03: Songs of a Life

An Unknown Attraction

03: Song of a Life

 

Having finished our little demonstrations, and deciding we’d wasted enough time hanging around the hotel, we prepared to leave. I was anxious to see more of New Orleans’s famous French Quarter, but was hesitant about running into someone else like Shani. I didn’t know whether I simply shouldn’t look anyone in the eyes or if I’d draw them to me like a magnet regardless of what I did, resulting in a whole string of women following me down the street. Honestly, I simply didn’t know what to expect.

Having eaten and relaxed, we decided to spend a few hours exploring the French Quarter. Shani offered to take us on a walking tour, showing us the usual tourist attractions while also giving us a local’s perspectives. Everyone was eager to see the sights, but I hesitated.

“Do you think it’s safe for me to be wandering around?” I asked Cate and Shani.

“What? Sure it’s safe,” Cate informed me, seemingly confused by my question. Then she got this look like she understood what I was really asking. “Look, you’ve just come to a big city and discovered that, with a little more exposure, several people are interested in you. Taking an interest in you doesn’t hurt anyone. So far, you’ve only found a single person that reacted in an unusual manner,” she explained, seriously downplaying just how unusual it was with a general wave of her hand, “but it’s unlikely you’ll meet anyone else like that. Even if you do, it’ll present a chance to find out more about whatever you did.” Cate smiled at me as she concluded her explanation, as if pleased with her reinterpretation of the facts.

“But I didn’t do anything,” I stressed.

My younger sister gave me a world-weary sigh. “Alex, we can go over this as often as you want, but you’re going to be outvoted each time,” Cate told me patiently, as if reminding a small child to tie his shoes for the twentieth time. “We’re all convinced that you’re responsible for whatever happened to Shani. We’re sure that you drew her to you with your ‘presence’. And we know that none of this would have happened to her, or any of the other people watching you, if it wasn’t for your being here.”

“Is he going on about not doing anything again?” my father grumbled, barging into our semi-private conversation. “Get over it, Alex, part of having a super power, however benign it is, is getting over the fact that you have it. Go forth,” he called, imitating an ancient oracle crying out to the Gods, “Go forth and gather all the available maidens so that you may confuse them with fancy imaginary light shows and garbled telepathic messages.”

He was grinning by the end of his little scene, but I could feel my face burning with embarrassment at just how silly it sounded. “Quiet, Dad! Geez, what are you trying to do? Let everyone know what a freak I am?”

“Honey,” my mother soothed, coming to my assistance. “You’re certainly no freak. Maybe an alien masquerading as our child, but you are certainly not a freak.” So much for any sympathy from either of my parents, I thought as everyone broke out in heartfelt laughs. After a few moments I had to join them, it was pretty funny once you thought about it. The whole premise was pretty hilarious, and the fact that having an amazing ability didn’t seem to really change much in the real world just made it that much funnier. Effectively all I’d accomplished was to make an instant girlfriend, who’d decided she was going to follow me home just by showing her a few ‘imaginary lights’, as my father had described it. While the idea of her being a potential girlfriend made me shiver with delight, it also filled me with dread as well.

Finally placated we wandered off, with everyone discussing various topics mostly unrelated to my issues. As Shani and my mother got into a discussion about the architectural differences in churches between New Orleans and the Midwest, Dad cornered both Cate and I for a short discussion.

“Alex, I think your mother and I need to say a couple of things about this,” he said with a serious tone as he looked directly at me. “You’re only a few short months shy of being a legal adult. I think you need to consider how you are going to approach this. Your mother and I could simply take control and determine what you can and can’t do, but I don’t think that would be either fair or appropriate. I suspect the decisions you make concerning this will impact the rest of your life, as well as affecting a fair number of individuals, as these people seem to be drawn to you and will need to be handled carefully.

“As a result, we’re not going to dictate how you deal with them. We’ll leave that up to you, since you are the one ultimately responsible for what happens to these people. I realize it’s a lot of responsibility to dump on you all at once, but I think it’s necessary as you’ve somehow been elected by fate or God for this position.”

He glanced over at his wife, then back at me. “Now if you need any assistance or help, both your mother and I will be glad to offer advice, steer you in the right direction or offer assistance, but other than that it’s up to you. Just think about the implied responsibilities when you deal with each of these women. They seem to be depending on you for an awful lot.”

I nodded, acknowledging my father’s excellent points, as well as agreeing to his assigning the responsibility squarely on my shoulders. I’d already assumed as much, which is why this scared me so much. Still, his words made me feel better, and the knowledge that my parents would support my decisions and help me out if and when I needed it helped settle my nerves. Next he turned his attention to Cate, speaking just as seriously while Mom slipped up behind him and looked on over his shoulder.

“Cate, you’ve clearly taken on a supervisory role in whatever is occurring. I appreciate that and I’m sure your brother does too, as he’ll need all the advice he can get. Frankly, neither your mother nor I have the slightest clue what’s occurring, but you seem to have a good idea of what’s going on. Just bear in mind that Alex and everyone approaching him from here on out are depending on your good judgment. Now we’re not going to decide how you should approach this, we’re not even going to determine when and where Alex meets with these women he’s attracting, but I want to make sure that you realize he needs room to make his own decisions as well. Is that clear?”

Cate made a disappointed face, almost looking like he’d taken her favorite toy away. “Yeah, Dad, thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m not about to let Alex down now that he needs my assistance so much. I’ll be careful how we both approach this. I don’t think you need to worry about Alex either, he’s certainly pretty cautious about this. We’ll make you proud of our choices.”

“Very good,” our father concluded with a satisfied nod. “Now let’s get moving, we apparently have several anxious young women waiting,” he teased as he wrapped his arm around mom’s shoulder and moved on.

We had no embarrassing scenes on our way to Canal Street, the start of the French Quarter, but several people still turned to watch me. Several women I should qualify, as I never noticed a single guy watching me. However, as Cate said, having someone watch you doesn’t really bother anyone, so I managed to ignore it for the most part. I think it had an effect on my parents, though. They’d taken everything we’d said lightly, more concerned about a young woman promising to introduce their son to the world of sex than in whatever wild claims we’d made, the crude experiments we’d performed after breakfast not counting for much. But the constant reminder of people gawking at me as we passed brought it home in a way that nothing else could.

In truth, it wasn’t even that constant. It was only a few women scattered here and there, but the sensation was of noticing one woman after another watching me, and we were all very aware of my being watched. That alone can do things to a shy guy’s ego, but having a beautiful exotic woman on my arm gave me an even bigger ego boost than the eyes trailing my movements did—especially a woman who seemed to be willing to do just about anything for me. I still wasn’t sure of the attraction or just how healthy it was, but it was hard to argue how strongly she felt it. Between her and Cate, it didn’t look like I’d get a private moment to myself for some time. Shani wanted to know anything and everything about me, while Cate was busy looking for more clues that would explain what was going on—and was eager to share anything she observed.

I was never quite sure how she managed it, but Cate never seemed to be far from my side. I’d grown up with it, so it hardly registered anymore, but back home she’d visit friends or play dolls (back when she was younger) or do homework for hours, and I’d have plenty of time by myself. Now though, it seemed like she was always shadowing me, especially now that I’d become her new lab rat. Suddenly she was watching me like she was expecting me to catch the smell of cheese and scurry off before she could find her lab coat. Or maybe that should be that all the available mice would catch a scent of my ‘presence’ and came chasing me through the labyrinth maze of the French Quarter’s streets? The streets were simple enough to figure out, but navigating around the people amidst the many distractions was incredibly confusing!

Preparing to cross Canal and enter the French Quarter proper, Cate suggested that I walk ahead of them, reasoning that they could watch me while their presence wouldn’t intimidate anyone observing me from afar. I figured things couldn’t get any weirder, so I figured ‘what the hell’ and agreed to do it. I was certainly walking a bit prouder, knowing everyone was watching me; my family, my potential new girlfriend and several unknown women to boot. I felt like I was walking a runway and everyone was watching my every move. However I cautioned myself how popular YouTube videos of models tripping and falling while walking the catwalk were.

They didn’t leave me alone for long. Joining me again, they told me of the women they’d observed watching me, women of all sizes and shapes. There were actually more than I had been aware of, but nothing untoward had occurred, so we felt confident that their proximity wouldn’t affect anything. The women didn’t seem the least bit fazed by being observed themselves, so everyone’s presence by my side didn’t seem like it would dissuade anyone. Cate suggested she try to interview some of them, but we voted her down, telling her it would only humiliate people to press them on why they were doing something they clearly didn’t understand nor had any conscious control over. She wasn’t overly fond of the group decision, but she’d been running ahead and behind to film several women watching me surreptitiously, so she had enough to keep her occupied.

Shani suggested a nearby well-known hotel for lunch and suggested I try the Alligator. Cate made all kinds of noise about the selection but I loved the idea. “I think you’ll get a kick out of it,” Shani said as she snuggled up against my arm. “It’s seemingly a big ‘guy’ thing.” The dish was actually called alligator sauce piquant, which consisted of fried alligator in a fancy French sauce. It turned out to be delicious—exotic, but not too exotic.

“I hope you continue to be as adventurous when I suggest other native treats in the future,” she said with a smile as she rubbed her knee against mine under the table. “Perhaps something not quite as simple as alligator,” she added with a little leer.

“Don’t worry,” I replied around a mouthful of alligator. “I’m pretty adventurous where food and new experiences are concerned.” I paused for a second, winked at Cate, and added, “Just not with the ladies or doing foolish things in front of people in public.” My qualifier drew a laugh from around the table.

“That much is obvious,” Cate assured me.

Just as we were finishing up, Shani poked me in the side and announced I had another fan searching for me. “Alex,” she said quietly as she nodded towards the double doors at the front of the restaurant, “I think you’ve attracted another one.” Before I could turn around she laughed into her napkin, explaining “She strode into the hotel and immediately noticed you. But the maître d’ intercepted her. He’s trying to tell her how long a wait it’ll be, but she’s arguing that she isn’t interest in the food. I think you’ve got that scene you were so worried about,” she informed me with a crooked grin.

I glanced up and saw the girl. She was quite pretty, tall and slender, well dressed with noticeable make-up. She had shortish blond hair that formed waves of large ringlets, and dressed very nicely in a long shirt that was pleated in the middle with an off the shoulder type thing that looks like it must have been a designer item. But apparently she was too focused on arguing with the maître d’ while some other guy was berating him. The tuxedoed man drew himself up to his full height and glowered down his nose at her. I guessed that the guy and the girl were together, but I couldn’t be sure. She didn’t notice me observing her as a result, which I figured was better for her ego than having the object of her interest watch while she was embarrassed in public. I promptly dismissed her as someone simply noticing me, much like Natalie, figuring she was now just one of many as I turned my attention back to the table to make sure I had everything I needed before we departed. As I was standing up, Cate hissed at me, waving her hands. Confused, I turned and looked up just as the girl descended upon us.

“Please, please, I don’t mean to disturb you—” she frantically said as she tried to simultaneous get my attention and apologize for disrupting me.

At that moment the well-dressed maître d’ finally caught up with her.

“Miss, you cannot just enter the dining room and disturb the other guests like—” Just as I was taking this in, I noticed the man who had been arguing with him coming up on him.

“Listen, man, this woman is a famous performer who simply…,” he began as he continued arguing with him.

Everyone around us seemed confused, but since this activity was centered on me, and knowing how focused Shani had been on me yesterday, I figured I’d better attempt to settle thing before they got out of hand. I tried to wave the maître d’ away, telling him, “Never mind, we know her, it’s really no problem.” However, he was as distracted as everyone else by the argument he was having and ignored my interjection. As I was trying to assuage the maître d’, I focused on the two men and not on the woman, knowing precisely what might happen when I did. For her part she tried to split her attention between her companion, the maître d’ and me, as if trying to calculate how long she’d have with me as the argument grew more heated.

Having not heard me, the maître d’ rounded on the man.

“Look sir, I don’t appreciate your barging into my establishment like this and—”

I raised my voice, “It’s FINE,” I insisted. “We know them both, we were expecting them.” He finally seemed to notice me then and turned to regard me, looking me briefly up and down. Apparently not finding me too impressive, he sneered at me for a moment before looking at my parents. To my relief, both of them simply nodded to him.

It felt odd; shy, little me taking such a forceful position trying to placate everyone. In the past I’d have just melted into the background and watched everything unfold, but this time I knew I was the cause of the trouble and thus that I was the one responsible for settling it.

“That’s fine, sir,” he addressed me, his faux-French accent almost dripping with scorn over the word ‘sir’. “But perhaps in the future you’ll have a word with them about their sense of decorum in a public restaurant.” I smiled at the man like I had to put up with such childish behavior all the time, which honestly I did as it wasn’t unlike the behaviors I encountered in the cafeteria at school every day.

“I’ll do that, sir, and thank you for the wonderful meal, it was much appreciated.” I realized that he had absolutely nothing to do with preparing the meal, but I figured a little flattery would get me farther than anything else. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the woman fall to her knees at my side, where she proceeded to bow her head and clasp her hands before her like she was preparing to pray to me, all of which I managed to observe without actually looking at her. Her companion was still fuming, but now his attention shifted from the maître d’ to me.

“Who are…? Patty, what the hell are you doing?” he asked, his attack on me distracted by his companion’s odd behavior. That was a question I’d have liked to ask myself, but I knew my central role was trying to maintain calm and to keep as low a profile as I could. Steeling myself in the second’s delay I had before she could plead for my favor again, I turned and looked at her.

Just as I had feared, she reacted like Shani had. Her head snapped back and she drifted to the side, unsteady and looking momentarily lost. The man who had been defending her rushed to her assistance.

“What’s wrong, Patty?” he asked solicitously before looking up, his face quickly turning dark as he glowered at me. “What the hell did you do to her, you…?”

Just as he was about to get into a froth, my father came up on the man’s side. “Perhaps you’d like to sit and we can—”

“I’d like to know what this little pissant…,” he retorted, but while this quickly heating discussion was taking place, the woman on her knees before me grew concerned and reached around, having to feel around, still not used to the new visuals she was seeing.

“Henry, NO! Don’t antagonize him! Don’t you realize how powerful he is?” she pleaded with the guy.

This didn’t seem to help his attitude much, however. “What? This little nothing?” he replied with a sneer that seemed to drip even more scorn than the maître d’s. “He’s no more powerful than a—”

“Henry, shut up NOW or you’ll be sorry!” she insisted crossly from her position kneeling before me.

“And she’ll get plenty of help,” added Shani, closing in on his other side. I wasn’t sure how she’d done it, but while my attention was distracted, she’d moved around behind him preparing to enter the fray. My father was smart enough to back up, seeing two angry females closing in on an unsuspecting victim.

“Look, let’s sit quietly before we’re thrown out into the street or someone calls the police,” I told him, once again trying my best to keep the peace. “I didn’t do anything to her, but we can discuss what did happen once we sit down.”

Staring at me with a look of genuine distrust, he consider that while the woman, Patty, turned and looked back at me with a strange look of combined wonder and nervousness. I also noticed the guy was making no effort to help her up or to assist her in any way anymore. I guess when stressed he’d rather fight unknown troublemakers than aid his girlfriend. So, perhaps stupidly, I grasped her hand and she gratefully took hold and used it to stand.

“Thank you, I feel so humbled in your presence. I knew you were—”

“Please,” I tried to subtly insist, “Let’s not go into that now. Let’s simply sit down where we can quietly continue.”

Henry was still staring daggers at me but he also moved aside as my father managed to find a few nearby chairs. Both Shani and Cate managed to position themselves behind him and beside me as if in a protective detail, watching to see if he tried anything. I’d have to ask my sister later what she thought she’d do if something developed, as she wasn’t that large. Shani I could see definitely causing some trouble, while the new girl looked like she was already ready to rip his head off.

I led the woman to a chair that Mom held for her and she daintily sat. At least I think that’s what she was doing, she might have been trying to curtsy, I really wasn’t sure. Henry managed to situate himself between us, but when I backed up she pushed forward until she was sitting right beside me, leaving him nowhere to go but the seat that she had just vacated. He didn’t look like a happy camper.

Everyone sat, and while we managed to avoid a scene nearly everyone in the restaurant was watching us and several people in suits were standing nearby. I had been sitting between Cate and Shani, but with these two new additions I was now between Patty and Cate. Shani was left to grab the seat still being held by my father on the other side of Henry. My parents both sat on the far side of the table, meaning that my father was far enough away that he wouldn’t be likely to get into a tussle with this new man. I wasn’t sure what either Shani or Cate might try if he started for me, though.

“Now, please,” I began, trying to speak in a calming tone, “I imagine we’ve got a few things to discuss and it’d be best if we could do it quietly. We’ve already caused enough of a distraction and what we’re going to discuss is unsettling enough as it is.” I measured Henry’s reaction to what I said, but he didn’t seem to take it the wrong way. Henry and my father both took deep breaths and appeared to be trying to calm themselves, though both Shani and Cate seemed to be as watchful as before. Luckily Mom was aware enough to signal the waiter, which seemed to be just the thing to get the guys in suits surrounding us to finally relax a little. She ordered some menus for the new people, speaking in a calm voice which seemed to sooth feelings a bit.

The woman—I guessed she must be in her late thirties or so—looked up at me with sheer wonder in her eyes. I told myself that was the next thing on the agenda, to try to deflate whatever grandiose view she held me in. Maybe if I farted or something, I told myself, smiling as I thought it. She looked at me, or at least tried to, as she kept having to squint in order to glance at me.

“What… what did you do… what did you do to me?” she finally managed to get out.

“Yeah, I’d like to know that as well,” growled Henry, which caused Patty to spin on him and give a cold, hard stare.

“That’s ENOUGH of that!” she hissed at him in a cold fury that made my own blood run cold. “I brought you here to help me, not to cast aspersions on who I came to see. And if you try to do anything to him I’ll find a nearby bottle and you’ll find your brains all over the nice tablecloth, so watch it!” she snarled ominously. Boy, for a little thing she sure knew how to send a message. I was glad she wasn’t angry at me. When she finally decided he wasn’t going to try anything, she turned back to me.

“I’m sorry for that,” she began, her temperament and words just as sweet as honey as if an angry word had never crossed her lips. “I never should have brought him, but when I went searching for you he insisted on coming along and—”

“That’s fine,” I assured her, figuring it wouldn’t help any of us to accuse him of anything. “Now, before we go any further, how about some introductions. I’m Alex, this is my sister Cate, my mother and father, Linda and Frank Jennings,” I stated, indicating each person in turn. “And finally, the one behind you is Shaniqua Sharp, who probably shares the most in common with you right now.”

“Thank you for being so gracious and accepting us at your table,” she very politely replied, treating it as a kindly gesture to an undeserving soul rather than the pretext to avoid a scene in a public restaurant that it had been.

“My name is Patricia Moore, I’m a singer. I perform at a nearby club. This,” she turned and looked dubiously at her partner, “is Henry Dunn, my business manager.” I could see him stiffen at this introduction and instantly knew he thought of himself as much more to her than that, and I wondered whether she had thought so too just a short while ago.

“Man, you weren’t kidding,” my mother stated, surprising us all. I don’t think she’d believed what we’d told her about Shani’s reactions yesterday, but seeing it herself was a completely different matter.

“Yeah, it’s just like you described,” my father said, echoing her sentiments.

“I’m sorry,” Patricia told me, “but I feel like I don’t belong here, sitting at the same table with you.”

“Nonsense, Patricia,” I tried to reassure her, “I’m just a simple high school kid. I’m nothing speci—”

“NO, you most certainly ARE something special,” she insisted enthusiastically. “You look like an angel shining there in all your celestial glory. You’re certainly no ordinary kid. I’ve never heard of any young man doing what you just did to me. Before I met you I could feel your raw power, and seeing you like I do now I realize that we don’t dare anger you.”

“Shhh,” I gently told her, trying to ease her anxiety. “I’m hardly an ogre and I think you’re substantially overestimating my abilities. However, I’m sure you’d like to know more about what you’re seeing at the moment. Actually, we’re all as new to this as you are. The first time we’ve encountered this was just last night when Shaniqua here had the same experience you’ve just had.”

Shani saw her opportunity and took it, getting up and moving around Henry to take Patricia in her arms as they began to whisper back and forth to each other, only pausing whenever Patricia would attempt to look at me or when Shani would point to me or signify someone else. In the meantime my father got a different waiter’s attention and ordered some coffees and a few desserts. No one had expressed any desire to eat more but he knew enough to assume that we’d be there for a while, and he wanted to keep the people serving us happy with us for as long as we stayed.

Finally the whispering came to an end and Patricia looked up at me again, while Shani moved her seat so she could sit beside her, effectively positioning herself between Henry and myself. However, she did it very subtly, and I appreciated the benefits of having an older woman there to watch out for me.

“Thank you, whatever you are, for taking the time to sit with me,” she said, still with this silly sense of reverence. “I know you probably have much more important things to do. You say you’re simply a student, but with the amount of power you possess, you must have so much you could be doing.” I started to protest when both Cate and Shani signaled me to shut the hell up, Cate doing so with a swift kick to my calf.

“You’ve opened the world to me in a way I’ve never expected,” she continued. “I have no idea how to deal with everything I’m seeing. Shaniqua mentioned that it’s all some sort of life force but it’s all so vivid and surreal,” she stated, amazed at everything she was experiencing, again doing like Shani had and looking at the various people around her, apparently comparing each person’s aura against the others.

“I have no idea what any of you are talking about,” Henry stated, finally ending his silence and attempting to get more information about what was going on around him. “What is all this talk about power and visions and auras and shit?”

“Yeah, it’s time we helped you understand. I just wanted to make sure that Patricia was made more comfortable with what she’s going through,” I stated, stressing the fact that she was the one going through this and not him. “What’s happened is something you wouldn’t understand and can’t really appreciate, but somehow by coming in contact with me, your girlfriend,” I said, guessing about their relationship, “is now seeing things she’s never seen before. She’s seeing these auras around people which consist of various colored lights. Again, we don’t know what they mean but the same thing happened to Shani, so that’s why they were busy whispering so busily a second ago.”

“Yeah, right, you just say ‘Boo’ and suddenly she’s having visions of shit? I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. What is it you’re trying to pull here?”

Once again Patricia turned angrily on him and hissed, “Watch it! If you can’t behave then please leave!”

“No, no,” I hastened to add, “I want him as comfortable with this as we are, which isn’t saying much at this point. You’re going through a lot and you’ll need someone to help you through it. If you doubt anything I’m saying, you’ll have to discuss with her what she’s currently experiencing. However, we think these ‘auras’ or glows she’s seeing around people have something to do with some sort of life energy, since it seems to surround people, animals and plants. That’s all we know about it at the moment, though.”

After I finished my little speech, Patricia turned and looked at Henry again. While I had been speaking, she seemed to feel compelled to watch me, even though I’m sure she couldn’t see much; but now she was back to staring daggers at her boyfriend. When he resisted saying anything stupid, she turned back to me. Before she could start apologizing again I thought I’d head her off.

“Look, before we get any further afield, let’s just start at the beginning,” I suggested. “Tell us about yourselves and we’ll tell you all about us. After that we can get into who is more amazing, OK?”

My sister snorted rather rudely beside me, forcing me to deal with her first.

“What, am I supposed to pretend that was a real statement?” she asked. “Everyone here knows there’s no one else in the world that can do what you’ve just done twice in the last twenty-four hours. Don’t go pretending you didn’t have anything to do with it; we all know better than to listen to you pretend you’re just an ordinary kid.”

“Alright, fine,” I huffed, realizing that arguing about it wasn’t going to help anything. I knew I had to a lot of information to cover, hopefully without drawing any additional attention to us. Luckily the dining room was both busy and loud, so it would be hard for anyone to overhear us. As it was, everyone was leaning in to hear our own conversation.

“Please go on,” I said, turning back to Patricia, who proceeded to tell us a little about herself.

“I’m a performer at one of the night clubs here,” she began. “I’m a blues singer and I spend a lot of time in the various bars both here and across several of the nearby southern states. I’m hardly a name act but I get by and manage to do fairly well for myself. As I started to say before, I could feel you outside while I was in the middle of my act last night. I wanted to just run out and find you but…. Anyway, when I finally called an early end to the set and ran outside you were gone. I was completely devastated that I’d missed you. I searched up and down the streets of the French Quarter all night but couldn’t feel you again. Henry thought I was nuts, chasing after someone I didn’t know and hadn’t seen but simply ‘knew’ was out there somewhere. This morning I got up early and drove around the downtown area but once again, I just couldn’t sense you anywhere. Henry insisted I was imagining things, but he insisted on coming along to watch out for me. We ended up coming back here and have been wandering the streets hoping you’d show up again.”

“Jeez, that sounds like a lot of wasted effort,” I told her, feeling sorry that I’d unintentionally forced all this unexpected emotion on her. “Have you eaten at all? Would you like something to eat?”

“No, I haven’t eaten anything besides a muffin this morning and some coffee to keep me going, but I’m too damn excited to eat anything right now.” Both Cate and I looked at our mother, expecting her to say something about the language, but we both already knew that she’d never be so abrupt as to call attention to someone else’s failings unless she felt it was necessary.

“Please, here, take this, whatever the hell it is that my father ordered,” I told her, now getting the very look my sister and I had expected Patricia to get a moment earlier. “You look like you need to eat.” She accepted the dessert and a nearby spoon and started eating as if I had ordered her to under pain of death. Not that she seemed to fear me or anything, just that she didn’t seem to be particularly enthused about what she was eating, as her eyes never seemed to rest, continually flickering from me to everyone around us, but always returning to me.

“Anyway, go on, you were saying,” I prompted her again.

“Oh yeah, we were still wandering the streets, Henry continually trying to coax me into returning home, when I finally felt you again. I quickly tracked you here and entered the restaurant to find you. That was when the man at the door tried to stop me,” she said, almost in a snarl as if the thought of someone trying to restrain her with as pedestrian a question as whether she had a reservation was a capital offense. “I think you know the rest of the story from there,” she finished.

“OK, fair enough, you’ve told us about yourself, now I’ll tell you a little about ourselves. My family and I are here on a vacation for Cate and my spring break,” I explained.

She looked up as if noticing Cate for the first time. “You’re his sister?” she asked, as if asking Jesus’ brother whether his feet actually touched the ground when he walked.

“Yeah. I’ve tried to deny it in the past, but word keeps getting out that I’m related to him,” she teased, but it didn’t seem to register on Patricia.

“Do you have any of his, uh, powers or anything? I can’t feel any coming from you but….” Her voice trailed off as if she was trying to feel any emanations she might have missed.

“Nope, I’m the typical normal teen my angelic brother keeps pretending to be,” Cate joked, again most of it being lost on its intended target who was taking everything my sister said about me as the gospel truth.

“Yeah, I can see that now,” Patricia confided to her. “Shani’s got a stronger glow than anyone else, but nowhere near as bright as Alex’s. I guess I’d know if you had any of his abilities just from your, what did Shani call it, your ‘aura’?”

This latest bit got my sister’s juices flowing. “Yeah, that’s what we’ve decided to call it. Tell me more about the differences in the auras you can see between everyone here at the table.” They both began a private conversation, which Shani soon joined in, leaving me on my own again. Not that it was Patricia’s intention. In fact, she kept looking up at me to see if I wanted anything or needed to tell her something. But every time she did I’d just shake my head and either Cate or Shani would pull her back into the conversation. My mother just shook her head while my father ordered a second café au lait. It seems he’d grown quite fond of them.

Seeing that Patricia was busy and thus unlikely to be watching him as closely, Henry got up and moved around to join me for a more private conversation of our own.

“So, are you really serious about this shit?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid I am. I’m about as doubtful as you are, but they keep convincing me it’s true, although I can’t imagine how it’s possible.”

“So you see these silly light filled aura things too?”

“Oh, no, for some reason, while everyone thinks I’m responsible for giving the girls the ability to see them, I’m unable to see them myself.” He just looked at me a moment.

“You know, this would be more believable if you were to play it up more, this whole ‘I’m just a dumb kid who doesn’t know any better’ doesn’t fly very well,” he told me, almost like he was giving me grudging advice, one conman to another. I couldn’t help it, I laughed, causing everyone to turn and look at us. I think the only one who had been following the conversation was my sister Cate.

“You’ve got a point,” I replied. “Unfortunately, aside from you and my parents, the only person that needs convincing is me. Everyone is busy trying to do just that.” Henry just shook his head and wandered back to his own seat.

I briefly looked around the dining room, taking in a couple of new watchers, but I couldn’t differentiate who was interested because of the spectacle we had made and who was interested in me or my powerful presence. No, that wasn’t true; it didn’t take long watching someone to differentiate them. Those who were merely curious would just look for a second or two and then look away again. Those who fit the second category would look and not turn away. If they did, they’d look up again as soon as they’d finished with whatever had distracted them. I was beginning to feel like I was being stalked by dozens of people on only the first day of my week-long vacation.

“Shani?” I asked as quietly as I could. Immediately both she and Patricia’s heads popped up, my gentle query captivating their attention. “Could you go around to the two ladies at those two tables,” I told her, trying to not be too obvious about whom I was pointing out, “and tell them what this is all about as discreetly as you can?” She immediately agreed and got up like she was heading to the rest room. I watched as she circled around and came up behind each woman and quietly began whispering to them. I wondered what she was saying, but if I had wanted to guide the conversation then I guess I should have done it myself. She seemed to be doing a good job though, as neither of them attempted to join us. It didn’t do much to dissuade them from watching me though, but I’m not sure I really expected it to.

By now Cate had her notebook out and was writing down copious notes, frequently paging back and forth to find some note she’d written before to either reference or correct. Somehow she was taking this more seriously than I, the person it was happening to, and who supposedly was causing it. But then again, my little sister frequently seemed to think she had to look after me. She’d always try to apologize to Mom on my behalf whenever I messed up. She’d also try to fix any problems I had, including trying to arrange the few dates I’d had. Not that it did much good though, as I was always so shy that the girls would lose interest midway through the initial conversation. I just wasn’t much of a social creature. I seemed to be doing much better lately, but mainly because I had to address these issues directly since these women sought me out personally. They had both been so fascinated with me that they simply wouldn’t listen to anyone else, they both reacted as if they expected me to fly back up to heaven as soon as they turned their heads.

The girls’ talk went on for quite a while. Shani eventually came back and joined us again while Cate would keep pulling me in to check my memory of events, and both Shani and Patricia would keep looking at me for approval for various things. Finally they began to run out of steam.

“Say, there’s really not much I can offer you, but could you come hear me perform tonight?” Patricia asked us. Cate and I both immediately looked to our parents for their permission, the thought of getting into one of the music clubs scattered about the French Quarter too much to resist for either of us.

“Will they let them in with the drinking?” Mom asked Patricia.

“Sure,” she waved that worry away as if it didn’t mean any more than a pesky fly. “This is a family resort. As long as they don’t try to order anything they’ll be fine. Besides, I didn’t mean for you to wander in off the street and try to find a table, I meant enter with me. I’ll make sure you get the best table in the house up in front. I’ll arrange with Lawrence to make sure he gets you whatever you want. If you’ll let them try a drink, he can even slip it into something else to make it look like a soda for you.” Man, Patricia sure seemed accommodating. Unfortunately my mother wasn’t nearly as much so.

“No thanks, I don’t think either one is ready for that yet. But are you sure you won’t get into any trouble for arranging this? It sounds like a lot of trouble,” Mom asked, sounding worried that Patricia might get fired for finding us a good table.

“Nonsense, the other performers are always hooking up the various women who make goo-goo eyes at them,” she admitted. “It’s nothing for them, they simply assume it is part of the benefits package for the performers. Besides, I’ve only asked for it a few times whenever I’ve had a boyfriend interested enough to attend one of my shows.” She seemed annoyed that none of her past boyfriends were interested enough in what she did to pay much attention to it. I once again glanced at Henry and wondered just where he fit in the whole past boyfriend pantheon.

“Hey, look, I hate to break this up, but your other girlfriend from the hotel wanted to meet with us after work, and we’ve been sitting here for hours,” my father pronounced.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” professed Patricia. “I never meant to take up all of your time.” There she goes, I thought, always apologizing as if I was busy saving the world or granting fair maidens new visions or something, but I resisted the urge to protest, knowing it would only fall on deaf ears.

“Yeah,” Henry agreed, “Patty was up all night and all morning looking for you. She should really get home and get some rest before her show tonight.”

“He’s right, I should probably get back and get organized, though I swear, just being this close to you is better than the strongest coffee,” she said. “I feel like I can do anything now.” However it was said with such a look of longing that I didn’t feel I could break her heart by accepting her offer to leave. It was then that I had a sudden insight.

“Look, it’s not like we’re busy, if you want to accompany us and spend more time talking to Shani, Cate or our friend from the hotel, then I’ve got no problem with it, but I’ll certainly understand if you can’t,” I told them. Or rather, I told her and let him deal with it however he damn well pleased. Man, I’m glad my mother can’t read my mind, I thought, considering just how much I’d found myself swearing to myself the last two days.

Henry started to say something but Patricia rushed in, “Are you sure? I’d love to spend some more time with you. It’s not like I really need to sleep all day, I’ve gone on stage with a lot less sleep in the past and done fine.” Henry did not look pleased with that announcement. I just smiled at them both.

“Stay with us then, I don’t know how we could possibly get by with only two natives to show us around the local sites that are all clearly labeled,” I teased. However, she seemed to have overlooked my inflection or something as she jumped up and hugged me, then immediately backed off. The look in her eyes seemed to say that she was about to fall onto the floor on her knees, she looked so abject about overstepping her imaginary bounds. It looked like she was going to do just that when suddenly she just froze then very quietly stood up again.

“Yes, sir, I will sir,” she stated very formally and then very quietly took her seat. Cate rounded on me.

“Just what did you say to her?” she snapped at me.

“I didn’t—”

“Don’t go playing innocent with me, Alex,” she warned me. “You yelled at her telepathically, didn’t you?” I had to stop and think. I didn’t actually mean to, or even try to, but I guess it was possible that I had and simply hadn’t realized it. I was pretty upset that she was about to abase herself in front of me, and my always wanting to act the gentleman told me that I shouldn’t allow that to happen. I really had to review my memories from only seconds ago to figure out whether I’d accidentally yelled at her or not, but I eventually had to acknowledge that I had.

“I’m sorry, Patricia, I guess I did,” I said. Turning back to Cate I tried to explain myself. “Personally, I have no recollection of saying or thinking anything, but I was upset about what she was about to do. Besides, how come messages I don’t even know I’m sending come across clearly while messages I try to send come across as vague, garbled impressions?” I asked, trying to change the topic and refocus attention away from me.

“That doesn’t absolve you from abusing poor Patricia,” Cate enthused. I knew I was in trouble when Cate started using words like ‘absolve’. That was one of our family’s ‘mom words’ that our mother only used when we were in serious trouble. “But, now that you’ve brought it up, you’ve got a good point.” I could see the lights go on in the back of her head as she thought about what new insight this newest tidbit of information might give her.

“It’s possible the emotional involvement affects the strength of the message,” she theorized, growing ever more animated as she went on with her potential explanation. “Your first message to Shani was for her to not make a spectacle of herself and she got the message right away. When we were experimenting, I kept the message abstract and numerical to ensure there wasn’t any chance of misinterpreting the answers, but maybe I was approaching it incorrectly.”

“Listen, this is all fascinating, but Dad has a point,” I argued, thinking I’d already achieved the results I was looking for. I’d gotten Cate to stop attacking me for something I couldn’t control, but now we were heading down an intellectual sinkhole. “We’ve been sitting here for a long time, Natalie’s probably been waiting quite a while and we’ve still got things to do. Plus I think my ass is starting to go to sleep from sitting for so long.” I had to acknowledge Mom’s warning glare at my language, but everyone got my meaning and we finally got up and moving. As we entered the street I now had two girls attached to my side, both older professional, respected ladies spending the day with two high school kids and their parents. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Henry saw it quite like that. He was quietly staring at me even as I tried to keep from appearing to take advantage of the situation. As much as Henry’s attitude irked me simply because I didn’t think he was supporting his girlfriend in the way she needed him to, I really didn’t want to be the one to break them up. I knew that she’d need someone to lean on in this difficult period of transition. I was also a little indecisive about Shani and hoped that the three of them could get together and possibly keep her from following me home. Having Henry as a stable platform here in New Orleans would definitely work in my favor.

I mentioned to the two women Cate’s newest theory about our telepathy and managed to get them huddled together discussing it, thereby freeing me from their attentions. I dropped back to speak to Henry again, feeling his antagonism towards me might become a problem and I wanted to do whatever I could to head it off.

“Hey there, Henry, I hope you aren’t taking Patricia’s hanging around me personally. I think she’s just glad to have people she can talk to about what she’s going through,” I told him, hoping he’d take my weak olive branch offering of a compliment.

“Yeah, that’s what it looks like,” he complained as we both watched the three girls talking together. Even now, they’d frequently look up to see what I was up to.

“Don’t take the frequent looks and touches seriously,” I told him. “It seems to have more to do with whatever these sensations I’m broadcasting are than anything else,” I lied. I was convinced their dedication to me was pretty deeply set. Whatever ‘power’ they felt radiating from me was sure to reinforce it, but I didn’t think it was a simple passing fancy either.

“Besides,” I continued, “in another week I’ll be gone and Patricia will need someone to help her deal with these new things in her life without our help.” I wasn’t sure how helpful a suggestion it was to tell a wary boyfriend I would only be stealing his limelight for the next week, but it was about all I could offer.

“Yeah, there is that,” he sighed. As we walked, I tried to get him to open up about himself, but he was pretty hesitant about it.

“I was always good at organizing and scheduling things,” he told me, finally revealing a little about himself. “Plus I knew a fair number of people in the industry. I’d managed a couple of people in the past. When Patty and I connected she was having trouble handling those areas of her career so I stepped up and that’s how we got started,” he explained. There were several comments I could have made in those few sentences, but I thought it best to just bite my tongue for the moment.

“Now she can focus on her art while I handle all the day-to-day stuff for her.”

“I’m sure she appreciates that,” I told him, not having a clue whether that was true or not. “It’s the day-to-day things that keep us going,” I added, thinking of the constant work my own parents had put into us that had allowed us to accomplish all we had. While I knew how important that was, I was more concerned with whether Patricia had the support, both emotional and otherwise, that she’d need to get through this.

“I think the next month is going to be the hardest,” I told him honestly. “You’re not going to understand any of what she’s experiencing. Heck, you’re not even likely to believe most of it. But it’s still essential that you be there for her so that she comes out of this stronger than ever. If you can’t be there for her, you’ll regret it and she’ll end up resenting you. If you do, she’ll likely treasure you for it.” Again, I felt a bit like a hypocrite for spouting relationship advice when I’d never had a girlfriend, but still, it made sense at least. Here’s hoping that sensible things make any difference in relationships, I thought, wishing the best for them both.

“You’re full of advice for someone who doesn’t understand what’s happening to him,” he snidely replied. I sighed, knowing this was likely to come up.

“Meaning you think I know exactly what’s going on, and that I’ve planned it all to pull poor little Patricia into my evil seventeen-year-old hands?”

“Yeah, something like that,” he replied, looking a bit taken aback by my question.

“Look, it’s quite simple. I never sought Patricia or you out. I’ve never met her before. I’ve only been in the state for a day. Actually, I’d say it was more likely that Patricia and you cooked this whole scheme up yourselves, possibly in conjunction with Shani. After all, I’m new in town, I’m an innocent teen unused to your big city ways and I’m easily swayed since I lack a lot of self-confidence. You come up with this whole tall tale and leave me so confused that I’m helpless to fend off whatever scheme you’ve cooked up.”

His mouth opened and closed a couple of times as he looked at me in momentary confusion.

“Exactly,” I said before he could decide what I was getting at. “My point is that when nothing else makes sense, sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one. There’s something going on that none of us understand. I don’t think anyone is to blame for it, but it will take all of us working together to figure it out. Pointing fingers at other people in the same position isn’t going to help anyone, and certainly not Patricia or you.”

“Hmm, you may have a point there,” he conceded, not appearing convinced yet. “I’ll give it some more thought and let you know what I think.” I left him to brood it over, figuring I’d prodded the bear enough for the moment.

When we arrived back to the hotel Natalie was pleased to meet Patricia and just had to hear all the details of our little encounter. She seemed seriously disappointed to not be seeing visions and feel beholden to me as a result. We ended up spending the afternoon in the lobby discussing the events of the day. Somehow the retelling took longer than the actual events did.

Of course Mom and Dad had to put her through the wringer as well.

“So, Patricia, tell us about your background,” my father asked, much as he had with Shani just that morning. “What is it that makes you who you are and, most importantly, why should we trust you around our son?” She regarded my father seriously before responding.

“Well, sir, you can trust me because I would never dare do anything to upset your son. He gave me these visions and he could very well take them away again. The worst you could ever do is yell at me or ask me not to see Alex again, but whether I did or not would depend upon Alex. I have no idea what Alex could do if I got him angry, and I’m not sure I’d like to find out.”

I was about to protest when Cate simply shook her head, so I just sat instead. Henry had an odd expression on his face, I’m sure he didn’t like her saying she’d see me regardless of what anyone else said. Luckily for us both he held his tongue as well.

My father simply nodded sagely, as if acknowledging the truth of the statement, which I found almost as frightening as her statement itself.

“As for the rest, I grew up in Griffin, Georgia,” she continued. “I attended Juilliard in New York City where I studied music and composition. After graduating I returned to the south and started touring. I struggled for a while, trying to find enough performances to keep going, but then I met Henry and he’s been helping me book and arrange tours, including a fair amount of time here in New Orleans.” She took a moment to glance at Henry before checking at the others, but her eyes returned to Alex, as always. “I travel for about two months at a time, four times a year. The rest of the time I either write and record music, visit family and friends or simply play in local clubs to test out my material. I’ve recorded a couple of self-published albums but haven’t ‘hit the big time’ yet. There’s not as much of a market for blues singers anymore, but it’s the kind of music I like since it allows me to express a side of the human experience that reaches a lot of my fans and friends. I also play jazz and ballads, again largely because of the emotional connections they convey. When I sit in front of an audience and start to play,” she reflected, idly twirling her curls with her finger as she spoke, “I can feel the mood of the crowd and I’ll know if someone there needs something really soulful or if the crowd is interested in something funny and I craft my music to the crowd.”

“So you’re saying you feel the crowd, or the emotions in the crowd, in a similar manner to how you felt my brother’s presence when you first became aware of him?” Cate asked, trying to lead the discussion back to her favorite topic, me. I’m not sure I appreciated it, but Patricia didn’t seem to have any problems discussing either me or anything related to what I could do.

“Hmmm, I’m not really sure. I’ve always been good at sensing the crowd’s emotions but I’ve always thought I was just paying attention. Although usually there are bright lights in my face and I can hardly see or hear anything besides shouting from the audience, so you may have a point. I’ve just never thought of it like that before. Never really had a reason to consider it before,” she admitted.

“Cate, I think you’re reading too much into this whole—”

“Shhh,” Shani hushed me, “I think she may be onto something.”

“Shani, do you have anything similar to that in your background?” Cate asked, turning to her.

“Well, I’m not sure I do but I do have all that Carib blood, however watered down it might be. The native tribes were supposed to be more spiritually based than westerners are. I’ve always thought I was good at sensing other’s moods but again, like Patricia, I’ve just always thought I was good at reading people’s body language. I have no idea if I’m sensing something or not. I’m not sure how you could tell something like that. With Alex it’s pretty obvious, otherwise I guess it would only be apparent if it led you to believe something you wouldn’t ordinarily.”

“Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point. Still, it was an intriguing theory,” Cate told her, a little disappointed that her newest theory didn’t seem to have panned out.

“Is it important that it all fit together?” Natalie asked.

“Well, I was just wondering why you all seem to be attracted to Alex. There seems to be something that attracts people like you, Natalie, and there seems to be something in Shani and Patricia that makes them compatible with whatever Alex does to them. It’s like he can tell intuitively whether someone is going to work out, and just does whatever he does without thinking about it. I’d love to know what it is that he does, especially the real nitty-gritty details of the mechanics, but barring that, I’d like to have some idea why some women are drawn to him but most aren’t. Especially why some are drawn, like you Natalie, but don’t trigger whatever he did to Shani and Patricia.”

“Yeah, I’d like to know that too,” Natalie sighed regretfully.

“So what was your family like, Patricia, and what’s your relationship with them now?” my father asked, still trying to determine whether she’d be a good influence on his kids.

“I’ve always been close to my mother but my father wasn’t very good and was never very nice to any of us kids. He left when I was about ten. I have one sister I’m close to and an older brother that takes after my father, so it’s really a mixed bag. For the most part I spend most of my time with other musicians so I tend to keep musicians hours, up all night and sleeping late. Luckily I’ve never felt the need to compete with them in their abuses. I drink a little, usually whatever they provide during a set, but I don’t drink a lot and I’ve never really liked drugs all that much. I’ve always felt it dulls my senses too much. I can never tell what an audience needs when I’ve got a buzz on.” My father nodded sagely at this, which made me think he’d have nodded sagely if she said Big Bird served her mixed drinks on a big cloud.

“You sound like you have your head squarely on your shoulders,” Mom observed.

“Well, when you start in the business as young as I did then you pretty much have to; otherwise you burn out in no time. I’ve been performing for ages and I’m still doing pretty well. I’ve watched a lot of others either never amount to anything, or do well for a while, then fall apart afterwards.”

“Was anyone in your family known for their spirituality or have any type of association with fortune-telling, having visions or anything?” I could tell that Cate was fishing but I couldn’t see any harm in her doing so.

“Nope,” she stated simply. “Mom wasn’t very intuitive, that much is apparent … otherwise she’d never have settled for a loser like my father. If she ever felt anything from a person’s spirit she would have known John’s soul was an empty husk and given up on him.” Cate didn’t seem happy that another of her theories was blown, so she simply remained quiet.

“You may be a little too harsh on them,” Mom suggested. “People try and often fail, but sometimes they can surprise you too.”

“Oh, we got surprised often enough,” she answered bitterly. “Like when he’d come in at three or four in the morning and start beating us, or when he tried to sell my sister to one of his friends.” She paused for a moment to shudder at the memories. “No thank you. I believe in giving people a chance but I don’t believe in giving them a second chance to hurt me. Once they show themselves to be dangerous it’s going to take a lot for me to take them back. John was just like that as well, he stole from my mother, my sister and me. Luckily I knew enough from my childhood to protect my assets so he couldn’t touch them, although he tried to steal my identity to access my funds.”

It made me feel better to hear that. While I was hoping to ease tensions between Henry and me for her sake, I was still nervous about the honesty of his intentions. He seemed much more concerned about himself than he was about her. At least now I knew that she had likely protected herself and was wary of troublesome partners.

“Well, there is that,” my mother conceded.

After that the conversation degraded into a discussion about me; what I was like, what I did, about my background and what I was like as a kid. I’d heard it all before and I always get uncomfortable when people start gushing about how wonderful I am, so I offered to do a drink run. The girls all seemed to take offense at that, but I talked them into allowing me to accompany Natalie on a snack run for everyone.

As we were walking away Natalie turned to me, “Gee, that’s really quite a group. I’m glad you allowed me to hang around. It’s really fascinating what you’re doing here. I don’t understand any of it but—”

I gently growled at her before adding, “Natalie, I’m not doing anything. I have no idea what’s happened, it wasn’t planned and I have no grand scheme. I’m simply along for the ride along with the rest of you.”

“Still,” she argued, “you didn’t need to invite me along. I don’t share any of these abilities. I just found you fascinating, although I guess I was always good at feeling other people’s pain. I used to sit and listen to my girlfriends pour their souls out to me. Normally they wouldn’t want to talk about it but I’d always get them to.” I simply looked at her as we walked before addressing that.

“That’s the kind of information that Cate was looking for, you should have said something to her about it.”

“I didn’t think it counted. After all, I’m not one of the chosen ones.”

“Aaargh!” I groaned in exasperation, “I DIDN’T choose anyone! I have no idea what’s going on and I have no control of anything.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she laughed, “I’d guess you have a lot of control over both Shani and Patricia. You name it, and they’d both jump to do it as fast as they could. Some guys like that. Some guys like that a lot.” Again I simply growled and left it alone but it got me thinking. I wondered just how far they’d let me go if I decided to push my luck. Probably pretty far, but alas, I was afflicted with the curse of the good guy. We can’t do much but be nice, despite the fact that most girls just aren’t interested in the good guy type.

By the time we got back the conversation was breaking up and Patricia was getting ready to leave. Seems Henry was anxious to get her back. She stated that she really had to get home and get a little rest before she headed over to the club to go over things with her band, but that she looked forward to our meeting later at the club. She told us that everything was set up and to just show up at the door at ten. When I asked the name of the club, everyone laughed.

“Cate and your mother assured us that if we left it up to you they’d never arrive, so I gave them all the information. You’re in their very capable hands. I hope you enjoy the show, your opinion really means a lot to me.” I felt my face getting warm again.

“That’s silly,” I told her, “I have no background in music and I wouldn’t know whether you were playing the chords correctly or not.”

“That may be true, although I doubt it, what I’m interested in is your appreciation of it. I’m really interested in your opinion of it, and of me,” she added, saying the last part in a soft whisper, though it didn’t take anyone there much to guess what she was saying. She tugged on my shirt a bit, as if thinking about what to do, and then gave me a quick kiss and set off with her arm around Henry. For his sake, he gave me a baleful glare after her kiss but didn’t do or say anything else, something I gave him credit for. Everyone wished her well and then we began discussing dinner.

 

             

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