I'd really like to get to the truth. How can you not understand that these two cases are connected? Just as no one wanted to investigate the death of the twins, no one needed to investigate your husband's disappearance. Help us, help me, I'm begging you.”

Topaz knew that she sounded madly pitiful, disappointed, amazed, but she didn't care. As long as there was any chance of getting information, she would make any sacrifice.

“I had long since realized that these cases were connected, so I kept silent, shutting myself off from the world. I asked to stop looking for my husband.” The blonde's voice trembled, as if she was about to burst into tears right in front of the teenagers. But Toni squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“What are you saying, Brittany?”

“A man left a note and an envelope under my door a year and a half ago. I thought it was some kind of information from a well-wisher who wanted to remain anonymous, so without a second thought, I opened the envelope, which turned out to be a very large amount of money. The note said I had to accept the money and drop the investigation, or Amanda and I would be next. I wanted to go to the police, but they said that in that case, no one would ever find us alive again. Can you imagine how scared I was? I don't care about my life after Arthur went missing, but I still care very much about our little girl. I threw away the money, burned the note, and told the police to stop looking into my husband's file. He was reported missing, and we were left alone. In fact, no one mentioned Arthur to me until you showed up on my doorstep.”

“I know we hurt you.” Toni continued the conversation, and Jug, who realized that a woman and a woman would find a better way to get along, simply did not interfere, quietly sipping tea. “But it also hurts us to know that this man is free. We may not be able to catch him red-handed, but at least we'll know that we did everything we could to catch him. Otherwise, won't you have a guilty conscience that you didn't help put your husband's killer away?”

“Toni!” Jughead gasped at the revelation. Of course, the fact hung in the air, but no one else had dared to voice it except the pink-haired one.

“She is right.” The blonde nodded in defeat. She was not stupid, she knew that her husband, if he were still alive, would have found a way to return to the family, but time passed, and he was not there. “I can only help you if you promise to leave and never come back. You don't understand, but my daughter's life is the only value I have left, and I won't risk it for any righteous thing. You'll never mention my name, no matter what it takes, okay?”

The guys nodded in unison, hoping that the woman would actually be able to help them.

“Mommy, I'm ready to eat.”

All three of them started when the little girl suddenly appeared in the kitchen, fully dressed and happy. Apparently they were not often visited by visitors, at least recently.

“Oh, pumpkin, I've been talking too much. Sit with the guys while I make your porridge.”

The woman rose, giving her chair to her daughter, who sat down with pleasure opposite the strangers, regarding them with her large and expressive eyes.

“Why is your hair pink? Mommy, can hair be pink? I thought they were only colored for dolls.”

“Amanda! It's impolite.”

“It’s okay.” Toni smiled, wanting to satisfy the child's curiosity a little. It was the least she could do for a woman if she was going to help them. “I love this color because it looks like cotton candy, and I love cotton candy.”

In general, this color meant a lot to the girl that a five-year-old child could not understand, but she did not need it. The little girl laughed, bringing a smile to her lips even from the ever-frowning Jones.

“I love cotton candy, too. Mommy, when I'm big like this girl, I'll dye my hair pink too! I'll be just like Princess Bubblegum!”

“Yes, pumpkin, just like your favorite Princess. Now eat your breakfast while your mother sees our guests off."

The girl nodded obediently, taking the spoon from her mother's hand and pushing the bowl of porridge closer to her. Toni had never seen such lovely children before. All the children she had to interact with in one way or another were just a screaming mess. She even told her mother at fifteen that she would never have children. But now, this very little girl was able to sow in her a grain of doubt in her radical decision.

They both rose obediently as Brittany led them from the kitchen to the living room and then to the basement. She turned on the light in the dark and slightly damp room, going to the farthest corner to push aside a small chest of drawers. Jug rushed to her aid, and a minute later they saw a gaping hole in the wall.

“It's kind of Arthur's hiding place. When we moved in, this hole was already there, but he didn't fix it, adapting it to his secret materials. I didn't tell the police about this vault, I don't even know why. But it seems that something saved me from this, something or someone wanted to get these papers to you.”

The blonde leaned over, pulling out a plastic bag that contained several thick folders.

“As far as I know, this is the same information that he worked on in the office, but unlike the documents that the police got, these contain his personal experiences, facts, evidence that he did not want to show anyone until he was sure of their authenticity.”

Jones carefully picked up the package, immediately clutching it to his chest as if it were the most expensive find. Topaz breathed a sigh of relief as the mythical evidence they were relying on became tangible and was now right in their hands.

“Thank you very much, Brittany. You have no idea how much this means to us.”

“If you really lost someone close to you because of this man, I ask you to make him pay. Make him pay for the harm done to your family and Arthur.”

“I promise.”

Jughead and Toni left the Clain's house in silence. He didn't want to bring up the subject of the conversation that was bothering him, because he still didn't know the real reasons why Topaz had interfered. And she just kept silent, because at the moment, she didn't need anything to be happy except the weight of half the papers under her jacket she and Jones had shared to quickly study them. Now, all she had to do was go home safely, hook up with her partner, and find out the worst secret that Arthur Clain kept in his basement.

Chapter Text

Cheryl refused to leave her comfortable bed, where Toni had left her alone, until the evening. She, frankly, could not find a place, because the girl was gone for a long time, almost six hours, and she could not call. Ghosts have no such function as contacting the right person. So all she had to do was just lie there. Their relationship with Jason had soured recently, and they were no longer the beloved brother and sister who would do anything for each other. At least Cheryl had not lost her characteristics, but Jason no longer wanted to be alone with his red-haired copy. Whenever she found him in the house, he would disappear before she could say a word. At first she tried to force him to make contact, resentful, angry, but then all her emotions became one big sadness. Sadness and longing for her brother, who was always on her side, even after death.

Most likely, because of his behavior recently, she did not expect that he would appear right in the middle of her room, when she flipped through another detective book, which was fond of her friend. Or already her girlfriend? Cheryl really wanted to call Toni her girlfriend all the time.

“Cheryl.” Jason stayed at the door at the other end of the room. He held himself as aloof as if he were in front of a stranger who was deeply repulsive to him, and not in front of his own sister. She might understand why he was angry, but shouldn't she be more worried about Toni than he was? Or let him confess and tell the truth that he was just jealous of her happiness.

“Yes, Jason.” It was a little funny that the guy always interrupted her reading. Although she didn't try to start reading now, because after one page, her thoughts kept returning to a certain pink-haired girl who should have been home long ago.

“I think Toni's parents have information that it would be good for you to hear and pass on to her.”

He hesitated in the doorway like a guilty teenager, and Cheryl noticed it. When they were fighting as children, and the guy knew that he was wrong, he always came to this room, wringing his fingers, looking at his feet and apologizing. And the younger one apologized in response, saying that she would not live another second without her beloved brother. But now she selfishly wanted him to be the first to admit fault. It wasn't her fault. It wasn't her fault that the boy had fallen in love with his cousin and then decided to choose justice over a happy life away from his father's ill-fated business. It wasn't her fault that she could be around someone she loved and he wasn't.

“Thanks. I'll be down in a second.” There was a sudden pride in the girl that she sometimes hated, but now, in her opinion, it was appropriate.

He hesitated in the doorway for a few more seconds before sighing in defeat and taking a couple of steps toward the bed.

“I'm sorry, okay. I did wrong to ignore you and Toni all week. I don't even know what exactly I was angry about, but it's not that you're happy, Cher, really!”

“Jay, I understand. I'm sorry you can't see Polly, hold her, and kiss her like I can with Toni. But it was, above all, your choice, I do not blame and never dare, but you must remember that I offered to leave everything as it is, so that you can safely escape with your fiancée. It would have been different then.”

Then she would never have met Toni, because the Blossom's couple would have stayed in their ancestral home, and she would have either really killed herself, because she could not live in such a toxic family, or she would have left one day and lived a happy life. But it didn't have to happen; life has many outcomes that no one can predict. And if it is her fate to know love while in this state, she is only "for it", because, at least, she no longer feels lonely and useless to anyone.

“I don't want to be away from you, sis. If we are confined in this house, and only a few can see us, I don't want to spend the rest of my life hiding in an old basement and pouring my frustration and pain with alcohol, the taste and effect of which I don't even feel. I don't want my meaningless existence to become even more meaningless.”

“Promise me you'll never be like this again? Support Toni and me, and we will support you. She doesn't even ask for anything in return, just helps selflessly.”

“She's helping because of you.” The boy smiled, slightly ruffling his hair. “God, I hope I didn't make you think you shouldn't be with her. I'm very happy for both of you. And maybe I'm a little jealous, but that doesn't change my boundless happiness and love for both of you.”

“It's okay, Jay. But you need to talk to Toni about it when she gets back from her mission. She worried about this situation even more than I did. I know my stupid brother, and she doesn't. And now more about what you said earlier. What are Toni's parents up to again?”

“When I left, Amelia was planning to call Veronica, so we should hurry downstairs.”

“I completely agree.” Blossom put the folio, which was not of interest to her, on the dresser, and rose from the bed, only to take her brother's outstretched hand in hers with a smile and disappear.

 

-

 

“Not a good idea.” Jonathan was sitting at the table. In his hand was a glass of scotch and ice. He made slow circular movements with his wrist, so that the ice would quickly dissolve into the brown liquid. “Again.”

Topaz senior had taken time off from work in advance, leaving the entire burden of responsibility on his junior employee, who, although he was really young, was already doing very well with his duties. Jonathan had no doubt that Raymond would one day be able to replace him in his position. He was very talented. Of course, one would have thought that a man wanted Antoinette to take his place, but he was absolutely against it. Having worked with Lodge for so many years, after spending so much time away from his wife and daughter, he was well aware that he would never wish this on his beloved and only child. It was also possible to add to the story that Hiram was now in jail for some machinations. His daughter could not be allowed to deal with the consequences of this man's actions later.

He genuinely did not understand why this evening and this dinner were necessary. If his wife had arranged a family meeting just to spend more time together, to talk about how things were going, as they often did before Lodge was put in jail and Topaz had to spend almost twenty-four hours at work, he wouldn't have minded. But then Amelia came up with some sophisticated plan to bring their daughter to light. He had seen his child every morning, and he did not understand what could have changed in her. Yes, she'd been a little strange at first, but it might have been influenced by the move and the bastard Colin, whom he hadn't strangled with his bare hands just to avoid upsetting his daughter by the fact that her father was going to jail. He still blamed himself for not being able to do anything with this man to make him pay for what he had done. But in the past few days, Antoinette had once again become like that little ubiquitous girl who was interested in everything around her. He remembered those little brown ponytails that he had learned to do on his daughter when the length of her hair began to allow. He was very happy to be a father, but with his wife recently, something they have not had any success.

“Don't you dare teach me how to raise my own daughter? I just want her to be happy, you know? I've always been too soft and inconsiderate with her, and what did that lead to? She had secrets, even from her best friend.”

“There's nothing wrong with finding new friends in a new town. That's why we moved here, so that she could forget her old life and start a new one, a better and happier one. Have you seen her smile the last few days? My father's instinct tells me she's in love. And you think she'll say a word to you if you pushed on her? She will just closes even more.”

“And we will not push her, we will invite Veronica, and together we will try to talk to her. She must understand that the people who love her, who care about her, are very eager to know what is eating her.”

The man opened his mouth, and then closed it, biting his tongue slightly. When he had married this woman twenty years ago, even then he had known that it was useless to argue with her. That was what had captivated him – her sanity, which she had apparently decided to give up.

He just shrugged, taking a sip of the scalding liquid he was so used to. He had an iron rule not to drink alcohol at work, and he was only at home at night, so he still thought that this evening would be good for them all: he would rest and spend time with his family, Amelia would satisfy her curiosity, and Toni… Perhaps Toni would open her heart to them, and then she would feel better.

 

-

 

“God, this woman is restless.” Cheryl paused at the door of the room, leaning on the jamb, when they appeared within the kitchen just as Amelia broke off the conversation with her husband, not tolerating an argument, in order to call to someone.

“At this rate, she would fall out with Toni, who was clearly not up to a showdown when she was engaged in such a serious investigation.”

“I won't let her quarrel with her mother, you can be sure. I'll just explain to her that a quarrel with her mother is the worst thing that can happen in a family, and that it will not lead to anything good. Fortunately, I will have a personal example to show her how not to do it.”

“Cher…”

“Shh, let's hear what she's up to this time.”

Amelia waited quietly, holding her mobile device to her ear, until the other person answered. A smile lit up her face as the girl she was trying to reach finally picked up the phone.

“Hello, dear, this is Amelia.”

“Hello, aunt Am. Is something wrong? Did Toni do something again?”

“Not exactly, but it's related to her directly.”

It was clear from Topaz senior's pleased look that the girl was interested.

“I wanted to invite you to a family dinner so that we could talk to Antoinette together and find out what's been going on with her lately.”

“I don't think there's anything wrong with her. Yes, she spends a lot of time with the hobo and reading, but that only means that she has decided to take up her mind and start studying again. And her employment in the art club – she has long loved creativity, and the guys there are good.”

Veronica shielded her friend as best she could. Of course, when she was alone with the pink-haired girl, she could tell her grievances, but she would never complain to her parents. Maybe a little whining about Toni ignoring her, but nothing serious that they could only deal with together.

“I don't think so. Come over for dinner in an hour, help us find out the truth and help Toni. You're like a sister to her.”

It was forbidden trick, even to Cheryl. Usually, after such an expression, a person could not refuse, but after a few meetings with Lodge, Blossom realized that she was a tough nut to crack.

“I would very much like to be present, Mrs. Topaz.” The girl switched to an official tone to let the woman know that she would not change her mind. “But my mother and I decided to spend the weekend at our cottage in shadow lake, so I can't come today. But I have an alternative.”

Both red-haired listened to this, since the woman very much added a sound that the whole conversation could be heard even in the next room.

“I got a call this morning from our mutual friend from New York, Monica. You remember her because of a not-so-pleasant incident, but she is really remorseful and wants to apologize to Toni. They had feelings, and I think Toni will open up to this girl like no one else.”

Amelia was silent for a moment, and the silence extended to the twins, who both, especially Cheryl, stood like statues, waiting for a decision. Cheryl swallowed nervously, and her skin suddenly seemed to goosebumps again, as before, when she was worried to the core.

“I think that a person from the past, who is not indifferent to Antoinette, will only benefit. Can you call this girl and tell her we're expecting her for dinner in an hour? Let's give Toni a real surprise.”

“Of course, Mrs. T. I'm sure she won't miss this chance. Please don't be angry that I won't be able to attend myself. I promise that next time I will definitely come just for your signature meat pie.”

The conversation ended with general friendly laughter.

But Cheryl wasn't laughing.

Her heart seemed to stop beating again.

 

-

 

Toni was in a very high mood. She and Jug went back to the cafe and rummaged through the papers, deciding that it would be safer to keep them all in a trailer on the Southside, under the supervision of the gang and the Sheriff, than in a house directly connected to the person in these documents. Toni agreed to take the papers later, in case they found something valuable to share with the twins (of course, she didn't tell Jones these details). But they didn't stay long, because Toni couldn't risk her mother getting mad at her again if she arrived late. So they said their goodbyes, agreeing to spend the rest of the weekend well spent, and start a full-scale investigation on Monday morning.

The girl got home very quickly. The weather changed again in the evening, even the sun shone before disappearing behind the horizon. This added to the pink-haired girl's good mood. For this reason, she went home with a wide smile on her face, which immediately disappeared when her mother came out into the corridor, with a strange grin that clearly did not bode well.

“Hi, honey. I just made dinner. Come on, wash your hands, and go to the table. We'll have a real family dinner.”

There was something in her tone that made the younger Topaz very uneasy, but she decided not to show it. In any case, she wouldn't sit at any table until she told Cheryl about her findings. And, hell, she just needed to see her girlfriend. Even a few hours away from her, the thought that she might not come back at all and never see the red-haired woman again was like a thorn in her heart all day, so she had to calm down a little before the interrogation. But there were advantages to this interrogation: Cher could be present and hold her hand, helping her calm down if things suddenly became unbearable. Here's another plus to date a ghost – no one will see her until she wants to.

“Mom, I'm a little tired. My friend and I had a trip planned, and we spent most of our time on the road.”

Toni had always lied clumsily, especially to this woman, who had seen through her in some cases. But now she gathered all her skills together, trying to come up with a plausible excuse for her absence. In the morning, she just ran out of the house without telling her mother anything. But it's not going to work right now. “We were collecting very important information for a sociology project. Then we stopped at a cafe, so I'm not really hungry.”

Topaz took a step toward the first step of the stairs, letting Amelia know that she would be happy to escape the conversation. But at the same time, she was not naive and knew that she would have to sit down at this table and have to answer all the questions. But it was worth a try.

“You're going to have dinner with us anyway, Antoinette.” Toni rolled her eyes when her mother deliberately used her full name. God, how this move to this town had taken its toll on their relationship. Before, they both did not even raise their voices at each other, but now they launched a whole battle. “Your father took a special day-off from work, and you know how much effort it cost him. Moreover, you have a big surprise waiting for you at the table. I'll give you five minutes to put on something more appropriate and go downstairs. Your time starts now.”

Topaz didn't waste a second. In general, most of the time, Amelia was an angel of god, but there were rare unforeseen situations when it was necessary to be silent and obey. Toni knew it was her own fault. After all, she could have talked to her mother before, come up with some nonsense and live quietly. But no, she was doing other businesses.

Speaking of businesses. The girl ran quickly up the stairs, pausing in front of her room to call quickly to Cher. Her surprise was boundless, because as soon as she opened the door, she saw a red-haired woman sitting on the edge of the bed in the dark. Usually Toni waited for the girl for a few minutes, because she could be in any corner of the house and not hear the pink-haired girl. And here, she seemed to be waiting for her.

“Babe?” Toni went in, closing the door behind her, and immediately went over to the girl, pulling her chin with her finger to leave a kiss on her plump lips. “Hi. You have no idea what Jones and I found.”

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness (for she desperately did not want to turn on the light, leaving a romantic atmosphere between them), she noticed that something was wrong with her girlfriend.
“Cher? Is everything all right?"

The redhead shook her head, patting the spot next to her.

“Sit Down, Toni. I need to talk to you about something.”

Topaz obediently sat down, immediately turning to Blossom in half a turn, forcing her to do the same. She was still looking at her fingers locked in her lap when Toni put her hand on top of them so she could look at her.

“What happened? You're scaring me! Something about Jason? Is that why he hasn't shown up for a week?”

Toni didn't know what was going on, but the younger Blossom did look depressed and upset, so it made sense to think about her brother, whose relationship had deteriorated, which Toni blamed herself for in the first place.

“Your mother is having family dinner…”

“I know, Cher, don't worry. My mother always had sophisticated versions of family gatherings. She'll ask a couple of stupid questions, dad will indifferently assent, I'll lie something and then I'll come back to you. Into the arms of my sweet girl.”

Toni smiled, tucking a strand of Cheryl's hair behind her ear, leaning closer to kiss the exposed skin of her pale cheek. But Cheryl pulled away abruptly.

“No, T., listen to me. Jay and I were downstairs, listening to what your mother would do. Well, she called Veronica to be there and help her solve your secrets, but Ronnie couldn't. She had some family business, but she quickly found a replacement.” Blossom swallowed hard. She had not yet had time to comprehend the information she had received through her eavesdropping. She couldn't imagine what would happen when Toni saw the girl she'd been in love with not so long ago. What if her old feelings flared up again? Cheryl wouldn't blame her… Who would trade a healthier relationship with a loved one for one where your partner, whom you've known for less than a month, has long died?

“Ronnie said Monica was in town. She was planning on coming to your house for party, but something didn't work out, so your mom decided to invite her to dinner. She thinks a person from a past life will help you fix your present one. And to be honest…”

“Wait.” Toni couldn't even fully grasp it. What Cheryl had said was impossible. She and Monica parted almost as enemies, but certainly not friends who go to each other's family dinners and pursue some goals from such communication. Topaz just wanted to stop the girl, because she knew what can lead to the thoughts of a girl, who is always doubts herself.

“There's no way I'm going to want to re-establish a relationship with Monica, do you hear me?”

“But…”

“No, no buts, Cheryl. I understand, not exactly, but I understand why you constantly question my feelings for you. Yes, you're not used to this, and our situation isn't exactly ordinary, but you've given me a lot more in that short space of time than she'll ever give. She had once betrayed my trust and my feelings by siding with a man who was trying to hurt me. I wouldn't trust her for a second, no matter how much she paid me compliments.”

Toni up, only to kneel in front of a startled Blossom, who had just opened her mouth before Toni's hands were on her cheeks.

“I'll be damned if I know anything about what's going on between us, if I'm not afraid of it. But I crave it as much as I've never craved anything. I like you, Cheryl, really. What difference does it make whether you're a human or a Ghost? Right now, all I want to do is be with you, and we're doing great. So why would I want someone else?”

“I - I don't know. I'm not used to someone wanting to be with me for nothing when I can't even give anything back. You have no prospects with me, and with this girl you could have a future.”

“A future I don't need.” Toni leaned forward, touching her forehead to that of the red-haired woman's, who blissfully closed her eyes against the action. “I want a future with you, even if it will be short-lived, but it will be happy for me, because every moment spent with you – the best thing that happened to me.”

They sat in silence for a few moments, until Toni suddenly moaned piteously.

“Hell, you can't even be around me there. I had hoped that you would be my support in this deadly battle with my parents, but now everything is changing, because Monica can see you.”

“Jay and I will be ready if something goes too wrong, okay? We'll make some noise and give you a chance to retreat.”

“You and Jay?”

“Yep. We didn't have the easiest conversation, but we found a solution. And he will explain everything to you when this evening is over.”

“I'm very glad you've made up.”

Cheryl nodded, finally doing what she'd been craving and dreading all evening – the girl closing the distance between them, greedily biting into the pink-haired girl's lips. Topaz moaned approvingly as she rose from her knees to straddle Blossom's lap, wrapping her arms around her neck as the redhead's hands explored her back.

“Antoinette!”

Toni flinched, moving away from Cheryl in the blink of an eye and falling to the floor, hissing in pain. Her mother was literally standing on the other side of the door, and she was very lucky that the woman did not come in, finding her in such an unnatural position – on the knees of the invisible.

“I'm coming, mom.”

Toni didn't even care that she hadn't changed, which would cause her mother to start complaining, because she would appear at the table in old torn jeans and a stretched t-shirt (she had decided to take off the leather jacket after all, so as not to make Amelia even angrier). She just didn't want to leave Cher, who she wasn't allowed to spend enough time with. Deep down, she was also afraid of meeting a demon from her past.

But Cheryl stood up, helping her to her feet and pulling girl closer into her arms, soothingly stroking through her hair.

“You can handle everything, and I'll be there for you, do you hear?”

Topaz nodded.

“I'm with you.”

 

-

 

Toni stood on the stairs for a good couple of minutes, because she didn't want to go down to the kitchen, where she could already hear her mother and Monica’s happy voices. The pink-haired still didn't understand how her parents had let the sister of the man who had tried to rape their daughter, the girl who had so zealously defended her scoundrel brother, into the house.

She wanted so much to go back to the room, but her mother would come back to her again, literally forcing her to join in. Toni decided to choose the lesser of two evils as she slowly descended the stairs. She wanted Cheryl to be there to hold her hand, but they both knew they couldn't do it without asking questions that weren't necessary right now.

Topaz was afraid to see Monica, to be honest. No, she could not even think that any feelings for this girl would overtake her, that they could in the least obscure her real feelings for one red-haired person. Just seeing Monica means reliving the traumatic events she had to face not so long ago.

And why had the brunette appeared on her doorstep today? Why was she looking for a meeting? To apologize? No apology would ever restore their old friendship. It was unlikely that Toni would want anything to do with a person who had already betrayed her once, even though she was called her best friend.

The voices grew louder as she slowly made her way to the kitchen, where dinner had already begun. She closed her eyes for a moment, gathering her strength and counting to ten so that her heart wouldn't pound so hard and her palms wouldn't sweat. Then she put a fake smile on her face and walked into the room as if nothing had happened.

All eyes were immediately on her, including the familiar, now painful, dark green eyes.

“Toni…” Monica rose awkwardly from the table with a quick movement as soon as she saw her former friend.

“What's for dinner?” Topaz moved to the opposite side of the table (and Monica sat down next to her mother, leaving the only available seat next to Jonathan).

“Honey, that's not polite.” Amelia tried to scold her daughter for her lack of manners, but then her enthusiasm faded. Yes, she was worried about her daughter to the point where she was ready to go to war against her secrets, but she remembered the incident that had built a wall between these two. There was no way she wanted to push her so that it wouldn't lead to a scandal. This girl came here to make things better, not to make things worse.

“It's all right, Mrs. Topaz.” Monica sat down, nervously putting the napkin back on her lap to cover her expensive purple dress, which matched the mulatto's skin tone magically. And anyway, Monica was as beautiful as ever. Yes, Toni was a realist – this girl had once been an ideal for her: an ideal of beauty, intelligence, manners. But now her ideal was in close proximity (she could almost feel the presence of the two ghosts on her skin, and it was comforting), even if it was out of reach. She no longer wanted to think of this girl romantically, as she had dreamed of most of her youth. She just wanted to get through the evening. And tomorrow she would have a new life. After all, she could see this meeting as the final point in her relationship with Monica. The incident was a blot on her mind, and she wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

“So, what is the reason for such an important and rare event? Thanks.” Toni thanked her father, who smiled as he placed mashed potatoes and a piece of meatloaf on her plate. It seemed to Topaz that only her father understood: in his smile she saw sympathy and regret for this dinner. He clearly wanted to spend the evening with his family, which he hadn't done for a long time, but certainly not under these circumstances.

“You know very well, Antoinette. I'd like to start with that, and then your father and I will leave, leaving you and Monique to talk.”

Topaz nodded. She wanted her parents to leave so she could get Monica out of the house. If she was given a chance to talk to this girl without witnesses, she would simply ask her to find a modicum of conscience and leave.

“First of all, I'd like to know why you've been coming home so late lately.”

“Didn't you care too much when I came home from parties in the early morning?”

“Toni!” From her father's stern voice, she realized that she had gone a little too far. Her mother wasn't to blame for her experiments over the past two years. Then she did everything-she studied well and was able to have fun, so no one said a word to her.

“I'm sorry, mom, but I've already told you a hundred times that I joined a certain group of interests on my first day of school. The guys have a tradition of holding meetings in the evening in Pop's. You can ask Mr. Tate, we hang out there all the time. And on normal days, I'm delayed because of the support team training sessions that Ronnie makes me attend because of my imminent entry.”

“I never thought you'd be interested in cheerleading.” Monica chuckled, immediately earning a scathing look from the pink-haired one that wiped the smile off her face, Topaz hoped, for the rest of the evening.

“Well.” Amelia might not be entirely satisfied with this answer, but Toni had repeated the same story so often that even the most outspoken skeptic would have believed it. “I saw that article on your computer. Why are you doing this unfortunate family's business?”

“Don’t say that.” Toni moved her hands from the table to her lap so that no one would notice her fingers clenching into fists and her nails digging into her palms. Yes, she literally hated half of the Blossom's family, but the other half was madly dear to her. Certainly dearer than the girl who was now staring at them in bewilderment. Unlike the rest of Toni's entourage, she didn't know this story, didn't understand how much Topaz was already involved in this family's business.

“Why? Didn't these children kill themselves, leaving their parents in such pain that they had to sell their house and leave the town?”

“Amelia!” Jonathan was clearly enjoying the evening less and less. “This is a family dinner, and this kind of talk is unacceptable. Why all this farce, especially in front of strangers, when we could have spent a few minutes on this conversation any day in the past week?”

God, Toni was so grateful to her father. They'd spent less and less time together lately, but the bond between them hadn't weakened one bit.

“No, I want to hear it from her. Modern youth is very susceptible to such examples.”

“I'm not going to kill myself, if that's what you mean.” Toni grunted, crossing her arms over her chest, her palms already beginning to ache from the sharp nails that cut her defenseless flesh. “I don't believe it was suicide, that's all. If you didn't care what happened in this house before us, I was interested in the events of the first time. But I don't have time for these investigations now, so let's just leave it as it is.”

Toni crossed her fingers, which helped her think that her lie would sound more convincing.

Amelia nodded. Toni could not even hope that the woman would be satisfied with these answers that she would not have more questions, but she was strangely silent. So Toni began to eat. She had no idea how much her nerves had made her hungry until the first bite of meatloaf went into her stomach. They ate in silence for half an hour, until the woman rose from her chair and carried the dishes to the sink. Toni noticed that Amelia was signaling her husband to finish the meal, too, so that they could leave girls alone. But Topaz was so desperate not to stay with Monica.

The girl's presence was useless. She just sat there, silent, like the rest of them, in an uncomfortable silence. It had been a long time since family evenings had been as strange and unwelcome as this one, and Toni hoped her mother had learned her lesson.

Toni didn't notice that she and Monica were alone. The pink-haired looked around in panic, hoping to catch a glimpse of a flash of bright red hair, but at the same time, she didn't want Monique to see it either. She was grateful for the twins for their caution.

“You won't even give me a chance, Toni?” Staton seemed to be whispering, but the whisper came out like a bolt from the blue in the suddenly empty dining room.

“Do I owe you something? Look, Monica, let's be realistic. Our paths diverged, and we realized that it would be better for both of us. So why are you making it so difficult? Why do you need this reconciliation? And why now?”

The last question most concerned the pink-haired girl. It's been almost three months since that ill-fated evening, and the girl suddenly out of the blue decided to come and establish a relationship? Something was clearly not working out. And Toni knew it the second she asked the question, and Monica's expression changed immediately.

“Don't be mad at me, Toni, please. Come into my situation, I had to do something.”

Topaz rolled her eyes. Of course, the Monica she knew always had some motive, never did anything for others.

“Colin's in big trouble. He seems to have realized what he did and is very remorseful. Only this remorse is manifested in the drinking alcohol and taking drugs. He kills himself, justifying it with the deepest guilt before you. I know I can't ask that, but he needs your forgiveness. Please, Toni.”

But Topaz couldn't even comprehend the request. She couldn't understand the simple sentences made up of even simpler words. Did Monica ask her to talk to Colin and forgive him? The man who tried to rape her? A man whose family hired thugs to beat up a frail girl just to get her to drop the charges?

Toni could feel the tears gathering in her eyes. No one is worthy of such treachery on the part of a once-loved one.

”Toni.”

“Get out of here, Monica.” She was surprised that her voice did not falter when she calmly answered all of Staton's requests with a single sentence.

“I'm very sorry that I took the chance to make peace with you on such a request. But you must understand that there is no man more important to me than my own brother, and I will not forgive myself if I let him ruin himself.”

“And I'm sorry I let your family get so close to my heart. I don't want to upset you or be a mean bitch, but Colin deserves everything that's happening to him right now.”

Toni got up from the table, making it clear to her ex-friend that she should get up and follow the girl who was already heading for the hall.

“I'm sorry, Toni. I'd like to get back what we had. You know I had a warm feeling for you, and we could have done something if it hadn't been for that party. I repent that I did not believe your words, that I believed my brother. But he told me exactly what happened that night, all he could remember.”

Topaz went to the door itself, opening it wide. She was already feeling a slight fever, which made her body tremble from within. She made a great effort not to break down in front of this girl. No, she wouldn't give her that much pleasure.

“Go away, Monica, and never come to my door again.” The brunette bowed her head submissively as she put on her coat and boots before walking out the door without even saying goodbye to the people who had invited her. She knew it was a bad idea to linger. “Colin's only chance of redemption is a guilty plea and proper punishment. When you both understand this, believe me, your lives will change.”

Topaz pushed the door, watching it slam shut in the face of a sad Monica. She didn't feel sorry for her at all, but rather she felt disgusted with herself for being so weak in front of her.
Toni leaned forward, placing her hands on the wooden surface. Her lungs were constricting, preventing oxygen from entering her system, and she sensed an impending panic attack. She was so wrapped up in herself that she shuddered when she felt hands encircling her waist. She wanted to pull away for a moment, until she realized it was a worried Cheryl who had appeared as soon as she had the chance.

“Hush, honey, hush.” Blossom turned the girl around to face her, placing her hands on her cheeks. “Breathe with me, do you hear?”

It was absurd, because Cheryl didn't even need oxygen, but she did everything she could to help the girl.

“I-I c-can't, Cher.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she took her first gasping breaths, slightly relaxing her straining lungs.

“You can do it! Come on, T.T. She's gone, and she'll never bother you again, and everything will be all right.”

“How could she ask for such a thing?” Cheryl didn't answer, knowing that Toni didn't need her reasoning at all.

Blossom pulled her close, placing a hand on the top of her head, her other hand gently stroking her back through the thin fabric of her t-shirt.

“Let's go to bed, dear. You need to rest.”

Cheryl helped Toni up to her room, because without her, she couldn't have taken one steady step: her whole body was shaking with sobs coming out of her throat. Fortunately, Toni's parents were in another part of the mansion now, still thinking or hoping that the girls were making small talk rather than making each other hysterical.

The red-haired helped the younger girl take off her clothes as soon as they entered the dark room. She led her to the bed, pulling back the blanket and asking the girl to lie down and rest. As soon as Topaz was under the warm shield, hidden from all external problems, but still unsettled, Cheryl leaned over to kiss her on the forehead. She hoped Toni would let her be there to comfort and protect her, but at the same time, she would understand if the pink-haired girl wanted to be alone.

Blossom straightened up, about to leave Topaz alone, when Topaz whirled around, grabbing the girl's wrist.

“You won't leave me, will you?”

Blossom was very hurt by these words. Toni looked genuinely defeated. And if tomorrow she would put on her brave face again, play the hero for Cheryl, then today the girl would be happy to be her shield from reality.

“Of course, honey. Now move.” Cheryl's fingers went to the hem of her shirt to get rid of the clothes. “I'm going to care of you all night long.”

Chapter Text

Cheryl had never cared so much for anyone before. Toni cried in her arms for half the night, and she let her, because the girl needed to vent her emotions. She was concentrating so many negative thoughts in herself, she couldn't open up to anyone, so Blossom was only too happy to be there with her and help in some way.

In between sobs, the girls even managed to talk a little. Yes, Cheryl was crying, too, even though she'd long ago vowed not to do it like the others. But the pain she had felt over what had happened to her beloved pink-haired girl, the pain she had once gone through, had all come together in an instant, giving her no way to get over it except in the familiar way.

She, too, shared with Toni her worst secret, which she kept from all her school "friends". Only the one girl who had helped Blossom on that fateful night knew about it, but they never even saw each other again.

When Cheryl was sixteen, one of her school friends, part-time co-captain of the support team, gave an unforgettable grand party, and if everyone there remembered the evening because of the amount of alcohol and entertainment games, then Cheryl remembered only a senior at the local College, who was also there. It was no secret that Sabina (a girl who had graduated from high school a few years ago, and who already clearly lived far away from the ill-fated town, unlike Cheryl) was dating a guy from College who was four years older than her. Of course, she invited him, and with him his cronies, one of whom put sleeping pills in a glass of champagne innocent red-haired girl who did not even want to flirt with him, or that to do with him something about what he was thinking. But after a while, she came to in the room upstairs, when this guy tried to take off her clothes. She screamed with all her strength (apparently this jerk was so stupid that even the right amount of medicine could not calculate and put so much that it was enough for ten minutes), she was lucky that just passed by a couple of girls who she did not know. As it turned out later, the girls were from Southside, accidentally wandered into a party where they decided to stay, but then they got bored, and they wanted to retire upstairs.

Cheryl would never forget (even if her eyes were shrouded in tears and her mind was still spinning, unaware of what was happening to her) the crowning left jab of the blond girl who had smashed the nose of an undergraduate. He obviously didn't even know what he'd done, just tried not to get into trouble when he saw the gang logo on the uninvited guests' jackets.

The girl, she thinks her name was Trina, helped Cheryl, and lent her jacket, because the dress of the one she came in was slightly torn. She even called Cheryl's brother, who was celebrating a close friend's birthday at the time, but broke down and came to pick up and comfort her sister. That guy was lucky that he had the sense to retire immediately after the incident, and Blossom did not remember him, because otherwise, Jason wouldn't let him get away with it.

But the worst part was that after arriving home, Cheryl was told off by an angry mother who advised her to be less liberated. The woman accused the girl of being her fault, and if that guy had managed to rape her, it would have been her fault.

Then it was Toni's turn to comfort her girlfriend. Blossom was surprised at how quickly the pink-haired girl's mood changed when she found out what had happened. Shared grief always brings closer, and if until that moment, Cheryl had thought that they would never get closer (so much they had learned about each other in this short period of time), then she realized how wrong she was.

It was now past ten o'clock in the morning, and Toni didn't even think about waking up. They were lucky that Amelia was so prudent that she didn't touch her daughter on Sunday, giving her a real break. Blossom never ceased to admire the girl lying in front of her. She fell asleep on her side in front of the redhead while they talked about different things.

Fortunately, they both had the sense to change the subject, and at the moment when Toni's strength left the girl, they were talking about countries where they would like to go (in Cheryl's case, of course, this is impossible, but who said that she cannot dream?).

Now Topaz's head rested on the palms of her hands clasped together under her cheek. She moved very close, practically taking the pillow away from Cheryl, but she didn't mind. She could only enjoy Toni's company. She admired the firmness and strength of this girl, but most of all (she is not a hypocrite, so why dissemble) she admired her appearance. She had never met a girl with deep shadows under her eyes, a reddened nose, and cracked lips, but she still looked hideously attractive.

Red so desperately wanted to fall asleep, and then wake up in the arms of this beauty, open her eyes with the first rays of the sun, soak up in a warm bed. Not that she couldn't do it now… Of course, the ghosts could eat, drink, and sleep, but they didn't need to. Why should a dead and disembodied being satisfy human needs? But she would really like to experience such sensations when they could give her pleasure, when she could feel it all.

Toni stirred, muttering incoherently, and Cher preferred to pull back a little so that the girl wouldn't bump into her and wake up. But then Topaz began to fumble with her hand next to her, and as soon as her hand did not find the body lying next to her, the pink-haired's eyes immediately opened, meeting the gaze of a smiling Cheryl, who was lying almost on the edge of the bed.

“Fucking Blossom.” Toni grunted, reaching out and grabbing Blossom's wrist, pulling her closer with a quick jerk. Cheryl had not expected such speed from the still prostrate girl, so she flew into the fragile body of Toni, who did not even pay any attention to the inconvenience, hugging the redhead around the waist and closing her eyes again, plunging back into the realm of Morpheus.

Cheryl allowed herself to relax, leaning into Toni's hair and nuzzling it. Her fingers moved softly through the pink curls, enjoying the silkiness of the strands.

“God, I can't even be mad at you?” Toni grumbled so sweetly into her own oversized t-shirt that was wearing on Cheryl that Blossom couldn't help but smile that touched her lips at the speed of sound.

“Why did you want to be mad at me?”

“Because you won't let me sleep! As soon as I open my eyes and see you, I no longer want to lose sight of such beauty.” Combined with the sleepy voice and slow intonation, the phrase came so naturally from Toni's mouth that Cheryl's heart fluttered and her stomach filled with nonexistent butterflies.

“Has anyone ever told you that you're very romantic?” Blossom shifted her head slightly so that her lips touched the younger girl's ear.

“No one has a chance to get acquainted with this trait of my character.” Toni supported the flirtation, lifting her head so that her lips were within an inch of the red-haired woman's.

Cheryl couldn't help but take advantage of it, though the kiss was fleeting, so as not to inflame a completely inappropriate passion now. The girl immediately pulled away, feeling a loss that needed to be made up, but she only touched the pink-haired girl's foreheads.

“How are you feeling?" It was whispered, though no one could hear it.

“I would have been shattered, like after that very incident, but this time I had you, so I felt very good. It's better to have a fight with an ex-friend and then wake up in bed with your girlfriend than to have none of it.”

“You're so cheesy, Topaz. I didn't expect you to be like this.”

“Oh, I can be a badass.” Cheryl cried out in surprise as Topaz pushed her back in one swift movement, sitting on the redhead's thighs and locking her fingers with the girl's, bringing her hands behind her head. “I can be very controversial.”

Topaz leaned over the pale neck that was blinding her eyes, begging for a couple of marks that would create a contrast. Toni knew that there would be no hickeys left, because Cheryl's veins were no longer running hot blood, but the prospect was still tempting. She leaned over the milky neck, running her hot tongue over Blossom's jugular vein, making it squirm under her body and whimper.

Toni wasn't going to stop this morning. She liked Cheryl, and Cheryl liked her, so why shouldn't they use it? Of course, she had no intention of having sex with a girl. She just didn't know what it was like to have sex with a ghost, but sex in general. There was no one in her life to whom she would have dared to give her body. And even if there was one now, neither of them was ready. But the pg-13 group session would definitely not hurt them. In their life situation, any teenager would have gone crazy, but they didn't break down by supporting each other. And you can blame Toni, but she needed some other kind of support.

She bit down on a patch of pale skin, glad that at least Cheryl's feelings were real, she could tell by the way the redhead squeezed her hands.

“Do you like it?” Toni shifted lower, nibbling and licking the maple princess's sharp collarbone that protruded slightly from her t-shirt.

“Y-yes.” Blossom exhaled. Her tongue ran over her slightly parted lips, wetting them. “Are you sure it's not time for us to stop?”

Toni just grinned, pulling away from Blossom's skin to pay some attention to her beautiful pink lips, but the freaking phone interrupted all the fun again. Topaz snarled angrily, falling on top of Cheryl and nuzzling her neck. Cheryl laughed.

“Nothing is funny. I'm going to kill this jerk who likes to interrupt us.”

The girl reluctantly slid off Cheryl to the free side of the bed, reaching for her mobile device. She really thought it was Jughead, who, although he could find something interesting and important, had no right to deprive her of a pleasant morning for the second time. But it wasn't Jughead.

Cheryl just in time sat cross-legged right behind Toni, resting her chin on her shoulder. The pink-haired held up her phone, showing her girlfriend the display.

“Veronica. I don't want to talk to her.” Cher could see that Toni was angry with her friend. She was angry, too, because after all, Lodge could at least assume that Monica and Toni had had a fight for a reason that it wasn't worth pushing their heads together like this after months of silence.

“Shall I tell you that no one is home?” Toni smiled softly as Cherry left a kiss on her shoulder through the thin fabric of her t-shirt. She shook her head as she put the phone on silent mode and put it back on the nightstand.

“I'm sorry; I don't think I'm ready to continue what we started. That call from Veronica knocked me out, made me think about last night…”

“I understand, honey, it's okay. Let's get you to bed and I'll be back in fifteen minutes. I'll make you breakfast in bed so we can stay in the room all day."

“Mmm, that sounds great, but let’s goes down together. It will be a pleasant experience to cook breakfast with you. How about we start our date day with this? A joint breakfast is the first point of the plan.”

Cheryl took Toni's chin in her hand, pulling her to her for a chaste kiss.

“The best idea in the world. Only we need to change. What if your mother sees me like this? I don't want to give the impression that I'm sleeping with her daughter without first meeting her.”

Topaz laughed heartily, thanking the redhead for her support. God, she would never stop thanking the higher powers for such a gift, such a momentous meeting.

 

-

 

“It's divine. It's also a little unfair that the ghost cooks better than me.” Toni licked her sticky fingers, which a moment ago had held a piece of wafer liberally drenched with maple syrup. Cheryl wasn't lying when she said she'd make an excellent breakfast. At first, Toni wasn't sure. Well, judge for yourself, why should a girl born in such a rich family be able to cook? The servants could do everything for her: cook, wash, clean. But Topaz was wrong, which she was very glad, because Blossom was a girl of many talents.

“I can always teach you, hon, just ask.” Blossom, sitting in the next chair, leaned forward, carefully wiping a drop of syrup from Toni's upper lip and licking the tip of her finger. The syrup was still as sweet as she remembered it from her childhood. Paradoxically, she wasn't an avid fan of this sweet treat. Perhaps as children, she and Jay had overdone the amount of this liquid on their pancakes, or perhaps this disgust came from the realization that their father had spent their entire lives hiding behind syrup while running a drug business.

“Mom tried, believe me, it's not easy.”

“I know how to deal with stubborn people like you. What if you get a reward for a properly prepared dish?”

Toni grinned as she pushed the empty plate away, the contents of which disappeared into her stomach in a matter of minutes so that it wouldn't interfere with leaning across the table.

“What could it be?”

Blossom winked playfully, patting her lips with her index finger. Topaz smiled, holding out her hand to the red-haired woman's cheek to imprint a sweet kiss on her beautiful lips. But then she heard footsteps and her mother's angry voice.

The girl rolled her eyes as she returned to her seat. What a pity that Amelia couldn't see Cheryl. Toni would love to introduce such a beautiful girl to her parents.

“Should I leave you alone?” Cher was behind Toni in a flash, her hands on the back of her chair. It would have been awkward if Toni's mother had decided to sit in the chair the younger Blossom occupied.

“Are you kidding? Leave me alone with her after yesterday?” Toni turned slightly, placing her hand on top of the redhead's wrist. “Please stay.”

The red-haired woman nodded, leaning over and kissing the top of Toni's head just as Amelia walked slowly into the kitchen. The woman was still wearing her dressing gown and her hair was pulled back in a bun, which suggested that it wasn't just Toni who had decided to stay in bed longer on Sunday. She would very much like her parents to spend more time together, maybe then her mother will not find fault with trifles. But the girl had not built empty hopes around the relationship of her parents for a long time. For some reason, she knew that her father had been at work for a long time, even if it was Sunday, and her mother simply did not know what to do more, so she slept for so long.

“Good morning.” Toni drained the last of her orange juice, feeling unspeakably relieved to know that Cheryl was standing right behind her, gently flexing her stiff shoulders.

“Morning. Have you had breakfast yet?"

The girl nodded and suddenly remembered that the red-haired woman had taken the trouble to prepare a few waffles to pamper the entire Topaz family.

“There are still some waffles in the plate, if you want. They are simply excellent.”

“You flatter me, Topaz.” Toni flinched as Cheryl's soft lips brushed her ear and a shiver ran through her body. Her mother turned to the refrigerator to get a bag of milk.

“You made breakfast, it's something new. Are you sure I don't have to worry about my life?” Topaz nodded, immediately rolling her eyes at Cheryl's next remark and slapping her hand on her shoulder. Toni tried to ignore the fact that red's fingers were touching her collarbone, so close to her chest that she desperately wanted to feel more touch, but clearly not near her mother.

“Is everything all right?" Amelia picked up a plate of waffles, while Toni got up from the table to put the dishes in the sink (she was not in the mood to do household chores, so she would leave the washing up until better times) and went upstairs with her girlfriend to carry out their intention to stay in the room all day. She would even turn off her phone, which was already undoubtedly inundated with calls and messages from Veronica, so that they would not be disturbed. Too many people have got into the habit of interrupting them.

“Sure. I just want to rest today. I'm going to have a difficult week.” Maybe a month. Toni was a realist, knew that in addition to their little investigation, she would have a lot of work at school, at the newspaper that their club produced. And she would have to join a support group before Ronnie could eat her alive.

“I hope you have a good time. But I'd like to ask you to do something before that.” Toni stood at the table, holding on the back of the chair where she had been sitting a moment ago. Cheryl did not leave her, standing directly opposite the door and leaning her shoulder against the jamb. She was waiting for her, and Topaz wanted to finish this conversation quickly. She was still a little mad at her mother, so she wanted to cool down so that she wouldn't say anything too much.

“I thought we could empty the attic for our stuff. There are a lot of trinkets left in New York that could be useful to us in the future. And so that we don't have to come back for them every time, we can move everything here. But the attic is occupied by a lot of things, apparently left over from past owners. Could you clean it up today and throw away everything that no one else needs-preferably everything?”

Toni turned her startled gaze to Cheryl's agitated face. The girl clearly did not like this turn of events, because more than half of the things upstairs belonged to her: her jewelry, clothing, and personal items. And now everything had to go to the trash?

Toni went to the doorway, unnoticed, so that Amelia wouldn't think anything, and took Cheryl's hand.

“We'll figure something out.” She whispered softly so that only the redhead could hear.

“What did you say?" Mom looked up from her breakfast, which she seemed to enjoy, and looked at her daughter.

“I'll do it, don't worry.”

 

-

 

“How dare she?” Cheryl had been pacing back and forth in their now-shared room for several minutes since they had returned upstairs. “I understand, of course. This is her home now, her rules, and she didn't need any of the other people's stuff for nothing. But these are my things, Toni, and I don't want to give them up.”

Cheryl whimpered as she walked back to the bed, where the pink-haired girl was sitting on the edge of it, and practically fell into her arms. Toni understood her perfectly. The Blossoms might have gotten rid of their ancestral home by purchasing a decidedly luxurious new apartment, but for Cheryl and Jason, this was their only home. Why did someone have to take away the last thing that reminded them of the past?

“What's the noise and there's no fight?” Jason appeared very suddenly. And if Cheryl didn't move, holding Toni tighter as she sat on her lap and sobbing into her shoulder, Topaz was very surprised. She and the other twin have barely interacted recently, and here he is expressing a desire to see each other.

“Mom decided to give or throw away your things that are in the attic.” Toni explained, while gently stroking her girlfriend's red hair. She saw Jay's eyes soften when he saw his sister, so defenseless in someone else's arms. “But like I told Cher, I'll figure something out. If necessary, I'll find a place to hide them so she won't remember them again. Nothing goes to waste, do you hear, Cherry?”

The redhead nodded at Toni's shoulder, her sobs stopped, but she didn't want to break the embrace. She only turned her head slightly, now touching the curve of the mulatto's neck with her nose, while her fingers locked behind her.

“But it's full of junk. There are literally no normal things that would be of value.”

“I'd only been there once to carry the junk, and all I'd found in this room was a box of some of Cher's trinkets, and that was it.”

“Yes, there really are only valuable clothing, which in fact it is no longer needed. She can always borrow your clothes.” Blossom smiled, noticing that his sister was wearing a short skirt and flannel shirt that didn't fit her usual style.

“Am I interrupting you?" Cheryl snarled at the pink-haired girl's neck, sending shivers down her body. “There are my jewels, Blossom's family ring, my sketchbooks, and photographs.”

“The photo album is in a box on the closet, along with a few other things. I didn't find anything else.”

“You just not looked hard enough. Cheryl hid her most precious things under the floor there. There are only clothes, notebooks, books, and everything else that is no longer useful to us, but in that place… Cher would sell her soul so it wouldn't end up buried under a pile of garbage.”

“I won't sell my soul, it's the only thing I have left, but I'll be very angry and will take revenge if someone throws it out, do you hear, Antoinette?”

Toni didn't know why, but she wanted to laugh. That tone of Cheryl's voice just couldn't make her intimidating. The girl looked more like a small, resentful child than a frightening ghost, especially when she clung to Topaz like a lifeline.

“Not funny, T.”

Blossom pulled back with an indignant expression to begin a tirade about the importance of family heirlooms and the memories that the attic holds. But Toni beat her to it, placing her hands on her cheeks and leaning over to give her a quick kiss on the nose.

“We'll go there right now and get whatever we find valuable.”

“Thank you, T. T.” Cheryl kissed Toni right in front of her brother, not for a second shy of her feelings. Her heart was filled with joy that Toni understood her.

“Ugh, you're so disgustingly cute. I'm going to be sick.”

“Shut up and materialize from here.”

 

-

 

Toni couldn't understand how she hadn't noticed the pile of things that were scattered here and there in the attic. Of course, she only ran for a moment to bring her box in, put it right at the entrance, and run back. But still, as far as she was blind? A huge old wardrobe was filled with various outfits. Almost all of them were undoubtedly Blossom's, but also some of the shelves were occupied by clearly men's clothing.

While Cheryl and Toni were arguing about what clothes to keep so that the redhead could enjoy the original silk on her skin (she still feels everything, even if she doesn't care anymore!), Jason crawled across the floor, looking for the same broken board under which they kept things that were not intended for parents' eyes.

“Finally!” Cheryl even let go of the edge of the white sweater with cherries she and Toni were trying to pull from each other. Topaz squealed with glee as she put the sweater in the donation bag. She just wouldn't have had the heart to throw away the perfect quality designer items that so many needy families might need. “I found it.”

The guy got up from the floor, smiling as he approached the girls to show them his find in the form of a medium-sized wooden box.

“Oh, how I missed it.” Blossom ran her fingers carefully over the patterns carved into the wooden lid. While she was distracted, Toni walked slowly to the closet, shoveling its contents into a bag. She knew perfectly well that in the room that red had occupied before she practically moved in with Toni, there was a wardrobe that also contained a lot of clothes. Fortunately, her parents didn't show up in that wing at all, but if there were any questions, she could always pass these things off as her own or Ronnie's that she had borrowed. Now, she honestly didn't understand why Cheryl had to change her clothes every day, especially when she looked so good in Topaz.

She went about her business quietly for a few seconds, until a loud voice made her drop the black blouse with the roses embroidered on it to the floor.

“ANTOINETTE TOPAZ! Don't you dare touch my things before I spank you for inappropriate behavior.”

“Cher, babe, there are too many of these things, and if you don't help me choose what you really need and keep fighting for every single thing, mom will just throw it all away. Do you want it?"

Blossom rolled her eyes, clearly agreeing with Toni that she was being unreasonable, though she didn't admit it. She just silently snatched the blouse from the girl's hands, then took the box from Jay and disappeared.

“Oooh, like a little kid.” Toni let out a weary breath as she looked around the dimly lit room. In addition to clothing, there were many paintings that might have once adorned the twins' rooms, as well as trophies, waste paper, and so on. There was a lot of work, the only assistant she lost, so all hopes of a carefree weekend could be forgotten.

Just as she had forgotten the presence of the other twin in the room.

“Look, Toni… I've been awful to you over the past week.”

“No, Jay, it's okay, really.”

“It's not normal. I was jealous, I admit, and not just because Cheryl's attention had shifted from me to you. What I envied most was that you were happy, and I could never see Polly again. You know, I'll never be able to see my children. I don't even fully realize that I've become a father, because I've been stripped of that privilege. I can now only imagine our meetings, which will not be. I don't know what they look like, what their names are, if they're doing well, if they're being taken care of and Polly. It's very painful. And the fact that you're back on the case that killed Cher and me… I just lost my temper, and I'm sorry.”

“I understand, Jason.” Toni put her work on hold as she approached the guy who had supported her from the very beginning of their relationship, when they didn't even know each other as well as they did now. She felt that she could rely on him for everything, and it had been a long time since she had felt that way about anyone. She didn't want to lose that connection. She really thought of him as her brother.

“Let's not think bad things. I know I'm taking a risk, but I'll do everything I can for Cheryl, you must understand.” He nodded. “And now, please.” The girl whimpered, returning her gaze to the tightly packed closet where the clothes would never seem to run out. “Tell me you won't leave me like your sweet little sister aka a pain in the ass.”

Red laughed as he went to the closet and rolled up his sleeves, making Toni laugh.

“We are in this battle to the end. And you're very lucky; I know Cheryl's tastes, so she'll be happy to know that we didn't throw out her favorite clothes. Maybe she even let you kiss her.”

Topaz grabbed a nearby incomplete bag of clothes, hitting Jason with it, but they both couldn't help laughing. She was so glad that their relationship was back to normal. She missed the other twin on her side.

 

-

 

“Honey, I came in peace, you don't have to kill me right away.” Toni opened the door, stepping inside and holding her hands up. In one hand she held the bag in which they had gathered the things that were most important to Blossom. The rest of it, however, was helped down to the door by Jason, so that representatives from the local church, whom Amelia was happy to invite, could pick up the items for the annual charity giveaway.

Toni gasped when she saw Blossom sitting next to the bed, her legs crossed under her.

At least she wasn't hiding somewhere in the endless mazes of the mansion, so all her anger was ostentatious. Toni hoped so. She didn't want to spoil their day, which was already slowly turning into evening, since she and Jason had been working for hours without help. But they almost completely freed the attic.

Cheryl held a leather album in her hands, turning the yellowed pages carefully. The box was at her feet, and its contents were spread out around her on the floor.

“Can I sit down?" Toni moved a little closer, but she didn't want to disturb the environment Cheryl had created for herself. But the redhead surprised her by raising her warm brown eyes to the girl and smiling.

“Come on, T.T. You know very well that I am always glad to see you.”

“You’re little vixen. So tell me that you were just too lazy to sort things out, so you played this scene.”

Cheryl smiled, shrugging vaguely. And then she leaned over, leaving a kiss on Toni's lips as she sat down next to her, also pressing her back against the bed and crossing her legs under her.

“What's that for?”

“For everything you do for us. These things mean a lot to us.” Cheryl voluntarily closed the album, placing it in the pink-haired girl's lap. “This is my very first sketchbook. As a child, I really wanted to become an artist, but my parents did not approve of my choice, saying that I would be busy in business, like all generations before me. So I moved my hobby into the private space of my room, and I never showed my work to anyone, not even Jason.”

“And you... Can I see it?” Toni's eyes lit up with enthusiasm. She was insanely pleased that the redhead had revealed such deep secrets to her that she didn't share with anyone.

“Of course, silly. You can do anything.”

Toni forgot about the relic for a moment as she looked at Cheryl. She felt the moisture build up in her eyes, and suddenly she wanted to hold this girl close to her, to smother her with her warmth and care.

“Toni?” The redhead's playful expression turned to panic as she touched the girl's shoulder. “Did I do something wrong? Why are you crying?”

“Gosh, Cher.” Toni laughed, wiping away the wet tracks that ran down her cheeks. This girl was the most real angel, and Topaz simply could not accept the fact that someone could cause her even a drop of pain, and then someone took and killed her, as if he was allowed to. The three words were on her tongue, but she knew she couldn't say them. Yes, and frankly, they didn't need words to express their feelings for each other. “You're the most beautiful person I've ever met in my life. Thank you for trusting me with such things.”

“It's just a sketchbook, T.…” Cheryl was still staring at the girl in disbelief. She wanted to cry due to the fact that Toni's upset about something.

“No. This sketchbook meant a lot to you, and it's really a great honor that you trust me with your work.”

Blossom didn't argue, just left a long kiss on the girl's lips once more, reluctantly pulling away to move closer and rest her head on the younger girl's shoulder. Toni opened the leather album, glancing at the very first drawing: a portrait of Jason. In the upper right corner was written "JJ-13 years old”.

“Did you draw this when you were 13? Cher, this is amazing.” Girl, as a true connoisseur of beauty (of course, you saw what kind of girl she managed to get?), a professional photographer in the past, was really struck by how alive the boy seemed on paper. The redhead was very meticulous in detail, filling her masterpieces with life.

“Do you really think so?” Cheryl didn't look up from Toni's shoulder, but the girl found her hand and intertwined their fingers.

“Of course! You have talent. I'm sure you would have been an amazing artist, god, the best in the world.”

Cheryl chuckled.

“I would have become a lawyer, because my parents forbade me to practice art. It was not serious to them, and the Blossom's heir, even if so undesirable as I was, should have been a Blossom, not some obscure artist.”

“Fuck your parents, they're assholes.”

The girl silently agreed with Topaz's remark, continuing to watch as long, thin fingers flipped through the yellowed pages. In the past, if someone had been allowed to treat her property like this: just leave it to rot in the attic (not that she would have thought she could never get her things out of this house), she would have caused a scandal. But now, when she remembered these values, without which she could not live before, she did not care. Why would she need this album now? What value does it represent? There is no more such intrigue that she can pour out her soul in her works, skillfully hiding them from the curious parents' eyes, keeping such a secret under seven seals. No one else would threaten to throw away all her drawings if she didn't stop writing and study harder. There was no point in this album anymore.

She was momentarily lost in reality, until Toni carefully closed the leather cover.

“Wow, Cher, just wow. I demand that you draw me once. These drawings should at least be placed at some local exhibition, and not gather dust in the attic. Why didn't you pick up this album earlier?”

“I don't need it anymore, T.T., like all the things in this box. I don't want to draw anymore, you know? It used to be life for me, because I could only interact with the world around me through my creativity, but now? I no longer need such a thing as life; there is no longer any meaning.”

Toni wanted so badly to try to change her mind, but she couldn't find that much selfishness. How could she convince a girl otherwise when she was right? She really wasn't living anymore, and as much as she wanted to change that, to promise that everything would change if she wanted to, she couldn't do it. It was simply beyond her power.

“Let's put this place in order, and another box will be added to the top of the closet.”

“Come on, you can just give it away or throw it away. The only thing I care about is your presence next to me. That's all that makes me feel happy.”

Sometimes it seemed to Topaz that she had become addicted to kissing. For example, now, when she already in which times was reaching for red lips, weaving her fingers in her curls. She ran her tongue over the older girl's lower lip, asking permission to do what she had wanted to do for so long. She wanted to dominate, to show Blossom that she would take care of her, as no one had thought to do. She would do everything for her; sacrifice everything in the world, so that the girl would no longer feel alone.

“I'll keep these things for myself, no matter what you say. If they don't mean anything to you anymore, I…” Topaz took a deep breath. Even if she'd said it a thousand times in her head, just to get a little peace, it didn't help. Each time it hurt like the first time. “I want something to remind me of you when you're gone.”

“I never thought I'd want to stay. For the past two years, all I'd wanted to do was stop loitering around these halls, see the crowds of people who were taking turns buying and selling a house. I just wanted to stop suffering. But now… All I want is to be with you. But I also want Clifford and Penelope to pay for what they did.”

“In this we are similar. I don't want to lose you, because you will take my heart with you. But I will spend my whole life, if necessary, to make Clifford Blossom rot in prison.”

They both fell silent, basking in each other's arms. It was a strange silence, but necessary. Girls understood that this silence supports, helps to realize and accept. It was as if they hadn't realized from the very beginning that this relationship was a roller coaster ride where everything wouldn't be as easy as a normal couple. There will be no banal ups and downs, there will be only ups as they fall more and more in love, and then there will be one fatal fall that nothing will change.

“It's a terrible Sunday, and I promised you a nice romantic day.”

“Great Sunday. You're not investigating a dangerous case; you're sitting here in my arms.” Toni loved it best when Cheryl opened up her tender and vulnerable side, lowered her walls. But, damn it, the bitchy and hot side of the girl was no less loved by her. She just adored all of Cheryl Blossom, whatever she was.

“You know what I think, though? Make some popcorn, get a couple of blankets and pillows, and turn on a terrible second-rate movie, and you get a real date, don't you think? Of course, I can invite you to a fancy dinner, pick you up in dad's car, and give you a bunch of flowers, but…”

“Don't. I like the first option; I will not trade it for anything.”

 

-

 

“Cheryl, you're a ghost.” Toni, for the umpteenth time in an evening that was slowly turning into night, laughed, but willingly hugged Blossom back when she snuggled impossibly close to her, nuzzling her neck and squeaking.

“So what? I still hate horror movies.”

“But you agreed. I offered several movies to choose from, and I said I could watch any genre, so why didn't you choose your own?”

“I'm not weak.” Blossom boldly moved away, but immediately fell back when the screen showed the severed head again. Topaz rolled her eyes with a smile on her lips as she put the movie on pause. It was a very sweet sight when the fearless-looking girl snuggled up like a frightened kitten, squeaked with fear and squeezed her eyes shut at the most ordinary moments. But as sweet as it was, Toni didn't want to make fun of her. She had had enough horrors in her life.

“Why did you turn it off? That's where the fun started!”

Toni chuckled as she got up from the floor where they had set up a special soft zone and held out her hand for the girl to follow. They really had something like a date: they made delicious popcorn, which Toni ate for both cheeks, and Cheryl just tried, so as not to offend the girl; at first they just nice chatted, and then began to watch an interesting movie, hugging under a warm blanket and giving each other gentle fleeting kisses, until Blossom was afraid of every rustle.

“I just remembered that tomorrow I have a selection in Vixens, if I miss it or do something wrong, Veronica will curse me to eternal torment. And someone was planning to teach me.” Toni grinned as she placed Blossom's hands, which she held in her own, around her waist, and wrapped her arms around the girl's neck. “My girlfriend is a former team captain; it's a sin not to take advantage of it.”
“Hmm, you're really lucky, no one has that advantage.” Blossom leaned in for a kiss, but Toni slyly pulled away.

“Was miss Blossom trying to distract me from my practice? I'm a diligent student, and you won't be able to distract me.”

Topaz turned in her arms to move away and put some music on the player, but the redhead wouldn't let her go, pressing her chest against her back. She lowered her hands from the girl's waist to her thighs, gently pushing her forward with her own, showing a simple movement.

Toni immediately realized that asking Cheryl for help was a bad idea. The position they were in was turning her on, not even the sexual movements other than which Blossom clearly knew nothing.

“It's amazing the sexual tension between us. Don't you think so?”

Cheryl whispered in Toni's ear so softly that Toni could barely hear, but it sent a wave of pleasure through her entire body. The room was suddenly too hot, and every cell in Topaz's body was suddenly too sensitive. Toni nodded slightly, not knowing where to put her hands, so she just put them on top of Cheryl's.

“I was the team captain for several years. You're lucky I'm doing the dance. Do you think you can outshine everyone else?” Blossom didn't wait for an answer, running her hands up from the pink-haired girl's hips to her waist, making Toni shiver at her touch. “Of course you can. Especially since I'm going to teach you my signature dance, which no one could dance better than me. But I believe in you, Princess.”

Topaz tried to stifle a low moan after the redhead touched her pulse point with her lips, but it didn't work. She closed her eyes languidly, preparing for the "lesson", but suddenly the weight of Cheryl's body next to her disappeared.

The girl opened her eyes in bewilderment, watching Cher, who, as if nothing had happened, went to the player to play music. Toni opened her mouth in indignation, crossing her arms over her chest, but said nothing. In the end, she had asked Blossom for help. And this request was about just dance, not lap dance.

“You can sit down, honey. Now I'll show you some real dancing.” Cheryl gave a stunning grin, in the truest sense of the word, because the sexy curve of her plump lips made Toni's knees buckle. She literally had to sit on the bed to keep her balance.

Blossom had removed their makeshift dating place (just throwing pillows and blankets at Toni while she laughed and tried to fend off such an unexpected attack). Topaz was still not used to the perfect combination of sexuality and tenderness that this girl kept in herself.

When the space for the dance was cleared and the melody played for the second time, Cheryl did a couple of exercises to stretch, and then the show began.

Toni simply could not describe in words what moves the former heiress of the maple business performed in front of her. Just the sight of her taut thighs and buttocks, which were constantly flashing before her eyes, performing intricate turns, tilts, rotations, Toni's mouth filled with saliva. By the middle of the production, when the redhead had made a stunning half-splits (Toni hoped it was already the middle, because she could not stand it for too long), the girl had to throw one leg over the other to distract herself from the treacherous heat between her legs. She was just thanking the universe that Cheryl had changed her short skirt to shorts, even though they didn't hide much either.

But then Toni really started praying. At some point (Oh, Yes, it was when Blossom lay on the floor, and her sweet ass rose up), pink-haired just wanted to look away, in order to calm down a little bit of her frantic heartbeat, but she could not look away, devouring her girlfriend with her gaze. Hell, she really was her girlfriend!

Topaz watched every movement of Blossom's hands as they stroked this perfect body, harmonizing with the music and smooth movements. She wanted it to be her hands, and then her mouth, and...
She shook her head to clear it, but it didn't help. This dance was becoming more and more like a striptease than a school dance, and somewhere in the back of her mind, Toni hoped that girl's clothes would soon fall to the floor.

It was easy to see why this particular girl had been chosen to lead the support team – dancing was in her blood. This was evident not only in the ingeniously honed movements, but also in the enthusiasm that shone in the red-haired woman's eyes. She liked what she did.

Now Topaz could think again that someone had robbed the redhead of everything she loved, but her thoughts were confused, not showing the whole picture. Toni simply couldn't focus on anyone other than the girl dancing diligently in front of her.

The music was coming to an end, but Toni joined in, and she wanted to continue, and even though she knew that she would see these movements more than once this evening while Cher was teaching her, she still wanted to watch without interruption.

Then the girl made a final movement, tossing her fiery hair over one shoulder, and froze. Toni wanted the girl's chest to start heaving wildly, and there were drops of sweat on her temples (at least some confirmation that she was actually alive, and this was all a stupid mistake). But Cheryl just smiled as she walked over to the player to stop the music from repeating itself, and went back to the girl.

“You're kidding.” It was not even a question, but rather a statement that was proved by the devils dancing in the brown eyes of the girl opposite. Toni came out of her stupor, though her legs were still crossed, and she didn't even want to think about the state of her underwear. “I'll never do it in my life.”

“That's the problem – you just don't want to. No one ever made a real effort to learn my part, so I remained the best. I immediately set these conditions: who wants to apply for the position of the next captain, must repeat my dance in the battle against me. No one ever did, and if it hadn't been for this tragedy, I would have graduated as a Vixens captain.”

“You are forever Vixens' captain.” Toni held out her hand, which Cheryl immediately accepted and intertwined their fingers. The pink-haired girl pulled Blossom toward her until she sat on her lap. “I was present at the qualifiers and training sessions. There's no one there who can even hold a candle to you. Even their new captain.”

“You flatter me.” Cheryl smiled as she wrapped her arms around Toni's neck.

“Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I'm lying. You're great at everything you do, Cheryl Blossom.” The redhead laughed, leaning down to kiss the girl. Kissing had become such an integral part of their relationship that Toni had no idea what life had been like before. How did she do without that plump flesh that was perfect for her? How she had lived without that sharp tongue that invaded her mouth unceremoniously, fighting with her own for leadership, but Topaz had always voluntarily given up. She could no longer imagine herself without this girl, with whom she felt whole. It was as if they were different parts of the same picture that had finally come together.

She could have spent the rest of her life in this moment, just hugging the redhead and kissing her velvety, but slightly cracked from their constant kisses, lips. But Blossom suddenly moaned, breaking the kiss with a distinctive sound.

“You're just distracting me!” Cheryl looked at Toni as if some secret truth had suddenly been revealed to her. She slapped the pink-haired girl lightly on the shoulder as Toni continued to stare blankly into the older girl's chocolate eyes, biting her lip dreamily. She didn't even care about the rehearsal. Let Veronica boycott against her because she won't go to a stupid support group that she's not even interested in. They still have a pretty bad relationship.

The brunette had already found a new best friend, and Toni had found someone more important.

“I…” Toni stammered, not daring to utter these words for the umpteenth time. When she looked at Cheryl, she saw the woman she wanted to live for again. Thanks to this woman, she forgot all the bad things that had touched her. Cheryl's face changed, apparently realizing why Toni was slowing down and looking at her with almost tears in her eyes, even though a second ago they were kissing each other so passionately and mocking each other. Blossom put her hand on the mulatto's cheek, stroking the chiseled cheekbone with the pad of her thumb.

“Me too, Toni.” The redhead smiled, gently touching Toni's swollen lips. “But it won't help you get out of rehearsal. Come on, get your pretty ass up, and learn the movements.”

Toni laughed, blinking back tears. She looked at the redhead, silently thanking her for the unspoken words. And as much as she didn't want to, she had to let go of the girl from her lap and follow her, preparing for the fact that by morning all her muscles would be aching like hell.

Chapter Text

“Okay, I'm officially quitting.”

Toni stood in the middle of the gym, breathing hard, feeling beads of sweat trickle down between her shoulder blades and small hairs cling to her temples. She was hot and uncomfortable in the gym alone with the entire team.

“Where have you been before?” Topaz was not at all surprised when the eyes of the current captain, Ashley, crept up on her forehead at the sight of the pink-haired girl's expertly choreographed dance.

Without waiting for the end of the number, many of the girls began to applaud encouragingly, even the same Veronica, with whom they had not exchanged a single phrase all day. Toni suddenly realized that she hadn't come to the audition because of the brunette. She wanted to prove to everyone, and especially to herself, that she could do it. Of course, the dance did not exactly copy the red-haired woman's performance, because some of the movements Toni just physically could not do. But Blossom didn't mind at all, putting the new dance special for Toni. They discussed it all together, practiced it (almost until one o'clock in the morning, which made Topaz feel very tired), and now the girl was not ashamed to dance in front of the others.

“Cheerleading is not my thing, I'm sorry.” That's what Toni did all this work for. After she'd showered that night and gone back to bed with Cheryl, she'd spent a long time trying to figure out why she needed all this. She tried to find out from the redhead why she went to dance, but every person can have their own reasons for the same action. As in their case. She was a little surprised, though, that Cher didn't dissuade her when Toni indicated that she wasn't going to stay on the team. Yes, she would do everything in her power, give everything she could to prove something to herself and Ronnie, but a support group was not something she wanted to do or had time for. “I just decided to show my skills, but I'm not going to stay in the support team.”

“Toni!” Now Veronica decided to start talking to her. She and Betty were standing a little apart, and if Ronnie was distant, Betty was smiling, clearly happy for her friend's success. Not that she and Betty were close, but because she and Jug had to work together, they sometimes crossed paths with the blonde, who Topaz, frankly, thought was very nice, even if she was prying into her own affairs. “You can't leave a team when you have that kind of skills. Ash, tell her.”

But the girl, to Toni's surprise, only held up her hands in retreat. On the one hand, Topaz was grateful that she did not interfere in the discord between the two friends, but on the other, she knew that she could make Ashley a competition, and the girl is clearly not necessary.

“Humble it, Ronnie. It was necessary for you – I acted, but I will not go further. I'm happy with my place at SS, and I like helping the guys with the school newspaper, but I'm not a dancer, and I never was.”

“It can be seen.” The brunette chuckled, crossing her arms over her chest. “If you have a problem with me, you shouldn't give up your place on the team because of this.”

Topaz glanced around, noticing the obviously interested girls around them. Where else did people love gossip more than in high school?

“We should talk in private, Ronnie.”

“Yes, we should.”

Lodge nodded in agreement, leaving the training session without the captain's permission. Toni wasn't surprised, because Lodge was clearly only pretending to be satisfied with the current management. She could see that soon the brunette would triple the revolt against the captain, and the leadership of the vixens would pass into her hands.

Topaz smiled indulgently at Ash, promising to return to the form in which she performed later, and left the gym after her friend. She saw her entering the locker room and hurried after her.

“I just don't understand what's been going on between us lately.” Toni almost bumped into Lodge when she went into the locker room. The girl was standing next to the door, her arms crossed over her chest. There was no face on her. “You don't answer my calls; you spend all your time with Betty's hobo or at home. Are we still friends, Toni?”

“I'd like to ask you that, Veronica.” Topaz desperately didn't want to fight her friend anymore, but she'd already made a lot of mistakes that she wasn't even going to admit, let alone correct. “I can understand everything, but not that you sent Monica straight to my house.”

“I just wanted the best! Your mom was worried, and she needed the support of someone who cares about you, too. I couldn't help it because I was spending the weekend at our family's country house. But Monica is also your friend, even though you've had some problems that you refuse to talk about.”

“Her brother tried to rape me!” Toni's hand shot up to her mouth. She didn't want to say it, but Veronica's attitude made her angry. How could she interfere with something she didn't really know about? Yes, Toni hid it to avoid regret and sidelong glances, but was it really hard to just take her word for it when she disavowed contact with the Staton family?

“Toni…” It was as if Ronnie had been knocked out of her wits. Her hands dropped to her sides as she stared in disbelief at her angry friend. “Why... Why didn't you tell me?”

“To avoid those looks, Veronica.” Toni ran her fingers through her hair, feeling an unpleasant chill run down her spine. She wanted to leave, just leave Ronnie to think about what had happened, but she couldn't do that with her. In the end, it was her decision to keep quiet about it, the brunette was not to blame. “What happened was gone, but because of your carelessness and because you never listen to me, Monica came to my house asking me to tell Colin that I had forgiven him. You see, he blames himself for what happened and started using drugs.”

Lodge took a couple of steps toward Toni. Pink-haired thought that her friend would begin to apologize, regret what had happened, which she did not want. But Ronnie just pulled her into her arms, holding her tight.

“I'm sorry I was so blind, Toni. I had to get to the truth, not give up on everything. I thought there was some kind of incident, that you just had a fight or something. It never occurred to me that Colin could be such a bastard.”

“It's all right, Ronnie, really.” Toni hugged the girl back, instantly relaxing and loosening her armor. Still, Veronica knew her better than anyone else in the world, and she could see that Toni doesn't need pity. But the girl was just afraid of losing her friend, because, somewhere in her heart, she could think that Ronnie, too, would turn away from her and not believe this story. How stupid she was!

“I hope you put that bitch out the door.” Toni grinned at the angry tone in her friend's voice. They stood in each other's arms for a while longer, until they parted. The pink-haired even noticed a few tears rolling down the brunette's pale cheek. It made her uneasy that Ronnie might feel guilty now, and no matter how angry Toni had been with her five minutes ago, she didn't want to upset her friend.

“I've dealt with it. You don't have to worry. Just next time, Ronnie, talk to me first before you make those decisions.”

Lodge nodded.

“So you're not going to the support team after all?”

“No. But don't worry, when I cover the events, you'll get the best picture on the front page.”

 

-

 

Toni felt much better. The whole audition thing, which had taken the last of her strength, was clearly worth it. Not only did she indicate her position, showing the others that she was not just another newcomer-fresh meat for seasoned bullies. The girl also found out the relationship with a friend, which she really missed. Of course, she could not talk to her about the most exciting topic – the Blossoms problem, but she was sure that she would still be haunted by many problems with which Ronnie could help. So, her school day was officially over, which meant that she could safely meet with Jughead, in order to sort out at least some of the documents.

The guy no longer came to the training of vixens, apparently, did not want to once again watch the interaction of his girlfriend with Ronnie. Toni didn't believe he could be seriously jealous, even though he'd looked hurt for days after that spontaneous or planned kiss between B and V.

But now Topaz herself no longer needed to be present at every training session, only if she suddenly wanted to watch her friend's efforts and her way to the top of the food chain. So she had plenty of time to devote to her studies (just so that her mother wouldn't suspect anything), and, of course, to the investigation.

Her main theory was to first prove Clifford's involvement in the drug trade, in order to create a strong enough case for his arrest, and then try to link him to the murder. Yes, there were a few people who knew for sure that he had done it, even if not with his own hands, but Toni was not an idiot, she knew that it would be damn difficult to prove.

 

Their meeting with Jug was supposed to take place in the parking lot near the school. The girl flatly refused to deal with such a serious matter with documents, which clearly should not be two ignorant teenagers, in the diner (even if she was sorry for Jughead, who was always hungry and could kill two birds with one stone). Toni just didn't quite trust Mr. Tate after that incident. Whatever excuses he had, no matter how much he was afraid of Clifford, Toni didn't want to fall victim to his fear again. She still looked around when she came home in the evenings. Even though there was no more surveillance, Topaz knew that Clifford knew about her and kept an eye on her.

So Jughead offered his trailer as their detective office. His father is a Sheriff and part-time leader of a biker gang, also ran a bar on the Southside, so Jughead said he was often absent, which was good for them. Of course, they could have gathered at her house, but they would have to be very careful there. First, make sure that her mother did not accidentally overhear an important conversation, and spying has recently become a habit with her. And second, she had to make sure that Jug didn't see the two dead twins Toni had gotten herself into all this for. They would only need her house as a last resort, so she waited obediently for Jones in the parking lot.

Yes, and she wasn't surprised to see the blonde girl next to him again. Most likely, if Cheryl had the opportunity to go beyond Thornhill, they would also be inseparable. But now the girl could only silently envy and roll her eyes whenever the two of them shared kisses, which they did too often.

“Hi, Jones. Betty.” Toni smiled, forcing the couple to break their amorous eye contact. Topaz could almost see Jug's heart-shaped eyes turning back to normal male gaze.

“Hey, Topaz.” Jughead pursed his lips. “You don't mind if Betts helps us with our case today, do you? I've already looked at some files, there's too much information, and if we don't want to be stuck for years, we need an assistant.”

“I don't mind. Especially since it's Betty.” Toni grinned, finally putting her helmet on her head so she could get on the bike and go to Southside to sort out the paperwork. “Nancy Drew's look can't hurt us.”

 

-

 

The Jones family trailer wasn't much bigger than Toni's room in Thornhill. Jug was a little shy about it at first, but when he noticed how comfortable Toni felt sitting cross-legged next to the sofa on the floor, he was able to relax a little.

It had been hours since they had arrived, but their investigation had not progressed a step. Clain, like them, had only a lot of guesses, unsupported by any substantial evidence. He even kept a little eye on the head of the Blossom family, because his files included photos of Clifford in a working and family environment after moving from Riverdale. Toni no longer wondered why this guy had disappeared. He got into these things too zealously and without hiding. They had to be a hundred times more secretive than a professional cop to not end up like him.

“Another list of names that don't mean anything to us.” Betty, sitting a little behind Toni on the sofa, handed the girl who was sorting the papers a piece of paper. “Why would he need so many lists of names? Who are these people?”

“That's what we have to find out.” Toni mumbled distantly, running her eyes over the list to make sure she didn't know anyone. She was already a little tired of the amount of incomprehensible information that she had to dive into in a short time. It might not have been so short, though, because it was getting dark outside the small trailer window.

Toni checked her phone, making sure it was late and her mother would start calling her soon to make sure she wasn't in trouble and would be home soon. She would not have been surprised that the conversation that had taken place between them the other day had not convinced Amelia, and she would continue to investigate her daughter's "mysterious" behavior.

“Can we have a little distraction? My brain is boiling.”

Jughead groaned as he rose from the sofa and headed for the kitchen.

“Just admit that you're hungry again, Jones. I'm too tired to judge you.”

Jug rolled his eyes, leaving the girls alone, determined to find food.

“Do you think it's realistic to find anything on these lists?”

Toni didn't want to answer that question because she didn't have an answer. Of course, if you make her, she'll say "yes", because she'll give up and throw it over her dead body. But she couldn't be sure that one of those names was the one they wanted. So what? Will they call every person? Where would they get the numbers if they didn't hack into some database? But they weren't in any detective films; they didn't have any hacker friends who could do anything. Although it was possible to find at least some clues, if they carefully look through all the documents. It wasn't for nothing that Clain had been kidnapped (Toni had no doubt about it) after he'd started collecting the dossier.

“I think I'll never give up.” Toni leaned back on the sofa, resting her head on the soft surface. Yes, she would not give up, but she could not read or think any more, certainly not today.

“Toni, please tell me why you're doing this. If you don't want to tell Jughead, tell me, and make sure no one else finds out. I can keep secrets. I just feel like there's a catch in all this. And my gut will begin to demand answers that I can get not quite appropriate methods.”

Topaz grinned without opening her eyes. Betty had just, perhaps unconsciously, threatened to find out the truth herself if the pink-haired girl didn't confess. But what was she supposed to confess? That she sees ghosts? That she had fallen in love with a ghost?

“Oh, Betts. I'd like to tell you, really, but I'm afraid you won't believe me.” Even worse, she'd think girl was crazy. And Toni would rot with Jason's fiancée in some mental institution.

“You could try.” The blonde squeezed Topaz's shoulder approvingly, but Topaz didn't react.

“I'll tell you soon, I promise. And it's up to you to decide whether to believe me or not.” Toni, to be honest, wasn't quite sure whether she should tell these detectives the truth. She could have brought them to her house to meet the twins in person, but it was risky. “Why don't you tell me about your sister and how she's connected to the Blossoms?”

Of course, Topaz knew a lot of details thanks to Jason and Cheryl, but in fact, she could not know, so it was better to learn everything from Betty, so then do not get into an awkward situation. On the other hand, it might help change the subject, as she always did when it came to her involvement. Even better, if Cooper told her something about the twins, and Toni could tell Jason that information, which would certainly please him and give him strength.

“What do you want to know?” Cooper sighed, and Toni immediately wanted to slap herself for being so stupid. It is obviously painful for Betty to talk about her sister and the position she has found herself in because of her infatuation.

“If it's hard for you, Betts, don't.” Topaz opened her eyes and turned her head awkwardly, meeting her sad blue eyes.

“It’s okay. I need to distract myself and also remember who I'm doing this for.

I'd just turned fifteen when Jason and Polly began to communicate closer than before. We were relatives, though not close, but still. Our families never interacted, so no one in the town was aware of our family connection except our parents. When they started walking after school, no one even thought about it. I went to high school, and I had so many new things to do and responsibilities that I didn't even have time to talk to Polly about it. She became more and more contacted with the twins, who were her age, almost two years older than me. And when I noticed something was going on, actually, Polly and Jason were already a couple.

I tried to get to know him and Cheryl better. And if he was willing to make contact, was a nice guy who I immediately liked, and which I can say approved, then Cheryl did not like me. I could see that she was nice to Polly, but with other people around her, she was acting like a bitch. So I didn't get hung up on dealing with members of the Blossom's family. That's when I found out we were related. This was revealed after Polly had told us about her pregnancy. There was a terrible scandal. I found out later that she wanted to run away with Jason, but something went wrong-he died.

Polly didn't believe a word the police said, and threw a fit. I remember Mr. and Mrs. Blossom talking to our parents in the kitchen. I wasn't allowed to be present, but I was eavesdropping. The Blossoms offered the sisters of quiet mercy orphanage, where Polly could give birth and leave children, so as not to draw too much attention to this incestuous story, especially after the incident with the twins. It was so painful to hear that my parents were happy to agree. But Polly wasn't shy. She refused to put the children in the system when they had a living mother. I thought that after Juniper and Dagwood were born, Pollykins would return to the family, but they didn't do it right – they just left her there, pretending she was crazy. My relationship with my parents deteriorated after that, because they strongly rejected my attempts to see my sister. So I started fighting for it – I want my sister back home. And that's not possible while Clifford Blossom is free.”

“Juniper and Dagwood, huh?” Toni chuckled. There was no humor in the story, but she wanted to lighten the situation a little, to support Betty, who was completely unhinged.

Betty laughed, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands.

“I don't remember why Polly called them that. We didn't speak for about five months, after she openly claimed that Blossom was involved in the deaths of his children. She was literally locked up in this orphanage.

“Do you have a picture? I love children.” Toni made the sweetest pleading face she could muster. She wasn't a fan of children, she just wanted to look at them and, if possible, get this picture for herself, then share it with the Blossoms, at least a little to please them.

“Sure.” Cooper picked up her phone from the table next to the sofa and began scrolling through the photos in the gallery.

“I'll go check on Jughead.” Toni quickly got to her feet. Indeed, there was no guy in the makeshift kitchen, which they should have seen from their seat in the living room. He must have gone out somewhere while they were distracted. Then, through a small window in the dining room, she noticed Jug walking up and down beside the trailer.

“Hey, Betts.” Topaz came back, apparently just in time, when the girl handed her cell phone with a full-screen photo of two red-haired twins smiling with their toothless mouths. “Jug is outside, and something seems to be bothering him.”

Toni hoped the blonde would go check on her boyfriend, which she did, apologizing and leaving Topaz alone with her cell phone. The girl smiled at her small victory, quickly taking out her phone and sending the photo. She couldn't help but think about the older twins, who would be upset by this photo, because they would never be able to meet the twins, but still Toni didn't want to deprive them of such happiness, especially Jason.

She had just put her phone in her pocket (it would have been suspicious if she had kept photos of other people's children who were not involved in the investigation they were conducting) when Betty and Jug walked back in.

The guy was sullen, but Betty was still holding on. Toni was aware that their little gang was on the verge of breaking up. But she didn't care. She would never leave this case, even if she had to go through all the horrors alone.

“Everything all right, guys?” Toni sat back on the floor, looking up at the couple now.

“I don't know, Toni.” Jughead crossed his arms over his chest, standing in the middle of the living room while Betty sat on the edge of the sofa, bending wearily, putting her elbows on her knees and rubbing her temples in a circular motion. “I think it's useless. We were so happy when we found a lead with this detective, but now… We have nothing. Among so many names, we can't even find someone specific, so how do we figure out who we need? We don't have those resources, so why don't we go to the police with our suspicions and demand a file on all of Clifford's associates?”

Toni thought about it. Delusional ideas popped up in her head one by one, but they were delusional enough not to be voiced. Jones was right, though Toni didn't want to agree with him. They failed. But how could she go home now and look into those beloved brown eyes? She knew Cheryl wouldn't judge her. The girl had asked Toni to leave this case so many times that she was sure she would be glad if Toni followed her advice. But Topaz was not a weakling. Her father had spent his entire life pursuing his dream. And while not every teenage girl dreams of solving her girlfriend's murder, this is something Toni is already deep in.

Wait a minute…

“Wait…” Toni suddenly looked up sharply at Jones, who was looking back at her with little interest. She needed to come up with something super grand to get this guy's enthusiasm back. If Betty went to any lengths to save her sister and nephews, then Jones, whose opinion and look would be very useful to them, could give up everything right now.

“Lodge Industries, of course.” The girl slapped her forehead with her hand, remembering so well the company in which her parent spent twenty-four hours seven days a week. “Dad has archive data on all the big businessmen in the area at work. I'm just sure that for uncle Hiram Clifford was if not a partner, then a major competitor.”

“Doesn't Veronica's dad do construction?”

Toni nodded reluctantly. If they were getting into something serious, there was no reason not to go through with it. She had to tell them the whole truth about her family and the Lodge family, but first she had to make them promise that no one, especially Veronica, would know about it.

“Guys, what I'm going to tell you is one of the biggest secrets of two generations of families. So please think before you want to share this with someone.”

“We'll never tell anyone, you can trust us, Toni.” Betty shifted on the sofa, immediately taking Jug's hand in hers as he sat down beside her.

Topaz turned to them, but didn't look at them. She didn't know how they would react. But, after all, it could be imagined as her reason for taking up the case. Precisely!

“So, when my father came to Lodge Industries as a young man, he met Mr. Lodge's father. Our grandfathers worked together for some time and created this company, so my father and Veronica's father had to continue their business. But when they decided to shift almost all the responsibilities, they had to devote to the fact that the company is not quite legal affairs. Yes, construction is their prerogative, but, so to say, the rest of the time they can engage in smuggling and drug trafficking. That's why Ronnie's father is in jail now, and my dad is in charge, even though he didn't want to take on so much responsibility after he found out the truth. But my idea is that all drug dealers, especially those who are so major, should have archives on each other. I think if I ask dad, and believe me, I can find a way to pressure him, he'll give me access to the archives, where I'll check some of these names.”

Toni picked up a couple of sheets that she had deliberately set aside.

“There are several dozen surnames that repeated. I think we should start at least with this. If it doesn't work, I'll check all the names. The main thing is that we now have something to do next.”

Topaz put the sheets back on the edge of the table, finally looking up at the couple. They sat in silence, their lips pursed. Toni didn't know what it was, but there was something wrong with their eyes.

“Why are you talking about drugs? I thought we were investigating a murder?”

Toni opened her mouth to think of some excuse. She couldn't say that she'd knew about it from the twins. Or maybe just blame Betty? Something about that Polly mentioned it, and Betty told Toni? But Toni couldn't remember if Cooper had said anything like that.

"I - I'm just assuming. The Blossoms are clearly not harmless sheep who sell maple syrup and make a living with that kind of money. Based on my family's experience, believe me.”

Toni glanced nervously at the wall clock, noticing that it was getting late.

“Damn, my mother would kill me.” The girl took this as a sign, starting to pack her things back into her bag. She'd wanted to take a few papers with her to try searching the Internet, but they'd already agreed to leave everything at Jug's, and now she didn't want to draw attention to herself again by acting strangely.

“Shall I escort you? Do you remember where to go?”

Toni nodded. The guys are clearly still didn't believe her, so be it. She doesn't have to account for every word she says. They have their own sources of information, she has her own. And although it was a little bit wrong to run away after she dumped such a pile of information on them, but she did not want to linger in this trailer anymore.

“It's okay. I'll get there myself. Thanks for the evening, guys. I'll try to talk to my father when I get the chance, but I can't promise that we'll get anywhere soon. He's in a jam at work right now, and I'm not going to risk a potentially successful chance to get information by contacting him at an inconvenient time. Therefore, be patient.”

Toni smiled as she said one last goodbye to the guys. As soon as she got outside, she was greeted by relative silence and darkness for such an area (this was just not surprising, because the lighting in this part of the town was bad). But Toni finally managed to breathe a sigh of relief. The second part of the evening was clearly a little tense. So many questions and no answers at all. But the spontaneous idea that came to her was not a bad one. She really should have used every possible way to get information, no matter what it cost.

Chapter Text

And it was worth all the free time she could find. Clifford Blossom and his company had hundreds of partners and sponsors, and it was incredibly difficult to find the right one – who was somehow connected with the illegal business. If you also take into account the fact that Toni did well in school, then prepared for various exams, did projects, attended meetings of the group, which also organized some events. Anyway, if you ask Toni, she didn't notice how October started.

She had never been able to talk to her father, because he was always at work, and he didn't seem to be doing very well, so she couldn't drag him into this yet. She had to limit herself to the Internet, where she could get only superficial and official information. She wasn't even surprised when she didn't find Blossom senior's social media accounts. He was mentioned only in a couple of articles from business magazines, and that was all.

And she would have quietly continued to live on, doing only what she had enough time for: study and investigation, if one fine morning, she did not receive a message from Veronica, which woke her up, but for a while only made her snuggle closer to the red-haired woman, only then she read it.

Football match tomorrow, I hope you remember that you promised to come and support me. P.S. if you have more important things to do, Betty has already confirmed that Sweet Pea and Jug are writing an article, so you have to do photos. XO.

That was the content of the message that made Topaz groan and return to Blossom's arms. The woman who was so used to sleeping in the same bed with Toni without even needing to sleep was relaxing to a very similar state. So she only opened her eyes slightly in response to the embrace, and sank back into a semi-comatose state.

Toni didn't want to get up and go to school today, especially since she had a test tomorrow and would have to stay for the game after the test. It might take until the evening, which would take up her precious time again. She needed to gather her strength and talk to her dad, to try to persuade him to give her access to the information.

She won't have to show up in the office. He always carries a work laptop, which often uses at home. She doesn't even have to ask for permission, though. But she didn't want to expose her dad if the company's files were being monitored. This could be an extreme case if he didn't agree. Extreme, since there were no more options. Stupid viewing of articles on the Internet, where the main topic is outfits and women of businessmen, but certainly not their criminal activities, did not give results at all, only angered the pink-haired one. On such evenings, Cheryl spent a long time calming her girl, still hoping to talk her out of it. But, God, Toni wouldn't do that.

She still remembers how something like tears stood in Jason's eyes as he held her phone, with a picture of the twins on display, in his hands as if it could crumble at a simple touch. Cheryl broke down, really sobbing, so sweetly talking about how beautiful the twins were and how much they looked like them in childhood.

The way Jason looked at her, the way he squeezed her shoulder as he returned the phone. The way Cheryl gave her thank-you kisses all night long, whispering how lucky she was to have a girl like that. Topaz was ready to live for such moments. And now there was one more thing to do: help Polly, whom she didn't even know, get out of the orphanage where she was being held illegally. She might not be able to see her fiancé for the last time, but Jason and Cheryl would leave knowing that the twins were all right.

But there was no strength left. It's been an insanely hard week, so Toni's only wish right now is to just lie there and not move. But she could already hear footsteps slowly approaching her door. It was her mother who went to wake her up, as she did every morning after the ill-fated Monday, when Toni overslept for half an hour. Yes, she'd been studying for her exam paper all night (distracted by Cheryl), so she was exhausted and had forgotten to set her alarm. But that doesn't mean she'll do it every morning. Or does she?

“Honey, it's time to get up.” The girl smiled at her mother's caring voice. Thank God they didn't return to the unfortunate topics they'd touched on at the unfortunate family dinner. It seems Amelia finally realized her mistake and decided to just forget about it. They even became a normal family again.

“Mom, can I not go to school today?” Toni tried to sound as tired and hoarse as possible as she said this. She so wanted to get away from school, and maybe try to find access to her father's computer today, if he didn't came home late.

The door opened immediately, causing Cheryl to flinch and open her fluttering eyelids. Fortunately, Toni had already moved away from the girl, so that her mother did not wonder on whom girl threw her arm and leg.

“Are you in any pain?”

Toni nodded, making her face as painful as possible. Once she even heated a thermometer and stood for a few minutes under hot water in the shower to simulate the temperature and not go to the test. But she was not a child, and there was no time to prepare. So she decided to take acting, just pretending to suffer from a sore throat.

“My throat is very sore, mom. But tomorrow I have a test, so I will definitely go to school. It's just...” Toni coughed deliberately. It wasn't very plausible, but she could tell from Amelia's worried face that the cough had worked. “I just want to take a little break today so I can feel better tomorrow.”

“How long has your throat been sore?” The woman put her hand on her daughter's forehead, checking her temperature and exhaling calmly when she found cold skin.

“A couple of days, but it didn't hurt that much, really. You know, I'll probably go to school after all, because today is also an important day.” Toni made one last maneuver, deciding that if it didn't work, she would have to endure this Thursday after all.

“No, I'll call the administration and tell them you're not going to be here today.” Amelia leaned forward and kissed her daughter's forehead. “Lie down for a while, and then come down to breakfast, and we'll start the treatment. If you're going to go to school tomorrow, you should feel better. "

Toni exulted inwardly, but did not show her emotions until her mother had disappeared from the room and there were footsteps on the stairs.

The girl laughed, looking at Cheryl, who was strangely quiet. The picture that the girl was able to contemplate-officially, the sweetest thing she had ever seen. Yes, Toni knew she didn't sleep, because the ghosts obviously didn't need sleep. Cher was just resting, but she looked great. She turned on her side, putting her hand under her head. Her red curls were scattered over the white pillow. Her brows were slightly furrowed, creating a small wrinkle on the bridge of her nose, her eyelids fluttered, and her lips were slightly protruding. The strap of her black silk chemise fell slightly, revealing a milky white shoulder. Toni couldn't stop herself from leaning over and kissing the girl's exposed skin. The corners of Blossom's mouth twitched in a smile.

“Someone very cunning this morning.” Toni literally melted from the tone of the red-haired woman's voice. God, this girl could be incredibly sexy with absolutely no effort at all.

“And someone looks like an angel this morning.”

Topaz lay on her side, almost close to the girl, also putting her hands under her head.

“You're so brazenly flirting with me, Topaz. Aren't you even ashamed of yourself?” Cheryl smiled, biting her lower lip between her teeth, running her fingertips over the girl's forehead, tucking a few strands behind her ear.

“Not at all, Blossom.” Toni moved even closer, running her nose over the redhead's nose so that she could cover her lips with hers a second later. Toni missed those delicious lips so much, after all she hadn't touched them all night, which now seemed like an eternity to her. Topaz ran her hand over the red-haired woman's cheek, and then moved it over her neck, shoulder, arm, and waist to literally merge with the red-haired woman's body. Toni hovered over her, squeezing her knee between her pale thighs. She immediately felt Blossom's entire body tense, pulling slightly away from her lips to let out a low moan. The girl's eyes were closed, and her lips parted on the half as she exhaled.

Toni clearly knew that she wants this girl. She wants her with all her being. She immediately bent down, showering kisses on the older girl's neck, forcing her pale fingers to weave into her pink curls. Topaz had no idea if she and Cheryl would go any further than their favorite pg-13 group session, certainly not at this moment. After all, whenever she touches a girl, her brain is immediately knocked out, and the rational part turns into a sensual and emotional.

Toni wanted to mark every part of the maple Princess's fragile body with her kisses. Most of all she wanted to get to the milky pale breasts so appetizing shines through the silk fabric.

“Toni.” Cheryl moaned in protest as the pink-haired hand's hand crept up her bare thigh. “T, wait.”

Topaz immediately raised her head, distracted from the exciting task of trying to give this girl a hickey, even if it was impossible.

“Is everything all right? Did I do something wrong?”

The girl was really excited, because she saw fright in her girlfriend's eyes. Cheryl didn't like what she was doing? Hell, she wasn't thinking the wrong thing, was she?

“No, baby, no.” Cheryl pulled back slightly to sit down, forcing Toni to sit down as well, and immediately taking her hands in her own. “I really want to, T.T. Believe me. It's just that I've never done it, and after everything that's happened…”

The girl paused, hoping that Topaz would understand (she does it best) that she was referring not only to the incident at the party, but also to the fact that she was not alive at all. And Toni knew for a fact that the girl had no idea what was going to happen, or how it was going to happen.

“I'm just not ready yet, I'm sorry.”

Blossom looked down, nervously fingering the tips of Toni's fingers. But the girl reached out to her, pushing her chin with a finger to draw her into a deep kiss. They both lost their breath when they had to pull away. Cheryl's chest heaved erratically, as if she really needed to breathe.

“I love you, Cheryl Blossom. And don't you dare apologize for something you don't think is possible for you yet, do you hear?”

And the way Cheryl looked at her… Toni had hardly ever felt anything like this in her entire life. That electric spark that hit her in the heart, an electric shock that went through her whole body. Those slightly glistening chocolate eyes from nonexistent moisture, those quivering chapped lips. Toni knew exactly what she was saying. She felt all this for one girl.

“I love you, Toni. You have no idea how much these words mean to me. The fact that you're willing to wait for me… No one has ever been interested in what I want. No one has ever cared about me as much as you do.”

“And I'm going to do it, Cher, 'cause you deserve it. You deserve the whole world, even though I can't promise you that. Especially…” Toni was embarrassed, and she felt her cheeks warm. “Especially since I've never done it either. It's just that you're incredible, impossible to resist. My hormones can't stay away from your hot body.”

Blossom laughed, relaxing and getting back into bed.

“Come on, my teen with raging hormones, get down. We still have some time before your mother forces you down to breakfast and begins your execution… Oh, I mean, treatment.”

Toni poked the girl in the side, laughing too, and clinging to her like a little kitten.

 

-

 

The girl was dressed warmly. Although the beginning of October was the beginning of the second month of autumn, the heat still sometimes slipped in the bright sunlight or the absence of a cold wind. But now she needed to play her part as plausibly as possible, the benefit of the cold mansion helped her in this. She put on a dark blue sweater, leggings, and warm knee socks. Cheryl, laughing, stopped her from choosing a scarf, thinking it would be too much. Toni agreed, and now, in full gear, having rehearsed the most painful cough a couple of times in front of the bathroom mirror, she was going down the stairs to join her mother for breakfast. Why only her mother? She was sure that her father was already at work at the office at nine in the morning, so she was a little taken aback when she saw him sitting on a chair with a newspaper in his hands while her mother made pancakes.

“Good morning, baby.” Jonathan tilted the paper, smiling affably at his daughter, and then returned to reading.

Topaz was a little taken aback, her mind immediately returned to the possible database in her father's computer, and since he was staying at home today for some reason, it means that she can finally get to the bottom of it.

“Morning, dad. What are you doing here?”

Amelia snorted, standing with her back to the girl and turning the pancake over.

“I mean, why are you at home?” Toni rolled her eyes at her mother's mute displeasure. Of course, she didn't want to offend dad with such treatment. She just wanted to know why he missed such an "important" day at work, because every day was important to him.

“I took the day off. It seems to be only the beginning of the month, but there were some difficulties, and we are stuck with the guys in the work. I need to rest so that my brain can function properly again and I can make adequate decisions.”

The man folded the newspaper, apparently finished reading or just decided to talk to his daughter instead of this boring activity.

Toni glanced briefly at Amelia, who, as if by magic, turned off the stove and went to the refrigerator. Apparently, not finding there the cherished bottle of maple syrup, which never ended because of where they lived, the woman went to the basement, where in addition to wines, and stores of syrup were stored. As soon as the door closed behind her mother, she decided. It's now or never.

“Dad, I need your help, but don't tell mom anything.”

Jonathan pricked up his ears to listen to his daughter. Toni loved being with her father. Yes, they were very close and warm with her mother until recently, but her father was her best friend, he was not a strict parent, but a senior mentor. Toni had no doubt that this conversation would remain between them, but she had to hurry.

“Look, I really need to get into the Lodge Industries archive to find information about one person. I've already tried everything and spent almost a month on it. I need your help, I really need it.”

Toni was expecting a lot of questions that she would not be able to answer honestly. Jonathan didn't have the same prejudices as her mother, but he certainly wouldn't be thrilled that the girl was still digging into such a dangerous Blossom's case. But the questions were not what Toni had expected, and it even put her in a bit of a stupor.

“Are you into something, Toni? You know you can tell me everything, and I'll always help you, no matter what it is.” The man reached across the table, placing his hand on the back of his daughter's hand and squeezing it. “Can you tell me?”

Toni shook her head uncertainly.

“It's very difficult, dad. I can't tell you the details. But the person I'm looking for hurt someone very close to me. I promise I won't do anything dangerous or rash on my own, I just need information.”

Toni heard the basement door slam in the next room. They both immediately put on their most casual expressions as they sat down in their chairs. The girl grinned, realizing that she didn't just look like her father, she was acting like him.

“I can give you access, but be careful. You will need to enter the last name, preferably take a picture, because without tracking and sending a copy to the company's server disk, this information will be available for two minutes. Then you should clear your browsing history and turn off the computer.”

“Thanks, dad. It's a really…”

“Not explain. It's enough for me that this is important to you. Just please be careful, okay?”

“Always, dad.”

Toni jumped up from the table just as Amelia entered the kitchen, carrying several bottles at once, apparently in reserve. She didn't really like going down to the basement, saying she felt uncomfortable there.

“Going somewhere?”

“I got a little headache, mom. Moreover, I don't think that with such a sore throat, I will be able to eat at least a piece. Can you leave me some pancakes? I'm going to take a pill and lie down, okay?”

Topaz made the hoarsest voice in the world, and when she looked at her father, she saw that he was grinning. She had forgotten to pretend to be ill when she was making small talk with him.

“Okay.” Amelia was a little taken aback, but she would never go against her daughter's health for skipping breakfast.

The girl walked slowly to the stairs, making sure no one was watching her, and then quickly slipped away to another part of the mansion to get to dad's office. She had only half an hour for this operation while her parents were having Breakfast, and only two minutes to learn all the secrets of Clifford Blossom.

 

-

 

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Toni flew into her room, slamming the door, not even caring what anyone might hear. She was practically shaking, so she had to sit on the edge of the bed, placing her trembling hands on her knees and squeezing her kneecaps until her knuckles turned white. No, she hadn't learned anything terrible or unimaginably new, but the information that was now available to her was all she could need. For the past few weeks, she had never imagined that anything important would fall into her hands. She was already desperate, thinking that the names of Clifford's investors and friends from another charity ball were all she had. But one glimpse of Blossom senior's profile was enough to rekindle hope inside her.

“Cheryl!?” Toni barely whispered, trying to suppress the tremor in her voice. She knew that Cheryl was thinking of her and would hear her no matter how loud or low she called. She should run to Jughead to get on the road right now, without wasting precious time. But first she wanted to find out the truth of this information from the red-haired woman.

“Is everything okay?” Cheryl immediately appeared in the room, right next to the girl. She looked her up and down, immediately noticing the changes. The girl looked very confused. Blossom dropped to her knees without a qualm, taking the girl's cold hands in hers and pressing soothing kisses to the backs of her hands. “Baby, you're scaring me.”

“Your uncle... He... He…”

“What? Uncle Claudius? Is he all right?”

Cheryl was surprised when Toni mentioned her uncle. The girl herself had not met a man for about five years. He was constantly absent from their lives, spending many years on sea expeditions. Red wasn't exactly sure who her uncle was, but he used to spend hours telling two curious twins about his travels. But how could Toni have encountered this man?

“He's been in jail for a year, Cher. He was charged with possession and distribution of a large quantity of heroin.”

The redhead's face fell. She stared at her girlfriend blankly, and her lips froze a few millimeters from the pink-haired girl's hand, never touching the cold flesh.

“That's crazy, T. My uncle is a sailor, and explorer. He's clearly not involved in my father's business. Maybe it's just someone with the same name and surname? And you're too much nervous.”

“Dad gave me access into the Lodge industries archive. As I thought, there are profiles on everyone the company has ever done business with, or who might be a potential competitor. Now, your father's name is almost marked in red. He's Mr. Lodge's number one enemy, so there's a very detailed dossier on him. It was there that I saw that the last notes about your uncle dated back to the spring of last year, when your father testified against him in court. I think they worked together to transport drugs on your uncle's ship, and when things went wrong, Clifford just turned him in to the authorities, left clean and out of the way.”

Cheryl got up from her knees, giving Toni another unseeing look before pushing her slightly to sit down next to her.

“It's... I had no idea about it.” The girl smiled nervously. “Of course, I didn't know. I didn't have access to the outside world, and my uncle and I didn't communicate very closely in the years before my death. He didn't even come to our funeral. I'm not sure it's his fault, though. They had little contact with my father. And when uncle Claudius came to visit us and my grandmother, my father just spent all day at work. No one told us why things were so tense between them, but it was a fact that they didn't like each other. Toni, he couldn't have worked for Clifford, I'm absolutely sure.”

“Cher, you didn't know a lot about your relatives. But now we have a chance to figure it out. Imagine if you're right, then Cliff set up his brother, and Claudius can tell us something about it. Imagine what a turn this is in…”

“No.” Blossom turned sharply to the girl, causing the other to flinch in surprise. She had never seen the redhead so agitated, so tense. Her skin seemed to have turned several shades paler, which was impossible. “You're not getting into this, Toni.”

“But Cher. This is really a breakthrough. We will finally catch Clifford red-handed.”

Blossom grinned viciously, grabbing Topaz's wrist, forcing her to look directly into her eyes.

“I supported you in all your endeavors, even though I knew it was useless and, to some extent, very dangerous. But now, you will support me, and you will not dare to meddle in this. You don't understand, Toni. It's one thing to beat around the bush; it's another to contact someone from our family. Dad will find out that you went to Claudius, and then he will do something drastic. It's so dangerous that I don't even want to think about it. Please promise me that you will just let go this information.”

“God, no way. I spent a month and a half speculating, thinking, fearing this man, hating him. And now that I have a real chance of making him pay, there's no way I'm going to turn back, no matter how dangerous it is.” Toni grabbed Blossom's other hand with her own, twisting her fingers around her wrist as the redhead did with her. “I'm doing this for you and for Jason.”

Cheryl shook her head, and Toni saw her eyes fill with tears and her lower lip begin to tremble.

“You're doing it for yourself!” The red-haired woman's cry was so unexpected that Toni almost stepped back. “All I need is for you to live your life, for you to be a normal happy teenager. I don't need you to put everything on the line because of some stupid belief your friend has that Jay and I will rest if you put my father in jail. I don't want to carry the burden of guilt over your death, I can't live with it. And if I've already given in to you once, I won't make a second mistake. You said you loved me, Toni.”

Blossom's voice was so pitiful and broken that Toni wanted to cry herself, to hold the girl close and promise that she would do as she asked. But Toni had a lot of demons that she was trying to get rid of, and now one of the most powerful – pride – was bursting out.

“I don't understand why you're doing this…” Topaz's voice broke, and she turned slightly away from the girl, looking into the empty space of the room. “Why are you making these conditions if you love me too, Cheryl? You know very well that I will not back down, for the same reason that you and Jason decided to take this step. Yes, I may be doing this for myself too, but in the end, you can't call me selfish without calling yourself selfish.”

Toni bit her tongue as the words left her lips. God, she wanted to hit herself, the harder the better. She didn't want to offend the girl, who was so upset to the core. In her mind, Toni knew that the redhead was right, that if they went to Claudius, there was almost a ninety percent chance that they wouldn't come back, but her heart only screamed that the bastard who had killed her girl would soon pay. And she hadn't even known Cheryl all her life… Apparently, sometimes the smallest amount of time is enough to find your other half and be ready to die for it.

“If you go to him…”

Toni didn't want to hear the end of that sentence. She didn't like ultimatums, but that was exactly what she was afraid of. What if Blossom didn't give her a choice at all?

The girl jumped out of bed, grabbed her jacket from the back of the chair and the phone from the table, and in another moment she was running down the stairs to the hallway. Her parents were not in sight, which gave her a chance to put on her shoes and take the keys for the motorcycle without any problems.

She had to go before there were a hundred more reasons to change her mind. She couldn't even think that she'd left a distressed Cheryl all alone. She was disgusted and tried to block out the image of the redhead in her mind, trying to distract herself and instead dialing Jughead's number. He dropped the call, calling back only a couple of minutes later. It was only then that Toni realized that he was still at school.

“Topaz, what the fuck? Where have you gone and why are you calling me in the middle of world history?”

There was no anger in Jug's whisper, just incomprehension and his own sarcasm.

“I finally took matters into my own hands and talked to my father. Also I pretended to be sick so wouldn't go to school and try to dig up information.”

“Soooo?”

“I found out the name of Clifford's brother, who went to prison last year. Who do you think was the prosecution's star witness?”

Jones chuckled. There was no need to say the name out loud, because they were both clearly aware of it.

“We should go to Brookdale, where Clifford's brother is serving his sentence. Jug, we have a real chance of a real lead, not just a pile of papers in an old basement, are you in?”

“Why question it? But we need help getting through to the prisoner. Meet me in half an hour at Pop's. I'm going to drop by my father's office to help sort this out.”

“I hope we can do something.”

“It's better than going through the papers. I'm already a bookworm.”

Toni grinned, briefly forgetting her problems. But as soon as they said goodbye, the girl involuntarily looked from the driveway to her window. She wanted to see the silhouette of the smiling redhead, but the window was empty. The girl's heart sank painfully. She could solve this case, but at the same time lose the one for whom all this started.

 

-

 

“So what's the plan?” Toni glanced briefly at Jones Jr., then leaned back over the table to write "visitor 2" on a self-adhesive badge.

“My father called the head of the prison and told a fake story. We're Jason and Cheryl Blossom, who came to visit our uncle.”

Topaz stared at her friend as if he were insane. At first she thought she was imagining it.

“It turned out that people here have no idea about the death of twins, even that they are twins, so everyone will not care. I hope so.” Toni let out a dejected sigh. Only Jughead could come up with such a lame plan. They didn't even look like relatives, let alone relatives of Claudius Blossom. Supervisors need to be deaf and blind to let them through to "uncle" without questions.

“They will know immediately that something is wrong here. Especially when the information about the visit will reach to Claudius. He clearly knows that his nephews are not only unable to come to him, they are no longer able to walk at all. I hope they just throw us out of here and don't do anything worse.”

Now pink-haired was really scared. A hundred times on the way here (which actually took a very long time, and a few missed calls from her mother), she had already regretted that she had not listened to Cheryl's wise suggestion. And now she's going to get a lot of troubles with her mother if she gets home alive.

“Me t…”

“Cheryl and Jason?” They turned their heads sharply, causing Toni's face to contort with a painful grimace, for she had clearly pinched a nerve with such a sharp movement of the head.

“Yes, it's us.” Jug hesitantly held out his hand to Toni to look like a nice brother and sister. But it was more like "if we die, we die together". If Betty had seen them now, she wouldn't have been happy. Toni even forgot to ask the guy about how his cute blond load let him go so far alone with her.

“Please come with me. Your uncle is waiting for you.”

They walked through dark corridors, many of which were blocked by various lattices. Toni had never been further from the police station because of one stupid incident at a party, so now everything seemed like the setting of a horror movie. She didn't want to die in this place, but her brain, inflamed and nurtured by horror movies, kept sending her scary images of what might happen in a second. But nothing happened. They just stopped at a nondescript gray door.

“You have fifteen minutes, because Sheriff Jones was very insistent on this meeting. Actually, it's forbidden to let anyone in, so…” The warden looked pointedly at Jughead, then at Toni, and raised his eyebrows slightly to indicate what he was trying to do.

Toni fumbled in her pockets, remembering that she had left a couple of bills in this jacket. Jones did the same, and a few minutes later, a satisfied man stepped forward, unlocking the door and inviting them inside.

The guys breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed behind them and the man remained outside. They clearly did not need to discuss anything with Claudius in the presence of an outsider.

Toni looked around the small room, which was still lined with gray concrete. Opposite the door stood a bench and a table divided by strong glass in the middle. A white-haired man in a bright orange jumpsuit was already sitting on the other side. His eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn't look surprised, as if he had guessed at once (which was understandable, since he clearly knew that his nephews were long dead) that strangers were coming to see him. Topaz shuddered a little as she studied the man's face, coming a little closer. Yes, she had already learned that Clifford and Claudius were twins, but she had spent so much time glaring at images of Blossom the elder that it was at least unusual to see a copy of him right in front of her.

The man beckoned with a finger, holding the phone to his ear. The guys looked at each other. They were clearly uncomfortable, but they had no choice but to go all the way.

Toni was the first to sit on the bench, picking up the phone and holding it in the middle so that Jughead could hear something.

“You are not my nephews.” Claudius didn't look or sound confused, but there was something strange in his voice that Toni didn't understand.

“Of course not. We're just concerned people who wanted to help you get out of here.” Jug practically whispered, as if afraid someone might overhear them. Toni wouldn't be surprised, to be honest. She had no reason to trust the man behind the glass. Perhaps he was as much to blame as Clifford, just a little less fortunate. Toni had a strategy of not trusting anyone until she was sure they were sincere.

“Who are you, and why are you posing as Cheryl and Jason?”

“Mr. Blossom, we just want to know what happened to you.” Toni caught the man's attention. She couldn't say that four hours ago the red-haired woman had sworn to her that her uncle was the most harmless person on the planet, but she needed to win him over.

“If you're familiar with my case, and you are, or you wouldn't have come here, then you know everything.” Toni rolled her eyes. This man was clearly a member of the Blossom family, even though his hair was no longer red. He was stubborn.

“Say so.” Jughead's voice became serious. “We have reasons why we want your brother in your place. And we could use some help.”

“What did my brother do to you? And how do I know you're not lying?”

“We're here for Cheryl and Jason.” Toni swallowed. She didn't want to bring up the twins again, but she also needed to understand Claudius's position on the matter. Does he think the twins were killed, or does he believe it was a stupid teenage suicide, or did he help set it up?

“Why didn't you go to their funeral, Mr. Blossom?”

Both men stared at Toni blankly. Jug obviously didn't know where the girl has no such information, but the facial expression of the older men Topaz to identify failed. He relaxed his fingers for a moment, and the girl thought the phone was going to fall out of his hand, but then he came to his senses.

“What did you say?" His voice sank and his eyes watered. Toni noticed that he didn't really want to accept what she said.

“Two years ago, after the twins died, why didn't you come to their funeral? Weren't you close enough?” Toni walked on thin ice. She could win Blossom over, but she could lose the trust of Jughead, who was practically sitting with his mouth open. He was clearly aware that you just can't find such information on the Internet.

Topaz noticed the man surreptitiously wiping the wet path from his cheek, and then pressing the phone to it.

“Did he do this?”

Toni didn't even need to specify. She just nodded, hoping it would help loosen Claudius's tongue.

“I have always been aware that Clifford is a disease of our family tree. He's been a terrible person since he was a child. He was an evil, ungrateful, and self-satisfied. He thought he was allowed everything. And when my father said that he would give the company to me, he literally went off the chain. I'm not surprised that he was so cruel, because thirty-six years ago, he almost shot me with my father's gun. I was forced to run, and run away. I became a sailor, just to be on land less often, just not to be able to meet him again. But then my nephews were born, and I couldn't stay away. I thought that the grievances were forgotten, because, after all, Clifford got the company, and I stayed away. I just wanted to be able to visit my mother and nephews.”

The man sniffed.

“Please, Mr. Blossom, we need your help. We know that Clifford was involved in the Cheryl and Jason's deaths, but now everything is arranged as an accident, and he continues to live quietly and happily.”
Claudius nodded.

“I was on a long voyage to the Kuril Islands when I was stopped by the coast police. I was immediately arrested, without even explaining why I was stopped and what I had violated. During an unauthorized search, they found a container filled to overflowing with packages of white powder. I was immediately taken into custody, and the charges indicated drug distribution. And I wasn't even surprised when I saw Clifford sitting behind the prosecution table in the courtroom. I was on my way home at the time, because my mother sent me a copy of her will, leaving me the Thistlehouse estate and half the company. I wanted to refuse, because it is better to be a poor sailor, but at least alive. Apparently, Clifford took this will as a personal insult, determined to get rid of me before I gave up everything myself.”

“Mr. Blossom, do you have anything that can help us in this case? We just have to punish Clifford for her murder.” Jug gave her a frown of disbelief. Toni immediately realized that she had made a mistake. “For their murder, I mean.”

Topaz didn't care anymore. Her heart was exploding with the possibility of victory, with the expectation that Claudius might give them some useful information. She could deal with Jughead a little later, even if she was rather annoyed by his sudden silence.

“Actually, Clifford had a lot to fear. I'm from the Blossom family, so I've always been aware of the danger that comes with this bond. Before I left for my last voyage, which was about three years ago, I contacted a trusted person who worked for Clifford's company. I always knew that this son of a bitch wouldn't leave me alone, so I made sure I copied some data to a flash drive and then hid it in a secret place. Of course, I didn't think I'd ever need it, and when I did, I didn't have a chance to use it. As I learned later, my man at the company "had an accident," and my brother made sure that no one ever visited me.”

“You know you made a stupid mistake just showing up here, right? There's not a single cop that Cliff's ever had under his thumb, so he's definitely already aware that you're hanging around. But I'll tell you what. I was madly in love with my nephews, and if I can accept what he did to me, condemning me to a life sentence in this vile prison, and then I will never accept that he took the lives of children. But I need some kind of guarantee; still, I'm not a fool. Let's make a deal, I'll tell you about the contents of the flash drive, and where it is located. And you, in turn, will help me get out of here. Deal?”

The man held out his hand formally to the glass, and Toni, without thinking, held out her hand to the other side.

“Deal.”

 

-

 

“Wait, Toni.” The girl was in a hurry to get out to the parking lot in order to get on the bike and go back, not listening to possible questions that she would not be able to answer for the umpteenth time. But Jughead was surprisingly quick when he needed it. “Stop.”

He grabbed her shoulder lightly, forcing her to stop in the dark of the underground parking lot.

“What the hell, Jones? We need to get back now if we don't want to run into trouble. We'll be home by midnight, and if your father is partially aware of what's going on, then my mother thinks I just ran away out of the blue. I'll be lucky if she didn't call the cops to find me.”

“Why the hell are you doing this? And stop looking for excuses. Just tell me right now, or I'll go and get this flash drive myself, and Betty and I will continue this business alone.”

“How dare you? If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't have moved a step. It's not up to you to decide who's responsible here.”

“I just don't want to put my head and Betty's on the line!” They just stood in front of each other in the empty parking lot and shouted like little children who didn't share a shovel in the sandbox. They literally missed time to find the cherished flash drive, to return home safely.

“I'm sorry, Toni, but sometimes I get the feeling that you're on a team with someone other than us. Why don't you just give me a reason to stop doubting you? Don't you understand the nature of my resentment? Betty is fighting for the fate of her sister, and you are just a stranger who, in fact, should not care about all the residents, especially those who are no longer alive. So why are you taking such a risk? This is clearly not a simple interest and love for unsolvable puzzles!”

“I'm doing this for myself, Jug. I just want to sleep peacefully in my own bed, not worrying about the fact that the girl who slept in this bed before me was brutally murdered in the very bathroom I take every day. This is creepy, Jones! I'm literally in her shoes, you know?”

“No! These are all stupid excuses. Why the fuck should you even care about this? Your parents have no problems living in this house, without even thinking about what might have happened there. So tell me now, Toni, or we're not partners anymore.”

The girl gave up, her shoulders sagging in defeat. Hell, she couldn't tell the truth without looking even crazier in this guy's eyes, but what was she supposed to do? His threat was very real, and if he told Betty about his suspicions, this cashmere sweater would immediately sound the alarm.

“I can't tell you now, Jug, because you won't believe me, but I can show you, okay? Ronnie and I have a tradition of throwing a party at the end of October for Halloween. Believe me; if you come to this party and see everything with your own eyes, then you will understand exactly why I am doing this.”

“You're just trying to mess with my head again and find an excuse.” Jones shook his head as he turned to go back to his motorcycle and leave Toni alone in this business forever.

“No, Jug, stop.” Topaz really didn't know how to present this information. “I'll really explain everything. If you want, you won't have to wait until Halloween, I can explain everything tomorrow, but don't jump to conclusions.”

“This is going to be difficult, Topaz. But I hope you have a better excuse tomorrow, or we'll have to say goodbye. Now, we really need to go home.”

 

-

 

Toni did her best not to make a noise. The return trip took much longer than they had planned. Not only was it dark, so their speed was reduced to a minimum, but the road was blocked for some time because of the accident. Topaz had always had the feeling that they were being chased from the prison building, but they were both safe now, so there was no need to make up any nonsense.

Although Toni couldn't quite tell if she was safe or not, especially after she froze in place, one boot in her hand, when the hallway light came on. Her mother's cheeks and eyes were red from the obvious amount of tears she had shed. The woman was wearing only a nightgown, which was not surprising in the first hour of the night.

Topaz didn't even open her mouth to start making excuses. She knew that nothing could save her. Not only that, she skipped school (and this became clear, because in bad health, she would not have run away from home), but also disappeared it is unclear where without any knowledge of her parents, arriving home after midnight.

“Mo..”

“Go to your room.” Toni cringed under her mother's gaze, her voice never so cold. “You're grounded for the next two weeks. Your phone and motorcycle keys.” Amelia held out her hand, palm up.

“But mom…”

“Quickly!” The woman didn't scream, but Toni was scared to the core. She did cross the line of trust, so it was entirely her fault.

She obediently gave up her personal belongings, looking guiltily at her mother, who turned and went back to the east wing of the mansion without another word. Now Topaz was really panicking. Tomorrow, of course, was not exactly a welcome day for her, but she still wanted to attend her first football game, cover events, being a normal member of the school community – a school photographer, and not looking for an adventure in one place.

But to be honest, she was facing the most important and pressing problem right now: not a disgruntled Ronnie, not an angry mom, but a frustrated Cheryl. She was already anticipating that the girl would either get mad at her in her old repertoire, or just ignore her, which was a hundred times worse. Toni was too used to her company, to her warm brown eyes, to the gentle hugs before bed and in the morning. She's so used to the fact that the first thing she sees in the morning is a gorgeous girl with fiery hair. It hurt like hell to lose it. But at the same time, thanks to Claudius, they could make significant progress, could do something for the twins. Toni had absolutely no regrets about her decision, although she could have delivered the news a little more gently, without creating such a conflict, and clearly without running away in the middle of an argument.

The girl climbed the stairs very slowly, as if delaying the moment. She didn't even dream that Cheryl, even if madly angry Cheryl, would meet her in the room, which made it even more sickening, because she wasn't used to being alone in these four walls.

But what she saw, only slightly opening the heavy oak door, made her pause on the threshold. The redhead was definitely present inside; it felt like she wasn't going anywhere. The girl was lying with her back to the door, but as soon as it creaked treacherously, she turned at the sound. Toni (since the light from the corridor was getting a little into the room) noticed the girl hastily wiping her eyes and sniffing, and in her hands was the same Fox in the uniform of river vixens that Topaz had recently found in the red-haired woman's things.

She didn't look as angry as Toni first thought. She was heartbroken and upset, and the girl knew perfectly well that it was all her own fault. Toni opened her mouth, but Blossom disappeared into thin air in an instant, appearing directly in front of the pink-haired girl, and the next thing Toni felt was a searing pain in her right cheek. The girl's hand shot up to the wounded flesh, which immediately began to heat up, and Toni was sure it would turn red.

“How dare you frighten me like that?” Cheryl tried to sound stern and angry, but her throat was still full of desperate sobs. “Do you realize what I was thinking while you were gone for almost eleven hours? Do you realize that I have already buried you several times during this time?”

“Cher, I'm sorry…”

“I'm sorry I got so close to you, too! With your childish behavior, you break something that no longer exists in nature – my heart. You have no idea how many times it's been torn apart and trampled on, why are you on the same list as these people right now? I really thought that my father had planned everything, and that you and the hobo were lying in some ditch, shot down by another of Clifford's messengers. I hate you for this! I hate you so much.”

Topaz gasped indignantly, but then, recovering a little, she found the strength to smile, through the pain that immediately pierced her cheek. She was well aware that Cheryl couldn't be serious, her body was betraying her, and her reaction to her own words (the way her face twisted when she first said it, and the way she had to repeat it twice to convince herself of it) clearly contradicted what she had said.
Topaz even dared to reach out with her free hand to grab the redhead's slender wrist. Blossom still held the forgotten toy in her other hand.

“No, you don't hate me. I'm really sorry I did that. But you love me too much, as I love you, Cher. So don't even say those words.”

Blossom tilted her head in defeat, and then began to sob again. Topaz didn't care about her pain, knowing that she had caused the redhead much more pain. She took a step forward, pulling the girl into her arms and resting her chin on the top of her head as she rested her forehead on her chest.

“No, God, no. I don't hate you, I'm sorry, T.T.”

Toni gritted her teeth, holding her treasure closer to her. Only this beautiful girl could apologize to her for Toni's mistake. She couldn't lose her, please, she couldn't.

“Don't apologize, baby, please. I messed up, so I'll do everything I can to make you forgive me. By the way, Jug and I got something, but this isn't a conversation for today. Do you want to go to bed and talk about it tomorrow?”

Cheryl nodded, and then obediently followed the pink-haired girl to the bed.

“I'll take a quick shower and come back, make yourself comfortable.”

Toni gave the girl a quick kiss on the lips, enjoying the sensation. She seriously thought that she would never get the chance to touch those beautiful lips again, so she thanked God for another chance.

 

Later, when they were in bed, and Cherry, oddly enough (but Toni knew that after all the hours she had spent with such thoughts in her head, Cheryl just wanted to be closer, to feel that the girl in her arms was alive), lay on Topaz's chest, allowing herself to be held in a tight embrace, answering in kind.

“I'm sorry I hit you, T.T.” Toni was almost asleep, falling into a light doze, when Cher's whisper hit her collarbone.

“Don't think about it, babe. I honestly deserved it.”

“No! You don't deserve it, and I'll be damned if I ever lay a hand on you again. Believe me, I know firsthand what abuse is, and I will never fall so low again. It's just that I don't know how to vent my emotions any other way, especially now that they've been hidden inside me for a long time.”

Toni didn't say anything, knowing that nothing would change the redhead's mind, and she wasn't going to, to be honest.

“So you've been lying here all this time while I was gone?”

Toni whispered, half asleep, not wanting to stop the conversation, but her body resisted, wanting to rest.

“Yep. I was too upset to see Jay, so I just sent him back when he tried to talk to me. I found little Freddie in the box on closet. Before, he always helped me through difficult situations.”

“Is this your favorite toy?” Toni rested her cheek on the top of the redhead's head, drawing simple patterns on her bare shoulders. She literally had to wake up again every time she heard any sound, and she was afraid that Cher would notice.

“Yes. Jay gave it to me after I became captain, and for a while Freddie was my best friend. But when I got older, I forgot about him, and then completely abandoned him, because ghosts do not need toys. But I regret it, because he really helps me in difficult situations. I don't know how I would have survived this time at all if he hadn't been there for me.”

Toni was silent, and Cheryl lifted her head slightly, noticing that Topaz was already lost in a deep sleep, her lips parting slightly as she exhaled.

The girl grinned, leaving a gentle kiss on the sharp clavicle of the latina. She snuggled closer to Topaz, forcing herself to close her eyes and stop thinking that the girl had brought great danger on herself, even for a second.

Chapter Text

Cheryl felt terribly tired when she opened her eyes the next morning. She couldn't say for sure that she had missed it since high school, when she had to spend all night studying books to memorize the material perfectly, so that her parents would somehow praise her for her diligent study (yes, sometimes she flattered herself that they cared), or after hard vixens training before a football match, when all her muscles ached. But then she still managed to get some sleep and rest physically, now she can only disconnect from the whole world. But today even this did not help, because all night, she felt the hot breath of the pink-haired girl on the back of her head, and her thoughts kept returning to the fact that the girl might be in danger. She was already in danger, and Blossom felt as if she could physically feel the pain that was waking up inside her at the thought of Toni being harmed. No way did she want to face this in reality.

She moaned, only now noticing that the other half of the bed was empty. The house was dead cold, and Cheryl didn't even have anyone to snuggle up to give herself the illusion of comfort. She lifted her head slightly, immediately calming down when she noticed Topaz standing with her back to her in one towel while she wiped the wet brown and pink strands with another towel.

“Morning.” Cheryl whispered, taking a pillow to lie down more comfortably, so that she could see her girl, or rather her beautiful body, which was still dripping with small drops of water.

“Morning.” Topaz turned her head slightly, giving the girl a fleeting smile before returning to her task. But that moment was enough for Cheryl to notice a bruise starting to form on her girlfriend's cheek.

God, she was so ashamed of her behavior yesterday, but most of all she was disgusted with herself. How dare she touch Toni at all? Hurt her? Such a terrible feeling was born deep inside, which made Cheryl feel sick.

“Hey, baby, is everything okay?” Toni placed the towel on the dresser, walking barefoot to the bed and hovering over the redhead, holding the edge of the towel with one hand.

Cheryl bit her lower lip so hard that blood would have run down her chin if it was still running through her veins. She shook her head, afraid to look at Toni again.
Toni exhaled wearily, placing one knee on the edge of the bed to lean closer to Blossom. She took the girl by the chin, forcing her to look at her.

“Stop thinking about it, Cher. I really deserved it, and I don't blame you at all. It was hot, to be honest. If this whole topic wasn't so serious, and if we had already practiced something…” Toni grinned, running her thumb over the redhead's lower lip, forcing her to release the soft flesh from her captivity, only to gently grab her lower lip with her teeth. “These quarrels can easily escalate into a stormy reconciliation, baby. I hope we'll check it out next time.”

Blossom immediately felt a phantom heat spreading through her body and concentrating at the bottom of her stomach. She reached out to place her hand on the back of Topaz's neck, deepening the kiss. But the girl drew back with a soft hum.

“I have to go to school, babe. My mom punished me for coming back late, took my keys and phone, so I got up so early. My dad will take me to school and then pick me up after the football game. In general, I am very surprised that my mother allowed me to stay and cover the event. I begged her a little in the morning, referring to the fact that this is my first event as a photographer in the newspaper, said that the guys are counting on me, and she even relented and gave me the phone. Before I get home, though. By God, it's like I'm a little kid.”

“You really are a little kid, T.T.” Cheryl took a calmer breath, turning on her side to follow how Toni go to the closet.

“Maybe.” The girl opened the closet, choosing her clothes for the day, until she suddenly turned her head in Cheryl's direction, biting her lip slightly. “Will you watch me change, Blossom?”

Cheryl looked embarrassed, but then rolled her eyes, pretending not to care. She turned on her back, trying to look up at the ceiling, when she heard a towel, heavy with soaking water, hit the floor. She wanted to catch a glimpse, to trace every curve of Topaz's attractive body, but she was too shy to do so. And she had a lot of respect for Toni's personal space, even though she didn't always show it.

“Okay, you can watch now.”

Cheryl turned her head to say something sharp, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth and only a few wheezes came out of her throat. No, Toni wasn't completely naked, but she wasn't dressed either. The girl, standing in nothing but black lace underwear, tried not to laugh at the redhead's face as she stared at her.

“You... What…” Blossom hid her face in her hands, muttering obscenities under her breath as Topaz laughed loudly. “You are the meanest person in the world, Topaz.”

“Come on, don't grumble. I just needed to cheer you up a little.”

Toni was right, it worked perfectly. Now Cheryl wasn't sure she'd ever be able to get the image of a half-naked sexy latina out of her mind. The way the black lace matches her swarthy skin, the way the piercing ring glistens in her navel, drawing attention to her trained abs.

“You'll cheer me up if you go back to bed.”

“I'd like to, baby, but I can't.”

Cheryl frowned, but she knew Toni didn't have a choice. To be honest, she didn't care about the girl's studies or the match she was covering, she just wanted to keep her close to her so that she knew for sure that she was safe. Topaz stayed around for a little while, only while she was doing makeup and wearing her favorite black jeans and a red hoodie.

“See you later, I love you.”

Toni grabbed her backpack, stuffed her phone into the back pocket of her jeans, and even caught the moment to run up to the redhead and leave a fiery kiss on her bare lips.

“Love you. Be careful.”

 

-

 

It bothered Toni a little that her father didn't say anything all the way to school. She knew that he, like her mother, was angry at her behavior yesterday. In the end, she could have run away from home, knowing that her mother would not let her go somewhere "sick", but she could have called and warned about a late return, but deliberately did not do so. But the girl was somehow not on itself. Dad always told her stories, tried to make her laugh when he kept her company, and now it was like he was a different person. They had almost reached their destination when Topaz could no longer stand the oppressive silence.

“Dad, is something wrong?” The girl turned slightly to her father, watching his intent expression. In her memory, he had never looked angry, even now, when he should have read his daughter an instructive speech about how not to do it.

“Yes, but it's more my fault than yours.”

“Dad, come on. I was just doing something very important, I didn't have time to call and warn you, especially since mom would have thrown a tantrum over my escape. You must understand that she is sometimes too picky about small things.”

“I shouldn't have given you access to such important information.” The man bent his line, as if not paying attention to his daughter's words at all. “I might even get fined for it, or Hiram might get mad and make some kind of tough decision. But what upsets me most is the fact that I didn't even bother to ask what kind of information you were looking for. How dangerous is it, Antoinette?”

Toni swallowed when she heard her full name. Of course, dad didn't only call her by her full name when he was angry or disappointed. After all, he had chosen this name for his daughter because he liked it so much. But now she could hear the note of disappointment in his voice.

“I can't say what you want to hear, dad. And I don't want to lie to you. If it makes you feel better, I have a good excuse.”

“Our family already involved in an illegal business because of connection to the Lodges. You don't want to put us in any more danger, do you?”

Topaz was glad when her father's car turned into the school parking lot, but she knew she couldn't escape this conversation and would have to give at least some answers to get Jonathan to let her go.

“I don't involve you and mom in these things, which is why I've been so secretive and weird lately. This story has taken me too long, and I plan to sort it out soon, you have nothing to worry about, honestly.”

“God, I hope you have a good reason to get involved in some kind of drug business trouble when you're seventeen. That's why, pray tell, do you need Clifford Blossom? You're still digging into that twins' case, aren't you?”

She didn't see the point in lying. She just nodded. Of course, she wouldn't be able to explain to her father that this was about a girl she loved with all her heart, and who helped her cope with a terrible trauma that Toni wouldn't want anyone to go through.

“I don't have to answer, you'll guess. Now, I have to go to school. Love you, dad.”

Topaz opened the door as soon as the car stopped in the parking lot. She didn't wait for a response from her parent, afraid of hearing more questions that she wouldn't be able to answer again. She could already start collecting such questions.

She walked quickly toward the building, not even looking back to see if her father had left. There were two things she needed to focus on now: the upcoming football game, and Jughead, who would be pestering her again.

 

-

 

“You know I won't be staying long, right?”

“You know I'm your deputy, right?”

Toni rolled her eyes at Sweet Pea's remark. She'd missed this guy a little lately, while she'd been so busy investigating and sorting out unnecessary documents. The guy became one of her best friends in an incredibly short time. What she had never boasted of before was finding a common language with people, but this guy was an exception. She and Sweet Pea always had some fun or banter in common, and Fangs and Kevin could always help her in any situation, whether it was school work, replacing her responsibilities in the group, or just asking her to talk after a hard day. She and Jughead had also become very close, even though their relationship was now threatened by all the accumulated and unresolved problems.

“So what did you do that your parents put you under house arrest? Were you smoking weed on your posh balcony?”

Toni rolled her eyes, nudging the tall guy slightly in the side. He growled as he took a couple of steps away from her. They had been going around the perimeter for half an hour: the match was supposed to start in fifteen minutes, so they didn't even take pictures, just watched the people filling the stands, the players warming up and the vixens shouting encouragement. Toni paused for a moment to wave to Veronica, who was holding her pompons high and shouting at the top of her voice to support Archie's first game as Bulldogs captain.

The brunette smiled back, waving her pompon and beckoning to her, but Toni pointed at the camera, hinting at the work she had to do before thinking about anything else.

To be honest, she wasn't busy, especially with Sweets on hand, who also made decent use of the camera. She just didn't want to admit that she was no longer needed to Lodge. Yes, they used to be pretty much the same, because in the society of New York youth, you need to have a friend that you trust, and Ronnie has been with her since childhood.

But in this run-down town, Toni again felt that she could trust someone other than the brunette who spent almost all of her free time with her. Maybe they weren't even best friends. They just had to be in each other's company, and then somehow got used to it, and it was convenient. They had nothing in common, not even the proverbial tastes for guys that Topaz sometimes looked up to in her earlier years. Not to mention the fact that sometimes Ronnie literally insulted all her hobbies, she was only interested in hanging out and shopping. That's why Toni enjoyed the company of the guys from her new "gang of S&S."

“I won't answer your stupid questions, Sweetster. You'd better get your hands on the camera and get to work. Let's split up. Go to the cheerleaders, and I'll take a couple of photos of the players.”

Pea grinned with satisfaction. It was no secret to anyone in their company that the guy was free, and was clearly looking for company at least for one night, because Topaz deliberately sent him to the girls, who would be happy to appreciate his rebellious appearance.

She could easily take a couple of pictures of the main assaulters and the captain, and then sit for an hour and a half somewhere in an empty classroom or in the library, doing homework to pass the time. She had never been a fan of American football, especially now that her mind was elsewhere: she and Jones urgently needed to get a flash card from Thistlehouse. As they learned from Claudius, this house was another Blossom residence in Riverdale. Toni wasn't even surprised to find out. After all, she would not have been surprised to learn that Clifford owned all of Riverdale. But first she wanted to discuss this with Cheryl, so that she could tell them in detail how to get into the house without being noticed, and orient them inside so that they could quickly find the place where the small carrier was hidden.
Topaz raised the camera to her face as she approached the benches where the backup players were sitting, and several guys were already in full gear, while Archie Andrews and Reggie Mantle, the team's main stars, were throwing the ball to each other. The latter one was distracted by the paparazzi and missed the throw, in the end the ball hit directly into the protective net of his helmet. Toni had just captured this miracle. Of course, she won't be allowed to include it in an article about the school's "pride", but no one will forbid them to laugh with the guys at Mantle's embarrassed face.

“Hey, Topaz, are you here for an autograph?”

Topaz chuckled, nodding in the direction of a smiling Andrews.

“I came to photograph the pride of our school – captain Andrews. Will you pose for me, Archiekins?”

Not that Toni was close to ginger, but he and Ronnie were kind of exclusive, so she was happy for her friend and could be nice to this guy a couple of times. And it's better to communicate with him than with the freaky bumpkin Reginald.

Archie took off his helmet, taking it under his arm and smiling his sweetest smile. Toni took a couple of shots, turned away to take a picture of the audience stands from a new angle, well, that's all, there was nothing else for her to do here.

But Reggie seemed to think otherwise.

The girl had lowered her hands with the camera to settle back on her chest, was about to leave the field to spend at least a couple of hours usefully (in the past few days, she had not thought about studying at all, doing purely investigative work), when a rough male hand rested on her shoulder.

“Hey, Topaz, do you want to take a couple of shots of the main assaulter for the first page?”

“Hey, Mantle, no, I don't.”

The girl shrugged off the athlete's arm. This guy really annoyed her from the first day in this place. Even though most of the time he was doing some purely boyish things, not paying attention to anyone, but in such rare moments, he still tried to impress the new girl. It seemed that at first he tried to hit on Veronica, but she was already busy with Archie, so he switched to Toni. But the girl wisely stopped all his attempts, because her heart was already busy, and not that Reggie was in her taste – he was too cute and stupid fool.

Toni rolled her eyes as he smiled, making eyes at her. The girl adjusted the strap of her backpack on her shoulder, turning around to finally leave the epicenter of the event. The main thing was not to catch Veronica's eye, and then skillfully lie that she really liked the performance of the vixens. It was selfish, but Toni just couldn't think about the usual school chores these days. If she was obliged to attend classes and study at least half the time, then she was not obliged to attend such events. Now it was just an excuse not to go home and see her parents, who again began to pursue her at every turn.

“Wait, Toni.”

The pink-haired wanted to groan in annoyance as Mantle followed at her heels, ignoring Andrews and the coach's warning call that the game would start any minute.

“God, Reg, learn to accept rejection, I'm really not interested.” The girl left the artificial green surface, hoping that in such a short time she did not have time to get her boots dirty. The football player chased her almost to the school door, until she stopped to look at him for the last time.

“Just give me a chance; I'm not as stupid as you might think. Yes, sometimes I don't know how to behave normally, not show off in front of girls, but you just need to get to know me better to know that I'm worth it.”

“I'm sorry if you thought I was interested. But I have a girlfriend, Mantle, when I say I'm not interested, I'm not trying to get rid of you, I'm really not interested.”

Toni chuckled, noticing the puzzled expression on the bulldog's face that he had even removed his helmet for good measure.

“Mantle, get your ass back on the field.” Coach Clayton shouted across the stadium.

“Have a good game, Reg.”

 

-

 

The library was incredibly quiet. Of course, it was a small disadvantage that the windows of this building faced the spectator stands, where the bacchanal was going on – Toni did not even know whether the fans were happy or upset, but the hubbub was terrible.

However, she was able to concentrate on the mathematical equations that she was training to solve before the upcoming math test. Well, the first ten minutes... Then Topaz inevitably took her phone, which was returned to her not without problems in the morning, to score the coordinates of Thistlehouse, in order to find it on the map and explore all possible access roads. Without talking to Cheryl, and even after that conversation, she and Jug couldn't be sure that the estate didn't have surveillance cameras (after all, she'd been told that there used to be such cameras in Thornhill). She and Jones needed to find a path that would not be visible to the cameras if they were still there. A huge plus was that this estate was also located in the forest, and so it was better to hide after they found the necessary information.

The entire Blossoms' houses looked so pretentious, but there was something special about it, too. Perhaps it was because it was the family home of Cheryl's grandparents, and Clifford hadn't had much time to remodel it to suit his taste. Toni couldn't say for sure.

But even with a detailed map of the area and photos, no one could know better all the safe places except Cheryl and Jason. And she definitely needs to talk to them as soon as possible, and if she didn't want to disturb the girl with this conversation, then she will talk to the guy calmly, once she returns home.

She looked at the time, noting that the game would be over in forty minutes, which meant that she should finish the tasks to get out on the field, so that Ronnie would not suspect that she had been hiding all this time. Moreover, they will need to know the results of the game for the article. She didn't fully trust Sweet Pea in this matter, because he could just spend time watching the cheerleaders, not remembering the surrounding information at all.

The pink-haired girl quickly solved the equations (now her head was a little freer from thoughts about the investigation, so the educational information was absorbed better), collected all her belongings, and almost went out into the empty corridor when she heard a noise in the science fiction section.

At first she thought it was Mrs. Parkinson, their elderly librarian, who often left her place of work, forgetting to close it, and then returned to correct her mistake so that no one would notice. And Toni was about to leave quickly, so that the woman would not notice her and scold her for sitting with her at such a time completely unattended, but the noise was repeated, and the woman did not appear.

Topaz immediately remembered all the horror movies she had watched in her life. At least they had taught her something: strange sounds were clearly dangerous. But she has already met with ghosts, so what could be scarier, maybe is it some kitten who got into school by mistake, or a puppy?

The pink-haired one sighed dejectedly, reproaching herself for being too curious and wanting to help. She slid both straps of her backpack over her shoulders, clinging to them with her fingers and pulling them up a little to calm her nerves. Well, who dangerous needs to appear in the evening in the school library, especially when a little further than a couple of hundred meters from this room, a crowded playing field?

The girl quietly went to the shelf, no longer hearing any sounds, took a couple of steps to look between the shelves, and, without noticing anyone else, began to turn around to go outside. But suddenly someone pushed her hard, causing her to fly to the nearest shelf, immediately clinging to it with her hand and dropping a couple of books.

In front of her was a tall man in a jacket with a hood pulled down over his face. In the dimness of the library, he looked like a giant who could swat a girl with a wave of his hand.

“Antoinette Topaz?” His voice matched his build: rough and low. From his tone, the girl's knees began to tremble, and she immediately felt something wrong, clearly associated with her "extracurricular" activities.

“No, what makes you think that?” The girl wanted to appear at ease, just begged herself to do so, but after the first syllable her voice broke and trembled, like a small child frightened by a nightmare.

“I think you're lying.” The man came up to her, forcing her to cling to the shelf: there was a dead end at the end of the row (apparently the stranger had chosen this particular corner of the library for a reason to prevent his victim from escaping), so she did not have the opportunity and sense to move. And it was simply not possible to get past him.

“Anything you want to tell me, Toni?”

The girl raised her head, looking up at him. His eyes glittered with madness, and his lips parted in a mocking smile. Toni knew he didn't need answers. He already knew everything, and now he was just mocking her. Damn cowardly Clifford Blossom, who can't even deal with a defenseless girl on his own. But Topaz realized that she just wasn't too important in this business to have someone as important as Blossom senior get his hands dirty on her.

“What about your recent date with Claudius? Didn't you get along with that rat?”

Toni bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling, and then shook her head again, looking straight into the man's eyes.

“Come on, kid, tell me everything he told you, and maybe you'll be all right.”

The girl whimpered soundlessly, feeling the first tear roll down her cheek. She was terrified, and the fact that the school was now completely empty, and Mrs. Parkinson didn't seem to be going back, just didn't give her any chance to escape, or even distract the bully for a few seconds to escape and get lost in the crowd. Not that he didn't know where she lived…

“He r-really didn't tell me anything important.” Toni didn't mention Jughead, because even if Clifford knew there was someone with her, he had no idea about Jones, who was also involved. “He was talking nonsense about the islands he had visited before he was wrongly imprisoned. He didn't give me any important information.”

“Wrong answer.” Toni had only time to press her back against the sharp corners of the books when the man took a step forward, his fist touching her solar plexus. Her eyes rolled back at the pain in every cell of her body, and her hand shot up to her stomach, but the stranger didn't let her bend to ease the pain. He grabbed her by the shoulder, shaking her with all his strength, and with the other hand, poking his phone in her face.

She couldn't see clearly at first, because her eyes were blurred with pain, but then she noticed a white-haired man whose face no longer resembled the face of the man Toni hated. Claudius's face now looked more like a bloody mess.

“Believe me, it's very easy to get a man in prison, but finding a girl like you and getting her to talk isn't going to be any trouble for me or Mr. Blossom, either. Are you sure the answer hasn't changed? Tell me everything you know, and give up this stupid idea of playing detective, and you won't end up like our mutual friend Arthur.”

Topaz shivered at the mention of Clain, immediately thinking of his little daughter, who might still be hoping to see her father someday. But then she remembered the warm brown eyes, the soft curve of full pink lips, the infectious laugh, and the fiery curls that were so soft to the touch when she ran her fingertips over them. She shook her head again.

This time, pain shot through her ribs, and something seemed to crack, and Toni could only silently thank God that the bully had hit her right hypochondrium, and that the shards of broken ribs would not touch her heart. But she couldn't hold back a cry of pain, which made the big man immediately stop her, hitting her still-inflamed cheek.

“I'm not supposed to be allowed to kill you, Toni, but you know, I can think of circumstances in which your death will be justified.”

“I have nothing to say to you or son of a bitch Clifford Blossom. If I found any solid evidence, he'd be rotting in prison.”

The last reasonable cell of the brain, the girl understood that it is not necessary to provoke a man who now literally depends on her well-being, and maybe even life, but she could not help herself. She squeezed her eyes shut, expecting another hit, but the onslaught of her opponent weakened as he stepped aside, chuckling.

“Brave kid, I like it. You're lucky I'm so kind today. I don't believe you, but I can't put any more pressure on you. I'll just give you a piece of advice-stay out of this, and tell your friends who are poking their noses where they don't want them to stop, too. Children's deaths are a great grief for parents.”

Topaz didn't respond to his words. Now that he wasn't pushing her to the shelf, she had the opportunity to roll down, landing with a thud on the floor. Pain shot through her ribs, and her solar plexus ached with renewed vigor. Don't even need to talk about the cheek. Although she would rather feel the slap of Blossom's soft hand again than the rough hand of this mercenary.

“You really have a chance for a quiet life, one last chance. Make sure you use it correctly.”

And after these words, he finally disappeared from sight. And Toni, who could no longer seem strong, finally burst into tears, pressing one hand to her ribs and covering her mouth with the other to sound muffled. She tried to force herself to listen to what he was saying, to think that there would be no other chance to start a normal life. Even Cheryl wouldn't have minded, the girl would have been better off spending the year with Toni until the girl went off to college somewhere, rather than putting her life at risk.

But Toni couldn't sit back and see, once again making sure, what a bastard the elder Blossom was. Despite the pain, she pulled the phone out of her backpack, which she could barely pull off from her back. Calling her father, who was supposed to pick her up after the match, would have been a stupid idea. He would just have a hundred more questions, and most importantly, he would not leave them unanswered now that he saw Toni injured. She didn't want to call Jughead, especially since she wasn't sure she could get on a motorcycle to get home, so after overcoming her self-loathing and confessing her selfishness again, Topaz dialed Veronica's number, begging her to finish her performance and go back to school.

 

-

 

“So? You still haven't figured out how you're going to explain it?”

Toni sat in the front seat of the Firebird, her head pressed against the cold glass. Her temples throbbed, and her ribs, which were probably (she hoped) not broken, ached mercilessly, warning her that today she would find bruises on her chest and stomach. Ronnie, who had been driving in silence for some time, could no longer ignore the fact that Topaz had called her, choking back tears, and asked her to take her home without telling anyone.

“Look, I remember that I don't meddle in your personal affairs anymore, but you look like shit, and if someone hurt you, I want to know so I can get even with them.”

“I'm sorry, Ronnie, I'll explain when we get there, okay?”

Toni, to be honest, hoped that Lodge would forget, but what if she didn't… After all, she could trust her and repay her help in some way. Lodge could have turned her down: the Bulldogs won and now the whole team was celebrating, respectively, Ronnie could go to celebrate with her boyfriend, but she safely refuse in order to help her best friend. And to be honest, Toni just couldn't keep it a secret anymore.

“Well. And as I understand it, I have to cover for you in front of your parents.”

Toni smiled at the brunette, but her face immediately contorted into a grimace of pain. Lodge only took a deep breath, looking down the road to bring them safely to Thornhill in the darkness that was already gathering over the town.

They hadn't been driving for fifteen minutes, because Ronnie's new car was a beast, and the roads of such a small town were half – empty.

The Topaz couple was apparently having dinner when the girls went inside. Well, as they went, rather Ronnie went, supporting the pink-haired girl around the waist, while she moaned from the flaring pain centers all over her body. The girl called out to her mother that Ronnie had stopped by for a short visit and they would sit upstairs. Then she gratefully declined dinner, and for a while were finally able to retire to a room on the second floor, where Toni asked her friend to close the door from the inside.

“So what secrets are you keeping from me, Toni Topaz?”

Lodge stood at the door, her arms crossed over her chest. Toni walked slowly to the bed, trying to sit down carefully without causing an unbearable reaction, but she didn't do it well, so she hissed. The pink-haired girl felt someone else's presence nearby, knowing that Cheryl was doing her best not to materialize in front of Veronica.

“This will seem very strange and unreal to you, but please just believe your eyes, okay?”

“If you got beat up, I have to make sure you didn't get your head hit on something. What are you talking about?”

Ronnie chuckled, but then stopped smiling, not noticing the slightest hint of humor on Toni's face. The girl was very serious.

“I'll explain everything to you, but right now I need her around, so please just accept what you see.”

If Ronnie hadn't understood anything at all before, now her puzzlement reached a peak, and Toni finally whispered softly, holding out her hand. A strange hand immediately appeared in that palm, and Blossom knelt down again, in her usual way, by the side of the bed. Lodge squeaked, about to scream, but Topaz shook her head vehemently, telling her not to.

“Ronnie, please don't worry.”

“What? How did she get here?” Lodge put her hand on the door handle, intending to open the lock at any moment and run away. “Wait, isn't that the girl from the party? What the hell is going on here?”

Toni opened her mouth to start making excuses, or at least try, but Cheryl cut her off.

“Just accept the fact that your best friend isn't just interested in ghosts out of the blue. Now pull yourself together and calmly wait for an explanation.”

Blossom wasn't rude, more like she was too scared to understand what had happened to Toni. Although, of course, she understood, or guessed, what had happened, and that made it all the more frightening. Lodge chuckled, but stopped, crossing her arms over her chest.

“What happened, Tee-Tee?” Cheryl straightened up on her knees to gently take the girl's chin and turn her haggard face toward her.

“I can't tell you.” She was just afraid to talk about it. Cheryl could throw a tantrum about it again, and now in front of Ronnie, which she didn't want to do.

But Blossom took her by surprise. She leaned in, leaving a soft kiss on the pink-haired girl's lips, and then tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. She did this with such tenderness and care that Topaz forgot for a moment about the mind-numbing pain. The redhead leaned toward her ear.

“You don't have to tell me what I already know, Toni.”

Blossom immediately pulled away, and Topaz immediately wanted to grab her hand, because she was afraid that the redhead would get angry and want to leave. But Cheryl only disappeared for a second, returning with the first-aid kit in her hands.

“Well, your tendernesses are, of course, very interesting, and they deserve a separate conversation, because miss Topaz told me that you have not seen each other since that party, because you didn't get along. But what the hell is going on?” Ronnie chuckled in disbelief, as if Cheryl's ability to move at the click of her fingers was some kind of clever trick.

“I'm a ghost, Veronica, don't you see? I'm the Cheryl Blossom who died here two years ago. And now my brother and I are confined in this house.” Cheryl spoke casually, as if telling the biography of some historical figure, while checking the contents of the first-aid kit to find painkillers. For a second, again disappearing, the redhead appeared in front of the bed with a bag of frozen peas.

“Yeah, sure. I'm Santa Claus, but I forgot my hat in the car.”

“She's not lying, Ronnie, listen to me. Do you remember how I told you about strange sounds, creaks, and my fear? And then I suddenly started acting strange, disappearing somewhere, investigating something? Remember when I was interested in the twins' case? How did I ask you about why ghosts might not rest in peace and stay in the house?”

Lodge nodded at every question, but it didn't seem to get any clearer.

“I was investigating this case because…” Toni looked warmly at the redhead, who was trying hard to wrap the bag of peas in a paper towel that she had also brought with her, hoping that Ronnie would follow her gaze. “Because I fell in love with her, and I couldn't accept the fact that the person who hurt her went unpunished.”

“Would be better if you kept it a secret.” Lodge chuckled, running her fingers through her hair. She was puzzled, and Topaz couldn't blame her. Not everyone can assimilate this information, but she wasn't surprised that the brunette was so calm. In the end, she was too close was familiar with the culture of the afterlife and believed it all.

“I know how hard it is to accept. I didn't believe it myself right away, but I had to. I'm sorry I blurted this out on you, but you deserved to know the truth after everything you did for me.”

Lodge nodded and smiled, while Blossom rolled her eyes as she moved closer to Toni.

“Take off your hoodie, hon.”

Toni reached for the edges of the hoodie, but was stopped by the cool hands of the redhead, who seemed to have changed her mind, putting the paper-wrapped bag on the floor to help the girl undress herself. And she was grateful, because she really didn't think she could do it herself.

Toni moaned as Cheryl gently lifted the hoodie over her body, gently helping the girl free herself and press her hand back against her already bare stomach. Blossom let out a sad sigh as she noticed the dark spots on the girl's ribs beginning to form on her caramel skin. The hematomas were really huge. The redhead carefully touched the wound with her phalanges, so as not to hurt Toni, and then replaced her fingers with soft lips.

“I'm so sorry, T.T.” Blossom looked into the eyes of her beloved girl, to her surprise, noticing there not hatred, but pure adoration. Blossom absolutely hated herself for putting Toni in such pain because of her connection to her.

“Oh, it's not your fault, baby.” Topaz placed her hand on her pale cheek, tracing the girl's cheekbone with her thumb, while Cheryl pressed her lips to her wrist. It took her a few seconds to remember that she could do something to relieve Toni's swelling, and she picked up the bag, lightly applying it to the pink-haired girl's bruised ribs, earning a sigh of pain and relief from her.

“You know...” They both seemed to have forgotten Veronica's presence in the room, so they turned their heads toward the door at the same time. “I still won't be able to comprehend what is happening right now, I need a little time, and you clearly need space.” The brunette smiled, and Toni noticed that Ronnie might not fully understand what she was privy to, but she was clearly happy that she finally had someone to take care of her friend.

“I can walk you out.” Topaz raised herself slightly, hissing in pain, while Cheryl gently seated her back to the bed, forbidding her to move. “Don't worry, I'll tell your mother that you're tired of running around the field with a camera and have already gone to bed. I hope to see you soon, so you can tell me everything in order, and not so spontaneously.”

“Sure.” Toni smiled. “But Ronnie, please don't tell anyone about this. Don't mention anything about what happened, not even Archie.”

“No one will hear a word from me, don't worry.”

“Thank you.”

Lodge nodded one last time before opening and closing the door, leaving the girls alone.

They both finally managed to breathe out: it was as if a weight had been lifted from Toni's shoulders when she told at least one person about the situation in which she was involved, and Cheryl had simply become unaccustomed to strangers, feeling safe only with Toni.

“I'll hold it a little longer so your lungs don't freeze, and you can take a pill and go to bed, okay?” Cheryl spoke up, gently moving the bag of peas over Topaz's bruised body.

“Thank you, Cher, really. Actually, I deserve another slap in the face for my indiscretion, or at least a fight.”

“I'm tired of fighting, Toni. If you're serious about putting my father behind lattice, then I don't have long to be with you, and I don't want to waste my precious time fighting you. I love you, and I want to enjoy every moment, even if I have to kneel and press frozen peas to your bruises.”

“I admit that I did it on purpose to get your attention. I've heard that girls like scars and bruises.” Toni giggled until her laughter turned into a moan of pain, but Cheryl clearly didn't appreciate the joke. The corners of her mouth lifted, then fell back.

“Was it my father?”

“His man.” Topaz no longer saw the point in lying to Cheryl about everything. They were in it together, to the end, no matter what it took. “He found out that Jug and I had been to your uncle's, so he wanted to know what we'd managed to get. It's a good thing he doesn't know anything about Jughead's identity, and I don't want to put him in danger. And he didn't believe me when I said I didn't find anything. But for some reason he left me alone.”

“What did you find?" Cheryl became interested as she removed the ice pack when Toni stopped feeling anything in the area of her right upper quadrant.

“Your uncle hid the flash drive in Thistlehouse, and there is a lot of dirt on your father on it. I think Clifford either doesn't know it exists, or he's looking for it the same way we are. But he has no information. I wanted to talk to you about it, so that you could tell me and Jones how to get in and out of sight, but, you know, I don't want to do that right now.”

“What do you want now?”

“I want to take a shower, but I'm afraid I don't have the energy.”

“I can help you, if you don't mind.” Toni looked at Blossom in the most loving glance that only she was capable of. Cheryl was a little embarrassed by her offer, switching her attention to the first-aid kit, remembering the pills that would obviously help Toni relieve pain.

“Like I said, I'd really like to take a shower now.”

 

-

 

Toni might have thought it would be awkward, but as Cheryl's deft fingers unzipped the button and zipper on her jeans, helped the garment gently slide down her ankles, even giving her a hand so that she could easily step over the fabric, she realized that she would never be shy in front of Cheryl.

The redhead adjusted the water in the shower stall, a little hesitantly approaching Toni, who turned her back to the girl so that she could help unbutton her bra. She picked up the clasp and slid the straps over the girl's shoulders, not forgetting to leave a couple of kisses on her caramel skin. And this movement helped both to relax.

Topaz covered her bare breasts with her hand, moaning a little in pain, but still she picked up her panties and pulled them down her legs, deftly stepping over the black lace and heading straight for the hot water. Her body immediately relaxed, and she lifted her hands slightly to weave her fingers into her wet curls, not without pain, but the painkiller pill was already working. All the bad thoughts about tonight were erased from her head or simply faded into the background, because she could only think that in just a couple of seconds, Cheryl fucking Blossom would be with her in a confined space, naked with her delicious model body.

The bottom of her stomach suddenly felt incredibly heavy, and she wanted to lower her hand down her strained abs to help cope with the growing tension, but the door of the stall opened, releasing small clouds of steam into the cramped room, and closed again.

Topaz closed her eyes, a slight smile appearing on her lips as she felt the red-haired woman's presence behind her, and at the same time, gentle hands wrapped around her bare waist, very carefully, so as not to touch her ribs and cause even more pain.

Toni couldn't hold back a moan, this time a moan of bliss, as she felt Cheryl press closer to her, her skin touching hers. Blossom's hands went up to her breasts, gently, without any hesitation, as if they were doing it not for the first time, then down to her waist again, and her lips touched the pulse point on the pink-haired girl's neck. Toni tilted her head slightly, giving Cheryl's lips more space to explore.

She had no idea what such an innocent request to help her in the shower could lead to. But with all her heart she hoped, moreover, longed, that this time they wouldn't stop.
Meanwhile, Cheryl's deft fingers were quivering slightly with an overabundance of emotion. She held on with the last of her strength, not knowing exactly what she was going to do next: run away, or do everything she'd wanted to do with Toni for the past few months.

Blossom placed a kiss under the younger girl's earlobe, forcing her to moan a little louder, slightly tilting her head back on the girl's shoulder. Cheryl took the chance, pressing her breasts closer to the latina's back and capturing her lips with her own in a sweet kiss. Topaz's hand shot up, tangling in her red curls. She bit the red-haired woman's lower lip lightly, pulling it back and releasing it with an ear-pleasing slap. It was such a pleasant interaction that Toni couldn't handle it anymore. Her hormones had been bothering her throughout their relationship, because it was simply impossible to be around Cheryl and not want her, and now, in such a convenient, but at the same time discrediting position, she just wanted to get her share of pleasure and love. But she was still worried about the girl.

“Cher.” The girl pulled back slightly, but Blossom pressed her lips back to hers, tasting them with her tongue. Toni barely forced herself to pull away again, because it was the right thing to do. “Cher, wait. I remember you're not ready yet. It’s okay. I didn't mean anything when I suggested a shower, I just want to relax and go to bed.”

“Shh, shut up, Toni.” Cheryl chuckled, running her lips from the corner of the pink-haired girl's lips down her cheek to her neck, where she'd left a love bite that made Toni hiss with the bliss the movement sent through her body.

“I love you so much, Cheryl. Just know that, okay?” Topaz turned to face the redhead, pushing her slightly toward the cubicle doors, not even thinking about being careful about opening them. The girl, overcoming an ache, leaned toward Blossom, placing her hands on the frosted surface on either side of the red-haired woman's head, whose chest was heaving erratically and slightly in panic, again creating the illusion that she needed oxygen. And, of course, Toni couldn't help but glance at her full, firm, milky-white breasts with prominent pink nipples that were excitingly taut.

“And I love you, Toni.”

“And I still don't understand why you love me.” Toni bit her lip as she considered her next move. She looked at the red-haired woman from under lowered lids, noticing her languid gaze. Her knees were already giving way on their own, so she couldn't think of anything better than to lower herself slightly, pressing her lips to the breasts of red-haired woman, who immediately intertwined her fingers in her girl's hair, pressing her closer.

“I love you for who you are. You're a great person, Toni.” Cheryl whispered, her whisper mingling with the moans from Topaz's hot kisses pressed against her skin. “Yeah, you're really stubborn. And I just hate your stubbornness, especially when it hurts your well-being, but with you, I feel like the most alive person I've ever felt. I've never felt this warm even for Jason, never been so attached to someone. And I can no longer imagine how I will exist without seeing your beautiful face, without touching you, without…”

Blossom sobbed, breaking off in mid-sentence as she felt Toni's lips close on her nipple. Topaz grunted with satisfaction, sending a vibration through the redhead's body, causing her body to turn to jelly.

“T.T. let me… let me take care of you first, please.”

Toni shook her head, attacking the sensitive nipple again as her hand covered the girl's other breast, squeezing lightly.

But Cheryl was never a submissive girl. The red-haired woman pulled Toni up, forcing her to break away from the favorite activity in the form of her girl's breasts, and Toni could not resist, because her body still hurt, and she could not fight, as if she did not want to help the girl relax first.

As soon as Topaz got to her feet, she was immediately drawn into a hard, passionate kiss that made it clear that neither of them would leave this stall until they got their share of the pleasure they deserved. Meanwhile, they were getting hotter and hotter as they got aroused, so Toni pulled back a little, reaching for the tap to close the water – for now, they were managing to maintain a comfortable temperature themselves.

Cheryl immediately changed their places, digging into her partner's pink lips, exhausted by constant friction, while her hands wandered unabashedly over the girl's bare breast, along her sides, and over the tense muscles of her abs. She so wanted to finally touch her lips to such a sexy abs, which even she, being a cheerleader, managed to keep in shape with difficulty. And she did not deny herself the pleasure, already familiar movement kneeling and looking at the excited girl from the bottom up. To be honest, she didn't mind kneeling in front of this girl just to see her eyes shine with that beautiful sparkle.

The redhead put her hands on Topaz's waist, straightening up so that her lips could just reach all the delicious places. She began, as Toni had done before, with a beautiful caramel-colored breast, biting the girl's right nipple without delay, enjoying her guttural moan. God, she was such a lesbian for Toni Topaz. No matter how many times her thoughts returned to Penelope Blossom, who told her that it was a miserable sin to love girls, that she would be damned and would never get the support of her family if she took this path. But Cheryl was ready to get into fights with her mother again and again, because now she was one hundred percent sure that women, and specifically, this particular woman, would always attract her more than any man.

“Cher…” Toni moaned as Blossom's kisses slid down her breast to her taut abs, and her tongue interacted so nicely with the heated metal of her navel piercing. But Toni wanted so much to feel her lower, so much to feel the range of new emotions she had never encountered before, which was why they were so welcome.

Blossom paused for a moment, looking at Toni uncertainly.

“I-I've never done this before, so please guide me, okay?”

Toni wanted to answer, but then the realization hit her that none other than the beautiful and desirable Cheryl Blossom was now kneeling in front of her, looking at her with such languid eyes and preparing to give her blissful pleasure. The girl realized that she couldn't connect two words even if she tried, so she just nodded, dropping her hand to the redhead's cheek to gently stroke her cheekbone.

Cheryl paused for a moment, apparently gathering her thoughts, before leaning over to Toni's throbbing place, where the girl needed the redhead so badly. Blossom blew lightly on the bundle of nerves that opened up to her, making Toni wince and groan. She so wanted her girl to moan only from bliss, but never again from pain. All her fears and misgivings faded into the background again as she leaned closer, running her tongue between the wet folds.

Toni groaned, throwing her head back with a thud against the side of the stall. She immediately wove her fingers into the girl's hair, pulling her impossibly close.

And Cheryl's mind seemed to have blurred all boundaries. Yes, Toni's taste might not stay on her receptors for long (the bloody life of a ghost), but she was willing to spend eternity worshipping this girl, feeling her on her tongue endlessly. After a few moments and hesitant thrusts of the tongue, the girl seemed to gain courage and confidence, managing her tongue more skillfully and making Toni bend in her hands.

Topaz even forgot that she had to help Cheryl, she could only think about how nice and right Cheryl's tongue felt on her clit, what pleasure comes with it. And she could have sworn that no one but Cheryl Blossom could have given her such bliss.

“C-cher, baby, r-right there.” Toni sobbed, biting her lip until it bled, as a skilled tongue slid down between her folds, lightly brushing her entrance. “I'm very close, baby, so close.”

Topaz squeezed her left breast with her free hand, closing her eyes and leaning her head back against the wall of the stall. She felt more and more increasing pleasure, ready to explode at any moment. Not that she hadn't felt something like this before, masturbating in her bed at night, but it felt a hundred times better and sharper, and she hadn't even cummed yet.

Blossom accepted the praise with pleasure, working her tongue harder. She could feel the moisture that had accumulated on her chin, and in general, how hideously wet the girl was in her hands, and this made her tighten her grip on her hips in such an uncomfortable position. She had no idea if she could feel something like this, but remembering Toni's game with her breasts, something amazing was waiting for her.

Cheryl suddenly felt Topaz's thighs tremble under her hands, as the girl tensed and stretched in her arms. And as soon as Cheryl hit the swollen clitoris with the tip of her tongue again, Toni Topaz flew to the cloud nine, yelling Cheryl's name. This spurred Cheryl not to stop, licking the protruding juices, causing Toni to moan uncontrollably, painfully squeezing red curls between her fingers. Blossom worked hard enough to help Topaz get through her first-ever orgasm, earned with the help of another person who loved her, before rising on slightly shaky legs, leaning against the wall of the stall next to Toni.

The girl was breathing heavily, her eyes were tightly closed and his lips slightly parted. Cher couldn't help but take advantage, grabbing them with her own. Topaz immediately perked up, finally relaxing her grip on her emaciated and overexcited chest to wrap her arm around the girl's neck. She felt her own taste on the other girl's lips, which brought her back to her senses and aroused her. Now her mind will never leave the picture of fireworks that exploded in her head after the onset of orgasm.

“I love you.” Toni whispered, sharing another special intimate moment with the redhead.

“I love you, and I don't think I can enjoy you fully anymore.”

Toni had just time to squeak when Cheryl turned her around, pressing her breasts against her back again. All the pain vanished as Blossom's hand slid over her stomach, slowly crawling lower. Toni had never thought that she would be able to get aroused again so quickly, but she could literally feel the inside of her thighs getting impossibly and a little uncomfortably wet from just one simple movement.
“Are you ready for round two, T.T.?” Topaz gasped at the sensation as Blossom's fingers slowly slid between her folds, not at all inconvenienced by the abundance of natural lubricant.

The pink-haired placed her hand on top of Cheryl's other hand, which rested on her waist to interlace her fingers. She leaned her head back on the redhead's shoulder, nodding obediently. Now, she trusted this girl not only with her sexual satisfaction, but with her entire self. And Cheryl was going to make the most of it.

“If you don't like it, tell me right away.” Cheryl gently slid her index finger into Toni, giving her a few moments to adjust before adding a second finger while biting her earlobe. Toni moaned, moving her hips uncertainly to meet Cheryl's slow movements. Cheryl just grinned.

“Baby, I'm a ghost who by definition can't get tired. And I like what I do with you, so you'd better take your time, because I won't be fully satisfied with you soon.

 

-

 

Toni had never felt better or happier in her life. Yes, it had been a lousy day at school, at a football game, and she'd had to endure the beating of a mercenary who could easily have killed her, but it all paled before she felt like she was lying with this girl in her arms. Cheryl did not let go of the girl until she gave her three beautiful orgasms that the girl will remember for a lifetime, as the first and most vivid. Then Cheryl spent some more time gently massaging Toni's hair, rubbing shampoo, and gently running a sponge over her body. Not forgetting to leave kisses on her tired and exhausted body. And then they went to bed, not looking up from each other for an inch.

Topaz preferred to lie on the red-haired woman's bare chest (they didn't find much point in dressing after a shower), basking in her arms while fatigue took its toll. She felt protected, loved, needed, as she had never felt with anyone before.

All she was worried about was the fact that she never gave Cheryl her well-deserved release, which is what she wanted to do. But the stubborn red-haired woman forced her to obey and just go to rest. But the girl could not sleep, burning Blossom's chest with her breath, closing her eyes, praying that sleep would come, and her thoughts about the naked body of the maple Princess were slightly dulled.
But nothing worked, and at some point, even Cheryl noticed it.

“By God, T.T., just a little more and I'll start hearing what you're thinking. What's wrong?”

Even in this seemingly accusing question, Topaz could hear nothing but genuine concern and concern, which made her feel ashamed.

“I didn't give you anything in return.” Toni whispered, resting her head in the curve between the redhead's neck and shoulder.

“What?”

“You did so much for me today, and I didn't even give you anything in return.”

Toni was very serious about this issue, especially since she couldn't tell exactly who would enjoy it more: Cheryl having an orgasm, or her knowing that she had the privilege of touching this perfect goddess. But Blossom surprised the girl when she laughed heartily, followed by a gentle kiss on the top of the pink-haired girl's head.

“God, Toni, you can be so sweet sometimes without even trying. I don't need sex with you to feel pleasure and satisfaction, I don't even know if I will feel anything, but the fact that I make you feel good is that I make you moan and scream my name…” Cheryl's voice suddenly became languid, which made Toni cross her legs, because it was acting like an aphrodisiac again. “It's a real blessing for me, T.T., to know that you're happy.”

“But I want to do it with you, too.”

Topaz felt uncomfortable, even sure she was blushing, and Cheryl could feel her hot cheeks against her skin.

“And you'll have plenty of opportunities, because I'm not going anywhere, baby. But right now, it's more important that you get some rest and recuperate. And tomorrow morning, we'll figure out what to do next: with Jughead, with Veronica, with uncle Claudius's flash drive. It's all tomorrow, and today it's just you and me, okay?”

Toni nodded.

She really believed in Ronnie's words about ghosts, and knew that they did not have much time left, but she was madly reluctant to spoil such a moment, so for the first time in her life, she simply pushed her stubbornness to the background, completely submitting to the desire of her girl.

“Well. But don't think that you can escape your fate in this way. I will also make you experience several orgasms in a row, so that you can understand how I felt when my legs turned to jelly, and you continued to work with your fingers.”

Cheryl laughed, leaving another kiss on the top of her girlfriend's head.

“Sounds scary for such a tiny like you.”

Blossom gasped when Toni poked her in the side for such a comment, but they both giggled softly, snuggling even closer together.

“Good night, Cher.”

“Night, babe.”

Chapter Text

Cheryl couldn't help but smile when Toni whimpered in her sleep as she moved away from her. In general, she was just going to make the girl breakfast, to please and cheer her up a little. As soon as the first rays of sunlight entered the room, Blossom immediately opened her eyes to enjoy the picture: a naked girl in front of her, wrapped to the waist in a blanket covered with red silk. The girl turned slightly in the pink-haired girl's arms, lying face to face with her, running a finger gently over her cheek, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. The red-haired woman's gaze wandered over her girl's body, noting the perfectly noticeable hickeys on her neck and collarbone, which she did not miss the opportunity to mark with soft kisses. And Toni was asleep, as if nothing could disturb her sleep. It was understandable, because yesterday the little girl's body was too overworked, and she needed a real full rest.

But it turns out that Cheryl's presence next to her was more important. The redhead tried to move again, to loosen the girl's grip on her waist, but Topaz whimpered, snuggling closer and nuzzling her nose into her pale neck.

“Baby, I'll be back in fifteen minutes.”

“No, I don't need breakfast, or whatever you've come up with to cheer me up, I just need you.” Toni indicated her position by throwing a leg over Cheryl and squeezing her waist as if in a vice, forcing Blossom to laugh.

“Well, I'm not going anywhere. Will you stop pushing me?” Cheryl didn't feel uncomfortable at all, just that the contact of Toni's bare skin with her own was not exactly pleasant, but rather a little awkward. She was getting more excited by the second.

“No, why would I do that?” Toni grumbled, wrinkling her nose and not even opening her eyes. Cheryl pressed her cheek to the top of her head, twisting her fingers through her pink curls to gently scratch the pink-haired girl's skin with her fingernails. She chuckled to herself, noting the length of her fingernails. She used to wear very long red-lacquered nails, but not now, not when she had a partner.

“I want you.” The timbre of Toni's voice sent goosebumps all over the redhead's body, and to top it off, she felt soft lips pressing against her jugular vein.

“You're still a sleepy bear, baby. Just relax.”

“No, it’s not.” Toni lifted her head, only to get a hard grip on woman's lips in a demanding kiss. The redhead smiled through the kiss, doubting the girl's serious intentions, but then changed her mind when Toni gently pushed her onto her back before straddling her with soft moans of pain from the bruises she received yesterday, but without breaking the kiss. The girl's hands covered Cheryl's hands, interlacing their fingers, and raising their hands above Cheryl's head. And the girl herself could think of nothing but her girlfriend's naked body pressed against her own in the most appropriate places.

“Toni…”

Blossom moaned with pleasure as the pink-haired swayed slightly forward, creating friction, and her lips descended to the milky white of her neck.

“Is that good, babe?”

The girl nodded furiously, biting her lip, digging her short nails into the backs of the pink-haired girl's hands. Blossom had never thought in her life that she would have sex with a girl she was madly in love with, right in her room, in her bed, and even after she died, she would feel so delicious.

Topaz stopped attacking the girl's neck for a moment, shifting slightly down her body. She released one of the red-haired woman's hands, placing it on her girl's thigh, which pulled her leg up, forcing her to wrap it around Topaz's waist. Cheryl realized what the girl was up to. Yes, they both clearly had little practical experience, but in their minds they both knew how and what to do. After all, they were both romantically involved with women, and they were women themselves, so they knew how to please each other.

“If you don't like something, you tell me, okay?” Toni leaned forward slightly, changing the angle of her position. Blossom couldn't even make a clear answer as their centers touched, causing her to roll her eyes and open her mouth in a silent moan. Topaz took this as an answer, again intertwining her dark fingers with the pale ones, and taking possession the lips of the girl, who literally lost all orientation in space, moving timidly forward, imitating the movements of her girl.

And if the red-haired didn't need air, Toni, who was feeling very wet, rocking faster and more desperately on the younger Blossom's hips, was already beginning to choke. She felt every cell in her body tense, preparing to ascend to the heavens of bliss. But what happened this morning is not for her, it's all about Cheryl, so Topaz abruptly stopped the movement, earning a long dissatisfied moan from the girl.

Cheryl opened her eyes, not understanding what was happening. From her bleary eyes and tense body, Toni realized that the girl was on the edge, too, but she suddenly wanted the first orgasm that Cheryl would experience thanks to her to be special.

This prompted the girl to descend back to the bed from the red-haired woman's heated and wet thighs, to descend down her body with spontaneous kisses, quite unexpectedly for the maple Princess, ending up right between her legs. Toni swallowed the saliva that came in abundance when she saw the picture before her: the girl who always dominated and protected her was so defenseless and open to her, lying on her back with her legs spread apart, so excited and tense, with desire overflowing in her brown eyes.

“You don't have to do this, Toni.” Cheryl clearly thought that the girl was hesitating, because she was not ready for something like this. And Yes, Toni never did that, but with Cheryl… She just wanted to try.

The girl grinned, leaning toward the red-haired woman's flaming center and slowly tracing her swollen and throbbing clit with her tongue. Cheryl clung to the sheets, crumpling the fabric between her fingers, arching her back away from the bed, moaning so sweetly that Toni felt herself teetering on the edge.

The girl did not imagine how Cheryl would feel her orgasm, whether it would last longer than one second, because all the sensations of the red-haired woman disappeared very quickly, not allowing her to enjoy them. Even so, she would spend the entire morning giving the girl a few orgasms to make her feel as good as Toni had felt yesterday.

“I… Oh, my…” Cheryl moaned as she felt the girl's slender fingers teasing her entrance while Topaz's tongue circled her clit without stopping. “Tee…”

Toni knew that Cher would not be uncomfortable, because she was so wet, so she slowly inserted two fingers, moaning with satisfaction, sending vibrations into the red-haired woman's clitoris, feeling the walls of her vagina stretch pleasantly, letting the girl's fingers in.

She experimentally made several thrusts, a moment later, hissing with sweet pain, as Blossom wove her fingers into her hair, pulling her closer to the place where she needed her. It took only a few smeared movements of her tongue to make the redhead scream, arching her back strongly, and Toni felt her her walls squeeze thin fingers. But, hell, she wasn't going to stop, continuing to slowly move her fingers back and forth, helping Cheryl get through her orgasm. Toni squeezed her eyes shut, imagining the girl's ragged breathing beneath her, the thin film of sweat covering her skin, the way her tongue traced the hollow between her breasts.

Topaz resumed the movement of her tongue, pulling more and more desperate moans from the older girl's throat as her free hand descended to her own clitoris, gently tracing the ball of nerves with her fingertips, causing her body to quiver from the impending orgasm. Blossom's body tensed again, as if they were both walking on the edge, ready to explode at any moment. And in one of those beautiful moments, Toni felt herself fly away, moving her fingers more furiously into Cheryl until the walls of her vagina began to contract again.

They both cummed at the same time. Topaz, panting, sank down on top of the redhead, kissing her tight abs. She waited for the girl to relax enough to endure the rush of pleasure before slowly pulling her fingers out, bringing them to her lips. For the umpteenth time in the morning, she experienced unimaginable pleasure, tasting her girl. Now, she had no idea how she would manage without it for even a moment.

“The most beautiful breakfast you could give me, Blossom.”

Blossom chuckled, taking a deep breath before stretching awkwardly, crunching her stiff joints and forcing Topaz to get off her and lie down next to her.

“It was amazing, T.T.” Cheryl turned to the girl, snuggling up to her like a kitten, and timidly kissing her on the lips, as if she hadn't just eaten her.

“Love you.”

“Love you too.”

Toni smiled, pressing her cheek against the girl's hair as she rested her head on her chest. They lay in silence while Toni thought about what she'd been planning all the time she couldn't sleep (not that she had enough time for that, since all she could think about at night was Cheryl lying naked next to her).

“Babe?” Toni, biting her lip and gathering a little courage, decided to voice her plans.

“Hm?”

“I'll tell Jughead and Betty today. I'll tell them about us.”

This remark was followed by silence, although Toni hoped that Cheryl would now enter into a debate with her and dissuade her, because the younger girl was madly afraid to tell about this, thinking that the Bughead would necessarily consider her crazy. But Blossom surprised her again.

“You have to tell them, mon amour. Cousin and her hobo have to help you with what you're going to do, so you need their trust in order to rely on them yourself. Tell them the truth, and only their problem will be how to treat this truth.”

“Do you mind? I mean, they'll need proof, especially Betty.”

“I'll talk to Jason about it, and I can't say for him. But I'll do anything to help you do that. As I said, I'm with you in this to the end. You can make smart and justified or completely stupid and risky decisions, and I will still support you. Because that's how love works, Toni.”

The pink-haired girl laughed softly to hide the tears that came to her eyes. She pressed a long kiss to the red-haired top of her head.

“Thank you, Cher.”

 

-

 

Toni tapped her fingernails nervously on the countertop as she sat at one of the tables in the Pop's, where the entire group was supposed to be gathered. Ronnie, whom she had asked to be a witness to yesterday's events, was already sitting across from her, eating fries without a second thought, while Topaz was madly worried about Jughead and Betty's delay. After all, she hadn't been able to talk to him at school yesterday, which meant he could have already fulfilled his promise not to let her in on any further investigation, and taken the flash drive from the abandoned estate. But he didn't sound angry on the phone, more satisfied that Toni had finally decided to tell him the whole truth.

“God, Topaz, if I didn't know what secret you were keeping, I'd think you were on pills. Don't be so nervous. But it's just tough, you know. How long have you been hiding this? From that party or earlier?”
Lodge ate another slice of potato, washing it down with a milkshake, as if they were discussing a new melodrama instead of the dead people.

“Earlier. I found out about their existence a few days after moving in. It's just that at first, I didn't really realize if it was true, or if I was hallucinating from some unknown disease. It's not easy to believe that ghosts exist, but if you live in the same house with them…”

Toni took a deep breath.

She was madly uneasy. Of course, she would bring Jug and Betty home anyway to confirm what she had said. But before that, she would have to tell them everything, listen to their complaints, perhaps even quarrel with them until Ronnie stood up for her. Does Veronica believe her at all? Had the girl already found some excuse for Cheryl's sudden disappearance, as the human brain usually does when it doesn't fully understand what's going on?

“Ronnie, you believe me, don't you? You're not pretending to make me feel better?”

Lodge put the cocktail aside, reaching out to cover the back of pink-haired's hand.

“I wouldn't do that to you, T. And, God, I'm not these kids from a strange town; I've known you all my life. You wouldn't make up something like that, especially if you didn't get involved in something so dangerous, no matter where you got into it, just like that. And, come on, I've seen the way you and this girl look at each other.” Ronnie smiled softly, stroking Toni's knuckles with her thumb. “You love her, don't you?”

“I'll do anything for her, you're right. I've never felt anything like this before, so that these feelings literally suffocated me, not giving me a breath of air. I don't think I can imagine my life without her anymore.”

“She'll go if you do it, you know? I'm not exactly an expert on such matters, and I've certainly never encountered ghosts, but I've spent a lot of time researching this topic. If you deal with the dilemma that is gnawing at your little detective squad, they will disappear as if they never existed. Are you willing to make such sacrifices?”

The mere mention of something that might happen very soon made Toni's eyes go blank. She didn't want to, just didn't want to think about it. Once, too long ago to remember, she had loved to live by the principle of solving problems as they came, and now she was willing to give anything to face this problem at the very last moment.

“I-I can't think about myself. You don't understand, Ronnie, she and Jay have been locked up in this house for more than two years, and I just can't put myself first again, forcing them to stay now that I have a chance to help them rest. What should I tell them? “No, you're staying for another year until I finish school?” And then what? My mom will send me to some College anyway, and what if I make her be alone again?”

Toni shook her head desperately, pulling her hand away from Ronnie's grip to wipe away the unwelcome moisture that had accumulated under her eyes. She had never been so sentimental, but when it came to a certain red-haired woman… She just couldn't keep her cool like she used to.

“Wow, I never thought I'd say this, but you're definitely into it, Antoinette Topaz. I always thought you were a cool girl who wouldn't let anyone get close to her, and you're such a romantic.” Lodge chuckled at the slight smile on her friend's lips, still fighting back tears. “But I'm surprised in a good way. You deserve love, even if it is so unusual and short-lived. I've seen how much she cares about you. You mean the world to her, Toni.”

“I know. And I… I don't want them to say anything bad about her. They don't know her at all, you know, but they already have a picture of her as some kind of loveless bitch.”
Lodge chuckled, her smile fading.

“Well, I don't think so. The girl who knelt in front of you with tears in her eyes can't be loveless. So stop worrying, Toni, and just give them your point of view.”

 

-

 

“Ghosts, Topaz, really?”

Jughead frowned, placing his hands on the table to get up and clearly walk away, taking the flash drive on his own, as he had previously threatened to do, and continuing the investigation without Topaz's intervention.

“I understand that you are looking for any excuse not to reveal your true motives. I'm not stupid, I know this has something to do with your father's illegal business, but have you even thought about Betty? They were her cousins after all, and now you're making up stories like that.”

Toni pressed her lips together in a tight line, waving her hand to stop Veronica, who was going to argue with Jones. It was her fight. She knew from the beginning what she was going to do, but she and the red-haired woman mutually decided that it was time to reveal this secret, so she would go to the end, no matter how many screams and quarrels it cost.

“I didn't mean to hurt anyone with my words, Jughead. I'm just telling the truth that you've been waiting to hear for two months. So why don't you accept my reasons now? Just because they're different from anything you've already thought up about me?”

Toni chuckled as she saw the guy sit down, because Betty took his hand to gently pull him down.

“And Betty, no offense, but you're just their cousin. You only knew Jason because of his relationship with Polly. You didn't know Cheryl at all.”

“Cheryl was a selfish little bitch who was jealous of her brother for Polly, and I think Betty said enough about it.”

Toni, probably for the first time in her life, felt a strong urge to punch this boy in the face. She was generally against violence, especially after what she had been forced to go through yesterday. But wait, how dare he say that about Cheryl? About her girlfriend?

Ronnie, who had noticed out of the corner of her eye that her friend was about to lose her temper by not fulfilling her intentions to talk quietly to her new friends, decided to say a few words to cool the heat on both sides. Of course, she knew that this was hard to believe, but she was the most disinterested party among them, so she couldn't say exactly why they were so polemical.

“Will you listen to her a little, Jones? Seriously, I can see why you don't like me a little, because I'm too hot, and you're afraid that I might seduce your girlfriend. No offense, Betty. But this is Toni! You've been trying to be, or just pretending to be, her friend for two months, and now you're trying to accuse her of lying without even listening to the end of it.”

“I can't listen to any heresy about why she did it.”

“I'm in love with her, okay? I do this for the woman I love and who loves me. Does this answer suit you? Did you understand my intentions when they met yours? Yes, you do the same, but for a living girl, and I do for one who was killed by her own father in her own home at eighteen.”

Toni could hear the volume of her voice rising, and it was clearly not meant for the ears of the Riverdale townsfolk, but she couldn't stop herself.

“I don't want you to take my word for it, because it's crazy, and I understand it. You can see them with your own eyes if you want to, but I have a question: are you ready for this? Or it's easier for you to back off, but then, mind you, I'm not going to give you a chance to win this case, I'm not going to let you screw it up. So you can either choose to go with me now, or you can forget about this case and me. The choice is yours.”

Jughead, apparently a little taken aback by such a fiery speech, looked at Elizabeth, on who, unlike the guy, could immediately tell what she would say.

“Let's go.”

 

-

 

“Jay?” Cheryl carefully opened the basement door, not wanting to disturb her brother's privacy in a spontaneous way. She was only now fully aware of how their relationship had changed since Toni's arrival in their lives. They had been inseparable before and after death, but now the pink-haired girl occupied all her thoughts, and that was enough for her. Even though she knew that Jason had felt this way once and clearly understood it, and didn't resent his sister, she felt ashamed.

“Cheryl? Is everything okay?” The boy looked up, looking anxiously at his sister as she descended the stairs. He was sitting on the sofa, one leg crossed over the other, reading something from an old collection of Blossoms that had been forgotten in the attic.

“Yes. I'm sorry to disturb you so suddenly.” Cheryl bit her lower lip uncertainly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She didn't know how to start such a conversation. It might seem unfair to her beloved brother. Sometimes she completely forgets about his existence, then comes with a request that he is quite entitled to refuse. “As absurd as it sounds, it's been so long since we've seen each other.”

Blossom laughed, putting the book aside and sitting up straight, patting the seat next to him. Cheryl sat down awkwardly next to the red-haired man. He looked oddly well, as if he hadn't been locked up for two years in a row.

“What's bothering you, little one?”

“I wanted to apologize to you. I…”

“Hey, hey, hey, wait.” The guy put a hand on her shoulder, interrupting her speech. “You have nothing to apologize for, okay? I know what you're going to say, but it's not true. We have been together all our lives; we are people who know each other as well as anyone. So what's wrong with spending a couple of weeks stuck with your girlfriend?” Jason chuckled, poking the younger one in the side.

“I just didn't think about what it would be like for you to be all alone. I'm selfish, JJ, and you can't deny it.”

“You're in love, Cheryl. I understand you perfectly. But something tells me that you didn't come to ask for advice in your romantic life.”

Cheryl glanced at her brother, who was grinning from ear to ear, clearly hinting that the girl herself had gained some experience over the past few days. This made her want to hide, so she covered her face with her hands, laughing awkwardly.

“Yes, in fact, I'm here on a specific case that directly concerns you.” The redhead cleared her throat awkwardly, calming down a little. “Toni found something really worthwhile. And let her put herself at unnecessary risk.” Then the girl grumbled, still a little angry with the pink-haired girl for being so reckless.

“Now, she's found something that can bring our father to the surface, and from the way he reacted to it, she's on the right track. But she needs the help of our cousin and her hobo, who don't trust her at all because she's hiding us. So, Toni and I talked, and…”

Cheryl took a deep breath, wringing her fingers.

“She wants them to see us, doesn't she? Will she tell them about us?”

Cheryl nodded hesitantly, not sure how Jason would react next, but surprisingly, he just nodded.

“Why not? I would talk to someone, to be honest, I'm tired of sitting alone, and you and Toni are like underage kids who first fall in love. Although, who am I kidding? This is it.”

“So you won't be mad at me for making this offer?”

“Don't be silly, Cher. You just want her not to go through this alone, not to expose her back. I understand, and since it's important to you, it's also important to me. That's all right.”

Cheryl laughed nervously, leaning forward to hug her brother, pressing her cheek against his broad chest, in which she often found comfort, in which she often wept in despair. What now? Now she's at a stage in her life where she doesn't need to cry anymore.

“Thank you, Jason.”

“I will do everything I can to make it up to you, little sister. So, don't thank me.”

 

-

 

“Mom and dad can't see them, so please don't do anything stupid, okay?”

Toni was sitting on her own bed, her legs crossed under her. Ronnie, who had refused to let Toni go alone with an incredulous couple, was now in the kitchen, making tea for all of them, and having a nice conversation with the hostess. Toni asked the girl to talk to her mother so that, despite the punishment, she would allow her daughter to invite guests. Ideally, the girl wanted to ask her friend to put pressure on Amelia about celebrating Halloween, but, in the end, she was already on probation, and this party was their custom with Ronnie, so her parents simply could not refuse.

“Who are we talking about? You didn't introduce anyone to us, although I'm not at all surprised.”

Jones adjusted his ridiculous hat as he leaned awkwardly on the doorjamb. He didn't dare go any further into the room, while Betty sat uncertainly on the edge of the wide bed. Toni doubted that Betty was ever allowed to be in Cheryl's room, at least not when she was still alive. And, in a way, Toni understood why Cheryl had behaved this way with Betty. No one wanted to see a person in the red-haired woman, so it was easier for her to maintain her pompous image of a bitch.

“I'll call them when I'm sure you're ready. Talking about them is one thing, but seeing them… I don't want my parents to come running here after Betty screams like a little girl when she's scared of ghosts.”
Toni didn't want to offend the blonde, or maybe she did, she couldn't say for sure. She was just annoyed by their behavior.

“We're ready, don't act like that. On the contrary, I'm ready to give up on you and go home to organize a sortie in Thistlehouse.”

Topaz was madly irritated by the way Jones was provoking her. And it seems that until recently, she considered him one of her best friends, and now he was terribly infuriating. She might not be able to control herself and still punch him in the face for the rest of the day.

“Well. Whatever happens now, you will never tell anyone about it, do you swear?”

Betty immediately nodded, crossing her arms over her chest, apparently to prepare herself. Jones, though, and shockingly tactless chuckled, but nodded and smiled.

And as soon as she thought about what she was going to have to do, all her nervousness disappeared. In the end, she'll just get two more people supporting her.

Just as she was about to say a few words to call her girl, the door opened abruptly, startling all three of them, but Jughead stood up straight, crossing his arms over his chest as if nothing had happened.

“It's just me.” Ronnie clumsily closed the door behind her, carrying a tray with cups of tea and a plate of cookies. “Your mother doesn't mind you making friends. But she still refuses to cancel your punishment, like a child. Did I miss anything?”

Ronnie set the tray down on the table, noting that no one was interested in eating at the moment, except perhaps Jughead, who was watching the plate of cookies with hungry eyes. Like I hadn't eaten half the Pop's menu an hour earlier.

“Nothing. I was just getting ready.”

Toni closed her eyes for a moment, gathering her courage.

“Cher? Babe?”

The girl repeated it only once, knowing that no matter what part of the house the red-haired woman was in, she would still come to her call. She always came.
Jones immediately looked around, Betty tensed, and only Veronica lay quietly on the bed, taking out her phone and scrolling through the feed.

“See? I don't know what you're taking, Topaz, but the miracle didn't happen. Come on, Betts, we're leaving.”

Jug turned nervously toward the door, flinging it open with a sharp movement and then staggering away.

Toni had no doubt who he saw there. Of course, the one she already missed, even though she hadn't seen her for a couple of hours.

“Not even a minute has passed, hobo, and you're already going somewhere? A little impolite, don't you think?”

And Toni can't help but smile at the sight of the Blossom twins, standing side by side in the doorway: so statuesque, important, immediately visible owners in their home. Cheryl was wearing a pink silk blouse with a red bow, a blood-red knee-length skirt, and the same permanent lipstick on her lips.

But this image reminded Toni of the girl she'd encountered two months ago. Alone with Topaz, the redhead didn't try to dress like a magazine cover model, preferring loose t-shirts and pants, often taken from Toni's wardrobe, because blossom herself only had fancy clothes. It was just that Cheryl knew that she didn't need to wear her armor next to Toni, which was always her first-class outfit, because the pink-haired girl loved all in this woman. But now she had to face her cousin, with whom she hardly spoke, and a strange and negative-minded guy.

“Cheryl?” Betty, sitting on the bed, gave a little squeak, looking from one twin to the other. “Jason?”

The guy smiled slightly, raising his hand awkwardly in greeting. Unlike his sister, he had little contact with the younger Cooper when he visited Polly.

“Toni?” Betty opened her mouth to look at Topaz, who was sitting there.

She really wanted to get up and walk over to Cheryl, at least take her hand to feel calmer, but first they had to sort things out.

“I told you everything, and then it all depends on you.”

“I don’t understand.” Jughead, in his usual manner, moved closer to the twins, examining them as if they were fish in an aquarium. With his skeptical mind, he was clearly trying to figure out how Toni had managed to trick him. “These can't be real Blossoms for many reasons. Are they actors?”

Toni couldn't help laughing nervously, which made everyone turn to look at her. There was nothing funny about their situation, but the girl noticed the corners of the red-haired woman's lips twitch.

“Let's be clear, Jones. Do you think Toni is so perverted that she hired actors to pretend to be dead people?” Ronnie chuckled, rolling her eyes, and went on with her task.

“Tee, what exactly did you mean when you wanted them to see us? I don’t see that they care. They're just looking for reasons why they can't trust you.”

Cheryl appeared in front of Topaz in the blink of an eye, ignoring the surprised gasp from Jones Jr., who seemed to have been punched in the gut.

“I don’t know. It should have been the other way around. Of course, it's hard to believe, but haven't I provided enough evidence?”

Toni looked depressed. She really expected to find a common language with the couple, and instead of making more fights, just sit down together and think about the plan.

“Just... Can I ask Jason a question?” Betty raised her voice, and the guy, still standing awkwardly in the doorway and hesitating to go inside, nodded. “That said Polly, isn't it? You and Cheryl were killed?”

“It's true, Betty.” Blossom ran his fingers through her hair, ruffling it a little, and Toni wasted no time in reaching out to the redhead to take her hand and interlace their fingers as she sat down on the bed next to her. As soon as their shoulders touched, she felt better. She rested her head on the redhead's shoulder, placing their intertwined hands on her knee, and focused on the guy's story.

“Polly and I were going to run away so the twins wouldn't grow up in a town where my family rules. But I found out the terrible truth about my father's business and couldn't stay away. Cheryl and I even had a fight about it, because she wanted me to leave Riverdale and live happily ever after. But I couldn't accept it. As it turned out, it was almost impossible to fight my father, and instead of living with my beloved girl and my children, I was brutally murdered, forced to stay here in the guise of a Ghost. And the cruelest part of this chapter is that I doomed my little sister to death.”

Toni felt Cheryl stiffen, and then put her free arm around her girlfriend to get closer to her. Toni didn't mind at all; she would have given anything to ease the redhead's pain.

“I'm so sorry, Jason.”

“Wait, do you really believe that?” Jughead frowned, not at all sure what was going on around him. Toni imagined that he would take it easier than everyone else alive in this room, because he was a writer who found it easier to believe in the presence of the supernatural. But here, it seems, only Veronica took everything lightly.

“It's them, Jug. Not only do they look exactly like the people I once knew, but Jason just said everything I needed to hear. Polly had been right all along, no wonder Clifford had done this to her.”

“Is Polly okay?” Jason's pupils widened as he stared at the blonde in horror, taking a few steps forward.

“Yes, they're fine with the twins, or at least they were when I last saw them. Clifford locked them up in the sisters of quiet mercity, and I was forbidden to visit them.”

“My God, the place of the devil.” Cheryl muttered into Toni's hair, kissing the top of her head. No one seemed to pay attention to the fact that these girls were so close. Although Cheryl had previously been very concerned about this. After all, she died at a time when school might have looked askance at her because she was dating a girl.

“Do you know where it is?” Toni whispered softly as she idly stroked the redhead's pale knuckles with her thumb.

“Let's just say my mother gave me a tour. This orphanage is a very old-fashioned hospital where people like me are experimented on.”

“Conversion therapy.” Betty nodded. “I've heard about it, but I never thought anyone was still doing it. But since when do you like girls?”

Toni chuckled and rolled her eyes.

“You don't know her at all, Betts. But we are not here to share stories from life.” Topaz reluctantly pulled away from the redhead, but still didn't let go of her hand. “We need to figure out how and when the best way to get into Thistlehouse is to get the flash drive. We don't know if Clifford Blossom is watching this house the same way he was watching the prison.”

“How do you know he was watching the prison?” Jughead had changed his station, now standing at the window, his back against the sill.

The girl slightly lifted the edge of the shirt she was wearing, revealing bruises that had spread across her ribs.

“His man gave me a very tactful hint. Clifford knows we have something. The main thing now is to get the information and turn him in before he gets to it first.”

“Toni! Why didn't you tell us?”

“It was important to me that you start trusting me, Betty. This man didn't scare me. If I'm right, and this flash drive has all the information about Clifford's business, I'll take any risk to get to it.”

Toni was immediately slapped on the knee by Cheryl.

“Okay! Not at the risk of my life, but everything else counts. I will go all the way, especially now that we are so close.”

“I suggest Halloween.”

They all looked at Jones, who had become strangely quiet after seeing Toni's injuries. He clearly accepted and realized his mistake. He tried not to trust this girl, because she was a stranger, and all strangers in his life could not be trusted. But he and Betty didn't run any risks while they were looking into it, while Toni was practically risking her life. He no longer wanted to accuse her of all sorts of foolishness.

“I heard out of the corner of my ear that you and Veronica have an annual Halloween party. You can arrange a grand party, which will be anyone. The main thing is to spread the information to the whole town, so that Clifford will also hear about it. If his people are watching us, they'll think we're in the house. And we're gonna sneak in Thistlehouse. I'll ask my dad and a few serpents to back us up in case there are any guests waiting for us, how about this idea?”

Toni considered Jones's words for only a few seconds before nodding. Of course, they would have to wait another two weeks to get a chance to get to the source of the information. But Clifford had no idea about the flash drive, so they didn't have to hurry.

“I agree, and now, we need to start thinking about the whole concept, because for such a grand party, we will need a lot of effort and money. Ronnie, are you in?”

“Did someone say... "party"?” The brunette sat down, blocking the phone and putting it on the bed. “No Grand party goes by without Veronica Lodge.”