My hands were shaking as tears spilled down my cheeks. I wiped them away and kept walking, trying not to think about what just happened – but it wasn’t like I could think of anything else, either.
Sean and I had been dating for over two years. I’d given up my preferred university to come here with him, which was my own choice and not something I could really hold against him, but then – but then I’d expected to be with him forever. We’d finally decided to sleep together tonight. I hadn’t expected what happened, and he definitely didn’t.
We’d been making out on the bed, half dressed, and things were starting to get more heated, and then – and then I’d purred. It wasn’t intentional, a reflexive reaction to pleasure, apparently, but it wasn’t a noise a human would make and we both knew it.
“What the hell, Cooper? What on earth was that?”
I’d sat up, swallowing hard as the nerves over what we were about to do switched instantly into fear of his response. I probably should have told him before now, but I was afraid. I couldn’t come up with anything off the top of my head that made sense, so instead I opted for the truth.
“I, uh, I’m what’s called a shifter, you can kind of think of it like a werecat, I can shift into a cat and, um, I guess I got a little turned on?” I’d laughed nervously, the laugh fading as he just kept staring at me.
When the silence showed no signs of ending, I had continued, starting to feel desperate. “It doesn’t have to be that big of a deal. I mean, I guess finding out people like me exist is kind of mind-blowing, but really, nothing needs to change about your life. Or about us.” I had reached out tentatively to touch his arm.
That finally got a response from him and he’d slapped my hand away before standing up, running a hand through his hair while his expression started to turn livid. “You’re telling me that you’re some kind of inhuman freak and I’m just supposed to be okay with that? What the fuck?”
“Please,” I’d begged, trying not to take his words to heart – he was just shaken, right? “I’m still the same person! So I’ll probably purr when I’m turned on but that’s it – it doesn’t need to be a big deal!”
He’d started pacing, shaking his head as he went. “I thought you were just an introvert, but this is why you don’t like to go to parties and stuff, isn’t it? What, you might hurt people? Why wouldn’t you tell me this before now? I’m not into bestiality,” he’d snapped. “And I had no idea I was putting myself in danger every time we went on dates. Is this some kind of elaborate plan to kill me, I guess?”
“No!” I’d insisted. “I really do love you! I’d never hurt you!”
He’d stopped pacing to give me such a look of disgust that I’d felt it strike to my very core. “You don’t know the meaning of the word love – you’re just a freak. An animal. Something like you shouldn’t even exist.” He ran a hand through his hair again, then pointed at the door. “Get out. You’re lucky I’m not calling the police on you, but if I see you back here again – if you ever try to contact me again – I will call without a second’s hesitation.”
I’d tried begging, my tears falling by then, but all that had achieved was making him angrier. I’d only left once it was clear that he was actually about to call the police.
So now I was walking home alone, crying bitterly and wondering where it had all went wrong. Dating a human to begin with, I guess? I’d thought Sean would be okay. I thought I could hide it, or if I didn’t, that he wouldn’t care. He seemed so open-minded about stuff. But apparently I was wrong. Deeply wrong.
Back in my own small student apartment, I threw myself onto my bed and cried until there were no more tears. But then I forced myself to sit up, think, and plan. Normally, supernaturals didn’t tell humans what we were unless we were sure they wouldn’t run around blabbing about it. Since my revelation to Sean hadn’t exactly been planned, I couldn’t guarantee his silence. He didn’t want to see me again, which meant I had three choices – one, continue as things are and hope he said nothing, but given how angry he’d been…I wasn’t sure that was a good choice. Humans angry about this particular thing sometimes ended up turning to Hunters on purpose or even by accident – and that would cost me my life. Two, disappear from school and start over somewhere else, so even if Sean did raise a fuss, it wouldn’t matter. That would be ideal, I guess, but I couldn’t afford it. Moving cost money, and money I didn’t have, not to mention my school and well, everything. I couldn’t afford to move. I didn’t have friends I could crash with. I didn’t have anyone, anymore.
I wiped away the tears which came to my eyes at the thought and tried to focus on the third option. Magic. Honestly, it seemed like the only solution, which meant I had to call someone I didn’t want to talk to.
But I might as well get this over with. Trying to still my shaking and taking a long drink of water that I hoped would hide the effects of my crying, I picked up my phone and called one of the three numbers saved in it.
“Cooper, darling,” she said in her heavy accent, “have you decided to take me up on my offer? You can bring your human along if you like – I’m very flexible.”
I cringed a little. “Ah, no, um, actually, I need some help. My, uh, human, he – he didn’t take the news well. I, uh, I think I’m going to need…some magic.”
“Ah, well, that is unfortunate.” She sounded almost flippant. Of course, to someone like her, the idea of my two-year relationship ending like this wasn’t something to be upset about. She didn’t ask what news, either – there was only one “news” that supernaturals like us might tell a human.
“I can do what you need,” she went on, “but I am not sure you can afford it.”
I made a face. “I – I can’t sleep with you, sorry.” I didn’t know why she seemed so obsessed with the idea when she was old enough to be my grandmother, but I got the impression she liked variety in her bedroom.
“No, no, even I am not so heartless as to ask for that under the circumstances.” She now seemed almost insulted, but it flowed away immediately. “Cash. $2,000.”
Even knowing that it would be expensive hadn’t prepared me for just how expensive. I didn’t have $2,000 lying around, I was a college student with no family! But…but I could probably get it.
“You can go to another witch,” she added, as if sensing my hesitation, “but I doubt the price would be cheaper. I am giving you a discount for our friendship, but the speed involved and the ingredients – it is a costly thing you need.”
To be honest, I had no idea if she was scamming me or not. She was the only witch I knew, and generally I tried to avoid witches – too much potential to get tangled into power schemes, as Dad’s friend used to say. But she was right about one thing – even if I happened to find another witch tonight, which wasn’t likely given that they didn’t exactly put signs out to draw in customers, because I needed help in a hurry to prevent anything bad from happening, it was going to be more expensive.
“Okay.” I gripped my phone tighter. “I can get the money by morning.”
“Perfect, darling,” she sounded back to her normal self. “I’ll have it ready. Say, 9 o’clock? 10?”
I hesitated, trying to estimate how much time it would take me in the morning. “10, to be safe.”
“Good, then I will see you then. Good luck, darling!” And she hung up without another word.
It was probably good that I had a witch I could contact in an emergency like this, but sometimes I wondered why I ever kept her number in my phone. Maybe because Dad’s friend used to do business with her – cautiously – or maybe because I knew that there could be moments like this, where I was desperate and needed some magical help.
That night and the following morning were spent going around to pawn shops, then to a car dealership. I had a feeling I would miss my car, my last gift from my parents, but trading it in ended up working out – I got the last of the funds I needed and I had an old but hopefully reliable car in exchange.
When I went to pick up the potion, I had a surprise in store.
Maria counted out the money, then dropped a small vial into my hands. “Careful, darling,” she warned. “The effects are irreversible. Make sure you get the right person.”
I frowned a bit. “Don’t you need my hair or something?” I hadn’t seen a memory potion used before, but I’d heard about them. The potion needed something of the person to be forgotten.
“Ah.” She waggled her finger at me. “That is the simple potion. This – this is finessed. It will make him forget everything from the past three days – everything, you included. Which gives you an option, doesn’t it, darling? You can go back to how things were, if you want. Never tell him. It’s in your hands now.”
I stared at the potion briefly as I left the shop. I could…go back? Did I want to?
A part of me longed to. I didn’t have anyone else in my life, and even besides that, Sean and I had been together for two years and I’d moved here for him. I’d thought he would be my future. I loved him.
But…I couldn’t forget the look in his eyes. I couldn’t forget the words he’d told me, the names he’d called me. Even if he didn’t remember what happened, I would, and there would be no going back from that.
Which led me to the hard part – trying to figure out how to get Sean to drink this when he didn’t even want to see me again. However, I had one advantage here. I knew his schedule and I knew where he sat for classes, which meant I knew that he always bought coffee before his morning class but then would put his things down and go to the bathroom before the class started. That gave me enough time to slip inside, quickly dump the vial in when no one was looking, and slip back out before he saw me. Then I waited a few minutes before peeking in at the window on the door, relieved to see him take what appeared to be the last gulp of his coffee, starting to look drowsier and drowsier until he actually fell asleep – proof that the potion had done its job.
But next came the even harder part. I was going to have to pretend that he and I were still together long enough to break up with him. He wouldn’t get why, and truth was I didn’t exactly have a good explanation other than that I knew things wouldn’t work out if he knew the truth about me. I was going to have to improvise here and hope I could do it without making him suspicious.
I was on my way to my second afternoon class when Sean caught up with me, slinging an arm around my shoulder and neck has he caught me out of the blue.
“Cooper! Haven’t seen you all day. Hey,” he lowered his voice and glanced around, “do you happen to remember what we did this weekend? I can’t seem to remember anything since Friday sometime but I did attend my morning classes. Did I fall and hit my head or something? I searched my phone, but other than texting you about coming over yesterday, I didn’t seem to have used my phone much this weekend.”
Oh. Right. I…should have come up with a cover story for that, I guess?
I felt weirdly uncomfortable with his arm around my neck, knowing what had actually happened and what needed to happen soon. I tried to shrug him off as casually as possible. “You got a bit drunk,” I told him. “More than normal.” Sean didn’t get heavily drunk, usually, so maybe that would be a good excuse?
“Oh, uggh.” He made a face. “Hope I didn’t make a mess for you. I know we were planning on stuff this weekend,” he gave me a flirty wink. “I’m guessing we didn’t quite get to it?”
No, not quite. “Nothing happened,” I agreed. “I have class now, so…?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Sean held the door to my building open for me, then took a step back. “You stopping by after school?”
Might as well get this done. “Sure,” I agreed, trying to pretend like everything was normal. “Yeah, I’ll…be there.”
Which left me to stew over what I was going to say during the rest of my afternoon classes. I only had a vague idea by the time I reached his apartment.
As I went to knock on his door, I felt a hysterical little laugh bubble up inside. Yesterday, at about this time, I had been standing here, also full of nerves, but that time I was anticipating our first time together. Now I was nervous about breaking up with him.
The changes 24 hours could bring.