Burying her sorrows in reading had, predictably, done Mei no good this Valentine’s Day. Maybe the professor thought they were being cute by assigning Pride and Prejudice for the romance season. But all it did was remind Mei of Travontae and his stupid new girlfriend.
She slammed the book closed, rested her chin in her crossed arms, and stared at the library patrons milling about. A pair of blonde girls saw each other from across the room, ran to embrace each other, and walked off holding hands to presumably flirt somewhere else. A handsome latino settled into a couch next to a rail-thin white boy and gave him a shameless peck on the cheek. Mei felt her face get hot, saw her vision blur, sniffed an involuntary sniff. She buried her head in her arms.
She shoved Lizzy and Darcy into her backpack, slung one strap over her shoulder, and stormed out of the library. A dozen sets of eyes tickled the back of her neck. Fuck them, too.
The cold air outside almost knocked the wind out of her. She took a moment to catch her breath, staring straight down at the dull gray stone at her feet. Deep breaths. Stay strong. At least get back to the dorm first.
A warm hand on her shoulder caused her to whip around and shriek. “Shit, Jesus, fuck. God damn it. Sorry.” Her momentary panic subsiding, Mei focused and looked at the person in front of her.
A short redhead, her eyes shimmering green, stood in front of her, a pair of purple mittens up to her mouth in apparent shock. “Oh my gosh,” the redhead stammered. “Oh gosh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Oh gosh, I’m sorry.”
Mei took a deep breath and shook her head. “No, it’s fine. Sorry. I didn’t notice you.” She felt her voice catch and another surge of tears begin to well up. “Look, sorry, this isn’t a good time. I… I need to go.” She turned and began to walk back to her dorm.
“Wait, wait, please!” The redhead’s voice squeaked. “I just wanted to give you something.”
Mei kept walking, but the redhead ran in front of her and shoved a red heart-shaped box into Mei’s chest.
“Please. I’m giving out chocolates for Valentine’s Day. Please take it.” The redhead smiled faintly. “You look like you need it.”
Mei looked at the box pressed into her chest. It was, if nothing else, a beautiful box. She gently wrapped her arms around the box, almost cradling it. Despite herself, she smiled a little, a tear rolling into the upturned corner of her mouth.
She croaked a hoarse reply. “Thank you.”
Mei realized, one hour and countless tears later, that she never asked the redhead’s name. She’d seen the girl around campus here and there, but she must’ve been in a different major, because they’d never even been in the same lecture hall before.
She reached across the bed and grabbed the still unopened box, holding it aloft and inspecting it. Its red surface glittered in the dim light of her dorm room, as if the night sky had turned red with love and every star shone its brightest.
She gingerly lifted the lid off the box and almost laughed at what was inside. This wasn’t a set of chocolates – this was one big chocolate heart. A heart beautiful enough to rival the box it came in, granted, with a dappled surface of dark and white chocolate drizzle. But a massive heart nonetheless, far too big for her to reasonably eat a single sitting. Was the idea that you share it with your special someone?
She scoffed and took the heart in her hands. With a swift twist of the wrists, she cleanly broke the heart straight down the middle.
There. That was more appropriate.
She picked up half of the broken heart and put the lid back on to conceal the remaining half. Then she turned to her laptop, took a bite of chocolate, and started up the prom episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She wasn’t done crying tonight.
Mei woke with a start, sweating up a storm. She threw her blanket to the side, and finding that insufficient, tore off her clothes and tossed them into a sweaty pile in the corner of the room. She breathed a sigh of relief. Better, but still hot as hell.
She blinked, only now realizing that the lights were still on. Buffy continued to play on her laptop, now showing Willow attending the college Wicca group for the first time. Mei paused it. Must’ve fallen asleep watching TV.
Mei stood and turned off the overhead light, then grabbed her purse and proceeded out the door.
Wait, hold on. She was in her underwear. She couldn’t go out like this. Wait, why was she going out? It was the middle of the night. She proceeded out the door regardless, treading quietly down the hallway to not wake anyone. Her heart almost jumped out of her chest when she saw Anthony in the common room, but he was clearly passed out on the couch. Looks like he celebrated Valentine’s Day in his own way. Not that she could judge.
Wait, hold on. She was still walking. Why was she walking? And where was she going? She wondered this as she descended the stairwell and exited into the chilly February air, but her questions did nothing to slow her down. Goosebumps spread across her exposed skin. Good thing she still felt overheated. She looked down at her feet, realizing that she hadn’t bothered to put on any shoes. She quickly tiptoed over to the soft grass, wet with night dew.
Wait, hold on. She should turn back and put some shoes on. Wait, more than that. She should just go back and not walk across campus in her underwear in the middle of the night. Any reasonable person would go back inside, shower off the sweat, and go back to bed.
That’s absolutely what she would do, Mei resolved as she punched an unknown keycode into the alarm system and entered the chemistry building. She’d wake up her friend Kayla, talk about heartache, and have her friend keep an eye on her until morning so she didn’t do anything silly like walk into thesis lab 23, where that short redhead was waiting.
“There you are, cutie,” the redhead said. “I wasn’t sure you were going to show up.”
“What’s going on?” Mei asked. No, “asked” wasn’t forceful enough. She needed to “demand” answers.
“…What’s going on?” Mei asked again.
“Oh, cutie.” The redhead reached up and combed her hand through Mei’s hair. “I drugged you with an experimental compound I’ve been working on. Looks like I’ve got some work to do though; you’re clearly still resisting.” She hopped up onto a stool and began scribbling notes in a notebook.
“Does chemistry work like that?” Mei asked. She knew for a fact that it didn’t. She’d wanted to say so, but it came out as a question for some reason.
“Magic, chemistry, it’s all related,” the redhead replied without looking up. “Did you know that witches had to make potions without centrifuges back in the day? I’m so glad to be born in the modern era.”
“I didn’t know that,” Mei answered. She had been asked a question, after all. Wait, hold on. Magic?
The redhead paused her writing, lost in thought for a moment. “Say, you did eat the whole heart, right?”
“No. I only ate half. It was a big heart.”
“Well, there’s your problem!” the redhead cried. “It’s a dosage issue!” She reached for graduated cylinder of red liquid and a nearby micropipette. “We’ll get that fixed up right away.”
Mei still had enough control over herself to feel a cold wave of fear crash over her. She didn’t know exactly what this bitch had planned, but she needed to get out of here before things got even worse.
The redhead attached a fresh tip to the micropipette.
Mei’s mind shouted at her arms to reach behind her and turn the door handle. She begged her legs to step back out of the door.
The redhead inserted the tip of the micropipette into the graduated cylinder.
Mei pleaded with her lungs to scream, to wake the whole campus, to tell everyone that this crazy redheaded bitch had drugged her, to tell them that they might be next.
The redhead drew 451 microliters of red liquid into the micropipette and turned to face Mei. “Okay, cutie, any last questions before we finish your dose?”
Why me? Won’t you please let me go? How much can I pay you to stop? So many questions swarmed in her head. Only one came out, and it was more of a dumb statement of fact: “I never got your name.”
The redhead smiled, her green eyes once again glittering. “Oh, cutie. I never got yours, either.” She deposited the red liquid down Mei’s throat. “Anyway, you can just call me Mistress.”