Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


I wandered over to the front window while Gemma and Marcia argued. It was snowing outside, in the stage of a snowstorm when it’s mostly flakes dancing to the ground from the sky, but before much has accumulated yet on the ground. At any other time, this would have been the perfect day to stay inside with my friends, watching old movies while eating popcorn and chatting. Apparently, today wasn’t going to be one of those days. I tried to force my attention back to my roommates.

“It’s not like you’ve had perfect relationships, yourself,” Marcia said.

“What? Because I hit a rough patch with Philip? Well, we talked last night, and he said work was distracting him. He’s going to try to be better because he misses me.”

“That’s great!” I said, trying to radiate enthusiasm for my friend’s good fortune.

Both of them turned to glare at me, looking like they wished I’d just vanished. “You say that now,” Gemma said, “but that’s not what you said last night. I believe there was something about what a slut I was because I was thinking of dumping him for not sleeping with me yet.”

I cringed, though to be fair, she had pretty much said something along the same lines, except for the part about her being a slut. It wasn’t like I’d broken any new ground there.

Marcia chuckled. “Yeah, and ironic, wasn’t it, considering she went from that to complaining about Owen doing the same thing with her? And then she must have been thinking of poor Philip’s reputation by giving him a chance to show he wasn’t a cold fish.”

By this time I’d cringed so hard I nearly had a cramp. “How did Owen react to the things I did?” I asked. My heart clenched at the thought of what he must have felt.

Gemma shrugged. “It’s hard to tell with that mask he had on. But he went really quiet, still-like. He made sure you were looked after. A lot of guys would have left you there to find your own way home, and he wanted to make sure you’d be okay. I think he really, really likes you. And he’s a good guy.”

I shook my head as though that would clear out some of the deadness. “I just don’t get it. I don’t know where that stuff could have come from.”

“It had to have come from somewhere,” Marcia said.

“We should have known that nice routine was too good to be true,” Gemma added.

I went from contrite to angry. “Come on! How long have you known me? We’ve lived together at least five years, off and on, and you’ve seen me drunk more than once. You’d know by now if I had anything ugly hidden underneath the surface.” I tried to think of an explanation for whatever had happened. The most obvious, of course, was that I’d been enchanted. I’d done some pretty out-of-character things not too long ago, the last time I’d lost my immunity, when I’d been enchanted. It would have been easy enough for someone in that crowd to have zapped me with a spell. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell them that. “Maybe it was one of those drugs people slip into drinks, like the news shows are always warning you about. My mom sent me a magazine clipping about that the other day.”

My head finally cleared completely, although I still felt like my brain was too big for my skull, and I felt like I was truly, fully awake for the first time today—even more awake than usual. I could now assess the situation and see it for what it was. They were lying to me, a voice in my head said, winding me up to make me regret drinking too much. None of that stuff had really happened. I’d probably fallen asleep on a couch and missed the whole party.

I laughed. “Okay, I think your little prank has gone on long enough. You’ve run it into the ground, and it’s not the least bit amusing.”

It would have been nice if I could have grabbed a coat and stomped out of the apartment, but the snow was coming down hard and I didn’t want to be out in it. Instead, I went back to the bedroom and slammed the door. I thought about calling Owen to get the real story of what happened at the party, but then I realized I didn’t have his home phone number. That certainly said something about our relationship. I hoped he might call to make sure I was okay, but he didn’t. I spent the rest of the day curled up on my bed and trying not to dream up revenge fantasies against my roommates. I had the light out and was pretending to sleep long before Gemma came to bed.

Because I’d gone to bed so early, I woke before my roommates did. I got up, got dressed, and left. I figured I’d let them worry about me and stew all day, and then maybe they’d be sorry enough to come clean and apologize that evening. Leaving early also meant that I might stand a chance of missing Owen. If he didn’t care enough to call to see how I was doing after a night when he’d had to carry me home, I didn’t want to see him. It would serve him right if he worried about me.