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An Unknown Attraction
Type: , ,
Author: Crumbly Writer
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Book 1 of the "Catalyst" series. A young man, just 17, suddenly finds women mysteriously attracted to him while visiting New Orleans for Spring Break with his family. He acts as a catalyst, activating strange abilities in them that he doesn't understand. He's not ready for the responsibilities of adulthood, yet he's called upon to lead a string of followers. Where, he has no idea.

Rating: Unrated

Sample Chapter

01: An Immaculate Impression

It’s my great honor to tell you, the others like me, about the life of our great leader, Alex. I was selected for this task because of my familiarity with him, since I was one of those closest to him, so I was deemed the most capable to speak for him. But this is both a tremendous honor and a daunting task as I’m certainly no author. I’ve got no background in historical essays, or in writing biographies, but I plan on doing the best that I can, since I realize how important this is to each and every one of us.

Anyone reading this will already know the effects that Alex has had on all of our lives. You wouldn’t have been trusted to read this without already having a vested interest in our community, and that would assume that you’ve already been exposed to the many talks about his adventures. Yet, for the fundamental impact he’s had on so many people, very few outside of our insular community knows of him. There were a few scattered news reports of him at the time, but he eschewed publicity and always insisted that he was no one special, simply someone with an odd ability that he had no responsibility for, who simply tried to help the people around him to the best of his ability.

But we certainly know better than that, because we’ve each witnessed the various miracles he performed, both then, and in each of our lives now. Though he claimed to not believe in God, we all know that he was brought to Earth to establish a new order. There has been much discussion about his relationship to God. Some maintain that God hand picked him, others claim that he crossed over from a previous life on another world, and there’s even a few that maintain—like he did—that he was simply born with a completely random gift. We’ll probably never know for sure, he certainly never did, and that seems to have been by design. It was his innocence and his lack of a specific agenda that allowed him to reach out to so many, while also not attracting undue attention. There literally wasn’t anyone else that could have filled his shoes, and none that could have accomplished as much as he did, even if he did it all in a stumbling, awkward manner. But then, that was his unique charm. He never believed the stories about himself, and he never accepted who he was or what he could do.

However, I have to apologize in advance, because as I said, despite my familiarity with him, there is no written record of his words, and he refused to commit any of his personal thoughts to paper. Thus I’ve had to recreate each of the encounters in this biography. Though his many followers can recite his many words, no one could ever recollect the full details of what transpired. So if I claim something which doesn’t seem to fit, don’t doubt his authority, simply blame my crude attempts at recapturing his thoughts. But most of all, I tried to capture that sense of wonder that was so essentially him—namely, his own sense of self-depreciation and wonder at all these things and people who found him so utterly fascinating. He simply could never get over it. Even after he’d built quite a following, he was continually amazed whenever someone new would walk up to him with that astounded look in their eyes, and would speak to him with a reverential hush.

He never really understood the initial attraction, the powers themselves or the potential explanations of the source of those powers. Oh sure, he was always kept apprised of all our theories concerning them, but he could never quite believed that any of them were true. But then again, he could never see what any of the rest of us so clearly could, even if our initial glance was the last view of him we’d ever receive. For that we all owe the inventors of photography a deep debt of gratitude.

You’ll also notice a distinct lack of details in this book. Thus you won’t find traditional things like birth dates, times or specific events mentioned. This is because of his own desire to avoid any sense of worship about him. He didn’t want any memorials, ceremonies, or remembrances akin to Elvis’s Graceland. He didn’t even want anyone to remember his birthday for fear it would become a yearly holiday after he passed away. Again, he was so surprised by everyone’s fascination that he simply couldn’t understand why anyone would want to lavish such attention on him. He was, and will always be, a very low key, unassuming young man.

In any event, this is but one perspective of his life and, unfortunately for me, the only one selected as his ‘official’ biography. It will never have a wide readership and will certainly never be published by an official publishing house. But I know many, many people will keep it close to them and read it repeatedly, trying to remember central events or to explain to their children and grandchildren just what he accomplished. Just keep all of that in mind when you read all of my mistakes. If I could trust God to act through me the way he did through Alex, I could trust the truth of my words, but just as he had doubts about his own divinity, so too do I doubt the truth of my words. And after all, wasn’t that the whole point?

From here on out, everything will be conveyed from Alex’s perspective. There will be some off segments, as I wrestled with conveying the events he experienced in the first person with my perspective of everything having happened in the past. For him these things just occurred from one moment to another.

My mind drifted vacantly as beautiful scenery floated by; vast expanses of misty twilight waters, brownish marsh grass with the occasional shore birds, small fishing boats, pelicans drifting by on the breeze. I was looking forward to the coming week, but I was having trouble concentrating at the moment. I was excited about what we’d encounter, and while the sights were impressive, they couldn’t seem to hold my attention at the moment. The Big Easies’ reputation for exotic sights, restaurants, music and women all fought for my attention. I had a feeling that I’d have a great time and it would have a significant impact on my life. Having grown up in a small town without much excitement, I was ready to be in a large city teeming with people for the first time.

I glanced to my right and observed my sister Cate, who sat studying one of her various popular science books. Not that science is ever terribly popular, but her nose was buried in a mass market science book regarding DNA theory or something. My sister was a cute kid, not really beautiful yet, still a bit awkward and bookish. She had somewhat chubby cheeks with a nice shy smile and a gentle sprinkling of freckles across her cheeks and nose. She also had a really big, heartwarming smile—but by far her best feature was her eyes, which were large and round with an incredibly penetrating stare. She was never very social … neither of us was, but in my case I was simply shy. In hers she was always too busy studying.

Our parents, Frank and Linda Jennings, were typical parents, always watchful and ready to comment or respond to whatever we did. Well, maybe they weren’t that typical after all. My father was tall with a little paunch and a receding hairline making inroads into his scalp on both sides leaving a little island of hair in the center of his head. He had a long hooked nose, a strong chin and forehead, none of which I particularly shared. I’d describe him as kind and generous, but also bearing firm and foreboding looks.

Fortunately, it was from our mother’s side of the family that Cate and I got our looks. She was beautiful when she was younger, and although she’d grown a little plump over the intervening years due to her own excellent cooking, she still retained her classic beauty. She had the same curly twisty hair we inherited that frames the face so picturesquely, with a bit of a pudgy nose that curves up, beautiful little dimples and, also like us, long, curving lashes. Like my sister, Mom started off small breasted but graduated to a fairly ample chest, providing lots of cleavage when she wore a low cut dress, so at least she gave my sister hope for the future. Cate was flat—there’s no other word for it, she just didn’t have much of a chest. Not that I had an issue with it, she looked good with her slightly chubby cheeks, freckles and small chest. She presented a nice total package that worked well for her; that is, it would have if she’d used it instead of hiding behind books all the time.

As for myself, I’m Alex Jennings. I have the curling hair, freckles and broad nose of my mother and sister, though I don’t have the winning smile that Cate does, but I try. Unlike her, I have really heavy eyebrows, but then again, maybe she just plucks hers in secret. I seem to be unique in the family for my eyebrows. I’ve also got a bit of my father’s strong, pointy chin. It’s actually more pointy than strong, which is why I still claim it isn’t my father’s. Otherwise I’m slim, not skinny and definitely not built. I joined my school’s Gymnastics and Tennis teams, but mainly just to join something, not because I’m in any way athletic. That’s another thing we both inherited from my mother.

Both Cate and I attend Eldorado High School in Southern Illinois, a little Podunk community located beside a large national forest which keeps it from being developed, keeping the community small. Cate is a Junior and 16, with a relatively new driver’s license, whereas I’m a Senior, my last year, just a month and a half away from my 18th birthday. I guess I’ll celebrate a big birthday when it occurs, being officially a man and all, but it’ll still be a while before I can legally drink. Cate is actually more than a year and a half younger than me, but the combination of my birth date and her being so bright meant she’s only a year behind me in school.

The reason I was staring at drifting pelicans and fishing boats along the water’s edge was that we were nearing New Orleans, where we were going to be spending our Spring Break. ‘We’ being Cate, my parents and I. Cate and I were the only kids still living at home, and the trip was kind of a send-off for me. They’d told me they’d allow me this trip if I managed to do well in my last year of high school, and I’d crushed it. Yep, it’s true, I was off to college and out of the ol’ homestead. I had images of scantily-clad coeds prancing around campus in my little head. Whether the reality was true or not, I really didn’t care, as the mental images kept me in a pretty good mood, even though I spent most of my time reacting badly to my parent’s inquiries.

Cate had been invited along because she always does well. She’s really bright, at least in a bookish way, and she has a decent sense of intuition to go along with it that certainly helps her solve whatever ungodly problems she’s working on. I say ‘ungodly’ because I can’t understand most of the things she gets into in her Advanced Studies classes. Plus, quite frankly, I’m not much of a ‘god fearing’ soul.

Now don’t get me wrong; my parents are decent sorts, and they certainly tried to teach me to be respectful and to pay attention in church. But, strictly aside from all the hundreds of scandals continually following the church around like a lost puppy, I basically just don’t buy the central premise of the whole operation. That’s right; I don’t accept the whole concept of a soul. I’ve never seen any indication of one, no limited proof of its existence. The best that’s offered is a couple of folk reporting seeing a ‘light’ when near death, but that’s hardly evidence, that just means the optic nerves start to fry when starved of oxygen. I’m being facetious of course, but still, you get the idea. And basically, once you’ve given up on the simple concept of a pre-existing soul, the rest of religion’s premises just dissolve in the wind. If there’s no soul, then there’s no possibility of eternity, no paternal entity watching over us, no ultimate good or evil scheming behind our backs. Nope, the only good or evil needed is right where it’s always been, sitting inside of us, waiting for an excuse to get out.

Of course, that’s not exactly a popular sentiment; especially in small town middle America. Most Americans are offended by anyone who disagrees with them on anything, and saying you don’t believe in what everyone else assumes without doubt questions everything they believe in. For as ‘All American’ as they like to proclaim themselves to be, they sure don’t seem to believe in ANY of the basic American values. No, I don’t mean the modern American values of profits, fear and being agreed with, but the ‘old values’ like freedom of expression, religion and personal options.

In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to take after my sister in being a bit of a brainiac. I don’t do it intentionally like she does, but I read extensively and did well on my verbal SATs without really studying, so I tend to drop big words at the drop of a hat. But when I call Cate a ‘brainiac’ I really mean it. She’s incredibly smart and studies hard. She’s effectively skipped a year but instead of jumping ahead she takes a combination of high school advanced placement courses, a couple of courses scheduled by the school at a local college and one self-study Internet course.

Quite frankly she’s obsessed. She fashions herself as a scientific scholar, always researching, doing projects or trying to figure things out. I guess we can blame our older sister Becky for that. Becky’s several years ahead of us, working on her post doctorate as a medical researcher. Cate decided early on she liked what Becky was studying and it fit in with her idea of ‘interesting’ college plans, so she sees herself as a researcher as well. Why she decided to remain behind is beyond me. After all, neither of us has many close friends, and we both spend all of our time behind books waiting to get beyond high school.

“Well kids,” my father’s voice issued from the driver’s seat, surprising me from my reflections, “we’re here. Get your stuff and let’s get organized.” We quickly cleaned up all of our crap from the backseat and stowed it wherever it would fit as we took in our surroundings. The hotel was an old one, apparently recently redone so it was nice but still ‘quaint’, with rough brick walls, only a couple of blocks from the nearby casino (not that I expected us to be able to appreciate such facilities).

Our excitement at finally being at our destination led to an involved discussion as to what was on the agenda. Since it had taken so long to get here, we knew that most of the activities would take place the next day. In order to beat the spring break traffic, and get a few extra days of vacation, our parents let us skip school on Friday, so we were arriving before things got too busy. However, since most schools have given up on the idea of officially celebrating Easter, Cate and my spring break wasn’t anytime near Mardi Gras, so the crowds shouldn’t really be a big deal anyway.

Dad firmly told us that while we could stay out until 10 p.m.—I guess he thought our staying any later would only lead to our sneaking into a bar for a drink. (And besides, I suspected he and mom wanted to do exactly that, by themselves.) That would leave Cate and me on our own in the hotel fairly early. We decided easily enough to spend our first evening here feasting ourselves on wonderful Cajun cuisine, and then Cate and I would simply wander along the avenues watching street performers and listening to the sounds emanating from the various bars.

After dinner we just wanted to quietly walk off some of our recent excesses. My parents had bid us adieu, surreptitiously retreating to a nearby pub in the naïve belief that Cate and I wouldn’t suspect what they were up to, so that left us on our own as we started to wander towards the hotel. While there was still a lot of activity in the streets, most of the real activity, and the people, were in the various bars playing variations of Jazz and Blues. We could enjoy them, and we did, but it was kind of like enjoying the music of a loud radio at a stoplight; it’s just a bit hard to focus when you’re wandering from one storefront to the next.

At one point Cate nudged me with her elbow and asked, “Hey, haven’t you noticed any of the looks you’ve been getting since we arrived?”

“What looks?” I replied, dumbfounded.

“From the women down here,” she clarified as she gestured at the crowd surging around us, people from all over moving everywhere, no one seeming to take the slightest note of me.

“Are you crazy? No one ever looks at me,” I protested, spinning around gesturing to the crowd ignoring me. “I’m the most invisible person at Eldorado High School.”

“That may be, but ever since we got here you’ve been getting looks from various women. I’ve been watching them. You may not have noticed, but a girl always notices when the guy she’s with keeps getting looks from other girls.”

“Really?” I asked dubiously. “You’re my sister, you’re not supposed to care who looks at me.”

“That may be, but it’s kind of an inbred trait,” she explained with a shrug, even as she continued smiling at me. “Females are always aware of every other woman’s interest in someone they’re close to, even if it’s only a close physical proximity.”

“So who’s been looking at me then?” I challenged her.

“I’m not going to point them all out to you,” she said, rolling her eyes in exasperation. “First, it would be rude to do so. Not to mention having you staring at them after I did would be weird. But the best part of this is for you to start noticing them on your own. It shouldn’t be hard, there are plenty of them checking you out.”

“Now I know you’re kidding. I don’t think anyone has ever given me a second look, including the few I’ve asked out on a date.”

“I know, I’m shocked too,” she replied, smiling impishly. Adopting a more serious tone, she added, “At first I noticed a few people glancing at our car on the way here, but I kept noticing they weren’t looking at the car, me, or at Mom or Dad. They were each looking at you and it was always women. Granted, many of those looking weren’t all attractive young high school girls, but still.” She pitched her voice lower and leaned in, whispering conspiratorially. “It’s gotten worse while we’ve been out walking the streets. At the hotel, on the way over here, in the restaurant and while we’ve been wandering, you’ve been getting a series of people glancing meaningfully at you. I know you’re too shy to ever do much about it, but if you could get over yourself and recognize what’s going on you might actually find yourself a cute spring break girlfriend or something,” she concluded as she circled the conversation back to a teasing mode.

“Yeah, as if,” I scoffed. Still, I was intrigued, and I was already scanning the people around us, trying to perceive anyone who might be taking note of me. I even tried to stand up a little straighter and walk a little more ‘manly’. While it wasn’t Mardi Gras, the streets were still crowded since it was a warm and lush evening and a perfect Friday evening for a night on the town. As a result there were a lot of potential female observers to consider. I tried to guess what someone interested in me would look like.

“Don’t be so obvious about it,” Cate hissed, continually amazed at my obtuseness. “Just act casually. You don’t want to scare them away.”

“Hey, scaring attractive people away is my trademark. If these women down here aren’t scared by my natural looks and personality, then they aren’t likely to be scared by a simple glance.”

That was part of the relationship that Cate and I had. We would frequently tease each other, I guess like most siblings do. Ours was usually a bit more sexually inspired than most, but it was something we’d started early and we’d always cloak it in clever comments or smart word plays so our parents couldn’t easily object. In fact, we’d eventually won them over and now, as often as not, our parents were as likely to make a ribald, off color joke at our expense as we would of each other. We all knew it was in good fun and that we didn’t mean anything by it—we were close enough to each other that we all knew how we felt about each other. At least I hoped we did.

Walking further, I was a lot less conspicuous in the way I was glancing around, trying to catch anyone showing an interest in me. I did begin to notice quite a few who seemed to be more than a bit entranced by me. Most would glance away, embarrassed when I’d return their stares, but a few would steal second or even third glances after that. I tried smiling at a few but usually got weak, unsure smiles in return. Mostly they just seemed shy and uncertain, so I wasn’t about to force the issue by walking up to one and starting a conversation.

Continuing along, with me still trying to catch anyone watching me, we suddenly heard the sound of hurried footsteps behind us.

“Please Sir, please stop. I’ve got to…,” came an abbreviated greeting from behind us.

Turning, I saw an attractive older black woman. Older being relative, I guess. Being a teenager, I considered anything over twenty-five as ancient! Anyway, she was rushing up to us out of breath from running. She was relatively light skinned, her hair fairly fine and done in a short, ironed hair bob. She was slightly heavier than most of my thin classmates, but not as heavy as the other, inactive kids around the school. All in all, she had some relatively nice curves. However, she was on us before I could observe anything else about her.

Nearing us, she looked up at me and our eyes met for the first time, and suddenly she just stopped and her head jerked back like someone had just slapped her. Her knees seemed to weaken and she weaved like she might collapse. I immediately leapt forward, always being the perfect gentleman even if no one had ever shown the least bit of appreciation for such behavior. (Well, aside from Cate and my mother that is. They both seemed to think women should fawn over me because I was such a gentleman, but I guess women had their own idea on that subject.)

I tried to catch her but she put her arms out, waving them back and forth. “No, no,” she stated as she wavered unsteadily before us. “I’m Okay. Just give me a second to get used to this.”

I glanced at Cate, and her mystified shrug told me she had no more idea what this woman was referring to than I did. For some reason she was shielding her eyes and wouldn’t look directly at me, although she kept glancing at everyone and everything around us. She’d look at someone and stare, wide eyes for several seconds without regard to what they’d think about such behavior, before she’d shake her head and look at the next person in a similar manner. I was beginning to wonder just who this person was, what she was doing, and even if she’d been speaking to us when she’d called out a minute ago.

“I … I just need a few seconds to adjust. I don’t really know what this gift you’ve given me is, or what any of it means. I knew you would affect me and my life in a very personal way, but I had no idea you’d give me the gift of visions,” she stated.

This time it was I who had to shake my head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, lady,” I protested, “I haven’t done anything to you or even seen you before. There’s no reason I would have done anything to you and I’m not the kind of person to give visions to someone I don’t even know,” I added, hoping a little humor might ease the situation a bit.

She immediately stepped forward and dropped to her knees right at my feet, throwing her arms around my legs. I would have stepped back defensively, as one normally does when one invades their personal space, but had no way to do so with my legs entrapped. She didn’t look up at me but started wailing instead.

“Master, Master, please. What can I do to serve you, Master?” this crazy woman started crying to me. Now I knew she was crazy as a bat, and I was beginning to have my doubts about all the others who’d been staring at me recently.

“Uh … What?” I brilliantly responded, completely befuddled by the onslaught. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or simply run away.

“Master, Angel, Saint; I don’t know what you are, but I’m here to serve you. You’ve opened my eyes and let me see a completely new world; I never imagined it could be so beautiful or wonderful. You’ve got to tell me what to do with it!” she insisted, pleading with me and glancing up at me, but without ever meeting my eyes, mostly simply looking down at my feet as she continued to cling to my legs.

I wanted to yell at her to cease and desist, but before I could even think of any way of stating such a sentiment in an open forum she recoiled from me, never letting go of the tight hold she had of my legs.

“I understand,” she stated in a sorrowful tone, her head bowed as she knelt before me. “I won’t embarrass you,” she continued more quietly this time, “just tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

“Excuse me, miss,” interrupted Cate, kneeling down beside the distraught woman, “but I think you’re mistaking my brother for someone else. He’s never met you, he’s never been here before, and he’s never given you anything or done anything for you.”

“No, no, I can see who, or rather what he is. There’s no mistaking an Angel. I could feel his presence from blocks away. He’s the one that awakened my vision. He’s the one that’s changed my life,” she continued to rant, although more quietly than before, still tightly grasping my leg in one arm while gesturing wildly to my sister with the other.

Pausing to take all this in, my sister remained quiet despite the anticipated response, but before the odd woman could start ranting again Cate placed her hand under her chin and lifted her face to examine it. The woman let her do so; shifting her head away from me and squinting, as if it were painful for her to look at me.

“You look fine,” Cate stated to both the woman and I in her typical analytical style, examining the woman like a bug under a microscope. “Your eyes aren’t dilated and you’re speaking sensibly enough, despite the things you’re saying. I’m not sure what you’re imagining about my brother, Alex, but he’s just an average kid here on vacation. He hasn’t done anything to you. If you can discuss this rationally then we’ll humor you for a bit, but…,” she let her voice trail off with the implied threat that we’d only entertain her for so long before we’d either have to leave or call for some help.

“Alex!” whispered the strange woman at my feet, as if amazed by my very name. I quickly looked about, feeling nervous as I noticed a quickly amassing collection of onlookers.

“Yes, that’s Alex and I’m his sister, Cate. Please, can we help you up? I’m sorry, but kneeling at my brother’s feet, calling him ‘Master’ in the middle of the French Quarter is, frankly, kinda freakin’ me and everyone else out.”

“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman replied, suddenly struggling to stand up, all without moving away from me. Instead she shifted her hands from my legs to my hips to help herself stand without backing up.

“I have no desire to cause any trouble for either of you, it’s just that I had to find you. I was at a dinner with a few business associates and we were preparing to leave when I felt you nearby. I don’t know how, but I knew just where you were, despite my being indoors and you’re being blocks away, I could track you as you moved away from me. I followed as quickly as I could, afraid I’d lose track of you. It helped that I could feel you and didn’t need to actually see you, but with all the traffic I was afraid I’d lose you.”

“Yes, yes,” stated Cate in a calming, almost purring voice, attempting to placate the deranged woman standing beside me, “that’s all very nice. But who the hell ARE you?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. That was so rude of me. My mother would be ashamed; to behave so badly, especially before someone so important.”

“I’m not import—” I began, feeling a bit overwhelmed at all the talk of my being her master and a possible angel. It was very unnerving.

“My name is Shaniqua Sharp. That’s ‘Shaniqua’ with a ‘q’. I’m sorry to embarrass you, but I just didn’t know how to address someone like you. You’re too magnificent for words,” she finished, almost whispering the words, eyes still downcast, almost closed as if she were ashamed by my wonder or some other nonsense.

“Please,” I responded, finally managing to gather my wits enough to respond. “Let’s get out of the street where we can discuss this. I’m certainly not an angel. I’m just an average high school student on spring break with his family.” I was watching a one-man band walking by, loudly playing cymbals, blowing a horn, playing the harmonica and a guitar. Yet HE was attracting less attention than we were!

“Do you happen to know of any place nearby where we can talk quietly?” Cate inquired.

“Yes, yes I do. Follow me and I’ll show you.” With that she disengaged herself from me and set off like a woman with a mission, stopping a dozen steps away to make sure we were following. We both hurried to keep up with Shaniqua with a ‘q’ as she led us down the crowded street, away from the curiously gawking crowd that had formed around us. I noticed several women staring at me now, but had no way of knowing if it was a result of that scene or whether they thought I was cute. Guess there’s no worrying about it now.

She led us to a small courtyard that housed a combination coffee/shake shop and we squeezed into the back where all the tables were taken, but positioned us so we could stand along a counter. The music from the nearby Jazz clubs reverberated through the walls, but it wasn’t so loud that you had to actually shout to be heard. We gathered ourselves, though no one took the effort to think about anything as pedestrian as getting something to drink, we were too fascinated by the recent strange events to go anywhere.

I took a moment to regard this strange woman who had so unexpectedly barged into our lives. When I said she was older I really meant that she was older in relation to the two of us. She was actually relatively young, clearly an adult but apparently only in her mid to late 20s or early 30s. I certainly wouldn’t mind being seen with her. She had full lips, a noticeable gap between her front teeth and fine straight hair. But she had absolutely beautiful skin with perfectly fine pores that made her skin look like creamy silk that you just wanted to run your hands across. Cate had nice skin, the key word being ‘nice’. There wasn’t anything wrong with my sister’s skin, but it simply didn’t shine like this woman’s did. She also had large, deep set eyes that showed a keen insight and seemed to reflect an inner truth and honesty, though I was sure I just imagined that because how do you see inner truth and honesty?

“So, you say you felt drawn to my brother despite never having seen him before?” Cate asked.

“Yeah, it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” she explained. “Somehow I just felt this strong, powerful presence and when I stopped I could feel exactly where it was in space and distance from me, even though I was indoors and couldn’t see anything beyond the nearby walls.” She continued, without needing any prompting, apparently discussing my other-worldly properties seemed like a fascinating topic for them to discuss. “Then, when I neared and called out, you both stopped and, in that moment when our eyes met….” Her voice simply trailed off at this point as if she were lost in the memory of it, despite its only having just occurred.

Both Cate and I were dying to hear just what had triggered this strange event so Cate prompted her, “What happened then?”

“I thought it was a dream at first, a vision or something, but it wasn’t a dream. It was a revelation. The moment our eyes met I saw this blinding flash and suddenly the whole world changed. In an instant I saw the world in ways I’d never seen it before. I saw colors and images I never imagined. Everything had a new color. I guess color is a bad word, but I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s like describing a beautiful musical score to a deaf person, or a wonderful perfume to someone who’s never been able to smell. It completely filled my soul with wonder and I instantly knew that my life was forever changed.”

“Please,” I quietly begged, “let’s not get carried away. It can’t be that wonderf—”

“Oh no,” she quickly replied, briefly turning to face me before quickly averting her eyes again. “If anything my words are only a poor imitation of the wonders my life is now filled with. It’s as if the blind could see. It’s like Helen Keller must have felt when she suddenly understood that those motions in her hand were concepts. It’s like you’ve spent your whole life with only five senses, never knowing you were missing anything, then someone gives you a sixth and suddenly the world is brand new. You can’t get enough of this new thing, yet don’t know anything about it.”

“Whew,” I whistled, overwhelmed by the intensity of the whole presentation.

“I’m curious Shan… Shanita?” Cate asked

“No, no, it’s Shaniqua, spelled with a ‘Q’. ‘S’, ‘h’, ‘a’,….” she went on as she spelled out her name. Finally my sister got it.

“Shaniqua? That’s right?” she asked again, pronouncing it slowly. Cate hated to get basic things like pronunciation wrong.

“Yes, that’s very good,” Shaniqua replied, though I thought to myself, no, it would have been good if she had heard it the first time, but luckily I didn’t say anything. However Shaniqua shyly lifted her downcast eyes, smiling at me as if sharing some intimate secret with me.

“So when Alex first looked into your eyes you started seeing these … colors?” Cate asked hesitantly, still not able to wrap her mind around the idea and asking for a more definitive statement from her subject, again reacting more like a scientist in her lab than a girl taking to an adult woman.

“No, colors doesn’t do it justice,” Shaniqua explained. “It’s like I’m seeing the energy inside of things. As far as I’ve been able to figure out, and it’s only been a few minutes I’ve been seeing these things, it seems to surround everyone and also a smaller glow around plants and other things. I expect it’ll show up with animals as well. It seems to reflect a life energy of some sort. Except each one is unique, each person has a different glow, a different color if you will, but surrounding this central glow there’s this constant dance of colors all around them. I have no idea what any of it signifies, but it’s fascinating to watch.”

“So it’s like you’re seeing people’s auras?” Cate ventured.

“Yeah, that seems like as good description as any. It’s like I can see their life energy reflected in an aura surround them. I know there’s some significance to these displays but I can’t even begin to guess what it might be. I was hoping you’d be able to tell me, but you seem as surprised by it as I am,” she told us, seeming to trust speaking to Cate more than me. I still had no idea how to deal with the whole thing, so I just sat silently and tried to take it all in. I still thought she was certifiable.

“So I guess that was what made you react like you did. When Alex first looked at you, you wheeled back like you’d been slapped or something,” Cate told her, trying to establish exactly what had happened when. It was clear she was examining the whole occurrence as a big real life science experiment rather than simply a deranged woman talking nonsense to us.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Shaniqua explained. “I reacted to the bright light by pulling back. I’m not sure what produces the light, but I thought at first it was simply Alex. He glows just like angels are supposed to. I can’t actually see him. Just like I told you, everyone seems to have their own glow or aura about them, but Alex, just like I expected, has so much power inside of him that his aura shines like a beacon, almost like a huge spotlight shining straight into your eyes. Except that first vision seemed more like something else, like maybe he did something to my eyes or my brain, and it kind of knocked me silly for a few seconds.”

“Wait, wait, I’ve got to get this all down,” Cate stated excitedly, reaching into the handbag she always carried with her, where she kept her ever ready art supplies so she could draw whenever the mood struck her. She pulled out a new notebook—I’ve never figured out why a girl like my sister would carry around science notebooks when most girls carry cell phones, but I guess that’s just her—and immediately started taking notes, trying to document Shaniqua’s crazy ramblings.

“So you can’t actually look at him?” she asked as she began to catch up on her notes. “That’s the reason why you keep shielding your eyes and squinting whenever you look at him?”

“Yeah, ever since he awakened this new vision in me, all I can see is this bright glare whenever I look at him. If you think of it in terms of a person’s life force, then most people have a slight glow surrounding them, but your brother’s is like a beacon, calling in everyone around him. I could tell he was powerful when I felt him in the restaurant and I just knew I had to reach him because he was going to affect my life somehow, but I had no idea what he’d manage to do to me,” Shaniqua explained. I hated to give her credit, but Cate was right, this woman was well reasoned, spoke sensibly and told a reliable and highly detailed story. I was almost willing to believe what she was telling us. I would have except I was there and I’d had no part in anything she was describing.

“Hold on, hold on,” Cate insisted as she jotted rapidly in her notebook, trying to capture every silly detail. “You could feel him … through buildings, and his aura is so bright you can’t look at him?” Cate asked, trying to flesh out the details in her damn notebook.

“Yes. His brilliance is overpowering. I can feel and see it through solid walls. That’s why I can’t look at him. It’s just too bright. I can hardly make out what you look like because you’re standing next to him,” she stated. Personally I found all of this too fantastical to believe, things like this just don’t happen!

“Brilliance?” I queried.

“I don’t know if that’s the proper word for it. Aura seems like a better word, but it just doesn’t describe how much stronger yours is than anyone else’s. Since you first looked at me, I see multicolored auras around people and other living things. However, yours is so strong it’s like standing before a floodlight. It completely overwhelms the senses, at least my new ones, as it doesn’t seem to affect anyone else. How they can stand under its sheer intensity is unfathomable,” she told us, unable to comprehend how everyone didn’t see the things she was imagining.

She gently touched the side of my face, even though she couldn’t look at me. “Although I got a brief glimpse of you, I can’t make out any details of your face now. All I remember is you’re light skinned, without much sun exposure, wearing a bit of stubble with a cute little bookish look. I love the little flowing bang you have with that unique curl, it gives you an almost magical appearance. And I remember the heavy brows now that I can feel them as well. Alas,” she sighed, “it’s all lost to me now, as all I see is a bright light. It’s hard to look at you even with my eyes tightly closed.”

“You’re very well spoken, Shaniqua. Have you had a lot of education?” my sister asked, quite conversationally, ignoring the outrageous conversation they were having, and asking a question I never would have.

“Yes, quite a bit. My family comes from Jamaica. Unlike a lot of Jamaican immigrants, my grandmother was from a fairly well-to-do family, so we were raised with certain expectations concerning comportment and education.”

I’ll admit it. I giggled a little. I’m so used to silly self-absorbed high school kids that suddenly finding someone so well spoken that wasn’t afraid to sound smart and actually took immense pride in it, left me feeling insecure about my own feelings of self-worth.

“In fact,” she continued as if the prior discussion hadn’t taken place, finally warming up to speaking to us as two fellow human beings and not a mythical angel and his sidekick sister, “my roots go back to the early days of the Jamaican Revolution. My ancestor was Samuel Sharpe. We changed the name generations ago but he was an early preacher in Jamaica and taught the various slaves. When he led them in a general strike against some plantation owners, a riot broke out and the British authorities reacted badly. Those actions eventually led to the end of slavery in Jamaica. My family thinks we have some Carib Indian blood in us. They were very warlike and couldn’t be kept in captivity because they didn’t know what it was. They thought that if they were captives today, then they’d be captives forever, and they’d just die. However, it’s that intense fighting spirit that filled my ancestor with such strength, a strength my family hopes still infuses us; potentially carrying us through anything we encounter.”

Shaniqua was clearly very proud of her history and you could tell that her quick description was refined and abbreviated over the years through repeated retellings. The fact that she was so highly educated, so proud and had such a strong family background seemed to run counter to the crazy things she was telling us just moments ago.

“Anyway,” she continued, “that’s my history. So, you’re really both still in high school? That’s amazing. So you don’t know any more about this than I do? I’m like your first disciple?”

“Uh … look, I don’t mean to rain on your parade or anything, but I don’t quite buy into this idea of my representing angels or anything, and any parallel to collecting followers like Jesus did is just wrong. I have no idea what you think you’re seeing, but I certainly didn’t do anything to allow you to ‘see the world’ in any new ways. I’m just ordinary. I’m average. I’ve never done anything spectacular in my short life,” I protested as I took another step away in a vain attempt to keep my distance despite her constantly clinging to me.

“He’s really humble, isn’t he?” Shaniqua asked my sister, smirking at her about me. “The most amazing man I’ve ever met, acting like a bumbling shy kid.”

“Yeah, he’s always been like that,” Cate replied with a wry smile. “He hardly talks to anyone, but he’s bright and has great grades. He seems to lack motivation, which our mother blames on his own self-imposed isolation. There’s no getting him to admit he can do anything.

“Again, getting back to the topic at hand,” Cate interrupted herself. “I was curious; when you first threw your arms around Alex, you shrank back unexpectedly, much like when he first looked at you. Was that a similar occurrence?”

“Oh no,” she informed her, “That was when he told me to cease and desist. That’s why I tried so hard to calm down and not make a scene.”

“Really?” Cate asked her quizzically. “He didn’t say a word. I was right there beside both of you and he never said a thing.”

“No silly,” Shaniqua laughed easily, as if what Cate was saying didn’t amount to a hill of beans, “he spoke in my mind. He told me to be quiet and so I knew I’d better stop making a spectacle of myself.”

“He spoke in your mind?” Cate asked, unbelievably.

“Yeah,” Shaniqua explained, “It didn’t surprise me because I knew he had all kinds of unexpected powers.” She just shrugged, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Someone as powerful as he wouldn’t be expected to behave according to the normal laws of physics, now would he?”

Cate turned and looked at me. “This is just crazy, Alex, did you actually say something to her?”

I was about to protest that it WAS crazy, but then remembered the event, still crystal clear in my mind.

“Actually, that was exactly what I was thinking at the time, but I didn’t actually say anything.”

“Wow! So this is some innate ability Alex just seems to have,” Cate stated, seemingly in awe about a fictional power I clearly didn’t have.

“I don’t speak in people’s minds,” I protested.

“Telepathically,” Cate offered in a completely unhelpful manner, “You don’t speak to them telepathically.”

“Right, I don’t speak telepathically to anyone,” I leaned in close to emphasize my point. “Look, in all the time you’ve known me, have I ever spoken to you or anyone around us telepathically before?”

Cate bit her lip and thought it out logically, which is what I’d been hoping she’d do. I knew she’d see that this was too farfetched to believe.

“No,” she said slowly. “But maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe you had to trigger something in someone to do it. Maybe whatever you did to Shaniqua enabled her to receive your telepathic messages?”

“That’s just crazy, Cate, there’s no—”

“You know, I thought he was going to change my life immensely when I first felt him,” Shaniqua interjected. “I had no clue how he was going to do it, but I could tell he had an incredible amount of—”

“Excuse me ladies, but let’s get this little fantasy under control,” I protested. “Shit! You’re talking about mind reading!” I gasped. Now I didn’t have problems with a single crazy individual, but two, with my sister joining her in her insanity. How could my otherwise intelligent sister, immersed in the whole of scientific principal, honestly expect us to believe anything as wacked out as this whole crock of shit?

“There’s no way I could do what you’re describing. It’s just not physically possible, Cate,” I argued, my mind reeling at the insanity of it all. “Mind reading is like amnesia in Soap Operas. It’s popular in stories and fantasy, but it has no bearing on reality. I mean, if there was any telepathy, then there’d have to be some kind of radio waves being broadcast from my head to hers.”

“You’ve got a point there,” my sister conceded. She then added a little laugh and tapped her notebook with her pen. “Luckily you’ve got a scientifically minded sister, plus another with access to medical research equipment we might access to test that theory. I think I may have discovered my academic calling. I can see the Nobel prize options in the offing.” She was just soooo proud of herself at that moment.

“Just wait a minute, Cate,” I warned. “I’m not sure I want you experimenting on me. Not to mention, if what you’re saying is true, wouldn’t we both be in a whole lot of danger because of it? If word got out I mean.”

“What danger? You communicate with one other person. Sure, maybe you could cheat in a single poker game with one other person at the table, but you can hardly read minds. You’re the equivalent of a mobile phone, though to only a single person without any apps,” she added with a teasing smile. “If there were more of you, they might put you to use like they did the Code Talkers, the Native Americans they used during WWII, but that’s about the extent of your usefulness to anyone.”

“Still,” I hedged, trying to protect my fears from conflicting evidence as it now seemed more comfortable than the unknown, “we shouldn’t tell anyone about this until we know it’s safe.”

“Granted,” she acknowledged. “We’ll keep it under wraps. After all, we don’t even know if it’s real yet. It’s just a crazy, cockamamie idea at the moment. However…” she teased, drawing the word out in a lilting tune, indicating there was more to come. I was afraid to hear what it might be, although I was equally as intrigued by it.

“We could do a little ‘experiment’ right here,” she finally suggested.

“What kind of experiment?” asked Shaniqua, finally breaking the silence she’d held throughout Cate’s whole diatribe.

“Here,” she said. She grabbed her backpack and began riffling through it again, finally coming up with her sketchbook and two pencils. She opened up her precious sketchbook and tore out a couple of sheets, handing me a single sheet of paper and a pencil.

“Now,” Cate continued, seemingly intent on whatever it was she had planned. However, she pulled up short as a thought occurred to her, and her excited look crumbled.

“Shit,” she whispered, a habit we both shared due to my mother’s influence on our use of profane language. “We can’t do this without an outside, independent assistant. Oh hell,” she temporized with a dismissive shrug, “we’ll just do it with us. Course, we may have to do it again at some point to make it ‘authentic’, but it’ll give us an idea if my thoughts are correct or not.”

I took the sheet and looked at it, then at my sister in confusion.

“Just stay here and hold onto the sheet. Write down anything that pops into your head, whether they’re words, concepts or just images. Just don’t write down ‘Hot girl, want sex’,” she warned me, giggling, which Shaniqua joined her in. “Try to keep it to things other than random synaptic firings.” She grinned at me as she led our new friend across the room and eventually out the door of the establishment.

I waited patiently, though it’s hard being patient when you’re expecting something you don’t know is coming or not. I felt especially awkward standing there all alone, without a drink in my hand, taking up enough space for three people. I was getting ready to walk over to the service counter when suddenly some thoughts just popped into my head. The numbers nine and thirteen were there. Not as numbers though—just the knowledge of those amounts along with a questioning sense. I thought such an uncertain response was strange. Shaniqua claimed she had received a clear statement, but I decided to go with the flow, whatever that was.

Damn, I thought, it’s a question about nine and thirteen. What would Cate want to know about nine and thirteen? Which is greater? What’s nine plus thirteen? What’s nine times thirteen? What’s nine to the thirteenth power? Nah, that’s just too far out. Cate would want an answer I knew off the top of my head. I thought about each option for a second until I felt secure about one and hoped it was the right answer. I quickly wrote ‘What’s 9 times 13?’ on the sketch paper and jotted the date and time beside it since I knew about my sister’s obsession with record keeping. Then I tried the harder task, I thought of the answer, ‘117’. It took a bit, I tried a variety of ways of ‘thinking’ it, and suddenly got a sense that it worked. Just like that.

I waited again, my excitement growing, feeling frustrated it was seemingly taking forever, when again I was suddenly struck with a response. This time I got a questioning feeling along with a brief flash of red and then of yellow, but couldn’t pick up anything else. Figuring I missed something I tried to project my confusion back, unsure if it would work, as I was unsure if any of this was working, but making sure to jot times down as I did it. I knew Cate would be pissed if I forgot her protocols. A moment later I imagined a rainbow and hoping it wasn’t just random neurons firing, I guessed at the question and immediately wrote down ‘green’. Well, to be truthful it took me a few moments to remember what color came next, not being an artist like Cate the answer wasn’t obvious, but I’d played around with photo manipulation on the computer enough to remember the basic color spectrum fairly well.

I started to force a response, but noticed I was puckering my lips and wrinkling my forehead, and thought I must present an odd sight that would certainly attract attention, so I forced myself to relax and tried to do what I’d just done before as simply as I could. Again, I was met with a feeling of having succeeded, although I really had no way of knowing if it was true or just my imagination.

Again, I waited anxiously for another message to appear and was getting nervous when the two girls came strolling into the store, giggling at each other like lifelong friends.

“Well, it worked Alex,” Cate enthused, grinning wildly at her victory. “Wait here with Shaniqua while I go buy us some victory juices. I think this deserves some celebrations. Nobel prize here I come!” She walked off proudly, a bounce in her step and smiling the whole way.

At this point her new compatriot snuggled up against my chest and smiled at me, although it was difficult since she still couldn’t look directly at me.

“See Alex,” she cooed teasingly, “I told you you’re anything but ‘average’. How many other teenagers can read minds, draw people who can sense their power to them, sight unseen, or who have the ability to grant people new abilities they’ve never had before?” She had me there. I’d have trouble trying to pretend I was nothing special from now on. Still, the thought I might be ‘special’ scared me; quite a bit actually.

“I think we should be careful throwing words like that around in a public environment,” I whispered to her.

“Ha, I doubt there’s enough sobriety here for anyone to notice anything we’re saying. Still, you have a point. But your whispering is just as telling as anything I’m saying.” She grinned at me, knowing she had a valid point. She let that thought soak in for a moment, and then rubbed her chest against me as I stood against the counter.

“Now, how do you think I could possibly repay you for what you’ve done for me?” she whispered sexily, with a low throaty whisper that sent shivers up my spine. I could feel her nipples pressing into my chest, despite the layers of clothes between us. It was then that I suddenly noticed her clothing. In all the excitement before, a matter as minor as her clothing just hadn’t registered. However, now with her rubbing her large breasts up against me, it was suddenly very important to me.

I was wearing the typical Spring Break attire, namely a simple patterned t-shirt and loose, very short shorts. It was much warmer here than in Southern Illinois where we lived, and, despite it still being fairly chilly, I’d been anxious for the chance to shed some clothes for the promise of potential warmer sun. My companion, however, was dressed much finer than I. She was wearing a light, multicolored, wildly patterned sundress. It rose to just above her knees and was relatively low cut. I could see a fair amount of cleavage, and it was certainly a sight to behold. She certainly had more of it than most of my female classmates did.

I also noticed she was wearing a nice perfume. Having had almost no experience with perfumes, other than various flavored ChapSticks and some cheap varieties worn by my past girlfriend, I had no basis to judge its relative merits, but it certainly enhanced her appeal. I really wanted to look into her eyes, but again she was unable to meet my look, instead looking down in an apparent submissive pose that matched her earlier attempts to call me her master.

Her hand found my hip and ran along it, just grazing it lightly enough to again raise goose bumps on my flesh; mostly the flesh of my arms and stomach, as well as something else. She pressed more firmly against me, which I really had no problems with, but didn’t know quite how to respond to, so I tried to back up, only to be blocked by the wall, while she slowly ground her summer dress covered crotch against my rising erection.

“I might be able to think of a thing or two,” she whispered to me, making me frantically try to recall what she was referring to; all my recent thoughts having erased the simple comment from just moments ago. I guess that’s the penalty of trying to think with a tiny head. “Just think of what other powers we might discover if we got our minds thinking of the same thing at the same time?” Jeez, she was getting me too hot to think. Despite my insecurity, and my fear of adults, I felt my hands moving of their own accord and they slid around her waist and I slowly leaned forward to hopefully press my lips against hers.

“Hey you two, get a room!” Cate called, completely destroying the mood. I jerked my head back guiltily, hitting it against the wall in my haste with a thunk.

My co-conspirator didn’t retreat at all, she simply giggled at my apparent discomfort.

“He’s so cute,” she laughed. “Is he blushing? I can almost feel the heat of his blush from here.”

“Oh, he’s soooooo blushing,” my sister laughingly replied, handing me a frozen concoction of some sort. The one she handed Shaniqua ended up being gently rubbed against my naked arm, which you’d think would be anything but sexy, but it still was somehow. I shivered delightedly as my head grew light with excitement.

“So Shaniqua,” Cate started off, completely ignoring the fact that her new friend was about to seduce her brother right in front of her—in a public location, no less. I just hoped I could keep from blowing up before we even got out of the little juice bar. “How do you reconcile being a proud, educated, I’ll assume professional woman with prostrating your body before a teenager and calling him ‘Massa’?” How she managed to say all that with a straight face I’ll never know.

“Technically,” Shaniqua answered, without seeming to be offended by the term, “I never called him ‘Massa’. But, let’s face it, when faced with the divine, you do what you gotta do.”

“Now wait one—”

“No one’s talking to you stud muffin,” they both managed to answer at the same time before breaking into giggles. How they arranged that I couldn’t guess, but the conspiracy probably started out on the street. I shut up as I recommenced blushing furiously again.

“Seriously though, doesn’t the age thing bother you?” Cate asked.

“Well, it’s a little hard to think of him as that young. I can’t see his face, and as for the legality of it, I see him as existing on a separate plane than the rest of us. Just think, if Jesus were to come down to Earth again, and give you a beautiful gift; say raising you from the dead, what would you be willing to do in return?”

“You’ve got a point there,” Cate responded. “So how does this all relate to your ideas on religion? You know, my silly brother doesn’t even believe in God.”

“You know,” she said with an ironic laugh, “my entire world has just been turned upside down. Right now I couldn’t tell you what direction is up, much less evaluate what’s true when I found out my entire world was a lie.”

“Don’t let me influence your—”

“Hush,” Shaniqua said as she placed her fingertips on the lips and just kept on talking despite my attempts to interrupt. “Alex is the only person in the world who can help me navigate this new world I find myself in. He doesn’t believe in himself at the moment, probably based on his insecurity in himself and his maturity, but I figure I’ve gotten in on the ground floor of something earth shattering, and I have a feeling he’s going to be the one to teach me whatever I need to know to get by in this new world.”

“I think I agree with you, even knowing nothing about it and not being able to see his ‘glow’.” Cate laughed again at her own humor.

“Anyway,” she added as she let her laugh fade away and grew more serious, “we have to be getting back before too long, as I don’t doubt my mother may call to check up on us and make sure we’re in the hotel room. What about you? Do you have work tomorrow? It’ll be Saturday after all.”

“No, I’m finished with work for the week. I work in HR, that’s Human Resources if you’re not familiar with it. But with all that’s happening, I’m tempted to just up and quit. This is certainly much more important than filling in some company’s paperwork.”

“No way!” I insisted. “Look, whatever we have going here, I don’t think it’s going to pay many bills, much less pay for all the research that Cate is salivating over. I think keeping your job makes a lot of sense.”

“Don’t forget about Becky,” Cate reminded me. “You know she’s going to want a piece of my Nobel, plus she’s the one with the resources and the degree.” I rolled my eyes at this additional information, hopefully letting my sister know I really didn’t need that kind of help at the moment. However Shaniqua jumped in, ignoring Cate’s interjection.

“That makes sense,” she responded. “You two won’t be independent for a while. When do you graduate Alex? And what are your college plans?”

“I graduate in June and I start at SIU in September,” I replied. “I’m seventeen by the way, soon to hit eighteen in a little over a month. Cate’s still sixteen, though. As for college, well, while Cate’s obviously interested in science, I’m considering web design.” He halted as she stared into the distance, considering that simple statement. “Or maybe sociology?”

“Given the events of tonight, are you sure you want to pursue either of those?” Cate asked, looking like she was tired of her brother’s inability to commit to a specific field of study. “Wouldn’t focusing on something related to this new discovery make more sense?”

“Cate, I have no idea what the ‘events of tonight’ are,” I said with an exasperated sigh. “I don’t know if this is a onetime thing. I don’t know how long it will last, and I don’t even know that I’m not imagining it all right now. At the moment, I have no idea what to think. Personally I think tomorrow morning I’m going to wake up in a padded room wearing a straightjacket.”

“You both have plenty of time to think about it,” our new companion added. “By the way, how long are we staying?”

“What, here in this restaurant?” Cate asked, although the meaning was clear.

“No silly,” she replied with a laugh as she placed a possessive hand on my chest. “How long are we staying here in New Orleans? When are we returning to wherever you live?”

I actually choked at this as I inhaled my drink, and doubled over I was hacking so hard. I had a hard time catching my breath. Both girls immediately came to my aid, leading to a lengthy pause. Finally straightening up, I managed to gasp out a reply.

“What?” I’ll admit, it wasn’t much of a coherent response, but it was better than choking. I couldn’t believe I’d heard what I thought I’d just heard.

“There’s no point in me staying here,” Shaniqua explained patiently, speaking slowly as if explaining a very simple fact to someone unable to grasp the concept. “My new world is wherever you’re at, Alex. I can find a job wherever you are.”

“But … you can’t give up your life,” I sputtered. “I’m … I’m not ready for something like that. Shit, I haven’t even had a serious girlfriend yet, and you’re talking about moving to live near me.”

“But I’m starting a whole new life and you’re going to be the central influence in it,” she replied simply and calmly, in a firm voice brooking no objections. “You’re going to guide me as I learn about it, and we’ll all learn what’s going on together. I’m convinced you’re the central figure controlling what’s happening. So, wherever you go, I go.”

“But … but….”

“My brother, ever the linguist,” giggled Cate.

“Hmmm, I don’t know how cunning a linguist he is, but I plan to put him to the test soon.” They both laughed extensively at the clearly overused and tired old pun. As for me, I just blushed so furiously I thought my face might actually catch fire—I was too busy having a major heart attack at the implications to be able to respond in kind. I actually staggered a bit as I reeled from the implications. I was so distracted that all thoughts of Shaniqua’s breasts pressing against my chest were completely forgotten.

“I think I’m going to have to ‘expand his horizons’ before he’s going to be able to cope with this.” Shaniqua continued as she grinned at me like a cougar advancing on a frightened rabbit.

“Yeah, it looks like it,” my sister replied, grinning like a little banshee.

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