Tall grass brushed my legs as I walked, the moonlight the only thing lighting my way. I didn’t recognize where I was or what direction I was going, so I focused on the sound of my breathing and the dirt crunching under my feet. In the distance I heard laughter. Carefully treading through the dark, I followed it until eventually a light started to come into focus.
Making my way through the shrub and trees, I came to a small clearing, a fire raging in the center. I approached carefully, a warning in my chest keeping me from announcing myself. A girl with long blond hair laughed as she drank something out of a thermos. She was swaying on her feet, barely able to keep upright. If it weren’t for the man holding her from behind, she would have stumbled. He had his arms around her waist and was whispering something in her ear, his face hidden by her hair. She laughed and turned her head to kiss him.
Another figure stepped out of one of the two nearby tents. From the shape of the shoulders and height it looked to be another male. I watched him roll his shoulders under his jacket as he stretched out, then sauntered across the clearing. He approached the two of them, his left hand down at his side as he held something out of view. He then stepped up close to the girl and stroked a hand down her cheek. The motion made her pull her face away from her partner.
“What are you doing?” she asked him, giggling as the first male kissed down her cheek to her neck.
“Just taking my turn,” the second male said.
The girl gave him a confused look as he raised his left hand. Before she could respond he pointed a knife at her throat. Her eyes went wide. He laughed as she let out a scream, which was quickly silenced as he slashed through her neck. Blood poured down the front of her and I could taste her fear.
“No!” I yelled and started to rush toward them. The one holding her looked up at me, blue eyes locking with mine as he bit down into her flesh.
I was yelling as I sat straight up in bed. Gasping for air, I looked around my room. It was bright and filled with the mid-day sun. Wiping the sweat from my head and the back of my neck, I tried to catch my breath. The dream had been so real my adrenaline was still pumping, making my limbs weak and shaky. I listened to see if my yelling had woken Katie, but the house was quiet beyond my pulse. I’d had a few nightmares like this recently, a resurgence of my childhood night terrors. I hadn’t experienced them for several years, then a couple months ago they’d picked up with a vengeance. Agreeing to watch horror movies before bed wasn’t the best decision I’d ever made. My mind didn’t need that kind of fuel for my dreams.
I reached over to grab my phone. Not surprising, I’d missed messages from Hunter and Vincent between last night and this morning. Hunter was apologizing for running me off and asking if we could please talk. Vincent was checking in to see how it went, then making inappropriate jokes about all the things he hoped we were doing that would be the reason I wasn’t responding to him. I had tossed my phone on the charger and ignore it the entire night while I spent time with Katie. After that, I had decided I needed sleep before I would be ready to deal with responding to either of them.
I groaned and pulled the covers back over my head. In reality, I needed more than sleep to cope with the mess I’d made. But more sleep couldn’t hurt, could it? As I tried to bury my head in the sand, the sound of the front door slamming radiated through the house.
“Sen, are you up yet?” I heard Katie calling from the living room.
“No,” I whined from under my blanket.
I heard her laughter as she came into the room. Rubbing my eyes, I sat up. Katie was standing in front of me smiling, two large to-go cups in her hand. “Caffeine?” She offered one to me. She looked as though she had been up for a while and had taken time to go home and change.
“Oh, I love you!” I took the cup from her and moved my legs so she could sit on the bed. The latte was a comforting warmth, with the smell of cinnamon and vanilla promising everything would be better after I drank it. Katie waited for me to have a few uninterrupted drinks.
“I know you’re not a morning person, but I didn’t realize you weren’t an afternoon person, either.”
Grunting, I took another long drink before responding, “I had nightmares last night.”
“Oh, what about?” She put her hand on my knee comfortingly.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to revisit the images in my head. If I didn’t know better, I would swear I could still feel the girl’s fear vibrating inside me. “Nothing. I shouldn’t have been watching scary movies all night. It’s fine.” I rubbed my temple.
Katie smiled brightly. “You know what we should do?”
“We should go shopping!” she exclaimed.
“Why on Earth would that make me feel better?” I scoffed.
Katie was grinning from ear to ear. “You won’t have to borrow anything from Jessie for your next date with Hunter.” Before I could assert that there would be no second date, she added. “Plus, they have more caffeine.” She gestured toward my already half-empty cup.
When I took a drink instead of responding, she made puppy dog eyes at me and pleaded. “Please? I don’t have a license and never get to go to the mall.”
“What do you mean ‘So?’” she asked.
“So, if it were Jessie begging to go shopping, I’d buy it. What’s at the mall that you’re after?”
Katie tried to smother a smile. “Ryder.”
I wrinkled my nose at her and pulled the blanket over my head.
“Awe, Sen, come on.”
“Can’t you go with Jessie?” I called from my cocoon.
“She’s busy today. Her sister’s getting back from her trip.”
“What about your mom?” I asked.
“Uhm… Well, I’m not exactly allowed to date yet.” She waited a moment, then added, “Please?”
I groaned as Katie pulled the covers off me. She tugged at my arm, mock dragging me from the bed. We both laughed as she grunted and tugged me into a standing position. “Okay, okay, I’ll take you. But I need a shower first.”
She beamed at me before heading to the living room to wait as I got around. Grumbling, I went to the closet to grab a tank and shorts, taking them to the bathroom with me. I showered as quickly as possible, lamenting the lack of time to enjoy the heat without Benny pestering me. I was blow-drying my hair when Katie came to stand in the doorway, waiting for me to finish. I was trying to go quickly, but there was nothing worse than damp hair against your neck. In the winter, it made you cold, and in the summer, you felt perpetually sweaty.
Once I was finished, I pulled my hair into a big messy bun on the top of my head. It was dry enough underneath, but this way I didn’t have to finish the rest and could save some time.
“What’s that on your neck?” Katie asked.
I paused for a second, then shrugged. I didn’t mind answering any of Katie’s questions. “It’s a birthmark.” I turned my head to show her.
“Neat,” was all she said. That was definitely going on the list of reasons why I liked her. It was almost enough to redeem her for wanting to drag me to a mall. Almost.
We walked into the living room and I grabbed my keys, dangling them at her. “Alright, let’s go.”
Katie gave one of her signature squeals and dashed from the house. Shaking my head, I followed, grabbing my sunglasses on the way out. It was much too bright, and I was going to need significantly more caffeine if I was going to survive the day. We made a quick stop for another tea latte for me, and a frozen caffeine-free monstrosity for Katie, to hold us over for the ride. As we headed to the mall, I thought to myself, I’d rather be reliving my nightmare. What could be so terrible about a teenager-ridden shopping complex in the middle of summer? Besides everything in that sentence.
When we pulled into our parking space outside the mall, I turned off the engine and sat for a minute. I took a deep breath to try to prepare myself to block out the crowd of people when we got inside. Katie reached out, touching my hand that was still gripping the steering wheel.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I nodded. “Just preparing for the emotional hurricane.”
Katie’s anxiety spiked. Since she was still touching my hand, I felt it spill through her right into me. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I shouldn’t have asked you to bring me somewhere so crowded.”
I turned my head to look at her. Her forehead and eyebrows where furrowed with concern. I patted her hand to try to calm her. “It’s fine.”
“We can leave, we don’t have to go in,” she suggested. She wasn’t even disappointed making the offer, just worried about me.
I shook my head. “I did not drive all the way over here just to turn back around. If I’m going to leave a carbon footprint today, it’s going to be for a reason.”
Katie let out a soft laugh but didn’t look convinced.
“Help me out for a minute?” I asked her.
She nodded. “Sure, what can I do?”
Instead of answering, I laid my hand on hers. I closed my eyes again and took a deep breath, pulling as much of her energy into me as I felt safe to take from her. Normally, someone being this anxious would feel spikey and hot, making it harder for me to control. But no matter what Katie was feeling, her energy was a smooth, cool feeling. It felt like putting your hand in a swimming pool, water lapping against your skin in a calming rhythm. I opened my eyes and watched the power pour along my arms, settling into place like armor just above my skin.
“Whoa!” Katie exclaimed. I looked up at her to see her staring at my arm. “What did you do?”
“You could see that?” I asked.
“Maybe? I’m not even sure what I was seeing.” She was turning my hand and arm over, looking for proof of what she just witnessed.
“I was using your aura to help me put up a shield. What did it look like to you?” People fall on a spectrum of how sensitive they are to my powers, or even just other people’s energy. Some branch of empathy maybe. But to my knowledge, no one had ever been able to actually see me do any of it.
Katie opened her mouth, then closed it again, thinking about what she was going to say. Finally, she shook her head. “Your skin was flickering, like a cartoon mirage.”
I laughed. “Cartoons? That’s your reference go to?”
She shrugged and laughed with me.
“Alright, I think we’re ready,” I announced, putting my arm up in a charge motion. Laughing, we gathered ourselves up and headed in. I wasn’t excited about this adventure, but I was feeling pretty good right now. Maybe it would actually be fun? Surely not.
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