Tormented

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Compromising

Salem

What was I thinking?

I can’t go to a study group. I can’t be around people.

I cannot have friends.

If Leo found out about my past...

I’d have to move again. I’d have to start over. Worse, he’d hate me.

He’d be scared of me just like my mother. I don’t need anyone else scared of me. I’m scared of myself enough for everyone.

The front door creaks open as I’m pacing my living room floor. My mom walks in, groceries bags in her arms.

I take a bag from her, carrying it to the kitchen and setting it on the counter. Wordlessly, I begin putting away salad mix and vegetables.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” She asks me, sitting her bags next to mine and putting groceries away as well.

“I did something stupid,” I tell her, pretending I don’t notice her visibly tense next to me.

“What’s that?” She asks nonchalantly.

I bite my lip, knowing she won’t be happy. Obviously, I’m not going to go... but still.

“I agreed to go to a study group with this guy—”

“Absolutely not!” She shouts, dropping a bag of celery on the floor, staring at me as the blood drains from her face. “You cannot go out with people! That’s a terrible idea.”

“I know,” I say gently. “I’m not going... I just—I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t have any way to tell him I can’t go, but I can’t meet him in person because I know he’ll talk me into going.”

She looks down at her hands, her shoulders slumping. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers. “If I—if I had known about your father... about you... I wouldn’t have let you do magic. I never would have even told you about it.”

That never would have worked. Eventually I would have found out about my powers—they’re too strong.

“It’s not your fault,” I tell her.

“Well, it’s not yours either!” She tells me fiercely. “You did nothing wrong!”

Then why do I feel all of this guilt? And shame? Every time I think about the past I feel sick, and I constantly have a pit of unease in my stomach. I want to go back. I want to change things.

“It doesn’t feel that way,” I whisper quietly, trying to keep tears from spilling.

She looks at me then, tears falling freely from her eyes. She pulls me to her, wrapping me in a bear hug. She pulls in a deep breath.

“Maybe... maybe if you aren’t using your magic... maybe you can start making some friends...”

I tense, instantly afraid.

“I can’t,” I say quickly, panicked. My heart starts racing and my palms sweating.

“Calm down,” she soothes, smoothing my hair. “Shh... if you aren’t ready... don’t go, beautiful. It’s up to you.”

“I’m not ready. I can’t... I can’t have friends... I can’t lose anyone else...”

The fear is at the surface and I’m struggling to push it back down. I can’t calm my heart and I want to crawl into a hole.

I’ll never be ready.

I’ll never get over this.

I will never be okay.

“Go take a shower,” she urges. “I just bought some fresh herbs. Take them and go relax. Try to calm down. I’ll cook dinner and then we can watch a movie together.”

I hug her back, nodding against her shoulder. “Okay. That sounds nice.”

“Good,” she tells me, pushing me away and wiping her tears. “Go,” she urges, ushering me towards the bathroom. “Relax.”

Once in the bathroom, I strip down and step into the shower, the water hot, filling the bathroom with steam and the scent of lavendar. I breathe in deeply.

It doesn’t help much. My heart isn’t racing anymore, but this sense of dread is still strong. I wash my hair, feeling my eyes getting heavy. I step out and wrap a big fluffy towel around my shoulders. I get dressed for bed quickly, ready to spend time with my mother.

We pile up on the couch, bowls of spaghetti in our hands and Legally Blonde on TV. I’m trying to relax and enjoy it, but I don’t have an appetite and the time on the clock says it’s 8 PM. I wonder idly what Leo is doing right now, knowing it’s none of my business. I lean my head on my mom’s shoulder, trying not to think about it, feeling my eyelids getting heavy.

When I open my eyes next it’s dark out, the clock now reading 5 AM. My mom is gone and I’m laying on the couch with a note next to my head.

Wanted to let you sleep. Got called in to work early. See you tonight. Love you, mom.

I groan, sitting up and yawning. My neck hurts, my back is stiff, and my head has a dull ache. I get up and make my way to my room. I turn on my curling iron and then stare at it in shock. I haven’t done anything to my hair in a year. I’m not sure what possessed me to do it. Deciding not to question it, I curl my hair quickly, grabbing big chunks and then brushing through them with my fingers once they cool. When I’m done I have long waves that reach halfway down my back.

I don’t know what’s come over me, but I brush some mascara through my lashes as well. I still choose a heather gray hoodie and some skinny jeans, though, sliding on some converse sneakers before I head out the door. It’s Friday, so I don’t have any classes today, but I’m in desperate need of some caffeine, which my mom won’t keep in the house. I walk in and the cafe is pretty much empty. I order my ‘regular’ and then sit at a comfy chair in the corner. I’m playing on my phone when someone clears their throat.

I look up to find Leo looking down at me. His arms are crossed and he’s frowning at me.

“Well, you don’t look sick. You’re definitely alive. What happened to you?”

I swallow around the lump in my throat. Push him away.

“Something came up,” I say quietly, looking down at my phone. “I’m sorry. I didn’t have a way to let you know I couldn’t make it.”

“You sure that’s it?” He asks skeptically.

“Yes.” I answer him in a clipped tone. I don’t want to be rude, but it’s what’s best for everyone.

“Let’s fix that,” he says, holding his hand out to me.

I blanch, looking up at him with wide eyes. He’s still holding his hand out.

“Phone, please.” He commands.

Reluctantly, I place my phone in his outstretched hand, watching him as he puts his number in my phone. I hear his phone ding.

Now he has my number, too.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” He asks, gesturing to the chair next to me as he hands me back my phone.

I just shrug.

“You’re up early,” he comments, sitting down.

“So are you,” I point out.

He shrugs, and I can tell he’s picking at me. “So... did something really come up or did you chicken out?”

I frown at him. “Are you always this nosy?”

“No.” He takes a sip of his coffee and leans towards me. “Are you always this evasive?”

I smile. “Yes.”

He smiles back—a breathtaking smile. “You’re finally honest about something.”

“Don’t get used to it,” I tell him, narrowing my eyes but maintaining my smile.

Why are you always so evasive?”

“You ask too many questions.” I look back at my phone, scanning through my unread emails.

“You avoid too many questions.”

“Are we going to do this all morning?” I demand, exasperated.

“Until you tell me why you blew me off.”

I sigh and pull my hand nervously through my dark waves. “I just wasn’t ready yet,” I admit. “I don’t know why I told you I’d go. I don’t want friends. Really.”

“Don’t want them?” He asks gently, staring me straight in my eyes. “Or feel like you don’t deserve them?”

I suck in a quick breath, surprised he’d seen through me so easily. “Maybe both.”

“Maybe you’re wrong,” he suggests.

“I’m not.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because...” I pause, unsure. “I wasn’t always the best person. I didn’t always make the right choices... and I just don’t deserve a second chance.”

“I think you do,” he tells me.

“You don’t even know me.”

“That’s your fault. I’m trying.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“I think that’s up to me. I just get this feeling that you’d be a good friend.”

I laugh. “I’m not. Not anymore. So, let it go.”

“Why don’t we compromise?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You haven’t even heard me out,” he defends himself.

I roll my eyes. “I’m listening.”

“What if, and really consider it, but what if we hung out? Just once. If you don’t have fun, or I don’t have fun, we won’t do it again and I’ll leave you alone to be a crazy cat lady.”

“I’m allergic to cats.”

“Dogs?”

“Allergic to dogs, too.”

“Well, fish, I don’t know. That’s not the point. Go to a party with me tonight.”

“I don’t think so...” I’m trying not to think about what my mom told me. I don’t deserve to have friends. I don’t deserve any attention from the handsome red-headed boy I haven’t stopped thinking about.

“I’ll leave you alone after tonight... if you want, of course. I promise, I’m a great friend.”

“You think very highly of yourself.”

“Shouldn’t we all think highly of ourselves?”

No.

“I’ll go,” I tell him, thinking maybe if I can just go with him tonight, I’ll tell him to leave me alone, and I can go back to being invisible.

“Great,” he says. “Text me your address so you can’t back out on me again. I’ll pick you up at eight.” He stands, ready to leave, but stops, turning to look at me. “You look nice today—you look nice every day, of course—but there’s something different today. You look happier, maybe.”

“Thanks,” I mumble, trying not to blush, but not succeeding.

He grins. “See you tonight.”

He leaves me then, my heart and mind raving.

What am I doing?!

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