Pins pricked the back of Sophia’s neck as she flicked her mouse over to score another headshot. She turned her character around, scanning the factory for her next target, only to realize that the stare she felt wasn’t coming from her game—it was coming from over her laptop screen.
“Are you playing video games right now?” the cute Asian girl (what was her name?), Miki asked, her incredulous expression poking up from her mini-fortress of books and binders at the other side of the study lounge.
“Uh, yeah,” Sophia answered, slipping her headphones off. “Sorry, should I…not?”
“You’re fine,” Seb assured her with a comforting smile. “The ‘study’ part of ‘group study session’ is a suggestion, not a rule.”
“Miki’s just unfamiliar with the concept of being ‘ahead’ of your homework,” Tobias teased his girlfriend.
“Aw shut up,” Miki shoved his hand off her shoulder. “You’re one to talk. You haven’t even touched your reading.”
“’Cause I know he’ll change the syllabus again!” the sandy-haired boy protested. “It’s impossible to keep up!”
Sophia tittered awkwardly, but that didn’t seem to ease the atmosphere. She turned to Seb for a cue. He just shrugged. “They’re always like this,” he explained. “In a couple minutes they’ll be all smiles again. Don’t worry about it.”
“Phew, that’s a relief.” Sophia pantomimed wiping sweat from her brow. “Wouldn’t wanna think I stepped on a land mine or anything.” She played it like a joke, but she was honestly relieved. The “study” session had gotten off to a tense start—Seb had tried his best to introduce and ingratiate Sophia to his friends, but Sophia could tell this wasn’t the first time they were hearing of her. Miki in particular seemed to have already formed a pretty conclusive picture of Sophia in her head, and had been acting wary of her the whole afternoon. Tobias, meanwhile, had been good-natured enough, but Sophia could detect a sort of wicked curiosity in his gaze, especially whenever she and Seb started talking.
“So…what game are you playing?” Seb asked, leaning over to her side of the couch to get a closer look.
“U-uh, er, just some mindless 2Fort in TF2,” she stammered in reply. “It’s not like my laptop can run anything new these days. So I stick to the classics.”
“‘Classic’ is right,” Seb shook his head. “I remember you trying to get me into that game years ago. I was awful at it.”
Sophia laughed. “You always used to get so mad whenever a spy stabbed you.”
“I startle easily, okay?” he exclaimed. “I thought it was gonna be a fun, cartoon-y shooter, not a jump-scare machine.”
Sophia giggled, glancing over her shoulder at Seb, only to find her body tense as his sparkling eyes met hers.
God, he was so close.
Even now, all it took was that familiar smile of his to send her pulse skipping, propelling forbidden feelings through her veins. She wanted to bring him closer, to grab that wavy hair of his and pull him into a deep, shameless kiss.
But even if she could…even if they were alone and he felt the same as she did…she knew eventually…
“Hey,” Miki growled. “If you guys have time to banter, could one of you please help me with this stats problem? It’s driving me insane!”
“I could actually use help too,” Tobias raised his hand with an abashed smile.
“S-sure,” Sophia nodded, quickly breaking away from Seb. In a way, she was grateful for Miki: if she hadn’t snuffed out the spark threatening to catch on that couch…
…It was only a matter of time before the other voice would.
Sophia was hiding something. That much was for sure.
Chelsea ran through the conversation again in her head as she watched the sun set through the common area window. It had been almost a week since their dinner date, but she still couldn’t shake the feeling that there was an important piecing missing to the awkward Latina’s story. It was obvious she was in love with Master, or at least deeply infatuated with him. But it didn’t seem like Sophia and Master had ever been a couple, at least not officially. The way she talked about him was too elliptical, too anxious.
So what had stopped them? Master obviously cared enough about Sophia that he had risked erasing Chelsea’s memory to keep her safe. It was possible that Master simply didn’t find Sophia attractive, that he really did view her as a close friend and nothing else. But...
…If he was in love with Sophia too, and if he was hoping to eventually get together with her…it would help explain why he refused to take Chelsea instead.
“Uh, Chels?” Veronica cleared her throat. “Did you get that last bit?”
“Hm?” Chelsea blinked and returned her attention to her best friend. “Sorry, I zoned out for a second there.” The two of them had gathered in the common area of the apartment to go over the minutes of the weekly Delta Sigma house meeting. Chelsea’s mother was a big enough donor that her attendance wasn’t de facto mandatory, but she still liked to be kept appraised of sorority news and decisions. Enter Veronica’s notes, which Chelsea usually absorbed without any trouble. But tonight…well, after another week without cumming, all plans outside of Master were difficult to take seriously.
Veronica sighed. “I was just saying, camp cleanup was approved as our next community service activity. So we’ll be spending the weekend after homecoming picking up garbage at Lakeshore Park. Maddi and I tried to challenge the decision, but we were outvoted, sorry.”
Chelsea turned back to the window, thinking. The community service requirement was annoying enough, but at least it wouldn’t occur until after her mother was scheduled to arrive for the homecoming game. That meant she still had two weeks to get Master to claim her mind. In a way, it was a relief that Maddi and Veronica’s veto had failed—if a different service project had won, who knows how it would’ve affected her plans?
Veronia arched an eyebrow. “Or did you actually want to do park cleanup this year? You don’t seem that upset about it.”
“Oh,” Chelsea blinked. “Well, it’s frustrating, but I figured that was how the vote would play out. Lakeshore Park’s a tradition—there’s no way we were getting out of it two years in a row.”
“Then why did you tell Maddi and I to push against it?” Veronica asked.
Chelsea shrugged. “It was worth a shot, right? Please, continue.”
“Hm,” Veronica turned back to her phone. And Chelsea’s mind returned to more pressing matters.
Had Sophia encountered the Vox before?
It was a certainly a possibility, Chelsea mused. Sophia had seemed rather fixated on Master’s hypnosis hobby, and the way she described being put into trance wasn’t too far off from how Chelsea felt when under his power. But if Sophia did get a taste of the Vox, it was clear that neither she nor Master were aware of what exactly had happened. Plus, that didn’t explain how cagey she was about Master’s high school talent show and her own involvement therein. There was a piece of history she was keeping close to her sizable chest. And it just might be the one Chelsea needed to complete the picture. Not just about Master and Sophia, but about the Vox, and how she herself might be able to manipulate it to her benefit.
“And...that about covers it,” Veronica finished, drawing Chelsea back to the present. “Any, uh, questions?”
“Not really. Thank you.” Chelsea paused, a spark of inspiration striking. “Actually, the Greenleaf block party is this weekend, isn’t it?”
“Yeah…” Veronica answered, a hint of concern in her voice. “Why? Are you going to miss this one too?”
“On the contrary,” Chelsea replied. “I was just thinking I might invite someone new along this year. To join the three of us, I mean.”
Veronica cocked her head slightly. “Uh, okay. Who is she? Or…he?”
Chelsea smiled disarmingly. She should’ve known Veronica would be suspicious. As invaluable of a friend as she was, Vernoica could also be protective to a fault. “She’s just someone my mother mentioned to me,” the blonde breezily lied. “Apparently this girl’s father runs some business Mother wants to acquire, so…”
“So she wants us to show a good time to…what’s her name?”
“Uh,” Chelsea paused as though trying to remember. “Sophia.”
Veronica nodded, though the doubt hadn’t completely left her eyes. “And your mom thinks giving Sophia some glowing stories to tell daddy will help the acquisition?”
“Well, ideally we would also get Sophia to rush Delta Sig,” Chelsea shrugged. “But yes, that’s the measure of it.”
“Okay,” Veronica sighed. “Just please tell me Sophia isn’t as lame as your mom’s last ‘bounty.’”
“I don’t know her well enough to promise anything,” Chelsea smirked. “But something tells me we’re going to have fun.”
The streetlights were just beginning to flicker on as Seb walked Sophia back to her dorm. The hum of cars and chatter of pedestrians filled the air, yet all she could focus on was the silence hanging between her and her escort. Each footfall of theirs echoed in Sophia’s head, another missed opportunity at conversation, another wasted chance to rebuild their fragile relationship. Yet as much as she wanted to speak, the right words wouldn’t come. So she quietly marched beside him, biting her tongue so she wouldn’t scream in frustration.
Perhaps it was too naïve of her to assume that one conversation over coffee would somehow completely rewrite history between them. But sometimes it felt like nothing was settled at all. There was still a tension in the gaps of their interactions, a crackling energy that constantly threatened to spark into something disastrous. Or delightful. Either way, being alone with Seb was dangerous, for reasons he couldn’t know. And yet…something told Sophia he sensed them anyway.
Why else would he be so stiff around her?
“Uh, this is you, right?” Seb asked, nodding to the squat, girls-only dorm building known as Mercy Hill.
“Yep,” Sophia nodded, brushing past Seb for the door. “Thanks, uh, thanks for walking me. Goodn—”
“W-wait.” Seb’s hand brushed her shoulder, causing Sophia’s body to freeze and ignite simultaneously. “I...I want to apologize,” he said.
Sophia turned, confused. “Um. About what?”
Seb took a breath. His eyes flitting to the lengthening shadows on the ground, before rising to meet hers. A familiar mixture of hope and regret rippled in those dark pools. “About how weird this afternoon was. I should’ve known things would be a little tense with Miki and Tobias, and I should’ve done something to help. Or at least warned you ahead of time.”
“I-it’s okay,” Sophia hurriedly assured him. “It’s not like you have any control over how they act.”
“The thing is…” Seb exhaled heavily. “I kinda do. When I was first getting to know them, I…told them about what happened. I was drunk and…not as kind to you as I should’ve been. I’m sorry.”
Sophia absorbed this, her own gaze falling. So even now, the aftershocks of her mistakes weren’t over. “That’s okay, I get it,” she said, even as Seb’s words pricked her heart. “Things were messy. I don’t—”
“I-it was shitty of me,” Seb blurted out. “We don’t have to dance around it—I made it seem like our problems were all your fault. But that’s not the truth. And I should’ve been more proactive in telling them that but…” He ran a hand through his hair. “It was just complicated, you know?”
“Yeah.” She knew. All too well.
“But I hope…” Seb hesitated. “I hope you still want to spend time with me. And with my friends.” He added with a faltering smile. “I’ve…really missed you.”
A breeze blew Sophia’s voice into the rustling trees, stealing her words away. She tried to force her tightening throat to speak, to tell Seb the truth. She wanted to tell him that she had missed him too. More than he could know. She wanted to say that she was ready. That she wanted to be his. That she wouldn’t leave him again. That she wanted to fall, away from all the fears and doubts, away from the past and into his arms. He had given her a feeling of safe, sensual bliss that she had spent her freshman year desperately chasing. But no party hookup or short-lived fling could capture what she had experienced. Nothing else could compete with how she felt when that crystal was in front of her eyes, and his voice was inside her thoughts.
But as she forced her lips open, the other voice inside her spoke first.
“LEAVE ME ALONE,” it echoed inside her.
And just like that, an icy feeling of guilt and rejection washed over her. “T-today was fun,” she managed to utter over the numbness closing around her throat. “I-I’ll text you later.”
“Uh, okay.” Seb blinked, caught off-guard
Sophia hurried into the dorm, pulled by a force she could never explain. It was as though the polarity inside her had shifted, and the attraction she had felt was replaced by an equally strong repulsion. She didn’t know why. She just knew she couldn’t be near him a second longer. It felt wrong. Oppressive. Immoral.
So once again, she was left alone in her room, a strange mixture of shame, guilt, and frustrated arousal thrumming inside her. With a heavy sigh she set her bag down. Lay back on the bed. And unzipped her pants.
She teased herself at first, running her fingers over her striped panties, her other hand reaching beneath her shirt to fondle her breasts. To coax her body and mind into that fantastical realm, the place where she wasn’t a lonely slut staining her bedsheets again. A place without the other voice, a version of reality where she hadn’t run from Seb, but had instead grabbed Seb’s hand, pulled him into her room, thrown him on the bed, and proved to him that she was ready to be his. A place where she could feel his hands on her tits, his hips between her thighs, his cock deep in her aching pussy. His voice in her head.
If only. If only he would speak to her with those soothing words again. And replace her stupid thoughts with his own.
Well, Seb reasoned, that could’ve gone worse. She could’ve laughed in his face. Could’ve shut him down completely. Could’ve rightfully held him accountable for what he had said and done. So, all in all, it wasn’t a disaster.
But it sure didn’t feel that way.
A bushel of thorns had been growing in Seb’s gut the entire walk back to his dorm, until it felt like its painful tendrils had spread through his chest and neck. He had known being with Sophia again wouldn’t be easy. That it would take more than a few friendly chats to get back to where they once were. But he hadn’t expected how…anxious she would be around him.
Nor how much that would hurt.
The carpeted halls were quiet in the Cole Quad dormitory. Seb made his way to his room in a worried haze, past the doors laden with arts-and-crafts nameplates and meme-filled white boards, the silence only causing his thoughts to buzz louder.
It was clear Sophia still didn’t trust him, or at least didn’t feel comfortable around him. Even when they were laughing and reminiscing, Seb could sense an unspoken hurt behind it all. The two of them could act like the good old days were back, but he could see the shadows in her glances, hear the hidden hesitations in her voice.
Who could blame her, really? What had actually been resolved in the past few weeks? Even if they were on speaking terms again, they weren’t really speaking to each other. They were still communicating through past versions of themselves, the Sophia and Seb that existed before the barrier of childhood friendship had been breached, before their true feelings had spilled out and drowned what they had spent their whole lives nurturing. It was those feelings that stopped Seb from moving forward; those feelings that caused him to flinch and avoid telling her what he really wanted. What he hoped they both secretly desired.
Though…maybe that was for the best. Even if she did want to be with him…even if they could safely bridge the gap between friends and lovers…
How would he ever explain the Vox to her?
Even now, he could feel it stirring inside him, those painful thorns deepening its ire. Thanks to Chelsea’s escalating flirtations, the Vox had become increasingly surly throughout the week. And that was before today’s encounter with Sophia. Seb needed an outlet. And fast.
“Oh, hey,” Ben nodded to Seb as he entered their cluttered room. The gregarious roommate was reclined on his bed, laptop on his stomach, a picture of relaxation Seb couldn’t help but envy.
“Hey,” Seb offered a friendly wave before, plopping down in his desk chair. “You, uh, got any plans tonight?” he asked as casually as he could muster.
“Mm. Think Nat and I might get dinner and hang out. You?”
“N-nothing at the moment,” Seb tried to brush away his frustration. “What about Saturday? Know of any good parties we could hit up?”
“Uh, I think I’m actually hanging with Nat again,” Ben smiled sheepishly. “Sorry bro, it’s just…you know…”
Seb nodded, the already noxious envy inside him curdling over. God, what he wouldn’t give to just have a relaxing, romantic weekend with Sophia. Instead, here he was trying to exhaust the domineering monster inside himself, just so he wouldn’t hurt her. “B-but there are still parties going on, right?” he forced himself to ask, desperate though it may have sounded.
“Sure.” Ben seemed puzzled at first, then grinned. “Why? Hoping to get another at-bat?”
“Something like that,” Seb admitted, rubbing his neck.
“Well…” Ben thought for a moment then snapped his fingers. “Oh! That’s right. The Greenleaf Ct. block party is happening on Saturday. It’s where three frat houses put on a super-rager that takes up practically the whole street. If you’re looking to score, that’s probably where the best odds are.”
“Greenleaf…gotcha.” Seb nodded. He was a little miffed at having to wait another day, but maybe that was for the best. He could take the night to lick his wounds and prepare.
Then, tomorrow night, he would strike.
Sophia tapped her foot nervously outside of the Brooks Place apartment building, watching the Saturday night throngs pass on the sidewalk. She had texted Chelsea to let her know she was here, but the blonde was taking forever to buzz her in. Which meant all Sophia could do was wait, dressed in a tight tube-top and jean-skirt, feeling incredibly out of place in front of the intimidating tower. She could see the lobby through the glass doors, with its polished floors, white-leather sofas, and reception staff that Sophia swore kept shooting glances her direction. She quickly looked away, wishing she had her headphones to block out the rest of the world.
“Hey, sorry about that,” Chelsea’s voice reached her as the door clicked open, revealing the queen bee clad in a loose-fitting t-shirt and a pair of perfectly ass-hugging yoga pants. “I was drying my hair. Didn’t see your text.”
“No problem. Thanks for having me,” Sophia quickly uttered as her host ushered her inside. “Am I, uh, over-dressed?” she added, glancing between Chelsea’s attire and her own.
“Pff. What, you think this is what I’m wearing out? This is my pre-gaming outfit. We’re not leaving for another two hours.”
“T-two hours?” Sophia stammered, struggling to keep up as Chelsea strode on. “Wait, then why—“
“So you could get to know the girls, of course,” Chelsea answered, stopping in front of a bank of elevators. “Plus, the drinks we have upstairs are way better than whatever garbage they’re serving at the party. Trust me.”
“Um. Okay.” Sophia nodded, trying to stop her head from spinning. Chelsea hadn’t mentioned anything about other girls when she had invited Sophia. Now there was no way Sophia would be able to talk freely about Seb…or hypnosis. Was that intentional? Had Chelsea not spoken to him like she had promised?
The doors dinged open and the two girls stepped inside, the soft music of the lobby replaced by a quiet hum as the elevator rose. Sophia watched weather reports flit by on the control panel screen, dark clouds of doubt shrouding her head. Maybe she should’ve been more assertive in her texts with Chelsea. Maybe she should’ve asked for more details before agreeing to show up. Maybe this was a bad idea but…
No, this invitation was still a good thing, Sophia reminded herself. Meeting other people, making more friends: that was what Sophia wanted when she came to Diepner. Her relationship with Seb might still be at an impasse, but she could still forge new paths. All she had to do was keep cool, and enjoy the night. Like a normal college girl should.
The elevator chimed again, signaling their arrival. A hallway of delicately patterned carpet and tasteful wall art greeted them, leading past dark, numbered doors and tables laden with bonsai trees.
“Impressed?” Chelsea smirked, apparently noting Sophia’s awed expression.
“Yeah. Kinda,” she admitted. “When you said to meet at your place, I thought you meant like, the sorority house or a dorm, not...this. Is this how Delta Sigma girls live?”
“Not all of them.” Chelsea explained, her eyebrows rising with amusement. “It’s mandatory for most sisters to spend their first two years in the house. But given our families’ history with the organization, we’re allowed certain privileges. Oh, speaking of which,” she added, spinning on a dime in front of Sophia. “I told the girls your father runs an agricultural machine company in Melvindale. Not that they’ll ask, but, just in case they do…”
“Wait wait wait, you told them what?” Sophia exclaimed. “Why?”
Chelsea frowned. “It might be hard for you to understand, but friendship in our world is…complicated. There are dozens of would-be scam artists and leeches willing to play the part of best friend, just so they can take advantage of our families. So we’ve all been raised to be extremely suspicious of people trying to get on our good side. If I didn’t spruce up your background a little, the girls would never allow you to join us without some serious vetting.”
“That’s…intense.” Sophia shifted awkwardly. “So…I’m just supposed to spend the whole night lying?”
Chelsea smiled and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Relax,” the blonde said. “They won’t pry into your business, and none of them have ever been to Melvindale. My little story was just pretext for inviting you in—once they learn to like you, they’ll stop caring about where you’re from or what your family does. Just be yourself.” Her expression suddenly turned serious. “But don’t mention you-know-who or how we met. Understand?”
Sophia instinctively flinched. She had never seen a pair of pupils go so cold so quickly. “S-sure,” she stammered. “Th-though you coulda told me all this before I showed up.”
“I was occupied with other matters,” Chelsea replied airily, before turning her charming smile back on. “Now let’s stop worrying about the past and make some new memories, shall we?”
Veronica was just putting the finishing touches on Maddi’s vodka soda when the door to the vanity lounge opened.
“Hey girls, look who I brought,” Chelsea beamed as she entered with their new guest, the mysterious (and rather shy looking) Sophia.
Maddi was up in an instant, bounding past the makeup stations and embracing the diminutive Latina. “Heeeey! Welcome to the parrttyy!” the half-naked red-head exclaimed, pressing her toned, naked torso and against her startled victim. “C’mon c’mon, sit down, have a drink. That top your wearing is sexy as fuck, by the way, damn!”
“Th-th-thanks,” Sophia stammered, wobbling free from Maddi’s grasp.
“You’ll have to excuse Maddi,” Veronica said with as friendly a smile as she could muster. “She has a loose sense of boundaries. And that was before she started drinking.”
“I’m just being a good host!” Maddi shot back, dropping in front of the mirrors again to pick up where she left off. “It’s like I always say: never hurts to be too friendly, right?”
“Indeed,” Chelsea purred with a smug smile as she sat in the neighboring spot. “Our gorgeous bartender is Veronica, by the way. Veronica, meet Sophia.”
“Hi.” Sophia turned to meet Veronica’s gaze and then nervously glanced away. “Um. So. How did all of you meet?”
“Chelsea and I go way back,” Veronica answered, bringing the finished drink over to Maddi, who gratefully gulped it down. “We met this wild child through the Sorority and thought she was fun enough to keep around. Even if she has a habit of assaulting our guests.”
“Aw, lay off.” Maddi snorted. “Sophia didn’t mind. Right, Sophia?”
“Uh, no. It’s all good.” The busty girl shifted awkwardly, her large brown eyes seeming to have trouble deciding where to look.
Veronica could sympathize, to a certain degree—even without their resident amazon holding court, the lounge was a dazzling space. It was originally an extra bedroom, but the three residents had decided to turn it into their dedicated party-prep headquarters. Racks of clothing were pushed against the walls, serving as extra closet space for their overflowing wardrobes. Couches and armchairs were arrayed in a circle on one end, while the other played host to a row of hair and makeup stations, complete with lit mirrors and a vast array of beauty products. Then there was the bar, Veronica’s domain, always stocked with everything she needed to get the party started. Or easily impress an overwhelmed newcomer, in this case.
“So what’ll you have?” Veronica asked, flashing her best beguiling smile.
Sophia blinked, as though the question caught her off guard. “Oh, uh, I dunno if…”
“No need to be shy,” Chelsea chimed in. “Vern, why don’t you make one of your specials? Trust me, Sophia, this is one opportunity you don’t want to pass up.”
“Uh, sure,” Sophia finally demurred, shooting an inquisitive glance at Veronica.
“It’s just a variation on a Sex on the Beach,” she explained. “Here, why don’t you go sit with the others while I get it started?”
“Great. Thanks,” Sophia nodded before scurrying over to Chelsea, like a kid running back to hide behind her mother’s skirt.
Veronica turned her attention to her task, but kept an eye on the cluster of girls, their chatter bubbling across the room as Maddi and Chelsea tried to make Sophia feel welcome. It was a routine they were well rehearsed in, though this time Veronica’s mind wasn’t on making the perfect drink for their guest…
…It was trying to determine if she really was who Chelsea claimed.
It was obvious Sophia wasn’t part of the normal Delta Sigma crowd. She didn’t carry herself like an important heiress or a would-be celeb—she sat with her body in a nervous bunch, her top clinging to her soft belly and enormous tits. Granted, that alone didn’t rule out the possibility that she was still the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur: Maddi was proof enough that cash and class weren’t always a package deal. Ordinarily, Veronica would just chalk up Sophia’s behavior and clothing to a similarly unrefined upbringing.
But Chelsea had been acting odd recently. No, not just odd: secretive. Distracted.
Years of unrequited affection had a way of sharpening one’s senses towards their obsession. And Veronica was no exception. She recognized the faraway look in Chelsea’s face when she fantasized, the way the blonde crossed her thighs and unconsciously parted her lips, pent-up heat wafting from her gorgeous body. How many times had Veronica hoped that she could be the subject of those hungry gazes? How long had she wished that Chelsea’s budding same-sex curiosity would blossom on Veronica’s lips? Or between her legs?
Which begged the question: was such a turn finally happening? And was it Sophia who was now reaping the rewards?
An unfamiliar laugh caused Veronica to almost drop the glass she was holding. She cast a glance over to see Sophia giggling at some compliment Chelsea had paid her. The Latina twisted in her chair, self-consciously smoothing her dark hair with both hands, her arms pressing her breasts together, a picture unintentional, unaware sensuality.
She was cute.
Unlike Maddi, whose was more of a feral forest nymph than a girl-next-door, Sophia compensated for a lack of grace with an almost painful innocence. Her large eyes were guileless; her full lips always curved in a thoughtful frown or shy smile. She was so alluring, so inviting, yet simultaneously so sweet. It was enough to make Veronica sick.
The would-be bartender turned her attention away from the group, covertly adding another shot of vodka to the “special” drink she was brewing. One way or another, Veronica was going to get to the bottom of this interloper’s game. And, if necessary, she would beat her at it.
Greenleaf Ct. was a small street off the main thoroughfare of Powelltown. It wound through the eastern edge of the suburb, eventually ending at a forested grove. At least, that’s what the map on Seb’s phone told him. But as he followed its directions past the darkened houses, he soon found that the device was no longer necessary. Even at this distance, laughter and cheers crackled across the night’s sky, guiding him along the leaf-strewn sidewalks to the source.
And “block party” didn’t even begin to cover it.
Three frat houses burned bright in an isolated cul de sac, each story and balcony filled with dancing, shouting, drinking revelers. Tiki torches and Christmas lights were strung liberally through the chaos, blazing through the shadows of the forest looming behind the three properties. A speaker system and student DJ were set up on the central balcony, creating an impromptu dancefloor out of the already cup-strewn yard. A massive slip-and-slide had been erected on the neighboring rooftop, and Seb watched in amazement as a bikini-clad girl rocketed down the improvised luge, screaming in delight as she crashed through the stack of empty cans erected at the bottom. On the patio, a cluster of students took a break from admiring a cock-shaped ice sculpture to cheer.
It was an overwhelming display of reckless, joyous hedonism. For a moment, Seb briefly considered turning back, retreating to his dorm and reconsidering his solo venture into the wild. But that wasn’t really an option.
He needed this.
The Vox needed this.
“Heeeeyyy look who it is,” a smug voice chortled behind Chelsea. She didn’t even need to turn to know who it was: Michael Braxton, king shithead of the Chi House.
“How are you, Michael?” Chelsea asked with a terse smile. It was just like him to corner her in the kitchen as soon as she started filling her beer. Did boys like him have a sixth sense for women trapped by circumstance? It would explain a lot.
“I’m good, I’m good,” the oafish man nodded, tugging at the collar of his Gucci tank-top. “Been a while though, huh? Haven’t seen you around much this year.”
“I’ve been busy,” she replied, silently cursing the nearly-empty keg for not pouring faster. She cast a glance across the hall towards the stair banister, hoping Maddi and Veronica would notice her predicament. But there were too many people between them: if it wasn’t for the bright red top of Maddi’s hair, Chelsea wouldn’t even have been sure they were still there.
“Yeah, I’ve been real busy too.” Michael nodded, pushing back his already over-gel’d hair. “It’s my last year here, so I figure I gotta make the most of it. Hittin’ the books. Hittin’ the gym. That kinda thing. You get it,” he added, stretching in a manner Chelsea interpreted as a flex. “You’re a strong, confident, woman. You know how it is.”
“Uh huh.” Chelsea turned the other direction and double-checked that Sophia hadn’t moved on either. Sure enough, she was still in the den, reclined on the couch. Technically, Chelsea had promised this drink to her, but maybe the drunk Latina would understand if Chelsea threw it on this jerk-off instead.
“That’s what I like about you, Chels,” Michael blundered on. “You don’t take shit, you just—“
“Good seeing you,” Chelsea uttered, snapping the keg nozzle closed and pivoting away the moment the cup was full.
“Uh, yeah, you too!” came the reply to her back.
This was what was so frustrating about social events nowadays. In the past, Michael’s connections and family would have made him at least worth toying with; but now with her heart set on Master, boys like him were just another obstacle in her way, a buried relic of her past she kept tripping over. Half of the party so far had been spent on a mini-reunion tour of neglected acquaintances, a process shepherded by the ever-vigilant Veronica. Chelsea knew her friend meant well, but she was inadvertently getting in the way of the night’s true purpose.
Fortunately, it seemed that endeavor was about to bear fruit.
“Sorry about the wait,” Chelsea said with a sweet smile, sliding onto the sofa and handing Sophia her cup.
“Mm,” Sophia nodded, taking a grateful drink. “’S fine, I was just…” she gestured vaguely to their surroundings, “people watching.”
“Anything interesting?” Chelsea asked, crossing her legs and leaning closer to her quarry.
Sophia squinted. “Kinda? ’S weird. Never seen people look so trashy and so bougie at the same time. Oh, sorry, no offense,” she added quickly.
Chelsea laughed. “None taken.” In fact, she was delighted: now that Sophia was well-lubricated and loosening up, it was time for Chelsea to make her move. “Actually, I should be the one apologizing to you.”
“Hm?” Sophia hummed through a mouthful of beer.
“About what I…said I would talk to Seb about,” Chelsea explained, twirling her hair around her finger in a way she hoped read as anxious. “I’ve been trying to find a good time to bring it up with him, but it’s been surprisingly hard. It’s…not exactly something I can bring up in casual conversation.”
Sophia swallowed and looked away, clearly disappointed but trying to hide it. “That’s okay. I get it.”
Chelsea paused, putting a finger to her lip. “Can I ask you something?”
“Did something…happen between you and Seb in high school?”
Bingo. Sophia’s eyes went wide. “Wh-what do you mean?”
Chelsea frowned thoughtfully. “I don’t want to pry past what you’re comfortable with but…honestly, it was pretty obvious something was bugging you when we talked about him. Did he…hurt you?”
“Huh?” Sophia recoiled. “No. No no no, it wasn’t anything like that.”
“But…there was something, right?”
Sophia’s eyes flashed with panic and, for a moment, Chelsea worried she had pressed to hard. But then the busty Latina’s shoulders slumped, and she fell back into the couch with a sigh, her tits almost jiggling free from her top. “Yeah, there was…something,” she mumbled, tugging the fabric back into place. “But…I’m not sure how to explain.”
“Try me,” Chelsea offered.
Sophia took a moment to drain the remnants of her cup, then began stumbling her way through the tale. It wasn’t a perfectly coherent recounting, but from what Chelsea could tell, what had started as a convoluted scheme to set Master up with another girl had spiraled out of control when Master had hypnotized Sophia, revealing lot of feelings neither of them were prepared to deal with. In a way, Chelsea could relate: her initial encounter with Master had evoked a similarly startling effect. Of course, in that case it was Master who had ended up panicking and running away. Maybe he and Sophia had more in common than they realized.
“That must’ve been hard,” Chelsea murmured when the story had concluded.
“I haven’t even told you the weirdest part,” the Latina continued, going to take another drink before belatedly realizing her cup was empty. “And, um, it’s kinda crazy, so…like, don’t, y’know tell anyone or…”
“My lips are sealed,” Chelsea promised, offering her own cup of Powelltown Punch.
Sophia took the drink and exhaled. “So…when Seb and I had that fight on my porch…we were yelling back ’n forth at each other, and suddenly he…he just shouts out ‘leave me alone’ and…it was like, something about the way he said it or, the way it sounded or, I dunno, it was weird. But…”
Sophia paused to take a drink, leaving Chelsea to hold her breath until she felt like she might burst.
“But…” Sophia fidgeted. “Something about those words stuck with me. Like, in a way nothing else has. Every time I wanted to text him or call him, or try to talk with him again, those words would just, like, hit my brain again, and I’d freeze up like that.” She snapped her fingers for emphasis. “Even when I was deciding on colleges, the thought of having a class with him or even just running into him on campus would…feel wrong somehow. I couldn’t fight it, no matter how hard I tried.”
“Y-you got over it though, right?” Chelsea asked, not daring to believe the conclusions her mind was already racing to. “I mean, you seem to be fine hanging around him now.”
“Sorta,” Sophia nodded glumly. “That feeling was real strong at first, but it got weaker over time. Now it just comes up whenever I spend too much time alone with him. Or thinking about him.” She groaned. “So it still happens a lot, honestly.”
“Is that why…you want him to hypnotize you again?” Chelsea asked, keeping her voice low so Sophia wouldn’t hear it tremble.
Sophia laughed humorlessly. “God, am I that obvious? It’s not the only reason, but…I dunno,” she said, resting her cheek in her hand. “I just figure…maybe there’s a way he can make me forget about those words, or…‘disarm’ them or something. That way…maybe…”
“You could be together again,” Chelsea finished.
Again, that barking, rueful laugh. “Assuming he even wants me. I dunno why he would when he’s got someone like you.”
Chelsea blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Oh. Shit.” Sophia pinched her eyes. “Sorry. I’m drunk. I didn’t mean…”
“Hey Chels,” Veronica’s words cut into the conversation. “We need to talk.”
Chelsea looked up to see her best friend hovering over the couch, a barely-concealed scowl on her face. A flash of frustration rushed through Chelsea’s veins, but she managed to keep her expression neutral. “Now? What’s up?”
“I’d prefer if we could discuss it one-on-one,” Veronica replied, her eyes darting to Sophia.
Before Chelsea could protest, the startled Latina was already on her feet. “Oh, okay. Uh, n-no problem,” she sputtered. “I gotta…go to the bathroom anyway so...” She backed away and stumbled into the crowd, drifting out of sight as Veronica closed in.
“Can we go somewhere…less visible?” Veronica asked, resting a gentle hand on Chelsea’s shoulder.
“Of course,” Chelsea answered, barely able to conceal her annoyance. She knew Veronica wouldn’t interrupt her if it wasn’t important, but there was no way whatever she had to say would be more pressing than what Chelsea had just learned.
Namely, that Chelsea hadn’t been the first to experience the Vox.
It had been Sophia.
Seb had arrived at the party like a man on a mission; now he felt like a lost kid at a grocery store.
The frat houses were a constant whirl of chaos, crowds, and cacophony. Even after three loose tours of the madness, Seb was no closer to discerning any sort of rhyme or reason to the ebb and flow of its denizens. Rooms that had only held a handful of people would transform into impromptu dance floors; an isolated game of beer pong would suddenly grow into the world’s loudest sporting event as spectators started throwing bets down, only to disperse just as quickly once the winnings were collected. Even if Seb spotted a girl that seemed promising, getting to her before the tide of the party swept her away was almost impossible.
Now here he was: revisiting the Kappa house basement for the third time, with little to show for his efforts besides rapidly encroaching intoxication. He glumly sipped on another cup of punch, the sickening sweetness practically burning his tongue. God, he wished he could’ve come here with Sophia instead. Or hell, just studying with her would’ve be preferable. Even if her feelings towards him had dimmed. Even if she just wanted to be friends. Seb would easily take that over sulking these overcrowded halls like a malnourished shadow, his racing thoughts barely audible over the good time everyone else was having.
Maybe he should just give up. But as he watched a trio of giggling girls bend to refill their drinks, thongs poking out of their jeans, the Vox pointedly rejected the notion. Seb had starved it for too long to turn back now. And besides, there was one area he hadn’t canvassed yet:
Upstairs. The forbidden frontier. Even the most laissez-faire frats usually kept their bedrooms off-limits to the general public, out of concern for cleanliness, confidentiality, or both. Seb had always avoided pushing his luck into those waters. But now he was drunk, horny, lonely, and had mind-control powers. What was the worst that could happen?
A skinny, pale teen was waiting as Seb approached the second-story staircase, most likely some poor pledge the frat elders had placed on guard duty.
“Uh, s-sorry,” the boy stammered as Seb approached. “Upstairs is for Kappas only.”
“It’s alright,” Seb said, the tightness in his pants and the heat in his head causing the Vox to slip easily from his tongue. “They said I could go up.” Would his powers even work on a target he didn’t want to sleep with? No time like the present to find out.
The freshman’s eyes blinked rapidly underneath his messy bangs. “Huh? Who? Y’mean Kyle?” he asked unsteadily.
“Right, Kyle,” Seb replied. “Kyle told me it was cool if I went upstairs.”
“Uh, okay,” the freshman stood aside, hanging onto the banister for balance. “Go ahead.”
Seb nodded in thanks and hurried up the stairs before the would-be guard reoriented. Using the Vox in such an off-the-cuff way felt odd, but it did serve to bolster his already-boozy confidence. Now he knew that if someone caught him, at least he would probably be able to sweet-talk his way out of it.
That self-assurance started to fade, however, the moment he reached the second floor. A hallway of blank doors greeted him, without as much as a nameplate to distinguish them. He had been hoping to catch somebody in the hallway, or discover a private party going on in one of the rooms. But now…what was he supposed to do? Start knocking?
Seb padded onwards, trying to look like he belonged there while simultaneously realizing he didn’t know what that meant. He briefly considered placing his ears to the room entrances, when a startling scent hit his nostrils: a pungent, distinct smell, one Seb had been to enough after-show cast parties to recognize.
Seb followed the scent down the hall, eventually arriving at the door he believed held the source. He paused, listening, until the sound a whirring fan and subdued chatter reached his ears. Some of the voices on the other side sounded feminine, though he couldn’t be sure. It was possible he was about to stumble upon a lone stoner bro trying to enjoy Netflix in peace. Or, perhaps he would find a gaggle of blissed-out, suggestible party girls on the other side. Only one way to find out.
Seb tried to hold the latter scenario in his head, fortifying his courage and desire so the Vox would be ready the moment his knuckles rapped on the door. “Hey, it’s me,” he said, hoping the same vague approach he had used on the stair-guard would pay dividends here.
The voices on the other side went silent. Then the door cracked open, revealing a young man with a scraggly beard and a messy man-bun. He blinked rapidly upon seeing Seb, clearly having trouble making heads or tails of the situation. “Uh…sorry, who are you again?” he asked.
“Kyle’s friend.” Seb answered. “He said people were smoking up here—that’s you guys, right?”
“Y-yeah,” man-bun answered automatically. He shifted, and Seb managed to catch a glimpse of small gathering behind him, smoke still wafting in the air between them.
“Cool if I join you?” Seb pressed, subtly resting his hand on the door and nudging it open further.
That was the ticket: the confused host backed up, adding a belated “sure man,” as Seb entered.
The scene waiting on the other side was neither as bad as he had feared, nor as good as he had hoped. It was a typical stoner corner: a handful of guys and a couple girls crammed into a cluttered bedroom, passing a joint by the light of a football lamp. A laptop showing YouTube videos was propped up on the unmade bed, next to a rotating fan lazily failing to disperse the smell hovering around their heads. One of the guys had his arm around one of the girls, a skinny blonde with a loose-fitting blouse Seb could clearly see her bra and pert bust through. Cute, but clearly spoken for. The other girl…
…The other girl was exactly what he was looking for.
Unlike most of the other partygoers, she looked closer to a theater-geek than a frat girl. Her brown hair was streaked with purple strands that fell loosely around her cute, dreamy expression. She was seated at the foot of the bed, her relaxed, leaned-back posture unconsciously highlighting her hefty tits, which stretched the graphics of her “Adventure Time” tank-top. Her folded legs and ripped jeans offered tantalizing glimpses up her pale thighs, but she was either too stoned or too comfortable to care. Either way, she was perfect.
Seb tossed a brief nod of acknowledgement to the rest of the group before sliding next to her. “This spot free?” he asked.
The girl’s eyelids fluttered. “Uh, yeah, totally,” she replied.
“Thanks,” Seb smiled, leaning in and lowering his voice. “I was really hoping I’d get to sit next to you.”
It was forward. Maybe even careless. But the Vox was impatient. And the effect was immediate. The girl’s eyes closed for a full beat, her body swaying slightly before she answered. “Really?” she asked, then self-consciously giggled. “Do we, like…know each other?
Seb held her gaze with his, moving closer until he could feel her bare shoulders graze his. “No, but I feel like we do,” he answered. “You can sense it too, can’t you? That warm, peaceful feeling? Like somehow, everything is as it should be?”
“Huh…yeah….” she nodded slowly, her lips hanging open for a moment before curving into a bemused smile. “Whoa…I must be, like…higher than I thought.”
Seb chuckled. Of course, the sensation he had described probably had more to do with the weed than the Vox at this point. But a good hypnotist never missed an opportunity to reframe the incidental as entrancing. “That’s good,” he continued, making sure to keep his voice below the chatter around him. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To feel relaxed and happy?”
“Yes…” she breathed, her eyes still clinging to his even as her head started to droop. “Relaxed and…happy…”
“Yo, Kate,” the boy to her right nudged her slightly. “You gonna take this, or what?”
“Huh?” she turned, her bright green pupils taking a moment to focus on the lit joint her neighbor was offering her. “Uh…maybe I should pass…” Her eyebrows pinched together. “My head feels, like…kinda funny, y’know?”
“But not in a bad way, I hope?” Seb prompted.
“N-no…” Kate answered, touching her fingers to her lips.
“Then what’s the harm? Feeling funny is the whole point, right?”
The crease in her brow softened, her hand languidly sliding back to her side as a goofy grin spread across her face. “Yeah…right…” she said, accepting the joint and taking a deep hit. Seb couldn’t help staring as she leaned back and exhaled, her breasts gently falling as she descended deeper into the haze enveloping her head.
It took Seb a moment to realize that the guy who had passed her the joint was now staring at him. “Bro, is there like…something weird with your voice?” he asked.
Seb did his best to look puzzled. Then laughed. “Like what?” he asked.
“Uh…” his interrogator blinked heavily, then snickered. “Shit, man, I dunno...”
“You’re so high, bro,” Seb said, doing his best Ben impression and hoping it would stick.
“Fuck, I so am…” the guy groaned, leaning back on the bed and resting his head on the pillow behind him.
Seb took the opportunity to turn to Kate, who was staring at the smoke wafting at her fingertips. “You don’t mind my voice, do you?” he asked.
“Uh-uh,” she answered, shaking her head back and forth.
“In fact, it seems like you kinda like it,” Seb pressed.
She giggled. “Uh-huh…”
“That’s good. Feel free to listen as much as you want.”
“Listen,” she repeated, her head listing towards him.
The other girl in the group tittered hysterically. “Oh my God, Kate, you’re so gone. You’re supposed to pass it, remember?”
Kate said nothing in reply, just leaned over and lazily offering the joint to Seb. He hesitated, his eyes darting between her blissed-out expression and her outstretched hand.
This was the part he had been dreading.
The part where he would have to smoke.
Seb had only attempted such a feat once on a dare from Miki, an endeavor that ended in him nearly hacking up a lung, much to her amusement. He could try to talk his way out of it, but it was risky: a guy showing up to smoke and then refusing to do so would possibly set up more red flags than he was capable of knocking down, even with the Vox.
But maybe he could still use this to his advantage.
Seb gently took the joint from Kate’s fingers, bringing it to his lips and taking the smallest of inhales before quickly handing it to Kate’s friend. She accepted the pass, but not before shooting him a quizzical look.
“Did you, like, even get anything?” the blonde asked.
“A bit, yeah,” Seb assured her. He turned to Kate with an abashed smile. “But it’s only my second time doing this, so I’m not really good at it.”
It seemed to take her Vox-soaked brain a beat to process this, but when it finally did she laughed. “Whaaat? But it’s like, super easy.”
Seb had to suppress a laugh of his own. She had fallen into his trap. “Can you show me?” he asked.
“Uh, sure,” she answered, bringing her hand up and pantomiming the action. “You just, like…inhale…hold it in…and exhale.”
“Inhale…and then…exhale,” Seb repeated.
“Inhale…and…exhale…” she echoed back.
“Inhale…exhale…” Her eyes fell closed, then struggled to re-open.
“Inhale and exhale.”
“Inhale…ex…hale…” Her shoulders slumped.
“Just focus on your breathing.”
Kate’s mouth hung open, her body tilting towards Seb as if drawn by an invisible string. “Focus…breathing…”
Seb shot a quick glance over his shoulder. The joint was still slowly making its way around the circle. Which meant he had a few more passes to complete his move. To fully capture Kate’s weakening will.
“It’s so easy,” he murmured, fixing her sleepy eyes with an intense stare.
“Easy…” she repeated. Her hands were on the ground now, her tits swaying pendulously as she struggled to keep her drooping body up.
“Just breath and relax.”
“So very, very relaxed, aren’t you?”
“Yes…” she nodded heavily. “So…very…very…” her voice trailed off, her mouth merely forming the final word. But it was enough: Seb recognized that drowsy monotone, the familiar slurred timbre of a subject on the brink of surrender. All it would take was a little push.
“Wanna see a cool trick?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “I promise you’ll like it.”
“Okay…” came the drowsy response.
“Just look into my eyes,” Seb gently commanded. “Look as deep as you can. As though you’re trying to see the bottom of a deep, dark well.”
Kate’s eyes struggled to widen, her lashes fluttering as her gaze sank into Seb’s. For a moment, Seb just let her drift, enjoying the conflicted look on her face, the dreamy, overwhelming relaxation in her body fighting with her need to follow his commands.
“That’s good,” he finally assured her. “And as you stare, you’ll start to notice flecks of color you never noticed before. You can see them, can’t you?”
“Yes…” she answered, a brief flicker of confusion passing over her face. “How…did you…”
“Just keep staring,” Seb urged her. “Notice all those sparkling colors glinting in the dark. So pretty and captivating.”
“Pretty…” she repeated, the remaining tension in her expression vanishing, replaced by docile wonder. “Captiv…ah….”
Seb smirked. It was a minor hallucination, but the fact that she was experiencing it proved she was in an exceptionally suggestible state. Now it was time to capitalize on it.
“That’s right. So many colors. So dazzling. So overwhelming, you can’t look away.”
“Can’t…look away…” Kate sighed.
“Impossible to think.”
“But that’s okay. Because it feels good, doesn’t it?”
“Mmm…” she let out a soft moan. Confirmation that there were no more thoughts in that pliable little mind of hers. Just whatever feelings the Vox wanted her to feel.
“There are more tricks I want to show you,” Seb said. “And each one will make you feel even better. You want this, don’t you?”
Kate didn’t reply. She didn’t have to. Her shallow, panting breath and dull, obedient gaze were the only answer Seb needed.
He put his lips to her ear. “I’m going to leave in moment. After I do, I want you to wait for ten minutes, and then make up an excuse to leave. It will feel very easy and natural to do so. You will then meet me in the bar downstairs. Do not tell anyone what I have just told you. It will be our little secret, understand?”
He backed away, catching her eyes again and nodding. She bobbed her head in unison with his.
“Good girl,” Seb said, enjoying the hitch in her breath as he stood.
Man-bun cocked an eyebrow. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“Bathroom,” Seb lied. “Don’t worry about it.”
And that was all it took. Man-bun shrugged and returned his attention to the blunt heading his way. Someone else in the group cracked a joke, cuing laughter all around as Seb headed for the door. He descended the stairs passed the “guard” without a second glance, finally allowing himself a sigh of relief.
The hard part was over. All he needed to do now was wait for his new subject to find him downstairs.
And then the fun would begin in earnest.
The night air raced across Veronica’s skin as she pulled Chelsea outside. The ice cock sculpture on the patio had mostly melted by this point, cuing its admirers to wander off to find something more entertaining to do.
Making it the perfect spot to for Veronica to give her beautiful, infuriating best friend a piece of her mind.
“What the hell is going on?” Veronica hissed, almost spilling her drink as she rounded on Chelsea.
“Uh, well,” the bombshell blonde raised an eyebrow. “I was having a lovely conversation with our guest as planned, only for my friend to yank me away and start asking trick questions. How’s your evening?”
Veronica laughed humorlessly. “Oh, just great. Who wouldn’t want to spend their night mending bridges for a girl who clearly wants to be somewhere else? A girl you thought cared about you but who instead has spent all night fawning over some backwoods bimbo you’d never seen before? I’m having the time of my life!”
To Veronica’s surprise, Chelsea flinched, a flicker of guilt passing through her bright blue eyes. Veronica looked away, downing the rest of her drink. She couldn’t let herself be deterred. Not this time. She was pissed, and she was going to let Chelsea know. Even if the blonde seemed genuinely conflicted. Even if Veronica wanted to kiss her pouty lips as much as she wanted to strangle her slender neck. She wouldn’t let Chelsea off the hook. Not this time.
“Sorry,” Chelsea sighed. “I know I’ve been distant lately. But ever since my grades slipped, my mom has been riding my ass non-stop. So when she told me to make friends with Sophia…I guess I kinda fixated on that over—”
Veronica cut her off with a warning finger. “Don’t. Don’t feed me that line. I don’t know if Sophia really is who you say she is, but she sure as shit means more to you than you’re letting on. And you haven’t just been ‘distant’—you’ve been downright crazy. Acting out at some stupid variety show. Acting like you don’t care about parties or the sorority anymore. Disappearing at random hours with no warning or explanation. Bringing home weird girls and spending the entire night at their beck and call. And the whole time, tryin’ to act like I shouldn’t be concerned. Well good job: I’m not concerned. I’m fucking PISSED!” She chucked her cup in the lawn. It was too much, it was all too much.
And the worst part was, in the long silence that followed, Chelsea didn’t seem shocked by the outburst.
Nor angry, nor insulted.
She seemed tired.
“You’re right,” Chelsea muttered, leaning against the porch railing. “I’ve been impossible. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been unfair to you. And I’m sorry,” she met Veronica’s eyes. “You know I am.”
Veronica swallowed. She did know. She knew Chelsea’s apology was an honest one.
But that…still didn’t…
“So tell me what’s going on,” Veronica pleaded. “Let me help you. Please.”
Chelsea paused, delicately twisting her fingers together. “I can’t,” she whispered.
“Why not?!” Veronica demanded. “You know you can trust me so why—”
“I found a way out,” Chelsea blurted.
Veronica’s angry retort caught in her throat, suffocating the fury that had been burning inside. “What?” she exclaimed. “A way out of what?”
“Out of…this,” Chelsea gestured to the houses around them. “All of this. The plans, the schemes, the expectations…everything I’ve been trapped by my whole life.”
Veronica blinked. “Then…why can’t you…”
Chelsea stared into the dark woods in the distance, a wistful sadness in her gaze. “Because if it doesn’t work out, nothing will change,” she muttered. “But if it does work…then…you and I might never…”
She paused, something apparently catching her eye. Veronica followed her gaze, only to see…
“Is that Sophia?” she exclaimed.
“Chelsea!” the Latina cried out, drunkenly stumbling across the yard to meet them. The flames of contempt that had consumed Veronica all evening flared up again, only to be quickly extinguished as Sophia’s face reached the light.
She was crying, sobbing as she ran; her face coated in tears, her hair matted sloppily against her forehead. A picture of desperate despair.
“Wh-what happened?” Chelsea asked, clearly as shocked as Veronica was by the blubbering girl beneath them.
“It’s Seb!” Sophia wailed. “I saw him! He’s here!”