04: Reservations and a Show

An Unknown Attraction

04: Reservations and a Show

Natalie joined us for dinner at another well-known New Orleans restaurant, and once again, the meal was excellent. I must say I was enjoying the food on this trip tremendously. The women groused about how much they’d have to work to burn off all the calories, but I could tell they enjoyed it, and none of them were that heavy, so eating a rich meal wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway. As for myself, I had a very high metabolism, so I pretty much had to eat continually just to maintain my current weight. Cate also ‘suffered’ from this affliction, but for her it was an advantage because it helped her stay thin and looking good without having to work too hard at it. I guess our shared metabolism is what gave her all that excess energy she used to obsess about every little detail of her studies.

There weren’t any more encounters after that one with Patricia, though Natalie had fun pointing out the few women we saw like her who were attracted to me without knowing why, but who were not quite compelled to go any farther. I think she felt lucky to have been pulled into our group, and enjoyed counting every one of a similar state who didn’t get included.

The conversation was light for a change. Natalie told Cate how she’d frequently relate to people based on her feelings about them, which only prompted further discussions on the topic. Neither Mom nor Dad had much to contribute, leaving most of the theorizing to Cate. I couldn’t decide if they felt ill-equipped for the discussion or they still didn’t believe it, but they seemed content to merely tag along and absorb everything going on around their son. I guessed we’d need to have a long discussion at some point, but until then I was content to just go with the flow, dealing with whatever questions were directed at me and just trying to ignore the whole issue. However, it’s kind of hard to avoid a discussion when you’re the central topic and everyone keeps looking to you for your input.

After another fine New Orleans culinary experience, we wandered the streets enjoying the sights and sounds. I hoped that we had already met everyone like Shani and Patricia that we were going to, but deep down I knew that we still had a long time in New Orleans and there were plenty of people around, which raised the odds that I would attract more women. Plus, given the sheer number of people who travelled into and out of the city every day, I would surely encounter more even if I’d already discovered everyone who calls the city home.

Shani and Natalie made excellent tour guides and we learned a lot. As I wasn’t a big history buff, I wasn’t as fascinated by the history as my parents seemed to be, but I was far more interested in the people. Being from such a small town I wasn’t used to all the activity or the variety of people crowded into such a small area.

Finally the sun sank below the surrounding buildings, night descended, and more of the various clubs started coming alive, so we made our way to Patricia’s club. It was nice being able to walk into a smoky nightclub for a change, even if it was with my parents. It made me feel like an adult despite being years from being able to drink. I’m sure Cate must have felt it even more than I. When we told the doorman who we were, he immediately called the manager who personally escorted us to a table only a few feet from the stage and just slightly off-center. I felt like the life of the party—my name had never been able to open doors before. Heck, I had never been invited anywhere before.

The manager, a large black man named Oliver, told us that we were considered VIPs and to feel free to ask for anything we wanted. He introduced us to our waitress, a slim woman named Nancy who sported a wild mane of multi-colored hair, who revealed that Patricia had been talking non-stop about me all afternoon. Nancy brought Dad and Natalie a beer, Mom a Long Island Iced tea and Shani a Mojito. Shani’s choice impressed me, and made me wonder if I wasn’t unintentionally sending her some kind of message, as that’d be the type of drink I’d choose if I could, and I wasn’t entirely convinced it was a simple coincidence. Cate and I stuck with the basic diet soda, not daring to risk asking for anything alcoholic with both our parents sitting only a few feet away.

The club quickly filled with all types of people, from regulars to locals and tourists alike. The bar was smoky, and apparently the anti-smoking laws hadn’t taken hold here yet. Still, as much as I hated the idea of smelling like smoke when we were done, I considered it a part of the atmosphere: a dark and smoky blues club attracting trouble in an exotic locale. It was everything I’d always imagined a bar should be—and it was certainly better than the crummy joints the kids at school hung out at.

Just before the show started Henry came out to check on us. He told us that ‘Patty’ was really nervous about our being here. “This is the first time I’ve seen her this nervous before a performance,” he remarked. “Normally she loves performing, but she just can’t stop thinking about you and what you’ll think of her performance. I just hope you don’t screw up her confidence,” he said, staring at me as if I was personally threatening her career.

Despite how often Henry tossed the name ‘Patty’ around, I’d made it a point not to use it myself, assuming that it was a private thing between the two of them. Since she’d introduced herself as Patricia, that’s what I’d call her. If she wanted me to use something else, she’d tell me. But the fact that Henry kept throwing it around in front of everyone just annoyed me for some reason.

Still, I felt bad for both of them, once again feeling that I’d somehow inserted myself into their lives. Yet beyond my sympathy there wasn’t much I could do about it. Yet Henry was nice, making sure we were comfortable before hurrying back to help Patricia prepare.

Finally the bar lights dimmed, and we settled in for the show as the stage lights came on. Patricia’s band took the stage and showed off a bit. I noticed a table near ours with several girls sitting around it that Patricia had mentioned housed the various groupies that the band members had attending most shows. Patricia came on last to a nice round of applause—apparently she was popular with the people here despite not being a local act. She strode up and took over the stage.

“Thank you,” she said simply as she took her microphone in her hand in a move that looked surprisingly intimate, as if she was born for this kind of thing. “Tonight there is someone special in the audience, someone to whom I would like to dedicate this performance.” I felt my stomach drop as I realized what she was about to do, and I started thinking ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it’ over and over, only to realize that it may be reaching her, but she never showed any effect. Luckily she didn’t introduce me, though, but instead just launched into her set.

She had a guitar but she mostly just sang, really belting out the blues in a low, husky voice that reeked of pain and loss and long, dark nights of the soul. She started with a song called “My Heart Bleeds the Blues”, and then promptly segued into “Don’t Lie To Me”, apparently both fairly common staples of the genre. Although I’d heard several blues songs and generally liked most of them, I hadn’t been a particular fan of the music before, but when Patricia started to put her heart into it I could feel her emotions fill the room as she belted them out for everyone to hear. I noticed that in the beginning she tried to sing to me (or at least our table), but she soon started addressing the rest of the room as well. I assume my physical ‘glare’ was proving too distracting, so she was eventually forced to sing primarily to the other side of the room. During a particularly heartfelt ballad she left the stage and began to wander around the room. As she walked by me she put her trembling hand on my shoulder and sang to the room, facing away while holding me. As strange as it sounds, it seemed like her touching me like that filled her with confidence and her voice rose in volume.

As the set rolled on we applauded wildly after each song and even joined in as the audience shouted their approval, calling out, echoing the refrain of the songs. The set went on for what felt a long time, but finally she wrapped it up with a “Thank you, and good night!” before she and the band disappeared backstage to thunderous applause. The house lights came up and shortly afterward Nancy brought out a fresh round of drinks, telling us that Patricia would be out momentarily. I could tell that, while she might not have told the waitress everything, Patricia had told Nancy enough so that spent most of her time watching me, trying to see what was so special about me.

Patricia showed up soon after, but was immediately swarmed by several well-wishers. After speaking to them briefly, she finally came over to the table with Henry in tow, gave me a quick kiss, and pulled up a chair.

“So what’d y’all think?” she asked excitedly.

“We thought it was excellent,” my normally reticent father conceded.

“Wonderful!” gushed Natalie.

“I could tell you really felt each word you sang,” Cate added. I could tell Patricia enjoyed the comments, but based on the way her eyes kept sliding back in my direction, I knew she was primarily concerned with my opinion.

“It was unbelievable,” I told her honestly. “You poured your soul out and I felt both depressed at the lyrics while uplifted by the melody. I’m really proud of you,” I beamed.

Her smile lit up the table as a look of relief rolled over her. She practically squirmed in her seat with pleasure.

“Thanks, I was worried what you’d think,” she explained. “It was odd, the feelings I was getting from you really cut me off from feeling the audience. I couldn’t tell what they were feeling, so I had to look away. Still, it’s like trying to listen to someone whisper during a rock concert.” She leaned back in her chair and hooked an arm over the back, letting her hand dangle as she looked just past me in an attempt to keep from being blinded by my glow. “Finally I knew I had to do something else, so I tried to use my new vision. I tried to get all the auras to sync up. I’m not sure if we’ve properly explained what they’re like,” she told everyone at the table as she straightened and leaned forward, speaking directly to Cate who she knew would appreciate it the most, “but each person’s seems to be different. Their core color seems to remain steady, but the various colors around that core vary, so I tried to focus on that and tried to get more of them to feel what the rest were. I think I did a fairly good job, but it’s hard to judge things when you’re unused to the medium,” she laughed.

“You handled it wonderfully,” my mother told her. “The audience loved it.”

“That’s what a couple of the regulars told me. It was really great being able to share my talents with you!” she gushed, taking my hands in hers. “Somehow knowing you were there listening made the whole evening special and I put more emotion into my singing than I normally do.”

I turned and glanced at Henry, expecting him to take offense, but he seemed to have figured out what I was thinking.

“Hey, don’t worry man,” he said with a grin and a dismissive wave of his hand. “If she performs that well because of your inspiration, you can inspire her all you want. She was wonderful tonight. If she can keep this up I can start pushing the club owners for a few more bucks.”

We continued to chat, frequently interrupted by other well-wishers who stopped by the table to sing Patricia’s praises. I could tell Cate was dying to press her for more details on what she’d said about her new abilities, but we didn’t have the privacy or the time. We stayed through the next set and again applauded wildly as she seemed even better than her first, but Dad left word with Nancy and Henry that we had to be heading off. Henry admitted that she’d miss us. “But I have the feelings she’s going to appreciate the chance to see how she performs using these new techniques without you being here to distract her,” he added with a smile. He thanked us wholeheartedly and went so far as to shake my hand as we departed.

The streets outside were crowded and noisy as we returned to the hotel. Shani walked with my parents while Natalie enveloped me in a big hug. “I’m sorry, I wish I could stay longer,” she said as she gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “But I’ve got an early shift tomorrow, and I need to get some sleep so I can be ready for work.” She paused, and then continued, as if she felt it necessary to explain herself. “I work the morning shifts so that I’ve got much of the rest of the week off.” She leaned in and whispered, “That way I can spend more time with you guys.” She then gave Cate a quick, perfunctory hug, gave me another tight one, and then bounded off into the crowd with a bright wave.

I turned my attention back to Shani and my parents leading the way a few feet in front of Cate and me. I had the distinct impression that Shani was being especially attentive to my parents, probably hoping to positively influence them and allay any fears they might have about her. I think she thought like Patricia did, that ultimately it only mattered what I thought and she would spend time with me no matter what anyone else said. Still, I liked the fact that she went out of her way to include them. It also had an added bonus—with the ‘grown-ups’ talking intently among themselves, it left time for Cate and I to converse privately.

“Cate?” I quietly asked as we walked. I was feeling pretty good, the evening having been largely free of the concerns that had been plaguing me since we first arrived in the city. However, now that the distractions of our restaurant crawl and Patricia’s concert were largely over, my worries were returning with a vengeance.

“Yeah?” she quietly replied.

“I’m kind of freaked out by all this shit,” I admitted. I slowed my pace a bit, allowing us to drop a bit further back from the adults walking ahead of us.

“No shit!” she stated emphatically with a wave of her hand, pantomiming shock at my superfluous revelation. “Who’d ever thunk it possible? You’re in the middle of a significant scientific, cultural and personal change and you’re nervous?” Perhaps sensing my mood, she moved closer and regarded me more seriously.

“It’s not just how weird this is. I’m a little scared of Shani,” I explained, nodding to the woman deep in conversation with our parents. “She’s pretty intense. I’ve been on a total of five dates, and here she is talking about giving up her life and family for me, someone she only met a day ago.” I stared up at the few dim stars above the city and thought about how complicated my life had recently become.

“Actually it’s only two dates,” Cate rudely corrected as she counted on her fingers, “You dated Melissa Ryder when you were both freshmen and Lisa what’s-her-name last year. Group dates don’t count.”

“Her name was Lisa Turner. And the only reason we didn’t go on any more was because her family moved to Indianapolis,” I reminded her, annoyed she’d point out my unsuccessful attempts with women. “But how many have you been on?” I challenged defensively. I instantly regretted my heated response—while Cate may have been younger, she was nowhere near as unpopular as I was, and had gone on quite a few.

“I’ve been around the block,” she answered. “I’m not quite as terminally shy as you. Plus it’s easier for girls,” she added with a smirk as she gripped my upper arm. “Every guy in the world asks us out in the hope we’ll say yes, whereas you guys have to work up the nerve to ask. That ultimately means the offensive jerks end up having a better shot than the nice quiet guys.” She’d grown more eloquent in the relative quiet that enveloped us after the recent din of the club, but I simply chalked her wordiness up to nervousness. She got that way whenever we discussed something awkward.

“Honestly, how would you react if this handsome older man suddenly appeared in front of you, professing utter devotion, calling you an Angel and treating you like a demigod?” I asked, ready to pour my heart out. Well, maybe not my heart—I always disliked guys who gushed—but at least I gave voice to my fears.

“Honey,” she drawled in a fake Southern accent, “he’d better call me ‘Angel’ if’n he knows what’s good for ‘im.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her confident, sassy response—presented with such a god-awful imitation. “And he’d better treat me like a demigoddess,” she continued, “otherwise we’re going to have trouble.”

She dropped her female goddess act and took on a more somber tone. “Seriously though, I can see the stress, but it’s not like you’re in this alone,” she said quietly. At my mumbled response she bumped my hip with hers. “Hey, you’ve got me, and you’ve got Becky who can help me do testing on you when we get home. You have Shani and Mom and Dad. We’ll all get through it,” she explained, valiantly trying to console me.

“I don’t know. Right now I’m pretty nervous. Tell you what, though, I want you to promise not to tell her where we live,” I insisted, looking into her eyes so I could measure her response to my request.

“What? How’s she supposed to find us then?” my sister asked, suddenly concerned for the source of my fears, rather than for her brother who was suffering from them.

“That’s the point. I’m not sure I want her coming home with us,” I stated with a false note of finality. I knew she’d never let it rest with a simple declaration on my part.

“It’s not like she couldn’t just Google it,” Cate argued.

“Yeah, I should have thought of that before and given her a false name, but it’s too late now.” Geez, you just never think to lie to a person while they’re clutching your leg, on their knees in the middle of a city calling you Master. It just never occurs to you to invent fake names beforehand. If only I’d thought to create a fictitious background before leaving home, I mock scolded myself in exasperation over an impossible situation.

“Look, I’m not sure I can do that to her,” Cate replied, almost beseechingly while she glanced at the subject of our discussion. She didn’t look happy at the prospect of treating a new friend badly. I knew she felt that Shaniqua was important to my potential future, but that didn’t change the way I felt about the situation.

“Come on, you’re my sister,” I complained. “You’re supposed to help me.” I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t support me in this. She had for much of our lives—if I discounted all the times she wasn’t tormenting me, that is.

“I’m not so sure this is helping,” she replied. “Personally I think it’s a terrible idea.”

“Still, I want the option to make my own decisions, not have them thrust upon me. This is my life we’re talking about.”

“Yes, it’s your life and your decision, but it’s the wrong decision,” she lectured me, frowning.

“And that’s for me to decide; not you and not her.” I wasn’t happy and I was getting fed up as well. Here was one woman deciding I should be the center of her life, and my sister was fully supporting her in her delusion. Well, I just wasn’t ready for that level of responsibility. I’m not ready to be a daddy or a husband or leader of people with new abilities. I was just a kid and my only plans are to attend college in the fall. My main aim was to avoiding attracting attention that could screw up my college plans, and this seemed like it would require a lot of explaining.

“Well what about Patricia and Natalie?” Cate asked, trying to raise objections so she wouldn’t have to commit right away.

“They’re in a separate category,” I rationalized. “Patricia is tied to business contracts here and probably won’t be able to back out of them, plus she’s never mentioned trying to follow me.”

“Only because she’s afraid you’d say no,” my sister mumbled under her breath.

“Still, I don’t think I’ll have a problem with her, and besides, she’s got Henry to lean on,” I added.

“Yeah, he’ll provide support as long as she keeps paying his salary,” she snarkily replied.

“Still, she’s got her own support system here. I don’t think Natalie will be a problem either. She’s fascinated by me, but she doesn’t really feel she’s got any kind of claim on me. She won’t object when we leave at the end of the week.”

“We’ll see about that,” Cate replied, but I could tell she knew she was losing the argument with herself.

“I can deal with those two, but Shani’s the only one talking about following me home,” I stressed. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea to let her abandon her job, her friends, her family and her home for someone she just met.”

Cate sighed heavily. “Damn. All right, I’ll agree, although I don’t like it and I think it’s a serious mistake. How are we ever going to learn about this if we don’t have access to the necessary information?” Now that sounds like Cate, I thought, concerned more about her future research than for her own brother’s future. Still, I’d managed to win her over, so at least I’d have some say over my future.

“Look, you can test me all you want, but you can’t control my life. And no giving her our phone number or taking hers or anything else like that. It’s going to be MY decision if I stay in contact with her, no one else’s.” I felt firm about this. I didn’t want to completely change my life just because some strange woman started seeing lights. It just wasn’t fair, to either of us.

“All right, I’ll agree. Still, it’s a terrible idea.”

“Well, who knows, I haven’t really decided yet. It may not even be an issue,” I tried to reassure her, although I doubted that Shani would change her mind easily. At least in the case of an unplanned pregnancy the guy actually does something to deserve what happens to him. I hadn’t done, or chosen to do, anything—I just had this whole thing thrown at me out of the blue.

“What about Mom and Dad though?” she countered. “Don’t you think they’ll have something to say about your abandoning her?”

“Ha,” I replied lightly. “I’m sure they’ll be glad some strange woman isn’t going to move in with me and corrupt their precious son.”

“Well someone needs to corrupt him,” she countered snidely, “Your right hand isn’t getting you out of the house very often.” Cate took another breath and immediately launched into a new discussion. “OK, changing the topic, that leads to something else. I was thinking we should try a different sort of test. You managed to connect with Shani because you came to a large city where there were more people, thus better chances of being near someone with whatever it is you two have,” she explained. She stopped walking and considered me, almost like I was a lab animal that had just completed a maze in record time.

“And?” I prompted.

“I want you to try to connect with others like Shani and Patricia,” she finally concluded. “There are a few million people in the city and you won’t have a chance like this again. You need to reach out to them and see if you can call them out, make them come to you.” She had an excellent point. Our town had maybe a few thousand people and that was about it. We lived far off in the country. But I still had my doubts.

“But I have no idea how I did it in the first place,” I complained, feeling utterly lost again. “Besides, it’s not like we have a lack of interest in me. We’ve seen plenty of people watching, and it’s only the second day we’ve been here.”

“Still, we need to take advantage of the people here while we have them available. You need to try to reach out to them, even if we have to travel around the city and the surrounding areas looking for people. You’re only likely to meet a few tourists here in the French Quarter. So far it seems your reach is a few blocks. We need to expose you to more people,” she explained.

“I guess so,” I sighed, resuming walking. “It’s not like I did anything to begin with. But there’s logistics to consider,” I argued. “How do I get close enough to someone and give them enough time to find me, given how few people respond to me?”

“Yeah, I’ll have to think about that,” she conceded. “You know, given the number of looks I observed before I mentioned anything, there’s the chance there may be a few people who are still looking for you. Patricia said that it took her a full day before she could connect with you.”

“Yeah,” I replied, thinking I’d won the mini argument about Shani. “If we leave the French Quarter, they’d have no way to track me down. Staying in one place would give more people a chance to find me.” She acknowledged I had a point, so we decided we’d consider it, but only after I got her to agree once more not to give Shani our address. Having finished our discussion we quickly caught up to the adults since we were at Canal Street. They’d already crossed, so heavily engrossed in their own discussion that they were largely ignoring us.

When we caught up to them they said it looked like we’d had a good discussion, but they didn’t ask what we’d been discussing. Instead they caught us up on their own conversation.

“We’ve been talking about Ms. Sharp’s credentials and what sort of opportunities she might find around our neck of the woods,” Mom mentioned. I groaned inwardly, thinking that while I was trying to convince Cate not to encourage her to abandon her life and move in with me, my parents were doing just that only yards ahead of us. Still, I had the good grace to not show my disappointment in front of Shani, and told myself to have a talk with my parents at the first opportunity.

“So what was the consensus?” asked Cate, flashing me a winsome smile as she twisted the proverbial knife in my back.

“I think there are a fair number of opportunities, if not nearby then at least not too far away,” my father suggested. “She said she’s not afraid to drive a bit in exchange for being near us. Carbondale isn’t far from us, and they have a lot of businesses, and if push came to shove, she could even try St. Louis.” I was about to explode in frustration. This was exactly what I didn’t want them discussing. In explaining about the business opportunities they’d probably told her exactly where we lived—and if they didn’t give her the address outright, she’d at least be able to call information and locate us with that much intel.

“Well, that’s good news,” I lied, gritting my teeth as I said it. My mother had taught me to lie with the best of them, although she’d never told me how to do it effectively, only how to be disingenuously polite.

“Yes, it is,” Cate echoed, smiling at me the whole time with a predatory gleam in her eyes as my parents undermined my positions, instead of her having to. “Just think how excited Natalie and Patricia will be when they hear.”

Yes, it was true; I planned to murder my sister once we reached the privacy of our room. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” I hedged. “They might be disappointed that they can’t come as well.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Cate oozed. “They could alw—”

“No, no,” I insisted, cutting my sister off before she could offer a viable alternative. “They both have too many ties here in the city. I’m sure they couldn’t get out of their contracts and other obligations.” I made sure to glare at Cate enough so she wouldn’t try any more sneaky little tricks to undermine me. It may have already been too late to stop it, but at least I could try to salvage the rest of my life. However it was looking like I’d have to do the impractical thing and actually sit down and talk it over with Shani. That was NOT my first choice however.

The rest of the walk back to the hotel Mom and Dad told us all about Shani’s resume and experience, and how it might fit in with the few industries and businesses near us. I remained quiet and practiced my poker-face skills, not that I’ve ever played or been any good at maintaining a poker face before. Cate was eating my discomfort up, but luckily she had stopped goading me by suggesting things to my parents.

As we neared the front of the hotel Shani stopped us for a moment and gave me a big hug and a quick but emotional kiss. “I’ll miss not being near you,” she told me, reinforcing my fears. “However, I’ve got to get home, change and organize my things. Plus I think your parents will feel better if we do things the ‘old fashioned’ way and make out when they can’t see us so they can pretend it isn’t happening.” We all had to laugh at that, despite our varied reasons to dread the truth of it. I was disappointed though. Despite my conflicted emotions concerning Shani, I really liked her a lot and I really wanted to spend time with her, especially if it involved any fooling around. It’s just that I was feeling very put upon at that particular moment, and wasn’t quite ready to grow up that much, that quickly, without having time to consider my options.

So we all waved goodbye to Shani as she got into her little car and drove away into the night.

“Do you think she may have had a little too much to drink?” Mom asked.

I remembered that Shani hadn’t really been drinking much. I remembered because I’d been intrigued by the minty drink she’d been working on for most of the evening. “No, I think she’ll be OK,” I told her without explaining why. I think Mom was glad she’d managed to avoid watching me take a strange woman into my room for some carnal exploration, and she wasn’t enthused about explaining why it wasn’t such a good idea.

We headed upstairs while rehashing much of what had happened during the day and suggesting things we might do tomorrow. At the door our parents wished us a good night as we entered our separate rooms. It had been a long, emotional day and we were all tired. It was a late night after having sat through one and a half sets at Patricia’s. I think everyone was ready for bed.

As Cate and I prepared for sleep she started talking while she was in the bathroom doing her nightly ablutions. “You know, I think we could try a little experiment here tonight if you’re interested,” she suggested.

“Yeah, like what?” I asked dubiously.

“While you had a point about how it wouldn’t make much sense to travel around to find additional people, sitting here in the room would be ideal for people to find us,” she explained, somehow managing to speak coherently around the toothbrush and foamy toothpaste in her mouth. She spat into the sink and added, “I think you should try to see if you can reach out and contact some more people.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense,” I argued. “That isn’t how it worked with Shani and Patricia.”

“I know, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work, just that you haven’t tried it yet. You’ve already demonstrated that you can send telepathic messages to your followers, so maybe you can use them to pull other subjects in to you? Maybe you could even increase whatever it is that’s currently attracting them?”

“Please, calling them ‘my followers’ makes it sounds like I’m leading them somewhere,” I muttered, casting her an annoyed look. “This is all purely coincidental, and I have no more idea of where this is going than any of them do,” I complained, seeing any potential religious role as even more of a commitment than Shani following me home. Still, I had to consider whether her suggestion made any sense, but like all of Cate’s suggestions I knew it was probably true as soon as she suggested it. I just couldn’t think of any arguments against it yet.

“So how would you suggest I try it? My telepathy with Shani and Patricia was anything but clear,” I asked, filled with skepticism.

“Well, I considered that. Just try letting your mind wander and see if you can sense anyone out there. If that doesn’t work, try doing what you do when you communicate with Shani. Only instead of thinking of her, try directing it more generally to anyone who might be listening.” Her recommendation made sense. It was a nice logical approach, something I could always count on Cate to come up with. Maybe this wouldn’t be so difficult after all.

Then I reconsidered. No, this didn’t make any sense. “Personally, I think you’re crazy,” I told her. “Whatever happened before was accidental and it seemed to be due to proximity. I think the telepathy came after.”

“Yeah, but we’ll never be sure until we try, that’s what experiments are for,” she reminded me. Yeah, like she had to tell me how experiments are conducted again. “Anyway, just give it a try and see what happens,” she reasonably suggested. It was hard to argue with that. What’s the worst that could happen? I’d sit around and nothing would happen for 10 minutes?

“All right, let me try lying down so I can relax. Unless you think stress is the key and yelling at me would help?” I asked sarcastically.

“Maybe later, let’s just try the simplest technique first,” she replied and I growled at her in response. Still, I lay on the bed and rested my head against the big pillows the hotel used. I lay my arms out, palms up so nothing would bother them and took a few deep calming breaths; trying to ignore my sister who was nervously watching my every move.

“Try picturing the front of the hotel,” she suggested, speaking in a calming tone, as if not wanting to distract me and disturb my theoretical restful state. “Try imagining the name or the title of the hotel on the banner outside and see if you can convey that, otherwise they’ll never know how to contact us. So far they’ve been able to locate you, but if we can reach farther out this time they might need some assistance.” She’d apparently been putting a lot of thought into this. It seemed she took her new role of guiding my new abilities very seriously.

“OK, got it,” I responded as I closed my eyes. I tried to think peaceful thoughts, seeing if anything happened on its own. After a few moments with no evidence of success, I tried thinking about theoretical peoples and imagined searching for them. It didn’t have any effect. Finally I tried what I’d done a couple of times with Shani, only this time I did it while trying to project it out to the world in general. Do you have any idea how hard it is to think about something so general and nonspecific? All I did was sit and think about different ways to think, and I’ll tell you something, there’s basically only one way to think, even when casting out a mental call to addressees unknown.

Suddenly I felt a sense of accomplishment, and I figured I must have succeeded, but I couldn’t be sure. After pausing to consider it, I continued with the same tack, only trying for a clearer message. I felt a little confused and hoped someone was asking ‘What?’ so I tried to picture the front of the hotel, then switched to imagining the large neon name blazoned on the front of the building.

“You got a response?” Cate asked excitedly. I tried to ignore her interruption, but it’s hard to do this kind of thing while someone’s bouncing excitedly next to you with joyful glee and shouting at you, so the moment was spoiled.

I hoped the message got through despite my doubts and finally opened my eyes, glaring at my sister. “It’s better when you don’t interrupt,” I suggested to her.

“Oh, sorry, but I’m just so excited. Is there anything I can do to help?” she insincerely apologized, literally hopping from one foot to the other, reaching for her notebook to start making notes again.

“No. I’m not sure it worked. I got the sense that I got someone, but didn’t have any kind of confirmation so I can’t be sure. It’s all sort of based on feelings and the messages are just random ideas that pop into your head, so it’s really hard to quantify it.” This telepathy stuff was nothing like you see it on TV. First of all, there’s no reading of minds. Then when you do get a message, it’s hardly clear, just a bunch of vague impressions. I was wishing that magical telepathic abilities were as easy as the movies portray them. But then doesn’t everyone wish life were as easy as TV and the movies? We’d never have to work at anything and we’d finish all our major life events in an hour and a half.

“We’re going to have to discuss this so I can document it, that’s important to the process,” Cate declared, making a firm decision about what her future plans were. Again, she was focused on the scientific end of things. I was a bit more concerned about whether it worked and what the results might be.

“What’s important to the process is peace and quiet,” I mumbled, sitting up. “Beyond that it’s mostly just guessing and hoping, more than anything else.”

“Well, just focus on something besides naked ladies,” Cate teased, her good humor having returned now that we weren’t debating chasing away her research opportunities. “Those are probably just your normal thoughts, and they won’t help you relax.” I found her ribbing strangely reassuring. It showed that we were both more or less back to our normal relationship, albeit in a weird happenstance of communicating telepathically with strangers.

“Humph,” I commented, but was amused by her comment.

“Do you want to try again? Did you imagine the hotel so they’ll be able to find us?” Cate wanted to know, and I couldn’t fault her for her curiosity. We were in a strange circumstance, playing with powerful issues and my sister was trying to insert a little order into an otherwise invented environment. She deserved to know what I’d experienced so she’d better be able to advise me.

“You keep saying ‘they,’ I’m hoping it’s not a whole bunch of people. A single one would be nice, maybe no one would be nicer yet,” I complained.

“Yeah, you’re no fun,” she responded. “Here we are at the forefront of science and all you want to do is roll over and go to sleep.”

“Calm down, I need to focus. That’s all my poor brain can handle while battling the images of naked ladies dancing around inside my head,” I teased her back. We worked best when we were in our little teasing ritual, it helped relax us both while distracting me from the serious consequences of what we were doing.

 I tried various techniques but didn’t achieve anything else. Still, I felt like I might have reached someone that one time so we hoped for the best. I couldn’t deny it, as much as I tried to be annoyed by the whole process, it was exciting to be able to do something like this. Now that I could relax on my own for a change I admitted to myself that the whole process was pretty intriguing. Plus I’d already practically gained more friends than I had at home. Still, we couldn’t stay up all night anticipating someone’s arrival. We had plans for the morning so we eventually drifted off to sleep

I suddenly came awake in a darkened room and lay there confused as I groaned, trying to fall back to sleep through sheer force of will. It was much too early for any kind of human activity and I certainly had no desire to be awake.

“What the fuck was that?” mumbled my sister, more aware of our surroundings than I was. I hadn’t even been aware of what had awakened me.

“It was just a dream. Go back to sleep,” I muttered, trying to ignore her. That lasted all of about seven seconds before there was a rapid knock on the door, which shocked me so much I almost fell out of bed.

“Who the hell is that?” Cate asked, her voice masked with a combination of confusion, concern and annoyance.

“I don’t know. It’s our door so it’s not Mom and Dad. They’d use the connecting door,” I grunted as I tried to find my pants in the dark. It took a while to remember what we’d been doing before we fell asleep and what it might mean.

“Do you think it might be whoever I reached earlier?” I asked, perking up as the idea began percolating in my brain.

“I don’t know, but I can’t think of anyone else knocking at this time of night,” she responded, much too coherently for my taste.

I was just hoping this wasn’t some drunk knocking on the wrong door in an alcoholic haze. Just as I got one leg into the wrong leg of my jeans, Cate managed to turn on the bedside light. Besides blinding me enough to fall back on the bed, it did help with dressing. Stumbling towards the door, the rapid knocking repeated, the person outside sounding insistent. Although it had sounded astonishingly loud before, now it seemed quiet but insistent. Being too sleepy to think of the peephole, I opened the door a smidgen and glanced out to see Shani’s worried face.

“Hey, what’s up Shani?” I asked, keeping my voice low to avoid waking the neighbors. I had no idea why she was knocking on our door in the middle of the night but figured she’d get to it. There’s no need to be rude just because I’m annoyed. “Weren’t you on the way home?” Glancing at my watch I saw that only about 40 minutes had passed since we’d parted. Cate and I hadn’t managed to last very long with our experiment.

“I don’t know what’s up,” she responded a little testily. “And yes, I was on my way home.”

I held the door open for her just as Cate rushed up behind me and held onto my shoulders, standing on her tip-toes and looking past me at Shani.

“I was on the way home when I got this impression you were calling me but I couldn’t get a clear message so I figured I’d better get over here and see what’s happening,” Shani explained as she entered the room.

“Oh, that,” I said with a yawn, still trying to clear my mind enough to form a coherent explanation. “We were trying to … see if anyone … responded to a mental call.” It was hard to complete a sentence when you’re only partly awake. I gently closed the door with Cate continuing to hold my shoulders from behind me.

“Oh. I was worried that something had happened to you and you couldn’t complete the message. I was so scared I hurried over so fast I was afraid I’d get stopped by the police. What the hell would I do then? Say ‘Gee officer, I was hurrying over to this cute 17-year-olds’ hotel room because I got this feeling he was trying to talk telepathically to me but he couldn’t complete the message’? I don’t think that’d go over very well.”

I felt like laughing at the mental imagery but she was clearly still upset. Before I could do anything Cate abandoned my side and enveloped her in a comforting hug, just as a knock sounded from the adjoining door.

“Damn, that’s Mom and Dad,” I hissed. Ignoring the two beautiful girls hugging in my hotel room I walked around them and opened the interior door to the face of my anxious parents. They saw Shani and got even more anxious.

“What’s up? Do you have any idea what time it is?” my father insisted.

“No Dad, I don’t. I managed to figure we’ve only been asleep for a little while, but I didn’t have the presence of mind to memorize the time.” I was way too tired to be polite at this hour of the night.

“What’s Shani doing here?” my mother asked, despite my mumbled responses.

“She got a partial message from Alex, Mom. She was worried that something had happened,” replied Cate, always the rational one.

“A partial message? What … never mind. Why’s she concerned? What could have happened?” Mom continued.

“I don’t know,” whimpered Shani with tears in her eyes as she pulled herself from Cate’s sheltering embrace. “I just imagined the worst. As I turned around and hurried back here I was imagining all the things that could happen to cause a garbled message and then nothing. I was scared for them.” Damn, this is really getting too much for me, I thought.

Mom walked quickly over and held her as well while Dad glared at me, as if it was all somehow my fault.

“What? What’d I do?” I tried to protest my innocence.

“Did you try to contact her? I’m assuming this is that silly telepathy stuff,” Dad questioned me. Turning to Shani he asked, “Why didn’t you just pick up a phone?”

Before she could answer I jumped in. “Cate and I were experimenting earlier. She wanted me to see if I could find someone else in the immediate area that might also have… whatever the fuck it is I have.”

“Alex!” announced my mother in that warning tone all mothers seem to have.

“Sorry, Mom. It was Cate’s idea that I may be able to reach someone with a generic telepathic message instead of simply… waiting for them to show up,” I explained, struggling to stifle a yawn. “Anyway, I guess Shani must have picked up on my crude attempts at figuring out how to do it.”

“So, were you successful?” Dad asked us.

“No, I guess not,” I replied, still trying to wrap my head around what actually happened.

“You know, you two should really talk to us before trying these wild schemes of yours,” my father said sternly.

“We should?” Cate answered sarcastically. “So you can aid us with your years of experience dealing with psychic phenomena, feeling unidentified presences and their potential physics considerations?”

I thought my father might get upset at her response but he just meekly shrugged. “At least you should wait until everyone’s awake,” he responded lamely.

“What, you mean while we’re wandering around the city? Or all excited so Alex can’t relax enough? I figured the evening was the best time. Alex is relaxed, I’m here to help him and we’re all in one place for several hours so someone could find us easily.”

“Ok, Ok. You’ve got very good points. Apparently you’ve thought about these things much more than I have,” Dad responded weakly.

“Don’t worry, Dad. This is new to all of us. Alex was about to fall apart earlier. If you think it’s overwhelming, just think how he’s feeling,” Cate explained, revealing all of my fears to the world.

“Isn’t it the same for Shani and Patricia?” Mom reasonably responded.

“Not to mention Natalie,” Dad added.

“Well…,” began Cate, catching herself before revealing the other thing that was freaking me out.

“I think she’s trying to say that these things are more extreme for Alex,” contributed Shani. “After all, he’s younger, he seems to be the one controlling it, and he feels responsible. He’s not sure if he can handle the responsibilities yet. Is that right, Alex?” She tried to look at me for confirmation but had to shield her eyes, as always, so she couldn’t measure my response. Something I was thankful for because I thought she’d figured out the real reasons why I was so distraught. Not that the reasons specified weren’t terrifying enough.

“Oh, poor baby,” Mom cried, abandoning the two girls to come running over to me. I tried to act annoyed, but when you’re upset it’s always comforting to be held by your mother, even if it is embarrassing as hell.

“So you just thought some random thought and Shani received it and couldn’t let you know she was the one you reached?” Dad asked, still unsure of the details.

“It’s not quite as clear as that,” I tried to elaborate. “When you receive a message, it’s just another series of random impressions in your head. You have to distinguish them from the other random feeling and emotions running through you at that moment. I had a sensation of success, but it was just a hazy feeling and I didn’t get a clear message in response because I usually don’t get clear messages.”

“Patricia and I are the only ones who’ve gotten clear messages,” Shani explained, “but only when Alex was upset with us.”

“I wasn’t upset—” I began.

“Yeah, yeah, we know,” my father tiredly told me, familiar with my common complaint.

“So now that you’ve managed to scare everyone awake in the middle of the night, how about if we all just go back to bed?” Mom asked us.

“Uhh,” Shani hesitantly replied.

“It’s really too late for you to return home again,” Mom responded. “I really shouldn’t have let you go before as we’d all been drinking. You’ll have to stay the night. Why don’t you sleep in our room and leave the two children alone to sleep the night away,” she stressed, giving her a meaningful glance at the mention of children.

“Thanks, it’s a very gracious offer. Though don’t you have a single double bed in your room?”

“As a matter of fact, we do,” stated my father hesitantly.

“Well then I think it makes more sense if I just share Cate’s bed. That way I can physically restrain her the next time she gets a new idea she wants to experiment with,” Shani responded to my mother’s unspoken challenge. I knew right away that my parents had just been successfully played; and they didn’t even see it coming.

“Well I think—” Dad tried to protest.

“Frank,” warned my mother, glaring at my father, “let the kids be. They won’t try anything knowing we’re next door. Besides, how else are we going to end up with a bunch of nice telepathic grandbabies?” Her laughter echoed through the room as she dragged my father, still mumbling protests, out the door.

 

             

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