Authors: M. Lathan
Tags: #paranormal romance, #paranormal, #young adult, #witches, #bullying, #shape shifter romance, #psychic abilities, #teen and young adult
“No.” I was about to stop there, but we’d
chased each other for almost two hours while I not so quietly
cried, so I added, “Not if you’re not planning on telling anyone
about the tears.”
“Deal. I decided not to go out with them
because I was terrified to disobey Sophia. I didn’t want to sit in
my room all alone, so I wrote you a note and came as … you
“Why? Why not as you, I mean?” I asked as I
stared out of the window over the sink. I realized I was being
creepy, so I turned around and gave my best impression of
He sat at the island and dug into his
cereal. “You seemed shy. I thought you’d feel less threatened if
you didn’t have to worry about talking to me.” He sighed and
smiled. “And … I really wanted to play, which is the opposite of
how I’m supposed to feel about being an animal. It’s not like being
a witch. It’s not as cool. Technically, I’m classified as a
His mouth froze, lips still twisted in a
smile, but sadness lurked there now. So slightly, a normal person
probably wouldn’t have seen it. Like depressed eyes could detect
I left the counter and sat two chairs over
from him, ready to attempt something I’d never been able to do –
have a conversation without awkward pauses. I borrowed Sophia’s
tone and words, imitating someone who wasn’t terrible at this.
“Sophia says who you are has nothing to do
with magic,” I said, my voice shaking. I pushed through the
jitters. “Just because someone thinks the kind of …
you are is bad, doesn’t mean you are.” I didn’t intend to sound
sad, but it came out as heavily as it had been weighing on me.
“You’re right. You have to have your own
opinion. I like shifting ... after I got over the initial shock,
anyway. I didn’t think any of this existed still until I woke up
with paws one day last year,” he said.
“Really?” I asked, genuinely interested. He
nodded. “Me too. Well, not last year and not paws, but still. Your
parents didn’t tell you?”
“That’s complicated, but the people I know
as my parents have no idea. I figured they’d turn me in, so I just
He swirled his spoon around the bowl,
twisting his mouth to the side. His eyes were sad. I wanted to
reach my hand to his face to cheer him up, but it wasn’t the right
time to pet him. Wasn’t the right
“I’m sorry,” I said instead.
“No big. I heard on the news yesterday that
your parents died in the war. Did they really? Just on a different
side than they think?” he asked. I nodded. “Sorry.”
“I never met them. I don’t …” I stopped
myself from saying I didn’t care about them, something I’d said
hundreds of times before, thinking of them hiding me with their
money. The hunters, or their boss, must have found them and burned
them after. They could have been nice like Sophia. Caring parents
with souls. “I don’t remember meeting them, I should say.”
“Still. Must suck growing up at an
orphanage.” He flashed me a genuine smile that made me feel like he
understood why I’d been such a mess last night. I smiled back. It
felt like we had a full conversation in that moment.
He lifted another dripping spoonful of
cereal to his mouth. A drop of milk stayed on his lip for a second.
Then he cleared it with his teeth.
Last night, I gave him a belly rub, and this
morning, as the sun gleaned on his creamy skin that covered
thoroughly exercised muscles, I found him … attractive. More than
the handsome I noticed on first glance, like I could
the effect of it now that I was alive.
I wanted to know Sienna’s number to call and
report that I was officially not a lesbian. In that same moment, I
knew exactly how to reach the phone with the pink and purple
sparkly case. 203-939-
“Is there something on my face?” Nathan
Oh, God. He’d caught me staring at him. No,
at his lips. “No. Um. Sorry. I spaced out.”
That murdered every ounce of confidence I
had, but before the silence turned awkward, Emma waddled into the
kitchen with her head in her hands.
“Fun night?” Nathan asked. She groaned. “Did
your spell work to get you guys there?”
“Yeah, but I’m not sure how we got
“Me, sweetheart,” Paul said, walking into
the kitchen, wearing the same thing he’d had on yesterday.
“Why didn’t you take my shoes off? I have
Bourbon Street smut all over my bed,” Emma said. Paul laughed and
bumped Emma with his hip. She staggered a few steps to the left.
“It’s okay. I won the bet, so you’re doing my laundry today.”
Instead of wondering about the bet and
sitting there like a silent creep, I asked, “What did you guys bet
on?” My voice shook, but I wanted to high-five myself for getting
the question out.
“That she wouldn’t take this guy’s
drumsticks and beat on his bucket. It was hilarious,” Paul
They laughed, Nathan joined them, and I …
blinked. It was going to take more than a game of fetch to drag
that out of me.
“Was that before or after Remi almost mauled
that guy?” Emma asked.
They both shook their heads.
“What happened?” Nathan asked.
“This guy bumped into her, like barely a
nudge, and she brought the claws out. Literally,” Emma said. “He
didn’t see, but it still freaked us out. She doesn’t think. She
just acts, and she’s always mad about something.”
I was more like Remi than the happy
teenagers in the kitchen. That gave me another reason to change. I
didn’t want to be anything like the grumpy panther who growled at
me and called me an idiot for paying Sophia.
Sophia had instructed Paul and Emma to
practice spells after chores. Nathan’s job was to help Remi stay
herself longer. Witch with wizard, shifter with shifter. And I, the
make believe human, was ordered to do schoolwork.
My phone beeped during my third hour of
distraction-free school. A text message from a 504 number.
Nathan. Got your number from Emma. What are
The smile was instant, no struggle at all. I
saved his number while I thought of a response. I only came up
About to get killed by a panther. She hates
Me too, I think.
I stared at the phone for five minutes,
waiting on a reply, actually anxious to talk to someone. To
Sorry. She just took a swipe at me. Can you
hear us up there?
I didn’t know if I should wait five minutes
to respond or not. I didn’t want to seem too eager. I checked the
answer to the last problem with the solutions in the back of the
book. I felt silly for waiting after a minute and typed:
It seemed friendlier than no.
So… they’re going out again tonight. You
want to hang out here?
My heart pounded like I was running. I
smiled because I was feeling again.
, I replied.
Cool, see you later if Remi doesn’t kill
I stared at the phone for a minute, shocked
and excited for tonight, before going back to Physics. I understood
it better in the quiet room. I wished I’d been homeschooled all
At lunch, I walked down to the kitchen,
hearing the laughter before I made it there. The patio door was
cracked open. The noise was coming from somewhere outside – music
and squealing and splashing. They were at the pool. I made a bowl
of cereal, then another when my stomach wasn’t satisfied, an ache I
usually ignored. I grabbed an orange out of the fruit bowl and
peeled it on the way back to my room. I wasn’t ready for that kind
of social interaction – one in a bathing suit.
In my room, I flipped through the channels
with my left hand, my right to my nose. As the scent of the orange
faded, depression found where I’d been hiding today, so suddenly I
couldn’t think of anything to do from the article. I dropped the
remote and curled up on the sofa, spiraling deeper as the minutes
passed. My body felt tired and disturbingly normal. Like the girl
who’d played with and talked to Nathan was the weird one.
The least I could do was not cry and turn
into a blubbering mess again. So I closed my eyes and escaped to
sleep with a shred of dignity.
Sophia shook me out of my coma. The
flickering colors from the TV were the only lights on in the
“I have an idea,” she said when I finally
sat up. “It’s time for dinner, and I think it would be a great idea
for you to cook for us tonight.”
“No. Absolutely not. No way,” I said. “I
thought you understood, Sophia.”
“I went to bed last night regretting letting
you eat up here alone. Please do this. You’ll see it’s not so bad,”
she said, in her sweet old lady voice.
“I don’t cook, and I don’t know any spells
“You don’t need one. It’s soup. You’ll throw
things in a pot and serve it. Some of the best conversations I’ve
ever had over dinner were about how I prepared the meal. I think
it’s a wonderful idea.”
She held my face in her hands, her
enchanting eyes digging into mine. She kissed me lightly on my
cheek. “You can’t eat alone forever. You will thank me for this one
day. I’ve seen it,” she said. I groaned and let her drag me
“Why can’t you just make dinner appear?” I
She kissed my hand before dropping it. “Most
of us cook every day, you know? With stoves and pots. It’s a
pastime, and the house smells like food. Like a good time with
friends and family.”
She stared at me like she was waiting for me
to disagree or say something about Satan or monsters. And because
she was right about my problems having nothing to do with magic,
and because I was on my way to fixing them, I smiled at her. She
hugged me like I’d done something spectacular, like solving world
She pulled out the ingredients I would need
to throw into the pot and hovered over me as I followed her recipe.
The actual preparing of the meal wasn’t terrible. Sophia made me
review what I’d learned today as the vegetable soup simmered. She
pointed out several discrepancies in my world history readings –
things humans took credit for or embellished.
As I ladled soup in six glass bowls, I
started to hyperventilate. I carried two at a time in my shaking
hands to the dining room. Sophia told them she’d asked me to make
dinner, leaving out the reason being to help me overcome a
“Thank you, dear,” she said when I brought
out the last two bowls. I sat next to Emma and across from Nathan.
He smiled when I looked up from my bowl. For a moment, I forgot to
be nervous. “Christine, tell us how you prepared this.”
I liked hearing that name. Christine sounded
like a different person, a person I wanted to be. The opposite of
“I cut up some stuff and it turned to soup
eventually,” I said.
I held my breath as spoons lifted around the
table, all but mine.
“It’s wonderful! Best soup I’ve ever had,”
Sophia said, clearly exaggerating.
Paul raised his water glass to me. “Tastes
just like Nana’s soup,” he said. Emma nodded in agreement.
“Was hair a part of the recipe?” Remi asked,
pulling a strand from her bowl. Emma coughed a little, the rest of
them were silent. Remi held it up to the light. The hair wasn’t
curly. Wasn’t mine. “I’m not eating this.”
I glanced at Sophia as she glared at Remi.
Her plan to make dinner a more pleasant experience for me was
crumbling under the weight of the stray hair.
“Maybe Sophia could make us something else,”
“Nonsense,” Sophia said. “One piece of hair
does not ruin a dinner. Remi can feed herself if she has a
“Since when is scarfing down someone else’s
hair not a problem? How is this better than living on the streets
and eating out of the trash?”
“Enough!” Sophia said.
“May I be excused?” I asked. She nodded, and
I escaped to the kitchen, embarrassed and hating the panther
already. “It was a stupid idea,” I whispered. “Not a big deal.”
Far worse things had happened to me. A
hundred awful and embarrassing moments came to mind in an instant,
one involving soup. I trembled, remembering the hot liquid sliding
down my back and how my fingers had curled against the lunch table
like the demon I’d convinced myself I was.
“That’s the past. Long gone,” I whispered,
shaking out of the memory.
I lifted the pot from the stove and carried
it to the sink to dump it.
“Wait,” Nathan said. “What if I want
seconds?” I shook my head and tilted the pot into the sink. The
reddish-orange liquid slushed to the side, stirring carrots and
bits of corn. “Seriously. I want another bowl,” he said, right
behind me now. I jumped, and he steadied the pot.
“You were just-”
“In the doorway?” he finished. I nodded. “I
forgot. You’re used to being around humans. I’m a fast runner.” He
chuckled and carried the pot back to the stove. “And … you’re a
“No, Sophia wanted me to be more social.
Problem is … well,” I said, gesturing around my head like
depression was visible there.
“I’m sorry. I don’t speak mime,” he said,
“Uh … I mean … I’m sure you’ve noticed that
I’m weird and not very … friendly.”
“I actually thought we had a lot in common.
Are you saying that I’m weird and not very friendly?”
“No.” I sighed. “It’s just that…” I lost my
words again and flailed my arms in the air, frustrated with
“Obviously, I’m going to have to learn to
speak mime if this friendship is going to work.”
My heart fluttered like it had this morning
and again when he’d texted me. Like I was alive and the wall I’d
felt with every other person I’d ever met didn’t exist with him. He
joined a category that only Mr. Crusty had been in before – I
wanted to be his friend. I smiled. “This friendship?” I