Silent Circle Excerpt

Chapter 1

Most teens get a car for their seventeenth birthday. Me? I get inducted into a freaky coven of witches.

A woman’s panic-laden cry pierces the inky blackness surrounding me. Shadows press in from all sides. Dense fog hangs just outside my reach. Echoing through the void, a woman calls my name. The fog starts creeping forward, thickening, solidifying. Wisps of vapor cling together to form a woman. Her long black hair falls in waves down her back, the thin face and high cheekbones poignantly familiar, so similar to my own. Her almond shaped, violet eyes lock with mine, pleading forgiveness.

“Emerson, thank God I found you! You have to listen, there isn’t much time

“Mom? What’s going on?”

Tears glitter in her eyes. “Emmy, I’m so sorry. I should have told you sooner. I’m so sorry

“What are you talking about? What’s happening? Where am I?” The fog presses closer, its chill prickling along my skin, but my mother stays just outside my reach.

“Listen to me—I can’t protect you. They’re coming. You have to be ready!”

“Protect me from what? I don’t understand

“You’re on your own. Do you hear me? They’re coming for you! You have to be ready...”  She starts to fade, darkness swallowing her.

I panic, lunging for her. “MOM!” The mist parts beneath my outstretched fingers, sinking back into the hazy gloom.

Bolting upright in bed, I grab the sides of my head, a sudden pain streaking across my skull. God, what a nightmare. For a moment, the pain in my skull is so intense I can’t breathe. Covering my face with my hands, I pray I’m not getting another migraine. After a minute, the pain begins to settle.

Gingerly getting out of bed, I glance at the clock hanging above my dresser. It’s shaped like a tree stripped bare of its leaves, its branches reaching up toward the ceiling, the roots extending downward, then circling in and intertwining with one another. There’s a silhouette of a large wolf howling at the base of the tree, while a pair of ravens adorn the ends of the clock hands.

My mother gave me this clock on my thirteenth birthday. She said it represents the Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life. The raven and wolf are creatures of Odin, the Norse God of Wisdom. I didn’t give it much thought when she first gave it to me, but now I can’t look at it without thinking of her. I shudder, my nightmare in the dark, misty place still fresh in my mind. According to the ravens on the clock, Sebastian will be here in less than thirty minutes to pick me up for school.

The plush cream carpet cushions my footfalls as I pad across the room to my walk-in closet. Sifting through the racks of clothing, I choose a clingy red knit shirt with a low neckline and skinny jeans that hug me like a second skin. On the shelves built specifically to hold my vast footwear collection, I grab the strappy black pumps I bought online last week. Dressing quickly, I hurry into my bathroom to brush out my hair.

Scrutinizing my appearance in the mirror, I scowl at my paler than usual complexion. I try applying a little foundation and outline my violet eyes in dark liner. Pulling my long black hair up, I give it a casually messy look, allowing a few wavy tendrils to escape.

As I leave my room, the Yggdrasil on the wall catches my eye. Unbidden, my mother’s voice sounds in my mind. I’m so sorry; you’re on your own. I can’t protect you.

I catch my breath, the feeling of loss overwhelming me. Mom. It’s been so long since I’ve heard her voice. Seen her face. Held her hand.

No. Not today. I won’t do this. Clenching my jaw, I shove the disturbing dream deep down where I won’t have to think about it. Straightening my shoulders, I plaster a smile on my face and saunter downstairs, calling out a good morning to my dad. Most days, this is the only time I get to see him. We usually have a few minutes to chat over coffee before he rushes off to work. I enter the kitchen, surprised I haven’t heard him yet.

On the marble countertop, next to the unused coffee machine, is a cupcake, one lone candle stuck on top. My stomach sinking, I open the card sitting next to it.

Happy 17th birthday! I’m sorry, but an important meeting came up last minute and I have to go out of town for the night. Have a good birthday and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.

Love, Dad

I stare at the words, disappointment rolling through me. First, nightmares starring my dead mother, and now my dad leaves town on my birthday without so much as a ‘see ya later’. I guess he thought the two hundred bucks in the card was ample compensation.

A car honks out front. Shoving the card in the trash, I focus my mind on Sebastian and the party Kayla’s throwing later. Steeling my spine and thrusting my shoulders back, I sashay toward the yellow Mustang idling in front of my house.

“Hey babe.” Sebastian leans over, his warm lips brushing over mine.

Before he pulls away, I capture his face with my hands and deepen the kiss, slipping my tongue into his mouth aggressively. Encouraged by my response, he leans further into me, his chest pressing against mine, pushing me back into the soft leather, his hand kneading my thigh. After a few heavy seconds he pulls back, slightly out of breath, his gleaming eyes dipping down to rest on my low cut shirt before rising back up to my face.

With obvious effort, he moves back into his own seat, puts the car into gear, and peels away from the curb. It takes a minute before he can get his breathing back under control. I pretend not to notice, but I smile inwardly. This is just the distraction I need after my shitty morning.

“Well, I don’t know what that was for, but I hope I can get some more tonight.” He grins, his short, spiky hair gleaming gold in the early morning sunlight. My eyes caress his strong, square jaw, his wide shoulders. I love the way his t-shirt molds to his broad chest, the navy color a perfect match to his deep blue eyes. “By the way, happy birthday,” he says, resting his hand on my thigh.

Settling back into the comfortably heated seat, I smile back at him seductively. “So, you remembered my birthday, huh? I wasn’t sure if you would…”

“Of course I did. Seventeen’s a big deal. Once you get a car, you can start driving me around,” he laughs.
Huh. Figures. He’s always complaining about how much gas his muscle car eats up.

I grit my teeth, but manage to keep a light tone. “Yeah, well, I have to find one first. Have any idea where I can get one cheap?” He has several mechanic friends at the garage he works at and a few of them make some side money buying cars to fix up and resell. If anyone can find me a good deal, it’s him.

“What do you mean? Isn’t your rich daddy buying you a car? With the money he makes, I figured he already had a brand new Lexus stashed away in the garage for you.”

I force a smile. “My dad isn’t rich, Seb.” Why does everything always come down to money with him? “How many times do I have to tell you? He’s just a workaholic.”

I cross my legs, forcing him to remove his hand. My dad works for a high end law firm and opts for overtime and travel whenever he can. Sure, he makes good money, but it’s not like we’re the Kardashians or anything. He said he’d help me with my car, but I need to fund the majority myself.

I stare pointedly out the window and we drive the rest of the way in silence. I sigh in relief when we finally pull up to school. Haven Hollow High, like most of the buildings in town, was built in the early 1900s. It’s a two story brick structure with arched windows and pillars on either side of the entryway. Though old, it’s well maintained and looks more like a university building than a high school. 

I slide out of the car without a word and begin striding towards the entrance. Sebastian calls to me that he’s going to wait for Josh and Chris. I ignore him. His obsession with how much my dad makes is really getting old.

I stroll through the crowded hallways toward my locker, groaning at the shouts and laughter echoing around me. It is way too early for everyone to be making this much noise. I wish I had grabbed a cup of coffee on my way out the door; I could really use the caffeine.

I flinch at a particularly shrill laugh off to my left and a wave of dizziness crashes over me. I sway a little, putting a hand out to the wall to steady myself. Instead of the wall, I find myself leaning against a hard, lean shoulder. I open my eyes, but all I see is bright, glowing white.

Squinting to see through the brightness, a face begins to appear. Blazing green eyes surrounded by chocolate colored hair softly curling near the ears. I stare dumbly at the image wavering in front of me, confused. As the glowing fades, I realize I’m gaping up at Caiden Callaghan, a quiet guy from my English class.

His hands reach out for my waist as he frowns down at me. “Whoa, there. You alright? You look a little dizzy.”

Still feeling off balance, I don’t answer right away. The strange glow begins settling around his head and upper shoulders, turning iridescent, different colors shining through. I watch, fascinated, as the colors swirl and coalesce: molten silver with streaks of emerald green the same shade as his eyes.

I get lost, staring into those eyes. I can feel the colors flowing around him, the heat from his hands penetrating my thin shirt, sinking into my skin. My own hand trembles, gripping his upper arm. The rest of the world fades. Sounds are muffled, the other people falling away like dead leaves. There’s only me. Only Caiden. His hands on my waist the only thing grounding me, keeping me from drifting away.

Then someone bumps into me from behind, breaking the spell. I fall into Caiden, his arms wrapping around me, keeping me from pitching head first onto the floor.

“Easy, take a deep breath. I think you need to sit down.” He leads me to a nearby classroom, his arm around my shoulders, releasing me the moment I’m seated. I close my eyes and pray that the room will stop bucking and swaying.

What is wrong with me? I guess I’m more tired than I thought. I bring my hands up to my face and gently massage my temples. I really need that coffee.

When I feel steadier, I look up. The silence in the room slowly registers in my fogged brain. People are standing up from their desks, mouths hanging open, staring at me like I’ve lost my mind. Maybe I have. There are close to fifteen other people in the room, and every one of them has that weird halo around their heads, all different colors. Shades of orange, red, purple, green, blue. No one person’s the same as another’s. Most of them are bright and glowing, but none of them shines brighter than Caiden, who is still standing close by, looking down at me, one eyebrow raised in question.

Oh God, not today… Sometimes my migraines play strange tricks on my eyes. I close them for a few seconds, praying the colors will go away, but when I open them again, the colors are still there, even brighter than before.

I put my hand up to shield my eyes, then wince as a sharp pain comes through the center of my forehead.

“What hurts?” Caiden crouches down in front of me and places a warm hand on my face. There’s a light fluttery feeling in my mind. I try to pull away, but he won’t let me. I’ve never spoken more than six words to Caiden. Why is he trying to help me?

“Talk to me, Emerson. What’s wrong?” His voice is gruff, demanding.

“The colors are too bright,” I groan, rubbing my forehead.

“Colors? What colors?” He asks, voice sharpening.

“Those,” I say lamely, gesturing with my hand. “Near your head.” I make a swirling motion with my fingers, and a glint appears in his eyes, like he understands something I don’t.

“You should go splash some cold water on your face. It’ll help with the dizziness.” He reaches out to help me up.

“Em? Are you okay? Oh my God!” Olivia, my best friend, comes barreling through the door like a tornado, a riot of red hair and crackling energy. As she runs up to me, I see colors around her as well: bright orange and purple rapidly churning, but unlike the others, she has a strange, thin band of silvery white around the outside, encasing the other colors. The outline reminds me of moonlight for some reason. “What’s going on? I heard you passed out!”

I have no idea how she’s heard about this so soon, but then, I’ve always been amazed at how quickly she hears the latest gossip. She rushes over to me, knocking Caiden out of the way in the process. From the corner of my eye, I see him backing up, watching me intently. Then Olivia whisks me out in a flurry.

“Here,” she says, handing me a bottle of water as she leads me to the girl’s bathroom. “Down this; you need to hydrate. Jeez, Em, how much did you drink last night? And how come you didn’t invite me over if you were partying?” She gives me a fake pout.

“What? I’m not hungover,” I protest, wetting a paper towel and dabbing my forehead. I groan in relief as the cold water starts chasing away my lightheadedness. “I’m just tired. Didn’t sleep well last night.” The nightmare about my mother tries to surface, but I shove it back down.

“Another migraine?” She asks, studying my drawn face. At my nod, she digs around in her purse, searching. “You’ve been getting them a lot lately. Here, take these.” She hands me a couple Ibuprofen.

“Thanks,” I say, swallowing the little pink pills while she continues.

“And what were you doing letting Credence put his hands all over you? If Sebastian saw that he’d have kicked his ass, and you know he can’t afford another suspension or he’ll be banned from homecoming!”

“His name is Caiden, and he wasn’t all over me.” I roll my eyes. “I just ran into him. And speaking of homecoming, did you find a date yet?”

“I’m still sorting through my options,” she huffs. “There’s a guy at Monroe High who I’ve been talking to, but I want to wait a bit longer before I make any final decisions.” She flips her long, copper colored hair over her shoulder and leans toward the mirror to examine her makeup. Her face is sharp and angular, her sparkly green eye liner accentuating her cat-like jade eyes.

“Well, don’t wait too long. There’s only a few weeks left; you don’t want to end up going solo.”

“Easy for you to say.” She begins liberally re-applying her eye liner. “It must be nice to have a steady guy like Sebastian. You don’t have to worry about snagging a date like the rest of us. Speaking of which, did you know Mei is going with Josh? He asked her last night.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised. They’ve been hooking up on and off for months now.” I cap the water after finishing almost half of it. “I don’t know why she’d agree to go with him though—he’s such an ass.”

“No he’s not. He’s just...” Her eyebrows pucker as she tries to come up with an appropriate adjective for him.

“An ass?” I finish for her.

“Well, sometimes,” she snickers. “Oh, and happy birthday, by the way. You’ll have to wait until this weekend for your present. It isn’t something I could really bring to school, if you catch my drift.” She grins.

I grin back, wondering who she coaxed into buying her booze. The pills seem to take effect and after a few minutes I feel steady enough to go to class.

The rest of the morning passes quickly, the incident from earlier forgotten. I meet Olivia at her locker before lunch and we walk into the cafeteria to our usual table. Kayla’s already there, buzzing excitedly about her party tonight. Her older cousin is picking up a few kegs after school. I give Sebastian a quick wave hello, still annoyed about this morning, but I doubt he notices. He’s currently involved in a loud debate with Josh over the football game this weekend.

Sebastian moved here from New York when he was two and has been a staunch Jets fan ever since. Josh, however, born and bred right here in Connecticut, is a die-hard Patriots fan. As you can imagine, things get a little heated whenever the Jets and Patriots play each other.

Josh’s dark hair is shaved close to his head and his crooked nose looks like it’s been broken several times and never healed right. That, combined with his eyebrow piercings and bull like neck, gives him a slightly menacing appearance as he slams his milk carton on the table. “You’re a traitor! You grew up here in Connecticut—where’s your loyalty?”

Sebastian, not to be intimidated, bellows back. “Screw the Patriots! The Jets are in my blood!”

“It don’t matter where you were born! You moved here when you were a baby! You love the Jets so much, move back to New York!”

I know from experience that this sort of fight can last all day, so I tune them out and focus on Olivia, Mei, and Kayla.
Kayla is built like a runway model with blond hair and blue eyes. The bottom half of her hair is dyed neon pink, giving her ‘Barbie perfect’ look a rebel edge, and somehow making her already sickeningly cute appearance even cuter.

She’s sitting next to Mei, her best friend ever since she decided to give Mei a haircut in the fourth grade, chopping her long, silky black hair up to her ears. Mei’s strict, Japanese mother was horrified, which delighted Mei to no end. Mei’s been defying her mother’s austere upbringing ever since, though by now I think it’s safe to say her mother has written her off as a lost cause.

Mei’s never grown her hair back out—it still hangs just to her chin, longer in the front than the back, it’s inky blackness streaked with bright blue. She changes her hair to match her contact color, which switches every other week. Right now, her eyes are ringed in an eerie electric blue. Her dark eyeliner extends past the corners of her eyes, coming to a point, making her tilted eyes look even more exotic.

I listen to them gush about the party tonight, what they’re going to wear, who’s going to be there.

“Are you going with Josh, now that you’re going to homecoming together and all?” Olivia asks Mei, wiggling her eyebrows.

Mei’s thin face hardens a moment and her brilliant blue eyes focus down the table to where Josh and Sebastian are still arguing. “Not really. I mean, I’ll see him there, but he’s not picking me up or anything.” She shrugs like it’s no big deal, but the hungry look in her eyes as she watches him says otherwise.

Kayla starts a detailed description of the dress she’s wearing, but I get distracted by the mop of brown hair I spot across the room. Caiden is sitting with Lydia, Ethan, and Arianna. Those four are always quiet, staying mostly to themselves—the complete opposite of the people currently around me. It’s funny the way things work out, who your friends turn out to be. Before my mom died three years ago, Lydia and I were pretty close. If things hadn’t turned out the way they did, I might have been sitting over there with them, talking in hushed tones, always in the background. Instead, I ended up with this group.

Caiden looks up just then and meets my stare. I feel a fluttering sensation around my forehead and temples.
Then Sebastian stands up to yell at Josh, bumping into me and breaking my eye contact. It seems they’ve reached the shouting portion of their debate and are now challenging each other to an arm wrestling match.

Most of the room looks on, laughing. These sorts of displays are common between them. We’re certainly not the popular table—that honor belongs to Sarah Bell, Landon Price, and Courtney Deeds sitting on the opposite side of the room, their noses wrinkled in disgust as they watch us. We’re more like the slackers and delinquents, but the amusing kind.

Chris joins our table, his lunch tray overflowing with fries and chips. He has caramel colored skin and his head is shaved on both sides with a short Mohawk on top. His dark eyes gleam with excitement and he immediately jumps into the fray, offering to referee the arm wrestling match.

“How long do you think this will go on?” Olivia asks, smiling and rolling her eyes.

“You know how these things go.” I shake my head in mock disapproval. “We won’t hear the end of it until one of them slugs the other.”

“Uh oh, here comes Davidson. Looks like there won’t be any slugging this time.” She nods her head towards the front of the room, where Josh’s antics have grabbed the attention of Mr. Davidson, our Vice Principal.

Davidson’s bald head gleams with sweat as he hurries towards us, adjusting his wire rim glasses. He reaches us just as Chris clears a space on the table. Josh complains loudly when Davidson forbids the contest, causing even more of a scene, but he eventually gives up, promising Sebastian he’ll thrash him later.

I shake my head at Olivia again. “I’ll be back. I’m gonna grab some water.”

I get in line, still smiling over the theatrics, when that weird vertigo feeling hits again. Waves of dizziness bombard me and everything in front of me blurs. People behind me mutter angrily, but I ignore them. What is going on today? I sway as another wave crashes over me. Oh God, I can’t pass out here, in front of everyone.

I lurch toward the exit. Everything wavers in front of me like fun house mirrors. Once I’m in the hallway, I reach out to the walls to guide me, praying I won’t stumble in my heels. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn these pumps today...

I make it to the bathroom without tripping—thankfully—and grab onto the sink to hold myself up. My reflection in the mirror blurs, colors exploding around me: a band of silver surrounding crimson and orange swirls, pockets of muddy forest green creeping up here and there.

What the hell is wrong with me? My migraines have never come this frequently before. I remember watching an episode of House where a woman experienced vertigo and strange visions. She ended up having a brain tumor. Maybe that’s what’s happening to me. Maybe that’s what has been causing my migraines all these years.

The door behind me opens as someone enters. I look down quickly and rummage in my purse, pretending to look for something. I try to slow my breathing and appear normal, hoping that whoever it is will leave quickly. The slow breaths help and the colors fade around me. Then the lock on the door clicks into place.

I spin to face the door and find Caiden standing there, his glittering emerald eyes locked on mine.

Chapter 2

My heart pounds in my ears. What the hell is he doing here? “You know this is the women’s room, right?”

Caiden doesn’t react to my sarcasm. “Is your headache back?” He approaches me slowly, eyebrows knitted together.

“I’m fine.” I lean back against the sink counter, pretending a casualness I don’t feel.

“You ran out of the lunch room pretty fast.” He takes another step towards me.

“It’s just a dizzy spell.”

He moves even closer, scrutinizing my face. All my muscles clench. “It’s more than that. You said you were seeing colors? What kinds of colors?”

“It’s nothing. I get migraines sometimes.” The way he’s looking at me, like I’m some side show freak, snaps my temper. “And I really don’t see how this concerns you. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” I turn my back on him, waiting for him to leave.

“Do you get migraines often?” He asks.

Why does he care? I study his expression in the mirror above the sink. The look in his eyes has me answering before I realize it. “I’ve gotten them for years, but today seems to be worse than usual.” I glance down, staring at the sink.

I actually started getting them after my mom died a few years back. The doctor thinks they’re stress induced, caused by her traumatic death, but Caiden doesn’t need all the gory details.

*Today’s her seventeenth birthday, isn’t it? Strange…. I didn’t think it would actually happen to Emerson. She’s never shown any signs before...*

“And you don’t need to talk about me like I’m not here!” Officially pissed off now, I glare at him in the mirror again. “And how do you know it’s my birthday anyway? You stalking me on Facebook or something?”

His eyebrows shoot up in surprise. *She heard me? But how? There’s no way. She’s completely untrained...*

I hear his voice again, but this time I notice something really creepy. His lips aren’t moving. He’s simply staring at me, green eyes wide, mouth open in shock, but no sound is coming out.

Whipping around to face him, I begin backing up towards the far wall. “How are you doing that? Speaking without moving your lips?”

“Calm down, Emerson. Let me explain.” His hands come up, like he’s showing he’s unarmed. I gauge the distance between me and the door, preparing myself to go through Caiden if I have to, but what he says next pulls me up short. “Emerson, listen. I know this is confusing.” He runs a hand through his dark hair. “This is going to sound crazy, but your mother was a witch.”

Oh, no, he did not just say that! “Did you just call my mother a bitch?” A deep growl rises from my throat and I launch myself at him, unconcerned that he’s a full head taller than me. All I see is red.

We fall to the floor in a tangle of limbs. I’m punching out viciously, trying to reach any part of exposed body I can. I claw at his face just before he reaches up and grabs both of my wrists. I try to knee him in the stomach, but he rolls me onto my back, pressing his hard body down on top of me, wrapping his legs around mine to hold them in place.

I writhe beneath him, snarling incoherently, but he has his full weight pinning me to the tiled floor. His face is just above mine, dark hair hanging down around his eyes. He’s breathing hard from my sudden attack, his chest heaving as he presses me harder into the floor. There are angry red scratches down one side of his cheek and I feel a brutal satisfaction that I was able to injure him in some way.

“Calm down, dammit!”

“Let go of me!” Animal like noises come out of me in frustration, but my struggles become weaker. Despite my best efforts, I can’t move him.

“Emerson, listen! Your mother was a witch. A witch! Not a bitch! Will you calm down and listen?” I freeze, staring up at him in shock. “She was a witch, like your grandparents, and their grandparents, dating back hundreds of years.” His face is right above mine, eyes pleading with me. “That’s what’s happening to you now! The headaches? The colors? Hearing people’s thoughts? You’re starting to develop your powers.”

He’s looking at me so earnestly, but what he’s saying is ridiculous. Beyond ridiculous. Despite the fact that I am lying on a nasty, cold floor in the middle of the girls’ bathroom with a deranged guy holding me down, a giggle bubbles up.

“I’m developing my powers? What, my super powers, Caiden?” I giggle again, louder, especially when I see him peering down at me like I’ve gone insane. He’s talking about witches and he thinks I’ve gone crazy! My whole body starts shaking with suppressed laughter, though nothing about this situation is funny. I think my brain is in overload.

Caiden starts to release my hands, slowing lifting off me, allowing me room to wrap my arms around my stomach. I try to halt my increasing hysteria, but it’s no use. “Am I going to turn into a bat too?” I get out between fits. There are tears in my eyes, but I don’t know if they're from laughter or something else.

“Emerson, I’m not kidding.” He runs his hand through his hair again in frustration. “Christ, I really didn’t think I’d be the one to have to tell you this...”

I wipe my eyes, sitting up as well. “I think you’ve lost it Caiden, I really think you’ve lost it. Witches?” I stand up, brushing my filthy hands off on my jeans. Caiden follows, watching me warily.

“I’m serious. I don’t know why you’re only just now developing your abilities. Honestly, most of us just thought you took after your father, that you were human. But what happened today proves otherwise. You’re going to need help. This stuff isn’t easy to deal with.”

I need help? You’re the one following me into the bathroom, raving about witches!” My voice hardens as the laughter dries up. “And who is ‘we’? You’re telling me there are other people who believe in this delusion of yours?”

“You want proof? Watch the marks on my face.” He holds up his right hand and places it over the scratches I made. Slowly, a faint glow appears under his palm. His eyes scrunch up, brows knitting together in concentration. After a moment, the glow fades and he takes his hand away. His face is a bit paler than usual, but the scratches are gone.

“Wh-what was that?” A chill skitters up my spine.

“I told you. You’re a witch. So am I. So are quite a few other people in town. Come with me tonight, to our circle. I’ll introduce you to everyone.”

First he follows me into the bathroom, grappling around with me on the floor, now he starts babbling about some ‘circle’ he wants to take me to. No way. I’m done with this. “Look, I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I’m not interested. And I’m certainly not going to any freaky cult meeting tonight, so just back off!”

I spin around and burst out the door. I hurry down the hallway, wanting to get as far away from him as I can. Storming into the lunchroom, I run straight into Olivia.

“Holy hell Em! What happened to your hair?”

Crap! I was rolling around on the floor with Caiden—it must be a mess! I reach up to fix it. Olivia isn’t kidding; it's all but matted to the side of my head, locks of it spilling down my back and over my shoulder. She grabs my elbow with surprising strength for her small frame and wheels me around, right back into the hallway.

“God, Em! What has gotten into you today?” She drags me back towards the bathroom I just left. Before we reach the door, it opens and an equally disheveled Caiden walks out. Olivia takes in Caiden’s messy brown hair, his wrinkled shirt, which is missing a few buttons near the top. She turns her gimlet stare on me and yanks me through the door.

“What is wrong with you!? Do you know what Seb will do when he finds out you’ve been screwing around with Caiden?”

“What? I’m not screwing anyone, least of all Caiden!”

“You don’t need to lie to me; save those for when Seb catches you. Right now, we need to do damage control.” She pushes me in front of the mirror and begins fixing my hair, using a little more force than strictly necessary.

“Liv, I am not fooling around with Caiden.” Hurt surges up in my chest. I thought Olivia knew me better than this. “I know this looks bad, but I wouldn’t lie to you.”

Her angry face softens, but her voice still rings with accusation. “Really, then how do you explain the two of you disappearing in here and coming out like this?” She gestures dramatically to my twisted shirt and rumpled hair. “Is he helping you train for the wrestling team or something?”
I open my mouth to tell her what happened, though I barely believe it myself, but she stiffens.

“Too late. Here.” She takes out a bottle of perfume and starts spritzing it all over me while I try to straighten my clothes.

“Oh my God, Liv, don’t you think that’s enough!” I cough, nearly choking from the fumes. “You’re going to be able to smell me from across the school!”

“Better than smelling like Caiden.”


“Em, are you in here?” Sebastian calls, walking into the bathroom. Why do I keep getting cornered in here today? “I saw you take off and I got worried when you didn’t come back.” He sniffs and makes a face at the perfume still in Olivia’s hand. “Went a little heavy on the cologne, huh?”
His eyes shift to Olivia suspiciously, then to the door, where the lock is. Or used to be. It looks like doorframe is splintered near the deadbolt.

“Do you think?” She shrugs her shoulders delicately. “I was just showing Em this new scent, but the lid wasn’t on tight and it spilt all over.”

Sebastian looks back and forth between us, still sniffing the air.

Catching on, I glare at her. “Yeah, and now I’m going to have to walk around all day with this crap on me. Thanks a lot, Liv.”

“Don’t worry about it Em, I’ll drive you back home. School’s almost over anyway. I’m sure no one will notice if we skip the last couple classes. Besides, we still have to find something to wear for homecoming.” With a wave, she bustles me past Sebastian and out the door.

We move quickly through the hallways and out into the parking lot, avoiding teachers and other staff who might stop us. We don’t talk again until we slide into Olivia’s red Mini Cooper.

“First thing we need to do is get you to a shower. My car’s going to stink for a month, ugh!” She wrinkles her nose and waves her hand in front of her face.

“Well, you’re the one who sprayed it. What’s up with that anyway? Why did you douse me?”

“I told you, you smelt like Caiden. Seb would have noticed something was up.”

“But Caiden wasn’t wearing cologne. How could Seb have smelt anything?” I think back to my tussle with him in the bathroom, when he had me pinned to the floor. He had a spicy scent, like cinnamon and cloves, but it wasn’t strong like cologne. It was a light fragrance, like a combination of his shampoo and his own personal scent. “Besides,” I continue, rolling my eyes. “Like Sebastian isn’t suspicious now? You weren’t exactly subtle.”

“Yeah, well, I think it’s your turn to explain what you were doing with Caiden to begin with.” Olivia’s face hardens as she stares ahead at the road. “I thought you and Sebastian were getting serious?”

“I’m not ‘getting serious’ with anyone right now, but I wasn’t cheating on Seb,” I say, glaring at her. “Caiden just followed me from lunch and wigged out on me.”

“What?” She glances over to check if I’m serious.

“I kind of freaked out on him a little too,” I admit. “He said something about my mom and I sort of attacked him…”

“He insulted your mom? I can see why you flipped.” Olivia knows how furious I get when people talk about my mom. I’ve had enough gossip and insults about her after she died.

“Well, he didn’t actually insult her, I just misheard him. Anyway, then he started rambling about a circle or something. Like I said, he wigged, I took off, end of story.” For some reason, I’m unwilling to mention what he said about witches. It’s just too crazy.

“A circle?” She asks, raising her eyebrows.

“I don’t know, some kind of cult. He was mental.” Thankfully, we pull up outside my house before she can ask anything else. I live in one of the older neighborhoods. And by older, I mean 1800s old.  Most of the houses on this block were built during the late nineteenth century. Mine is a two story, white Victorian with a large wrap around porch and gingerbread trim. The houses in this area were built on much larger plots of land than is typical these days, so all the homes are spaced pretty far apart.

Olivia parks by the curb and I jump out, hoping to end the conversation. I head straight to my bedroom on the second floor. My room is in the ‘tower’, so it’s circular with vaulted ceilings and several large windows. My dad hired a contractor to a few years ago to make some improvements, adding a walk-in closet and my own separate bathroom. Clothes are strewn about the floor and there’s a pile of outdated Cosmo magazines near my bed.

I peel off my shirt on the way to the closet, impatient to get out of my perfume saturated clothes. The smell is starting to give me a headache again.

“So Caiden followed you into the bathroom just to insult your mom and invite you to join a cult?” Olivia asks skeptically, trailing behind me.

“No, he followed me in to see how I was feeling.” I hunt around for my black corset top and thigh high boots, keeping my back to Olivia. “I got dizzy again in lunch, that’s why I ducked out. He must have seen it and followed me.” Grabbing up my clothes and boots, I turn to face her. “Look, why are we still talking about this? It’s over. All I want to do right now is shower and get this stink off of me. Seriously, Olivia, you have horrible taste in perfume.”

My distraction works like a charm. “What? This is Victoria Secret’s newest line!” She says, her face the picture of outrage. “It’s one of their best sellers! It says, ‘I’m sexy, but innocent.’ ‘I’m the girl next door and your biggest fantasy’.”

“All I’m hearing is ‘wash immediately after wear’,” I laugh, heading into the bathroom.

I emerge twenty minutes later, wet hair hanging down my back, and find Olivia rifling through my closet. “Hey, I hope you don’t mind if I borrow a few things.”

“Help yourself.” I wave my hand at the closet and return to the bathroom to fix my hair and makeup.

“So what time will your dad be home tonight?” She asks.

“He won’t.” I force my voice into an aloofness I don’t quite feel. “He has a meeting and won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“He left town on your birthday? Ouch.” She gives me a sympathetic look.

“Yeah, well, it’s not like we would’ve baked a cake or anything.” I shrug, feigning indifference. It’s not like this is the first birthday he’s missed. Even before my mom died, he worked long hours. At least back then, my mom was there to pick up the slack. She’d take me out for lunch and then we’d go to the zoo, or the movies, or she’d take me shopping. And afterwards we’d eat chocolate cake and stay up late into the night watching movies. I repress a sigh. God I miss her.

Finishing up with my make up, I turn back to Olivia. “At least I won’t have to worry about sneaking in tonight.”

“That’s true.” She holds a red dress up to her body and makes a face in the mirror before putting it back. “I was so afraid my mom was going to catch me last weekend. I was so trashed I literally fell through my bedroom window when I was climbing in. I can’t believe she didn’t wake up.” She shakes her head, grinning.

“Yeah.” I smile, thinking back to the bonfire at Chris’s house. “I think we were all trashed that night. I’m lucky I didn’t have to climb through any windows...”

Olivia rifles through my closet a little longer before we head out to the mall to try to find something for homecoming. 

Living in such a small town, it takes us almost an hour to get to the nearest mall, but it’s well worth the trip. Olivia finds a couple cute dresses, though nothing for homecoming yet, and thanks to my dad’s guilty conscience, I have some extra cash to blow on a truly jaw dropping little number. I know I should probably stash the money away for my car fund, but the dress is too perfect to pass up.

By the time Olivia drops me off at home, it’s after seven. She heads to her house to get ready and I throw something together for dinner before wiggling into my new dress. It’s black, with thin silver bows on the shoulder straps, holding it together. The front is cut just low enough to show off a little cleavage, but in the back it plunges down dramatically, exposing my entire back and shoulders.

I style my dark hair into an elaborate up-do with braids and twists, leaving a few wavy strands down in the front. Looking in the mirror, I notice that with my hair up, this dress also displays the small tattoo on the back of my right shoulder.

It’s a stylized Yggdrasil, similar to my clock, the silhouette of a raven on one side of the tree trunk, a wolf on the other. I had it done a year ago in remembrance of my mom. Usually I’m excited whenever I get the chance to show it off, but tonight it’s an unwelcome reminder of my strange dream last night.

Sebastian’s Mustang honks out front, breaking me out of my reverie, and I saunter down the stairs and out the door as fast as my stilettos can carry me. After the day I’ve had, I can’t wait to get to the party and blow off a little steam. 

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