In a town where secrets are impossible to keep, I’ve managed well. I have a secret and from that secret more and more grow. Secrets and lies are like ivy. At first, they seem benign, even fanciful as they stretch out, wrapping themselves around you, a protection from what you don’t want others to see.
But eventually, both grow out of control. It’s amazing what you’ll do to keep a secret when all things may be lost. I know one thing for sure, ivy and secrets are weeds.
At some point they’ll tear you apart. I can read minds. That’s my secret and I might just happen to know yours.
“If you like, you can take the biology test tomorrow, Miss Burwood,” Mr. Chambers says. He only calls me Avery if I’m in trouble. “I would understand if you wanted to go back home. You can always take it another time.”
“No thanks, Mr. C. I’d rather get it over with,” I say. As I slide into my seat, everyone’s staring at me.
I hate that. That’s the problem with living in a small town like Lopart. You can’t hide and everyone knows your business. Heck, my entire class, all whopping 15 of us were absent this morning, just for me. They were staring then too. All dressed in black. Could I have felt any more like a freak?
Maybe it would have been better if I’d stayed at home, but I thought school would be alright. If I build a cocoon around myself, I won’t escape as a butterfly, I’ll smother. That’s the problem with being human, change can suck.
And why can’t everyone look at old Mr. Chambers? I feel the heat on my back from the stares. They’re expecting me to fall apart. I’m the spectacle of the month, maybe even the year if nothing else happens in our lazy town. I’m sure Gabe and the boys are even putting money on it. Poor Avery, they’re saying, she’s about to crumble like last week’s donut.
Luckily Dean sits next to me in class. He’s one of my best friends. We bonded back in fourth grade when our class went to a working farm and Dean and I helped birth a calf. We both smelled so bad for the rest of the day that no one would play with us. So we were linked by the stink.
Plus, the calf was really cool. Of course, our class was more into the two roosters who were having a cock fight. The farmer went nuts at the thought of one of them dying, but death is a fascination to us. No one ever dies in Lopart – well, hardly ever.
Dean tosses me a note and it’s a small scribble of a happy face. His way of cheering me up, I guess.
Dean’s really great. He’s as tall as me, but he looks Grecian, with olive skin and dark hair. And he’s insanely smart. I think he tries to dumb things down for me sometimes. I can’t say anything bad about the guy, especially since he’s been so great to me lately.
Mr. Chambers finally lets us flip our papers over to begin. I give a quick head nod to Dean as he dives into his test. Of course, he would know all the answers. But his thoughts move too fast. I won’t be able to catch them. Not today, when I’m off my game.
That’s when I feel someone watching me. Most everyone has their heads down invested in their papers. Everyone except River. He’s the town’s only mystery. He lives out in the forest with his grandfather and they keep to themselves. I’ve known him my whole life, but still can’t say I know anything about him. The girls are always trying to grab his attention because of his large biceps, strong jaw line, and shoulder-length, dirty blond hair. His eyes are a crystalline blue.
I’ve never trusted him.
I can feel River’s eyes search me from across the room. His stare invades my space. His eyes are like a touch of heat which lingers on my hair, shoulders, and comes to rest on my mouth. I feel an invisible pull toward him and for some reason I can’t seem to break the hold with his distrustful, radiant eyes.
Something inside of my deadened heart stirs and releases pent up energy. An excitable need takes over and I can feel myself begin to respond to him, but it’s fully against my will. I don’t want to notice him, but I do, and I involuntarily lick my lips. They’re wet and moist, and I can’t understand why this simple movement feels so seductively right.
My body shudders when I hear him shift in his seat and for some reason I like that too. He breaks our eye contact, but I’m still hyper aware of his movements. It’s as if we’re touching, but we’re not. No one catches River’s attention like this.
I sweep my hair back behind my ears, slowly drawing my fingers down the sensitive spot on my neck. It tickles a bit. Turning my head fully toward him, I continue to caress my neck. Then my finger gently crosses my jaw and traces an invisible line up to my mouth. When I finally look up into his eyes, River’s still taking me in. I bite on my nail and he’s hooked. I hold his eye and he holds mine. Heat rushes my cheeks. It feels like we’re the only two who exist on this side of the Milky Way.
“Heads forward, River and Avery,” Mr. Chambers chokes out, his face red with embarrassment.
His words dissolves the spell and regret floods my every nerve ending. Where did that come from? It didn’t make any sense at all. I’m not interested in River or any of the guys in our school. I’ve known them all too long to find them remotely sexy. I have to chalk it up to misdirected energy from exhaustion.
My heart is still fluttering as I turn back to my work. I tell myself not to look at River. Whatever just happened, needs to never happen again.
Thank goodness for the test to distract me, but it’s all about chemical synaptic responses or something. Science is not my thing, but Jenny, my other best friend, is usually pretty reliable as an expert. I know I probably shouldn’t cheat, but Jenny is my best friend, and if she knew about my power, she’d understand why today of all days, I need to do this.
I steady my breath, practicing deep breathing and open my mind. I send all thoughts of the day out and begin pulling. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s like I’m grabbing pictures or impressions from different minds. When I concentrate hard and think of someone close by, thoughts and images come flooding at me. Sometimes it’s memories, other times, it’s current thoughts. In this case, I’m searching through Jenny’s mind. She’s really worried about me, but that’s not going to help with the test.
I pull some more and I can see that her crush on Gabe is still strong, but I doubt there is anything much to be done about that. I’ll just have to give her another lecture about the big jock later. I push that thought aside and I slide into what she’s thinking about right now. I can see her figuring out the answers. The first one is neurons, then neurotransmitter, and axon. I hold her mind, jotting down the answers, until she’s done with the test.
Releasing a mind once I’m done is a strange affair. It’s like I’m tossing out a perfectly good, tasty slice of pizza. It shouldn’t be done. But searching around someone’s head space is gratifying and exciting. I just love it. I think it’s the energy surge I crave. But, I never stay too long in anyone’s thoughts – that can cause problems all around.
Kym Mulder is the mother of two crazy and wonderful kids, but she also seeks out and relishes the few quiet moments in her day when she can write. After four years as a secondary school English teacher reading all her student’s favorite YA novels, she now aims to publish one of her own works. She is grateful to Brian Henry and all of her classmates for their help and support.
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