I’ve tried everything I can think of to get her to open up to me. It’s not like I’m asking for a lifetime commitment—it’s one friendly lunch, but she’s taking everything so seriously, and serious is fine, but I have no idea what’s she’s talking about. What did she do that was so bad? What’s made her so irredeemable in her eyes that she pushes everyone away?
She’s looking at me with an indecipherable expression on her face—there’s warmth in her eyes, hope almost, and I can tell from the tiny tilt of her lips that she’s fighting a smile, but her arms are crossed over her chest, her position defensive, almost as though she’s about to run away.
“No,” she finally says. “I don’t trust you... yet... but I’ll go with you anyway,” she tells me as she takes my hand. I try not to think of the jolt of electricity that shoots up my arm at the feel of her hand in mine. I lead her through the bank foyer and to the door clearly marked ‘employees only’ and we head up the stairs. She glances at me curiously but otherwise says nothing.
When we reach our destination I have a slight moment of panic—is this too much like a date?
I shrug it off. So what if it is? Going on a date with Salem would definitely not be the worst thing in the world. Hopefully it just doesn’t freak her out. It would be a shame if I put in all of this effort only to make her more afraid of friends.
“What is this?” She gasps and I look over at her. She’s breathtaking. Her full lips are parted slightly, her long black hair pulled into a sleek ponytail. Her top is tight and shows off cleavage she’s previously left to the imagination.
She’s staring in wonder at the empty studio, dimly lit, the only thing in the room is a blanket with a basket and two glasses. There’s strands of lights strung from the beams, giving the industrial space a warm glow.
This is definitely like a date.
Too late now.
I clear my throat. “My family owns this building. My mom rents it out for weddings and parties. I was thinking picnic at the park but since the weather didn’t cooperate, I moved the picnic indoors. I hope that’s okay.”
I can’t be sure, but I think she blushes. My heart races a little faster. I hadn’t intended on pursuing her with this challenge I’ve presented her with, but now I’m hoping by the end of it, I’ve persuaded her into believing in friendship again. I remember her earlier remarks about not dating, but I’m thinking that decision more or less falls along the same lines of her stance on friends. That it hopefully she just really isn’t interested in Ezra.
“Sure,” she tells me quietly, seeming almost shy.
Still holding her hand, I pull her over the the blanket. She sits on her knees and looks at me curiously.
I chuckle and pull the basket open. When she sees what I’ve brought she laughs.
“Wings, fried mozzarella, and pizza?” She asks, her tone full of accusations.
I shrug. “I don’t really know what you eat, but I remember seeing these on your receipt. I also brought wine, if you drink, and sparkling grape juice for if you don’t.”
“Wine is fine,” she says, smiling at me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this genuine a smile from her. Happiness suits her.
I open the wine and pour her a glass, and then fill my own. She pulls her legs out from under her and leans back on one hand, getting more comfortable. Good—I want her to be comfortable with me. I open the box of fried mozzarella, offering it to her first. She takes one, but waits for me to take one as well before she takes a bite.
“So,” I start a little awkwardly. Conversation usually flows with me—I don’t ever work this hard at it. “For future reference, assuming you’ll change your mind on not wanting friends, what other types of food do you like?”
She rolls her eyes at me, but entertains my questioning.
“I don’t know, I really like pretty much anything.”
“Favorite?” I ask.
“Hmm,” she hums, thinking. “Pasta—any kind. What about you? What’s your favorite?”
“I’d have to say corned beef.” She raises an eyebrow at me, questioning. “My family is originally from Ireland. Corned beef is in my blood,” I explain and she laughs. “Where are you originally from?”
She clears her throat and looks forlornly at the floor. “Uh, Hollowbrook, Tennessee.” When she glances up and sees my surprise she continues. “I’m being honest with you—as much as I can be—but I won’t talk about Hollowbrook.”
I nod but I have a million questions spinning around in my head. Not only did she know people from Hollowbrook, but she’s from there. Does she know who massacred the town? Was she friends with him? Is that why she feels so bad about her past? She referred to the massacre as evil, with no reasoning—did she court evil? Could it have been a boyfriend? Is this why she doesn’t date?
“How old are you? Not that it really matters in our world.” I’m trying to get my mind off of the questions demanding answers.
“Twenty-seven,” she answers quietly. “In human years. You?”
“In human years? Thirty-five. Not too much older than you. But I’m witch years I probably stopped aging mid-twenties.”
“You’d think we’d have a more precise way to pinpoint our ages by now,” she comments. “Witches have only been around for thousands of years—someone should have come up with something by now.”
“Like what?” I tease. “Some sort of mathematical equation? Average out our human and witch years?”
She narrows her eyes at me, but smiles softly. “Something like that.”
“So, you’ve dated?” I ask casually, hoping to indirectly weasel some answers from her.
“A little,” she admits. “Nothing too serious.”
I look at her for a long second, taking in her outfit and hair, and the makeup on her face. I try not to linger too long on her subtle curves. “Bad boy type?” I guess.
She shakes her head. “They were more of the partier types. One guy was rich and stuck up—considered himself southern royalty.” She looks up at me with big, innocent eyes—maybe trying too hard to appear that way, maybe my imagination. “Do you date much? Have a girlfriend?”
“I date every now and then. There hasn’t been anyone I’ve found very interesting in my time at Hallewell. Until now.”
I don’t mean to add the last sentence. Those two small words exposing more than I’ve intended. Salem is maybe the most interesting person I’ve ever met, leaving me wanting to know her the instant I saw her, but I don’t know her very well yet and I don’t know that she wants me to know her. Frankly, she probably wants nothing to do with me and I’m making an ass of myself.
“Until now,” she repeats slowly. She seems unaware that she’s said it out loud. She shakes her head, as if to clear it. “I was shallow then, they didn’t have to be interesting—just attractive.”
“I’m surprised you weren’t more interested in Ezra. He sounds like your type.”
“I’m attracted to Ezra,” she says quietly, thoughtfully. My heart sinks. “More honesty?” She asks gently, and I nod my response, hoping to seem encouraging and not disappointed. “Ezra... he brings out the... bad in me. Being around him was tempting to say the least. But I don’t want to be that way. I don’t ever want to be that girl again.”
I consider her words. “So, what you’re saying is, the bad in you is attracted to the bad in him?”
“Yeah, kind of.”
I can live with that. “So, romantically, you aren’t interested?”
“Not in Ezra, no.”
That’s quite the distinction.
“I can’t... I can’t let myself get... romantically involved with anyone here. I just don’t think it would end well.”
“Who were you eating with last night, then?” I ask. She’s eaten two pieces of fried mozzarella and one slice of pizza while we’ve been talking, and she’s full. There’s no way all of that food was for her.
“My mom,” she laughs. “And she was at work. I had a date with my couch and the Hallmark channel. You know, since you bailed.”
“I apologized for that,” I defend myself, leaning towards her without really thinking about it. “And I’m making it up to you now, aren’t I?”
“Yes,” she concedes. “This makes up for it.”
“Good,” I tell her, feeling the mood shift, the air in the room becoming thick with a lust I’m not sure she reciprocates. “I didn’t want to disappoint you. I know I was disappointed... until we ran into each other. Lucky coincidence.”
“Or not so lucky, if you see if from my point of view.”
“I don’t,” I tell her as we gravitate closer to each other. I notice her leaning towards me as well, unaware of it. I reach a nervous hand tentatively towards her, my fingers brushing against her neck. She shivers under my touch.
“Leo,” she whispers the warning, her eyes closing as I move closer, my lips mere inches from hers.
“Salem,” I whisper back, feeling her hand press against my chest and then run up my chest and down my shoulder.”
“Leo... We can’t do this.”