Cursed(The Thrice Cursed Mage Book 1)

By: J.A. Cipriano

Before I could respond, the door directly behind her burst open and a boy about eight years old with dark bedraggled hair stepped out into the living room.

“Mom, you’re home!” he squeaked, rushing toward her before stopping suddenly as he caught sight of me. “Who is that?” He pointed at me, accusation and confusion filling his tiny face.

A look of panic burst across the brunette’s face before melting into an expression of horror. She spun on her heels, still clutching the takeout bags and stared at the boy in disbelief. “John, why are you home?” She looked him up and down, taking in his Spider-man T-shirt and blue jeans like they were out of place. “And why aren’t you in your uniform?”

“A water pipe broke at school so they had to send us home because there was no more running water.” The boy shrugged. “So when I got off the bus, I came up and changed. They said they called you.”

Embarrassment filled her cheeks as she dropped the bags onto the counter and snatched her battered black purse off the table. She opened it in a flurry and pulled out a small pink phone and stared at it.

“Christ,” she muttered, punching in some buttons on the phone and holding it to her ear. While I couldn’t make out the words, an automated voice droned from the device. A moment later, she pulled the phone away and stared at the boy.

“Can you go to Emily’s for a little while? Mommy has some errands to run.” She stared at him apologetically, and I felt like the worse kind of slime simply for existing. “We can go get iced cream when I get back, okay?”

The boy looked at her for a long time before sighing loudly. “Fine,” he grumbled before glaring at me like it was my fault, which it probably was. Then he trudged past me toward the door, pausing only to snag a Transformer that looked like Optimus Prime off the counter.

The door opened and closed behind me, but even still I could hear him walk only a few feet before knocking on another door. It opened, there were some muffled words. It shut.

“Emily is my neighbor. She’s an old widow and watches John sometimes when I’m at work,” the brunette said by way of explanation, her cheeks still filled with cherry-colored embarrassment.

I waved my hand, trying to dismiss her sudden need to explain herself. Truthfully, I felt pretty horrible about being here, and now I was basically forcing her son to have to go stay with a neighbor. If I’d done the smart thing and left to look for my wallet in the alley like I’d originally planned on doing, she would be able to spend time with her son now.

I still wasn’t quite sure why I’d come with her. Part of it was that I really wanted to try getting this black stuff off my arm. If a shower didn’t work, my next bath was going to be in a vat of paint thinner. The other part was a little more complicated because I couldn’t quite explain it to myself. Since the moment I’d seen her getting beaten up by those guys in the laundromat, I had the urge to protect her. It was silly, especially since I didn’t even know who I was, let alone who she was, but there it was.

“You don’t need to explain yourself to me.” I turned toward the bathroom. “I really appreciate this, by the way. I’ll be out of your hair in only a moment.” I shot her a grin. “I mean, if I was a good person I’d just leave right now, but have you smelled me?”

She wrinkled her nose even as relief spread across her face. “Unfortunately, yes.”

“Then you know a shower is something I can’t refuse,” I said, and she smiled, and it was like someone turned on the sun. My heart leapt in my throat, cutting off the oxygen to my brain as I stared at her for almost as long as it would take for the moment to stretch into awkwardness. Even though she had a kid, I’d be lying if I didn’t briefly entertain an idyllic fantasy with a white picket fence.

I pushed the thought away, suddenly embarrassed to be thinking about her like that and made my way into her cozy bathroom. With the door shut and locked behind me, I reached past the Transformers shower curtain and turned on the water so it could heat up while I stripped off my clothes. It was a little weird because I wasn’t sure where to put my dirty laundry. In the end, I opted for dropping it in a pile behind the door.

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