The image of Caulb slamming him to the ground to extract retribution from whatever punishment the school deemed appropriate made him shudder. Most likely, they’d do nothing. Throw up their hands and declare it was a case of one student’s word against the other. All he’d have is an even bigger target on his back. “No! Please don’t tell them.”
He must have shouted the words. Leah’s head whipped around so fast she almost hit the garage until he yelped at her to watch out. The car jerked as she slammed on the brakes. They both sighed in relief as the car shuddered to a stop mere inches from the aluminum door.
Spearing one hand through her long hair, Leah half mumbled to herself. “Glad no one parked in the driveway today.”
The lack of cars meant he’d forgo all the questions about his day. His grandfather would ask him what three new things he learned that day. Sometimes, it was hard to think of three things to tell him. Sometimes, it made him wonder if he was even learning anything at school. What was the use of attending? Every day presented an opportunity to have an oversized menace pursue him as if he were a mouse in a maze. Maybe he was part of some bizarre social experiment.
His sister shifted the car in park and removed the keys. She had her hand on the door when a look crossed her face as if she saw something wonderful. “I’ve got it. A different school for you. That’s it.”
The idea appealed to him. It would be nice to go somewhere free of Caulb. His spirits perked up a bit. He straightened up, thinking what it would be like to go to school without fear, to not have to choose his path through the school to avoid isolated hallways and dark corners. Nana managed to confuse the issue at registration, so he didn’t have physical education, but that wouldn’t last long. The curriculum required all students to have PE to be well-rounded individuals. “That would be amazing.”
Leah turned in her seat toward him, her face animated. “Just think, no bullies. Maybe you could find a school where you could pursue an area of interest. What do you think you’d like to do?”
The spark of possibility grew in his chest, sending out streamers of energy to the rest of his body. He would have a chance to pursue something he wanted to do instead of trying to follow everyone else’s plan for his life. It was hard forcing his square peg personality into the round hole life allotted him. What would he like to do?
An opportunity to choose, it almost overwhelmed him. “There’s the theatre, art, choir. I like science, especially environmental science. English lit.”
A snort of laughter interrupted his recital. Leah gave his shoulder a slight shove. “You, English, I wasn’t even sure you knew how to read.”
Grinning, he shoved her back. “Ha-ha, you should be a comedian. I’ve been reading a great deal lately. You don’t know everything about me.”
Leah’s smile flicked, then went out. “I know more than you might think.”
Damn, he kept forgetting about his sister’s ability to read people. Her skill had shown itself when she tumbled back in time. She confided it was unreliable at best in the present, showing her people’s thoughts she would rather not know while keeping mum on others. The family assumed her skill would last as long as she needed it, but Leah had never mentioned if it had left totally, which made him wonder.
At school he’d been very careful to keep his doubts and questions private. At times he wondered what was wrong with him since he was unlike the other boys, consumed with sports and violence. He instead enjoyed helping Nana grow seeds and nurture plants.
By the age of ten, other boys were starting to notice the prettiest girls. He already knew the girls because they were his friends. He admired their beautiful, shiny long hair. His goal wasn’t to touch their hair, but have his hair to look as gorgeous. What was wrong with wanting to be clean and well groomed even if it didn’t rank up there with being tall and muscular? A school change could land him in a place where he’d meet others with similar interests.
It was possible. Once a year, his family journeyed across the state to attend a Pagan Pride Day gathering. His father insisted the festival couldn’t be in their state since he might lose his job if his employer found out. During the day, Nana set up her fortune telling shop and mother assisted her. He was free to roam the grounds, taking in energy raising workshops, drumming with the drum circle, and participating in the rituals. He had stumbled across one group that consisted of young men. Their smooth, beardless faces and open expressions convinced him they were near his age.
The five were sitting cross-legged on a patchwork quilt, passing around food. They invited him to come join them. Unsure, he sat hesitantly. While he did usually get along with most people, he learned to avoid groups of males without the softening influences of nearby females. Males, in general, had weird bonding rituals that consisted of insulting each other, bumping bellies, punching, and hitting. He was never quite sure where the bonding ended and harassment began.
An air of ease and acceptance had shown in their faces. One boy had indicated an empty spot beside him, gesturing with a loaf of bread. Ethan had gazed at the empty spot wanting to belong if only for a day. Re-inventing himself constantly was hard or keeping his mouth shut on controversial topics in an effort to belong. Basically, he followed his family’s lead of keeping their beliefs close. Well, make that all except Nana, who didn’t care what people thought. Most were either frightened or too fascinated by her to cross the outspoken woman.
A boy with slipping glasses looked up at him, as he pushed the heavy frames back up his nose. A thought took form in Ethan’s head.
Be at peace, none will harm you here.
He knew without being told the thought was not his own. Who knew there were so many telepaths? He nodded once at the telepath, before sliding into the empty space. That had been the start of the perfect afternoon.
The five boys included David, Kev, Orin, Sean, and Forrest. Orin was the boy with the glasses. He didn’t speak much. Apparently he didn’t have to. A few were Wiccan followers, another Druid, still another Shamanic in his faith. Orin smiled at him.
I am Kemetic. I worship the ancient Egyptian deities. People also refer to me as being non-verbal as if I were incapable of hearing or understanding.
Ethan nodded his head to indicate his acknowledgement, but then he decided to try to form a thought in his head.
Orin, he started the thought as if it might go astray and enter the minds of the other four. I know what it’s like to be treated as if either you’re not there or incapable of understanding.
That’s how the afternoon started as he conversed audibly with the other four throughout the day, learning they were from nearby towns. Sean and Forrest were a couple. After hearing that information, his eyes dropped to where their fingers entwined on the blanket. A yearning washed over him, so fierce, he closed his eyes. How wonderful it must be to belong to someone. To have one person know him with all his idiosyncrasies and eclectic tastes and still like him because of it, as opposed to disliking him, must be wonderful.
I always thought it would be. Orin touched his nose indicating the thought was his.
It wasn’t as if anyone else was sending him thoughts. He believed not only Leah, but that his Nana and Grandfather could all read minds. They had an uncanny way of knowing things, but not once did their thoughts ever enter his mind the way Orin’s did. Why was that?
Orin, why do you not speak?
Orin cocked one eyebrow playfully and smiled before replying. At first, I had no reason to speak. My parents were so overjoyed to have a child they met my every wish before I could utter a cry. After a while, I grew used to not speaking. Then I discovered I could choose whom I wanted to communicate with by touching their minds.
How did Orin manage in school without being pulverized by the bullies? They always seemed to seek out the weak.
Answering his thought, Orin jumped to his feet towering over Ethan. He flexed his arm to showcase a sizable bicep. He resumed his seat a little closer.
Not so weak, not so small, either. My parents homeschooled me until I was ten. I took karate too. My father got downsized, which meant my mother had to work. My first day in school was fifth grade. Because I was ‘special’, Orin paused to make air quotes. My teachers watched me like a hawk to make sure I wasn’t ridiculed.
Would it have been better to be protected as opposed to scratch out an existence in the public system as he had? No one bullied you?
His new friend removed his glasses and used them to gesture with. I didn’t say that. In fact, the teachers’ protectiveness made me more of a challenge. Two boys cornered me in the restroom the first day.
Images of a bloody, younger boy on the tile floor made Ethan shiver. It may have been in the past, but no less horrible. Orin gave him a slight shove.
No, no that’s not how it went. Remember, I took karate lessons. I also wore some heavy hobnailed boots to school. Only ten and I already wore a size twelve. The bullies staggered out of the bathroom. One had a busted lip, the other a bloody nose. Never bothered me again. They started calling me the silent ninja.
Laughter had bubbled in Ethan’s chest, eventually breaking free. Thinking of having the tables turned on the tormenters was great. “Good for you,” he said the words aloud, touching Orin’s large hand. An electrical jolt met his fingertips.
What happened? He watched his friend, who looked equally stunned.
Orin reached for his hand and covered it with his. Warmth grew between their hands. Ethan’s gaze stayed on their entwined hands on the patchwork quilt, trying to see the aura around them. No luck, but he could feel the energy and thought this is where my life changes for the better.
Leah’s voice had cut into his moment. “Ethan, it’s time to go. The car is already packed up.”
Orin’s thoughts had shouted. You’re leaving. Where do you live?
Ohio. Ethan hated the distance the word represented. He kept his hand under Orin’s, unwilling to end their connection.
Leah stood nearby and pretended to look elsewhere.
Orin’s thoughts came fast, almost too fast for Ethan to answer.
When will I see you again? How can we stay in touch? Do you have an email? A phone number?
The only computer in the house belonged to his father, who occasionally allowed him to use it for homework. Because it was a work issued laptop, he forbade him to use it for social networking or looking up Pagan sites. Apparently, his company IT person tracked the usage. They might not care too much about looking up the natural resources of Guam, but did when it came to occult sites.
I don’t have an actual phone of my own. I have an email address, but I can only check it when I go to the library. It’s lunarknight. I know it’s a little silly. My sister made it for me when I was ten. It’s on…”
Orin’s thought broke into his recitation. Who is that angry looking middle-aged man staring at us? He’s not your lover, is he?
Ethan looked around to see who Orin was talking about. His father’s arms were crossed, and his lips drawn into a firm line, and his father’s face grew increasingly redder. Oh, that’s my father. Lover, Ha-ha. Never even had a boyfriend.
Before he could even finish his thought, his father grabbed his shoulder, jerking his and Orin’s hand apart. “Ethan, we’re leaving now.”
He stumbled upright, looking back at his newfound friend, trying to memorize his features. His father kept a firm grip on his arm as he dragged him toward the car.
Orin’s thoughts trailed away the closer they came to the parking lot.
Don’t forget me, Ethan. I won’t forget you.