Ladewal, Two Years Ago
Despite it being the peak of summer, every window in the apartment was open, letting the cool night breeze sift into the space. The train clicked across the tracks, echoing through the silence even from three blocks away, as Leona lounged back across the couch. Her bare feet were propped up on the coffee table crowded with sheet music, all of which she needed to rehearse for her upcoming performances, but Leona didn’t care about that right now. The ends of her sundress hiked up her thighs, but Beckham didn’t seem to notice as he returned to the couch and offered her a drink.
By that point, Leona had already indulged in more than she should have. Once they left the Lilac Emporium after stealing two bottles of booze from behind the bar, they drank one as they sauntered through the streets to Leona’s apartment. Their laughter bounced off the empty streets and the towering brick buildings, feet scraping against the sidewalk as they stumbled down it.
She’d never drank before that moment and couldn’t understand why as the static coursed through her body, tingling her skin. She ran her hands through her hair and couldn’t feel the pull on her scalp. Even as she dragged her nails across her thighs, there wasn’t anything except a blissful numbness coating her body. Her fingers caught the ends of her dress, and she giggled as she sat up, hand waving through the air at the glass extended in front of her.
“Maybe you’ve had too much to drink,” Beckham laughed, taking a seat beside her. The couch groaned and the cushions shifted beneath his weight, spilling Leona into his lap. She didn’t try to fight it as she fell, pawing at the glass he hoisted into the air and out of her reach.
“I don’t think I’ve had enough to drink,” she slurred, nestling her head deeper into his lap. He was warm, soft. She could wrap him around her like a blanket. “Give me that or I will fight you for it.” She snatched at it again and he yanked it higher above her head, splashing the amber liquid down onto her face. She laughed and licked at the drops, meeting Beckham’s gaze as he stared down at her.
He didn’t say anything but simply smiled down at her, a smile that she’d never seen before. This one was gentle, calm. Then he set his drink aside and wiped away the liquor on her cheeks with his thumb, stroking gently across her skin. He’d never touched her in such a loving manner before, never stared at her like she was the only person left in the world. “I would let you win that fight.”
Leona cleared her throat and sat up, snatching his drink from the coffee table. She finished it in a long gulp and sighed heavily, standing from the couch. Her steps wobbled as she stumbled away from Beckham and where he was waiting for her. He’d been waiting for her for years, but she’d always pushed him aside, always ignored what was right in front of her because of everything that she was.
How could she tell him that she was a witch? Not just any witch though, but one that started the hunts and the burnings. A witch that tainted their name and reputation. Even if she hadn’t practiced in years, even if she tried not to think about what her life was like before she’d come to Ladewal, he wouldn’t understand. Some things were better left a secret.
“Maybe I should go to bed,” Leona muttered, fumbling her way through the apartment. Her legs knocked into tables and chairs, but she didn’t feel anything aside from the burning in her chest, the faint whispers of his hand on her cheek.
Footsteps trailed after her and Leona hurried her pace, flinging herself into her bed. She buried her face into the blankets, curled her body in the sheets. She closed her eyes, exhaling a long breath. She knew what Beckham was going to say, what he would try to do, and she didn’t want anything to do with it. While she couldn’t deny her attraction to him, they would never have worked.
The train rumbled across the tracks in the distance. Several minutes passed with no one moving or saying anything. She eased deeper into the bed, believing Beckham to have left already. As soon as her body relaxed, her grip loosening on the sheets, the floorboards groaned. Beckham sat on the bed, resting a gentle hand on her back. She didn’t move, didn’t say anything.
“One of these days,” he whispered, brushing his hand down her side, “you’ll notice me. You’ll acknowledge what’s been right in front of you. And when that day comes, I don’t know what I’ll do with myself.” He leaned forward and kissed her shoulder, sighing as he stood. “You are going to break my heart, Leona Black. And I will just be grateful that you held in your hands at all.”