Mary and Robert didn’t question Eden’s sudden lack of work hours when she announced that she would be home after school for the next few days. But Eden had spied the slight smile that had graced Mary’s lips when she’d told them and didn’t have the heart to tell them that she hadn’t done it because of their earlier offer. Especially when the other option was telling them that the reason had to do with her past finally catching up with her. She doubted that would go over well with her adopted, religious parents.
When Eden had suddenly appeared on the grid little more than two years ago, she had told officers that she couldn’t remember anything but a name. They had been more than willing to listen, noting the bruises and cuts that covered her body like connect the dots. But it hadn’t quite been the truth.
But the truth, like Eden, was complicated. How does one explain her past, laced with magic, to a human? It wasn’t easy; look at history and Eden could point out where fellow users had gone devastatingly wrong with their endeavors. And that was just what was recorded, as fiction or a mistaken account. Humans might have treasured magic now with certain fiction being praised, but history explained better than Eden could put into words.
Even for Eden, magic was a convoluted idea that belonged in her past, not her present. She might have used it, might have loved it once, but it was nothing to her now. And she would happily let it remain so.
Eden went on with her life after the night at Becca’s, trying her best to make it seem like nothing had happened. She went with Bailey to pick out his shirt and tie for the dance, ate her meals with family and friends, and laughed when expected. She put on the meetings she was meant to at school, all while ignoring the bad feeling in her gut.
“You’ve been quiet the past week,” Abigail muttered from across the table, effectively stopping Eden’s train of thought before she lost herself. “I mean you’re usually quiet, but something’s been off with you this week. Want me to lend an ear, Eden? I just need to go refill my coffee first.”
It was one of those rare afternoons where Eden had found herself with nothing to occupy her time, since Bailey was busy with his own extra curricular activities and Mary had practically pushed her out the door in hopes of getting her to do something involving the word ‘fun.’ Of course Abigail had been the first to call, inviting her out to coffee – just the two of them, which was a rare occurrence nowadays that Eden decided to give her cousin the benefit of the doubt.
So Eden was sitting in the locally owned coffee shop, nursing a small decaf mocha as Abigail regaled her with tales of events from the past two months that she had missed out on due to Eden’s rigorous work schedule. “Now,” Abigail murmured as she returned, looking up at Eden expectantly. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”
She knew this routine well enough that Eden was reluctant to part with anything relating to the truth; somehow, Mary always ended up hearing about it and would become concerned. And Mary would only freak out on a cataclysmic scale if she heard even a whisper of Eden’s panic attacks and mood swings returning – which is what Abigail would say it was, no doubt.
Instead, Eden only shrugged and sipped at her drink. “I just feel weird taking a break from work. Work is calming for me and now…” She shrugged again, pulling out her phone hope of giving her cousin a hint that she didn’t want to talk.
It worked, if only a little bit. But Abigail simply moved onto a different topic with a roll of her eyes. “Well then, while I’ve got you here, we need to decide on plans for homecoming night. My mom was talking about bringing us to a stylist in the city, but said she wanted to talk to aunt Mary and uncle Rob before she made any definite plans. But then we need to talk about a ride…”
Eden let Abigail drone on, knowing that her cousin was only looking for someone to listen to her, not for any kind of input. In the end, she would go with whatever her cousin had chosen regardless of what she wanted, if only to keep everyone placated. Bailey might complain, but he would go along with it for Eden’s sake.
Speaking of, Eden’s phone beeped and she looked to see his name flashing across the screen. “Oh, Bailey just texted me. His club stuff is over and he wants to come over to the house before dinner, so I think it’s time I head home,” Eden interjected with a tiny frown that Abigail simply waved off.
“Don’t worry about me, I know how it is,” She muttered, stowing away her belongings before she followed Eden towards the front door. “Plus, we can talk about this stuff when we go eat at your house next weekend. We have plenty of time.”
Too much if you ask me, Eden thought sourly to herself. “Okay. See you tomorrow at school.”
When Eden finally pulled into the driveway and found that Bailey’s car was the only one present, she knew exactly why her boyfriend had decided to arrive early. It was quite evident in the way that he wasted no time in pulling her into a kiss when she got out of her car, startling her enough that she jumped when she felt his hands slip around her waist.
“Let’s get inside,” Bailey murmured peppering kisses along her neck before he released her. Her hand was in her bag, rummaging for keys before she finally managed to unlock the front door.
It didn’t take long for Bailey to pull Eden up to her bedroom, somehow managing to kiss her the entire way up the stairs and through the hall until they reached her bed. He had become skilled at it, as if letting her go for a moment would mean that he failed at his task.
But less than half an hour later and there was the sound of a car pulling into the driveway, pulling Bailey back to the real world. A place Eden hadn’t left, despite his attempts otherwise. “Maybe next time,” Eden muttered as she picked herself up from the bed, playing the picture of frustration instead of revealing the tiny flood of relief. She didn’t think Bailey would appreciate it.
“Yeah, maybe,” He murmured, grabbing his shirt from the floor where it had landed. He didn’t have much to fix, so he only sat on her bed as he watched Eden search through her closet for something less wrinkled to wear.
“Hey,” Bailey called, waiting until Eden finally turned to face him. When she did, she noticed that he seemed pensive, somewhat worried. A strange combination, especially considering how happy he usually seemed after…this. “What do you think about a promise ring? Nothing flashy, just something small. We’ve been together for a long time and we’ve never really done anything to show each other what we mean.”
A flash of nerves, sudden but sharp. She pushed it down, distracting herself by delving deeper into her closet. “I don’t know. What made you think of something like that?”
Eden only heard the rustle of fabric before she felt his present, only inches behind her. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Especially since we’re in our senior year and I don’t want to see us just – fade. After high school. I’m not proposing or anything, but just something to show that we both care.”
But here was the thing: Eden didn’t care. She didn’t know how everyone missed it, but there was little Eden cared about outside of her schooling.
“We can talk about it later,” She finally murmured, pulling out a skirt and blouse that would look pleasant enough together. “Let me get changed and then we can head downstairs. I think Mary talked about making your favorite food for dinner.”
While Bailey didn’t look satisfied with the answer, he at least had the tact to let it go for now. “Okay. As long as it’s not curry,” He murmured, enticing a smile from Eden as she turned and coyly replied.
“Oh, you mean Indian food isn’t your absolute favorite?” she toyed, relaxing. “Of course not, she said she was grilling some stuff and making the mashed potatoes you like so much. And grilled zucchini,” She informed him, mouth salivating at the idea.
“Are we sure it isn’t your favorite food?” He playfully asked, hands resting on her waist when she finally finished dressing.
“Oh no,” she replied. “If we were eating my favorites, it would be nothing but sweets.”
Bailey snorted, holding back the chuckles that rumbled through his chest. “As if. I haven’t seen you eat junk food in all the time I’ve known you.”
“Well, I think I’ve been doing a great job of keeping my weakness a secret, then.”
Dinner was normal, as it always was. Robert came home to find his family, plus Bailey, already in the process of setting the table while Mary was finishing up with the food. He was somewhat of an imposing man – tall, thicker than most. But Eden had known for a long time that the man was softer than he appeared. He and Mary, smaller and of a more delicate build, seemed perfect for each other.
Bailey was a welcome addition to dinner at the Devaux house, only saying goodbye when it came time to return before curfew. He left with a kiss goodbye and goodbyes for both of Eden’s adopted parents.
“He’s a good kid,” Robert was saying as Eden walked back into the kitchen to help finish the cleaning. “Has he decided where he’s going to college?”
Eden shook her head as she started filling the dishwasher. “Not yet, although the same can be said for me.”
“Yes, but you have far more options,” Mary interjected, standing on the far side of the kitchen with a glass of wine in hand. She’d finished her duties as soon as she’d served the food. “He’s a smart boy. I just hope he chooses a school based on scholarly endeavors, not athletic.”
“His mother has said that more than once,” Eden informed her. “But Bailey’s not stupid enough to focus solely on lacrosse. He’s already told me that he plans on going to a highly rated university. I’m more worried about the partying.”
“Yes well,” Robert muttered. “We’ve all been victim of partying a little too much in college.”
Mary scoffed. “Not all of us, Rob.”
“Okay, so it was mostly me. But I have the utmost confidence that our Eden won’t have to worry about partying, will you Eden?”
Eden shook her head, as they expected of her. “Of course not.”
“Good,” Robert replied, closing the dishwasher and setting it to wash overnight. “Well then, I think I’m going to shower and then head to bed. I’ve got an early day tomorrow. Good night you two.”
“I think I’m going to do the same,” Mary murmured, emptying her wine glass and rinsing it before waving to Eden. “Goodnight. I’ll have breakfast ready for you in the morning.”
Eden didn’t last much longer before she headed upstairs too. She finished what homework she had left before she put on her pajamas, checking her phone. And then she was in bed, hoping to get a good night’s rest before school started in the morning.
It was less than two weeks of Eden’s forced break when she got a call from the bakery. A Saturday morning no less, her bedside clock reading five a.m. when her phone decided to go off. Even as determined as she was to get back to work, she groaned at the idea of getting up any earlier than nine on a Saturday she’d been looking forward to sleeping in for.
When she answered, she could immediately hear Becca’s panic as clear as if she were standing right beside her. “’Ello?”
“Eden?” Becca nearly yelled, making Eden flinch in response. “I know that I told you that you weren’t allowed to come in for two weeks, but I’m desperate. Both of the girls for the breakfast shift called in sick and I can’t get ahold of anyone else. And Tom’s three hours away with his mom and I’m freaking. Out. I rescind my order. In fact, if you get here in the next twenty minutes to help me bake, I will personally raise your wage by at least a dollar. Probably two if my husband agrees. But at least a dollar.”
Eden rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she pushed the covers away. “I can be there in ten if there’s a coffee waiting for me when I get there.”
A sigh of relief. “I can do that. Thank you so much Eden. You’re a lifesaver.”
The line went dead and Eden moaned at the idea of getting up, but the extra raise was enough of an incentive to push her up from bed. So instead of worrying over the nagging lump in her throat at the idea of returning and possibly facing the boy from that terrible night at the bakery, Eden rushed through her morning routine in five minutes, put on her uniform, and hopped into her car.
After all, what was the likelihood that he would show up after that debacle?
It turned out that the likelihood was very, very high.
Eden had arrived at the bakery to find a coffee next to the register, her name written in Becca’s pretty handwriting on the side. She could hear the sound of struggle coming from the kitchen as she clocked in and when she finally walked through the double doors, she found Becca balancing two sets of trays, one meant for the oven and another meant for the cooling rack.
Eden jumped in just as Becca nearly dropped both, putting the tray in the oven while her manager murmured her thanks. “I am so sorry about this Eden,” Becca rushed to apologize, turning and giving Eden the full picture of just how much she was dealing with.
Becca was commonly covered in flour or batter, considering it was the main part of her job. But today, it was much worse. The entire front of her dress, usually a light grey, was now brown from what Eden could only guess was cocoa powder. She had yellow batter sticking to the end of her ponytail and bangs. In all, she looked just as bad as Eden had pictured when she’d gotten her call.
“Okay first, go rinse the batter out of your hair. Dust off what you can from your uniform. And get yourself a cup of tea,” Eden instructed, already in motion as she reached for the various ingredients and tools stowed away in the back room. “I’ll get started on the cookies and I’ll check on what’s already in the oven. When you’re done taking a breather, then we can start on the muffins. You have enough to keep up with the initial customers, so we can bake during the slow hour. It’s Saturday, so there won’t be that many until ten or eleven. We have time to bake.”
“I can’t tell you how much of a lifesaver you are,” Becca breathed as she disappeared through the doors, likely headed to the bathroom.
While she’d have liked to say that this was the first time this had happened, Eden would have been lying. Several girls in the bakery went through a phase where they thought it would be wise to go out and party the night before a Saturday morning shift, only to wake up with raging hangovers. Eden had never had the pleasure – her meds didn’t exactly agree with alcohol – but she didn’t feel bad for the girls’ mistakes. They’d inevitably decide that the job left very little time to party before quitting, one of the reasons why Eden and a couple of other girls were the only ones who lasted more than a few months.
But Eden wasn’t too upset about being woken up; the prospect of a raise – and the cup of coffee in her hands – lifting her spirits. And her banishment from the bakery was over, meaning that she would start earning money again.
Almost an hour passed before Eden finally pulled the cooling tray out to the front of the store, where Becca waited with a cup of tea in hand. She seemed to have finally relaxed and was free of batter and whatever had been covering her uniform. “You started the muffins without me,” She playfully accused and rose from her seat, throwing away her cup before she returned to the counter. “Well, at least I know you can bake them. If it had been Emily, I would have been worried about her burning them.”
“Actually, the last batch is in the oven if you want to go check on them real quick. They’re probably almost done,” Eden informed her, busying herself with putting the treats in the display case. “How many pre-packed cookie bags do you want me to fill?”
“Two dozen, for now. I’ll get the other girl to do more when they come in at eleven,” Becca called, voice muffled by the doors separating the front and the kitchen. “Don’t forget to start the big tea bins and coffee pots. Amy forgot yesterday and we had a line of grumpy customers.”
Eden paused her endeavor with baked goods to do as she asked, setting all four machines going before she returned to the case. Once finished, she rolled the cooling rack to the back, where Becca was waiting with three trays of finished goods. “Just need to let these cool and then I can put them out front. Let me clean up back here and you can go open up the front. If I don’t miss my bet, Ed’s already waiting at the door to get his morning coffee and banana nut muffin.”
True to her word, Eden returned to the front at the strike of seven thirty and Ed, one of their morning regulars, was waiting outside, along with a couple of customers who’d waited in their cars. She unlocked the doors and the storefront quickly filled with customers; Eden couldn’t imagine so many people who wanted to be awake this early on a Saturday, but she didn’t question it.
Almost two hours in and Eden was still running the storefront on her own. Becca had become permanently stationed in the back, baking the extras that they hadn’t been able to during the rush of getting the minimum done.
Eden was finishing up with the last customer in line when goosebumps rose over her skin, the air around her charged with static and causing the hair on her arms to raise as if she’d been shocked. As focused as she had had been, it all flew out the window when she raised her eyes to the door and blue eyes met green, quickly approaching the counter.
He was more put together than he had been when he’d first appeared in the bakery, dressed in a dark Henley beneath a jacket that stretched across his shoulders. His hair was pulled back again, although neater than the messy bun he’d been sporting. This time he was dragging a backpack in with him, looking like he was bringing an entire library with him from the size of it.
It took everything in Eden not to let the impending panic drag her down, swallowing past the lump in her throat as she returned to the register. But he didn’t approach, instead veering off path and towards one of the few free tables in the bakery.
Somewhat stunned, Eden didn’t linger, instead forcing herself to do anything but think about the strange young man – because she realized, seeing him again, he wasn’t just a boy. He had at least a couple years on her. She forced herself to clean, eyes glued to her task, the customers, anything but the man that had thrown a wrench in her life.
Twenty minutes later and he still hadn’t ordered anything when Becca came out to deliver some cupcakes for the display case. As soon as Eden’s attention was elsewhere though, she heard Becca greeting someone and looked up to find him quietly ordering and doing his best to not look at her. But it failed, eyes darting to hers and flitting away when he realized that she was already openly staring.
Becca filled his order with a smile and wished him a nice day before she once again disappeared in the kitchen. And with her manager gone, Eden felt frustration brewing as she eyed the blond sitting only a few feet from the counter. “I’m cleaning tables,” Eden yelled for Becca’s sake before she grabbed a towel and headed for the sitting area.
There were very few tables that had been used so far, but Eden didn’t really care. Her path was taking her directly to one area and from what she could tell, he knew too. She felt eyes on her off and on in the time it took to clean the few dirty surfaces in the bakery. But she didn’t stop until she reached his, at which point he was simply watching her quietly, pensively.
When he didn’t speak, Eden crossed her arms and could barely keep the scowl from her lips as she eyed him warily. “You didn’t order anything when I was serving,” She told him, wincing internally at how accusing it sounded.
“I didn’t want to do anything to offend you again,” He coolly replied, voice free of any sarcasm or pointedly sharp words. “I wanted to speak to you, but I’m giving you the chance to approach me. I won’t force my attention on the unwilling,” He informed her.
Eden didn’t know how to reply to that, but at least he wasn’t a complete jerk about her actions less than two weeks ago. That conversation would be very, very different. “How many times have you been here since…then?”
“None,” He replied, matter of fact. Eden was almost jealous of how confident he seemed, even while coming off as relaxed. Eden was already a part of the situation and didn’t know how anyone could be so laid back about this. “Ask your boss. I get the feeling she’s here often.”
Of course she was, but Eden wasn’t going to admit it so quickly. “So you haven’t been here at all since we met, but suddenly I’m working and by freak coincidence you show up? You seriously think I would believe that?” Eden replied, voice clipped.
“Ask. And if I’m wrong, I’ll leave. Otherwise, I’ll be here working on a paper,” He murmured, returning to his computer without even blinking and leaving Eden standing there, stunned.
With a huff, Eden was returning to the counter, disappearing in the back to find Becca cleaning trays. “You need help with something, Eden?”
Eden almost didn’t ask, knowing how she would come off. But it was either that or worry about a potential stalker. “That guy that you just served – long blond hair, kept up in a bun, green eyes – has he been in here lately?”
Becca looked pensive for a few moments before finally shaking her head. “Not that I know of,” she replied, heaving the clean trays back onto their rack. “But he was one of the most polite young men I’ve served in all my time running this place. Yes ma’am this and please and thank you. And he even seemed sincere. Why do you ask?”
Eden shrugged, only partly relieved. “I have a friend I’m trying to find a date for homecoming.” She hoped Becca wouldn’t question, thankful when she didn’t. At least she’d answered. “Anyway, let me get back out there and see if anyone needs refills.”
“If you need anything, just ring the bell.”
Even with the next girl scheduled to come in around eleven, Eden was working alone in the store front until a quarter after. At which point the next shift arrived, a girl of sixteen hurriedly apologizing as she clocked in. “Let me guess, you were ill just like Sarah and Emily?”
The girl, a tall blonde named Rachel that stood nearly six feet tall and looking rather weary, sighed in response. “Some St. Bernie’s ass had a party last night and was handing out some drink he’d come up with. I’m pretty sure he just mixed ten different kinds of alcohol and called it something fancy.”
“Then I’m surprised you’re here at all,” Eden commented, pulling off her visor and apron before clocking out. “But thank you for showing up; it’s more than I could say for the others.”
“No problem. Besides, not like I could spare the money,” Rachel replied. “Clock out already and take a breather. I can handle the counter for a little while on my own before the next girl gets here.”
While thankful, Eden checked with Becca before deciding to turn her break into the end of her shift. And she had no clue why, but she didn’t leave when offered the chance; instead, against her common reason, Eden found herself heading towards the secluded table where the blond man still sat, drinking his coffee while he worked on his laptop.
“You seem to have kept busy,” Eden muttered, eyes glued to the textbooks spread across the table. So many that she was surprised none of them had fallen off. “How’s the paper coming?”
“I had a paper due,” He promptly answered. “This is studying.”
Eden felt the ghost of a smile playing at her lips as she sat down across from him, carefully keeping her hands and feet close. “This is studying in college? I think I’m terrified.”
A grin, however slight. “It’s partially my fault for choice of major. I tend to lean to the side of overkill when it comes time for studying, since I enjoy myself too much.”
“Enjoy?” she questioned.
“Enjoy, am fond of, take comfort in. It’s all the same,” He murmured, finally closing his laptop and realizing how far he’d spread. He closed most of the texts, stowing them away in his bag and giving Eden a chance to rest her elbows on the table. “I’m surprised you decided to speak with me,” He admitted, leaning back in his seat.
“I’m still questioning the decision,” Eden warned. “But I’m giving you a chance.”
The blond smiled gratefully, flashing a set of pearly whites. Eden did her best to ignore the unfamiliar flutter in her chest at the sight. “Thanks for the opportunity, then. But I came to apologize for what happened the last time I was here. While not intentional, I realize that you were put under a great deal of stress and I –“
“You practiced that speech before you came over here?” Eden interjected, smile pasted on her lips while a voice whispered, telling her she felt none of the humor behind it. “Look, what happened – it can’t happen again. And while you might be worried over how I ‘reacted’ when you were last in here, don’t,” She muttered, brusque tone doing nothing in terms of phasing him. “I’m not affected by it.” Only a slight lie. “So if you’ll excuse me, I have things to do that don’t involve this.”
The next few moments passed in slow motion as Eden moved to leave. She rose and didn’t expect him to follow, nor the way his hand extended towards her. All she knew was that he was close, far too close, Eden’s thoughts a jumbled and terrifying mess as she tried to avoid him the only way she could. She yanked herself out of his reach, knocking over her chair and not managing to hold in her sudden, startled yelp when she fell to the ground.
If they hadn’t been watching before, Eden was sure that every customer’s gaze was glued to her as she struggled to retain some shred of dignity. But nothing helped, especially when the man leaned down to help her and a necklace slipped from the neck of his shirt. It was simple, a flat metal disc barely bigger than a quarter hanging from a leather cord and decorated only with a dark green gemstone that gave off an almost imperceptible glow she guessed only their eyes could see.
Before Eden could get any words out, the man was backing up and avoiding eye contact as he pulled something out of his jacket pocket. A tiny piece of paper. Eden could barely make out something scribbled on it before he placed it on the table. “Shit, I’m – I didn’t meant to – ” he muttered, barely managing to finish his sentence. “I’m leaving my number. If you decide you want to talk, call me.”
Eden watched as he left, frozen in the spot where she landed and the same thought repeating, get up and leave. You’re making a scene. But despite her shock, she didn’t miss his look. It was discreet. A worried side glance as he pushed past the door.
It took a few seconds before Eden finally started to move. There were already a few concerned onlookers coming to check on her, although she waved them off with muttered thanks. By the time she finally got back to her feet, she noticed that even Rachel had caught a glimpse, but she ignored the sixteen year old in favor of grabbing the piece of paper and fleeing before anyone decided to call Becca for help. She’d only call Mary or Robert and Eden knew she didn’t need to worry the former any more than she already was.
So she left, slipping the paper in her purse and hoping no one had seen her swipe it.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, CMNorrisWrite a Review