Seb held his breath as he entered the coffee shop, as though he were descending into a crypt. Which was ridiculous, of course: with its warm, subdued lighting, relaxed ambient soundtrack, and rich, inviting aromas, the Undergrind Café was probably the least threatening venue on campus. It was a favorite among the academic crowd, its semi-hidden location underneath a downtown bookstore making it a cozy and convenient choice for those looking to escape into their studies.
Or confront their past, in Seb’s case. Though maybe ‘confront’ was too strong a word—he and Sophia had arranged this meeting as a mending exercise, after all, and Sophia wasn’t the type to pick a fight in public. At least, she hadn’t been when they last met, though there was always the chance that she had changed since high school.
Seb certainly had.
He growled and rubbed his temples while waiting for his order, trying to keep his memories of Chelsea’s confession from awakening the Vox. They had already cost him a night of sleep—he couldn’t afford for them to interfere further. If Sophia knew that the volunteer he had hypnotized at the variety show was now begging to be his sex slave, well…his former childhood friend probably wouldn’t be waiting for him in this café, that was for sure.
Seb took a sip of his coffee, letting the mellow bitterness ground him in the present. He scanned the overstuffed armchairs and pockmarked wooden tables, looking for a familiar dark tangle of hair among the morning crowd. If he was being honest though, he already knew where she would be. The window seats were too sunny and visible, the armchairs and couches too easy to slouch into. There was only one place she would be waiting for him.
There: in the corner booth towards the back of shop. A small, curvy figure with a pair of black-and-pink gaming headphones hanging around her neck, the reflection of her phone screen lighting up her glasses.
Seb swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “H-hey, Soph?” he ventured.
She looked up, the white light vanishing from her spectacles, revealing deep, hazel eyes that felt like they absorbed Seb’s gaze as he met hers. She was wearing her favorite violet hoodie, but had neglected to zip it up all the way, offering a shy peek at her heavy breasts underneath, which rose sharply as her breath caught.
“S-seb!” she exclaimed.
And just like that, Seb wasn’t standing in the Undergrind Café anymore. He was transported back to a rainy porch in the fall, back in the year that had ended it all…
Seb glanced up at the porch roof as the light rain tapped against it, hoping that Mr. Iglesias had fixed the leaks over the summer. He also hoped the large man wasn’t home this evening: even though Sophia’s father permitted her and Seb to spend time together in private, Seb could almost feel his gaze piercing her bedroom door whenever they closed it. Sometimes, if the two of them had been quiet for too long, Mr. Iglesias would barge in unannounced, giving Seb a heart attack without fail. He could appreciate the intimidating patriarch’s caution, but it really wasn’t necessary. Seb and Sophia had been having sleepovers since they were kids and, besides, he was too nervous and she was too much of a good church girl to try anything risky.
Not that they wanted to anyway. That wasn’t…what they were to each other.
At least…it hadn’t been.
The front door flew open, halting that train of thought. With some relief, Seb saw that it was Sophia’s mother greeting him this time, her bright smile lighting up the grey evening air.
“Hello, Seb, how are you?” Mrs. Iglesias exclaimed.
“Doing okay, Mrs. Iglesias,” Seb answered. “Can I…”
“Oh, of course. Come in, come in,” she ushered Seb through the door, practically shoving him deeper into the modest ranch house as she spoke. “Sophia didn’t say if you were going to be around for dinner, but I made some extra just in case, so stay as late as you need to! Wouldn’t want you two to fall behind on your schoolwork.”
“E-eh yeah we’re, uh, pretty swamped this year,” Seb lied with a nervous chuckle. “Y-you know how Mr. Trapper’s classes can be.”
“I do, I do. Lovely man. But so hard on you kids! Anyway, Sophia’s waiting in her room. Good luck you two!” She bustled away, leaving Seb before the door to Sophia’s bedroom.
“Soph?” he called and knocked, only to have the door swing on its hinges, revealing his partner-in-crime seated at her desk. She was completely absorbed in the game on her laptop, the pink lights on her headphones glowing, the chipped controller click-clacking her hand.
Seb had seen her this way before—a bomb could go off and it wouldn’t interrupt her flow. He stepped closer to get her attention, only to hesitate when she yawned and stretched luxuriously in her chair. She reached a hand into her bra, scooping her left breast into a more comfortable position before tugging the straps to accommodate, causing her tightly-packed chest to jiggle and bounce. For a brief moment, Seb wondered if she had grown another size, outpacing her family’s clothing budget yet again.
Then he realized he was rock hard, standing only a yard away from his best friend.
He quickly swung his backpack in front of his crotch, hoping it would shield her from the unwelcome erection. “Er, Soph!” he called again, waving awkwardly with his free hand. “Sophia!” he reached out and tapped on her desk.
“Wha--?” Sophia whirled around, dropping her controller in the process. “Oh, Seb! You scared me.” She scrambled to pick up errant gamepad, only to accidentally bump her desk, toppling several second-hand anime figurines onto the floor as well. “I, uh, sorry I, um, I’m almost done with this boss and I thought I could finish before you, uh—”
“It’s okay, really,” Seb interrupted. “You can play to a save point if you want, I’ll wait.”
“Um, it’s fine.” She blushed. “I can do that any time. We should probably get started before my dad gets home.”
“Oh, right.” Seb acknowledged, bending down to recover a faded Vegeta from the carpet. “He thinks we’re working on a school project together, right?”
Sophia nodded. “Yep. Your secret’s safe. You won’t have to worry about my mom or dad blabbing to your parents.”
“Good. Thanks.” Seb handed the figurine back to Sophia, trying to ignore the small tremor that ran through him when her fingers graced his. And…was it his imagination, or did they linger longer than they normally did?
No, he reminded himself as he turned his attention to his backpack, he couldn’t start thinking this way. Sophia had been his closest friend since elementary school—he couldn’t afford to jeopardize that by swooning over her every move. It would make things too weird. Well, weirder than checking her out while she played video games, anyway.
“So, uh, are you sure this is going to work?” Seb asked.
“I…don’t know.” Sophia put a finger to her chin in thought. “I-I mean, I’ve never done it before, but you said that anyone can be put under, so…”
“No, I meant, like, the plan. With Amy,” Seb clarified.
“Oh, oh yeah!” Sophia nodded vigorously. “I heard her talking at lunch. Apparently choir camp had a hypnotist show this summer, and she was really, really mad she didn’t get a chance to try it. She’ll definitely volunteer during the talent show. Then all you have to do is hypnotize her and, uh…bang!” Sophia awkwardly snapped finger-guns at Seb. “Senior Prom date…acquired.”
“You know I’m not gonna hypnotize her into going with me, right?” Seb asked.
“Y-yeah, of course not. I just meant she’d be so impressed that she’d, you know…”
“Right.” Seb hesitated. “And you’re sure you’re okay with this?”
Sophia blinked. “You mean with you, like, practicing on me?”
“Y-yeah, but also…me going out with Amy.”
“Oh. Uh…yeah.” Sophia twisted a strand of hair between her fingers. “I mean, she’s pretty and she seems nice so…why wouldn’t I be okay with it?”
Seb nodded, chastising himself for even asking. Of course Sophia didn’t have a problem with him and Amy: this whole scheme was her idea in the first place. Yet here he was, making things awkward because of some juvenile, messed up fantasy. It was so stupid—when was he going to learn to finally control his desires? When would they stop leading him into disaster?
Sophia glanced tentatively at Seb. “Uh, just, just to make sure: you do want to go out with her, right? Like there’s nobody else you’re…planning to ask?”
Seb swallowed, trying to smile disarmingly. “Yeah, definitely,” he said. “Anyway, like you said, we should probably get started before your dad gets here.” He reached into his bag, withdrawing a dog-eared book and a glass pendant, its multi-faceted surface sparkling as it spun lazily on its string.
Sophia took a deep breath as the light twinkled in her eyes. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s do it.”
“I uh, got you a coffee,” Sophia motioned to the cup across from her. “You like it black, right?”
“Yeah, but I already…” Seb gently indicated the drink in his hands. “So…”
“Oh shoot. Yeah. Of course,” Sophia moved to take the extra coffee away, hesitated, then withdrew her hand with a sigh. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Seb tried to laugh as he sat down. “Better to overdose on caffeine then…uh, anything else I guess.”
Sophia fidgeted. “I wasn’t just talking about the coffee, I was talking about, y’know. This whole thing. Me just showing up out of the blue, and then running away, and then forcing you to come talk to me and…”
“Hey, you didn’t force anything,” Seb assured her. “I came because I wanted to.”
“Oh.” Sophia looked down, the hint of a smile on her lips. “Good. I’m glad.”
Seb nodded as a tenuous silence settled over the table. He took a swig of his coffee, trying to casually scan the rest of the café without seeming rude. It was strange, but he somehow felt his eyes both pulled and repelled by the girl sitting across from him. As much as he told himself she was just an old friend, that they were just two people reconnecting after a rough patch, he couldn’t look at her for long without seeing more. She was like an enchanted flame, mesmerizing and terrifying, her subtle movements casting shadows of dreams and nightmares in equal measure. Seb just hoped that didn’t make him the moth.
“I liked the show,” Sophia finally offered. “Er, the variety show, I mean. You’ve gotten really good at the hypnosis thing.”
Seb tried to keep his face neutral as his grip around the cup tightened. “Uh, actually…” he tried to smile sheepishly. “I found out after the show that the uh, Chel—I mean—the girl who volunteered was faking it. Apparently.”
“Oh,” Sophia sank back into her chair, disappointed. “Are you sure she’s not just, um, embarrassed that it worked on her? Or maybe she thinks she was awake, but she was actually in trance? That happens sometimes, right?”
Seb laughed nervously. “You’re really hoping I hypnotized her, huh?” he said.
“I…guess,” Sophia admitted. “It’s more that…I was happy to see you were trying again. Especially after…you know…”
Seb’s jaw tightened. He did. All too well.
Sophia smiled as Seb dangled the pendent in front of her eyes. It was their fourth session now, and Seb didn’t even need to say anything for her gaze to instantly lock into the glittering crystal.
“You know,” she said. “The first time you brought this out, I thought it was a little cliché. But now, I can see why you chose it. It’s so…pretty. So…” her voice trailed off, her eyelids already blinking heavily as the glass crystal spun.
“Th-that’s right,” Seb intoned, fighting the tension in his throat. “Just relax and watch the pendant. Recall how it, uh, uh, makes you feel and, how it…it…” He clenched his eyes shut, trying desperately to remember the next phrase in the induction.
“‘Captivates me,’” Sophia murmured.
“Right. Shit. Sorry,” Seb lowered the pendant and rubbed his eyes. “I swear I thought I had it that time.”
He fought the panic rising to his chest. This was their last chance to practice before the show, and so far he was blowing it. In past sessions, he had managed to take her into a light trance and walk through some sensation-play routines, but that was with his nose practically stuck to his guidebook. There was no way he was going to impress anybody reading scripts on stage, so he had decided to try to memorize a few in his spare time. In theory, it should be no problem for a grade-A geek like him. In practice…
“Maybe you’re just nervous?” Sophia offered.
“Of course I’m nervous,” Seb exclaimed, causing Sophia to shrink into her chair. “Sorry, sorry,” he quickly apologized. “I didn’t mean to snap at you, I’m just…frustrated.”
The truth was, he could recite scripts backwards and forwards when he was alone. But the moment he saw Sophia’s shoulders go slack, the moment he noticed the glazed, unfocused look in her eyes, it just became impossible to concentrate on anything else. Besides how alluring she looked, anyway. And how stupid his voice sounded by comparison.
“I really, really want this to work,” he groaned, flopping back onto the mattress.
“I understand,” Sophia adjusted her glasses self-consciously. “Y-you must like Amy a lot, huh?”
Seb exhaled. “I mean, she’s great, but…I also don’t want to let you down, y’know? Not after everything you’ve already done for me.”
Sophia looked away, but couldn’t hide her bashful smile. “Y-you don’t have to feel like you owe me anything,” she said. “I’m doing this because I want to. I like…practicing with you.”
“Maybe,” Seb arched an eyebrow. “But I know you don’t like lying to your parents.”
“W-well…” Sophia dug her toe into the carpet, shifting her desk chair back and forth. “I know how much trouble you’d get in if your folks found out. And you know, it’s not like I’ve never told a lie before,” she added with a sad smile.
“In any case,” Seb stretched, squaring himself for another attempt. “That’s why I wanna do the best I can. Not just for Amy. But for you.”
Sophia paused, her lips pouting slightly as she thought. “C-can we try something a little different?” she asked.
“Different? Like what?”
“Like…” She hesitated. “Like trying to hypnotize me without a script.”
“Y-you mean, like, an improvised induction?” Just the thought caused Seb’s pulse to spike.
“S-sort of. It doesn’t have to be totally original just, I dunno…” She brushed her hair behind her neck. “Y-you seem to know the basics and theory really well. Maybe it’ll be easier for you to fill in the rest with your own words instead of trying to remember the right ones. Or not,” she quickly added with a forced laugh. “I mean, you don’t have to do it if you don’t—”
“No,” Seb exhaled, trying to steady his nerves, “you might be onto something. It’s worth a shot anyway.” He took a moment to center himself, then lifted the pendant up, making sure to stop just over Sophia’s eye line. Her dark pupils followed perfectly.
“L-look into the crystal,” Seb began. “Focus on it as it moves before your eyes. See if you can notice all the different little details in it…the tiny reflections, the way it catches and throws the light all around you. The way it seems to pull your gaze more and more, making it so easy to let everything else just drift away. It’s all just background noise; the only things that matter right now are the crystal, and my voice. All you have to do is stare and listen. Stare…and listen.”
Sophia’s chin dipped slightly, her shoulders sagging as the induction continued. Seb watched her carefully, barely even noticing his own hypnotic patter anymore. All he cared about were the way her blinks were becoming more frequent, the way he could see the tiny muscles in her adorable face relax, causing her mouth to hang open as her breathing slowed.
“It feels so relaxing, just staring and listening,” Seb murmured. “So relaxing to let everything else go. So relaxing, that you may begin to feel your eyes growing tired, your eyelids becoming heavier and heavier after each blink.” He fought a thrill of arousal as Sophia’s eyelashes fluttered, the induction now flowing out of him almost faster than he could keep up.
“A-and that’s p-perfectly natural, and perfectly a-alright,” he breathed, hoping his voice wouldn’t crack. “Perfectly natural to feel that tiredness, that drowsiness, becoming stronger with each blink, as you just continue to stare, continue to try and watch the crystal. Even though it’s becoming so hard now. So hard to keep those eyes open.”
Sophia let out a deep sigh, her head drifting with the pendant as though attached by a string, her gaze no longer focused on anything as her eyelids struggled to stay open.
“They’re so heavy now. So heavy and tired. So drowsy and sleepy. You know it will feel so good to let them close. You know it will feel so good to sleep for me. And on the count of three, you’re going to do just that. One…feel those eyes becoming heavier and heavier…two…so tired, so sleepy, ready to let them close and fall deep into trance on my command…and…three.”
Sophia’s pupils rolled back as her eyelids fluttered closed, her whole body slumping forward and off of the chair.
“Whoa!” Seb quickly slid off the mattress and caught his falling friend, his arms wrapping around her the moment before she hit the ground. He froze, unsure of what to do with this turn of events, with the girl hanging limply in his grasp. She must’ve gone far deeper than usual to lose control of her body like that. Could he get her back in her seat without waking her up? A part of him briefly considered continuing the session from where she was. After all, it wasn’t an unpleasant sensation…her soft chest pressed against him…her warm, sleepy breath on his neck…
“E-eh,” Seb coughed. “Even though you’re feeling so relaxed and sleepy, so deeply hypnotized and entranced, you will find it very easy to move when you need to. Your mind may be heavy, but your body is feeling so loose and light, and it becomes very simple to move it into positions where you are comfortable.”
Seb gently helped Sophia back onto the chair as he spoke, noticing with satisfaction that her eyes remained closed the entire time, her head and shoulders still limp as he eased her back into a sitting position.
“There,” he murmured, kneeling beside her. “That’s good, that’s perfect. Just continue to relax, listen to my voice, and take nice, deep breaths, each inhale and exhale making it easier and easier to slip deeper into trance. That’s right, that’s…”
Seb’s voice trailed away as he beheld what was in front of him: his childhood friend and subject of his most ardent and confusing fantasies, slumped over in her desk chair, so deeply hypnotized she was practically drooling. It was a posture he rarely saw her in: her insecurities and upbringing meant she rarely let herself slouch like this, even at the third hour of a marathon Mario Party session. Yet here she was, so entranced as to not even notice the way her shirt had bunched around her slightly chubby belly, the way her chin was resting on her massive tits, gently rising and falling with every breath. If she could see herself right now, she would probably be mortified.
Seb thought he had never seen anything so beautiful in his life.
He reached a shaking hand forward, unable to stop his fingers from gently tilting her head so it was level with his. “Very good. Now let’s open those eyes nice and gently,” he said, the arousal and adrenaline causing even his mouth to run on autopilot. “Still staying in trance, still feeling nice and relaxed, but let me see those perfect, beautiful eyes again.”
Right on command, Sophia’s long lashes gently rose. Seb’s breath caught as her dazed pupils met his—for a moment, he wondered if she was still lucid enough to realize he had just called her beautiful, or to notice the gentle, intimate way he was holding her. But if she did, she didn’t make a move to break away—her head remained right where it was, gently resting in Seb’s hand, her expression docile and content.
Still, better safe than sorry. “A-and as you go deeper and deeper,” Seb continued, “it’s okay to…to move however you feel is necessary. Go ahead and let your body respond to what it’s feeling, to help you relax and—”
The rest of his sentence was lost as Sophia’s lips pressed into his. His entire body stiffened, her soft warmth paradoxically freezing him into place. He closed his eyes, allowing the feeling to take him for just a moment, to melt his cares and concerns into one perfect second a bliss.
And then he heard footsteps thumping behind her door. Seb tore away with a gasp, falling on his butt right as Mr. Iglesias entered the room.
“Hey, you two,” he said. “How’s the homework coming?”
“Uh, great!” Seb squeaked, watching in terror as Mr. Iglesias’s attention darted between him and Sophia, who was groggily swaying in her chair. “She, uh, we were studying, and I-I think she got so bored she fell asleep in her chair. I was just, um, just checking on her when…”
“Uh huh,” Mr. Iglesias nodded, his eyes narrowing. “That true, mi princesa? Did you take a little nap?”
“Huh?” Sophia blinked, her brow furrowing as the light returned to her eyes. “Oh. Umm…yeah…I...musta fallen asleep…”
“Well, sorry, but break time’s over. You both have work to do.” Her father started to turn, then stopped, noticing something on the floor. “That yours, Sebastian?”
Seb followed his gaze to the pendant on the carpet. “Ah, yeah!” he exclaimed, racing to pick it up. “It’s a, uh, meditation tool. To help me focus.”
“I see. Make sure you don’t forget it,” Mr. Iglesias said with a tight smile before turning and leaving the room.
Seb waited until he couldn’t hear footsteps in the hall anymore, then rushed to Sophia’s side. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have left you under so long, I…I…”
His words failed as she looked up at him, her face awash in confusion and embarrassment, her mouth struggling to form words. “I…I don’t know, I…” she whispered. Her eyes darted back and forth, her breaths becoming short and rapid.
“I-I’m sorry!” she cried, leaping to her feet and dashing from the room.
“W-wait!” Seb scrambled to follow her into the hall, but he was too slow. The bathroom door closed and locked, leaving him grasping at the handle like an idiot. “Sophia!”
“Is there a problem?” a voice behind him asked. He turned to see Mr. Iglesias watching from around the corner, eyes boring into Seb as the muffled sounds of Sophia’s sobs leaked into the hall.
“I…” Seb croaked, failing to fight the shaking in his voice. “I think I have to go.”
Seb drummed his fingers on the table, struggling to contain the emotions bubbling inside of him. “So, uh, you never mentioned why you ended up transferring here. You were going to Western before, right?”
“Y-yeah but it, uh, it wasn’t working out.” Sophia chewed her lip. “It was hard being so far from my family, and well…you know I’m not good at making new friends.”
“So you decided to run back to old ones?” Seb asked, before instantly regretting it.
Sophia wilted. “You could put it that way, I guess.”
“Sorry, I didn’t…,” Seb pinched the bridge of his nose. “That was uncalled for. I’m sorry”
“It’s okay,” Sophia shook her head. “It’s what I deserve.”
“That’s not true. Back then, the whole situation was so…” Seb looked for the right word. “So messed up, on so many levels. And I know I’m responsible too. There’s no reason for me to be cruel to you about it, I just…there’s a lot going on there, y’know?”
Despite his fumbling summation, Sophia gave an understanding nod. “It’s like that for me too. It…” She paused, taking a moment to wrestle some thorny thought before asking: “Seb, can I ask you a, uh, kind of weird question?”
“Do you…” she looked away, rubbing her shoulder. “Do you still hate me?”
Even though he knew the auditorium was silent, Seb felt like he was drowning in a sea of noise. His thoughts spun like a hurricane in his skull, sweat dripping down his face and onto stage.
Amy was sitting in the chair next to him, her bright green eyes flitting between him and the pendant above her, concern clouding her freckled face. He was supposed to do the induction now. To hypnotize her. To say something. Anything.
“F-focus your eyes o-on the PENdant,” he stuttered, the crack in his voice eliciting some giggles from the audience.
Why was he doing this? What was the point? It felt like some insane joke: here he was, humiliating himself for the sake of a lie. Trapped on a train to disaster, hurtling over tracks he had helped lay himself.
“W-watch c-carefully as it s-sWIngs,” he stumbled on, the crystal bobbing erratically in his shaking hand. Maybe he could still get through this. He could stick to the plan, and everyone would be happy. He could still put on a good show, get a date for prom, and patch things between him and Sophia up later. What other choice did he have? Why should he waste this opportunity with Amy because of a confusing, stupefying kiss?
Besides, this is was Sophia’s plan, wasn’t it? This is what she had wanted, right? This was…this was…
Seb choked as the rest of the induction shriveled in his throat. Who was he kidding? He didn’t want to be with a girl he had barely spoken to. He wanted to be with Sophia. They had been side-by-side since as long as he could remember. Now he was isolated in a cone of light, dribbling broken words onto his dress shoes. More alone than he had ever been in his life.
“I…” Seb turned, looking away from his subject into the audience. “I…” he searched for any sign of Sophia in the crowd, hoping beyond hope that maybe she had come to see this through. He had been too scared to text her before the show, but if she was out there, he could make her understand right now. It didn’t matter what the rest of the school thought—as long as she was with him, he knew he would survive.
But the only spectators Seb recognized were a stocky, balding man, and a narrow, straw-haired woman. Both staring at him with shock and horror.
His parents had come to the show.
“I don’t…hate you,” Seb answered, struggling to force his words around the feelings raging inside him.
“But…you’re still mad,” Sophia recognized.
She smiled ruefully. “It’s been a while, but I can still tell when you’re angry, Seb.”
“Okay, yes,” Seb admitted with an exasperated sigh. “I am angry. But I’m not angry at you, I’m angry at, at…” he gestured uselessly at the air. “This, everything, the whole situation. I’m angry that things played out the way they did and that I’m…I’m still not totally over them yet,” he confessed.
“I…never really got over it either,” she admitted. “But I-I really want that to change. I want us to be friends again.” She hesitated. “Do you?”
“I’m not leaving until you get out here!” Seb shouted, his fist pounding the chipped wooden door, his breath ragged from having run all the way from the auditorium. Rain leaked between the slats in the porch roof, falling on his head in freezing, infuriating streams. But even as the cold water soaked his skin, his veins still blazed with shame and rage. “Sophia!”
The door finally swung open, revealing the guilt-stricken face of his former best friend. “S-Seb, I’m sorry,” she sputtered. “When my parents saw me crying, they started asking so many questions, and I was so confused and…”
“So you told them what we were doing?” Seb exclaimed. “They told my parents, Sophia! My parents were at the show! They were there when everybody was laughing at me! You promised this wouldn’t happen!”
“I said I was sorry!” Sophia shouted back. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen!”
“What are you talking about?” Seb roared over the downpour. “This was all your idea!”
“I thought it was what you wanted!” she cried.
“I don’t want Amy! I want…I…want” Seb faltered, the tears in Sophia’s eyes extinguishing the flames in his chest. “Soph, please…”
“I’m sorry,” Sophia repeated, her lips trembling. “Seb, we can’t. Not after my parents…not after we…”
“Don’t,” Seb held up his hand. “Don’t tell me that kiss didn’t mean anything.”
“I…I don’t know what it meant,” Sophia pressed her palms against her head. “I don’t know what I was thinking or why, it…it was so confusing and I just…I can’t, Seb, I can’t.”
Seb closed his eyes, his heartstrings shaking so hard he thought they would snap. “Fine,” he spat, turning away. He could feel a black poison building within him, threatening to flood his lungs and spill out of his mouth. He didn’t know how or why, but he knew that if he stayed any longer, he would say something he could never take back.
“Seb, wait,” Sophia started across the door, but shrank back as a stream of rain fell before her. “W-we can talk this out, we—”
“Leave me alone,” he growled.
“I said LEAVE ME ALONE!” he roared, the words erupting out of his chest, as if a different voice had uttered them. A strange lightheadedness overtook him and his vision went blurry, the tears in his eyes distorting Sophia’s face into a monstrous mask of shock and pain.
Without another word, Seb ran into the downpour, praying the water would just wash him away.
Seb’s spine tingled as Sophia’s question hung in the air, as charged as the memories crackling in his brain. The tempest inside kept spinning, leaving him grasping for direction. He wanted to escape. He wanted more time. But he knew he couldn’t afford to run this time. The only way out of this storm was to break it himself. Even if it felt impossible.
“I…” He grit his teeth. “I’ve been…feeling a lot of conflicting emotions since I saw you out here. I’ve felt angry, and happy, and frustrated, and anxious but…” he paused, realization breaking like a ray of light through the clouds. “Even in all the chaos, there have been two constants. Regret, for the way things went down before. And hope…that we would get a second chance.”
Sophia took his answer in, her face gradually brightening. “So…can we…” she whispered, as if not daring to say the words out loud. “Can we be friends again?”
Seb managed smile. “Yes,” he said. “Friends.” His gaze met hers, connecting for once not in fear or suspicion, but in mutual, overwhelming relief.
“Hey, Seb,” a familiar voice called behind him, shattering the moment like a stone through glass. He turned, only to see the speaker already arriving at the table, coffee in her hand, a gleam in her bright blue eyes.
“Who’s your friend?” Chelsea asked with a sliver of a smile.