Tormented

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Stuck With Me

Salem

I left my last class of the day a little late, so now, as I approach my front door a few minutes past seven, I find Ezra leaning against it.

His mouth pulls into a sly grin. “I thought you were avoiding me, little witch.

If only.

“Of course not,” I tell him. “I was just running late.” How can I get out of this? “I have a lot of work to do. Is it okay if we make this a quick dinner?”

“Sure thing,” he says, taking my hand and leading me to his car, not even allowing me to go inside. I frown as I climb into the passenger seat. This is the last thing I want to be doing right now.

It’s a quiet drive to a nearby Chinese restaurant. We order, he pays. We talk a little, mostly about mundane things, and then we’re back in his car headed towards my house.

He walks me to my porch, an amused smile on his face.

“Quick enough for you?”

“Quick and confusing,” I say.

“I like to keep people on their toes,” he chuckles and then in the blink of an eye he’s gone, back in his car, retreating down the driveway.

I’m left standing in front of my door, confused. Why did he take me to dinner? Why was it so uneventful? Obviously I didn’t expect grandeur or anything, but I had expected for there to be a blatant reason we went out. He could’ve been after information, to pick at me about Leo, to hit on me. Anything. Instead, there was nothing. Civil conversation over food. Not a mention of Leo, and never once did he make a move.

I stumble inside my house, a strange feeling in the pit on my stomach. What just happened?

“Where have you been?” My mother asks casually as I hang my things on our hall tree.

“Out with a...” I almost say friend, but he surely isn’t that. “A guy,” I say instead, quick to make sure I explain. “I don’t really know him, but he’s very persistent.”

She shoots me a cautious look. “Maybe... maybe he could be a friend? Is this the guy you were supposed to meet the other night?”

My face flames ar the thought of telling my mom about Leo.

“No...” I say slowly. “I was with his brother tonight.”

“Pick one, sweetheart. Pitting the two against each other is a disaster waiting to happen.”

“I don’t plan on dating either of them,” I tell her curtly, leaning against the kitchen island as she chops vegetables for dinner. “What are you making?”

“My famous chicken and veggie meatballs.”

“Famous?” I laugh. “I don’t think you’ve ever cooked them before.”

She rolls her eyes dramatically. “Well, after tonight they’ll be famous. Peel the potatoes for me, please?” She requests.

Silently, we work on the rest of her meal prep together. My mother and I are a lot alike. We work well together, both taking cues from each other. If I see that she’ll need a colander soon, I grab it from the cupboard for her. If she sees that I need water boiling for the potatoes, she fills a pot and cuts the stove on. We talk easily, but the quiet is nice too. Sometimes nothing needs to be said, just enjoying the mother-daughter bonding time.

We both sit in front of the TV while the meatballs are cooking, talking about her work at the hospital a little, and I mention the new teacher in my magic class. She, like always, tells me she’ll take care of it. I know that I’ll have to find a way out of this one on my own, though. I don’t think a parent-teacher conference is going to work on Professor Marcus. He could never understand the situation.

My mother washes the dishes and I dry them and put them away and then we both head to our rooms for bed. She has an early morning. I crawl into bed, suddenly exhausted, not even bothering to wash away the remnants of the day.

When I wake up it’s still dark out. I check my phone. 4 AM. Why in the world am I awake right now? I try desperately for the next 45 minutes to fall back asleep to no avail. I grudgingly get out of bed and head to the shower. I scrub the leftover mascara from my eyes sleepily. I’m about to squeeze shampoo into my hands when I notice that they’re dripping thick, red liquid. My heart stops and I look around for the source, noticing drops hitting the shower floor, seeming to be dripping off my chin. I wipe the steam from the glass door and peer into the mirror across from me. Two empty eye sockets stare back at me, black and oozing blood. I scream, terrified, tripping as I fight my way out of the shower. Standing naked on the bathroom rug, the reflection now shows a perfectly normal girl, with two large green eyes. I rub them and check again. Still normal.

Was I still asleep? Was I sleepwalking?

I turn back to the shower and see that the tile floor is still swimming with bright red blood. I heart stops. So, if I’m not dreaming this... something magical is going on.

I rinse the shower floor and finish my shower quickly, not wanting to be in the bathroom for any longer than I have to. I hear my mother leave for work while I’m getting dressed. I grab an oversized sweater from my closet, a pair of skinny jeans, and boots, and I’m ready for the day, my hair in a wet, messy bun. I don’t dare touch my face, so I leave it bare.

I leave the house in a hurry, locking the door behind me. I make my way to pick up my caffeine fix, too distracted to look for Leo, and am in my seat in record time. In fact, I’m the first one there, sitting in the back of the empty, dimly lit classroom. I get an eerie, skin crawling feeling—the sensation that someone is watching me. I’m about to get up and high-tail it out of there when I hand comes down on my shoulder.

I jump, startled, and let out a strangled yelp.

“Sorry,” he chuckles. “Didn’t mean to scare you. Mind if I sit here?”

I just look at him and he slowly takes a seat next to me.

“I’m Nathan,” he introduces himself, holding out his hand. I hesitantly shake it.

“Salem.”

He nods appreciatively. “I’m the new TA,” he tells me in a hushed tone, as though it’s a secret.

“The new TA?” I ask, my heart sinking. “What happened to the old one?”

“Professor Marcus likes to pick his own TA. The old one was too similar to the previous professor—had the same preconceived notions of the class.”

“Oh.” Is all I say, thinking of Leo. Is this why I haven’t heard from him?

“You friends with the old TA?” He asks.

“No. Not really.”

He nods.

“Why are you sitting at the back of the room? Shouldn’t you be at the desk?” I pry.

“I like the back. You can see more at the back because people don’t think you’re watching them. Is that why you sit at the back?”

“I don’t like to be watched. I like to sit in the back and be—”

“Invisible?” He finishes for me.

“Something like that,” I mutter.

He stares at me for a second before turning to stare at the front of the classroom, leaning back in his chair, hands behind his head. He has no bag with him. Something about all of this just doesn’t sit well with me.

I take in his dark jeans, his expensive looking sweater, and his shaggy blonde hair. He’s handsome in a pretty way, with caramel colored eyes and full lips, everything about his face perfect except for the slight crook of his nose.

I look away, aggravated that he’s chosen to sit with me.

“Am I bothering you, Salem?” He has a sinister smile on his lips.

“Not at all,” I lie. “I love company.”

He laughs. “Yes, you definitely strike me as someone who enjoys a friendly conversation.”

“Do I not?” I tease, surprised by our easy banter.

“No,” he says honestly. “Not exactly. But I think we’re getting there.”

“Hmm. I don’t do friends.”

“You just think you don’t.”

“You don’t even know me,” I laugh.

“I could—if you let me.”

What is with all of these teacher assistants trying to be my friend?

“No thanks. It has nothing to do with you, but I really don’t do friends.”

“I don’t believe you.”

I roll my eyes.

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” he tells me.

“Why doesn’t it?” I wonder aloud.

“Because this is my seat now. I’ll be next to you every day.”

Other students begin filing in, some eyeing us curiously. Probably wondering why I’m talking to all the teachers in this class.

“I could always move,” I point out.

“And I could always follow you,” he says right back.

“Why? Why do you need to be my friend?” I never asked Leo, but I need someone to explain to me why they won’t leave me alone.

“Because you don’t want me to be.” He says this as though it’s common knowledge, like I should have known this. “The more you push people away, the more you attract them. You’re intriguing, a mystery. People love a good mystery.”

“I’m no mystery.”

“I beg to differ.” He looks at me intently.

“So, if I agree to be your friend, will you leave me alone?” I ask.

He smirks at me. “No. You’re stuck with me now.”

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