Lilith hadn’t really believed that her conversation with Samantha had happened. As it turned out, neither could Samantha. She had begun to grow suspicious as her body had begun padding around a unknown variable. But she had been afraid to say anything. Her boyfriend was older. Older and a little mysterious. Samantha had never asked exactly how old Peter was, but she wasn’t completely stupid. She knew he was old enough that their relationship could paint him in a bad light.

After talking to Ms. Hase she felt a better. She knew there were rumors from some of the kids in her class that Ms. Hase was really a witch. Not something out of a silly children’s book, but an actual herb-cultivating, potion-brewing, spell-casting hot, nerdy, witch. Samantha had always made fun of those kids. A bunch of 90’s movie-wannabes. Goth’s with a thing for their attractive teacher. A little on the thin side. A little plain. If she were a regular person and not a teacher, Samantha was convinced, she would have been hot.

But Ms. Hase was still attractive, even as a teacher, and was definitely a witch. And she had a ritual that would not abort her growing problem, but erase it completely. She would never have to tell Peter they were pregnant or deal with any of the other horrifying consequences. Samantha stood in an art studio, fixing her hair in a mosaic mirror made up of tiny shards. In the back of her mind she could hear her own voice mocking anyone who believed in stuff like witches and rituals.

Looking into the fear in her own dark brown eyes, Samantha needed to believe in Ms. Hase and everything she was offering. Even if it didn’t work, she wouldn’t be in a worse position than she was now. Besides, Ms. Hase was the teacher who seemed to know everything and who everyone was drawn to. The teacher who made her tea and gave her a shoulder to cry on. Everyone adored Ms. Hase, but more than that they respected her. That was something that couldn’t be explained without touching into the realm of the supernatural.

Tucking and untucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear, Samantha straightened up. She had only missed two periods and peed on one stick. By no means was there a definitely a baby growing inside her. Ms. Hase’s ritual would for sure work. Besides, even if it didn’t, she would have a distraction and a scapegoat. What teacher was dumb enough to perform a ritual on a student in this day and age? Strutting over to where Ms. Hase was preparing everything, Samantha felt much better about everything than she had earlier today.

Lilith was still running her options as she was setting everything up. A witch – with real spells and rituals. Sometimes Lilith forgot how dumb her high school students could be. Not that Lilith didn’t have a spiritual connection to gardening, nature, and the mother of all beings. She also wasn’t a walk-off extra from that 90s goth-punk teen witch movie.

She wanted Peter to choke on his mistakes. She also wanted to free Samantha from her burden. Most of all Lilith wanted to leave this town and start anew with only her own secrets to keep. A few months ago an old colleague and friend of Lilith’s from college had reached out to her. He was getting ready to start his retirement, but still had classes to teach and a department to run. He wanted to know if she had any interest in teaching college.

Lilith would have loved to opportunity to be hired under Professor Stewart. She had been his TA for two semesters and had learned even more about teaching than she had about herself. And Professor Stewart had taught her a lot about herself.

She had called him, on her way over, just to chat. To see if the position was still available. Maybe she would fly out – get to know the campus, learn more, check out the housing. He had hung up only after confirming her TSA information. Professor Stewart was booking her flight for next Friday.

A noise brought Lilith out of her fantasy. Samantha stood in front of her, looking at her with hope and fright.

“Are we almost ready, Ms. Hase?”

“We most certainly are,” Lilith said. Maybe not having an overly specific plan would be better. Less for Lilith to worry about. Right now, it was step by step.

“So what do I have to do?”

Lilith looked up at her student and smiled. Might as well have some fun. After walking Samantha through a ridiculous pre-ritual dance routine, Lilith instructed her to lay down in the shallow bed of dirt. As Samantha settled into the dirt Lilith explained.

“What’s going to happen is simple. We’re going to close the box and lightly heat it. The dirt is to mimic the burial of the old self and also symbolic of new life and growth. It also helps protect you from the heat, but that’s not in the books.”

Aw spread across the young girl’s face. How desperate and hopeful she was.

“You ready?”

Samantha nodded as Lilith closed the metal box. With the press of a few buttons the metal casket was into the flames. Lilith pulled over an old office chair, complete with metal feet and faded orange leather. The cracks running so frequently, the stuffing was wearing aware. She settled in, opened up her purse and began grading papers for Monday. Hours later, when she had finished grading her eighth period English class’ assignment and had reached the end of chapter ten in her book, Lilith got up to check on Samantha.

“Oops,” Lilith said, “looks like I left her in there too long.” Lilith smiled as she opened the chamber and removed the box filled with Samantha’s ashes.

Carefully scoping out six cups of her remains into a sealable plastic bag, Lilith dumped the remaining four or so pounds of Samantha along with the dirt into a bin. The first part of Peter’s gift would be a beautiful birch tree. A tree filled with blonde wood, and the remains of a blonde girl. Most of her. Lilith looked at her watch. She was cutting it close to dinner time. Cleaning everything up, Lilith headed home. On top of making dinner for herself, she had a very special cake to prepare for tomorrow.

Lilith walked in her door to hear her phone stop ringing. Putting Samantha’s ashes down carefully on kitchen counter, she went over to her phone. Plugged in and sitting on the window sill behind the sink. Picking up phone the screen lit up. The screen read: One missed class – Peter. Swiping to unlock her phone she called him back.

“Lil,” Peter said.

“Hey, sorry,” Lilith said. Unplugging her phone she walked over to the coffee pot and began putting on a pot of coffee. “I was gradding in the other room. My phone was charging in the kitchen.”

“Got it,” Peter said, “you really should just plug your phone in in the living room.”

“It -”

“I know, disturbs your gradding. What’re you up to now?”

“Just making some coffee. I haven’t made dinner yet so I was going to do that. Then I was going to work on someone’s birthday present.”

“Exciting,” Peter said, “we’re going out Saturday right?”

“Who knows,” Lilith laughed, “maybe I have my own secrets.”

Peter chortled.

“Sure, Lil. You’re like the worst secret-keeper ever.”

“Of course I am,” Lilith said as she got her coffee cup from the cupboard.

Lilith had made her coffee and sat down with her back against the couch. Putting her still hot coffee on the living room table. She began unloading the bags she had purchased from the mall the day before. Looking at the table filled with items, Lilith drained the rest of her coffee. Her stomach grumbled. She glanced at the clock on the wall.

“Shit,” Lilith said.

Grabbing her empty coffee cup, Lilith headed to the kitchen. With her second cup poured and prepped, Lilith took out all of the ingredients for her decadent chocolate cake with homemade buttercream frosting. As she went to grab her special flour substitute, she picked up her phone and ordered Chinese take out.

“Sugar, eggs,” Lilith repeated to herself walking back and forth through the kitchen. “Vanilla, cocoa powder.” She was hoping to have the cake in the oven before her food arrived. Not that she wanted to rush it. Quality baking took time, effort, and a caress that most people overlooked. This cake had to be fluffy. Light, but substantial. It had to fill the mouth, yet warm it. Most of all, it was going to have to work with the ashes of an unborn baby and its stupid, slutty mother instead of flour. Lilith thought for a minute as she sifted the ashes into a measuring cup, making sure to watch for small pieces of bone. She usually used all-purpose flour, not the cremated ashes of a student.  Shaking her head as she leveled off the remains and added them to the bowl. It was self-rising flour that would pose a problem if not substituted correctly. Regular flour should be just fine.

Lilith looked down at the cake mixture when she was done blending the ingredients together. While it didn’t look exactly like her cake batter did, it wasn’t awful either. Throwing her shoulder in the air, Lilith reached over and began filling her cake pans. When they were all leveled off and ready she opened the door and once more put Samantha into a hot, enclosed box to bake. At least this time she was already dead.

She had just closed the oven as her doorbell rang. Glancing at the clock, Lilith decided that she definitely had enough time to eat and start separating and prepping the gifts before she would have to take the cake out.

Wrapping gifts should have been an exciting process for Lilith. After all, gift giving was one of her favorite activities. And while she had been so jazzed up, picking out little trinkets representative of everyone’s lies, wrapping them seemed so inconsequential in light of what was baking in her oven.

Her goodie bag filled with clues of betrayal felt like lukewarm coffee spilling over her hand instead. Not that it wasn’t still good coffee, it probably was. But hot, hot coffee would scald her, cause her pain, make her feel something. Even iced coffee would sting her system. But having lukewarm coffee slide down your skin was just gross – even if the coffee tasted good. Lost in her own reflection on the gifts she was wrapping, Lilith thought about fixing herself another cup of coffee. Perhaps it might motivate her.

Lilith dug herself out of the mess she made, and bundled up her leftovers. Walking into the kitchen she was struck by the smell of baking flour, of cocoa swirling through the air. In a few minutes her cakes would be done. After neatly arranging her excess dinner into the fridge, Lilith pulled out all the ingredients needed for strawberry buttercream filling. Except instead of strawberries Lilith planned to use pomegranate. Another deviation from her normal recipe. But other than it being a candidate for the Forbidden Fruit, Samantha had also left several near empty bottles of the fruit’s juice on her desk throughout the school year.

Unsure of how the sandy texture would cream with the butter, Lilith did a small experiment. Her phone chimed as she shut off her mixer. Looking down down at the small tablespoon of creamed butter and student Lilith thought about how she was going to be able to text this without actually trying it herself. Her phone chimed agained. It was from Peter, “Going out with Paul, Gary, Gus and Kevin for a guys prebirthday thing – probably Gaslight. Not sure if you saw in group text, but your spot is blown. Looks like no one in this group can really keep a secret. Text you when i’m home.”

Lilith backed out of the message from Peter and realized that group text had been muted. And in the time it had been silenced, secrets dropped like hail. Seemingly small pellets of frozen water, that in a different atmosphere were larger and more solid. The secrets that were told were small, and not really secrets. But each one who spoke up was offering a small, tiny tidbit to distract from the rocks they were hiding within. Lilith was kind of impressed.  

Apparently Krystal and Kevin could keep their pregnancy scare quiet, but not that tomorrow was Peter’s surprise party. Similarly, Gracie and Ally were able to hide their relationship and that tonight was actually their two year anniversary. While Ally could keep her plans of proposing to Gracie tonight hush, hush she did spill that it was when they were testing cakes together, Ally declared Lilith a better baker and insisted that she make her own cake. Strategically leaving out the part where she said for both her engagement and for Peter’s party. Ally could pay, it would after all, mean the world to her and to her wallet.

As Lilith scrolled through she returned to her mixer. Before she closed out of her messages, locked her phone, and returned to her baking Lynn’s text caught her eye. Her boyfriend, Wilson, was at the game, “last minute tickets with work.” Lynn wanted to know if anyone wanted to go to Gaslight. Lynn was crafty, especially for someone who for all intent and purposes was a fucking moron. Krystal, Gracie, or Ally would never be invited to guys night. Nor would Krystal or Ally ever want to go to what could best be described as a staff of Tuesday afternoon stipper special. Gaslight was where strippers went they wanted part-time shifts or were retired – giving up the life for good. Gracie had worked their throughout her four years of medical school and the first year of her residency. The stage was small and tucked in the corner. The rest of the bar was a complete dive.

Lilith loved it. Before she started dating Ally, so had Gracie. She had been planning on having Peter’s birthday there, but after a conversation with Gus she opted instead for Jumpin’ Jacks. Lynn had no opinion on Gaslight or Jumpin’ Jacks. She went where she could see friends and have drinks. Mostly, Lynn went where the dick was. In this case it was a crapshoot. She could be there for Peter’s boss, Paul, or his old boss, Gary. She could be there for Kevin. But Lilith had a feeling that she was really there for Peter himself. Lynn hadn’t spilled any details about the party, but she hadn’t really spilled any of her own secrets either. Lilith choked back a scoff.

Putting her phone down, Lilith picked up a spoon and began scooping up her mixture. It had always been a nagging suspicion of Lilith’s that Peter and Lynn had once had a drunken thing around the time she and Peter had started dating. But she had let it go. After all, she had Gus had tested the waters, amongst other things, before she and Peter had really solidified their relationship. The difference was, Lilith and Gus didn’t have a throwback on birthdays or bold gestures of thanks. Lilith had been willing to let it go. For all she knew it was just a suspicion. Not to mention a romp with Lynn was like a handshake between business partners.  

Lilith looked down at her spoonful of buttercream. It didn’t seem to be separating. Maybe it would be just like having Lynn. A cool exchange. A ways of settling a matter. Forgotten about as soon as business was over. Just a taste was all that was needed. A taste of Lynn, a taste of business. Lilith put the spoon to her mouth. A taste of buttercream was only that, a small taste of what was to come further down the road. Peter’s relationship with Samantha had been different than that. Even if he hadn’t meant it to be. There was a child. That was no longer a taste of something different. That was a change of diet all together.

Closing her eyes and focusing on the texture of the buttercream. Lilith was pleased. She would add in the pomegranate and no one would know her extra special ingredient. No one would know the grand total of the secrets Lilith kept. Not even as Peter unwrapped his gifts, gifts which Lilith was once more rejuvenated about, would know how good.

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