Prologue: A Big Step Forward Into the Great Unknown


Alex glanced up at the early morning light filtering through the leaves overhead and drew in a deep breath, enjoying the scent of the forest around him. It was a beautiful Monday morning when Alex, Cate and Gail were finally ready to set off on their grand adventure. They’d been looking forward to this for some time, as each prepared for it in their own way. They each felt apprehensive because they knew many things would occur that they couldn’t anticipate.

It was true Alex lived in town and thus wasn’t technically within the forest, but the town in which he lived, Shawneetown, or rather New Shawneetown, resided next to a large national park, and he always felt close to it. The town had never grown very large, and so it still maintained a lot of the natural feel of the nearby woods.

Shawneetown was one of the first settlements in Illinois. What is now “Old Shawneetown” was built along the Ohio River and was subject to repeated flooding, so the residents eventually built a new town which took the name over from the original. Shawneetown’s greatest claim to fame occurred when a group of the residents went to the local bank for seed money to start a new town in Northern Illinois. The bank refused, claiming there was no future in the location they’d chosen. That site later became known as Chicago. That seems to show the ambitions of many of the inhabitants of the region to the current day.

These thoughts floated through Alex’s mind as he took in the feel of the familiar surroundings. He’d spent his entire life living in this quiet little town. His first foray into the wider world was on a recent trip over spring break to New Orleans. It was during that trip that his entire world had changed as he discovered that he was far from a typical kid. While he had been far from exceptional, he’d suddenly found that women were attracted to him, feeling themselves drawn to him because they felt some ‘power’ emanating from him. It turned out he was giving off a previously undetected energy associated with all life, and that is what these women felt drawn to.

But it was more complex than that. It was only certain people, and aside from a few strange cases, it seemed to always be women. That was where his sister, Cate, had come in. While Alex and his sisters were quite bright and did well in school, Cate patterned herself as a budding scientist like her elder sister, Becky. Cate had glommed onto his new abilities quickly, and provided him with a series of theories concerning it. Since then she’d provided him with excellent advice, both about his abilities, the science behind it, and about how to deal with the many changes in his life.

He’d quickly gone from a loner, uncomfortable with people, focusing mainly on reading books and playing games with a couple friends, to a central figure in multiple people’s lives. Several women followed him home from New Orleans, and each looked to him to provide them with direction and purpose. That had made him grow up rather quickly.

At their instigation he’d made a stab at dating, as they didn’t want him to miss out on a “normal teen experience” just because of those following him. That had quickly gone south, as the kids at school soon took notice of the attitude of those around him. Fortunately, he’d found two girls who accepted him as he was. They seemed to be able to deal with him without presuming they knew all about him based on what they’d heard, and they hit it off almost right off the bat. One of his followers, an older Vietnamese woman by the name of Anh, theorized he was being led to find kindred spirits in the people around him, and that was why they’d gotten along so well. However Alex still wasn’t sure how he felt about that particular concept.

His involvement with those two girls, Kitty and Chalise, had defined the last couple of months. The family of one of the girls, Chalise, took exception to him, and the situation quickly degenerated when an older brother physically attacked Alex in his own home while he was on a date with her. It ended with the father taking out a contract on his life, paid for by her older brother throwing a professional baseball game in exchange for an underworld bookie doing the deed.

Alex had grown up a lot over the course of these events, but now he was looking to the future. He’d just graduated high school, and the need to reach out and help these people who were tied to him meant he had no time for college or a normal job. Adding to the urgency of the mission, Cate thought he only had a limited amount of time to live due to the energy he was giving off. His mission, therefore, boiled down to his finding as many of these people he could, and ‘activating’ them. Something they all feared that no one else could ever accomplish.

His sister Cate had observed that he seemed to be aging prematurely. From graying hair, hair loss, his eating habits, and his overall health it seemed this energy he felt coursing through him was killing him. She paralleled it to having the equivalent of a nuclear power plant in the space of a couple of millimeters in his brain. But the energy itself, since it seemed to be associated with living things, had its own healing properties. Thus he found himself in a strange limbo. His body healed quite rapidly, but it was also degenerating at the same time. This strange dichotomy meant that his health was difficult to measure, but everyone around him was convinced he only had a short time to achieve whatever he was meant to. The big question was just how long he may have, whether it might be weeks, months, years, or even decades, no one had a clue. But he knew he had a lot to accomplish, and he couldn’t waste any time in doing it.

The abilities he possessed were both simple and complex. They were simple in that he couldn’t do very much with them, but they were complex in that they didn’t seem to follow any established logic. The energy coming from him couldn’t be measured or even detected. However, those he activated (he dubbed them ‘Seers’) were the only ones who could actually see this new form of energy. They reported that it revealed numerous things as shown by a glow around people that looked like a multicolored aura, from the health of a person and each of their organs, to the nature of the person’s soul and even their changing moods. Alex, however, was unable to see any of this, and thus found it difficult to apply these ‘abilities’.

Alex essentially acted like a catalyst. He triggered changes in people with a certain, unrecognized genetic trait that allowed them to feel this energy he produced. Once he ‘activated’ them, they were able to see this energy. They’d found out a lot about what he seemed to do, due to his friend Ryan, the head of the Carbondale Memorial Hospital, who’d examined what he did to his Seers with a series of MRI scans. However what they’d learned didn’t significantly affect how they behaved.

He was also able to communicate telepathically with the people he ‘activated’, though again it wasn’t like you’d typically read about in a sci-fi story. It was the equivalent of a cheap walkie-talkie, except it didn’t seem to be constrained by either physical distances or hindered by obstacles. The communications were instantaneous, and couldn’t be explained by traditional wave theories. They seemed to use some other method for transmissions. They were also able to send thoughts, images, and occasionally physical feelings. Again, it was both simple and complex.

The women he activated—it had only been women so far—seemed to have certain properties that made them susceptible to his abilities. Cate theorized that they had a complex dual gene pairing that gave them this ability. It appeared these genes existed on the X chromosome, and that having a single one resulted in a person being a Watcher, so named because they could be identified by their tendency to watch Alex in fascination from afar. It seemed they could sense his energy without being able to specifically identify it, only knowing he held some amazing ability. Those with both genes became the Seers. They started out being able to sense others’ emotions, though they never understood why. These genes also seemed to only work with women. Though there were a couple of male Watchers, there were extenuating circumstances that specifically exempted them from this ‘females only’ condition, proving it the ‘exception that proves the rule’.

When Alex met one of these women, the potential Seers, all it took was for them to lock eyes with him to activate them. But of course, it got more complex than that. Over time, Alex found that stressful events advanced his abilities. One thing he’d found is that deeply emotional events triggered advances as well. Thus he learned that when he made love to his followers their own abilities would advance. The Seers, who normally could only communicate telepathically through Alex, could communicate with the other Seers without his assistance. What’s more, once he made love with a Watcher, she’d advance to the same level as a pre-activated Seer, meaning they’d be able to sense emotions in others even though they still couldn’t see what the Seers could.

Which brings up yet another oddity about Alex, in addition to possessing this energy, he could direct it as it flowed out of him. His family decided that, simply by being exposed to him over time, his sister Cate had developed some related abilities of her own, and that both of them had never been sick with anything that typically affects young children. But by applying this energy to others who were sick or ailing, he was able to achieve some amazing medical advancements, although it was quite limited. It only worked in select cases, specifically when organs lacked the energy he provided. But it was hard to forecast in which cases his abilities would help someone and when it wouldn’t. What’s more, since Alex himself couldn’t see this energy, he had no real idea of how to apply it, thus he needed one of his Seers with him to direct him. Alex had been involved in the local hospital helping out and thereby gaining experience, but it had been a confusing time because of the highly mixed results.

Now it seemed that he had a mission to his life: to try to find as many of these women as he could, both the Watchers and the Seers, so that he could build a community that would survive him and that hopefully would be broad enough to provide a functioning genetic base after he was gone. But the other thing he needed to accomplish was to produce offspring. Since he seemed to be the first person with these unique talents, it was important that he produce an heir that had the same abilities, otherwise all he had accomplished in finding these followers would be lost once he passed away. Sure, these women could all pass on their genes, but without someone to activate their children they’d never gain the abilities that Alex had activated in them. Everyone’s hope was that he would not only produce an heir like himself, but that he might be able to produce a hybrid, a female with the same abilities as him, that could both see and manage the energy flowing through her.

Alex and his women classified the people around him into three categories, actually four if you got right down to it. The first type was the Seers. The second type consisted of the Watchers, while the third were the normal people that surrounded them. To hide what they were talking about from prying ears, they’d refer to these people as ‘type 1s’, or ‘type 2’. The ‘type 3s’, or those without any abilities that chose to follow him due to their own feelings, were further divided by a subset that Anh described as fellow spirits that seemed to be on a parallel journey to his own. These seemed to share more than just a passing interest in Alex and his abilities. They hadn’t settled on a name for those as yet.

Now Alex turned and faced those collected around him, ready for him to begin this next step on his journey. He was going to hit the road, traveling cross country, trying to find and help as many people as he could, helping them understand who they were, and to activate whatever abilities they may have. It was a big mission, and one that was vital to each of them.

The people gathered around him now were here to see him off, since he could only travel with so many. He’d decided to travel with only two others. One was Cate, his sister, his lover, his confidant, his most trusted advisor and his main scientific specialist. The other person was his personal bodyguard, an ex-policewoman Seer who’d dedicated herself to watching over him, since he seemed unable to keep from attracting unwanted attention.

The others there were his closest followers, his immediate family and his two girlfriends who had made sure they came by just to see him off. Each regretted letting Alex go off on his own, fearing the troubles he’d likely be facing, as the occurrences of a few weeks earlier, when someone had attempted to assassinate him, clearly demonstrated. Besides, none of them knew just how much longer he had. They each realized this could very well be the last time they’d ever see him, so they made their farewells that much more emotional.

Alex worked through each of his girls, moving in largely chronological order from the newest, Nikki, to the earliest, Shaniqua. Each gave him a tearful but positive goodbye, each knowing they’d be in constant communication with him even though they’d be separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.

“It’s especially difficult saying goodbye to you, Nikki. It seems like I just found you again, and I’m already saying goodbye,” he told her with a catch in his throat.

The story of Nikki, his ‘lost girl’, was well known to everyone who knew Alex well. She was a girl he’d passed on the highway on his way back from New Orleans. He’d accidentally activated her when they’d locked eyes while passing over the Frisco Bridge in Memphis. Unable to find her, her existence continually wore at his own sense of responsibility. He felt himself responsible for each of ‘his’ girls, and he’d unintentionally abandoned her when she needed him the most. However, through a series of difficult steps, she’d eventually tracked him down and located him, returning as his own prodigal daughter. Thus he felt it especially difficult letting her go again.

“That’s OK, Alex,” she assured him, patting his back. “I’m doing much better now. You’ve given me a home, taught me what I need to know, and given me my own mission. I’ll be fine as long as I have my fellow sisters, although I’ll miss you terribly. You’ll always be close to my heart while you’re gone.” Each of Alex’s followers called each other Sisters, again as a way of discussing their relationships to each other without calling attention to themselves.

He simply hugged her tight before moving onto the next girl, Brooke Knowles. Actually there were several girls absent from this sendoff. Jennifer Pickford, a cancer survivor he’d helped overcome an ‘incurable’ form of bone cancer, had gone on to help on a mission of her own, although he planned on meeting her in Utah as he traveled west.

Then there were Ruby and Clara, two people he’d discovered in St. Louis but who had proved a disappointment. Ruby was 83 years old and suffered from an advanced case of Alzheimer’s, while Clara had proven to be untrustworthy, since she couldn’t separate Alex from her own preconceived notions of who he should be and what he should do. Alex had quickly distanced himself from her for everyone’s good, while still hoping to assist her by giving her purpose and objectives of her own.

There were also several followers that attended the nearby Southern Illinois University (SIU). They included Molly Bishop, a law professor who taught there, and Diane Lane, an undergraduate who hoped to write the next philosophical novel, both of them Seers, as well as numerous Watchers and fellow type 3s.

Brooke was an EMT he’d met in New Orleans. She’d used her abilities to become one of the premier EMTs in New Orleans before her activation, and since then had found she could do much more than she ever did before, although she had less chances to use her unique knowledge due to the lesser population around Carbondale where she now worked.

Before he could reach Brooke, her two kids, Josh and Suzy, who’d been waiting quite patiently, ran to him and gave him their own hugs. Josh idolized Alex simply because he was a likable guy who played with him, while the rest of the time Josh was surrounded by women, a situation made worse now that his family was augmented by all the women surrounding Alex. Suzy, however, was another Watcher, and thus thought that Alex was not only wonderful, but also knew that he possessed enough power to do both amazing and terrible things. She loved him almost as much as his other ‘girls’ did.

“We love you, Alex, and be careful. We’ll miss you,” she told him before grinning at him snidely. “And maybe when you come back I’ll be old enough for you to make me one of your girls.”

“We’ll have to see, Suzy, but somehow I doubt I’ll be gone quite that long,” Alex laughed, happy with the fact she’d remain a little girl for a while yet.

“Well, if you don’t do it soon, mom says it may never happen,” she pouted.

“Hey, don’t hog Alex,” Josh told his sister. “Don’t stay away too long, Alex. There are already way too many girls around here, and you keep adding more.”

“I’m sorry about the number of women, Josh, I’ll have Chalise ask her brother if he can stop by and play ball with you while I’m gone,” Alex offered. “If not maybe you can play with Brian,” he said, referring to one of his recent friends from school. “He probably needs to practice throwing, since he used to throw like a girl.”

With that Brooke stepped up and eased her children aside so she could hug him herself. Her easy smile tempered a little with the emotions of the moment.

“Take care, Alex, we’re all concerned for you. I know you don’t believe in him, but go with God and listen to whatever Anh’s spirits tell you. If they tell you to duck, you’d better do it,” she said with an easy laugh that hid her terrible longing to accompany him.

“I’ll do that. I guess I’ve messed up a couple of people’s belief systems between my atheism, Anh’s spirituality, and the fates that seem to conspire against me for their own amusement,” he answered equally as lightly, but neither one fooled the other. They both knew how difficult this parting was.

The next to envelop him in a hug was Rebecca, an emergency room nurse who he’d met when he’d revived a heart attack victim who had been down for over 30 minutes in New Orleans. Though she tended to feel intimidated by the other Seers, her own insecurities undermining her sense of belonging, she’d found her ability to work with them and do her job at the hospital enhanced when Alex boosted her own abilities. Now she could forecast when something was about to happen, when someone was going to get upset, and she felt she shared a lot more with her sisters now.

“Make sure you take all those Band-Aids that Ryan gave you, I’m sure you’re going to need them,” she teased, referring to the joke birthday present from Ryan Moore, the hospital director.

“I know its worthless saying it, but try not to worry about me. I’ll be out on the street, so hopefully my enemies won’t be able to keep up with me. I can’t see anyone taking offense when I’m only in town for a day or two, so maybe I can avoid trouble for a little while,” he told her.

“Alex, you’ve never been able to avoid trouble,” Rebecca chided him. “What’s more, you keep giving your enemies more chances to hurt you. You need to be more proactive in your own defenses. Hopefully Gail can do some of that. Just pay attention to what she says, OK?”

“Sure, sweetie, anything you say,” he answered, giving her a last squeeze.

Anh stepped forward and held him lightly. She was older than the others and had earned a reputation for being wise and having a unique perspective on things.

“I’m not as worried about you, Alex,” she reassured him with a comforting kiss. “The time we shared has been good. Even if something bad happens to you, we’ll continue to share your spirit, and when we each die we’ll once again join you. Just be sure your kingdom in the spirit world is big enough for all your new girls.”

Alex chuckled, and acknowledged he’d immediately get all the spirits working on an extension as soon as he got there. Next he enveloped Allison, the former escort from New Orleans who had become such a central figure in their recent research into the girls’ visions. She’d used her interest in medicine and her plans to get a medical degree to research what she could about the patients’ auras she saw. She had learned a lot and had shared it with the other women, helping each deal with their visions better. It had also earned her the profound respect of the administrator of the hospital, Ryan Moore.

“You take care of yourself, Alex. I deal with enough death and dying in the hospital. I don’t need you adding to it. But also, don’t hold back when it’s needed. We know that you often have to make difficult decisions, and luckily you’ve always chosen well. Even this last time, when you purposely put yourself in front of an assassin’s bullets, turned out to have been the right thing. We understand this, but as you can understand, it’s difficult for us to cope with. Also, don’t forget to spread some of your love around on the trip and save the rubbers. We need you to produce some babies, and we can’t wait for everyone to feel comfortable with the idea. People have been having babies sooner than they expected for thousands of years, and it hasn’t stopped the species yet.”

“I’ll do that, Allison,” he promised her, even though both of them knew he’d never be able to do that to anyone. “I’ll also try to make deposits in each city I stop at. Dr. Lovett gave us a list of clinics we can use along the way, so if anything happens to me hopefully you can all survive as a people,” he told her gently.

“It won’t be the same without you, Alex, but we appreciate that you’ll be looking over us after you’re gone,” she told him with another kiss.

Natalie came to him next. Poor Natalie, she’d been amazingly helpful, doing a wide variety of tasks and finally proving herself a resourceful planner for the organization they were building, but she always felt herself inferior to the rest of Alex’s girls since she was only a Watcher. Alex had never considered her that, since he’d first pulled her into his extended family that first morning to demonstrate to his family what he shared with Shani. To him, she’d proven herself over and over again.

“I’ll miss you terribly, Alex. Please don’t let anything happen to you, as I firmly intend to have a couple of Watcher children with you. I’m also anxious to see if having my abilities boosted to pre-activated Seer status will mean I can now have a couple of Seer children. You’ll have to come back and get me pregnant in order to prove that theory.”

“Don’t worry, Natalie. I’m going to stick around as long as I possibly can. I know how much each of you depends on me, and I couldn’t possibly leave you all on your own.” Natalie seemed to brighten hearing this simple affirmation from him.

“And don’t worry about the trip. I planned it all out for you, including scheduling many of Patricia’s Watchers’ families to meet you along the way, so you should have many friends to rely on. You’ll finally see just what an excellent planner I am, and I plan on turning both the Angel Vision Foundation and your Sorority around by the time you get back,” she assured him.

“Hey, I didn’t realize it had gotten so far behind since we’ve just started it. Just try to not make it too successful, after all, we’re trying for obscurity here, not to appear in Business Weekly,” he gently teased as he kissed her silent tears away.

Finally it was Shaniqua’s turn. Shani, as she called herself, was a 28-year-old Jamaican-American who was Alex’s first follower, and who first introduced him into this strange world he now found himself in. It was also her good sense and fierce loyalty that helped him through his many difficult periods.

“I’ll miss you more than most, my dear Shani. You were the first, and I’ll remember you to the last. Watch over the others for me, will you. Many of them may be older than you, but I still consider you to be the more mature one with the youthful energy required to run herd on them all. They need that, especially while I’m gone.”

“You’re right, Alex,” she conceded. “This is the first time we’ll all be on our own without you. We’ve never addressed it, but we’ve long suspected that it was your abilities that allowed everyone to get along so well. Now we’ll test that theory and see if, without you, we all start bickering and fighting with each other. I’ll keep notes on this experiment for Cate, recording each and every slight I encounter, just so it will be properly documented,” she said, teasing him, but her words rang true. No one yet knew the true extent of his many abilities. They’d never answered that first question of his father’s about whether Alex may actually be influencing the decisions and attitudes of those around him.

After his girls, his two older sisters, Melinda and Becky, came up as a pair to hold him. Alex had had an interesting time with the two of them as well. Becky had long served as an inspiration for Cate, and she had fulfilled that role in helping Cate refine her theories about Alex’s abilities. But it was Melinda that had caused the biggest trouble in the family. Despite knowing how close Alex and Cate were, Melinda had taken a spare moment to become somewhat intimate with Alex. Although Alex told her he’d give her time to be sure she was serious about it, thus preventing anything from happening, Melinda had made the mistake of telling Cate about it.

Cate had blown up, refusing to speak to Melinda for a long time, but moreover it forced her to examine her own feelings for Alex. She realized that while she wasn’t jealous of Alex’s other women, or of his two girlfriends, she couldn’t stand aside while Alex fooled around with their sister. Cate also realized that Alex meant a lot more to her than she’d ever acknowledged before. They started their intimate relationship with each other that very night. But it wasn’t until several weeks they finally had intercourse after a wonderful night when Alex had taken her out on a special date night all their own. Something that made the date particularly special was how difficult it was to arrange in this small town.

But Cate had finally forgiven Melinda when she eventually demonstrated that she was honestly interested in Alex’s future. She did so by initiating a sorority drive at her school as a way of bringing likely Seers and Watchers together so Alex could deal with them. That initial idea had blossomed, and produced the Angel Vision foundation that was currently sponsoring a couple of sororities at different schools. The Sororities were dedicated to helping not only Alex’s Watchers and Seers, but also in assisting other girls in learning to trust their own judgments about the people around them.

“We may not be as separated for as long as the others, Alex, since we’ve been talking with Cate about visiting you occasionally,” Melinda related as she hugged him tightly. “Despite how many miles away you are, it’s still not that far away by plane.”

“Still, it’ll be hard having you gone. Although we weren’t that close to you and Cate when we were younger, you’ve become the focus our lives, just as you have everyone else’s,” Becky said. “I’ll continue Cate’s experiments while she’s gone. I plan on getting the mice sick with a variety of things to see how they respond to it. I’m also going to try to run a partial genetic scan on you and the girls. I want to document yours, at the very least, and I want to see if I can find any common genes in the girls.”

“And I’m going to continue working with Natalie on the sorority so we’ll be ready to start it in the fall,” Melinda added. “It’ll only be on a trial basis its first year, essentially to make sure the girls don’t go wild, but I’m pretty sure we can ride herd on them.”

“Good, I’m glad the two of you will have plenty to keep you busy in the coming weeks,” Alex replied, glad that everyone wasn’t overly dependent on him, though he remained nervous how they’d get along without him.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Melinda said. “Everyone is still working on our loft and with organizing the Angel Vision Foundation, there’s a lot to do.”

Next up were Alex’s parents, Frank and Linda Jennings. They’d largely been shuffled aside in all the excitement over the past several weeks, but they were so proud of what their son had accomplished and what he represented they couldn’t have been more pleased. They knew what he was doing would have far reaching implications for thousands of lives. That is, assuming he had enough time to finish what he was attempting to do.

“Stay safe, Alex, and listen to Gail. She’s there to look out for you,” Frank told his son. “And I know I don’t have to tell you, but watch out for your sister as well.”

“Don’t worry, Dad, I don’t think you could find two people more dedicated to each other than Cate and I are,” Alex assured him.

“Yeah, unless you count each of your girls, your other sisters, your other followers or your two girlfriends. Not to mention all those schoolmates of yours,” Frank countered with a wide grin.

“Never mind your father, he likes to distract himself with details,” Linda told her son. “I’ll miss you, Alex. It feels strange saying this, but find as many young women as you can, take a bunch of them to bed and leave me with a whole passel of psychic grandbabies. Then I want you to promise to come back so you can start all over again. Got it?”

“Yeah, Mom, I got it. Did you ever think your house would have gotten as crowded with new people as it has the last three months?”

“No, I certainly didn’t, Alex. You’ve really made an impact on many people, both your girls and everyone else. Anyway, don’t forget to call,” she told him, kissing him goodbye. “Remember, those of us who can’t talk to you telepathically still like to hear from you.”

They both moved on to telling their youngest goodbye as Alex said goodbye to his two girlfriends.

Kitty and Chalise had seemed an odd pair when Alex first told them to talk to each other when he asked them both out on dates at the same time. He told them he had an unusual background since he’d returned from summer vacation to New Orleans, and he told them they should talk to his sister Cate, and then then each other to compare notes. Alex cautioned them both not judge him on what everyone else was saying but to do it based on his actions. They’d done that, and found not only that they both fell in love with him, but that they found new best friends with each other and with Cate as well. Since then they’d formed a unique threesome, foursome if you counted Cate, they were careful not to reveal any familiarity between Alex and his sister since that portion of their relationship was often hidden.

They both hugged him tightly and gave him long French kisses, trying to wrap in as much last minute lust as they could.

“We’ll both miss you, Alex,” Kitty told him. “Mom and Dad have told me they’d help me pay to come visit you part way in your trip, so expect some company. I think we can swing a ticket for Chalise as well. Until then we’re going to go to work for the foundation. We still have to get the accounting in order, file paperwork, and clean up the building you bought, as well as make plans to handle all the women you’re going to be sending us as you meet them along the way.”

“Yeah, and like your mother said, don’t forget that new smart phone of yours,” Chalise told him. “We know you can’t talk to us whenever you feel like it, but we expect nightly phone calls to tell us what happens to you along the way. We’ll pass the word along to everyone else. Everyone is as excited about this as you are, Alex, and they each want full details about it.”

“And we want you to know that you don’t have to worry about who you need to make love to along the way,” Chalise continued. “We realize it’s a big part of what you do, and we trust you to only do it with people you trust and who you develop a personal connection with. Also, don’t feel guilty if you go and change over the summer. If you fall out of love with us, we just ask that you don’t just dump and forget us. Whatever happens, we’re wrapped up in your life now, and even if we simply remain friends, we want to be a part of your life from here on out. And like you told Cate, we’ll be a part of your mission even after you’re gone.”

“Hey, hey,” Alex protested, holding his hand up to hold such thoughts at bay. “That’s enough of that. I’m not dumping anyone. You know I don’t like making love with as many women as I do, but it’s hard to avoid. They each need me, and I need to do it to boost their abilities as well as to include them in their new lives. But that doesn’t mean the two of you will mean any less to me. If I could stop everything right now and spend all summer with you and attend college with you in the fall I would. But it’s apparently out of my hands. It seems the fates have decided I have a specific role to fill, and as they usually do, they do it in the most difficult and excruciating way imaginable. Those damn spirits,” Alex swore playfully, playing on Anh’s recurring spiritual explanations of his recent life.

“Don’t worry,” Kitty insisted. “When next we see you, we’ll do our best to wipe off the smile all those women you’ll meet in the next month will put on your smug face. But most of all, do us proud, Alex. Continue as you always do and stay safe. You can’t achieve much if you don’t stick around.”

With that they hugged him once again and backed off.

That covered everyone that was currently gathered around the departing trio. Alex watched as everyone said goodbye to Cate and told Gail to watch over them both, then the three of them climbed into Alex’s new old car and set off, wondering whether they’d ever see their home again, and if so, under what circumstances.



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