By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. The row of maples lit up the sky, smoke towering over the old town street. People were tripping over each other in panic. I stared at the chaos…and shut my eyes. There was heat, but it didn’t burn.
I imagined myself running through the streets alongside the others trying to escape the inferno; I imagined myself running back inside, scrambling for the back door; I imagined myself, terrified, trying to find keys for my car in the lot. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes. The decoys thoroughly concocted, I proceeded calmly down the sidewalk.
It was inevitable. I had come to get my things from our old apartment. I remained composed despite everything, and suddenly wondered if that was what he’d expect. Stopping, I quickly imagined myself resolutely walking in the opposite direction towards the farmer’s market. Orchestrated in my head as realistically as possible, I let my imaginings go while I strolled towards a nearby café.
Pumpkin spice was back in season. I ordered my drink, while outside chaos seemed to run rampant. But it was business as usual in the coffee shop. I knew the fire wasn’t real, but still the illusion persisted. He must not believe my decoys. But I had a few tricks up my sleeve.
I looked out the window. The fire had spread to the bushes hedging the park; fire engines struggling to get it under control. I narrowed my eyes and concentrated on the flaming red. I thickened the flames, letting them lick the top of the three-story apartment building we once shared.
The fire jumped from one building to another, adding more chaos, more screaming, more panic!
Finally, it stopped. I opened my eyes, feeling no heat, hearing no screams, just the hissing of the espresso machine. The trees were still flaming red, but with the colors of early autumn. It was done.
“Extra hot, extra shot, pumpkin spice for Samantha!” I smiled at the barista, who was bombarded by an afternoon rush. Poor thing; I’d leave a tip. As I dropped the change into a nearby cup, I felt someone looking at me. I froze, though I could sense it wasn’t really hostile.
I turned and cheerfully placed the face to the voice. “Drayden?” I cried. I hadn’t seen him since school! Small town schools; you remember everyone. What I remembered of him was an athletic young man who was rocking out to Pearl Jam and had the typical teenage view of girls. But I wouldn’t hold that against him. Unlike some others, I didn’t recall him really expressing said views.
“Oh my gosh,” I said, “it’s been a long time! Are you just visiting?”
“Actually, I found a job at the school. So I’m officially back.” He had a nice smile, and surprisingly, he seemed genuinely happy to see me. He pointed to my cup.
“Are you a fan of fall flavors?”
I chuckled at his innocent way of trying to keep the conversation going. “More a fan of espresso,” I answered. He chuckled quietly, and looked from me to his shoes and back again. I could sense it: he was nervous. He wanted to ask if I could stay. I concentrated on his voice, and mimicked it in my mind: “She probably doesn’t have time.”
Darn it, I was doing it again. I couldn’t help it.
We don’t call them powers, but abilities. They have to be controlled, honed and learnt, then used according to the code.
However, not everyone adheres to it. Mi – no don’t say his name – he didn’t.
According to the code, I’m not supposed to use my abilities to manipulate people for my own advantage. They are meant to be used for good – not for this. But I had learned the hard way that sometimes you have to protect yourself.
“You busy?” he asked innocently.
“I am. But if you got a job teaching, I’ll see you on Monday. Hope you’re ready,” I taunted, knowing the horrible sensation of being a new teacher.
Sucking in air through his teeth, he shuddered. “Is it as terrifying as they say?”
I gazed up, deciding whether to tell the truth, or ease him into false security. “It’s worse.”
Drayden bit his lip and wondered inwardly what he had gotten himself into. I waved his worry away. “It’s alright, the first year you’re always a tyrant, then it gets better.”
“Isn’t this your second?”
How did he know that? His mother had told him. That’s right, his family lived in town. His smile faltered a little, and I could tell that I had isolated a memory. I answered quickly, hoping he wouldn’t notice. “Yep, but that’s what I’m told.”
On Monday, I couldn’t say if it were true. When the high schoolers filtered in, at least I knew what I was up against – Drayden was forced into the lions’ den. You could tell at times that he was just relieved to get out of class alive. He said as much over coffee in the staff room.
“I didn’t know when I went to university for history and education that I’d need a master’s degree in babysitting,” he muttered. I snorted, trying to swallow my coffee down the right tube. “This is supposed to get easier?”
I shrugged innocently. “Only because you know what to expect.”
“So, you’re used to it?”
I wasn’t going to admit that. I looked down at the black gold in my hand, admitting this: “I’m on my fifth cup.”
He turned to me with a mixed reaction of respect and horror. “You’re buzzed.”
“No,” I growled, gesturing to the hundreds of teenagers outside the staff door. “They are.”
He laughed. It was a pleasant laugh. Then his thoughts began to form words, words for a question, a question I really didn’t want to answer. How about joining me for a pumpkin spice? At least it tastes better. I couldn’t let him say it.
Again, I mirrored his voice: “She just had five cups of coffee. You really think she needs another?”
Tomorrow, he thought, to celebrate our first weekend of survival.
I hid my amused grin behind the coffee cup. But I had to stop this now. “You just met her! Are you crazy?”
All I heard back was: Is that a trick question? I looked away, barely stifling my snort. Never had I heard someone talk their own mind down like that.
“I have some marking to do,” I said, struggling to contain myself.
Those narrow eyes were recalling something though. “Were we ever this bad?”
I smirked, recalling him from our classroom days. “I seem to remember you having your own game of tricks, and they weren’t your typical tac on the teacher’s chair,” I accused.
He bobbed his head back and forth, begrudgingly accepting this. “Okay,” he chirped, then brought the steaming coffee to his lips. “Karma’s a –”
“Ah, no swearing,” the vice principle joked, as he walked up for his refill. You could always tell it was the first week of school when the coffee flowed this freely. I took the chance to slip away. I did have marking to do.
But I felt his eyes as I meandered to the window.
“I wouldn’t,” I heard the VP say, “have you heard what she did to her former husband?”
I stopped eavesdropping. It was better that way. Let the town tell him; if he thinks I’m insane, he won’t ask me for a date. No one knew what Mi – what he had been like. I thought he had been perfect! I saw no thoughts but the ones that flattered, his wishes and dreams so in tune. I didn’t know he had the same ability until it was too late.
Having abilities, especially ones of the mind, is a delicate business. You can so easily deceive others, even other telepaths. He had created a deep vault where his true self lurked. All the things I wanted were in front of me, but all the warnings hidden. Once he had me, it wasn’t hard to make others believe I was the mad one. He did it by creating decoys – illusions of me to show off to others. He tormented me with thoughts of self-doubt, hatred, even suicide. Beneath a veneer of charm, lay a devil.
I don’t know why the thought of Drayden knowing troubled me; everyone else did. Even my parents thought I was in the wrong. They still loved me – bless them – but their take on the matter was an illusion. That wasn’t their problem though. It wasn’t anyone’s but mine.
I looked out the window to the gold and orange leaves that fell from the trees, remembering the fire he had set for me. It was a trigger. A reminder that no matter how far away he was, he still haunted me.
It was one of those days. Late autumn and the rain mixed with sleet. The trees were almost bare from the unrelenting wind. My car needed to be fixed and it was taking longer than expected. Great. My coffee pot had packed it in and made a mess of some quizzes – the kids were going to love that.
I needed coffee.
A car came too close to the curb. Truth be told, I think it was done on purpose. The wheel sent the frigid water all over my new coat and ran down my boots. I must have looked like hell coming up to the café door with a muddy film on my coat and boots, a red nose from the biting cold, and my mascara starting to run.
He ran right into me. “Sorry,” I said, trying to pass him quickly, hoping he didn’t recognize me.
“Sam? You okay?” Drayden asked. I didn’t know whether to feel fuzzy or irritated by the fact that he cared.
“Yah I’m fine,” I muttered. I just wanted to get a coffee.
But he was thinking of coming in with me, that buying me a drink would make me feel better. No, it wouldn’t! I concentrated on his voice. “Uh, newsflash! Didn’t you hear, she’s crazy!”
She wasn’t before, he thought, and small-town rumours are bogus. Besides, she’s having a bad day, maybe she just needs to talk. I saw him wave his head towards the café, blocking the wind in front of me. I tried again.
“Talk? You think the mess in front of you wants to talk? Why aren’t you running the other way?”
“I don’t run away,” came the answer.
His pitying smile hadn’t vanished and I closed my eyes, trying to hide from it. “Didn’t your mother teach you anything? Leave her alone! Listen to that nagging thought in your head!”
“I would if it were mine.” He said it out loud, breaking my process. My eyes opened in horror. Normally, no one knew it when I mimicked their own voice in their head. I could usually get away with that. But I had been too rash; too hard. I swallowed. Well, now he’d stay away, right?
“How long have you known?” I asked.
“The staff room. My brain doesn’t usually talk to me quite like that.” Drayden chuckled over the storm. There was always that risk. But no one usually knew how to detect it, unless…
“You – you have an ability,” I said. Drayden nodded and I shivered from the irony. He had hidden it well. “You’re like me?”
“You tell me,” he chortled easily.
“It doesn’t work like that,” I said quickly. I was relieved: if he was a telepath, he’d know that. A gust of wind blew past my numb ears and made me shudder. The bitter cold went right through me. The embarrassment didn’t make this easier.
I looked up at him and saw no accusations, just understanding. Gingerly, opening his hands as if to say he meant no harm, I watched as his left hand reached out to the light from inside the café. He let it roll and gather the light until I saw it begin to glow in his palm. Then, slowly, he touched his right hand to my shoulder, atop my soggy coat. Immediately I felt it: warmth. It was like being near a fireplace, chasing the damp away. Wisps of steam rose as he evaporated the rain and puddle from the wool. I couldn’t help the sigh of relief. Once I was dry and warm, Drayden put his hands in his pockets.
“Thank you,” I said sheepishly.
“Please, let me buy you a drink?” he asked. For the first time since Michel, I said yes.
Bright sunshine battled the frosty sting in the air. Snow covered the ground, and the river below us held a thick coating of ice. We stood on a bridge overlooking it and a nearby park. Perfect time for a salted caramel mocha – with an extra shot. He stood next to me, leaning on the rail with a winter jacket and a tuque sporting his favorite hockey team’s logo.
Drayden seemed to believe me when I told him that just because I was privy to surface thoughts, I didn’t want to read his whole mind. There’s something about getting to know a person that retained its charms.
We had gone back in time, to talk about our school days. We talked about family and friends, how they changed us, and how we changed ourselves. Wishes, dreams, regrets…but there was one thing we never broached. He had been patient but now it was getting unbearable. Why shouldn’t it, when everyone kept telling him I was nuts?
“I know you want to know,” I said.
He looked to me kindly, willing to give it more time. “You don’t have to –
“I do,” I sighed, “I do.” While he waited in the silence of the winter’s day, I decided that I couldn’t describe it; I couldn’t even explain it. I’d have to show him. My hand inched out, hesitant but open. “Please, it’s easier this way.”
Drayden’s hazel eyes looked back at mine, not even questioning. Slowly he wrapped his warm fingers between my cold ones. So, I showed him. I showed him all Michel ever did to me. Starting with the nightmares, the thoughts that weren’t mine, the illusions of me that were shown to others; the terrifying ones he saved for me alone. The worst memory came when I remembered how he beat me in front of my parents. They – seeing the illusion of a happy couple – did nothing. I shared every emotion: horror, fear, hurt, and that ever-present helplessness.
Drayden tore his hand away abruptly. He turned, and I almost thought he’d walk away. Please don’t, I begged silently. He didn’t. His hands clenched into fists and covered his mouth while his whole body trembled.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, hot tears slipping down my own cheeks.
Finally, he turned back to me. There was rage in his eyes, and in his heart. I could almost feel the heat radiating off him. “No,” he gasped, his breath starting to steady, “I needed to know.”
Then his fingers reached for mine. Instinctively I stepped back. “I don’t think I can remember more.”
He chuckled sadly, shaking his head. I had misunderstood. “No, I – I just wanted to hold your hand.” I smiled weakly. If anything, I had just proved I didn’t always use my ability. Without hesitation, I let his hands warm my own. He gripped them tightly, pulling me in and holding me, as if he’d never wish to let me go.
This was the worst May ever! We had gotten a freak snowstorm and I was tired of winter. Snow blanketed the newly sprouted leaves and I could hardly stop shivering. Of all things, he had asked me to wear a bathing suit under my clothes. I didn’t understand, but I met him on the bridge, finishing up my dark cherry mocha – extra shot.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Snickering at my suspicion, he just waved me over. “You said you were sick of winter, so I thought we should go swimming.” I must have looked terrified glancing down at the snowy banks of the river. He laughed.
“Come here,” he said softly. Putting my cup on the thick railing, he freed my hands, only to take them himself. Looking me straight in the eye, he seemed oddly serious. “If there’s anything you doubt in me, I need you to search and find it.”
I beamed, the offer meaning more than anything. Drayden had been open and honest, not perfect by any means, but honest. I answered confidently: “I don’t need to.”
He smiled and started to breathe again…a little. “This might feel a little weird,” he began, “but close your eyes.”
I was curious but not afraid. There was an uneasy sensation, like I was breaking into a million pieces. I gripped his hands, but I couldn’t feel them, or my own. All at once I was floating, a thousand miles high.
Slowly, my pieces came back together and I felt his fingertips. The normalcy was welcome, but I felt a heat too strong for May. I heard a rhythmic thunder, feeling it vibrate in my chest. The ground was soft beneath my boots. “Open,” he whispered.
My eyes opened to azure blue water, white sand, and blaring sunshine. “Oh my gosh… where are we?”
I was already tearing off my parka and boots, so ready for this! But he seemed to hesitate. Following his eyes, I turned to see something flaming red amidst the sand. Walking over, my breath caught. Dried maple leaves, as brilliant as the day he had first come back to town, were placed perfectly, asking one simple question. A diamond ring glittered in the tropical sunlight.
My eyes filled with tears when I heard his truest, most desperate thought:
Please God, let her say yes.