I’m anxious today.
Will he show up this time?
How will I keep myself from spilling all of my secrets?
How in the world does he get me to feel so comfortable around him?
I can’t believe I’ve worked so hard only to have it all unraveled by a handsome, auburn-haired dork-type. Ugh, he’s such a cute dork, though.
I don’t know what’s on the agenda for today so I’ve chosen black leggings and a black spaghetti strap crop top, with a pastel pink raincoat, as I can sense a storm is coming.
My phone vibrates in my hand and I tense. Why do I keep letting this guy get my hopes up? Reluctantly I check the text.
As soon as I read it, there’s an audible knock on my door.
I pull the door open, trying to contain my excitement. The whole point of this is to convince him that I don’t want any friends. He looks dashing. I take in his slicked-back hair, his jeans, and his navy sweater. Navy is definitely his color. He takes in my outfit as well, surprise written on his face. He clears his throat.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, mortified, looking down at myself in horror.
“Nothing,” he says, but his voice is tight, restrained.
“Damn, little witch,” Ezra says, popping up behind Leo. “And I thought you looked hot last night.”
Is that why Leo was looking at me like that? Because he likes my outfit?
I blush just thinking about the possibility. I look back to him, searching for something in his eyes that will confirm or deny the revelation I’ve just had.
“Ezra tagged along—hope you don’t mind,” Leo explains apologetically.
“I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see my little witch again,” he says, brushing past Leo and into my house. He takes in the living room, unimpressed. The walls are mostly bare, the only furniture is our couch, a tv stand, and the TV itself.
“You just move in here?” He asks.
“No.” It’s a simple answer. My mom suggested we keep our lives... packed up... ready to throw everything in the car and move in an instant, if necessary.
“Quick getaway planned?” He chuckles.
“Something like that,” I mumble. Let them think what they want. I tuck a piece of hair nervously behind my ear. Leo is still standing outside the door.
“You would think Ezra was the one who needed to be invited in,” I tease.
He chuckles and steps in, the door closing behind him, but he doesn’t come past the threshold, looking as equally nervous as I feel.
“I thought this wasn’t a date,” Ezra groans, aggravated.
“It’s not!” Leo and I both declare in unison.
Ezra now wears an amused smirk on his face. “Is that right, little witch?” He slinks over to me, putting an arm around my shoulders. I shiver. “If that’s true, then you and I should spend a little time getting to know each other.”
I sneak a look at Leo and he does not look happy. “I didn’t ask her to hang out so that you can hit on her.”
“If it’s not a date, why does it matter to you if I’m hitting on her?”
I can tell that Ezra is enjoying this, loving to watch us squirm. He reminds me of the old me. Vindictive.
“You’re going to scare her away,” Leo tells him with as much patience as he seems to be able to muster.
Ezra pulls me close to his side. “She doesn’t strike me as one to scare easily. Am I right, little witch?” He grins toothily at me. “I think she’s intrigued by me. I think she’d like to spend a little time with me.” He looks into my eyes, speaking to me now. “Just say the words, and we’ll go somewhere, just you and me, beautiful. I can tell you have some darkness lurking inside. Come let it out with me. Come be bad.”
I’m mesmerized. I want to go with him, my magic urging me to take him up on his offer. Be bad, it whispers, pushing against my skin, tingling in anticipation.
I can’t let it out.
“Ah!” Ezra hollers, jerking his hand away, a small burn on his hand where it had been resting on my shoulder.
“Sorry!” I apologize quickly. “Reflex.”
“Take that as your sign to leave her alone, Ez.” Leo holds out a hand for me and I take it, allowing him to pull me next to him.
My head clears as soon as I’m away from Ezra. He brings out the bad in me.
He looks at me with an expression that seems to scream, let it out. I look away from him, up at Leo. “Where are we going?” I ask him quietly.
“You and I are going downtown, get lunch and maybe a coffee. Ezra can come,” he sneaks a look at him, “but he’s going to do his own thing.”
“Message received,” he quips then look at me. “You’ll come around, Salem. I can make you mine.”
Leo winces next to me.
“I doubt it. I don’t date,” I inform him.
“You’ve never dated?” He asks me, skeptical.
“I didn’t say I’ve never dated. I’m saying I don’t now, and that won’t change in the foreseeable future. No matter how seductive you think you are.”
I’m twenty-seven human years old. Obviously, I’ve dated. I’ve had crushes and romances and flings and one night stands. I mean, I used to be hot, as Ezra so eloquently phrased it. I like it better the way Leo phrases it. You always look good, but something is different. Happier, he’d said. I shouldn’t be happier around him, but I am. He forces me to accept that I’m still... a person? That after what happened, I didn’t just turn invisible... even if I wish I did. I want to get to know him, and I want him to know me. However, that’s just too dangerous a game to play.
“Anything serious?” He asks, conversationally, while Leo stands, tense, next to me.
“You don’t have to answer him,” Leo tells me.
“Nothing too serious,” I answer.
“No l-word spoken? The forbidden kiss of death?” He’s dramatically enunciating every word.
“Is love a bad word?” I ask. He looks at me as though I should know the answer—and I do. “To answer your question, no. No l-word has been spoken.”
“What about... other words?” He wiggles his eyebrows at me, hinting at something I’d rather not talk about.
“Ez, man! Leave her alone. Whether you believe it or not, she’s a little gun-shy.” He looks at me, smiling sheepishly, as though calling me gun-shy would offend me. “She’s ditched me before, I’m sure she would do it again if you don’t lay off.”
“My... other words... are none of your business,” I tell him calmly.
“So, you’re a virgin then?”
“Time to go!” Leo shouts, turning for the door and pulling me through it. Ezra rolls his eyes, but he follows, waiting with his arms crossed over his chest impatiently as I lock the door.
It’s a quiet drive downtown, the human downtown. Thankfully Ezra has given us a break from his constant wit. When Leo parks in a big, concrete parking garage, Ezra is immediately out and gone in the blink of an eye.
“I really am sorry about him,” he tells me, opening the passenger-side door for me.
“Thank you,” I say quietly. “He’s no so bad,” I tell him. “He’s a lot like the people I used to hang out with.”
“A lot like the old you?” He ponders, remembering what I’d previously shared with him about my past. I give him a pointed look. “I’d like to learn more about the old you.”
He leads me through the garage and onto the busy street. Cars, mopeds, bikes, and pedestrians all crowd the road. We high-tail it across at a red-light, heading towards who-knows-where.
“It’s not that interesting,” I assure him.
“I don’t believe that. I find you to be very interesting. You don’t act like everyone else and you don’t care what anyone thinks.”
“That’s not true,” I counter. “I care what some people think.” I try to keep the embarrassment and shyness from seeping into my voice. I don’t need him to realize he’s one of those people. From his small smile, I think I may have given myself away.
“Okay, so you don’t care what most people think. I like that. Most people are so caught up in different things like social status, age, wealth, or beauty. You’re just more... real? You give it to people honest, you don’t hide from other peoples opinions and you aren’t afraid to give your own.”
I try not to tear up, but there’s so much he doesn’t know about me.
I clear my throat. “It took... a lot of... bad for me to go this way,” I start slowly. “I did... terrible things. Things that I can’t take back no matter how much I wish I could. I hurt people—people that I cared about...” I stumble, unable to find the words to describe what happened without giving any details at all.
“But you don’t want to talk about what exactly happened?” He guesses.
“I can’t,” I say quickly, panic clawing it’s way up my throat. I feel sick.
“Okay, calm down,” he commands gently. “You don’t have to tell me... but, you know, it could be the kind of thing you could confide in a friend about.”
“If I told you, we would never be friends.” Of that much I am positive.
“How would you know that unless you try it?”
“It’s just that bad,” I tell him honestly. “I don’t trust myself anymore, and no one else should either. I couldn’t promise that I’d never hurt you, or any friend I may have, and I can’t do that again. I can’t lose anyone else...”
He nods thoughtfully. “I can respect that... but I wish you’d consider letting me—someone—in. Why should you live in solitude?”
“You don’t get it,” I tell him, exasperated. I notice we’ve stopped walking but I don’t pay attention to where we are. “If I told you about my past, you’d hate me. I just... I can’t take that...”
He finally looks at me as though he’s taking me seriously, and I’m afraid he’ll ditch me and decide not to talk to me anymore...
Which is what I should want. I don’t need to be friends with him.
“Lunch?” He asks, stony-faced as he gestures towards our destination.
I finally look around, realizing we’re standing outside of a... bank?
“We’re eating at... a federal credit union?”
“Trust me?” He asks, holding his hand out to me.
I stare at it for a long second, trying to decide.
Do I trust him?