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Bittersweet Nightshade Chapter 6

by MissGangamash


Warning: This work has been rated 18+.

By the time Ainsleigh and Cassidy had made it to highschool, Cassidy had gone from a local celebrity to countrywide star. Her socialite parents were quick to profit off their daughter’s Gift of healing. She had been Registered as soon as she had come home the day she accidentally healed Ainsleigh’s black eye. Registered and in the system, so the government could do anything they wanted with that information, and so could the Magi. That was what the cult had named itself. The ones who took the Gifted and tried to steal their abilities by taking them apart piece by piece. Everyone knew about the idea that there was a way to give someone the Gift of another by concocting a special potion infused by essences of said Gifted. What wasn’t common knowledge was what was meant by essences – but the vagueness of the procedure was enough to make monsters of the Magi.

Nobody knew if the Magi had succeeded. Many people were still unconvinced they even existed. They were as much of a mystery as the Problem Year.

One evening, fifteen-year-old Ainsleigh climbed out of her bedroom window and disappeared into the dark in search for her best friend’s home, struggling to school her breathing as she clutched her stomach. Unable to leave her bedroom to grab her coat, she had to make do with her denim jacket with its worn elbows and collar.

She stopped dead at the end of Cassidy’s road at the sight of her home shining obnoxiously bright in the middle of their cul-de-sac like the popular Queen Bee at the head of the table.

Plucking at her bloody shirt, her teeth set in fury.

The pavement was lined with cars parked bumper to bumper. Her road only ever got that busy for one reason and one reason only.

The Drake’s were throwing one of their infamous Healing Parties. They were always an incredibly prestigious event. People had to practically beg for an invitation by sending the Drake’s letters proving that they were worthy enough to have their ailment or injury cured by their goddess of a daughter. It was truly sickening.

It looked like the revelries were well underway, everyone lucky enough to be of attendance already grovelling at the Drakes’ feet. From where Ainsleigh was standing, she could see the tops of fancy hats and waiters donned in black and white carrying silver trays with glass of champagne.

The house was a huge detached spectacle, surrounded by its similar but smaller, semi-detached brothers and sisters. The bricks were painted a dark, mint green which should have looked terrible, but it paired quite beautifully with the white spindles of the front porch, and matching white window shutters and doors. The rest of the houses on the street were of similar muted shades of yellows and blues. By the way it was obviously the most elite in the collection Ainsleigh had assumed the Drakes had gotten the house built specifically for them. But no, they had moved into it when Cassidy was four years old, right in time for her to attend the same school as Ainsleigh and slot into the very vacant spot as Ainsleigh’s one and only friend.

Ainsleigh slipped into the back garden of the next door neighbours – the ones with the broken fence panel. She could have climbed the Drakes’ back gate like she had done in the past, but with her current injury, she took the safer route. The fence panel led to the end of the Drakes’ immensely long lawn, where a cluster of bushes sat perfectly trimmed to the height of Ainsleigh’s squatted form. Her fingers sank into the soft dirt and she winced, tugging at her sticky t-shirt.

In the early days of their friendship, Ainsleigh had knocked on the front door. She had been let in on a handful of occasions before Cassidy’s parents decided they didn’t want their daughter associating with her type. ‘Her type’ being the kids who got to school early to have the donated breakfasts and wore school uniforms three sizes too big so they could grow into them. So, after being turned away at the door several times, Ainsleigh had resorted to other ways of meeting her friend outside of school.

She’d forgotten there had been a party scheduled for tonight. It was going to be harder to get Cassidy’s attention. She gazed up at her friend’s bedroom window. The low light of her lamp illuminated the soft pastel pink walls a hazy orange. Usually she could sneak right up to the window and throw stones until Cassidy heard her. Other times, if Cassidy’s parents were in the kitchen facing out into the garden, she resorted to flicking her compact torch on and off. It was much riskier. But there was a net of fairy lights draped all over the back fence so the extra light blended in with them easily at a distracted glance.

Dropping onto her backside, Ainsleigh fished out the torch from her pocket and began flashing it through the sparse leaves, muttering a long string of hopes and wishes to keep herself distracted from her pain. There was a good chance Cassidy was downstairs amidst her fans, completely swarmed like a zoo attraction with no view of the garden. But there was also a chance she would see, and Ainsleigh clung onto that tiny sliver of hope.

After a couple of minutes of flashing the torch, she was practically on her back in the dirt. Her t-shirt was lifted up, exposing the nasty burn that ran across her middle just above her belly button. Whenever a particularly powerful gust of wind licked at her exposed wound, she whimpered aloud. From all the way at the back of the garden, she could hear the chatter and laughter of the party so she knew there was no chance she could be overheard, but she still sank her teeth into her bottom lip whenever a mewl escaped her. She hated the sound of her own pain.

It was a cloudless, summer night which meant it was still light enough for her to see the glistening rawness of the wicked slice. It had attempted to scab over but her t-shirt had pulled away the gooey skin and reopened the mess.

“I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.”

Ainsleigh sucked in a startled breath and looked up from her wound to see Cassidy peering over the bushes, her blonde hair bleached white by the moon.

“Cass!” She tried to heave herself up into a sitting position but the pain didn’t allow her.

Cassidy’s eyes hit Ainsleigh’s stomach. “Holy crap.” She instantly dropped to her knees to get a better look. Her long hair swooped down over her face and tickled the exposed skin above the waistband of Ainsleigh’s sweatpants.

“Yeah.” Ainsleigh laughed hollowly. “Quite a mark, right?”

“What was it this time?” Cassidy tucked her hair behind her ears, giving Ainsleigh a clear view of her stern expression.

“I forgot to take the bins out and drank all the milk so she pinned me against the kitchen counter with an oven tray.”

The sound of her flesh sizzling and the white-hot pain of the metal sinking into her stomach had made her faint. After her mother felt like she’d done enough damage, she dropped the scorching hot tray of pasties on the hob and Ainsleigh caught sight of the red line seeping across the white cotton of her t-shirt before all the blood rushed from her head and she collapsed.

Cassidy scowled at Ainsleigh’s blasé tone. She could see right through the act, Ainsleigh knew, but it still felt good to pretend she wasn’t breaking inside.

“How’s the party?” Ainsleigh asked, changing the subject.

Cassidy just shook her head and sank onto her heels, the knees of her jeans digging deeper into her dirt. The moon’s light danced across her cheekbones and gave Ainsleigh a clear look at her friend’s face. Her skin held that shimmery quality of dewy make-up, lips tinted a hypnotic deep red, but her eyes were sunken, and dark bags hung below them.

“Jeez, you look almost as bad as I do.”

Cassidy sent her a glare.

Ainsleigh smiled tightly. “I said almost.”

“These parties ring me dry.” She rubbed her head, eyes pinching shut. “I actually came out here to throw up then I caught your light. I thought my vision was starting to spot again.”

Guilt swelled in Ainsleigh’s throat, threatening to choke her. She grabbed at the hem of her t-shirt and pulled it down.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know a party was happening tonight. I can wait until you’re better.” She tried to get up but her elbows buckled when her t-shirt scraped against her stomach.

“Shut up and lift your shirt.” Cassidy put a hand to her shoulder and helped her lean back down against the dirt. “I’m not gonna leave you like this. Don’t be stupid.”

“But you’re so tired.”

“And you’re my best friend.”

Ainsleigh’s heart fluttered at the casual admittance. It wasn’t like she hadn’t said it before. But every time she did, it did funny things to Ainsleigh’s insides.

Cassidy slid to Ainsleigh’s side to get closer to the burn, smearing the dirt stains on her knees right down her shins. Her parents would be pissed, and Ainsleigh couldn’t help think that that was exactly the reason for her friend’s carelessness.

She was wearing a simple, long sleeved umber turtle neck and blue jeans. Her mother preferred her in dresses. That was why Cassidy never wore dresses.

Ainsleigh inhaled sharply when her friend pressed her two cold palms against her stomach, one above and one below the wound.

A small silver necklace lay over the top of her turtleneck and when Cassidy leaned down, the little leaf pendant swung down and dangled just above Ainsleigh’s stomach.

“You know the deal by now,” said Cassidy, closing her eyes to focus.

Indeed, Ainsleigh did. She dropped her head back against the dirt and stared up at the starless sky. Her stomach warmed, the heat starting at her friend’s fingertips then seeping towards her injury. Unlike the oven tray, this was a welcomed heat. It tingled through her body, making a smile play on her lips. When the tingling reached her burn her eyebrows furrowed and her body tensed all over. This part was not so pleasant. Still a lot better than having scorching hot metal rammed into her, though.

Ainsleigh closed her eyes, amplifying her focus on the healing process. Even though it stung, the feeling of being mended was incredibly soothing. She could almost feel her skin knitted back together, forming special, delicate weavings. The wound wasn’t deep and in a matter of seconds, the ache of the burn was gone. Ainsleigh caught the tremble in her friend’s hands as she folded them on her lap. Her body looked tense, like every muscle in her body had been overspent but didn’t understand how to stop, relax.

Still a little wary of her own movements, Ainsleigh pushed herself up into a sitting position and looked down at her exposed skin. There was a thick, raised white line where the burn had been, like the scar of a month’s old wound. Usually Cassidy’s healings left Ainsleigh spotless. She must have been really worn out.

Ainsleigh dropped her t-shirt quickly, not wanting her friend to see that her work hadn’t been completely successful, and tucked her knees up to her chest. Cassidy looked towards her home and the moon caught the watery sheen of her eyes.

“They’ll be looking for me,” she said, her voice a tired whisper. “I’ve still got four more miracles to perform.”

Ainsleigh’s lip twitched at the sardonic mockery in her tone, but Cassidy’s jaw clenched and she hugged herself tightly.

“There was a man…” she started, eyes narrowing, “he has brittle bones, some bone disease or some shit. Had to rub my hands all over his body for like ten minutes. I swear he got a semi.” She shuddered. “I fucking hate this Gift. Why me?”

“At least yours helps people. All mine does is… ruin things.” Ainsleigh hugged her legs to her chest.

A heavy silence rang between them, enhancing the sound of laughter and chatter from the house. All those careless, Giftless people and their free caviar.

“Have you ever thought of leaving?”

Cassidy’s gaze swung to her and hit her like a bat. “Of course I have. Every fucking day. Haven’t you?”

“We should.” Ainsleigh dug the heels of her trainers into the dirt and pulled herself closer to her friend. “We should leave. Together.”

“Oh yeah, and go where?” There was anger in her friend’s tone but Ainsleigh could see past it to the defeat beneath. “We’re still basically kids. We can’t just go off and find new lives for ourselves, Leigh. If it was possible, why would we still be dealing with all this bullshit? You don’t think it kills me every time I have to heal you because I know that’s all I can do? Fix you after the damage has already been done.”

Cassidy’s words burrowed deep and hooked into Ainsleigh’s being. Of course it had been a stupid suggestion. But wasn’t it nice to pretend for even a sliver for a moment that they both weren’t completely screwed?

“But, if I did find a way-” Cassidy appeased, “It’ll be me and you against the world. And we’d have the best time.”

A grin split Ainsleigh’s face in two. “You promise?”

“Absolutely, I promise. Don’t you doubt that, even for a second.”

And Ainsleigh hadn’t, until eleven years later when Cassidy took off and left her behind. 


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Thu Jun 01, 2023 1:18 pm
IcyFlame wrote a review...



Hi MissGangamash! I noticed this work has been in the GR for a while, and in honour of the first day of #TeamTortoise , I’m popping by to leave a review! I haven’t read any of the other chapters of this I don’t think, so apologies if you’ve covered anything off in previous parts!

Overall Impressions:
The story is captivating, and I think that it effectively draws the reader into a world filled with intrigue and mystery. The concept of individuals possessing unique abilities, and the conflicts that arise from their existence make for an engaging narrative, and one that’s enjoyable to read! In this chapter I felt that your characters are well-developed and relatable, adding depth to the story.

Areas that Work Well:
For me, the writing is vivid and descriptive - particularly the descriptions of the Gifted and their abilities! For example, when describing Ainsleigh's gift,

Ainsleigh's gift was one of empathy - she felt everything, the pain, the joy, the sorrow of those around her.
This creates a clear picture in the reader's mind and enhances the understanding of the characters and their powers.

Additionally, I feel that the relationship between Ainsleigh and Cassidy is a strong point in the story. The dynamic between the two friends(?) is well-crafted, and their interactions effectively convey their connection. The dialogue between them feels authentic and adds depth to their characters which makes it easy for me to jump into the story despite not having read anything previous.

Areas to Improve:
Overall, there aren’t many things to improve, but I do have a couple of small points! Firstly, I noticed some punctuation errors throughout the text which occasionally affected the clarity of certain sentences. For example,
Registered and in the system, so the government could do anything they wanted with that information, and so could the Magi,
a clearer separation between the two clauses would help improve comprehension. This particular change is needed in a few of your sentences, which you might want to watch out for when editing :)

Also, I think there can be some changes made to the flow of the narrative because there were instances where transitions between scenes or ideas felt a bit abrupt or disjointed. By providing smoother transitions, you can create a more seamless reading experience for your audience. For example, where Ainsleigh discovers her newfound ability, there is a sudden shift from the previous scene without a clear connection. I think in editing it would be good to have a smoother transition that eases the reader into the new development and to bridge the two scenes.

Lastly, while the story's pacing is generally well-maintained, there were a few moments where the narrative could benefit from more detail and exploration. For example, the section about the essences used to transfer gifts could be expanded upon to provide a clearer understanding of their significance and potential consequences. This could be something that you’ve already done in a previous chapter though, in which case feel free to ignore this!

I hope I catch another of these chapters soon, but for now I hope this was helpful! I look forward to reading more of your stories in the future.

Icy
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Fri Feb 17, 2023 8:54 am
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Liminality wrote a review...



Hi MissGangamash!

General Impressions

When I first read this, the beginning paragraph about the Magi made me expect something bad to happen related to them in this chapter. It didn’t, but it kind of does set the ominous tone of what is going on with people who have ‘desirable’ Gifts. This chapter definitely gets across the point of Cassidy’s parents exploiting her powers and how Ainsleigh is angry about it. The fact that Cassidy was always ready to heal her friend despite being tired is really interesting, because it makes me wonder what happened that made her leave without Ainsleigh, if they were so close.

Glows- what I liked

I like that this chapter explores Ainsleigh and Cassidy’s characters a little more. From the contemptuous tone towards the people at the party and the anecdote about how Cassidy’s parents stopped them seeing each other, I can tell that Ainsleigh has a gripe with the upper class in her world. However, that doesn’t stop her being friends with Cassidy, who doesn’t want to be in that world anyway because of how her parents exploit her. This social class content contrasts with the chapters in present time with her and Finch which are more secluded from ‘society’ and so do not have those unpleasant elements. It’s kind of interesting to find this out about Ainsleigh’s background, since it makes her more 3-dimensional.

I also liked the physical and gestural descriptions of Cassidy as she finds Ainsleigh in the bushes. The moonlight imagery makes her seem a bit magical, but her “stern expression” and tucking her hair away contrasts that, humanising her. I like how that reflects Cassidy’s narrative of not wanting to be the ‘goddess’ that heals everybody.

I thought the characterisation has been consistent so far, which is good.

She hated the sound of her own pain.

^ This seems to me to connect to Ainsleigh’s issues with addiction and trying to dull reality from previous chapters.
Cassidy’s behaviour is becoming more rebellious, but her severity seems the same from her child self.

Grows – Ideas to consider

I’ve noticed this pattern of exposition about the world (like the Problem Year, the Magi, Registration) being given. To me there’s kind of this awkward contrast between these concepts that are distant and universal to the setting of the story, and the specific and immediate situations the characters are in. I wonder how the Magi are connected to the ‘party’ that Cassidy’s parents are hosting? One guess is maybe a poetic connection – both are taking the Gifted apart for selfish reasons. But it’s not super clear to me that this *is* the connection, so it might be nice to have more on that, if you’d like to make these worldbuilding elements stand out more for the reader.

Also, noticed a small possible typo here for ‘wring’:
“These parties ring me dry.”

I get that the main focus of this scene is Ainsleigh and Cassidy’s conversation, since that’s the promise Cassidy made her that she was remembering in the previous chapter. I feel like it’s hard to grasp the severity of what Cassidy is going through though since we see it from a very ‘outside’ perspective: Ainsleigh reporting it as she snoops around the house, and Cassidy saying what happened in there through dialogue. A scene of how Cassidy interacts with the people inside the party (maybe Ainsleigh might spy on her through a window or something) might help suggest more of Cassidy’s character minus her relationship with Ainsleigh, if that’s something you’re going for.

I had a bit of trouble getting through the paragraphs starting from “One evening, fifteen-year-old Ainsleigh . . .” to “Queen Bee at the head of the table.” I noticed the sentences here were really long and had a lot of elements packed into them, like:
[She stopped dead [at the end of Cassidy’s road] [at the sight of her home shining obnoxiously bright] [in the middle of their cul-de-sac] [like the popular Queen Bee [at the head of the table.]]

^ There’s four phrases here that start with a preposition, each giving more and more info about the location – and one is a location within a simile, which is kind of difficult to digest for me.

Overall

I thought the character development in relation to their friendship and Cassidy’s leaving Ainsleigh suddenly was done well. It definitely makes me wonder how that could have happened and understand Ainsleigh’s hurt while also feeling something is missing/ still unknown about Cassidy’s story. My main suggestions would be to think about how the worldbuilding elements introduced connect to the scenes they are introduced in, and also maybe to show more of this social class/ Gifted vs Ungifted conflict playing out maybe with actions and dialogue.

Hope this helps – let me know if you’d like more feedback on something specific!
-Lim

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MissGangamash says...


The Magi are sort of a threat in the background throughout a lot of the story but do become more important and integral later on. You're definitely finding all the threads and tying them together.

I'm glad you're finding Ainsleigh more three-dimensional as I remember in an earlier chapter you feeling like you didn't really know her.

I like the link you've made between the Magi and Cassidy's parents. It is true that people seem to only tolerate the Gifted when there's something in it for them. And when you step back and assess the picture of the party - are the Drakes' much different from this brutal gang that people are so afraid of? And again, there is more of a connection with the Magi, which is where they keep being peppered into the narrative.

Thanks for spotting the typo and the awkward phrasing, I've fixed it! I am currently getting the finished novel ready for publishing and I had missed those!

I'm not going to be publishing any more chapters on here but I will be posting a little bit about my publishing journey on here if you are interested in getting the book and finding out what really happened to Cassidy!



Liminality says...


Ah good luck with your publishing adventures! And glad to hear all that is going to be worked out in the later plot.




You are all the colours in one, at full brightness.
— Jennifer Niven, 'All the Bright Places'