Forget Me Do
Sara Dobie Bauer
Her friends called her a witch. It was only a joke. Whenever one of the girls posted on Facebook that she felt a cold coming on, Debra was on the road with her herbal tea mixtures and tinctures. Then, miraculously, within days, her girlfriends would be completely healed and winning track meets. That was why they called her a witch. That and, well …
“You just made out with Stan in the back of his dad’s car.”
“I hate when you do that,” Rebecca said.
Debra couldn’t help knowing things. It wasn’t only because she had a certain sense for people’s emotions but because she could observe. For instance, Rebecca’s eye makeup was slightly askew. She didn’t have on lipstick. She looked tired, and her hair was a bit of a mess, only in the back, where Stan’s hand had probably tugged earlier.
“Can you turn off the witchy stuff tonight?” Rebecca whined.
Debra wished she could. She’d never been able to turn it off, no, not even when her father was cheating on her mom. Not when a car six blocks away hit her dog and she knew. Some would call her an empath: one who absorbed the emotions of others. Debra knew better. She was a witch, like her mother before her, grandmother before that, great-grandmother … the list went on.
It was mere coincidence that her friends jokingly called her “witch.” They thought she was good with herbal medicine. She was—because she worked spells as a child to harness health, prosperity, and luck. Debra didn’t use love spells. She didn’t trust them, as love spells could easily turn to curses.
“So I guess that means things with Stan are going well, huh?”
Rebecca smiled and nodded at Nicole’s question. “He’s a prize. What can I say?” She pushed at her hair with red fingernails.
“He’s failing history class,” Debra said.
Rebecca rolled her eyes. At least she didn’t say “witch” again.
Debra touched her decaf latte and wondered why she went out with these girls. They were friends in the on-paper sense. They had a lot of the same classes together. When one of them had a problem—physical or emotional—Debra was there with her silk-wrapped bags of protective properties. So far no one had ever opened the bags, she figured, since no one had yet to question the fragments of bones inside or, one time, the petrified bat skull.
“Is Tanya coming?” Nicole asked.
Debra nodded. “Should be here any minute.” She didn’t know this because of a text; she felt it. She also felt Tanya was tense. She was about three blocks away—Debra’s best guess—and the stress ran off her like summer sweat. Something was apparently wrong with her perfect boyfriend, Beau.
Rebecca and Tanya had those things: perfect boyfriends. Nicole and Debra were single, Nicole not by choice. She was a lovely little thing, barely past five-foot-two with overly developed breasts and dark hair to match her dark eyes. She was single because she jumped from boy to boy like a girl on a trampoline, always believing one might catch her when she fell. They never did.
Debra, on the other hand, stayed single on purpose. Her mother died of heartbreak when Debra was thirteen; ever since, she felt love was nothing but a disadvantage.
Which was again why she wondered at her presence at the coffee shop that night with her crazy cast of fellow students who discussed silly things like celebrity gossip and the latest cut of blue jean. She went out once a month with these girls to appear normal. Her mother always told her to act normal, as if they still lived in Salem, circa 1690, and she might be burnt at any moment.
“There’s Tanya.” Rebecca waved toward the door.
Debra turned to see their redheaded friend push between all the college guys and high school girls who wanted to date them.
The ladies were at one of the many popular coffee coves in the gas light district of San Diego that featured a limited martini menu, as well. Wooden chandeliers hung from the ceiling and illuminated the room with fist-sized orbs of yellow light. They sat in a wooden booth, uncomfortable but stylish, with leftover chocolate chip cookies from their earlier nosh session. Across from them, the bar was loaded with warm bodies.
Debra could see her own curious reflection in the mirror behind rows of yellow-lit tequila bottles. Her black hair with blunt bangs was pulled up on top of her head. Her dark eyes looked bottomless. The tilt of her red-painted mouth was bored.
Tanya arrived with a huff at the table, hands on her slim hips. “Prom is ruined.” She slid in the booth with Nicole.
“What are you talking about?”
She buried her red head in her hands. “For a smart guy, Beau is an idiot. He blew our limousine cash on some new video game.”
Debra took a long sip of coffee and sighed into her mug. Another fifteen minutes and she could leave without being rude. Blame it on a long day at school, on the rainy California weather. Blame it on the pelican poop that covered the sidewalk outside their La Jolla Beach high school. Anything.
“Why are you still with that fool?” Nicole slurped until the ice danced in her empty glass—a chilled chai tea.
“I love him. I do. He’s just an idiot.”
Debra didn’t like Tanya’s boyfriend. She thought he was controlling. She’d spent the past two years watching her “friend” first go vegetarian then go atheist, all because her boyfriend talked her into it. He had a bad energy around him, like when milk is about to go sour. For Debra, he was past his expiration date.
She half-heartedly listened as Tanya explained exactly how her boyfriend had screwed up her perfect prom dream. Debra also listened to the sounds of the coffee bar. She flipped her lashes open and closed and took in the emotions around her, predominantly those of lust and occasional self-interest. Lust felt like a heavy steak in her stomach, cooked well done; pride was like sour grapes.
Then, there was something else. The feeling crept over her shoulders and down her chest like a winter wind. She let go of her coffee mug. Her fingers clutched to her upper arms, and she made a noise.
The noise scared the vapid young women around her. The way they looked at her, their perfectly waxed eyebrows turned down in the middle, made her realize the sound must have been animalistic. Like something dying.
“Debra, are you okay?” Rebecca touched her, but all Debra could see was Rebecca with her tongue down Stan’s throat.
Debra robbed her hand away. “I need to get up.”
“You’re not going to be sick are you?” Nicole looked vaguely concerned.
“No, I just …” She shoved her hip against Rebecca until she finally moved and permitted Debra to exit the booth. Then, she stood. She searched out that feeling again, something horrible, and found it, ten feet away.
He was mostly obstructed from her view, painted over by layers of men in black-rimmed hipster glasses, women in short skirts. As Debra moved closer, she saw the edge of a slumped shoulder covered in blue. She saw the back of a long neck. Then, visually blocked, she only felt him again: cold, so cold.
“Excuse me.” She said it once, then twice. People wouldn’t move out of her way, too focused on getting a phone number, trying to sound good, act cool. They didn’t notice the cracked shell of a human in their midst.
She wondered how they couldn’t feel it, feel him? How could they not see the way he hurt? How could they not sense it like an incoming storm, smell the rain on dry pavement? How?
Debra did not usually heal in public. She shrank from human touch, because she knew what her powers could do. Yet, as she passed one more man, this one in a pink button-down, she reached her hand out and wrapped her open palm on the blue-clad shoulder.
She closed her dark eyes against the images. She would not betray a stranger’s intimacy that way. Instead, she focused on the pain, the horrible pain. She clenched her jaw and tried to suck some of the ache from his chest. She pulled at the despair inside him until she heard him take a loud breath. Warmth radiated out from Debra’s palm into the t-shirt material. Some of his pain went away.
Then, he crushed her to him. She didn’t see him move, feel him move, but there she was, her nose against his neck. His grip surrounded her. Her slim, strong arms pressed into his back. She stood between his legs, parted on the barstool. He smelled like overdue laundry, but he was warm. His skin was warm, and his t-shirt was soft. He moaned a shuddering breath against her collarbone and pulled away.
He stared up at her, eyes impossibly light in the yellow lamps, rimmed red. Up close, his hair was light brown. He was a little bit older than her. He looked like the kind of man who had an incredible smile. He reached up with long fingers and touched the side of her chin.
Debra looked at the half-empty glass of something dark and menacing on the bar. “You need tea,” she said.
He smiled just a touch, one side of his mouth curved up in the shape of a U-turn. Then, he nodded. Debra took his hand and pulled him through the crowd. She did not say goodbye to her friends.
There was a diner down the street from the coffee shop that stayed open until 2 AM. Debra didn’t take the stranger there. She took him back to the apartment she shared with her aunt, a couple blocks away, hidden above a music store and a place where tourists bought t-shirts adorned with the Hotel del Coronado or the impressive San Diego Bridge.
She did this not because he looked trustworthy—although he did—but because he made her feel safe. Despite the soul-sucking pain in his chest, the way his slim shoulders drooped, he gave off fragments of joy, peace, and love, so much love. These were mere fragments, camera flashes, as the despair wracked his system like a fatal disease.
But mostly, the stranger felt … familiar.
He sat at her cluttered kitchen island on a hand-me-down bar stool and watched her prepare the kettle on the gas stove. Debra’s aunt would still be away for another three days, gone to a healers’ conference in Arizona. They were thankfully alone.
When she turned around, he didn’t look at the cozy apartment, pieced together from her mother’s old things along with trinkets, lucky charms Debra had received from other witches at coven meetings. To the untrained eye, the trinkets were decorative. Debra knew they were protective, too, which was why she now trusted the stranger even more. He’d made it through the front door.
“Why did you approach me in the coffee shop?” It was the first time he’d spoken, and Debra was surprised at the depth of his voice. He had the tone of a cello, wrapped in silk. The voice was completely at odds with the slim young man in front of her, who wore a frayed Pink Floyd t-shirt and plaid shorts that threatened to slip from his thin hips.
“You seemed sad,” she said.
His light eyes were still red, watery. “No one else noticed.”
“I did.” She reached into her pantry and pulled down two homemade bags of tea. She knew their contents by heart: nettle leaves, St. John’s Wort, spearmint, and more. Her mother once called it “Blues Tea,” although it had nothing to do with music.
The stranger shook his head. “There was something different. You felt different.” He rested his head in his hands. “Or maybe I’m just drunk.”
Debra watched him, and an image came unbidden of this man’s naked skin from the waist up. Hands were on him. Then, she blinked and said, “I’m Debra.”
The kettle screamed behind her. Over the sound, she heard, “Damian.”
She filled two matching mugs with hot water and dropped in the tea bags. They would need to steep for ten minutes to achieve full results, and she muttered a few incantations under the veil of a hum.
“Why are you sad, Damian?”
He rubbed his head until his light hair was a mess of knots. Then, he ran his fingers through it until he looked windblown. “Who are you?”
“My friends call me a witch.”
“Maybe you are.”
The scent of the steeping tea surrounded them both in an herbaceous haze.
“Do you often let strange, drunk guys into your house at night?”
“No.” She shook her head.
He splayed his hands, palm down, across the counter. “I know I won’t hurt you, but how do you know?”
“I can feel it.” She looked up at him from beneath her black bangs.
He reached his hand out until his long fingers covered hers. Again, an image in her mind—less image, more sound—sweaty skin but the sound of heated breaths, the sound of Damian’s moan. She closed her eyes against it.
“Will you hold me again?” His deep voice shook. “Just for a second?”
She circled the counter, and it was like at the coffee shop. She stood between his parted legs and wrapped him in her arms. She felt his breath against her collarbone. He smelled like alcohol and musk. Then, he squeezed her tighter, his arms around her ribcage. He buried his face against the flesh of her neck and sobbed, just once, but the sound was like an open door that allowed Debra to walk right through.
That was when she saw the lovely young man with the brown eyes. He was shorter than Damian, broader in the shoulders. He was built like a rugby player. His hands were on Damian. His mouth covered Damian’s slim body in sloppy, open-mouthed kisses.
Debra felt rude, like a voyeur. She pulled away so jarringly Damian almost fell forward off the barstool. She steadied him with her hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m sorry.”
“I should go.” He moved to stand.
“No.” She kept her hand on his shoulder. “The tea. It’ll help.”
Although his eyes still glistened, he lingered on the seat edge and smiled: a beautiful thing, unabashedly filled with teeth. “It doesn’t have hallucinogenic properties, does it?”
“Practically.” She turned her back on him and removed each bag of herbs, discarded in the kitchen sink. She added a pinch of cinnamon to each cup and a half spoonful of honey. “Here.” She handed him his glass.
She knew, as she watched him sip, the pain in his chest was not about a breakup. The man with the brown eyes had not walked out on Damian. Which meant one thing.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He cuddled the teacup in his hands. “I don’t know.”
“Tell me about him.” She knew it was a brazen move, but with the alcohol plus the tea, she knew Damian would feel a sense of calm and trust.
He looked at her with red eyes. “How do you know about him?”
“I catch images sometimes, when I touch people.”
He took a lingering sip of steamy tea. “There are several choice images where he’s concerned.”
Debra pressed her lips together and hid a blush behind her hand.
He spun his mug on the counter. “He’s dead, Debra.” He paused. “He’s dead.”
His light eyes took in the smallness of her San Diego apartment: the ratty family heirloom afghans on the couch, the potted herbs on the windowsill, and strange paintings her mother made before she died. “So you’re a witch,” he said.
“Is that a career plan, or …” He shrugged.
“I’d like to be a massage therapist someday.”
He lowered light brows. “But you would have to touch people a lot. Wouldn’t that be difficult?”
“No.” She took a small sip of warmth. “Most people don’t feel the way you do. Most people think about bills or work or whether or not to buy that new Dior dress. Most people don’t feel that much.”
He stared at the countertop.
“I didn’t need to touch you to feel you, Damian. I felt you across the coffee shop.”
“What did I feel like?”
She shivered at the memory. “Cold.”
She watched his face crumple before he could hide behind his hands. He sucked in quivering breaths as she rounded the counter and cautiously ran her palm across his upper back. “I’m not cold,” he murmured.
“I know. Look at me.”
He still hid behind his hands.
“Damian. Please.” She tugged at his fingers until he let go. His face shined beneath tears. She put her hand on his damp cheek. “Let me see.”
“No.” He pushed her hand away. “You don’t want to.”
He took a deep breath. His bottom lip shook. He didn’t turn away from her.
Debra rested her forehead against his, and only then did she move past the sweaty embraces, the laughter. Only then did she catch stout windfalls of Damian’s lover’s depression, his hopelessness. She could feel the way Damian lessened this, but then, she saw blood—too much blood—on white linoleum tile. Damian’s moans turned to screams.
She pulled back, and Damian must have seen it on her face like blood spatter. “Why wasn’t I enough?” he said.
Debra led him to her bed where she could hold him properly. She wrapped her arms around his neck and ran her fingers through his short, light hair. He clung to her, their legs tangled above the bed sheets.
“Why couldn’t I make him stay?”
“I don’t think that’s how it works, Damian.”
His breaths came in ragged spurts. “If I’d loved him more, he would have stayed.”
“No.” She rubbed her chin on his forehead.
“I found him in our dorm. He’d been dead for hours. I should have seen it. I should have … He was pulling away. Could barely get out of bed in the morning. He would hold me so tight—” His deep voice cracked. “He was so sad. I didn’t know what to do. Maybe I was scared. Maybe I pulled away, too.”
In her mind, Debra went back to that day when she was thirteen—her mother in the bathtub, cold as ice. “I found my mother,” she whispered. “It wasn’t depression. They say she died of a broken heart.”
“Isn’t it the same thing?” he said.
A huff like a chuckle exited her throat and burned.
He fell asleep tangled against her. Debra watched him sleep. In dreams, he gave off flashes of joy, remembered peace. Mostly, a festering cloud overtook him. She felt the pain in his chest like a hammer to the ribs. She ran her thumb across the side of his face and realized why he felt familiar.
When she was thirteen, her mother felt the same.
It was right after Debra’s father left, after years of infidelity. He disappeared one morning with a suitcase and some clothes. He never came back, never called. It didn’t take long for her mother to “fall ill” as Grandma called it. The elders barely let Debra see her, but she heard her mother’s cries at night—cries Debra’s father would never answer.
Sometimes, love ended that way, which was why Debra didn’t work love spells. She would never wish the eventual loss on anyone, whether it be from lack of interest, lack of memory, or death.
Now, this stranger felt like her mother. Debra knew he didn’t have long.
She remembered, when she was thirteen, there were mutterings of a counter-spell that could have saved her mother. Yet, her mother refused. Debra never understood why, but she supposed, we never understand the people who leave us.
She was careful not to wake Damian as she rolled to the opposite side of her bed. He sighed and curled in on himself, Debra’s heat stolen away. She tiptoed to the closet where she kept the ever-expanding Book of Shadows. It had been built, cultivated, and developed for centuries. It was impervious to water, flame, and even curses. It held every secret her family had to tell. Now, she needed it to whisper one more time.
Debra did not need to search a table of contents. There was no index. She laid the book at the base of her bed and pulled Damian’s pain into her chest. She concentrated on the poison of despair until the book exploded open. Debra’s dark hair blew back in the breeze of flipped pages, and then, the flipping stopped, open to a page marked “Forget Me Do.”
It sounded so harmless, like a 1950s pop song. Debra knew better. This was the spell her mother refused in her dying days—the spell that could save a broken heart.
She read through the steps. It was easy enough. She had all the ingredients. She just needed Damian’s approval. The spell couldn’t be cast without approval, which was why her stubborn mother was dead.
She woke him immediately. He looked childlike, confused. “Damian, wake up.” She shook his shoulder until the haze lifted from his light eyes.
“I can work a spell that will make you feel better.”
He sat up slowly, rubbing his forehead. “What do you mean, feel better?”
She sat next to him and pulled the big, battered book with the purple leather binding close. “It’s called Forget Me Do.” She pointed at the three words. “You’ll still remember the boy you lost, but the feelings won’t be there. The pain will be gone, almost like it never happened.”
“The pain will be gone?” He lifted an eyebrow.
She put her hand on his chest. “It could save your life.”
His hand found hers, and she watched his eyes study the Book of Shadows between them: the thick, yellowed pages; the smudges of ink; the enchanted words only Debra could understand.
“It’s a simple spell,” she said. “We could finish by morning. It will feel like you never lost him.”
“But I did lose him.”
“I know, but I’ll take the pain away.”
He studied her face. “You’ll make me forget about him.”
Her hand on his chest sucked the icy pain into her forearm until her own chin shook. “Isn’t that better than the pain?”
He pulled away from her and stood. He stared at her bedroom floor, but Debra couldn’t shake the chill that now filled her room like a melting glacier.
“I don’t want your spell, Debra.”
“But the pain could kill you.”
“I don’t care.”
She stood up, angry. “So you’ll die, too?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I can’t give up all the good we had just because it hurts now. The first kiss. The first time he held my hand. The first time I made him laugh.” A tear rolled down his cheek. “The last time I heard him laugh. I can’t let those things go.”
“But it hurts.” She put her hand on his chest again.
“It may hurt for a long time.” He nodded. “But I can’t give up that pain. It reminds me that I loved.”
She stared up at him, and Debra suddenly realized her own lack of loving.
Without warning, Damian’s shoulders shook. His knees gave way. They ended up in a pile of appendages on her bedroom floor. Debra couldn’t tell who was crying more.
Sara Dobie Bauer is a writer, model, and mental health advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. She spends most days at home in her pajamas as a book nerd for SheKnows.com. Her short story, “Don’t Ball the Boss,” was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. She lives with her husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she would really like to live in a Tim Burton film. World Weaver Press will publish her novel, Bite Somebody, this summer. Read more of her work at http://SaraDobieBauer.com.