Bound by duty, p.7
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       Bound by Duty, p.7

           Stormy Smith
 

  Chapter 6

  All day long I was well aware that Comp class was coming and I was dreading it. I didn’t know how to handle Aidan. It wasn’t like we were officially dating, but there was clearly something there. There was more than casual banter and we both knew it. Now, I had to stop it. I was essentially breaking up with him before we started dating.

  I worried that I would see that look again, the one he’d worn as he walked away from me last week. Under my own constant waffling, I could feel my power fizzing and popping angrily in its little corner, threatening to burst out. While being around Aidan set my magic off in an entirely different way than I had ever known, it had never been negative. I always walked away from him feeling a sense of happiness I had never found anywhere else.

  I was sitting on a picnic table outside, lost in my own thoughts. I hated knowing what was coming. Knowing that even though it technically was my choice to walk away, it didn’t feel like one. It wasn’t the choice I wanted. Suddenly, I heard a loud thwack and a backpack landed next to me. Micah plopped down at the table, sitting opposite of me.

  “Um, can I help you?” I had successfully avoided him and his prying questions for a few days, but I couldn’t outrun him forever.

  “I have been looking for you, Amelia.” He cocked his head, his blond hair getting a little wind-blown since it wasn’t tied back. He shoved a hand through it, putting me directly in the path of his bright blue eyes. “We need to talk. I think you have some explaining to do.”

  I honestly had no idea what to say. I just stared at him, wondering what to do next. I was shocked when he leaned in with a mischievous gleam in his eyes and whispered, “We Mages have to stick together, you know.” My jaw dropped and was still hanging open when Bethany swooped in moments later. By the look of it, she knew Micah would be finding us at lunch today. She was in her favorite skinny jeans with the sparkly design on the butt, a flowing electric-pink top, and four-inch stilettos. I had never been happier to see her than in that moment. Micah didn’t miss a beat, he scooted over and gave her a killer smile.

  “I swear I’m going to fail French,” she whined as she tossed her silver Coach handbag on the seat next to her. It was more of a luggage piece with handles, but “a girl could never be unprepared”. I was fairly certain she could save a small country with what’s in that bag. I focused in on Bethany, refusing to acknowledge Micah and his blatant admission. I’d seen his eyes after the incident with Aidan and I’d assumed he was also a Mage, but I’d never known a Mage to just out themselves like that.

  “The instructor hates me,” she continued. “I don’t understand all the verb tenses and I can’t even figure out how to ask where the bathroom is. Does she not understand growing up in Mississippi means I’ve already mastered what most consider a foreign language?” Bethany dropped her head back and groaned loudly, pulling me out of my own head as I stifled a laugh at her theatrics.

  Micah also chuckled as he turned to face her. I wanted to be happy that he was giving her so much attention, but I had to keep myself from scowling at him as I wondered what he was doing with a human. How was it that he was lucky enough to get to make his own choices? Then, as Aidan crept into my head once again, I realized that was the pot calling the kettle black. I couldn’t stick around to witness him being able to have the thing I was about to give up.

  “Well, I’m going to let you guys sort this out. I’ve gotta get going anyway. Later!” I couldn’t move to grab my backpack and untangle myself from the table fast enough. As I turned to walk away, I caught a look from Micah that clearly told me our conversation wasn’t over. Bethany gave him a shove and demanded his attention again, taking his focus off of me. God love her, I was so happy she could keep him occupied. “Bye, Ame! See ya later,” she chirped. The last thing I heard was her giggle as I hurried away.

   

   

  He’s here. He is here. Dammit, he’s already here! I couldn’t believe my eyes as I walked into class and found Aidan, once again, in my seat. This time though, he was the only one in the room. He turned around, as if he were simply biding his time, waiting for me to arrive. He stood and gestured to the seat he had just vacated. “I was just making sure no one else took it. I didn’t want to cause any more issues.” I’m sure he meant it to be funny, to make it easier to broach the topic of what had happened last week, but him making the incident a big joke just sent me over the edge.

  “Can you just stop? I mean, for once, Aidan, can you just stop with all the funny-guy flirting? Didn’t you get the message the other day? I’m not interested. We’re not doing this…this thing we’ve been doing…anymore. So just stop.” My voice was cold and callous as my insides were shredded and my power flared in response to my words, sending a clear message that it disagreed with my choice. Lightning zipped through me, trying to push out and reach toward Aidan. I dropped my backpack to the ground and crossed my arms across my chest, trying to protect myself from my own undoing.

  I had known what I wanted to say, but I hadn’t intended to just blurt it out like that or use those exact words. I hadn’t meant to sound like a rude and intolerable bitch. But, I did and I had, and the expression on his face made me regret every syllable. His smile instantly disappeared and the laughter in his eyes died, replaced by hurt and anger.

  “So that’s it then, you just decided?” he exploded. “That’s just great. I was going to apologize for being a jerk the other day, for what it’s worth.” With that, he picked up his backpack, moved to the front of the room and didn’t speak again. After class, I wanted to stay and apologize. I tried to reach out to him as he walked by but he looked down at me with so much disdain, I couldn’t find the words.

  “Don’t do that,” he said with a snarl. “Don’t apologize to me. Just own it, Amelia.” He rarely used my name and that one word held so much contempt, I hoped to never hear it again. He stalked away and I stayed in that seat for much longer than I anticipated, waiting for the threatening tears to pass. I had mistakenly thought we could just flirt and play and no one had to get hurt. Unfortunately, now we both were. He just didn’t know it.

   

   

  “What happened? Honey, you’re forgetting again.” Bethany held up her pinkie as a reminder that I was withholding information yet again. She settled herself on the opposite end of the couch from me and crossed her legs over each other, the look on her face relaying that she didn’t hold much patience in waiting for me to start spilling my guts.

  I wanted to talk about it, I wanted to share every last detail and be the best friend I was supposed to be, but all I had thought about all day long was how dangerous this world was for humans. How my own selfish wants to be “normal” and “have my own life” really meant that I would drag people into my crazy world who didn’t belong there. But, I had to say something. I wanted to say something.

  “I don’t know, B.” She was glaring at me when I looked up, daring me to lie. “I just…I mean…just, dammit.” I rubbed my hands over my face and yanked my hair back, using the band around my wrist to control the tangled mess. “The Aidan thing is done.”

  As the word “done” left my lips, it held such a finality in my mind that the tears I had been pushing back all day let loose with fervor. Before I could stop it, I was sobbing uncontrollably. I’m sure it made no sense for me to be losing it over a guy I’d never even been on a date with, but Bethany would never know the depth of where those tears came from, of everything I’d never had that I’d already given up.

  The wonderful part was that she didn’t ask and didn’t seem to care. Instead, she scooted to my side and pulled me in, letting my tears soak her shirt and rubbing my back while she whispered soothing words. As the tears slowed and I could breathe again, I started to apologize. Bethany shushed me immediately. Taking my hands in her own, she said, “That’s the thing about best friends, sweetie. We’re here when you need to cry it out, even when the reasons don’t always make sense.

  “Honey, are
you sure it really has to be over?” She tilted her head, pausing before she spoke again. “I mean, it seemed like you really liked him and things were just getting started. What happened?”

  I was still sniffling and the heavy weight in my chest threatened to release another flow of tears as I tried to pull the right words forward. I used an old trick Rynna had taught me growing up when my father was having a particularly bad day. I pictured all of my sadness over walking away from Aidan as a ball inside of me. I rolled the ball of emotions tighter and tighter together until it went from feeling like a basketball down to a ping pong ball. Then, I mentally put it in a closet and walked away. It took all of ten seconds to do this in my head but when I opened my eyes, I felt like I could breathe. Like I could actually explain myself.

  Bethany was still holding my hands in hers and she gave them a comforting squeeze as I opened my mouth to speak. “It’s complicated, B. But, it just wasn’t meant to be. I mean, you saw how he just walked away the other day. He’s just a player. He just wanted a new shiny thing to play with and I was the flavor of the month.” I wanted my words to be true. I said them with a confidence I absolutely didn’t feel and Bethany seemed to have her own issues reconciling the words.

  “Are you sure, Ame? He really seemed into you from what I saw. Maybe you’re reacting a little too strongly on this one. I know guy stuff is kind of new to you, but maybe you need to give him a chance. Clearly you aren’t happy about this decision.”

  She just wanted to help, for me to be happy, but if I kept debating this with her I would either break down again or I would end up telling her the truth.

  “Look, B, I know you mean well, but this is one of those things I need you to just stay out of.” I pulled my hands from hers and tried not to wince at the shock on her face. Her southern propriety took over a split-second later and she plastered a fake smile on her face. “Well, okie doke. This one’s your call, girl. I’m just gonna stay out of it.” Her voice was too chipper and I immediately knew I had hurt her feelings.

  “B. Damn it. I’m sorry. I didn’t —” She cut me off before I could even finish. “Nope. Don’t even do it. It’s fine, girl.” She waved it away as if it were an annoying fly buzzing around her. “It’s just fine,” she said. “But, I need to head out to the library. I’ll just see you later.”

  Within minutes, she was gone, and I felt more alone than I had in weeks.

   

   

  I had a day without Aidan in my classes and the reprieve was better than I had imagined. I hadn’t stopped thinking about him for a moment, but not having to stare at the back of his head and watch him walk past me without even acknowledging my existence was something I needed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to get a reprieve from Micah, who was driving me crazy.

  “You realize we still need to have a conversation, right?” he asked for the fifth time this week. I groaned in response.

  “Yes, Micah. Yes, I’ve heard you each and every time you’ve asked. But, I’m not ready to have that conversation and I have bigger stuff going on right now than having a bonding session with you over things we shouldn’t be talking about in public anyway.” Part of me knew this conversation with Micah was the reason I was here. All I had wanted was to have someone explain to me what was happening inside me. Micah though, I didn’t trust him. I hadn’t trusted him when I thought he was just a guy and I surely didn’t trust him knowing he was a Mage. I was just going to have to find my answers elsewhere.

  “You do realize he isn’t good enough for you, right? That you can do better?” His words were sharp and cut me to the quick. Fire raced through my veins and I turned on him.

  Pushing one finger into his chest and shoving him backwards, I said, “You don’t know me, Micah. You don’t know anything about me. Don’t you dare presume to know who is or isn’t good enough for me just because we share this ridiculous thing. I didn’t ask for this and I don’t want it. I’m just stuck with it. I don’t want to talk to you about it and you can’t make me, no matter how long you follow me around.” The violet strands that wrapped around my outstretched finger pulsed brighter and brighter. Micah’s eyes widened as my eyes changed to match the magic building around me.

  It took me a moment to realize everything had stopped. As I glanced back and forth in the hall, everything was frozen and the fear in Micah’s eyes was apparent as he, too, couldn’t move. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe. There had been just one other time where I had done this, I was about twelve and my father caught me trying to use my power to heal a bird I had found with a broken wing. He came storming out of the house as I was gingerly holding the small bird amid the swirling violet smoke and whispering, “Heal his wing, heal his wing, heal his wing.” Even though I thought I had been hiding in the barn, he somehow always knew when I was using my power and snatched the tiny creature from my even smaller hands. Based on the look in his eyes, the frantic “hide the truth” look I always saw when he stopped me from using my power, I just knew he would kill it to stop me from trying to help it.

  I screamed as I reached out with both hands and it all stopped. Though his eyes flashed green and stayed that way, my father was completely frozen. So, I carefully took the bird from his frozen palm and ran off. I didn’t come back home for hours, terrified of how long I might be locked in my room this time, but he never spoke of it again. He did, however, give me a wide berth for a few weeks.

  I looked around at the immobilized students in the hallway, took another deep breath, and whispered to myself, “Let them go, let them go, let them go.” The only thing I could think to do was tell my rogue power what I hoped it would do. It was only a few more seconds before the noises resumed and everyone continued on as if nothing had happened. Micah, on the other hand, looked a little wary. Clearing his throat, he stammered, “Well, that was, um, interesting. You, uh, might want to reign that in if you don’t want every Immortal within a hundred miles making a beeline for you.”

  I simply stood there, feeling ashamed and frustrated, not even fully grasping what Micah had said until he walked away. Why would I be drawing anyone to me? Couldn’t everyone do this stuff?

 
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