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Introduction:

Caleb goes home to find out more
Caleb 3 – Going Home

It took a huge amount of control to not imagine the driver of the car that had just cut me off, almost forcing me into the median, having the same ‘accident’ as Todd had had in the classroom.

However, the memory of Harold Bleasdale forcing his will onto Andrea and Bob flashed before my eyes. I felt my rage refocus onto him - even though he was likely in a deep, dark hole - and then onto myself. Then I felt a little sick.

The usual moments of sheer terror aside, the drive home was giving me time to judge myself in the balance – the new me, anyhow. It was uncomfortable, but I told myself that it was necessary.

It was a scale, I had decided. At one end, the very worst, there was Harold. He’d barged into a party and started assaulting and molesting people. There had been not a single sliver of remorse. Even when he’d forced his victims to enjoy what he’d been doing to them, he’d only done it to enhance his own perverted satisfaction. I still didn’t know if it had been his own limitations, or another facet of his awfulness, that had led to Bob and Andrea’s horrified between-states, where they’d both enjoyed the crimes committed against them and hated them at the same time.

I wondered what Harold had been like before he’d found his power. Had he been a reasonable guy, or had he always been a predatory asshole? I found myself hoping for the latter, for obvious reasons.

That only established one extreme, but it was all I had at the moment. It was time to move on to my own case.

I examined each instance where I had used my power. I tried to evaluate my motives for using them, and also the effect they seemed to have had on my victims.

I decided I couldn’t be held accountable for Josh’s dream. I’d come to conclude that I had indeed caused it, but I’d been a horny teen indulging in some idle fantasizing. There was no way I could have known that it would affect him in any way.

I could, in good conscience, claim the same about Angela lifting her shirt. I still hadn’t known I’d had powers, or even had the slightest reason to suspect it. I did, however, wonder whether I had somehow made it easier for Harold to control her. Were people who had been influenced once easier or harder to influence again?

I doubted it would have made a difference. I had not influenced Bob in any way, and Harold had had no trouble controlling him as well.

My first real conscious attempt to control someone was the girl in the line for breakfast. I realized, guiltily, that I didn’t even know who she was. I never actually saw her face, being so focused on her ass. I made her take her phone out of her pocket. On a scale of zero to ten, how bad was what I’d done?

I concluded that since she’d suffered no harm or embarrassment, and that neither she nor anybody else seemed to have noticed anything out of the ordinary at all, I would score it a one out of ten, with Harold’s behavior being the ten. Not a zero, though. I had forced someone to do something that they were not going to do, almost purely for my own gratification. I could have picked a more innocent test. I’d gotten a better look at her ass out of it.

I was starting to feel a little unhappy with myself.

I moved on to the next incident. It didn’t make me feel worse right away. Instead, it gave me real pause.

I had known Kyle and Jennifer for all the time I had been at PSU. They were friends. I’d had long conversations with both about their feelings for each other and knew that they wanted to be together as more than just friends.

I had initially thought that I was doing them a service by allowing Jennifer to break through her fear and show her true feelings for Kyle, but was that the case?

How did I know that during our conversations, they hadn’t been telling me what they thought I wanted to hear? Maybe there were other reasons they hadn’t gotten together. Out of nowhere, my mind conjured a soap-opera scenario where they were blood relatives, born of infidelity, and had become friends – and resisted becoming more than that – as a way to look out for each other while hiding the shameful truths behind their births.

Fuck! Had I just forced an incestuous relationship on them?

I physically shook off the notion. I was getting stupid and crazy.

What my random musings did illustrate most clearly to me was that using my power to affect other lives was wrong. I didn’t have - could never have - enough information to make those decisions for others, especially not via freaky, quasi-magical powers that I deployed without their knowledge or consent.

I had taken away their free will, no matter that it was done with the best of intentions.

I paused there, again. Had they really been the best of intentions?

Had I done it just to help them, or had I been helping myself, too? I’d needed another test, and I’d decided to escalate – and oh, how I had escalated. I’d gone from a girl taking her phone out of her back pocket to a girl grabbing her friend and kissing him out of nowhere, in public. An image of Harold and Angela kissing flashed in my mind, and, once again, I felt sick.

It’s funny how the mind works. Through rumination and turmoil, mine settled on a single number: ‘six.’ Just like that. I almost laughed aloud.

My motives hadn’t been wholly selfless, and I’d certainly knocked both Kyle’s and Jennifer’s lives onto a very different course. I’d also caused them some public embarrassment for good measure. The only reason it wasn’t a higher number, I decided, was because I hadn’t pushed them to do anything more extreme, and I hadn’t imagined them feeling differently about each other. That seemed important, for some reason. Even though I’d violated them terribly, I hadn’t actually changed their minds.

Still, six was not a good score on the ‘sleazometer.’ I never wanted to score that high again.

Then there was the kiss. Sue.

I considered my motivations for that. I had already convinced myself that I had power, so there’d been no real need for further proof. It hadn’t been an escalation from the test with Kyle and Jennifer – and thank goodness for that. In a word, it had been gratuitous. In another, it had been selfish. Sue and I were good friends, perhaps best friends. How could I have done something like that to my best friend?

I knew that she had offered to take my V-card, and I thought that if I had wanted to take her up on the offer, she would probably have gone ahead with it, but I’d forced her to kiss me when she’d had had no intentions of doing so.

Sexual assault. Technically not, since she had kissed me, but it felt even sleazier to try to rely on a legal system that very obviously did not account for powers like mine being real.

I couldn’t even claim it had been a drunken mistake. I’d been stone-cold sober, not driven by drugs or lust or any extraneous emotion other than whimsy. I’d treated a sexual assault whimsically.

I figured I should complete the analysis, even though I was already well in the noose. I weighed what harm it had caused.

I didn’t think that anyone in the canteen had seen the kiss. It had happened quite fast. People were used to seeing us together, and Sue was not shy. I had seen her multiple times with her tongue down a guy’s throat in public.

So, she’s a slut and that makes it all right?

SHIT! I didn’t mean that. I meant that she wouldn’t have been embarrassed to be seen kissing someone in public.

Arguing with yourself is not fun. There’s nowhere to hide.

I decided on a Six for the kiss - Although the effect on Sue wasn’t as bad as that on Kyle and Jennifer, my motivation for doing it was more suspect. I tried to ignore the feeling that it should be a higher number. I had already decided that six was as bad as I ever wanted to get to. My self-reflection wasn’t going well.

Then there was Todd.

I grinned at the thought of his discomfort, but then that grin turned into a grimace.

Yes, he was an asshole, and yes, I could reasonably claim to have been defending Mary, but defending her from what?

I constructed the hypothetical and ran through it my mind: Todd calls her out. She’s embarrassed, but everyone knows that girls have periods and accidents happen. She probably has a more-than-adequate put-down ready for him, because she’s a big girl and doesn’t need anybody committing crimes just to spare her a little emotional discomfort. Todd, meanwhile, doesn’t get away with a bag of money or anything. He likely just cements his own reputation as a massive asshole – a university student who’s teasing girls as a shitty middle schooler might.

I’d done the equivalent of poisoning him – fast-acting and extreme. I’d certainly humiliated him, too, since nobody else could possibly have known that he’d just been poisoned. Todd himself hadn’t known that.

I’d done real, physical damage to the asshole – pun intended, I supposed. I’d ruined his clothes. It was impossible to know the second-order effects – just how badly he’d take it, and just how many metaphorical sharks would circle him, having seen a moment of weakness.

I just could not shake the feeling that he deserved some of that, though. Still, I’d had no right. I’d committed a crime against his person. Again, though, I hadn’t changed his mind. I hadn’t violated him in that specific way.

In the end, I scored it as a five. He’d suffered in a multitude of ways because I’d effectively poisoned him. In mitigation, I could claim that I’d been acting in defense of another, albeit misguidedly. However, what had my motives been in defending her? Had they been pure, or had I already been lusting after her?

The more I thought, the shakier all of these numbers seemed. I wasn’t sure I was making much progress after all.

When I moved on to consider Harold, I couldn’t even be sure I was continuing this farcical self-imposed tribunal for any other reason than to make myself feel better. I had needed to prove to myself that I was better than Harold and I wasn’t being particularly successful.

So, Harold. He’d been committing horrific crimes out in public. I’d stopped him. As far as I’d known, nobody else would have been able to. After that, I’d had plenty of probable cause and moral justification to execute my invasive search of his memories. He might’ve had countless other victims stashed away. I’d needed to know if he had, because, with a burst of my own power, I’d freed everyone in his thrall, not having known exactly whom that had included.

I frowned again when I realized that I’d gotten lucky. In my haste, I easily could have broken the chains of mind-slaves whose sudden liberation might have caused injury or death – to themselves or others. I realized there was so much I didn’t know about this strange new world of powers. I could hardly take a single step in any direction without risking stepping on a land mine.

In fact, it seemed to me that the safest, sanest, and most moral thing to do would be to find a way to remove my own powers as I’d done to Harold.

As far as my self-imposed tribunal went, though, I was comfortable scoring my actions at the party as a zero. It was still complicated, but I figured that my haste and inexperience only dragged up what should have been a negative number in the first place: truly necessary, truly moral, rescuing people from immediate harm and danger, the whole nine.

If I wasn’t going to strip myself of my powers, I needed to get better at using them – which, ironically, only barely included making myself more powerful in the comic-book sense, if that were even possible. It was mostly about being wiser. That was a big word: ‘wisdom.’ It covered a lot.

My period of reflection drained me, and I decided to pull over at a truck stop for coffee. I still had another two hours before I got to my parents’.

Normally I would grab my coffee to go, but I wanted a break from driving, so I decided to sit in and drink it. Since I was sitting in, I figured I might as well have some pie too.

While I was eating the pie, my mind wandered. It had a habit of doing that. I considered my earlier thought of whether I could imagine away my own power. Would it work? Would that be the best thing to do? Then I thought of that cliché line from Spider-Man.

It’s such a cliché that I’m not even going to repeat it, but you know the one I mean.

Was there a reason I had this power, and if so, what was it?

I’m an atheist, so I would never consider that this was any kind of divine gift, but if there were other Harolds out there, didn’t I have a duty to try and stop them? I had always wanted to be in law enforcement; was there a secret Psychic Crimes Agency? Was my mom a member, or did she just have them on psychic speed dial? What about those two ‘policemen?’

I held my head in my hands and groaned. I wanted things to go back to the way they were before my birthday.

I was just finishing up my pie when I noticed. I was holding the plate with my left hand and scraping the last of the pie filling onto the fork with my right, and my eyes fell onto my wrist. For some reason, there was something wrong with what I was seeing, but I didn’t immediately know what it was. There was a nagging suspicion that I had forgotten or lost something. Then I realised. The skin of my left wrist was clean and smooth My scar had gone. Stupidly I looked at my right wrist, like maybe I had forgotten which wrist had a scar I had had all my life, but the skin there was equally smooth too.

I knew I wasn’t the brightest guy in any room, but even I could add two and two together. Somehow these strange powers and the disappearance of my scar had to be linked. Had I powered it away or was there some other explanation.

I got back on the road. Despite my crabbing, answers did await.

I was exhausted by the time I got to my parents’ house. The eight-hour drive would have been bad enough in and of itself, but the entire journey being spent in reflection and self-flagellation had absolutely knackered me. I stretched as I got out of my truck, taking a deep breath.

My parents lived out in the country. There were farms nearby, and my father worked as a mobile mechanic, servicing and maintaining their machinery. My mother kept the house.

My mom came to meet me as I walked around my truck. She hugged me.

“Hi honey. Welcome home.”

I hugged her back and then turned to start getting my things out of the truck.

“Leave those for now,” she said. “There’s someone here you need to see.”

I looked at her quizzically. “Who?”

She didn’t answer, just took my arm and led me into the house. Her expression was one of concern.

She pushed open the door to the parlor, the room we never used, and indicated I should enter. I was confused when she didn’t follow me in, but instead closed the door behind me.

“Caleb.”

The man who addressed me was slightly taller than my six feet one inch. He was stocky and had dark hair in a side parting. He wore a suit, but no tie.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“My name is Gerald Cross,” he said. “I am here to talk to you about what happened at your party yesterday.”

“Okay,” I said, taking a seat on the couch. Gerald sat on the easy chair across the coffee table.

He got out a small recording device and placed it on the table.

“Caleb,” He began, “would you please describe, in your own words, what occurred last night at the party.”

I sat for a moment marshaling my thoughts.

“I was at my birthday party…” I began.

“For your twentieth birthday?” he interrupted. I raised my eyebrow. I quashed my sarcastic response that it had actually been for my nineteenth, but that we were running a little late.

“Yes,” I responded, “I was sat talking to Mary…”

“That’s Mary Everson?” He interrupted again.

I gritted my teeth. This was going to take some time if he was going to interrupt every sentence.

“Yes.” I responded again, “We were sitting talking when I suddenly got a strange feeling. It was almost like a bad smell, something rotten and wrong. I looked around and saw a new guy standing in the doorway. Someone I didn’t know.”

“And this was Harold Bleasdale?” He asked.

“It was, although I didn’t know his name at the time.”

“And what was Mr. Bleasdale doing when you first saw him?”

“He was surveying the room,” I said, “He had the look of a fat man at a banquet, trying to decide which dish to sample first.”

“What happened next?” He prompted.

“He seemed to *********** a target and moved across the room, toward Angela.”

“And what did you do?” He asked.

“I followed him.” I answered, “Even now I couldn’t tell you why, he just felt so wrong to me, I wanted to know what he was up to.”

I waited for the next question. When it didn’t come, I continued my tale. “I heard, or more exactly I experienced a scream.”

“When you say experienced?” He asked.

“Initially,” I responded, “I thought I had heard it, but since nobody else reacted, I realised that it had been only in my head. It was like the ‘smell’ I mentioned earlier. The sensation was the same, but it had arrived without actually being detected by my senses. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

“Had you ever experienced anything like this before?” he asked.

I shook my head. “This was the first time.”

“So,” he prompted again, “you ‘heard’ a scream. Then what?”

Slowly and with some prompting I described the rest of the events of the party, finishing at the point when Mary and I left after speaking to Bob and Angela.

“What happened after you left Bob’s house?” He asked.

“We went back to my room,” I replied. “Josh and Louise weren’t there so Mary came in and we talked.”

“About?”

“Personal stuff,” I said.

“Did you and Mary have sex?” he asked.

I stared at him. I wasn’t even going to dignify that with an answer.

He waited a minute or so before deciding to try a different tack.

“When did you first realise you had the ability to control people?”

“I thought you wanted to talk to me about the party,” I responded tightly.

“How many times have you used your ability since you discovered it?” It was as if he hadn’t heard me.

I stood up. “I think I have said everything I am going to,” I said evenly.

“We are not finished,” he said. “I need you to tell me about what went on between you, your roommate, and his girlfriend.”

He stood up and stepped around the table.

I backed away slightly. “That is none of your business,” I said.

“I am investigating a misuse of power,” he said stepping toward me. “It IS my business.”

“You said you wanted to talk about the party. I have told you everything I can about that. Now if you will excuse me.” I turned to leave.

He grabbed me by the arm to turn me around. That was his first mistake. You don’t lay hands on a wrestler and expect to get away with it. Almost instinctively I reversed his grip and bent his hand forward in a wrist lock.

“Don’t touch me.” I snarled preparing to push him off so I could leave. That is when he made his second mistake.

I felt a weight pressing on my mind, as I had with Harold, but much stronger. I felt something fighting with me for control and I pushed back, imagining that weight being lifted and thrown off.

Gerald’s face set, and he seemed to push harder.

I was not going to stand toe-to-toe with this guy and risk that he had more power than me. Bringing my knee up sharply, I rammed it into his crotch as hard as I could.

The weight disappeared from my mind as the air rushed from his lungs. I stepped to the side as he started to bend forward and slammed a right cross to his jaw as he was headed down to the ground.

I was just drawing back for the second kick to his unprotected head when my mother came running into the room shouting “Caleb, NO!!!”

I rounded on her, furious.

“What the fuck was this?” I shouted into her face. “How could you deliver your own son to be mind raped by this fucking creep?”

She stepped back, shocked at my fury.

I pushed past her, heading back toward my truck. “I’m going back to school. If I stay here, I’ll do or say something we will all regret.”

Opening the front door, I came face to face with Mary - no, wait, two Marys - and an older woman, perhaps in her forties, whose resemblance to the two Marys meant she was probably their mother. They all had the same beautiful, tawny eyes.

My mother followed me into the hallway, crying.

She started to speak but stopped as the older woman in front of me beat her to it.

“Caleb, would you be so kind as to spare me a few moments? I promise you; nobody is here to harm you in any way.” Her voice was low and melodious.

I looked at the woman, then at Mary, then at the other Mary.

Mary Two stepped forward. Left to right, from my perspective. It was wholly arbitrary.

“Caleb, please. I know this is a shock, and perhaps a little scary, but our ship is still waiting. If you leave, I am worried it might sail forever.”

My rage abated and I stood to one side, allowing the three women to walk past me. My Mary – as far as I knew - came last and took my hand as she did, leading me back into the parlor.

I closed the door in my mother’s face, shutting her out. I was still very angry with her. The man, Gerald Cross, was still on the floor, his eyes unfocused, and his hands cupped around his genitals.

“What happened?” The older woman asked.

“He attacked me, so I responded,” I said flatly.

She shook her head.

“Please.” She indicated the sofa. “Sit. I have some questions and some information. I promise I will give as much as I get, and there will be no further breaches of protocol.” She looked at Gerald with contempt as she said that last bit.

I was still not happy, but I sat. My Mary sat to one side of me, and her twin to the other.

“Firstly, allow me to make the introductions. My name is Dianna. I am Mary’s grandmother and the Matriarch of the Everson family. Mary,” she said, nodding her head towards my Mary, “you know, and Amanda.” She tilted her head towards the twin.

I looked back at Dianna. Grandmother? She didn’t look a day over forty. I was already struggling with the concept she might be Mary’s mother, but grandmother?

Dianna smiled as if she’d read my thoughts. “You are a sweet boy.”

Gerald chose that moment to crawl to his knees. He looked a little groggy and was still in obvious pain.

“I suggest you go into the kitchen and get some ice,” Dianna said to him with a voice that brooked no argument. “Perhaps this will teach you not to be so arrogant, or so hasty.”

Climbing to his feet, he staggered from the room. He didn’t even glance in my direction.

“Would you please tell me what happened?” Dianna’s voice no longer held that note of authority. She spoke kindly, and so I decided to respond.

“My mother delivered me into the presence of that ass… of Gerald,” I said, “he had questions about what happened at the party last night, which I answered. Then he started asking me personal questions which I declined to answer. I wished to leave. He grabbed my arm, and I brushed him off.”

Mary took my hand, which probably would have been comforting… except for the fact that, simultaneously, Amanda did the exact same thing with my other hand. It gave me goosebumps. It was creepy.

Dianna smiled. “Please, go on.”

“I felt a pressure in my head, like someone was trying to take control. It was very much like the feeling from last night at the party when that sleaze tried to stop me from interfering in his assault on Angela.”

“Initially I tried pushing back, and I thought I was making headway, but then he redoubled his attack, and my only option was a physical response.”

She nodded. “You did well to resist long enough to be able to defend yourself. He deserved what he got.”

She sat back in her chair. “As I said outside,” she began, “I have questions for you, and I promised you information. I will begin. I told you I am the matriarch of the Everson family. We are a family who has, for generations, had a gift. We are Empaths. We have a strong mental ability to share feelings and thoughts with others.

“We cannot compel or control with our gift, only share. We never do this without the consent of the person we wish to share with, although our non-invasive reading of emotions does enable us to work very effectively as counselors, and in other professions related to mental health.”

“For instance,” she went on, “I am in no way reading your actual thoughts right now, but I can feel your raw emotions even without doing so. You are angry - with some justification - more than a little confused, and a touch frightened.” Then she smiled. “And having my granddaughters in such proximity has also made you somewhat aroused.”

I blushed and retrieved my hands from the twins. They released them without complaint.

“The Everson family has, for generations, worked to protect people who have no gifts from those who do, and to mitigate damage and help victims to recover afterward. We cannot change what happened. We can only share the memory and help them come to terms with their suffering. I visited with Angela and Bob last night after you left. I must say, you did an excellent job for someone untrained. I was particularly impressed that you did not try and use your gift to change their perception of the event. That would have been a grave error.”

“Will they be okay?” I asked.

“They were both badly shaken,” she replied,” but your interference in their attacker’s plans and subsequent counseling meant that my job was so much easier. Using Bob’s desire to protect Angela to force him to forgive himself was inspired. I feel that they will recover.”

“Thank you. They are good people and didn’t deserve that.”

“Nobody deserves that,” she said with some steel. “Now back to you. I know you told your story to Mary, but I would very much like to hear about when you found your powers, and what you did with them. We could sit here all night while you tell your tale, or I could share your memory of the time since you found them. That would take only a few moments.”

“No!” I said flatly, my anger flaring once more.

She smiled at me again.

“I have made you angry again, and I know it’s a scary proposition having someone read your thoughts. However, there are reasons why it would be much better for both of us for you to allow me to help you.”

“Help me?” I asked a little more strongly than I intended. “You want to help me by mind raping me? Rummaging around inside my head and learning everything I might want to keep private?”

Mary put her hand on my arm. Her twin copied the gesture on the other side.

“Gerald is a member of your family,” Dianna said. “A second or third cousin, if memory serves.”

I goggled at her. “I never even knew I had cousins.”

“Your family, the Stotts, is another family that has, for generations, had gifts. Their gifts were more active. They could control and compel, not just share. Where the Everson family has always worked against those who abuse their gifts, the Stott’s legacy is… more complicated. Gerald is an excellent case in point. He’s actively chosen to assist my family and to hunt down people like Harold. And yet...”

I understood what she left unsaid. He was overzealous, and that was putting it mildly. The words ‘bad cop’ sprung to mind, in fact – though he hadn’t seemed to merely be playing the role. Dianna was clearly the good cop. That raised my hackles a bit. It encouraged me to remain suspicious.

“You mean I might be related to Harold from last night?” I asked her.

“No,” she answered. “There are others who also have gifts such as yours, with varying degrees of power.

“So how do you keep track of them all?” I asked.

“In reality,” she replied, “we cannot. We can only monitor those who are born into bloodlines we know have power. Sometimes new bloodlines appear, and sometimes bloodlines with power, fade. Your family line has remained solid, however. There are others, but yours is the most prevalent.”

“So, you police these bloodlines?” I asked. “How?”

“When a new baby is born into the bloodline, their powers are sealed. An amulet is placed around their wrist which blocks them from using their gift.

The amulet is usually removed on their twenty first birthday. They then undergo assessment, training, and counseling to enable them to adapt to having their gift, without the power corrupting them. We do what we can. We’re never as successful as we hope. Some abusers still manage to say all the right things and even suppress their true emotions and intentions. Others simply can’t resist the temptation as the years go by.”

“For some reason, your amulet failed. You came into your power before we were ready. We would have removed on your twenty first birthday. Now we are left with you having discovered and used, possibly abused your powers.”

I flinched.

“We need to know, Caleb. What kind of man are we unleashing into the world? How will you use your power? Do we need to worry that you are, or will become, a danger to the people around you? What’s more, I can feel that you have similar questions – I can feel your self-doubt, your guilt, your uncertainty. That is encouraging, but I still need to hear it from you.”

“And what if it turns out that I am dangerous?” I demanded. “That I am going to be corrupted by whatever this is? What then? Do you seal my ability with another amulet? Put me in prison? Kill me?” I was starting to become a little afraid.

Mary’s arm linked with mine and she pressed against me, comforting me. Amanda echoed the gesture on the other side. I wasn’t comforted at all. Under the circumstances, it felt like they were trying to restrain me. My fear spiked, and they instantly both released me and pulled back a little.

“I promised you that we weren’t here to harm you,” Dianna said softly. “If it turns out that you are at risk, then we’ll work with you, counsel you, and help you resist the descent. If that descent happens and you break the law, then you will be taken into custody and tried, exactly as will happen to the man you stopped last night.”

I sighed.

“Things happened yesterday,” I said. “Things that I don’t think had anything to do with my gift, but are private. It’s not just my privacy I would be violating by letting you share my memories.”

“And you also think I will think less of you when I find out that you had sex with Josh and Louise?” Mary asked.

My jaw dropped.

“Caleb, I’m an empath, remember? As soon as I saw you three together at the party, I felt it. I felt your feelings toward them, and what’s more, I felt their feelings toward you. It was obvious what you had been doing, and the feelings I was getting from all of you were beautiful.”

“And yet you still…”

“Empaths share,” she said simply, taking my hand. The fact that Amanda took my other hand at the same time suddenly took on an extra dimension. I blushed, knowing that all three of them would have felt my sudden arousal and probably realized the cause.

Dianna looked at me. “Will you let me help you? Will you share your memories with me? I promise that nothing I learn will be shared with others. My only concern is to reassure you, and others in both our families, that you are not going to be corrupted by your gift.”

“Is there no other way?” I asked. I had no desire to let anyone into my head. My experiences thus far had not been pleasant, and I was also scared of what she might discover. What if I was a rapist-in-waiting? How could I live with myself, knowing that I was destined to become that which I so feared and despised?

Mary moved closer. This time Amanda did not copy the movement. “You are a good man, Caleb. Fear is sensible, and self-doubt can even be laudable. A man cannot sit with them forever, though. That is its own descent. Let us stand alongside you as you wrestle with them. You must, for your own sake, even if not for anyone else’s.”

“We could do it Gerald’s way,” put in Dianna, smiling gently at Mary, “though by that, I mean questioning, not control. It will be long, tedious, and uncomfortable. Both approaches will extract the same information in the end.”

“And what if I just tell the lot of you to go fuck yourselves and leave? Do you plan to try and stop me?” The threat of being subject to Gerald’s questioning again had rekindled my anger.

“Nobody would try to stop you,” Dianna said gently. “Your mother would be devastated for you to leave on such bad terms, but I can tell you’re too angry right now to care about that. Running away is not the answer, Caleb. Mary spoke truly. You will have to face these questions about yourself eventually, or, instead, become a nervous shell of a man. We’re offering to help. We’re not wholly selfless, but that is what we’re offering: help. Help to know the truth of yourself.”

I felt a huge well of emotion rise within me, and tears began to leak from my eyes. Once more, I was enveloped by two pairs of arms.

“Let me help you, Caleb, please,” Dianna said again.

I sobbed, defeated. I knew she was right. If I refused to ‘share’ my thoughts with her, I had the option to be interrogated by Gerald again, or leave, creating a huge rift in my family. That was not the issue, though. I knew that every hour of every day I would be terrified of my own corruption. I couldn’t live like that. It would drive me mad. Wordlessly, I nodded to her.

I expected her to lean forward, to fix upon me with those tawny eyes and stare into my soul. She did none of those things.

I just felt her. A gentle, warm, loving feeling seeped into my mind. It was like an embrace. Instinctively I drew away and tried to push her out. She simply stopped and waited.

I made a conscious effort to relax, and allowed the feeling to envelop my mind. There was no loss of control, no feeling of violation, nor of having my memories rummaged through. There was just a gentle warmth - almost a feeling of love - permeating my mind.

After only a few minutes, I felt her slowly and gently withdraw, I felt the loss, and momentarily missed the warmth.

I saw her considering what she had learned.

“You do spend an inordinate amount of time staring at bottoms,” was her first comment.

Mary and Amanda both burst out laughing while I blushed furiously. Dianna grinned at me.

“You made some questionable decisions,” she said, “but your reflections during your journey here reassure me that you are not a danger to anyone. You have a strong moral compass that was challenged massively by a situation that you were never prepared for. I think seeing Harold in action, though surely traumatic, was good for you. The abyss stared through you, even though you hadn’t been staring at it first. You saw a monster. You know they’re real. You know where they come from.

“I am intrigued at the use of your power to steal – no, to appropriate - Harold’s memories. That is new. Normally, those with the power to compel don’t have the power to share.

“And here is where I once again place my trust in you, young Caleb,” she said. “I am going to tell you something that I needn’t. You are extremely powerful – possibly the most powerful Stott or Everson I have ever met. That, in and of itself, worries me. All great power does. But I already believe that you can stay on the righteous path. I believe you could become a great ally to us if you wished it.”

“Ally?” I asked.

“You wanted to go into law enforcement,” she replied. “There is, in fact, a ‘psychic crimes agency,’ though it isn’t called that. If a career in law enforcement still interests you after you graduate, then you should consider it an option. So very few in this world are even qualified at the threshold. We would be lucky and grateful to have you, should you pass all the tests and complete all the training.”

“’We?’ The Eversons?”

Dianna reached into her pocket and pulled out a badge, flipping it open. “Yes, and,” she said.

I looked down at the badge. FBI.

“We are a small division, and our true nature is a closely-held secret. On paper, we’re profilers and counselors. In theory, we use our extensive knowledge of human psychology and cutting-edge therapeutic techniques to catch the most elusive criminals, and assist the most traumatized witnesses.

“There are very strict rules regarding what we are asked and allowed to do, but you will learn all of that if you choose to apply and are accepted.

“Now,” she said, “your mother.”

Once again I felt my anger start to flare.

“I’m not sure I can talk to her right now. Despite what I have learned, I still can’t believe that she led me in here to get mind fucked by that cretin.”

Gerald is no cretin,” Dianna replied, rebuffing me gently, but without doubt or hesitation. “He is actually a very nice guy, just impatient and a little arrogant at times. I think you both…” she paused for emphasis, “reacted badly to a situation, and it spiraled. I know your reasons. You were already tender from beating yourself up practically the whole way here. You are also still raw from absorbing Harold’s knowledge. That was a mistake, and I would like to help you deal with that if you will let me.

“Your mother didn’t deliver you to him. He was supposed to have a conversation with you and ask you some questions about the party, nothing more. Instead, it turned into a pissing contest, and he got wet.” She grinned.

I didn’t.

“So, in your world, ‘actually very nice guys’ skip from blitzing an exhausted kid with questions straight to mind-rape when they don’t get capitulation, or should that be obeisance?” I countered. “That’s the bar? Hey, maybe Harold was ‘actually a very nice guy’ who’d just gotten a little pushback from society and the world, and just got a little impatient and arrogant.”

Dianna’s face fell, but it didn’t harden. She raised both her hands. “I concede the point, Caleb,” she said. “No argument. He crossed a line, and he’ll be punished for it – and he did get some rather instant negative feedback.”

That one almost made me grin. Almost.

“Your mother didn’t know that was going to happen, Caleb,” Dianna said. “She’s already a part of this world and has been for years. On top of that, she’s been worried sick about you – even though she put on a brave face for that text exchange of yours before the party. Go talk to her, please. Let her apologize, and consider whether, perhaps, she deserves one too.

“And who knows?” she continued. “Maybe she’ll be so profoundly guilt-ridden that she’ll buy you that Ford GT after all.”

That, finally, convinced me that Dianna was more than just a ‘good cop.’ I laughed, and it felt good.

Then I remembered that I still had some questions. “How much of my memory did you share?” I asked her. She probably knew I wasn’t attacking her just from her powers, but I did my best to keep my tone light.

“From you waking up yesterday until we spoke on the porch,” she answered immediately.

“I was wondering,” I asked hesitantly, “The, uum …”

“You’re wondering if your influence on Josh was the reason that he and Louise invited you into their bed.” she said. “If you had somehow used your power to create that scenario.”

I nodded mutely.

“As far as I can tell, Caleb, the answer is no. You are an attractive young man. You’re a nice person, and fun to be around. People are naturally drawn to you. It is natural that someone, who has lived with you since you started university, developed feelings for you.

“The dream, yes, you probably caused it. You had no idea. And yes, it probably shifted his own perception of what those good feelings toward you signified. But it was so far away from overriding his will, Caleb. People have dreams about sex they simply do not want to have in real life. Those dreams can be troubling, but they can’t really change a person like that.”

“But I still put Josh into a position where he was doing something he wouldn’t normally have done, my powers were involved.”

“You simply cannot know that,” Dianna replied. “You can’t. Josh confessed he’d been drawn to you long before that dream. He knew that what he felt for you was different – unique, even, perhaps, among all other men. You can’t know that there was nothing sexual there at all. Maybe he saw you in the shower or masturbating when you thought he was asleep. Maybe that was the spark, and not the dream.”

I blushed again. She was good at making me do that.

“I’m not going to give you all the answers, Caleb,” she said. “I’m giving you these because you were thrust into a strange new world before you were ready. You do still have to navigate some of your feelings, and some of your relationships, like any other young university student would. From what I just saw, and from what Mary has told me, you have not harmed either Josh, Louise, or their relationship in the slightest by using your powers.”

“But what about… at all?” I asked.

“Welcome to being human,” Dianna quipped. “To that, you’re not new.”

I looked at Mary and she smiled at me. She leaned closer and whispered in my ear.

“You didn’t,” she said. “I felt all of it. It was so beautiful.”

Her words, and hot breath, sent shivers through me. Dianna rolled her eyes, pretending to be annoyed that Mary had given me the inside scoop. Still, I couldn’t resist a little grumbling.

“Well, isn’t that convenient?” I complained. “Some people just-so-happen to get a leg up from their powers, and it’s all just fine and dandy.”

“Some people might get something else up from those same powers if they relax and go with the flow,” Mary replied, again whispering into my ear. “Josh and Louise don’t have powers, but they know how to share. We do too. Think of all the sharing we could do.”

Just as she said that Amanda’s arm slid around my shoulder.

“Sharing is so beautiful,” she said dreamily.

I looked at Dianna, who laughed. “If I were 40 years younger, I might also be tempted. Now peel yourself away from my granddaughters, readjust your trousers and go talk to your mother.”

The thought of facing my mother killed my arousal instantly. I extricated myself from the twins. With leaden feet, I went to the door and opened it. My mother stood outside.

“Caleb, I…”

“I know, mom. I’m sorry.”

She threw her arms around me, and we stood for a moment. She squeezed me tightly.

“Now,” I said, “about that car…”

She laughed as she pulled out of the embrace. “When you can afford one, by all means.”

I followed her to the kitchen. There were three people there. My father sat at the table, which was set for dinner. There were eight places set. A man I didn’t know was sitting to his right, and in the next seat was Gerald. He stood as I entered the room behind my mother.

“Caleb, I owe you a huge apology,” he said. He sounded genuine. “I should never have tried to force you like that. It’s no excuse, but I had some bad news, had a really shitty day, and you touched a nerve. I only intended to make you talk to me, nothing more; I promise. I have no doubt I’m due official discipline, and I’m prepared for it.”

The other man gave a gruff affirmation. Gerald glanced at him.

“I think I’m gonna get my balls busted,” he said with a wan smile.

“No need,” I said. “I already did that. I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have gone off on you. I wasn’t in a good mood and we kind of lit each other up. We both did something we shouldn’t have. Can we not just call it even?”

Gerald looked at the man sitting beside my father.

“I have to investigate any complaints of abuse of power,” he said.

“Who complained?” I asked.

“Well, you would be the complainant,” he responded.

“I’m making no complaint,” I said, “and since there was no one else present…”

“You shared your memories with Dianna. Her evidence…”

“Sorry, Frank.” Dianna stood at the door. “I promised Caleb not to share anything I saw. And since Caleb would be the aggrieved party, he has the right not to press this.”

“There’s still the matter of an assault on Gerald. If Caleb doesn’t press the case, then his justification for attacking Gerald is no longer his defense.”

“Assault?” asked Gerald. “Who got assaulted? I tripped over my own feet and fell.”

“Onto your balls?” asked Frank acidly.

“Hit ‘em on the coffee table,” Gerald said.

Frank looked from me to Gerald.

“Oh, fuck off, the pair of you!” he grumbled, but then he grinned. Standing up, he offered me his hand. “Frank Howe,” he said. “Good to finally meet you.”

I shook his hand trying, to catch up with his shift in mood.

“You just saved me a ream of paperwork,” he said.

Dianna sat down at the table next to Gerald.

“You were lucky,” she said to him.

“I don’t feel very lucky,” he said. “I still ache in places I shouldn’t.”

“You were lucky that Caleb only attacked you physically. The only other person who tried to compel him suffered far worse. Caleb stripped him of his power.”

There was a collective gasp around the table.

“I didn’t even know that was possible!” my mother exclaimed.

“It’s not a common ability, but someone who is much stronger than you could potentially do it. Effectively, they compel you to forget how to access it - and it’s virtually irreversible.”

Everyone looked at me.

“There’s something else,” Dianna continued. “He is also an Empath.”

“What?” my mother exclaimed. “How?”

Dianna pulled a face. “We don’t broadcast it, but there are rare instances of people wielding compulsion and empathy together.”

“Only in the presence of other…” began Frank, but Dianna shot him a look and he stopped.

“Other what?” I asked.

“Other factors,” she replied smoothly.

I looked at her, and she looked blandly back at me.

“Such as?” I pushed.

She regarded me. “I am going to spend most of tomorrow with you,” she said. “I still need to work with you on the knowledge you took from Harold. If you would wait until then, I promise I’ll answer all your questions.”

I looked around the table, as my mother started to serve dinner, putting plates in front of each of us.

Once we were all seated my mother looked at me and said “Caleb, would you say grace?”

I raised an eyebrow at her. She knew full well my opinion on that matter.

“Grace!” I growled. Mary and my father grinned, and Amanda giggled.

I figured it had been a deliberate attempt to both change the subject and lighten the mood.

We all dug in.

I looked at Gerald. “So, Cuz?”

He nodded. “Second cousin on my mother’s side,” he said, “which is why I’m Cross and not Stott.”

“Why did I not know I had cousins?” I directed the question toward my parents. “That means I have aunts or uncles also?”

“One of each,” my father said. “You will meet your aunt at some point. She lives in New York, so we don’t see her that often. Your Uncle John, we have no contact with.”

“But why am I only finding out about them now?” I asked slightly aggrieved. For some reason, I had regressed to a ten-year-old and was thinking about all the birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas gifts I had missed out on.

“To limit your exposure to people with powers,” He admitted. “Until you grew into your own, and could be assessed, it was far easier to keep you out of that world. How would you feel knowing that you might have had power if when your amulet came off, you didn’t? It would be devastating. Also, you might try and find a way to remove the amulet early if you knew it existed. Children can be very inventive when they feel the need.”

I considered this for a while as I ate.

“Do you have power?” I asked him eventually.

“My gifts are so weak as to be considered non-existent,” he said. “At best the level of influence I can exert would be similar to that of a mildly charismatic person. Before you ask, no, I do not wish I had more strength. I have seen what these gifts can do to people and believe me I am happy to be well out of it.”

I looked at my mother expectantly.

“I have a little Empathy,” she said. “There is some Everson blood way back in my ancestry but so far back there would be too many greats to mention. That Is how I recognized what was going on when I first got the urge to buy you a car.”

My hand flew to my mouth. I hadn’t even considered in my reflections that I had attempted to control my own mother.

A hand on my arm stilled me.

“Let’s just get past it, Caleb,” Dianna said. “You were a young man trying to get something out of your parents. It’s bratty, but it happens all the time. It happened when your whole world was going topsy-turvy, so let’s just bake it into the one big apology pie, hmmm?”

There was a moment of silence, and then my father chimed in again.

“Now imagine a preteen with these powers,” he said. “Then, a toddler. Then, a newborn.”

I did, and I shuddered.

“Hence the amulets,” he said with a sober nod. “Hence the secrecy, too. Even a child who doesn’t know what the amulet is will tear it off themselves at some point. We must convince them it isn’t there – that it’s just a scar.”

I rubbed at my wrist absently.

“There have been arguments going back generations regarding the age at which the amulet should be removed,” he continued, “and the world as it is, or was, at any given point in time, definitely has a place in those conversations. For now, it’s twenty one. In the future, it might be as late as twenty-five. There’s science behind it.”

“Mmm,” Gerald said, “but now there’s also evidence that we might need to re-up the amulets in some cases if it has to go on that long, and that’s going to be a real pain.”

“Our best guess is you just plain burned yours out,” Dianna explained. “I’ll confess, there was some panic once word passed from your mother to the rest of us. Some insisted we do a snatch-and-grab ASAP. In hindsight, I think that would’ve been an error.”

A few looks passed between Dianna, Frank, and Gerald. Their meanings were fairly obvious: I would not have been so easy to snatch, and people could have gotten very badly hurt.

“Why don’t you have contact with Uncle James?” I queried, dreading the answer.

“He decided to go his own way,” my father replied. “He is a businessman. He has power and uses it to further his business needs. Nothing too dark, nothing the authorities want to get involved in. He is very rich.”

His disapproval of his brother was evident. I felt it even spilled over to Dianna and the FBI.

Dianna declined to comment. It seemed that this was a discussion they had had many times before.

I looked across at Frank.

“Are you part of the bloodline too?” I asked.

“Not me,” he replied with a shudder. “I’m technically the section chief for the Extended Specialist Profiling division of the FBI.”

“ESP?” I asked, “Seriously?”

He grinned. “They like to think they are clever. They also wanted what they term a ‘norm’ in charge.”

“You said ‘Technically’ the section chief.” I said.

“Dianna runs the section. I just file the reports and do the expenses.” He said. “I’m a glorified pen pusher with a gun. I came tonight because I wanted to meet you. It is not every day someone untrained takes down a Psi-Rapist.”

Dianna pulled her face “They have invented a whole new dictionary of crimes. Mainly by appending Psi- to the beginning of other crimes.”

“What happens when they come to court?” I asked, “How is it that news of these crimes is not on CNN each night?”

“It’s kind of complicated.” Frank said. “And also, supposedly secret. So, unless you do join the bureau then I’m not really supposed to talk to you about it.”

I considered that as I finished my meal.

I helped clear the table and load the dishes into the dishwasher, then went out to my truck to get the stuff I had intended to bring in earlier.

“Throw your laundry down into the basement,” my mother shouted as I re-entered the house.

“What makes you think I brought laundry?”

Each of the four females in the kitchen gave me ‘that’ look.

“Okay,” I said with a grin, “I’ll throw it in the basement.”

Frank and Gerald bid their farewells, assuring me they’d see me again. I will admit that had Gerald not been my cousin, I might have been interested. He had a bubble butt.

Dianna and the twins were staying over, as I was to spend some time with Dianna tomorrow.

Mary approached me after I finished bringing my stuff in.

“Caleb, can we talk?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “let’s go out onto the back deck.”

She followed me out, closely followed by her twin. I looked at her, indicating that she had the floor.

“First, will you trust me - trust us - for a second?” she asked.

“To do what?” I asked.

“We want to touch your mind,” Amanda said. “Not to share anything, or invade your privacy - quite the reverse, in fact.”

“You see,” said Mary, “one of the problems that identical twins have in relationships is that their partners cannot tell them apart.”

“It’s caused issues in the past – with other twins,” Amanda was quick to clarify. “We want to head it off at the pass.”

“If you will allow us,” Mary took over, “we will make it so you will always be able to tell us apart. At a glance, even looking at a picture, you will know if it is Amanda or me.”

I was all for it, but the word ‘relationship’ had caught my attention.

“Relationship?” I asked. “Are we in a relationship?”

“Our ship has definitely not yet left the dock,” said Mary. “But it might have changed a bit.”

“It turned into a catamaran,” Amanda giggled.

“You mean?” I asked.

“That if you enter into a relationship with either, you enter it with both.” The new voice came from behind me, and I spun to see Dianna standing on the deck.

“And what happens if and when Amanda finds someone she wants to spend her life with?” I asked.

“You share,” said Dianna. “Empaths share. It’s what we do.”

I sat down on one of the chairs, stunned. The implications of what I had just been told were staggering. Firstly, I was pleased that Mary was considering entering a relationship with me, but then the fact that Amanda came as part of the deal was confusing. Part of me relished the thought of having two identically hot girlfriends. I was a hot-blooded twenty-year-old male. The thought, however, that I may have to share them with an outsider, gave me pause.

Yes, I was pansexual, and I did not know who I would end up with in the end. I did think, I supposed, that whoever it was, it would be a monogamous relationship, not some kind of commune.

The thought of ‘sharing’ Amanda was hot. Would I be so blasé with the thought of Amanda’s new boyfriend, if she were to find one, ‘sharing’ Mary?

“Those are all questions for later,” Dianna said, and my eyes widened. “Your aura, remember? I have had years to learn how to read them. Believe me, I understand how you are feeling. My husband was a twin. The question, for now, is will you allow the girls to touch your mind so that you will always be able to tell them apart? Even if you don’t end up doing more than working together, that may turn out to be useful in the future.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding. “I can do that.”

Mary knelt down in front of me and placed her hand over mine. Once again, I felt a warmth touch my mind. I noted that I could sense a slightly different ‘flavor’ in that touch. I guessed everyone’s touch felt different.

I managed to almost completely suppress the instinct to draw back and push the invader out of my mind, but Mary had anticipated that reaction regardless. She had simply made the connection and then waited for me to get used to it before going further.

Then I had a revelation. That was the only way I could describe it. I presumed that Mary had shared something with me, but it was as if a blindfold had been taken off when it came to the twins. Yes, they looked the same, but the differences between them were blatant. How could I have not noticed them before?

Mary smiled at me, and I noted that she was no longer in my mind.

My mother came out onto the deck.

“It’s getting late, and you have a long day ahead of you tomorrow,” she said.

I nodded. I was very tired.

“Dianna,” she continued, “I put you in the guest room at the top of the stairs. The girls are in Caleb’s room. Caleb…”

“Will share with us,” the twins said in unison.

My jaw seemed to be doing a lot of dropping just lately. It did it again, only this time it had company. My mother’s did the same.

“I’m not sure…” she began.

“Caleb has had a lot to deal with in a very short time and he is still carrying the knowledge he took from Harold,” Dianna said. “He shouldn’t sleep alone. Mary slept with him for most of last night to suppress his nightmares, he will need the same again tonight. Once he and I have spent the day together tomorrow, he should be fine to sleep alone again... should he wish.”

“Of course,” she went on with a grin, “if you feel uncomfortable sharing with the twins, you could always share with me?”

“It’s not me that’s uncomfortable with the idea,” I said with a rueful grin, looking towards my mother.

“If it makes you feel more comfortable,” Dianna said to my mother, “both girls are, shall we say, unavailable at this time. At most, he’ll get a blowjob.”

Did I mention how good she was at making me blush? I hid my face in my hands.

“Oh well in that case…” my mother said sarcastically.

“Mom,” I said, “it’s fine. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she snapped at me. “Did you not hear Dianna? You need to be near them when you sleep.” Apparently, her need to protect her little boy outweighed her need to be prudish.

“Then I’ll sleep on the floor,” I suggested.

Mom sighed. “No, I’m being stupid. You’re a grown man now, and I knew at some point you were going to have…” I didn’t think she could bring herself to say it.

“Sex?” I suggested helpfully.

“A girlfriend!” she countered firmly.

I looked at her. Was this the right time?

“Did you not consider it might be a boyfriend?” I asked gently.

Her eyes widened a little. I wished at that moment I had Dianna’s ability to read auras.

“Caleb? Are you saying you’re…”

“He’s working his way up to telling you that sex and gender just don’t matter to him,” my father interjected.

Damn, I didn’t think my jaw could drop so far and still be attached.

“You knew?” I asked my father.

“Caleb, I watched you grow. I saw you with your teenage friends, and I saw how you interacted with and looked at some of them. The least important thing to you was their gender. I didn’t know if it was just you growing and you would settle to a preference, but when you came home tonight, I saw how you looked at Mary and Amanda, and also how you checked out Gerald’s ass when you thought nobody was looking.”

“He definitely is an ass man,” Dianna said with a grin.

“I wonder where he gets that from?” my mother said, glaring at my father, who grinned back at her.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked him.

“Well, up until tonight, when I saw you drooling over Gerald’s rear, I wasn’t certain. Gerald’s married by the way, so I think you are out of luck there. It still wasn’t my place to start the conversation. You just did, so I figured I’d help out.

“We both love you no matter what,” he said, “and, I suppose I should add, that to us, this is no matter at all. You are who you are, and we love you. We’ll also love any and all partners you choose for yourself, unless and until they hurt you, at which point we’ll roundly denounce them as the spawn of Satan.”

My mother came over and hugged me.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll bet you were dreading that conversation.”

“On a scale of one to ten and given everything else that has gone on since yesterday, my sexuality doesn’t even register,” I said honestly. “I know you love me, and I knew you would be fine with it.”

She smiled at me. “I guess you better get yourselves to bed,” she said.

My room had a queen size bed, so although it was going to be a tight squeeze for the three of us, I was sure we would manage.

I showered and put on some boxers before knocking on the door.

Mary opened the door. “This is your room, silly,” she said. “You don’t need to knock.”

“I didn’t want to catch you girls changing or something,” I replied.

She took my hand and led me to the bed. Amanda sat on its far edge.

“Lie on the bed,” Mary said. “In the middle.”

I complied.

“Caleb, will you trust me once more?” she asked.

I looked at her. “With what?”

“I want to touch your mind again. Not to share, but just to help you rest.”

“Did you do that last night, while I was sleeping?”

She nodded, biting her lip. “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask, but I swear I didn’t …”

“No,” I said interrupting her, “don’t apologize. It’s time I put on my big boy pants and decided whom to trust. I was so freaked out when Harold tried to take control of me, that any suggestion of anyone connecting with my mind sent me into a panic. Despite my tantrum earlier, deep down I know my parents wouldn’t allow you near me if they thought you would hurt me. If they trust your family, then so do I.

“I would like to ask you a question though. Please be honest. I promise I won’t be angry at the answer.”

“Yes and no,” said Amanda.

I looked at her, puzzled.

“I saw you make the connection earlier,” she said, “even if you didn’t notice it yourself. You were wondering if Mary had been placed at your school to keep an eye on you, and if her getting close to you was just so she could help ‘contain’ you.”

I looked at Mary.

“Yes, and no?” I asked.

“Yes, I am at that PSU partly so I can keep an eye on you - not only for their safety, but for yours as well. No, I didn’t get close to you to help ‘contain’ you. When you helped me out in class with my ‘accident’ I realized what a nice guy you were. Then you invited me to your party, and I enjoyed talking and dancing with you. Had what happened, not happened, I would have liked to see where things would have led.”

“We still would,” added Amanda.

“Caleb, we are all young. None of us are ready to settle down yet. Can’t we have some fun until we decide what we really want?”

“Can we talk about this another time?” I asked. “I need time to get my thoughts in order.”

Mary nodded. “Try to relax,” she said, climbing in alongside me.

Amanda climbed in the other side. Both of them were wearing long tee shirts that came down to mid-thigh. They snuggled up either side of me, pulling up the covers and each putting a hand on my chest. I felt the warm embrace once more in my mind. This time I knew it was Mary. The flavor of her mental touch had gained new definition. I knew, somehow, that I would never mistake it for Amanda’s.

Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to bask in the feeling of both the physical and the mental embrace.

I slept.
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