They say that ash looks a lot like snow if it ever gets a chance to drift from the sky. Maybe from a volcano or a big fire.
I’ve never seen it, but it’s interesting to think that snow is cold. It melts. Ash is hot, and can harden.
“What are you thinking about?” I ask her.
She’s quiet, and then she looks up, blinking unnaturally because of all the falling snow.
I already know what she’s thinking.
She looks back at me. “Ash and snow.”
She says nothing and continues walking.
I wonder if he likes me.
Her face is always the same. I don’t know if I can describe it that well. It’s not overly serious or intense. She never smiles, but she never seems very sad either. There’s happiness present, that’s for sure. But there’s also sadness. Her face is just locked in something that resembles a child-like wonder. Very bright, very expressive eyes. They’re full of wisdom, just like her thoughts. I just want to write down everything she thinks into a book.
It’s interesting. The wisdom makes her happy and sad.
I don’t know how she can see the path through all this snow. The trees are evenly spaced, and everything is undisturbed in a quiet, winter slumber. But Leilani wouldn’t even need a trail. That’s her gift. She’s a pathfinder. She can get you anywhere you want to go, to anything you want to find, without a map, without a compass, without even looking at the stars. The compass is inside of her.
I think it might have something to do with being a pathfinder. All the ones I’ve met are quiet like this.
I direct my vision away from her, so I can enjoy the silence like I’m supposed to be doing.
Not many people know what I am for obvious reasons. Imagine how freaked out someone would be if they found out they were in the presence of a mindreader. I’ve had that happen a few times. It’s amusing, terrifying, and discouraging all at the same time, depending on the person.
I’ve not met any other mindreaders, so I don’t know if my kind has telltale traits or not. We probably do. We’re all probably average joes who keep our heads down and purposely try to block out all the noise. Because, for every person who wants a mindreader’s power, there’s someone else who wants him dead.
Jason wanted me to go with Leilani because he didn’t trust her. She was too quiet, even for a pathfinder. No one could ever get her to talk.
It’s been about two days, and I think she’s spoken to me five times. Twice it had been in complete sentences. All were because I had asked a question.
I thought about messing with her mind a few times, figuring out what makes her uncomfortable and bringing it up. But I respect Leilani too much. The more I get to know her, the more uncomfortable it makes me to think about if I ever mess with her.
I’ve done it a few times to a few people I don’t like. Jason always gives me a look because he knows what I am, while everyone else just thinks I’m some average joe that he likes. But messing with people is boring. Mindreaders are way overrated. Everyone’s got these deep, dark secrets or these embarrassing memories that they’re so ashamed of, and they go around all afraid of what everyone else thinks when everyone else is too worried over their own secrets and memories. They all think that their big secret is worse or more embarrassing, but it’s not, because everyone is exactly like everyone else. I just don’t get it.
But I play along.
I’m just glad I’m not a detective, probing the minds of criminals and spies.
The Capital Agency won’t admit it, but everyone’s saying there’s a shortage of mindreaders. I believe that. We just don’t care, or we care too much about our own lives.
I look up. Leilani is staring at me. She’s replaying the memory of Jason’s conversation after our second assignment together.
And that’s the other thing I like about pathfinders. They don’t turn away when you stare back. They just look at you like: That’s right. I’m staring at you. Go ahead and stare back, while I look deep into your eyes for the next three to five minutes without being the least bit awkward while you grow increasingly uncomfortable.
I vaguely hear Jason’s voice. I step deeper and see us standing in the hallway outside his office.
I like working with him. He isn’t bothered by my silence.
Jason looks my way and makes a face. I know that I’m smirking like I always do. Jason glances at Leilani because she’s still staring at him.
He looks back at me and narrows his eyes. I hear his voice loud and clear though his lips don’t move.
Why won’t he tell me… I hope he hasn’t fallen in love with her.
I remember grinning and running away, and Jason’s face changes just as he realizes what he’s done.
But the memory doesn’t fade because it’s Leilani’s memory. Not mine.
I like merging memories. It’s like stepping back in time. I faintly see Leilani staring at me with that childlike face from behind the memory. Snow is falling and getting caught in her auburn hair.
She’s pretty. Very pretty. Beautiful even.
Her memory starts to change. It’s something from her childhood. She’s looking up at a great tree. Oak? Now she’s climbing. It’s autumn. Then she falls.
I nearly jump. It takes practice not reacting to something shocking or terrifying in someone else’s memory.
Is that… Jason?
Great. Now I’m curious to hear this story, but I know I’ll never get it out of her. Maybe I can probe Jason or memory search her.
“Are we lost, Leilani? Well I know we can’t be lost.” I laugh. “Are you figuring out the best path?”
“Just thinking,” she mutters, still staring at me.
It stays like this for a few minutes. I don’t want to step into any more memories because when I’m tired, it’s easy to convince myself that I don’t care. Sometimes I feel like a computer with everyone’s information stored on me yet I’m still an object with no emotions. And I don’t want to get a headache. Memory searching takes a lot of energy.
“You never seem to mind when I stare at you.”
I shrug. “Yeah, well. People as good-looking as me are used to this sort of thing… Wait. Leilani, did you – was that a smile?”
She turns away and continues walking, but I can tell she’s grinning.
I wonder if he can tell if I’ve ever kissed someone–
I turn away. That’s enough of her secrets. There’s some things I want to learn the old-fashioned way, if I ever learn them at all.
Wait, does she like me? Do I like her? Could that memory have meant… Jason? Is Jason in love with her? I can feel my stomach twisting. Surely not. Not with that age difference.
But that couldn’t have been Jason. Or else, why wouldn’t he trust her? Or was she a child in that memory at all? That had to have been one massive tree. Why did that memory of us in the hallway lead to something else about Jason? Why not me?
I’m getting annoyed at myself. I’m supposed to know all of this. I’m supposed to know everything. Nothing annoys me more than not knowing something about someone that I should know.
I know Jason well enough, but despite the fact that I can read minds, Leilani is a mystery. I wonder if she even knows herself. Probably not. She’s too – I don’t know – broad, a mind stretching the earth and skies.
Yeah, that would sound about right, being a pathfinder and all.
Do I like her?
I look back at her and think of Jason. She’s so… out there, that I’m starting to doubt if I even know the people that I understand better than anyone else. The person. There’s only one actually. Jason. The only person I could imagine knowing my secret and still not being afraid of me.
That’s probably it. That’s why I like her. I can’t figure her out.
Just the thought of that exhausts me. Figuring someone out.
I hate Jason. That little brat.
(Photo: Tony Ross)