Bound by duty, p.16
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       Bound by Duty, p.16

           Stormy Smith
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  Chapter 15

  That night, after the attack, I sent Aidan a text letting him know where his car was and that I’d put the keys under the mat. I wish I would have forced him to come to me for them, but it was three in the morning and I had struggled to even drive myself home as the after-effects of the fight sapped my energy. I was trembling, my legs barely holding me up as I walked into the apartment. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out cold. Aidan never responded, but the next day when I woke up, the car was gone.

  It was all I could do to get out of bed later that morning. Every part of me hurt, I was exhausted and starving. I forced myself up and into semi-respectable clothes and made my way to the gym. My heart was racing triple time and I scanned every inch of the streets as I drove. I pushed my old Buick faster than it should have gone on the highway, not enjoying being alone after last night. I was certain that a big white van or black SUV was going to come careening around a corner, forcing me off the road to kidnap me at any moment.

  I finally pulled up to the gym, shoved the car in park, and sprinted inside. Only when the door was closed behind me did I finally feel some of the panic recede.

  As I approached, I heard Cole on the phone. “No, it’s fine. I’m handling it. Her power is growing, but she’s starting to control it.” He paused and I assumed the other person was talking. “You don’t have to do that. She’s listening to me. She tells me everything and I’ll make sure you know when I know.”

  I stood outside his door, just far enough that he couldn’t see me through the glass. I leaned back against the wall, my eyes closed, hurt coursing through me. Not Cole.

  He had always been my lifeline. Growing up, he was my protector. He was the one who dressed my skinned knees, ran the other kids off when they made fun of me, and helped make me feel like it would maybe, someday be okay. He was the only one who advocated for me coming to Brighton and I thought I could trust him. I couldn’t do this today. Not after what I’d been through last night. Not after Aidan had run from me. I couldn’t have my knees cut off today.

  As I stood there, I felt that same dark energy emanating from my power. It spread through my deflated spirit and permeated my mind. I knew the moment Cole realized I was standing outside his door. He quickly hung up the phone and walked out to find me leaned against that wall. But, my posture was not defeated as it had been moments before, it was furious. Defiant. The energy that filled me tensed my muscles and fed my anger.

  My arms were crossed, my stance defensive. He could see the pain in my eyes just as easily as the fierce look on my face. He tried to explain, “Ame, you don’t understand. It’s not what you—”

  I didn’t even let him finish, I flung my palms toward him and watched him get tossed down the hall. It shouldn’t have felt as good as it did to hurt my brother. Something inside me recognized that, but it was squashed by my need for retaliation. He landed more gracefully than I had hoped and stood up. He held his hands up in surrender, speaking quietly, though I could tell he was having a hard time maintaining control himself. His own power was spring-boarding inside him, waiting for the all-clear to take off at me. A part of me wanted him to let it out — to make this a fair fight.

  “Amelia, this is not what you think,” he said. “I’m on your side. I’ve always been on your side. That was Rynna. We’re just trying to work together to help you. We’ve always done this, I’ve always kept in touch with her to make sure you were okay. Now, it’s just my turn. On Mom’s life, Amelia, I swear.”

  I stood there in the hall, clenching my fists, trying to quiet the warring sides of my brain. I wanted to believe him. He never brought up our mom unless things were serious, but it seemed like no one was who they seemed to be lately and I wanted to force the truth from him. To wring it from him like a dirty washcloth at the sink.

  Cole took a few cautious steps toward me. “Amelia, I don’t know what’s happened, but I think you need to calm down. I… uh, I think you are going to hurt someone.” I whipped my head back toward him and had the fastest thought that I wanted him to stop talking. Cole was suddenly whipping his head back and forth, clawing at his mouth, which had sealed closed. He was screaming but the sound was hollow, the noise barricaded in. For a moment, I simply tilted my head and watched him fight. I rocked back on my heels, awestruck at what I’d done. Then, Cole’s eyes connected to mine — terrified and pulsing green, pleading with me for help as his magic tried and failed to fight off mine.

  That look broke through the barrier and the black haze that had clouded my vision lifted. This time, when my mind connected to what I had truly done, I stumbled backwards, shrieking, “Stop — just STOP!” Knowing full well I was yelling at myself — my dark, twisted second self. I mentally lashed out at the rogue inside me and Cole was finally released. I slid down the wall as tears streamed down my cheeks. I pressed my forehead into my arms and balled myself up. All I wanted to do was disappear. What was happening to me? What was this thing inside of me?

  When I could finally bring myself to look up, I found Cole sitting on the floor across from me.

  “Do you want to tell me what that was all about?” His voice was low and steady, his fear of me palpable in the air around us. “What was that, Amelia? Because that wasn’t you. I mean, I know it was, but I couldn’t find you. I looked for your trace and there was nothing left.” Cole was pale, his posture slumped over, and his head in his hands. Whatever I had done to him did more than just keep him quiet.

  I pressed a hand to my mouth, balling it into a fist as I bit down on my knuckle. I was hanging on by a thread and the hysteria that hovered at the edges of my mind had been waiting for an entry point.

  “I don’t know, Cole.” I was terrified and the words came out garbled, barely above a whisper. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I don’t know how to control it. It seems like most of the time it’s controlling me. I’m there, but I’m not. I can see myself doing it, but I can’t stop it.” I looked up at him, regret and apologies on the tip of my tongue. But, in typical Cole fashion, he shook his head and scooted across the floor to me.

  “I know, Ame,” he said quietly as he circled his arm around my shoulder and pulled me in for a hug. “I could see it, feel it. I knew it wasn’t you. There’s something more here we don’t understand.” Even in his depleted condition, Cole was still able to take the edge off of my manic state.

  “I just want to be normal,” I choked out, trying to breathe and calm myself down further. “To go back to being the girl who didn’t understand anything or try anything. I don’t want to be the girl with the crazy power she can’t control. I don’t want to be the girl who gets attacked or who has to lie to her friends and boyfriend. I don’t want to hurt the people I love. “

  “Wait, boyfriend?” Cole pulled away from me, looking down as his eyebrow rose.

  “Are you serious, Cole? I just went crazy ballistic nuts and you’re worried about a guy?” I shoved at him lightly. The corner of his mouth quirked up as he replied, “Can’t help it. Just comes with the gig.”

  I could only shake my head as I moved a few inches over and turned to face my brother. I pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them tightly, trying to hold myself together in more ways than one. “Well, then, yes, I have been seeing Aidan. That’s actually why I came.” The knot in my stomach tightened but I continued. “Aidan and I were attacked last night outside the theater after a movie and he watched me basically go postal on some chick who wanted to kidnap me. What happened just now, it happened then, too. I lost it. I just lost it…”

  The words trailed off as the night sped through my mind. I could pinpoint the moment when I was no longer me and when Aidan brought me back again. The memories played like I had watched them happen instead of made them happen. I was so lost in thought, I didn’t realize Cole had been peppering me with questions.

  His voice was distant in the background as it dawned on me that I no longer had the option of living in that brief moment of h
appiness I had with Aidan last night, where I was just a girl and he was just boy. That we could never “just be”, that power would always stand between us. Mine or someone else’s. It didn’t matter how much I deluded myself, I couldn’t expect him to accept what I was. To accept the consequences of being with me. I shouldn’t even want him to.

  Cole finally broke my train of thought as he gently grabbed my arm. My head shot up and the blatant fear in his eyes sent an embarrassed heat into my cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Cole. I—”

  “No. No, Amelia. It’s okay. I just need some time to process all of this. What just happened, what happened last night; everything is spiraling out of control and we need help. You need help. Let’s go sit down.” Cole nodded, seemingly agreeing with himself, before standing and helping me to do the same. He left for a few minutes to put a sign on the door that said the gym was closed for the day. In the meantime, I called Micah and asked him to come down. He was out for lunch with Bethany and would come in an hour or so. I was glad to hear he wasn’t just blowing B off, at least someone around here deserved a normal relationship.

  While I was waiting for Cole to come back, I ducked into the bathroom. I’d never seen myself look so bad. I had huge dark circles under my eyes, their normal hazel color was dulled and flat. I hadn’t washed my face last night, so yesterday’s mascara was running down my cheeks and caked around my eyes in a most unflattering way. My hair was a mess of tangles. I looked like hell.

  I stood at the sink and splashed water on my face, using paper towels to clean myself up. I finger-combed my rat’s nest into submission and braided it. Acknowledging that I may as well use some of my ability for good, I connected with my power and sent some healing energy through myself. I leaned in toward the mirror and stared at my reflection. I looked into my own eyes, expecting some obvious reaction to show me what was happening, but I couldn’t feel the blackness anywhere, it was just my normal power. I sighed in relief as my frazzled anxiety calmed. When I opened my eyes, the circles were diminished, my skin was brighter, and my eyes had more luster. If only my internal heartache was as easily mended as my external appearance.

  Cole was sitting at his desk when I came back and gestured for me to take a seat. I crossed my legs under me and huddled into the cushy over-sized chair.

  “Start at the beginning, Amelia. I don’t care about Aidan right now — though we’ll come back to that,” he warned. “I need to hear about this attack. About how it was like today.” Cole dug into his drawer and pulled out a notepad. “I’m going to take notes so that we can compare this one to the last time.”

  I spoke quietly, seeing it all play out in my head again. I felt somewhat like I had then, like I was watching a scene instead of being part of it. I skipped past our time on the beach and the mind-blowing make-out session Aidan and I shared. I gave a detailed description of the men who had come after us and of the red-headed woman — down to her thick black eyeliner and her bright blue eyes. I explained how Aidan tried to protect me, only to be hurt for it, and then I got to the point where I lost control. Or, to be more accurate, completely rescinded my control.

  “One second it was me using my power the way I have been for weeks and then the next, I was a spectator in my own body,” I explained. “All I could feel was the hate I had for that woman and how much I wanted to hurt her. I was watching myself do these things, but at the same time, I was the one doing them. I lost myself in it…” I struggled to find the words to explain that, for a brief moment, I had reveled in what I’d felt. The feeling of power brimming over in my soul and knowing that I could do absolutely anything.

  Cole scribbled furiously, looking up at me between statements, his brow furrowing more and more as I spoke. I swallowed down those last descriptions and instead tried to explain how, with only a thought, I’d been able to send items flying at this woman, how I sent lightning down from a cloudless sky. I talked and I talked, going over each little detail. Once I got to Aidan and me driving away, I just stopped.

  My mind however, kept going, playing back the last conversation I’d had with Aidan. The last conversation I may ever have with Aidan.

  There was more I should have told Cole. I should have explained the cat-like eyes of my attacker or that the woman was clearly an AniMage. I should have told him more about the darkness and how I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull myself out of it if it happened again. That it had taken Aidan or him to do it these last two times. But, every time I opened my mouth to speak, warning bells went off and the words stuck in my throat.

  “Amelia, I know Micah will be here soon, but you can’t tell him any of this.” Cole had taken that quiet moment as his opportunity to speak up.

  “What?” I asked. “What do you mean, Cole? Micah’s been in this with us since the beginning? You wanted him to help me and he is. He’s my friend.” I gripped the arms of the chair, digging my nails into the microfiber, trying to see where my brother was coming from.

  “Tell him about the attack and the woman, but your power is too much to explain, Amelia. We can’t just come out at tell him you’re an Elder, though he might already have guessed depending on what he knows of our history. And, what I just saw out there — we surely can’t explain that to him. We can’t explain that to anyone, and we absolutely can’t have him talking about you to anyone else. It’s too dangerous,” he finished.

  I wanted to argue. I wanted to tell him he was wrong, but I knew he was right. “I understand what you’re saying, Cole, but Micah has been the only other person who has ever been honest with me. God, he’s even spent all this time trying to help me become a better Mage; to protect myself and learn how to use my powers. It just sucks to lie to him, too.”

  Cole came around the desk and sat in the chair opposite me. “I know, Ame,” he said, grabbing my hand and sending his peaceful energy into me. “I know this is hard, but you have to remember that you aren’t a Mage. You’re so much more than a Mage could ever hope to be and if Micah knows that — if he truly understands what you are — then he’s another person in danger.”

  I sighed, feeling defeated once again. “Then what do we do, Cole? How do we find out what’s happening to me?”

  As I turned back toward him and met his eyes, I saw a sliver of hope that hadn’t been there before. His eyes brightened as he said, “I’ve got a guy. It’s not someone we’re even supposed to know, and you can’t tell anyone that we know about him, but he said he’d help us. I was going to tell you about him tonight anyway, but it’s clear we need to get to him sooner than later.” He squeezed my hand and stood up. “You trust me right, Amelia?”

  I truly wasn’t sure who I trusted, but of the options, my brother was the one I wanted, so I gave him the answer he needed. “Of course, Cole.”

  He walked back around the desk, his step a little lighter. “Let’s talk about what we can actually tell Micah and then you and I are taking a road trip this weekend.”

  It was clear Cole wasn’t going to give me any additional details now, so we spent the next twenty minutes deciding what we would and wouldn’t tell Micah. Micah showed up right on time, which no one was shocked by, and I went through the pre-approved story. I described the attack, including Aidan and the red-haired woman. But, outside of sending a bunch of stuff flying at her — which he already knew I could do — and blasting her to get away, I didn’t tell him anything else. Micah claimed to have contacts through his parents who could track people down, so I gave him as much description as I could and left it at that. I continued to withhold what I knew were crucial details — the blue power, the shifting, and my inner battles. I’d never heard of anyone seeing an AniMage in years and I wasn’t about to go blabbering on about the woman being one without somehow being sure.

  Micah asked some questions and had me write down my descriptions of the people. His concern was obvious and he asked multiple times if I needed constant protection. I could read in his tone and body language that he was also worried for Bethany.

Maybe I should stay with Cole for a while?” I asked, though it was the last thing I wanted to do. “I don’t know how to explain it to B, but I can come up with something.” Inwardly, I cringed at the prospect of living with Cole and not getting my girl time with Bethany. Of not being able to easily find and talk to Aidan.

  Both Micah and Cole looked relieved at me bringing it up and them not having to convince or force me. “Yeah, that’s probably the best plan, Ame. I don’t want you alone,” Cole said, who then suggested that I say I’m helping watch his “sick” dog since he’s so busy at the gym.

  It had been a long day and I didn’t have the energy to talk anymore. We went through some additional logistics and Micah promised to get back to us as soon as he had more information. He also said he’d do his best to spend additional time with Bethany for a while, just to make sure she was protected as well.

  Cole walked me to my car and gave me specific instructions to go home, pack a few bags, and come directly to his apartment. Do not pass go. Do not collect two-hundred dollars. Not even a drive-thru stop. If this was an inkling of what was to come, the next few weeks were going to be so spectacular.



  I took my time packing. Bethany wasn’t home so I connected my phone to the surround sound in the living room and let the music flow through our apartment. I didn’t know what I wanted to hear but I needed an escape from the silence. I was pleased to hear an acoustic track start playing, so I got to work.

  I packed up my books for class, tossing them into my backpack. As I picked up my notebook, a folded sheet of paper fell out and landed face-down on the carpet. I picked it up and opened it, curious because the paper didn’t look like it had come from my notebook. A familiar scrawl stared back at me.

  I don’t know when you’ll find this, but when you do, know that I’m thinking of you. I’m always thinking of you, doll. ~ A

  I dropped onto my makeshift bed as a small whimper caught in my throat. I clutched the paper so tightly, my fingernails punctured it. I stared down at his words, realizing this could very well be the last memento I would have from our time together. That he ran away and I’d likely never be able to do anything to get him back. That, in all reality, I shouldn’t do anything to get him back. Swallowing the tears I couldn’t let loose right now, I shoved the paper deep into my backpack and walked out of my room.

  Once my packing was complete, I stood in the center of the living room with my three bags on the floor at my feet. I felt like I was saying goodbye to my home and the sadness of it was unbearable. I looked around at all of the fun framed photos of Bethany and me that lined the walls. We spent every weekend for the first month taking photos all around town to decorate with. In the kitchen hung the giant fork and spoon she insisted we needed, though they were each three feet tall. I had had more laughs and more genuine happiness in this apartment in just a few months than I had had with my family in my entire life. But, I couldn’t endanger someone I loved this much, so I grabbed my bags and headed out the front door.

  I called Bethany from the road, knowing full well she was at work and wouldn’t answer. I left her a voicemail letting her know that I’d be staying at Cole’s for at least the next two weeks, but that we needed to set up some lunch dates in the interim. I also gave her a quick synopsis of the Aidan situation, just saying that we had a fight and I wasn’t sure where it was going now. As I went to hang up, I found myself saying, “You know I love you, girl. Take care of yourself.” It was if I were saying goodbye everywhere I went.

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