Prologue:

Prologue

________________________

“You know, it’s really been an amazing several weeks,” Cate observed to her brother Alex. They lay in bed together, waiting for the alarm to go off, anticipating the activities of the day. Kitty and Chalise were expected to return later, so they appreciated the chance to enjoy a few minutes to relax in relative solitude. “First, we head down to New Orleans on a simple vacation and suddenly our worlds turn upside down as a variety of women seek you out. Now, after you’ve returned home, you’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit all on your own. Quite frankly, I’m proud of you for how you’ve handled your relationship with Kitty and Chalise.”

“Yeah, as shocked as I was by women confronting me in New Orleans, things have been … interesting since we’ve returned to school,” Alex said as his eyes glazed over in recollected memories. “Actually, it’s been a full month since we first went to New Orleans and this all started,” Alex observed as he cuddled his sister’s head against his chest in the early morning light. To say that Alex and Cate shared an unusual relationship for a brother and sister is a bit of an understatement. Cate had always been fascinated by her brother, and had always been willing to do anything for him. These recent events had finally given her an opportunity to become even closer and more vital in his life as it was now clear that he needed both her and the insights she could present. She had set herself up as his main advisor on his new abilities—but they’d also learned to view that odd fascination with him in a new way, as it too seemed to be tied into his strange abilities.

“Yeah, but as wild as that was, what’s happened since is almost as amazing. You’ve accomplished a lot in a short time, and this time you can’t blame it on your mysterious abilities. This time it was all you,” she said, glancing up at him to gauge his reaction.

“Well, frankly, I’m not so sure about that. After all, a lot of the kid’s response at school was just due to my sudden notoriety.”

“That may be, but while they may have first noticed you because of the rumors of your lifestyle, if that was all it was they’d have quickly forgotten about it. Instead, when they noticed you for the first time, they saw something they liked. You’ve got more than something that only select individuals can feel, you’ve got a certain self-assurance that’s tempered by a self-deprecating style. When you feel it’s necessary, you don’t back down to anyone, yet when you don’t think it’s that important, you don’t push your weight around.”

“I suspect you’re giving our classmates more credit than they’ve earned,” Alex cautioned. “I doubt most of them have given it that much thought.”

“Maybe not, but they can see what they admire, and what they’d like to be themselves. That’s why you have so many loyal non-Watcher, non-Seer friends,” Cate observed, referring to the classification system they’d developed to refer to Alex’s many followers. Those who viewed him from afar were called ‘Watchers’ or type 2s. They knew there was something special about him but couldn’t quite define it. The ones who sought him out were the ‘Seers’ or type 1s. Once they found him, and made eye contact, he triggered a whole host of new abilities, allowing them to ‘see’ the life energy that people gave off. Cate was now trying to convince him to not discount the ‘normal’ people who were drawn to him, or type 3s. “They’re definitely attracted to you simply because of who he was, though the women flocking around you certainly helps draw their attention,” she added with a smile.

“Maybe so. I still can’t figure out what the attraction is. I mean, no one ever noticed me before. I was invisible. Now suddenly I’m the center of attention.”

“You know, last night was a big event,” Cate said, turning over so she could more easily watch Alex’s responses as she tried to refocus the discussion. Cate noticed that simple remark, issued innocently enough, caused Alex to tense up, so she quickly tried to set his mind at ease.

“Look, just because I finally make love to Kitty and Chalise doesn’t mean that we have to go to the next step in our own relationship,” he cautioned her. “We’ve got a lot to discuss today, and although they seem open to a lot of things, we still have to iron out the details.”

They were, of course, referring to the fact that Alex had finally lost his virginity the night before to not just one girl but two; Kitty Washerstein and Chalise Jones. Two girls who didn’t seem the least bit phased by the women who constantly surrounded and utterly devoted themselves to him.

“Don’t worry, I’m not trying to apply pressure,” Cate reassured him. “I understand you’re walking multiple tight ropes at the same time. I’m not about to start shaking this one just to see how you react. But I mean, just think about it. Your followers from New Orleans tell you that you’ve got to find a girlfriend your own age because they don’t want to rob you of your first time experience when they finally decide to ravish you. Instead of simply asking someone you’ve idolized from afar for years, you pick not one but two girls based on their relationship to someone that threatened you.”

“Yeah, it’s been a wild ride, hasn’t it,” Alex agreed, his mind swimming through the many details of the past several weeks. “It started out with you pointing out that various women were noticing me—which was strange since women have never noticed me before. While we were still trying to figure out what was going on, Shaniqua found us and created our first scene by falling at my feet, calling me ‘Master’ and thinking I was an angel.”

“Yeah, that was a trip,” Cate agreed, smiling as she remembered the scene herself.

“Luckily you were quicker on your feet than I was,” Alex admitted. “You started guessing what was involved while I was still trying to deny everything she said.”

“Well, it was clear she was drawn to you by something, and it was equally clear, based on what she said, that there was some kind of attraction that drew her and the others to you.”

“Yeah, and you also figured out what she was seeing,” Alex reflected, referring to what they’d taken to calling people’s ‘auras’, the lights his Seers saw surround people that reflected their overall health, their basic personalities, and their emotional responses at any given moment.

“Well, when she started describing strange colors overlapping her vision without diminishing what she could see, it was pretty clear that you’d done something to her brain, and that you’d affected something besides her vision. Now we just have to figure out what.”

“Still, it was a big help when you initially started identifying what all the visuals they were seeing represented.”

“That wasn’t me, the girls supplied all the details,” Cate reflected. “But I used my analytical skills to make sense of what they were describing, and to conduct some tests to clarify what they meant.”

“Yeah, I remember those tests. You kissing me like that was a shock, as was your slapping me without provocation.”

“That was the only way to get you to experience shock, anger, lust and love. The girls were quick, though, they quickly learned to identify each emotion, and from there, they quickly started to isolate the other emotions they saw surrounding people.”

“Yeah, but the biggest help was in the intensity of the visions, in the ‘aura’ that projected from people.”

“Again, it’s not really an ‘aura’. They see the actual energy that people survive on and that all living things generate. The intensity tells—”

“How healthy they and their various organs are. Yeah, you don’t have to remind me,” Alex assured her, since those details ruled much of his life at that point. From the girl’s constant references to it, Cate’s analyzing it, to the work he’d done at the hospital, he was constantly reminded of it. “We spent enough time working with Ryan Moore, the head of the Carbondale Memorial Hospital on his patients to know what it tells us. If the glow is bright, they’re healthy. If it’s dim, they’re sick because their bodies aren’t generating enough energy to sustain them. Or, in my case, generating so much that the Seers can’t even look at me.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got to admit, you manage to pull off some major miracles there. Ryan was certainly impressed. The girls and I have been telling you that you have more power than you’re willing to admit, but you just keep refusing to believe it.”

“Yeah, I’ll concede that,” Alex admitted, “but it’s not so much not wanting to believe it as not being able to deal with the implications. I can kill as easily as I can heal, and since I can’t see any of these visions, or have any way of gauging my own power, there’s no way I can safely apply it.”

“But you have the girls for that. As long as they’re there to guide you, you’re covered,” Cate consoled him, seeing he was getting worked up about his inability to control what everyone kept asking him to do again.

“Yeah, until I can’t. It’s one thing to say ‘apply this much power to this spot’, but if you can’t see, feel or measure it in any way, you’re shooting blind. And if I give too much or too little, I can do serious injury. I don’t take that kind of responsibility lightly.”

“Alex, you don’t take anything lightly, except possibly pissing off people who are already mad at you,” she added, pulling the covers back up around her. She could smell breakfast cooking downstairs and knew that Anh was making them another of her famous Vietnamese breakfasts. That would explain why they’d woken up alone, a rarity for Alex. The other women must already be downstairs preparing for the new day.

“Hey, when Darrell warned me away from Kitty, adding that I could have my choice of people including his sister, I took it as good sensible advice,” Alex argued. “After all, why chase after people with either no interest at all, or who are only interested in me because of my sudden notoriety?”

“You keep saying that as if asking both the person you were warned away from getting involved with and the sister of the person threatening you is an everyday occurrence,” Cate countered. “Believe me, no one else would have responded like that. However,” she hurried to finish before I could interrupt, “it’s clear that you knew what you were doing. Call it intuition, or someone else pulling the strings, but they both took to you almost immediately, and even Darrell eventually changed his mind about you. Of course, convincing the girl he warned you from getting involved with to date him was a stroke of brilliance!”

“Well, so far,” Alex cautioned. “He’s still not sure where he stands. Remember, he just came to the conclusion that Kitty was too captivated with me and that he didn’t stand a chance, and he ended up striking out at her in response.”

“I think ‘striking out’ is a bit of a strong term. He tried to use the school gossip to convey that she was free to pursue you, but hadn’t anticipated it would go beyond the three of them. But you’ve got to admit, he stepped up and owned up to it almost immediately. Still, I’d never have guessed that you were so good at reading people. You’ve never shown that kind of inclination before we went to New Orleans. But suddenly, once we got back, you seem to be a whole new person.”

“Hey, what can I say, having people fawning over you, thinking that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread tends to have that effect on you,” Alex countered with a smile.

“That it does, but don’t tell me that you don’t struggle with everyone’s attitude on a daily basis. What you seem to have is a knack for knowing how people will turn out, but you struggle with their motivations all the time,” Cate told him, eyeing him levelly and challenging him to deny it.

“No, you’re absolutely right. I struggle every day over how people respond to me. I wonder whether any of my girls would give me a second look if I didn’t have this single genetic anomaly. And even with the other girls at school, I wonder whether they’re only fond of me because of my sudden reputation with the ladies—which was started because of the girls who followed me home from New Orleans. I’m just afraid that I’ll let a completely random accident go to my head and destroy how I think of myself, and that I’ll start taking advantage of the immense influence I now seem to have over people.”

“Believe me, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. You deal with people fine,” she assured him, lovingly patting his leg.

“Try telling that to Darrell, Tony or Brandon. They all seem to want to hurt me,” Alex reminded his sister, recalling his many recent altercations. It seemed that, while women were attracted to him, men seemed to dislike him intensely—again, for no easily discernable reason.

“Yeah, but I think there’s more to it than that. There’s some strange dynamic between you and certain people, certain male people, that seems to make them naturally dislike you,” Cate observed, staring up into space as she considered it once more.

“And again, I have no idea if it’s me personally, my reputation with the ladies, how everyone responds to me, or something else,” Alex said, expressing his frustration with how little he ultimately understood about his new life.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure it’s the something else,” Cate assured him, rolling over to cup his chin, staring into his eyes as she attempted to console him. “People don’t get that crazy on their own. If it was just one person then we could ignore it, like in Darrell’s case, where he didn’t like the fact that Kitty was more interested in you than him, but changed his mind when he got to know you better. But the others have a much more deep-seated hatred of you than you’d find in someone off the street. There’s clearly something else going on.

“But the fact of the matter is, you’ve learned enough from your many followers how to deal with people. You’ve managed to sweep two completely normal girls into falling in love with you and each other. The fact that they both climbed into bed with you without getting into a cat fight says a lot about your ability to deal with people, and you really shouldn’t diminish it by making up excuses about why they’d feel that way. I don’t know if you just have a natural way with people, or whether you have more of an ability to detect people’s emotions than we understand.”

Just then there was a gentle knocking on the door. “Sorry to disturb you,” Allison said, peeking her head in the door, “but breakfast will be ready soon. Don’t forget, you’ve got a lot planned today, so we need to get an early start.”

“Don’t worry, I’m well aware of what we need to do today,” Alex told her, stretching his arms out to the sides, trying to get blood flowing into his sleep deprived body. “We’ll be down in a second,” he assured her.

“Well, just don’t overthink anything with Kitty and Chalise,” Cate cautioned him as she climbed out of bed after giving him a quick kiss. “Let things develop naturally, and most of all,” she added as she stripped out of her nightclothes, tossing them in the clothes hamper as she went about collecting her attire for a new day, “don’t let your concern about what’s going to happen between us stop you from doing what’s right for Kitty and Chalise.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Alex promised her, though Cate wasn’t entirely convinced that Alex could actually separate himself from his many worries. Still, the coming morning would prove interesting, in a variety of ways.

 

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