Authors: M. Lathan
Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance
“Where did you disappear to last night, Em?” Paul asked.
She looked up from her plate and smiled. “With Chris. I slept in her bed. We talked about a boy I like.” I held my breath, both proud and petrified. “This guy from home. He lives in L.A. now.”
“What’s his name?” Sophia asked, smiling, ready for girl talk.
“Uh … Louis. I call him Lou,” Emma said. She glared at me, begging for support. I didn’t want to participate in her lie, so I grabbed my glass to chug the grape juice I’d finally developed a taste for. I’d given up on getting oranges or orange juice in this house. Sophia just happened to miss it on the grocery list four weeks in a row. I didn’t bother asking for it anymore.
Emma narrowed her eyes at me, and I continued to ignore her. “My favorite thing about Lou is that he has a connection to a shoe dealer. Chris and I love expensive shoes at low prices. It’s practically stealing.”
I choked on the grape juice, and Nate patted my back. Sophia ordered me to lift my arms. How that was supposed to help with choking, I didn’t know.
“Yeah, Lou, he’s perfect for her,” I croaked.
She flashed me a sneaky smile, outlined in red lipstick. “When Chris is less famous, I hope to introduce you all to him.”
Sophia cleared her throat. “Maybe. I don’t know how I feel about that,” she said.
Emma knew Sophia wouldn’t like that. It was probably why she’d mentioned it. Bringing more people into our lives would complicate our already complicated situation.
The world was still reeling from the rumored witch sighting. Even though most believed I’d staged the abduction to escape my bullies, my face still appeared on the news at least once a week.
My friends had to explain why they were in the media with a human to their new bosses, and Emma had the bright idea to tell them I wasn’t one. So at home, I was sort of a copy.
To Sophia, sort of an angel.
To Paul and
parents and their stupid new job, I was a witch like I’d mistakenly thought I was for years.
It was hard to feel like one person with so many versions of me, of the Christine I'd fought so hard to become.
“Nana, please loosen the reins on Chris,” Paul said. “I want to go on a triple date. Annabelle is dying to meet them, and I’m sure she’ll love ‘ole Lou.”
“Maybe,” Sophia said. I couldn’t have been the only one to see Emma sink into her seat. Poor thing. “Is today an actual workday or training?”
“Training,” Nate said.
“But with everything happening in Guatemala, I would assume The Peace Group would be there,” she said.
I swallowed the eggs in my mouth and said, “With the contagion? I hope not. The news said 2,000 people died.” Sophia narrowed her eyes at me. It felt like I’d given away how late I’d been up last night, like the death toll was specific to four a. m. “And why would they go there anyway?” I asked
to distract her.
“Sololá, Guatemala is and has always been heavily populated with our kind,” she said. “And the deaths were sudden, obviously from powers faster than magic or they would have protected themselves. Disease is the only thing humans have to explain it. We know differently.”
The expressions on all of their faces told me they believed hunters attacked that city. I thought of Kamon’s triplet copies then. How fast they were, as fast as I could be.
“They won’t … get away with it, right?” I asked.
“Some people are above the law,” Nate said.
Forks clinked against the glass plates as I felt even more different and threatening than I usually did.
I’m not like them
, I chanted in my head.
I’m not like the hunters
“Hello, Hello,” a man said in the living room. It took me a moment to place the voice as Paul’s dad. I should’ve known immediately from the way he’d sung his greeting instead of speaking it, like someone raised by Sophia would do.
Both of his parents walked into the dining room.
At least once a week, they dropped in on their baby boy. I hadn’t expected to see them this morning since Paul and Em had eaten with them last night, but by the looks on their faces and the camera in Mr. Ewing’s hands, they were too excited and proud to let this morning go undocumented.
“Good morning, Richard,” Sophia said, as Paul’s dad kissed her on the cheek. “Vanessa, what a beautiful dress.” I chuckled. Paul’s mother dressed a lot like Sophia. Embroidered ladybugs covered her collar and sleeves, and she had matching ladybug studs in her ears.
“Thanks, Mom,” she said.
Paul cringed as Mrs. Ewing straightened his hair.
,” his dad said. He pointed his huge camera at his son’s fake smile. “Now you, Em.” Emma showed off her work shirt and a kissy face for the camera. “Your turn, Nate.” My dorky boyfriend crossed his eyes and pointed to the Peace Group’s logo.
“Christine, dear,” Mrs. Ewing said. “We know you’re not working, but do you want a picture?” All heads turned to Sophia for approval.
“Why not?” Sophia said. “Only family will see these, and she’s family.” I smiled, but my heart squeezed so hard that I thought they would see it move through my pajama top. I wanted to be considered family, to be the orphaned witch who Sophia loved for no reason like they thought, but as I stared at the way Mrs. Ewing adjusted Paul’s scarf, loving on him so effortlessly that she probably didn’t notice it, I wanted my own family.
The one that was taken from me.
“Don’t mouth off when you are asked to do something,” Mr. Ewing instructed them. “Be polite. Be gracious. Be willing to get dirty.” He ruffled
hair, aiming that at her specifically, and snapped a shot of it before she fixed it.
I wanted to throw my juice on him. This whole job thing was his fault. Some random wizard had recognized Paul as his son and offered him a job. Paul extended the invitation to Em and Nate, and now they were all working for a magical company that even Sophia wasn’t sure about. But since the three of them had fallen in love with the boss and it was technically charitable work, she didn’t object to the job.
That was the biggest difference between us – Sophia approved of or objected to their decisions. She made mine.
Mr. and Mrs. Ewing left after another wave of Sophia-like kisses on their youngest son, and the rest of breakfast passed too quickly. With each morsel of food disappearing from their plates, I felt them move away from me. I glanced around the table, not seeing my boyfriend, best friend, and make-believe cousin. I saw a shifter, a witch, and a wizard.
Each with their own paths, and dreams, and futures.
All different from mine.
Feeling this way, different from everyone around me, reminded me of those long days and even longer nights at St. Catalina. I was constantly numb and lonely. I’d let myself drown there, falsely believing that my death was certain and burning in hell was imminent. I was sad and sick and I’d give anything not to go back to the state where I hated myself and weighed almost nothing.
I wished I’d had time to heal without Nate, because now that I was forced to let him live his own life, I felt like I’d be Leah any moment now. And Leah wasn’t just sad. She had a host of other problems. Terrible ones.
“Can I talk to you in the living room?” Nate whispered in my ear, probably sensing me slipping under. Since he could smell my moods, he always intervened and tried to cheer me up. That was what terrified me the most about him going on the trip. How would I smile without him? What would stop me from picking a point on the wall to stare at until he came back? What would distract me from missing my parents?
Over the past three months, I’d become obsessed with them – their lives, their love, the way they died. Since I’d actually talked to CC, my obsessed mind had made me delusional about our relationship, making up memories of her singing to me and holding me. In these contrived memories, I am seventeen and in my living room and blurry arms are wrapped around me.
I shivered, seeing it now, seeing those arms and hearing a song I’d sung to myself every night for years. The voice was warped and deep, like something was wrong with a tape. I wanted to hear that voice, hear her sing to me. I shivered harder, suddenly sure that the voice was hers, just tampered with somehow, forgotten. I pulled closer to it, as
as I had been this morning when I’d used my powers for the first time in months.
“Sweetheart!” Sophia yelled. She leaned my head back and pushed a napkin under my nose to catch the blood. “Can you hear me?”
I nodded and glanced around the table. I cringed at my friends’ faces. Great. There wasn’t a better way to look like a copy than having a spontaneous nosebleed.
Sophia cleaned my face. She had a hard time remembering I had hands at times.
“Good one, Chris,” Paul said. “Psychic theatrics to get us to stay.”
Emma smacked his arm.
“Dude, not funny,” Nate said. He lifted me out of the chair. “Can we be excused?” Sophia nodded, and he carried me to the living room, squeezing me and apologizing softly in my ear. “Does that happen when you’re mad? Baby, please don’t be mad at me.”
I shook my head and kissed his cheek. “It’s not you. It doesn’t happen when I’m mad. I don’t know what I did. I was just thinking about CC. I’m fine about you leaving. It’s no big deal.”
“Look at me,” he said, ignoring my lie. I did for a moment, before his eyes made my heart stammer. “I don’t want to go. Work is just something I
to do. If I were rich, I would never leave your side, but I’m not. I have to make something of myself, and this is the best way.”
He kissed me and finally let me stand on my own. It felt symbolic, like he’d carried me out of darkness and now he couldn’t be here to carry me anymore.
“Don’t get worked up about missing CC again. No nosebleeds; that’s an order. Think about the happy stuff in her diary. And missing your mom is normal, babe. I didn’t even meet her, and I miss her too,” he said. I laughed. It was the perfect thing to say. “We’ll be back at four.
Four-thirty at the latest.
I swear.” I allowed myself a few tears and brushed them away as he kissed me goodbye. “I’ll text you if it turns out the no phone thing is a rumor. Love you.”
“Love you more.”
After a few more kisses and a few more tears, Emma and Paul came into the living room to say goodbye. Then they vanished, moving on with their lives in a moment, in the world they were born to be in.
The quiet hum of the AC made me think of my dorm room at St. Catalina. How quiet it used to be. How quiet I used to be.
“I can be alone,” I whispered.
“Of course you can, love,” Sophia said, wrapping her arms around me. “You’ve been alone since school, remember?” I nodded. I’d spent a few days alone in Paris in Lydia Shaw’s apartment after my dramatic breakup with Nate. I didn’t remember much of it, but I didn’t crumble. I was watching movies, distracting myself from heartache, and stealing her shoes. “You’ll be just fine, dear.” Her phone buzzed in her dress pocket. She sighed as she answered. “Does
not mean anything to you? Why are you calling me?”
My heart sped. It was her boss –
Lydia Shaw. I waved my hands in Sophia’s face. “Ask her. Ask her, please.” She knew what I wanted to know. We talked about it every day. And she told me to mind my own business every day, too.
“Lydia, Christine would like to know if Remi is okay.”
I crossed my fingers and closed my eyes, standard wish stance.
Please let her be okay.
Sophia tapped my shoulder and passed me her phone. I breathed into the speaker for a few seconds before I worked up the courage to speak to her.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi. How are you?” she asked.
I couldn’t answer for a moment. I got a starstruck feeling every time I thought about
so hearing her voice was sending me into a state of frenzy. She was so famous that people bowed in her presence, and I was privileged to know her because she was Sophia’s boss.
I once thought she would want to kill me, but having inherited powers didn’t bother her at all. She
was surprisingly understanding
. She didn’t care about what kind of creature I sort of was or that Nate and I were technically breaking the treaty by dating. She was only strict about one thing – me leaving the house. I had to ask her permission every time we wanted to go somewhere, and she’d arrange it to make sure Kamon or his hunters wouldn’t meet us there.
I was virtually helpless on my own. I didn’t use my powers, and even if I did, I didn’t know how helpful they’d be in a fight against someone other than Remi. Lydia had offered me lessons I had yet to take her up on. I figured the time she would use to train the powers I didn’t want would be better spent rescuing Remi and Kamon’s other hostages.
Sadly, Lydia didn’t know Catherine personally from her hunter days. She’d heard of her, but couldn’t tell me any more about my parents than Sophia could.
“I’m doing okay,” I finally said.
“Wonderful. But excuse my weak ears. I know I must be mistaken. I thought Sophia said you asked me something about Remi. That can’t be true, right?”
I had. I’d promised her I’d be a normal teenager, but I felt anything but normal today. My friends were gone, leaving me here alone with my thoughts. Alone to let worry seep in.