(Tuesday – May 26, 2015)
Emerson pressed himself farther into the corner. Today was the first day of high school. He buried his face in his knees and closed his eyes in an attempt to settle his nerves. It wasn’t so much that he hated people, but people hated him. Even when he tried to fall to the wayside and blend in with the gray that lived on the outskirts of bleak darkness, people could still see him.
Emerson sighed and went down the stairs. He discreetly dumped the breakfast that his foster mom had laid out on the counter and went out the door without looking to the right or the left.
A new town. A new last name. It would never end. This was his existence.
A sudden pain hit Emerson’s shoulder, and he fell forward nearly landing on his knees.
It was an immediate reaction to grab the girl who had crashed into him.
At least he caught me.
Emerson blinked and pushed the girl to her feet.
She laughed. “That almost felt like a dance move.”
He’s pretty cute.
He never meant to look into her eyes. “I’ve got to go.” Emerson slung his bag over his shoulder and began walking quickly. There must not have been many boys going to this high school if she thought that he was cute.
“Whoa, wait up. Are you new?” She grabbed his arm.
Emerson jerked away. “Get off.” She stepped back and stared at him, but he avoided her gaze.
What was wrong with him? He had to at least try to make friends, and it wasn’t as if she knew about him. He wiped a weary hand over his eyes and shook his head. “Sorry, I…”
He didn’t get to finish. His words got stuck in his throat like they always did. A smile slowly emerged on her face. “It’s okay. I get it. You don’t like to be touched. What, do you have shingles or something?”
Emerson turned his head away where he couldn’t even see her from the corner of his eye. “Something like that.” He tried walking slower, but she still stayed at his side.
She kept trying to peer around to look him in the eye. “My name’s Annika. What’s yours?”
He hadn’t even made it to the classroom, and he already knew someone’s name. “Emerson.”
“Sorry for running into you, Emerson. I can be ditzy at times. I’m really bad for not looking where I’m going.” She continued to grow increasingly closer, and he was getting uncomfortable. She stayed beside him until they reached the school doors. “Maybe I’ll see you in class.” He watched her rush off as kids poured in and squeezed by each other through the halls.
(Wednesday – May 27, 2015)
The first few classes had been a breeze. Emerson’s tactic of politely declining was paying off. He wasn’t viewed as the dark, emo kid that needed someone to talk to or the quiet, timid boy who just needed a friend he could trust. He was just the guy who was more comfortable on his own.
Emerson found a table in the back next to a window. He set his lunch tray in the middle and sat down, so there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone’s best friend in case some group got the idea of sitting next to him.
He raised his eyebrows and looked down at the sandwich. The school actually used real meat. He returned his attention to the garden outside. It was a sunny day, and there was a class outside observing the effects of when water evaporated from chemicals. Maybe this school would be different. He could avoid everyone and avoid using his abilities altogether.
He nearly choked when he heard her voice and made the mistake of looking up. Next to what he recognized as the popular table, Annika was waving her arm, and she knew he had seen because she grinned. “Do you want to sit with us?”
He tried to focus on her forehead and not her light blue eyes. “No, I’m good.” He managed a smile. “But thanks.”
He went back to watching the biology class and didn’t think anything else about it until he heard a crash across the table. He nearly fell backwards until he saw Annika leaning over her tray looking down at him. “What was that you said? I couldn’t hear you from over there.”
The blood burned behind his cheeks. “I said I was fine.”
She crossed her arms. “So do you like being alone or something?”
He didn’t want to read the look on her face, so he kept his head down and picked at an untouched salad. “Yeah.”
“Alright, tell me why, and I’ll leave you alone.”
Emerson remained quiet, but he learned that Annika wasn’t the type to start guessing and throwing out possibilities like his dead parents or the fact that he was being hunted by a relentless terrorist organization. He stared at the lace on the edges of her cardigan. “I…” He just wanted to see what her expression was, but he went too far like he always did and looked her in the eye.
I wonder if he’s like me…
Emerson jerked his head away just as he realized what she had thought. Annika sighed. “I can see that you don’t want to say. That’s fine, but you’ll eventually have to tell me something if you want me to leave you alone.”
Emerson’s heart pounded in his chest. Before he got up enough nerve to look her in the eye again, she picked up her tray and walk back to her place surrounded by all the athletic and beautiful people. He continued to stare at her, but she had her back to him.
Was she like him?
The crossroads had formed again, and Emerson was faced with the choice of attempting to live as a normal teen or risking his life. Something much greater was now at risk. Something he had already counted as gone. His sanity.
He had the rest of lunch and two classes to figure out how he would read Annika’s mind.
(Thursday – May 28, 2015)
It was the last class of the day. Emerson scanned the room, and the corners of his mouth curled up into a smile when he saw Annika sitting in the back of the room. He knew she was watching from the corner of her eye when he made his way to the empty seat behind her.
She turned completely around in her seat. “I was really beginning to think that you were trying to avoid me.”
He knew she was smiling, but it had become his instinct to avoid looking at people’s faces. He slowly inched his eyes up to her forehead. He didn’t want to look her in the eye until he was sure that she was thinking about what he wanted to know. “Well, you’re still the only person whose name that I know.”
She laughed and turned back around in her seat. “You’re so quiet, Emerson.”
He didn’t get the chance to say much else before Mr. Pinstock began teaching on ionic and covalent bonds. Although they were sitting in the back, Emerson learned that Annika wasn’t the sort of person who sat and doodled or stared off in the space with her mind at least a thousand miles away like ninety-eight percent of high school students during their last period of the day. Every question Mr. Pinstock asked, Annika’s hand shot up in the air. Emerson felt like he was in first grade all over again.
“It would have to be a hydrogen atom.”
Emerson tapped his feet restlessly annoyed that he wasn’t able to talk to Annika about something that would actually be useful to his life.
“Hey.” Emerson looked down at the snapping fingers of the soccer player who was sitting beside him. “She’s been like that since, like, second grade.”
“Mr. Wesley, is there something you would like to share with the class?” Mr. Pinstock had his arms crossed and was glaring. “Especially if you find it more important than the makeup of the molecules you are breathing.”
Emerson looked up enough to see that the soccer player was leaned back in his seat and wearing a lazy smile. “Well, I don’t know if it’s quite that important.” The boy smirked. “Newbie here was just wondering why Ann’s the only one to answer questions in class.”
Emerson felt the blood rush to his face, and he turned away before anyone could notice.
Mr. Pinstock narrowed his eyes. “Well, I’d appreciate if you’d both pay a bit more attention. Perhaps you could learn something from Ms. King.”
Annika and the boy exchanged glances and grinned before the class returned to normal.
When the bell finally rang, Emerson tarried while the room cleared out. He was a bit surprised that Annika hadn’t waited on him, but a person could only be so friendly to someone as cold and unsociable as him.
He stayed behind to avoid all the traffic but kept his attention glued to her platinum hair. He stopped and rummaged through some kid’s unlocked locker while Annika talked to some of her popular friends including the obnoxious soccer player.
Emerson watched from the corner of his eye, going completely unnoticed. He would probably make an excellent stalker, and he sighed at how true this realization was. He gradually caught up to her but didn’t walk beside her until they were outside and halfway down the block.
Emerson wanted to say something, but his words were always getting caught in his throat.
“How was your first, first day?” Annika didn’t even glance towards him.
“My first, first day?” He tried to look at her, but it was a failed attempt. His cheeks burned at his own inadequacy.
She laughed as if she noticed his embarrassment. “Yeah. First day in a new town and the first day of school. How was it?”
Emerson shrugged. “Fine.” He had no idea how to bring the conversation around to what needed to be discussed, and Annika was so good at talking. “You like to answer questions.” He kept his eyes glued to the path to prevent another embarrassing moment.
“Yeah.” Her tone sounded as if he were guilty of something. “I always answer questions. It makes the teachers feel better, you know? No one really minds either. It just keeps them from answering questions.”
Emerson pursed his lips. He had to just come out and say it. It was inevitable that she already thought that he was weird. What would the difference make if he was wrong, and she really didn’t have an ability like him? She would think he was crazy. That’s why.
“Annika, do you think I’m weird?” He turned to face her and tried to make it appear as painless as possible.
Her eyes widened. “What?”
“I mean…” Emerson turned away just as his hands began to feel wet and slippery against his books. The air became heavy and didn’t seem to want to be breathed. “Is there something weird about you, too?” She stopped walking and stared at him. He shook his head. “I’m sorry…” Emerson stumbled backwards and tripped over some shrubbery before he could take in the fact that Annika had shoved him.
“Sorry.” She leaned close and grabbed his arm to pull him to his feet. “We needed a bit more privacy to talk about this.”
I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.
What did she know and how did she know it?
“Alright.” She crossed her arms and planted her feet to block Emerson’s path. “We’re not leaving this spot until you tell me what’s wrong with you.”
(Friday – May 29, 2015)
Emerson stared at his scattered pile of books on the ground. Why was he so afraid of her? It wasn’t like she was going to experiment on him or use his mind-reading abilities to take over the world. “First…” But she was the closest thing to a friend that he had. It was almost pathetic because he didn’t even know her last name, but he imagined that he would’ve learned it eventually. “First, I need to know that there’s something weird about you, too.”
He looked up and searched her face. He just didn’t want to be the freak. Not again.
Annika finally looked up making eye contact.
“Yeah.” She shifted uncomfortably.
But you could never understand.
Emerson crossed his arms. “Try me.”
“What?” Annika looked up with wide eyes just as Emerson realized.
He kept his eyes on Annika’s shoes. He couldn’t help it. Their mind sounded just like them speaking. “I mean… If you were thinking that I wouldn’t be able to understand, then you’re wrong.”
“Oh.” Annika continued to stare at Emerson’s face, but he wasn’t going to look up. He was already thinking of a believable excuse. “Are you going to tell me or not?” Annika’s demand tore him from his thoughts. She raised an eyebrow. “You said you’d tell me if I admitted to being a freak as well, remember?”
Emerson sighed and tried to settle his nerves. He didn’t like the idea of referring to himself as a freak, though it was true. “I…” He shook his head. How could he possibly explain this? “Something weird happens every time I touch someone or look them in the eye.”
“Yeah.” He stared at his feet debating on whether he should leave it at that or not.
“Hmph.” Annika smirked. “I knew I had a weird feeling about you, Emerson Troy.”
Emerson’s eyes widened. “You know my last name?”
She laughed. “Yeah. Some people actually pay attention when the role is being called.”
Emerson pursed his lips and felt the blood rush to his face. Why had he acted so surprised? She probably knew everyone’s last name.
“I’ll probably dream about you tonight.” She bent and began picking up his books.
He crouched to help her. “Well, you wouldn’t be the first girl.” Emerson forced a laugh, but he felt his entire face burning. What was wrong with him? He knew that he was too awkward to ever flirt with any girl.
Annika laughed. “You’re so weird, Emerson.” She pushed the books into his arms then grinned. “Yeah. My ability sucks. Usually when I get a weird feeling about someone, I dream about them.”
It was as though his terrible incident had never happened. Emerson said a silent thank-you for her social grace then narrowed his eyes. “That’s not bad.”
She turned to get her own books probably just to give him privacy while his faced cooled. “No, you don’t understand. My dreams are never good.”
“Oh.” Emerson raised his eyebrows and stared past her. Why would he expect any different?
She turned and watched him. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“I’m not.” He watched her eyes narrow in suspicion and shook his head. “Not if you knew my life.”
She stepped closer. “Alright, so what happens to you when you touch someone or make eye contact with them? It’s got to be something crazy to make you so antisocial.” She tilted her head and leaned closer. He knew she wanted him to look her in the eyes, but it wasn’t happening. “Do you find out their greatest fear? The worst thing that’s ever happened to them?”
Emerson felt her hand close around his wrist. His heart began to pound.
There was no use in hiding anything. He gazed up into her glacier blue eyes where she blinked just a little in surprise.
“I can read minds.”
(Sunday – May 31, 2015)
She stared at me with wide eyes.
“What? Are you serious?” She hit Emerson’s shoulder. He stepped back in alarm as her eyes narrowed. “That’s an awesome ability. I would love to have that. In fact, everyone would.” She tilted her head and looked at the ground. “I suppose you are a bit of a gentleman for trying to give people their privacy.”
Emerson smiled. Annika seemed to look at him with more respect. “At first I thought it was cool, and I’m sure it still would be if I could control it.”
Annika shuddered. “I’m sure we all would if we could control it.”
Emerson’s eyes widened. “We?”
“Well, yeah. If we have abilities, there has to be others.” Annika looked at the sky and pursed her lips. “Actually, I’ve had dreams about people like us.”
Emerson sighed. “Yeah, I knew that there were others, but… Just the way you made it sound. I thought that you might’ve known some.”
Annika laughed. “Oh no. You’re the first I know of. But…” She narrowed her eyes as she smiled. “With your ability, it couldn’t be too hard to find them.”
“No. I hate it. I hate using it. It’s…” He shook his head. “Do you have any idea to know what it’s like to think you know someone, and you want to like them or believe them? Then, you see them. The real them. The part of them that they want to hide and that you don’t want to know about.” He scowled and rubbed his eyes. “Then, when you try to tell what you know, no one believes you because they think that they know that person, but they don’t. Everyone ends up hating you even though you’re the only one who knows the truth. It’s just bad. Especially when you can hear what people think of you, and I mean what they really think.”
Emerson glanced at Annika’s face. Her eyes had widened, and she smiled sadly. “I never thought of it that way. I suppose it would be pretty bad.” She looked down then quickly grabbed his wrist. It had only been for a second, but he had heard.
I think you’re pretty awesome.
Emerson smiled and felt his cheeks getting hot again. “Thanks.”
Annika laughed. “That’s so cool.”
Emerson shrugged. “I’d trade you.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I know you think your is pretty bad, but I wouldn’t ever put anyone through what I go through.” She looked at her feet as her smile faded. “I said my dreams are pretty bad, but they’re actually nightmares only I can’t wake up. I’d rather hear people’s thoughts then watch them die sometimes over and over again knowing that there’s nothing I can do about it.” She pursed her lips. “Not even the sleep medication helps anymore, so I just drink lots of coffee.”
He swallowed hard. “You watch them die?”
“Oh no. Not always, but they are usually bad. My dreams are always in the future. Sometimes close, sometimes years from now. I had a dream about my friend Trent only he was an old man.” She tilted her head. “I think he’s got something weird, too. Anyway, not everything I dream always happens. I think it’s just sort of a warning. If something happens to change it, the future changes, too.”
Emerson noticed how Annika now avoided his gaze. “That is pretty bad.” He wished he could say something better, but he was just so terrible with words.
Annika’s eyes lit up, and she smiled. “Hey, maybe you could learn to control it. You could practice on me. I mean, I don’t really have any secrets so there’s no worries, and I could stand to be a little uncomfortable for the sake of your sanity.”
Emerson smiled. He had known her a day, and she was literally the best friend he’d ever had. “Yeah, I’d like that, and maybe I could use my freaky mind powers to help you change the future.” She laughed, but Emerson’s smile began to fade.
What if she became a target just like him, and it was all because they had become friends? Emerson sighed. “Listen Annika, I don’t want to put you in danger, but there are people after me. That’s the whole reason I’m here actually. Troy isn’t my real last name. My entire existence has practically been about hiding, and I think that they’re not just after me but people like us in general.”
Annika crossed her arms and put on a serious face. “That would make sense, and you have a pretty coveted ability especially for someone who might be looking for power. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you what my dream is, and maybe we can do something about it.”
Emerson could tell that the subject made her uncomfortable. He caught her eyes for just a moment.
What would they do to me if they got me?
“I have an idea.” He began walking towards the sidewalk. “We could get more people like us together. There’s strength in numbers, right?”
Annika forced a smile. “Yeah, that would be good.”
They walked on for a little while in silence. Emerson knew that he would probably get scourged for getting home so late, but he actually enjoyed talking to Annika. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel scared. He’d just found someone who could slightly relate to him, and he didn’t want to lose her.
He glanced at Annika. “Have you ever had Mrs. Keeten as a teacher? Is she really as tough as they say?”
Annika smiled. “She’s awful.”